Eight students disguised in fencing masks stand before coach Frank Van Dyke at the Red Rock Fencing Center, 5075 Cameron St.
They practice stabbing each other before dueling it out in a two-team relay, keeping in mind one rule: There are no rules.
“Epee is the dueling sword from about 500 years ago,” Van Dyke said. “It’s whoever hits whom first. Back then, it’s whoever drew blood first, but we won’t be doing that tonight.”
Sergo Khzarjyan, 15, helps facilitate the class. He has been training under Van Dyke for 1½ years and visits the center about four days a week.
“It’s like a fast-paced chess game,” Khzarjyan said. “It’s very interactive and takes a lot of skill.”
Van Dyke, 55, isn’t a stranger to fencing strategies. In October, he won a bronze medal at the World Veterans Fencing Championships in Varna, Bulgaria.
“I didn’t care about the championship at first,” he said. “I went to the second qualifying tournament because it was in Reno, and it was close. But once I started, I just couldn’t lose.”
Although Van Dyke didn’t compete for three years, he tied for second place in his age group at the national championship in Ohio.
The top four — Sean Ameli of Las Vegas, Timothy Glass of Illinois, Michael Perka of California and Van Dyke — represented the U.S. epee team for men 50 to 59 years old.
The team arrived in Bulgaria a week before the championship to get acclimated to the nine-hour time difference. Two days before the event, Van Dyke caught a severe cold.
“I was curled up in bed feeling miserable,” Van Dyke said. “There was no pharmacy around, so I just had to drink lots of fluids, sleep and hope for the best.”
After the first round of fencing in the championship, Van Dyke’s teammates were seeded fifth, eighth and 14th out of 64. Van Dyke was seeded 40th.
“I was against this guy from Belgium who looked at me and laughed. It was very condescending,” Van Dyke said. “It (upset me) and, all of a sudden, I didn’t feel sick anymore.”
With his new mindset, Van Dyke continued to win matches until the semifinals. He lost against Philippe Cony from France and placed third.
“I was the first American in the last four years to get a medal,” Van Dyke said. “It came from someone who was sick, seeded 40th and had no business being there.”
Van Dyke discovered fencing almost 40 years ago while watching two girls fence in his school’s courtyard.
“They asked me if I would like to try, and I did,” he said. “They proceeded to beat me pretty badly, but I thought it was very interesting.”
Van Dyke enrolled in a college fencing course at Southern Illinois University the same year.
“I came out No. 1 and never looked back,” he said.
In 1985 and 1986, Van Dyke moved to Germany to train with the German Olympic fencing team. He moved to Las Vegas in 1997 and opened the Red Rock Fencing Center in 2004.
According to Van Dyke, the center was originally created so he could train more.
“There were only two A-level fencers in the city at the time, and I was one of them,” Van Dyke said. “I was a fencing junkie, and I had to have my fencing fix. So I figured if I couldn’t train with the other A-level fencer, I had to create more.”
Fencing uses three types of blades: foil, epee and sabre. Foil fencers target the torso; epee fencers aim for the entire body; and sabre fencers target everything above the waist.
“If I gave you a coloring book, and you colored in the lines, you would be a foilist because foilists love to follow the rules,” Van Dyke said. “If you scribbled all over the place, you’d be an epeeist because epeeists have no rules. If you ripped up the paper and broke the crayons, you’d be a sabrist because sabrists are crazy.”
Van Dyke said he plans to attend the World Veterans Fencing Championships again next year and take the process more seriously.
“I intend on winning,” Van Dyke said. “Fencing is what I do. It’s who I am. It’s what I enjoy.”
For more information, visit redrockfencingcenter.com or call 702-222-1901.
Contact Southwest/Spring Valley View reporter Caitlyn Belcher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0403.