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Get the point, fencing master starts club

Pahrump has a fencing club? That’s usually the general reaction when the subject comes up, but the town really does have one and it has been around for at least two years. There may only be three in the class, but it exists nevertheless.

Dylan Metscher is a freshman at Pahrump Valley High School and has been fencing since he was in seventh grade.

“I have always been interested in the ways of the sword. It has been a passion since as long as I can remember. It has been my calling. When my father introduced me to fencing I really liked it. I knew fencing was a sport, but I had no interests in it until they introduced me to Master Mel North, my instructor. They just told me that there was a guy in Pahrump that could teach it,” he said.

His father Tom just heard of Mel North and got his son into fencing. North is a retired University of California at Los Angeles fencing coach who was recently inducted into the UCLA Hall of Fame in 2012 for fencing.

North has also trained many Hollywood actors to use the sword in movies. One of his students was Tony Curtis, who he helped in the movie Spartacus in 1960. In fact, North did all the swordplay in this movie and even had a bit part himself. North has been fencing since he was 10 years old. He teaches three swords, the epee, the sabre and the foil and is a master instructor.

North said he can tell when his students will make it in fencing and he believes in Dylan.

“I insist that my students get good grades. At UCLA all my students had straight A’s.” He said his three current students have great grades. “I turn out champions. I know when I have a champion. I sense it. I know they can do it and I can sense they have the talent. I can see who will be my champions and I see this with these students. I am trying to set up a scholarship to help my three students in Pahrump buy the equipment they need so they can go and compete in the sport,” North said.

Dylan was also playing soccer so he is athletic, but his interest in learning everything about fencing grew and so he had to give up soccer.

Dylan said that most people don’t believe fencing is that strenuous.

“At first it was pretty strenuous just holding the blade still for long periods of time. At the moment, it is not that strenuous, but I have been doing it for a while,” he said.

In the beginning, it was all about learning technique so that handling of the sword in tournaments was not strenuous. In other words, Dylan had to get in shape and like any other sport fencing takes some conditioning. There are even basic moves that must be mastered before a person picks a sword up for the first time.

“The first thing we learned about swords is just how to stand in the proper position. That took a few lessons and most of it was just minor details,” Dylan said.

He said this was important to learn because if you learn the proper body position this conserves your energy and it will reduce the strain on the body.

The swordplay on movies is something North has done for most of his life. Dylan finds it amusing.

“The movie people or most movies where I have seen some sort of fencing is not like anything I have learned. It is just too wild and Hollywood,” he said.

After two years with the sport, Dylan is still unrated. He said it takes some time and tournaments cost money.

Fencing ranking starts with “no ranking” NR then “E”, “D”, “C”, “B” and “A” with “A” being the highest.

“I just did my first tournament and still am not ranked. I thought it was very exciting and I really enjoyed it,” Dylan said. “During the tournament I did not get tired. We went to Las Vegas at the Sands. I competed against six opponents and then faced one more in the elimination round, and lost. My first tournament was not as much of a light show as it is in the Olympics but it was definitely a show because they still use electronic lights.”

Dylan said in fencing tournaments they use gear full of sensors and lights to tell when an opponent has been hit by a lethal blow.

Dylan is using an epee, which weighs about two pounds and the blade is three feet long. He said the one thing he learned about the tourney is he needs to communicate with his coach more.

North said because of his age, he does not attend too many tournaments anymore but he still communicates with his students by phone. All the student needs to do is to describe to North what moves his opponent is doing and North has done this for so long he can tell his student the exact counter to the move.

“My coach said I should have called him and talked to him more in between bouts for more advice. I would have had to explain to him what was going on. I know enough moves that I can explain what moves the opponents were using against me and he could tell me what to do based on that,” the young fencer explained.

North refers to fencing as “physical chess.”

“…Except you don’t have five minutes to make a move. Fencing requires a lot of strategy, and if you don’t know what he is doing you can’t make a counter move against that.” Dylan said.

During a tournament he said he is good at picking up on his opponent’s moves.

“Usually I can figure out what the other guy is doing pretty quickly,” he explained.

Dylan believes for him to get better he needs to practice with other people who are better than he is.

North agrees with his student and said he believes all his students will improve if other students joined the club.

Dylan would like to fence on a team in college. At the moment, he is thinking of applying for the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Mel North can be reached at 775-910-3489 if you are interested in donating to his scholarship for his students.

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