Pitura Represents UofR at World University Games
“Stick them with the pointy end”
Fiction and fantasy are the first thing that come to mind for most people when you talk about sword fighting, not fencing. Fencing is an extremely competitive sport with a long history. The modern version dates back to the eighteenth century and is featured in the pinnacle of sports competitions, the Olympics. Two practitioners of the sport, University of Regina students Philip Pitura and Julia Creusot travelled to Naples, Italy to represent Canada as well as the University of Regina at the World University Games.
In Italy, Pitura and Creusot both competed in the individual sabre event, the fastest paced of the three fencing disciplines. Creusot was eliminated in the pool round; however, she gained valuable experience at her first international competition. Pitura fared better, clearing the pool round despite the extremely high level of competition. During the pool round he beat out the number-two seed Stefano Ivan Lucchetti of Argentina to advance. In the bracket round Pitura fell to Korea’s Hangil Jeong, ending his tournament in the round of sixty-four, a finish Pitura is happy with.
“The top forty-nine people made it to the next round, and I was lucky enough to make it at forty-ninth. In the direct elimination round I came up against a very good fencer from Korea who I had a good match with, so I ended up making top 64, which is always really good, especially at this high a level.”
But how does someone from Regina get to become an elite fencer in the first place?
In a province where team sports like hockey, football and basketball are the dominant sports, fencing, like many other Olympic sports tends to fall by the wayside. For Pitura, this made choosing a sport difficult as a child.
“The story goes, I had tried every other sport, and nothing really stuck. I wasn’t any good at team sports, so my dad found a listing for fencing in the leisure guide and it stuck.”
Stuck it has. Pitura has gone on to reach the highest level of his sport; he currently sits at 358th in the FIE World Rankings. This success has come despite Pitura being an athlete who struggled in traditional sports. Pitura hopes this is something that will inspire the next generation.
“A lot of people assume if you are not good at hockey you don’t have a future in sports in Regina – but that’s simply not true, fencing is another option to reach the highest competitive level.”
Pitura also believes that fencing’s non-traditional appeal is one of its strengths. A strength which he thinks can help grow the sport, particularly for those who wouldn’t typically participate in sports.
“Fencing really caters to the outsiders. It is just as physical as it is cerebral, so it is an option for those people who want to be active but don’t feel that they would fit in in a traditional sport. Having people like Julia and myself show that you can do this non-traditional sport and still get to the absolute highest level of competition, I think that’s a really good thing.”
Although Pitura has reached an elite level, fencing out of Saskatchewan is not always easy. While Pitura’s club, the Regina Rapiers are the biggest club in Saskatchewan, they maintain only 35 regular members. This can make it a struggle to find training time and locations. They typically train out of Campus Regina Public, formerly Cochrane High School, but as Pitura has reached a higher level he has had to find innovative training solutions.
“We tend to fence wherever we can get a place, so during the summer we train out of places like Level Ten, we’ve done training in the park before, as more of us get to a higher level we need more training time.”
Despite these challenges, Regina fencing is producing a lot of top-end athletes like Pitura and Creusot. This is a phenomenon Pitura jokingly sums up.
“We are getting people really good really fast.”
During these training sessions, Pitura works on footwork patterns, as well as specific fencing techniques with the swords. On top of these sessions he does three gym sessions a week as well as hyper-technical private technique sessions. For Pitura, all of this preparation is important because of the reactionary nature of his sport.
“Training is a little bit different for everybody because fencing isn’t like most other sports. You are doing extremely skilled and technical movements, but the amount of possibilities is endless. It doesn’t matter if you can perform the perfect lunge, if that’s all you can do you will get destroyed.”
This reactionary component gives fencing a strong mental aspect, even more so than most other sports. Pitura also spends a lot of time perfecting this part of his fencing.
“There’s a lot of finding what works against what and larger strategies like do I want to fight this guy fast or do I want to fight this guy slow, but you have to figure these things out in a very short amount of time. People can change how they fence so quickly you need to learn within the match what the right choices are.”
On top of this high-speed decision making and analysis, fencing is an extremely individual sport, which, when it comes to the mental side of fencing, can be a double-edged sword.
“Because you are the only person out there you are the person who controls it all, you have to be mentally prepared to deal with that. I work with a mental trainer and we work on getting into the exact mindset to perform.”
This is a zone Pitura describes as a “middle ground.”
“That’s not a mindset where you are too hyped up or too subdued, your body and mind are ready to go but you are still calm enough to make a decision.”
Being able to make decisions quickly is especially important in Pitura’s discipline, sabre, where the action happens extremely quickly. Like all forms of fencing, sabre is scored to five points in pool rounds and fifteen points in elimination rounds; however, it is the only style that does not use the three-minute clock. This is because in sabre the movements usually take place in less than a second.
Although fencing is not a varsity sport, Pitura still represents the University of Regina at the World University Games and that means that he must be enrolled as a full-time student, facing all the same challenges of other varsity athletes, especially as a computer science major.
“I balance it by cutting down on my student workload, and I’ve accepted I have to extend out my degree. Computer science isn’t exactly the major you’d expect an international athlete to be in, so I manage by getting my work done as much as possible, it’s a lot of homework in airports and hotel rooms.”
Pitura also thinks the mental aspect of fencing has helped him to succeed as both a student and in life.
“It’s about learning how to get a lot of work done in a short amount of time, which I think fencing has taught me how to do, perform at as high a level as possible in a short amount of time. I’ve also had to accept that because of my other pursuits I will not be an absolute top-level student, and that’s ok.”
Like athletes in other Olympic sports, Pitura is willing to make these sacrifices because he has his sights set on the ultimate goal, the Olympic games. But Pitura is not aiming for 2020.
“This season is more so a recovery and training season for me. I am using this season to get ready for the next quad. I want to be in top shape for 2024, which is absolutely in my sights.”