Michael Oles, of Hampstead, is passionate about the sport of fencing. He says that while each of the three disciplines — foil, saber and epee — has its loyal followers, all are in agreement about one thing: Fencing is a life-long passion.
"It's physical chess," he said, "using your body and brain just as much."
Oles, a 1974 Junior Olympic under-16 men's epee national champion, is all smiles when he and others talk about fencing.
And while he lives in Carroll County, he can often be found in Catonsville — where he welcomes everyone, young and old alike — to learn the sport at a studio off Route 40 operated by the Baltimore area's Tri-Weapon Club, a club founded in 1961 by his late uncle and fencing legend, Richard Oles.
While it's in Baltimore County, the club fields members from all around the region, including many from Carroll.
"All ages, all skill levels are mixed up," said Oles of the club's policy of everyone helping everyone. "We have complete sets (of gear) for everyone at the beginning."
A complete uniform includes head gear, a suit, knickers and a glove — all designed to protect the fencer. Sets can range from $350 up to $2,000, Oles said, but beginner students are allowed to use the club's sets.
"It's not a cheap sport when you get started," Oles admitted, though he said the gear is expensive for a reason.
"Fencing is one of the safest sports — though you are stabbing each other," he said. "So much time and effort was spent into the safety of it. There are less injuries than in basketball, soccer, football and volleyball."
And it's a greater workout than some might think, he said. "You burn more calories than a football workout."
"It is very physical, more than you think," agreed Kathy Oles Martin, Oles' sister. "Once you've fenced, it's a love for life. There's no limit when you have to stop."
On a recent weeknight at the club, members were fencing saber. For Roderich Marschner, 16, of Howard County, fencing has been a family tradition.
"I have three brothers who all fenced," said Marschner. "Mom had to find something to keep four boys entertained. Now we get to play with swords."
Oles said the sport promotes a level of discipline that can carry over to other aspects of life. And it's accessible to all people.
"Traditionally, you'll find fencers are successful at whatever they do," Oles said. "There is no typical fencer. Nobody you could pick out or point out as a fencer, like a basketball player."
By next year, Oles would like to see the club have 60 full members and 100 by the following year. The club will also encourage more members to participate in competitions — hoping to add to its record of coaching eight national champions and two Olympians since its formation in 1961.
Currently students learn and train under Charles Greene, head coach, and B.J. Swayne, assistant coach — with Oles as a guide and advocate who eagerly shares his love for the sport.
"If you don't like to compete, that's fine, you can come here," Oles said. "We'll support you."