Adam Maczik adjusts himself and his roughly four-and-a-half-feet long legs underneath the table. To any bystander, Maczik looks more like a basketball player than a fencer. With his 6-foot-6 frame, the sixth-year physics major would blend in well with the likes of Courtney Sims or Chris Hunter.
But Maczik is no basketball player. At least not since high school. Rather, Maczik is an epeeist for Michigan’s club fencing team.
Starting as a novice with the team his sophomore year, Maczik has evolved into one of the squads’ most dangerous and talented epeeists.
In fact, most of the squad’s 30-plus members had never picked up a sabre, foil, or epee until the first practice.
“Most of our members come to the first practice because they intrigued by the idea of sword play,” fencing club president Josh Jacques said. “Rarely do our members have much experience beyond basic skills.”
But you would never think that based on the team’s results in Club Nationals. After placing third in Club Nationals last year, with the men’s epee squad placing second, the team is in a great position to win in 2006.
But the members have much more than just individual improvement to worry about. As an evolving sport, the rules constantly change for the fencers, which makes it difficult for club teams such as Michigan’s to buy new equipment every year.
“(The United States Fencing Association) changed some of the rules and some of the electrical timings,” junior Sean O’Brien said. “And because we do not have the new equipment, it is going to be hard to adjust when we go to real competitions. But I also think that our athleticism and our skill – which is a lot better this year then it was last year – will make up for the changes in the rules.”
Nevertheless, the team’s talent has not always been harnessed quite as equally. With the help of fifth year coach Jim Vesper, the club has turned from what Maczik called “a dungeons and dragons club” into a group of talented individuals that consistently compete at the national level.
Considered not only a sport for athletes but also a sport for intellectuals, fencing requires a level of concentration and intellect not expected in other sports.
“Basically, as a fencer, you are trying to outthink your opponent,” graduate student and women’s epee captain Rebecca Storzer said. “You can get people out here that aren’t exactly athletically gifted but they are still able to compete. As a fencer, I try to get my opponent to do the things that I want her to do while she thinks that she’s doing because she wants to.”
Much like track and field or swimming, in fencing the players compete as individuals but win collectively. Fencers compete in one of three weapons: foil, epee and sabre. Foil and epee are point weapons, where the target area is the torso for foil, or the entire body for epee. As more of a slashing weapon, the sabre has a target area of both the torso and arms.
“Since foil and saber are all mostly torso targets the competitors’ arms, for foil, and legs are protected by the rules,” Maczik said. “But with epee, even the tip of the foot is a target, although it is a very dangerous and very insulting touch.”
According to Maczick, the danger in the “foot touch” is that a fencer then leaves his or her entire upper body and arm open for attack. Nevertheless, Maczik does not shy away from the move, arguing that good fencers do not use the move as an insult, but rather the move adds another dimension to the match where the players not only have to worry about the torso and arms but also the legs.
Which, according to Maczik, keeps him on his toes.