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Duel Personalities

Swords clash.

Catlike feet squeak as they pounce back and forth, waiting for an opportunity to move in for the attack. After a quick surge forward and a dynamic lunge, the high-pitched beep from the scorekeeping system declares the victor. It's the unbiased judge and jury of civil combat for the young fencers who come to test their mettle at High Desert Fencing Club.

When it comes to kids and teens, fencing is not the first sport that comes to mind. Yet, in this unassuming building across from a car dealership on South Highway 97, they come. Every week. Religiously. They're hooked on a historical form of combat whose origins date back to Ancient Egypt and evolved to become a passionate pursuit for hundreds of thousands worldwide. An elite number of those even compete at the highest level –the Olympics.

"Fencing is an intellectual battle with your opponent," Jeff Ellington, vice-president of the club, yells over the tinny din of swords striking. "To win hinges on the idea of a physical contest, but it's respectful and generally gentle, yet still with the element of combat. It's your will against theirs–in your technique and your strategy. There's something intriguing and playful about that."

Max Munro, a student at REALMS High School, suits up into his all-white, head-to-toe fencing outfit. Besides a Darth Vader-like overhead mask and grippy shoes, it's comprised of knickers and a long sleeve top with a protective "plastron" underneath to buffer a sword's "hit." In the era of COVID-19, it also doesn't hurt that the fencing's uniform full coverage lends itself well to social distancing. This fact allowed many of the youth fencers to return to the studio sooner than other sports.
"Fencing is just a cool sport because it's competitive without being toxically competitive," Munro reflects. "Everyone is more supportive, more so than you would find in team sports. And who can deny the inevitable allure of stabbing someone?"
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