Area fencers ready for Richard F. Oles Memorial Charm City Classic

There are about 12 fencers competing on the strips at the Baltimore Fencing Center in Columbia, but the noise that echoes through the building is an abrupt thud.

It is the right foot of Duncan Rheingans-Yoo, who is off to the side warming up. His eyes open for a brief moment before closing, and he bobs his sword in the air as if he's a fisherman with his rod, patiently awaiting a bite.

He shuffles up and down the strip, and then — thud. He drives forward, mimicking his attack on an opponent, and his right foot comes down hard on the floor.

After taking up the sport only because his brother had, he says that things began to change as he improved. It was no longer merely about trying to outdo his sibling.

"Fencing has become a part of me," says Duncan, 16, of Columbia, who began fencing five years ago. He adds: "You have to get inside your opponents' heads, see what they might do and adjust your moves to counter that."

At the Chesapeake Fencing Club on Homeland Avenue, Sam Dusman of Baltimore is almost set to begin practicing when a young fencer approaches him with a big smile. "I challenge you," the young child says to Sam.

For now, Sam puts his bout with the young fencer on hold. He needs to begin preparing himself, so he steps onto the strip against someone closer to his age and size.

Now that Sam's cross-country season at Friends School has concluded, he has started practicing three to four nights a week in preparation for this week's Richard F. Oles Memorial Charm City Classic.

The event will be Saturday and Sunday at UMBC's Retriever Activities Center, where 231 fencers will compete in six events.

Richard Oles, who died in 2011 at age 77, coached at Johns Hopkins for years, and was recently selected for induction into the National Fencing Hall of Fame next summer.

Sam, who has a "B" rating in foil and "C" rating in epee, seemed headed toward the sport at an early age.

"He was always running around with a stick in his hand," Linda Dusman recalls of Sam. When they'd go to the park, "he'd be a knight."

Linda figured Sam could put his energy to good use, and he began fencing in the fifth grade under the direction of Ray Gordon.

Gordon has coached Sam since he began fencing, and he praises Sam's poise on the strip.

"He's relaxed. He's one of the most relaxed fencers I've coached," Gordon says.

In competition, Duncan is similarly calm. He is focused and controlled while practicing, wasting none of his movements.

Duncan, the starting goalkeeper for the Oakland Mills soccer team, enjoys how fencing allows for "individuality."

But his greatest pleasure comes in those moments when he finds himself on the strip, in full uniform, with an opponent staring him down.

"Competing is my favorite aspect," says Duncan, who achieved his "A" rating in foil this year after finishing in a tie for third place at the Virginia Kick Off Open.

His father, Terry Yoo, says it's "nerve-racking" watching his son compete, whether it's on the soccer field or the strip.

"Being on the strip, facing somebody who might be better than you," Terry says, "I think he thrives at that."

For Duncan, fencing isn't stressful. It's a matter of executing what he prepared for during practices. It's about not letting distractions obstruct what is ahead of him.

"At some point, I just blot out everything else," he says. "I focus on myself and my own fencing, and making sure that I am executing everything correctly."

Last month, at the Maryland Under-20 Junior Olympic Qualifiers, Duncan took first in foil, qualifying for the Junior Olympics to be held in February in Portland, Ore.

Duncan's individuality in the sport, which has shaped his determined mindset while on the strip, helped him get there.

"There is no one but yourself that you can rely on; you must perform," Duncan says.

"And if you do," he adds, pausing. "Well … you're a champion."

He and Sam have a history, which adds to the intensity of what should already be a competitive event.

The two have fenced against each other a few times, but Sam hasn't beaten Duncan yet. That doesn't mean the matches weren't close.

"We've had a couple 14-15 bouts," Sam explains.

After a little while at the Chesapeake Fencing Club, Sam walks over to the young fencer who had challenged him earlier in the night. They move over to the far strip and, despite the disparity in age and height, begin their friendly bout.

Sam is ready for the Charm City Classic. But with Duncan there, he's got a little added incentive.

"I've gotten better now," Sam says, laughing. "I kind of want my rematch there."

Richard F. Oles Memorial Charm City Classic

When: Saturday and Sunday

Time: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. (both days)

Where: UMBC's Retriever Activities Center

Admission: Free


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