There's a rule at Blake that requires freshmen and sophomores to take part in organized athletics at some point in their career at the school.
In seventh grade and knowing that requirement was approaching, Solomon Polansky took a look at the opportunities and decided to try fencing.
"I liked the fact that it had more of a niche feel to it and wasn't so mainstream," he said. "Fencing was something new to explore."
Polansky spent his first couple of years on the losing end of some lopsided scores — "There's a really steep learning curve in fencing," he joked— but never considered quitting.
Good decision. Now a senior, he won his second consecutive Minnesota High School Men's Foil championship, defeating Milo Wittenberg of St. Paul Academy 15-11 in the finals.
Staff writer Jim Paulsen, who claims fencing ignorance, spent some time being educated by Polansky about the sport.
Q: Give me a quick lesson on fencing.
A: There are three types of weapons: foil, sabre and epee. I'll just talk about foil because that's my specialty. What you are trying to do is hit your opponent in the target area, which is just the torso, when you have what's called "right of way." Right of way is basically whoever is attacking or initiating the attack. You can only score a point when you have right of way.
Q: So you can't just accidentally touch someone during an attack and get a point?
A: Yes, but there are some defensive strategies where you can score a point. It involves a parry, which is deflecting the blade and stopping the attack. And then you do what's called a riposte, which is kind of a counterattack.
Q: You stuck with fencing after a few tough years. What about the sport resonated with you?
A: There's a lot of strategy involved, but it's set up in an athletic framework and that was an intriguing concept to me.
Q: What are some common misconceptions about fencing?
A: I'll give you a couple. First, most people associate fencing and swordsmanship with movies like "Pirates of the Caribbean." Those are great fun to watch, but people think we just run around smacking each other all day. It's much more controlled and disciplined than that. Second, there is the concept that fencing is unathletic. But to become a top fencer, you have to put in a lot of sweat and conditioning work. It is a sport.
Q: What role does fencing play in your life?
A: Even though the high school season is over, I'm going to keep training at TCFC [Twin Cities Fencing Club]. Next weekend, I'm travelling to Reno for the North American Cup. It's not the highest level. It's Division III. But it will bring in a relatively high level of people from all over the country.
Q: How about college?
A: I'm going to Johns Hopkins, which has a Division III fencing program. I hope to continue there. I've talked to the coach there and I'm confident I'll be able to continue.
Q: Which of your two state championships feels sweeter?
A: They're both really amazing. The first one was really special to me. It was a tremendous feeling. The second one had a different feel to it, but I think it's a nice capstone on my whole high school fencing experience.