Sudipto Haldar has been active all of his life. The 42-year-old Robbinsville resident has trained jiu-jitsu, played cricket and soccer and ran long- and short-distance, among other sports. His daughter, Jinia, also likes being active, and the two often run together or take trips to the park to toss a Frisbee.
But Jinia, a Pond Road Middle School student, never played sports apart from what she did to stay active with her father. Her love of medieval ages and the detailed action scenes in fantasy books, though, inspired her to pick up a blade and head over to the Fencing Club of Mercer County about a year ago. She and Haldar found the club, which is less than a mile from their home, after some brief online research. They observed a class, and Jinia liked what she saw.
She was a natural—she chose sabre over foil and epee because she preferred the cutting motion to stabbing, and her technique improved during every early training session with coach John Friedberg, a Robbinsville resident. She attributes her early success, in part, to her voracious reading habits.
“I guess it just came naturally to me,” she said. “I’m a huge reader. In books, they always describe the action scenes. I think from there, I just picked it up because it was something I was familiar with.”
Jinia also spent a lot of time watching kids’ fencing matches online.
She quickly turned what she intended to be a hobby into “a really big passion,” and her father noticed. Haldar tossed around the idea of joining the club, which hosts an adult program, but he wasn’t prepared to give up jiu-jitsu, a sport that he took very seriously.
“I eventually convinced him, though,” Jinia said. “I used it as my birthday wish.”
An interesting turn of events, Friedberg said.
“I don’t think my kid would want me to participate in a sport with them,” he said. “Not every kid is going to be like that, and I think that’s what driving Sudipto. It’s something that he’s really enjoying doing with his daughter.”
The pair have been honing their skills together since April. Haldar joined Jinia and opted for sabre. He trains three times a week, while she trains five, and both go to the club’s open bouts every Friday, where they forgo a traditional five-touch bout and play to 15 to get the most out of their time together.
“In any one-on-one sport, there can be hard feelings,” Friedberg said. “They seem to get pleasure out of both winning and losing. If one of them wins, the other gets pleasure out of that. There’s no animosity whatsoever. They really have a lot of fun together.”
During their bouts, Jinia swears that Haldar lets her win, but he denies it. While he has a speed advantage, Jinia’s technical skills win out, he said.
Either way, the two often analyze their performances, and in a sport known as “physical chess,” having another person to bounce strategies off of can be imperative, Jinia said, especially when a match can come down to not only your strengths, but also being able to identify and work off of your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.
“In chess, you have to think about what moves you’re going to do in the future,” she said. “In fencing, it’s like that. You have to think, ‘If I do this move, how will that lead to something?’ I like the strategy part of it.”
Haldar recalled an instance during a tournament about a month ago where he and Jinia were able to help each other out, rather than relying on Friedberg to coach them through each bout.
“Now, we’re knowledgeable enough to find out weaknesses of other competitors,” he said. “She was having a very tough semifinal. Me being a fencer, I was able to look at some of the weaknesses in the other fencer. She was lagging. She picked up. She showed a lot of determination. That semifinal was very tough, but she won. Even when I was fencing, she pointed out the strengths and weaknesses of other fencers, and that really helped me.”
Fencing, he added, is something that rewards him in ways jiu-jitsu or other sports never could.
“My focus is now on fencing,” he said. “The more time I spend on fencing, the more I can help her with her progress, as well. She also gives me feedback. With jiu-jitsu, it’s just me. That’s one reason why I’m spending less time there.”
Haldar and Jinia racked up their fair share of medals in 2014—not bad for a pair with fewer than two years of combined fencing experience between them.
But they still have certain skills that need improvement. Jinia said her father often points out that her second intention, a move meant to fake out the opponent, is sometimes transparent.
“Other people don’t fall for it, so I guess I have to work on that,” she said. “I also need to work on my speed because there are lots of people my age who are faster than me.”
Because of his athletic background, speed is not something Haldar needs to work on—especially when he competes against adults, who are often slower fencers—but his methods are. He jokes that Jinia only needs to watch him to learn “what not to do.”
“Her techniques are definitely much, much better than mine,” he said. “They were good right from the start. One reason is that if I do something inaccurately and still get the touch, I don’t have incentive to improve, which happens with me sometimes. That might be the reason my techniques are lagging behind hers.”
Haldar, though, said the prospect of improvement would be impossible without the support of Haldar’s wife and Jinia’s mom, Suparna, who often drives Jinia to and from sessions that Haldar isn’t present for, as well as traveling to competitions.
“In our particular case, neither my daughter nor I would be ale to pursue our sports with dedication and single-mindedness without the active support and sacrifices made by Suparna,” he said. “She is a very integral part of our success story.”
She’s just enjoying watching her husband and daughter bond, though.
“It’s fun,” she said. “They’re having fun. He’s always been into sports since he was a child, but now that Jinia has started, it’s even more fun.”
And it’s something that Jinia doesn’t see ending anytime soon.
“There are senior and veteran competitions for people 60 and over,” she said. “It’s something you can do way into old age. I think it’s something that our family is going to continue to do for a long time. It’s not just a hobby. It’s a passion that I don’t think is ever going to die out.”
The Fencing Club of Mercer County is located 1274 Route 130 in Robbinsville. Phone: (732) 539-7446. Web: fencingclubofmercercounty.com.