Skylar, 13, is an eighth grader at Thornapple Kellogg Middle School. He started fencing about five years ago. After watching Skylar practice many afternoons, 9-year-old brother Magnus, a fourth grader at Page, decided to take up the sport as well.
"Fencing takes a lot of brain work and strategy. You have to outsmart your opponents," said Skylar.
It's the strategy aspect of fencing that first drew Skylar to the sport. He enjoyed playing chess, but his mother said he just didn't have the patience to sit through an entire game. So she started looking for another type of "thinking" sport for him. Her search landed them at the Grand Rapids Fencing Academy.
Skylar took to the sport immediately. He's won several competitions and placed high in national tournaments. He said he's always trying to improve and hopes to compete as a college student possibly at the University of Notre Dame some day.
Magnus is equally talented with the sword. "I really like the competitions. It's fun and we get to meet a lot of new friends. I really like my coaches, too. They really motivate me to try and be better," said Magnus. The boys are coached by brothers Mikhail and Arkadiy Sarkisov, both internationally successful fencers from the former Soviet Union.
Magnus said he's proud of his wins over the years, but he's also very proud of a particular loss. "I was up against a kid who was ranked fourth in the country. I was beating him the first period, but I eventually lost. I just kept forgetting to do little things," he said.
Magnus and Skylar are committed to the sport. The two-hour practices are generally three or four times per week in Grand Rapids, nearly 45 minutes from their home. And the season is long. Tournaments start generally in late August and continue through early July with the summer nationals. With both boys involved in the sport, fencing has become a family affair with many weekends sending the boys and their parents, Inese and Darren, out of town for tournaments.
Inese said she enjoys watching her sons compete and improve. "They are doing very well. It takes a lot of work and practice to be able to do it. It teaches a lot of life lessons about working hard and about sportsmanship," said Inese. "They also learn about not giving up even when you lose. There's always something new to learn and a new goal to reach."
She said the boys are also learning time management skills having to fit their homework assignments in around their commuting, practices and tournaments that are often hours from home.
"It's challenging. I really like fencing a lot. I love the competitions and going to different places. I've made a lot of friends and met a lot of people," said Skylar. He's even met the Notre Dame head coach, Gia Kvaratskhelia, and hopes in a few years to possibly be a member of the ND team.
Magnus said he's really not interested in any other sport. "I just like fencing. It's fun and it's different. I would love to go to the Olympics one day."
Fencing is a centuries-old form of protection as well as sport dating back to the 12th century. Fencing was part of the first Olympic games in the summer of 1896. For more information about the Grand Rapids Fencing Academy, visit www.grfencing.com.