Greetings again from the darkness. I would have not guessed a fencing movie could hold my attention. I’d have been wrong. But then, this isn’t so much a fencing movie as it is the story of the legacy of Michael D’Asaro, a former world class fencer and coach. Co-directors Gregory Lynch Jr and Doug Nichols previously collaborated on another fencing documentary entitled THE LAST CAPTAIN (2017), and it’s clear they are familiar with the sport and its history.
Beginning your film with a philosophical Carl Jung quote immediately sends the message that this is an unconventional sports project. In fact, psychology and philosophy played a key role in the success of Michael D’Asaro throughout his career, and his approach and style evolved greatly as he aged. He believed one could learn all of life’s lessons through fencing.
For those of us not as schooled on fencing’s finer points, the directors are kind enough to serve up a quickie education, with a key point being the three weapons used in completion: Foil, Epee, and Sabre. Each of the weapons has its own set of rules and demands its own particular skill set. Rare is the fencer who excels at all three. And yes you are correct, Michael D’Asaro was one of these. We hear from many of his teammates and pupils, and the descriptions are pretty consistent. D’Asaro had his own aggressive style. There was an “edge” to him, and he fought with fierceness.
Much of the film is structured like a standard biopic, with D’Asaro’s sister, son, and ex-wife (and fellow fencer) recollecting bits and pieces of the life of this Brooklyn boy. We learn his own mother nicknamed him “Chubby” and he was part of a street gang, which is why he initially had an interest in fencing – he hoped it would fine-tune his knife fighting. D’Asaro was certainly no choir boy, and we hear about his hard partying (drugs and alcohol), and get a timeline of his ups and downs involving the Olympics, Pan Am games, the U.S. Army, his hippie years on Haight-Ashbury, and his re-birth at Hans Halberstadt Club, which led to his coaching gig at San Jose State.
Speaking of psychology, it’s fascinating to read the body language of Al Morales as he recalls his rivalry with D’Asaro, and learning of D’Asaro’s Polish mentor, Jerzy Pawlowski, often referred to as the greatest fencer of all-time. By the end, we realize D’Asaro lived an interesting life, most of it on his terms. Despite all his wins ‘on the strip’, and the fact that he beat colon cancer, a brain tumor finally proved too much – although it may have led to his finding peace as a person, and with his legacy of performance, coaching, and impacting women’s sports.