As in life, there’s a tempo and a rhythm to fencing. This is the sword-fighting lesson embodied by Tim Weske.
The jabs and strikes are fast — forward motion is helped by good footwork. The parries and retreats are more deliberate and measured. It becomes a dance — ballet has its roots in the sport from Renaissance Europe. Fast and slow. Back and forth.
Tim’s life story is like a fencing match. It begins slow, in a small town of 260 in Minnesota (it’s now up to a booming 520). It speeds up after high school, when he and a friend decide to pursue real estate careers in Florida but wind up partying instead.
It is tempered again once his daughter is born, and he lives out his dream in his very own fencing studio at Magnolia and First streets. Now his daughter is a high school graduate herself, pursuing a career in acting fused with stunt work. Once again, life is picking up for Tim while he pursues a new online venture in combat entertainment.
The constant was always the sport he loves: fencing (though get him talking about the Minnesota Vikings and you’ll see he loves more than one). He’s one of the lucky few who get to practice it every day, at Tim Weske’s Swordplay.
The tan building is always the first thing I notice coming over the bridge into downtown; until this visit I never saw the broken-down Porsches in the lot next door. They look like they’ve been there a long time. In fact, everything on this block near the railroad tracks seems like it’s been there forever. The row of offices and industrial businesses are untouched by the overshadowing mall and restaurant developments that hulk over them from across the street.
It wasn’t long after Tim acquired the studio in 1992 that his then-wife told him she was pregnant. He remembers hearing the news on the studio’s back steps, where he had his “Omigod I’m gonna be a dad” moment.
Almost 20 years later, he’s coordinated and choreographed fight scenes in everything from “Lois and Clark: The New Adventure of Superman” to “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.” So perhaps it’s no surprise that daughter CC would follow in her dad’s entertainment footsteps. It also helps that your family friend is Nick Gallard, stunt coordinator on Episodes I through III of the “Star Wars” series.
On Monday afternoon I entered the studio to find all manner of weaponry lining the walls. The weapons look well used, as do some nicked shields — even a homemade Captain America shield.
It’s a long way from the Shakespearean productions where Tim first picked up a sword. He found he had a knack for stage combat, and one day during a production in a park he saw a man walk by with a foil under his arm. He asked him where he took lessons, and his lifelong passion was given shape.
He had other jobs, as one does when chasing a dream. His real estate stint in Florida lasted, at least mentally, until he saw “Grease” in a theater and knew he wanted to be in movies. On his way to becoming a Hollywood swordmaster, he also taught at a comedy traffic school.
“It was traffic school, like you go through for insurance,” he said. “Guys just had their comedy routines they’d do.”
He pursued acting, though after becoming a single dad he knew the fencing studio provided the steady work. His days of driving hours to a long-shot audition were up. Swordmaster he was, and swordmaster he is.
The Monday afternoon appointment shows up promptly. His name is Nicholas Rivelle, a 9-year-old from Pasadena. His older brother, Eli, used to take lessons with Tim as well, and their father, Steve, tells me that with Eli it began a lifelong passion for sports. He hopes the same holds true for Nicholas, who has dreams of one day competing in the Olympics.
“It’s a wonderful sport for kids,” Steve says as he watches Nicholas practice a new thrust technique. “What sport does a kid do that’s cooler than this?”
Their foils lightly clink together as they practice the move. Tim remarks that his young apprentice’s feet are like lead today, prompting Nicholas to spark up his attack. With some coaching from Dad nearby, Nicholas performs the pattern again and lunges, this time hitting his mark on Tim’s chest. He is complimented for his good adjustment.
After the lesson, Tim shows me a video of his next project. The past few years have seen less film work for Swordplay as more productions have relocated to Europe, where they hire local fight choreographers, so Tim is producing his own Web series pitting different genres of women warriors against each other.
He hopes it takes hold with the genre crowd. If not, he still has his studio — and on the wall calendar in the small corner office there are names of clients taped to every day of the week.
When Hollywood comes calling again, its swordmaster will be there.
“When your toilet overflows, you wouldn’t call a carpenter,” Tim said. “I’ll stay here forever if they let me.”
BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant from the East Coast. When he’s not practicing parries and dodges, he can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter @818NewGuy.