With 48 years of fencing competition and coaching tucked under his belt, Danvers resident Jack Mullarkey knows talent when he sees it.
Alongside his brothers Ed and Jim, Mullarkey owns and operates the 3MB (Three Mullarkey Brothers) Fencing Club out of Beverly's Waring School, a learning ground for future fencing champions since 2000.
The bladed combat sport has taken Mullarkey and his brothers all over the world. When he was younger, Mullarkey was ranked as one of the best at World and National championships that ranged from Spain to Russia. A champion competitor and coach in foil and epee, there isn't much that Mullarkey hasn't done or seen with fencing.
So when he spied a young Georgetown fencer by the name of Wesley Miles standing out from the pack during a Saturday morning local fencing lesson at Newburyport's Belleville Congregational Church, Mullarkey, like he has done so many times before, put him to the test.
"(Miles) came to me around December of last year through the Newburyport Youth Services program with a couple other small kids, and it's during that time that you look and wonder to see which one out of this group is going to excel," Mullarkey said. "It didn't take long."
The longtime coach offered Miles and his mother, Lisa, the chance to develop his skill set even further at Beverly's 3MB.
"I like how you really have to use your mind and how it's not all about the physical," said Miles. "You need the skill, but you need to be coachable, you need to listen, and you need to have the mental skills to do it."
After some time working with others in the class, Miles soon transitioned to intense private, 20-minute lessons. Mullarkey was impressed.
"The more I pushed him, the more he liked it," said Mullarkey. "He just took to it. He's a natural."
Mullarkey said that being a natural at fencing demands much more than fast reflexes.
"It's a mind and body type of experience, it's not strictly athleticism," said Mullarkey. "You have to be able to develop strategies very quickly."
The speed of fencing has much to do with its near-instantaneous reaction time.
"One of the reasons you don't see fencing on TV is because it's just so fast. TV cameras just can't follow the action," said Mullarkey. "Say a photographer was trying to take a picture at a high-level tournament. They would have to adjust their shutter speed down to 125th of a second, and usually, it's still a blur."
A popular misconception of fencing is that it's not a cardiovascular work-out.
"You have to have balance, timing and great reaction. It's as mental as it is physical, and it's extremely aerobic," said Mullarkey. "People don't realize that. You're moving out there, jumping and lunging. It's constantly about keeping your distance from your competitor."
Initially intrigued with fencing when he found his mother's foil — a keepsake from college — Miles, a student at the Penn Brook Elementary School, said that he enjoys the individual aspect of fencing.
"(Fencing) tends to attract the kids who don't want to play team sports and who are looking for a niche they can call their own," said Mullarkey. "It also tends to draw very good students. There's definitely an intellect needed to be good at this sport."
With more than 165 colleges in the United States offering fencing, Mullarkey said that the sport opens up a lot of collegiate doors after high school.
"Two years ago, we had six kids that were aging out of my program to go to school. Some of those schools were Princeton, Brandeis, Cornell. It develops a whole way of life, increases focus. It's amazing."
At the age of 10, Miles isn't sending out application letters just yet, but he is making waves in regional competition in very short time.
Earlier this month, Miles entered the New England Fencing Championships in Rhode Island to face off against the top Youth-10 fencers in the Northeast. After a lackluster first round that forced him to compete in direct elimination over the next five rounds, Miles began to roll.
Quickly the number of opponents whittled.
"I didn't do so well in my pool, but I was able to get a bye, which I was very happy about. I never would have gotten past any of the rounds without my coach," said Miles, who also plays baseball, soccer and trains karate. "It was quite amazing because I went there just hoping that I could win one or two matches."
When all was said and done, a grouping of 22 competitors was slimmed to just a pair that included Miles.
Out-matched against an older, more experienced fencer, Miles ultimately took second place and earned a very impressive silver medal.
Mullarkey has been around plenty of champs, and in Miles, he believes, lies another.
"New England is one of the strongest areas of fencing in the country. If he can take second at New Englands, then I'm sure he could do very well on the national level," said Mullarkey. "It is terrific for the amount of time he's been doing it."