WHEN West Vancouver's Shant Basmadjian wants to sharpen his focus before a big day, he just finds his older brother Haig, takes him down to the basement and tries to stab him.
Haig doesn't mind - he's stabbing right back. No, they're not pirates or gangsters or psychopaths - they're competitive fencers.
"Before tournaments, if I feel like I need a bit more training just to get back into it, I'll ask him. 'Hey Haig, put on the sweater, let's go downstairs and fence a little bit,'" said Shant. "It's good. He helps me out a little bit, gives me some tips."
It's a little bit of side action that their coach, Zbigniew Pietrusinski of the North Vancouver Fencing Club, doesn't seem to want to know about.
"They don't tell me about that," Pietrusinski said with a laugh. The coach, however, is hoping that Shant is at his sharpest this week as he embarks on a tour that will take him across the continent to three of the biggest tournaments in his young career. First up is the North American Cup this week in Louisville, Ky., featuring the top juniors from Canada and the United States. Next up is a Canada Cup event in Kingston, Ont. where Shant will compete in the cadet, junior and senior sabre divisions on three consecutive days. The last stop will be the biggest of them all, a World Cup event in Phoenix, Ariz., against the top juniors in the world. It'll be Shant's first crack at a global event and he's hoping it'll spur him on to other successes, including catching up to 20-year-old Haig in the sibling rivalry.
"My brother, he's participated in many World Cups, he's gone to various NACs (North American Cups) and he also went to the Canada Winter Games," said Shant. "The other day I was just going through the medals because I was working on my portfolio. I would (find) like one for me and then five for my brother. One for me and then 10 for my brother."
Shant has had his successes too. Last year he won a national title in the under-15 division. Fencing is a novelty for most Canadian kids but Shant, who grew up playing soccer, followed his brother into fencing and has grown to love it.
"I tried it and I slowly caught on," he said. "It's a mind game. You've got to predict what your opponent is going to do, you've got to figure out what you're going to do to your opponent, where you're going to attack. A lot of people say it's like a chess game. It's really tactical."
Shant attends St. Alcuin College, a new North Vancouver private school that allows him to work around his busy competition schedule. He also spends three to four nights a week training in the sport on top of the work he puts in with his soccer team.
"It's kind of demanding for him," said Pietrusinski, adding that the soccer training actually helps when it comes time to take up the sabre. "He's very good. He has very good fitness level. It helps that he plays soccer . . . he has very strong legs. Now he's working the technique and strategy for fencing sabre."
And just to clear things up, Shant in no way sees himself as a gangster, psychopath or pirate.
"A lot of people say that kind of stuff, 'Don't you fence like in the movies?'" he said. "It's completely different. I don't see anything when I look at the people in the movies. I guess you can kind of see what they're doing with a parry or attack but it's nowhere near the same thing as actually fencing. . . . It's just a sport."
. . . According to Pietrusinski, North Vancouver Fencing Club juniors Zoe Clark and Robin Cando are also making the rounds in the next couple of weeks with Clarke taking part in the same three events as Shant and Cando hitting the Canada Cup and World Cup competitions. All three are battling for spots in the 2013 Canada Games scheduled for August in Sherbrooke, Que. For more information on the North Vancouver Fencing Club visit northvanfencing.com.