When he took up fencing as a seventh-grader at St. Mark’s School of Texas in Dallas to satisfy his physical education requirement, Ryan Shams informed his mother that he intended to master the sport—and he would not be foiled. At sixteen, after dueling for several hours a day at Dallas’ Lone Star Fencing Center, Shams achieved the number one U.S. ranking in the under-twenty-year-old class, a title he still holds three years later. When he isn’t reading Immanuel Kant or listening to the punk-rock group Fugazi, the sophomore philosophy major at Columbia University in New York slips into his Kevlar and cotton whites, wire mesh mask, and gauntlet and works out with Olympic fencers. He’d like to make the team in the year 2000, but for now he’s simply enjoying the once-courtly European sport of strength and finesse. “A huge evolution of the body and mind takes place in a fifteen-touch bout,” he says. “A lot of people compare it to full-contact chess.”
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