Dirk Goldgar grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta. His father was a business consultant, his mother was editor and publisher of the paper that became Atlanta Jewish Times. After graduating from Princeton, Class of 1977, with a bachelors in anthropology, he worked for Applications General in Princeton for 24 years as a computer programmer and consultant.
When the company dissolved, he established his own company, DataGnostics (www.datagnostics.com), in 2001. He specializes in all kinds of computer programing and information consulting, and is a Microsoft Access (database program) MVP (most valuable professional), “which basically means I know what I’m doing.” His business partner, Debbie Bratsko, handles the business management and is the art director for the company’s web design clients. His wife, Mary Ellen Curtin, is the company’s webmaster. He has two daughters, a 19-year-old at Wesleyan, and a 12-year-old.
His passion for fencing, he explained to U.S. 1’s Jamie Saxon, began after an injury in another sport:
In college and for several years after I was very involved in tae kwon do and had my first degree black belt. I was working on my second degree and blew out my ACL in my right knee. Even after reconstructive surgery and a year of rehab I couldn’t go back to tae kwon do. I did nothing for awhile. The knee was getting weaker and I was starting to favor it. I heard about Bucks County Academy of Fencing in New Hope (it moved to Lambertville in 2003), and I thought, that’s cool, maybe I could do that.
What I found after I started was this: In fencing you fence with one leg forward. So because I’m right-handed and my right knee had the ACL problem, there was no twisting stress on my right knee and I could do that. I found many commonalities between tae kwon do and fencing, so I had a jump on the technical issues. I loved it and found it had the same kind of intensity and enjoyment I’d experienced with tae kwon do.
For many years I thought of myself as a tae kwon do person who does fencing, but now I’m just a fencer. I was unusual in that I started fencing when I was 30. It used to be that most people would start fencing in college, but in New Jersey there’s a lot of high school fencing, and lots of kids are starting even younger these days.
I began to go there three evenings a week for four or five hours, and would basically stay until the place closed down around 11:30 p.m., and I was competing on weekends. I started doing novice competitions after six months and open competitions within a year. I started having reasonable success, becoming a threat, if you will, within a few years. The U.S. Fencing Association has sections and divisions, and I was fencing then with the Philadelphia division. My first national-level success was seventh place in Division 2 Foil in 1990 or ‘91.
I won the North American Cup, veteran 50 (50 or older), my first national gold medal, in December, 2005, in Pittsburgh. Since then I’ve had a couple of bronze in Veteran Foil and Veteran Epee. Three weapons are used in modern fencing: the foil, the epee, and the sabre. The majority of people concentrate on one weapon; I fence all three. For me, though, it’s mostly foil and epee. I’ve had torn cartilage and arthritis, so now I focus on epee more than foil. It is the sole exercise I do.
Fencing is a very serious and high-intensity sport; it’s not standing around poking each other. There is a high premium on fitness with short bursts of very, very fast action as well as technical ability. You move up and down the strip very fast. Each bout is fast. You have to be very fast for a short amount of time. A normal bout is about three minutes of actual fencing time. Your body says, I’m about to be hit, and it cranks your metabolism way up because you feel like you’re in a fight, so even if not much is happening, you come off the fencing strip sweating. If you don’t move, they’ll hit you before you blink. BCAF is a club and a school; we teach and host competitions. I started teaching after seven years. Nowadays I spend about six or seven hours a week teaching classes and private students. If I worked a nine to five job I would have more time for fencing.
Fencing takes your head out of anything else. When you’re fencing you have to be completely aware of yourself and your opponent, at split-second speed. It completely engrosses you, and you can get your aggressions out. Women, once they get past the initial socialization thing — oh, I can’t hit someone — are berserk on the strip. The ratio of men to women at BCAF is maybe 60/40 or 65/35. Right now the U.S. has the number one ranked women’s sabre team. Debbie, my business partner, is also a fencing student of mine, and at age 45 is highly ranked in the veteran women’s epee.
Another interesting thing about fencing is that for people who are overly aggressive, fencing helps to channel and focus their aggression. There’s an enormous, incredible rush while fencing a bout. Coming off the strip, you know you were 100 percent there.
Bucks County Academy of Fencing, 287 South Main Street, Lambertville. 609-397-7551, www.bcaf.com. Open weekday evenings, 6:30 to closing; Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.