In the beginning of the fencing season, John Murray, the son of a retired Fort Bragg Soldier, and a fencer at the All-American Fencing Academy in Fayetteville, said, “I want to earn a rating this year.”

On Feb. 16, Murray walked off the strip at the East Carolina University Fencing Tournament Open after winning his finals bout and earned his “D” rating.

Murray, 16, is home- schooled and started fencing three years ago as a student of the All-American Fencing Academy.

According to the academy’s coaches, the mental and physical challenges are the reason many people try fencing in the first place — it’s different, and it’s like playing chess at a thousand miles per hour.

“For some people, fencing comes naturally, for others, it takes a lot of work like martial arts or ballet. For Murray, he had both,” said John Page, Murray’s fencing coach.

“He’s now getting past tall, lanky and all the aspect of becoming a teenager, and starting to develop some speed, strength and creativity.”

In Murray’s determination to earn a rating this season, his training regimen changed from one class per week, to private lessons on Monday, regular classes on Tuesdays and continuous, open bouting and competitions on the weekends.

The East Carolina University competition was the first tournament that Murray attended without teammates.

“I was excited about the tournament, but nervous, because I didn’t have coaches or teammates to rely on. I was completely on my own,” recalled Murray.

The tournament featured two high-rated fencers from Chapel Hill, N.C., Zoe Loh from the North Carolina Fencing Development Program and Eric Boros from the Chapel Hill Fencing Club. Boros and Loh were both favored to win the ECU tournament.

Coming out of the pools, Murray had only one loss to Ryan Miller from the New Bern Fencing Club, New Bern, N.C. Loh left the pools with two losses, while Boros went undefeated.

Boros’ undefeated record gave him the top seed in the direct elimination rounds which pitted him against eighth seed Loh early in the quarter finals.

The early face-off of the two highest rated fencers, Boros and Loh, paved the road for Murray to the finals as the sixth seed.

Murray breezed through several elimination bouts, winning definitively 15-2 and 15-7 against New Bern and Pitt County fencers.

Meanwhile, Loh defeated Boros in the quarterfinals and faced Charles Chow of Apex Fencing Academy in the semi-finals.

Loh defeated Chow in the semi-finals. The finals now featured the second highest rated fencer in the tournament, pitting Loh against the unrated Murray.

Murray jumped to the lead early against Loh in the finals.

“I was using everything I had, doing everything that Coach Page and I had been working on; I was scoring points so many different ways,” said Murray.

According to the coaches at the All-American Fencing Academy, a good fencer is someone who knows how to strategize to consistently score a point.

They compare it to a basketball team that can rebound, drive, shoot mid-range and have three-point shooters. They have many ways of scoring.

“When I had that lead, I was really confident, but I was cautious,” Murray said. “When I was a touch away from winning, I didn’t want to mess up and give Loh the opportunity to have a comeback,” he said.

“When I hit that last touch, I was happy, but I looked at the referee to confirm that I really did have the winning point...but I don’t really show a lot of extreme emotion.”

The last touch that Murray used to win was another skill that he had been working on with his coach. It was the only time he used it during the bout.

Earning a rating isn’t an easy feat for fencers, said Gerhard Guevarra, All-American Fencing Academy head coach.

“They can’t take a test or be rewarded for their hard work. Fencers are rated from A, the highest rating, to E, the lowest or unrated. Becoming a rated fencer comes down to winning. You have to outright win the tournament or place in the top eight of a highly-rated tournament.”

Normally, as fencers get better and compete more often, they earn their rating progressively from unrated, to E, to D, and so forth, added Guevarra.

“Murray skipped straight to his D rating at this tournament because he beat a C-rated fencer. If he keeps up this level of competition, we’re confident that he’ll have his C rating by the end of the season,” said Page.

The All-American Fencing Academy, at 207 B Donaldson St., in Fayetteville, instructs and trains recreational and competitive fencers from ages seven to adult. Instruction is offered through summer camps, private lessons and group classes with fencers progressing to regional and national competition. Past instruction has been conducted through the SKIES Unlimited program on Fort Bragg.

For more information about the All-American Fencing Academy, call 644-0137, send email to info@allamericanfencing.com or visit their website at www.allamericanfencing.com.