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Learn the art of fencing in Merrick

Merrick Fencing Club founder and president Mark Goldman

Merrick Fencing Club founder and president Mark Goldman leaps through the air while sparring with a fellow participant during the clubs Monday night practice at the Cure of the Ars Church in Merrick. (Feb. 27, 2012) Photo Credit: Nancy Borowick

"En garde!"

"Ready!"

"Fence!"

That's the rally call from instructor Enid Friedman that rings through the gymnasium in Merrick. On cue, the group of 12 students starts the dance: Advance, retreat ... lunge, recover. The music comes from the patter of feet shuffling back and forth in harmony with the occasional shriek of a sneaker skidding on the hard floor.

Fencing, says Friedman, is a mental game that's bent on strategy. "You have to analyze your opponent and determine the best way to score and outwit them."

On Monday nights, Friedman and other aficionados transform a 7,000-square-foot gymnasium into a medieval training ground where members of the Merrick Fencing Club can work on their form and footwork.

WHAT TO EXPECT

Fencing is an Olympic sport that can take several forms -- here the focus is on foil fencing, which involves opponents squaring off with thin, bendable swords. You score a "touch" (or point) when the sword hits the competitor's torso.

"It is a more elegant form that teaches restraint and strategy rather than just brute force," says club president Mark Goldman, of Merrick. "There is a lot of foot movement and it's comparable to dancing or even boxing."

Friedman instructs the group's weekly two-hour sessions, which start with 45 minutes of practice drills. The second portion of the class is devoted to bouts when students pair off. Protective gear -- including a mask, padded jacket and glove -- is provided.

Sound intimidating? Students are of various ages, heights and skill levels.

GETTING INTO IT

Last week, Merrick attorney Scott Gross had a strong showing with three consecutive wins. Although he fenced competitively through high school, it had been 30 years since he'd taken up the sword.

"It is the greatest sport," says Gross, 50, visibly sweaty and out of breath. Still pumped, he surveys the room and sets off to challenge Richard Waskewicz, a 12-year fencing veteran, to a duel (For the record: Waskewicz won 3-2).

Meanwhile, Goldman's daughter Lauren, 18, brought her boyfriend Peter Mekalainas, 21, a college student from Bethpage, for a lesson.

"It's his first time," she giggles, looking on as her father helps Mekalainas suit up. An all-around athlete who has played soccer and lacrosse and rowed competitively, Lauren Goldman still deems fencing as one of the most difficult sports. "It's all mental," she says. "You need to be light on your feet."

Mekalainas followed his girlfriend's lead but nevertheless still lost his first match, 3-1. "I went up against an experienced fencer, but at least I scored one point," says Mekalainas. "It's really fun once you get into it."

The Merrick Fencing Club

WHEN | WHERE 7-9 p.m. Mondays (no meetings the third Monday of each month) through June 11, Curé of Ars Roman Catholic Church gymnasium, 2323 Merrick Ave., Merrick. Walk-ins welcome.

INFO 516-592-2800, merrickfencing.com

COST $30 a class or $300 a season (includes use of foil and protective gear)

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