Stro: The Michael D'Asaro Story (2020) - full transcript

Michael D'Asaro was a world ranked saber fencer before becoming a collegiate championship coach. He was a man constantly in search of reinvention who taught life lessons through the medium of fencing.

Every time
you cross blades,

every time you engage
in a competitive situation

you are reenacting
a life death situation

you're reenacting the duel.

With somebody lived
and somebody dies.

You don't really die physically
but you can undergo

an ego death ego loss
and the death is a loss

of self limitation things
that hold you back.

The Rebirth is new knowledge,
greater awareness.

Maestro Maestro.
D’asaro. My Stro.

Michael D’Asaro
lived a complex life

that doesn't fit nicely
into a conventional

narrative but that
was the point.

He didn't live his life to fit
anyone's expectations.

He was a very
complex person.

You couldn't stick him in a
pigeonhole you could try

but it wouldn’t wouldn’t work.

At the core though
there was one constant. Fencing.

You can learn
all of life's lessons

through fencing everything
you can learn through fencing

fencing is a microcosm of life.

was Michael's purpose in life.

I cannot find
anybody who's loves

fencing so much.
How Mike D’Asaro.

D’asaro was a world
champion fencer

and then he wasn't.

He was a hugely successful
college coach

and then he wasn’t.

Michael D’Asaro’s greatest
opponent was always

Michael D’Asaro.

And he lost more bouts than he
won. Or did he.

If you think of Michael D’Asaro
as an artist then his medium

was the sport of fencing
and how he expressed

that art was in a constant
state of flux between

destruction and construction.
Whether on himself.

Or on his students.

He would destroy
his assumptions about

what fencing was in order
to find new ways

to express himself.

A Jungian process
of death and rebirth.

had his long hair.

He was in a competition
in San Francisco.

And he was covered
in rings of skulls.

He had Ring skulls and necklaces
skulls and I walk up to him.

He didn't even say hi.
He just goes.

Death before rebirth.

It was a process
D’Asaro would embrace

from the very beginning.

Well I'm

from Brooklyn New York.

wasn't D’Asaro’s first nickname.

As a child,

his family gave him a slightly
less prestigious moniker.

he was born,

my mother said I'm not going
to call him Michael and I'm

not going to call him Anthony.

And he was chubby as a baby
so my mother said

I'm going to call him chubby.

And growing up through
the years that's

what I called him chubby
and when he went

to college and they would say
Can I speak to Michael.

I’d put the phone down and say
Hey Chubby you got a phone call.

D’asaro grew up
with his mom dad

and sister in the projects
in the Red Hook

section of Brooklyn.

Life in Red Hook
during the 50s.

It was a rough neighborhood.

The projects
were horrible

living environment. You know,

small places and people one
on top

of the other and a lot of gangs.

You know
I had learned carte parry

in a very little French sort
of way and it was kind

of like this delicate
technical thing.

He’s like no you know
this could be your life.

And I just remember him
like taking my hand

and kind of slapping it across
to like demonstrate that it was,

it was about blocking something.

He had a cut
on the inside of his left wrist.

He was out
and about somewhere

and a rival gang cornered
him and somebody took

out a knife and tried to stab
him and he parried it.

And he would
always tell people

that it was his first
four parry.

And he's got
the scar to show for it.

But I got scars
all over my body

from knife wounds.

You were either
in a gang.

Or you were gonna
get hit by the gang.

Michael came of age
as a street smart gang member.

Michael was part
of a group called

the Red Hook stompers.

And his initiation
was he had to cut somebody.

He was supposed to get
four inches of blood

onto the blade of a knife
of the rival gang.

He had found this guy
that he was a rival

with the opposite gang and he
got on top of the guy.

And he straddling the guy.

He said he didn't
want to hurt the man.

He knew he couldn’t
just stab him in the chest

or something and kill him.

He gets it's one
of those those Stro

flashes of illumination.
Flips the guy over.

And he stuck him
in his gluteus.

Stabbed him
in the butt.

Which is brilliant
because yeah that's not lethal.

You're gonna get his four
inches of blood.

That was just so Stro.

I was in high
school and we had a ninth

period gym.

And I hated gym.

Gym was like the worst
fucking thing you could do.

Say well
if you went out for sport

then you just gotta practice.
You don't have to go to gym.

I’ll go out for sport.

It's easier to cut out a team
practices than it is out

of a class.

But I
was never really good enough

to make a high school team.

And fencing,

and they're always looking for a
warm body.

So I saw all
the movies and I’d

like to do that.

was left handed.

Aggressive mean nasty kid.

First thing
came to his mind was Hey

this can help my knife fighting.

You know maybe
I could pick up a point or two

fighting with switchblade.

He was very taken
by it.

And I
was like really good.

the first time in my in my

life I have a feeling
of success.

Up until
that point said I was good.

Said I was talented.

I was like
a shark tasting blood.

The more I tasted,
the more I wanted.

He did give me
this idea that fencing

had saved his life.

Here was something
that he was doing in one area

where it was not good to do.

And then there he is on the
fencing strip

and it's totally affirmed.

Does he mean I can
whack somebody upside

the head and I get credit
and I can stay in high

school and I can graduate.

People patting
me on the back,

shaking my hand
give me a medals.

And I got
totally hooked and totally

involved in fencing.
It's been my whole life.

D’Asaro attended
Alexander Hamilton High School

in Brooklyn.

His high school won
the championship the first

year he fenced. He placed
third individually.

It's one of those
tough kind of schools.

Not like Forest Hills.
We were all gentlemen.

The high schools
that had fencing teams

would meet and compete
on Saturday mornings.

And we went
to a competition a high

school competition, and you know
there was Mike.

I had to fence Mike.
He killed me.

He hit me from what seemed
to me a mile away.

He excelled
in the sport of fencing

and actually from that got
him out of that area.

There was a life after Red Hook.

Before D’Asaro left
Red Hook and went

off to college,

he married his high
school sweetheart,

Leonora Federico.

They were married at
a high mass.

The whole entire
fencing team stood up

and they made I was I call
it a canopy.

They put all their swords up
and then they walked through.

Wow, I thought I was watching
a movie.

if I understand

the story correctly,

was considered one
of the top prospects,

high school prospects
in the country.

But I
wasn't really

interested in college.
I just wanted to get out,

earn some money
spend some money,

have a good time. That didn't
last too long.

After about six seven months,
you know it was boring.

And I wasn't enjoying myself.
Applied again at the university.

I was accepted by NYU.

NYU had a great
reputation as a, for their

fencing teams.

And it was because Hugo
basically corralled all

the young good fencers
from high school.

Not many people
left Red Hook and excelled. So,

getting into NYU was a big deal.

So, we
had a scholarship

right through you know
our entire college careers.

We all started out
as foil fencers.

There was no epee
or saber fencing.

That only started once you got
to college.

There are three weapons
in fencing. Foil,

Epee and Saber.

Saber is a kind
of equipment that you can slash.

You can stab. And you can
duel with.

The Saber is the only
weapon for which a touch

can be scored with a cut.

But you can score a hit anywhere
on the body

with a cutting edge,

with the end third
of the back edge,

or with the point anywhere above
a line,

a theoretic line where
the legs meet the body,

when you are in an en
garde position.

Back and forth.
Cutting slashing.

Controlled chaos. This is
what Sabre is about.

Foil fencing
is basically you hit

with the point of the foil.

And you hit anywhere
on the torso.

But not head. Not arms.
Not legs.

It was really meant
in the old days as a practice

weapon for the dueling swords,
which would be Sabre and epee.

Includes right
of way.

The attacker has right of way.

You're obliged
obligated to parry an attack

because you would do
that if there was no

tip on the blade,

because you'd want to protect
yourself first.

At the time
I started fencing foil

was the only choice for women.

Epee is a
dueling sword.

The whole body is target.

Contrary to what
you see in the movies,

the idea is not to hit
the other guy's blade

but it's actually to stab
the other guy.

And in epee fencing,

you can hit him anywhere
from head to toe.

Epee is basically
where each touch,

each point that scored
is like a mini duel

to First Blood where
whoever of the two

opponents hits the other
one first,

gets the point. Or.

You can have
a simultaneous touch in epee

where you can't have
a simultaneous

touch in foil or saber.

You see somebody's
fencing and whoever

stabs the other guy first,
that sort of epee fencing.

You know,

Hugo Costello was the coach
at NYU

and he would say Okay Gene
you can continue

to fence foil but you Mike
you're going to fence Sabre.

We needed
a saber guy.

There was an opening.
He was a good fencer.

Did he object? Not at all.

The first year

was on the New York University
fencing team,

the NYU violets won the national
collegiate championship.

We went four straight
years never losing a match.

And they were far
and away the best.

And we were always
in contention for either

first or second,

the National
Collegiate championships,

the eastern
intercollegiate championships.

We thought we'd
never lose a bout.

We had an attitude
that we would win.

But whenever we lost,
it was viewed as an accident.

They were so good
they didn't think

about the score,

what they did was time
the bouts.

One time there
was a contest that had Gene,

Mike and Herb Cohen
on who could win a bout

the fastest.

Mike has the record
for the fastest bout,

which was 12 seconds.
But he got hit once.

And of course when he got
off the Strip even though

he broke the record
because we kept

track of twelve seconds.
All right Mike. 12 seconds.

That's good. But you got hit.

He said well what do
you want me to do?

I can’t parry.

For over 40 years,
Hungarian maestro Csaba Elthes,

was the dean of American
saber fencing.

In 1958 D’Asaro met with Elthes
to see if Elthes would help

with D’Asaro’s training.

Csaba had all
the saber fencers.

He was the most unique
coach that had all

the competitors were all
his students.

He was a very
tough guy,

very hard very hard lessons.

If you didn't do
something right,

you would get the whack
on the leg.

Csaba would take
off his mask and say Mr. Sir.

I tell you do it this way.

He put his mask back on and go
through the action again.

The third time before
he took off his mask,

Csaba would whack
him across the knee.

And then he'd take off
his mask and said Mr.

Sir I give you three chances.

So Mike was a great
talent without any

real discipline.

I think I was sort of the leader
of that to go

to Mike and say Mike
why don't you join us

and meet Csaba Elthes.
He was reluctant.

We went to Csaba.

We said hey we've got
this friend of ours

who's really very very good.

Csaba agreed says bring
him down.

Mike agreed. He'll come.

He really thought
he was you know he was some

kind of hot shot as a fencer.

So we bring Mike
up to sale Santelli and Csaba

is going gonna give him
a lesson.

He went in there
thinking OK this is some,

you know,
big name European coach but I'm
fast. I'm strong.

I'm great.

You know I'm going to really
impress this guy.

Csaba starts to give
him this lesson

and it was terrible to watch.

You know Csaba just
tore him apart.

When Mike didn't do
something right he’d sma...

You know again he’s in
a T-shirt,

he’d smack him.

Csaba keeps saying you are
stupid you don't

know what you're doing.

was very humbling.

I'm sure for Michael
at that time.

mike is it's almost tears.

I go to Csaba and I say What do
you know what do you think.

And Csaba says this is one
of the great

talents I have ever seen.

And when I went to Mike
and said Mike,

Csaba thinks you have
this fantastic talent.

He said it’s not true.
It's not true.

Elthes told me,

he said you know what,

Michael D’Asaro was the most
talented fencer I ever saw.

Even though Michael
was anti-establishment rebel,

he admired Csaba. I'd say
he loved Csaba.

Csaba taught
him the game,

taught him the technique,
taught him the politics,

but also taught him how to think
by himself.

The most beautiful
lessons of any

student were Michael's.

People would stop
and watch the lesson.

And then they'd stop

and you know people would.

was like interesting

to watch over a period
of time from this raw great

fencer to this really
good looking classical

Hungarian saber fencer.

Michael looked
like the book said

you ought to look.

Michael Jordan?

Everybody wants to be like Mike.
Well this was another Mike. Ok.

Everybody wanted
to be like Mike.

It didn't
happen overnight.

1958 and 1959 were down years
for D’Asaro as Csaba Elthes

completely rebuilt
his saber skills.

But that didn't mean he couldn't
be successful in other weapons.


the Pan American Games, I think
he was second in epee.

Something happened
he screwed up in Sabre

and he's like took an epee
and beat everybody.

He trained in no
other weapon than Sabre.

That's all he did.

And he only when we don't
when it was required, so,

okay I’ll fence foil. Okay,
I'll fence Epee.

But you see
his movement

and his distance and his timing
and that was always great.

He could certainly
hold his own in Epee.

But he was probably
the greatest three

weapon fencer from my era.

They knew him
as a saber fencer What's

he doing being a world class
epee or a foil fencer.

He was not a classical
hand touch epee guy.

He had a couple of good
sneaky shots.

I don't know how
he did all these weapons.

So those of us
that made the finals

in the 1959 nationals were put
on the Pan Am team.

One of whom on the epee team
was Jim Margolis

and he got hurt. Mike
was practicing with us.

He was a saber fencer, one
of the best in the country.

I don't know if it was me
or who was but I sort

of thought he would be great
to be on the epee team.

When he took
that epee medal.

I certainly wasn't surprised.
I’d seen him fence epee.

Roland Womack
was untouchable.

He probably was two bouts ahead
of everybody.

When we finished for the gold.

So Mike was in there close
with everybody else.

And he got silver.

We were way ahead
of everybody in that.

So everybody got to say
they won a gold medal.

In 1959 D’Asaro
and the NYU violets lost

to the Navy midshipmen
in the NCAA championship.

Navy swept the top three
individual prizes as well

in foil epee and saber.

Al Morales
was the young

bronze God of fencing.

The rivalry between Al Morales
and Michael the collegiate

rivalry was virtually legendary.

Mike and clearly
Al Morales from Navy

were the best of the crop.

In all my fencing
with D’Asaro I was well

above 50 percent with him.

Even as a plebe,

he would get out and make me
practice with him most days

because his two great rivals
were Michael and a lefty

from Columbia, Stuart Reuter.

He had handled me
fairly easily the first

time we fenced,
because I didn't know much
about fencing.

And I remember him
as technically being one

of the most enjoyable fencers
to watch,

especially compared
to Al Morales

who who's had his own invented
style which was not

esthetically pleasing.

I wasn’t as pretty
a fencer as he was.

But I was always
smarter than he was.

In 1960.

NYU returned the favor
to the midshipmen.

They beat Navy in the college

and this time NYU took all
three individual top spots.

D’Asaro took first in Sabre
by beating Al Morales.

Fifty nine it was Navy all three
plus the national championship.

The following year they flipped
around NYU

was champion and Navy
was second.

Mike I think beat Al
to win the NCAA’s in their

senior year in college.

Their very long bout came
from behind and finally

beat him by one.
My match up
with Michael was pretty good.

I won most of them.

all a game of deception

and he was very good at
sort of hiding those skills.

There were tricks
that the fencers would use.

One of the tricks that Mike
learned this happened

when he came back in
the NCAA championships.

Gene and I
and watching Mike

fence and he's on the Strip
with a guy named Parmachek.

Parmachek launches attack
and is going for Mike's head

and Mike comes up to parry it.

And the guy does
a feint and it cracked

right across right across his.
You know right across his ribs.

Two hands go up.

There are judges
is not electric.

Mike grabs his leg.

In agony.

For the judges hands
a quarter

they're about to award.
You know they so.

Start to come down.

Maybe it wasn't
a good touch.

I think it was good
and the other guys

I don't think so.

The director says
well throw it out.

Mike picks up
his weapon.

The director says ready fence.
He goes on wait wait.

And we reveled in his getting
that touch thrown out.

In 1960 both
Al Morales

and Michael D’Asaro
were selected to go to Rome

as part of the United States
fencing team for the Olympics.

In order to try
to build up a fencing

structure within this country,

instead of depending as we did
at that time on Hungarians,

was to have both Al
and Michael fence

in the individual competition.

Al got knocked out
pretty soon and Mike kept going.

He made a good presentation
of himself.

Team on the other hand
took fourth and did

it by beating the Russians.

So it came down
to really D’Asaro

and I had to win a bout.

That was not a given
against the Russians.

I think they got nervous
because it wasn't going

exactly the way they wanted.

But D’Asaro won a bout
and I won a bout.

And we beat the Russians.
Which was a major thing.

And that was
like unheard of.

It put us forth
in the Olympics

which is unusual.

In 61 we were invited
to the Sabre

invitation thing in Warsaw.

This was the first time
that an American team had been

asked because the team
had finished fourth

in the 60 Olympics.

These were the best
fencers from these

other countries.

I fenced well and Mike
fenced spectacularly.

Mike had very good
results. In fact,

I think he had the best result.

The world of fencing
was a gentlemen's a world

that he was reaching toward.

Told stories
of you know about meeting

Nazlymov and fencing Nazlymov
and beating Pawlowski in Poland.

I mean this is their home
turf and no other poor kid

from the streets has done
that no American

has ever done it.

It was I think
the second year

we were in Warsaw which would
have been 62.

He was attracted to some
pretty Polish woman.

But she didn't speak any English
and he didn't speak any Polish.

But I spoke French
and she spoke French.

So he he had me talk with her.

You know I think the three
of us would sit there.

He kept saying to her well
we we tell

her I want to take her out.
No no no no no.

And he said that if I beat
Pavlovsky will you go out for?

If you beat Pawlowski Sure.

Not too many people
can say that they beat

Jerzy Pawlowsky.

And he beat Pawlowsky.

Each touch he scored
it was a close bout,

but each touch he scored,
he would point to her.

The whole audience was aware
of the fact that he was making

a play for her attention.
So we went out together.

The three of us.
I had to go along.

I was his I was his speaker.

Paul Makler said
you get him back.

I want him in bed.

Here we are with six
or seven Polish fencers,

me not speaking a word
of Polish and some

of them speaking English
and some speaking French.

I kept saying we got to go back.

We've got to get
back to the hotel.

You got to go back to the hotel.

Finally he served in his said
in a voice that anybody

in whatever bar we were
in could hear.

He said Blum he said
you train your fucking

way and I'll train mine.

And so I got up and said
goodnight and then went

back the hotel.

He fenced beautifully
the next day.

After graduating
from NYU,

D’Asaro took a job at
the Donahoe and Coe

advertising firm.

I worked
for about a year

in the advertising
agency in New York.

I thought I was la dee da
you know glamour

and lots of money and wasn't any
of that at all.

or unfortunately though,

D’Asaro’s fencing brought him
to the attention of the U.S.


who was something

to do with the pentathlon
coaches in San Antonio,

he was able to get fencers
to come and join

his pentathlon training.

But of course you had to join
the army.

for the Olympics

and dying in Vietnam. Yeah,
he took the right choice.

The Army asked him
to come on the team

because they wanted
his fencing skills.

He wasn't made
for the military.

And he didn't even
think he'd have

to go to boot camp. But he
had to go to boot camp.

He’s in boot camp
like everybody else.

He says wait a minute now.
How far is this going to go.

Could you imagine
Michael in boot camp?

No, he wasn't
too comfortable.

And if he’d try to talk
to somebody like the sergeants.

The sergeants tell him get
back in line and shut

your mouth.

So, he went
through boot camp

and then he made
the pentathlon team

and they didn't treat him
very specially.

He really
wasn’t a pentathlete.

Mike D’Asaro
on horseback.

Mike D’Asaro swimming.
Mike D’Asaro shooting.

His background
was not one that you could put

into pentathlon training.

I mean you see pictures of him
on a horse but he wasn't,

he wasn't a good rider.

He hated running.
He enjoyed shooting.

He couldn't shoot.

He didn't
like to swim.

He loved the horses.

You don't learn how
to ride a horse cross

country 5000 meters at
a full gallop and 18 of 18

or 20 obstacles overnight.

They just expected him
to help with the fencing.

And that was he was invaluable
for that.

That he actually won
one of these skirmishes.

That means horseback riding
shooting running and fencing.

But a lot of times
we would be fencing epee,

he and I would fence saber
because we wanted to keep

the saber skills up.

I was surprised Michael
lasted as long as he did

in the army.

He was not great
on authoritarianism.

I think
he liked that.

He certainly look good
but I think he probably

was in the best
shape of his life.

All that extra
practice paid off

for D’Asaro during
his participation

in the 1962 U.S. national
Fencing championship.

The story
of winning the Nationals

against Danny Magay.

As you know Danny Magay
was a wonderful fencer

and our national Sabre champion
many times.

I didn't know much
about him.

But pretty quickly I found
out in the final,

he turned out to be
an excellent fencer.

Michael said
that the bout got to,

it was tied. It was probably
nine to nine.

And I said well what did you do?

And Michael said well I went
directly to the head of course.

What else did you do?

It was a feint of head
and he finished on the chest.

That was sort
of the crowning achievement

of his career up
until that point.

The most at sea
he had ever been

in his life was the week
after he won the national.

All of a sudden
I had no purpose.

But the gold medal
at the 1962 Nationals was just

the beginning of a remarkable
string of victories for D’Asaro.

What Ed talked about
in those days

when he was with Mike was the
hotel room drinking

bouts and then fencing
the next day.

Michael can be asleep
or drunk and he still can

beat anybody in the world.

We were in Vienna
for a military championship.

And they gathered
the best talent

that was in the U.S.
Army or the U.S. Navy.

The military
world championships

is a much bigger venue
for fencing

than than the Olympics.

Michael established
a pretty enviable

record in those.

Michael happened to be
the top winner as far

as the individual results.

We had a big
banquet afterwards.

And Michael did
everything to the extreme.

Mike had a few.

He was sitting right
across from me on this long

wooden tables.

And he's happy and singing
and drinking

and singing and drinking.
All of a sudden we’re looking,

I don’t see Michael anywhere.
So, I look down.

He's underneath.

He he slipped underneath
the big table.

We got a hold of Michael
and we pulled him up. And.

We kind of walked him outside
and we were waiting

for the little buses.
Started to puke.

OK so he puked on Al Davis foot.

And I just kind of kept
him away too. You know.

We had take him put
him in the shower.

And he's objecting
and he’s pleading

begging not to kill him.

And then we grab him and we put
him on the bunk.

So next morning comes and wake
him up and we have a tournament.

They grab Michael out
of bed and they go Michael,

Michael. and he's like yeah,
yeah. What’s going on.

And they’re like Michael.

It's time for your
individual event.

We dress him. OK.
And he's fencing foil.

Gets on the strip
and he's having issues

with hitting his opponent
and his coach yelled out

hit the one in the middle.

Soon as he made that connection
and he hit the person

in the middle then it was over.

He beats,
he destroys this guy.

And he destroys the guy after
him and after him and after him.

He could barely walk
but once he got on that strip.

Boom and he blew him out.

Michael win
dual championship.

Won individual and in
the team championship.

United States with there level
of the fencing and going winning

in the one this toughest

in the world Amazing.

Amazing thing only
can do that Mike.

And then in 63,

I was captain of the Pan Am team
in Sao Paolo

and Mike won the saber there.
We won all the events.

The culmination
of this remarkable string

of accomplishments
was a decisive bout

against D’Asaro’s idol
Jerzy Pawlowski at

the World Championships
in Gdansk Poland.

In those days
they had side judges

behind each fencer. A referee.

So basically an American fencing
like the national hero

of Poland during the Soviet
communist days, this was not,

you know, going to go well.

Pawlowsky was his big,
I'd say, his hero.

Probably the best saber fencer
I'd ever seen.

miraculously the score

is 9 9. Michael was like,
you know,

going off and doing whatever.
Then he scores his last touch.

So like this hush in the crowd.
And everybody is like ‘Oh”.

And then they make the call
against Michael.

And then of course everyone's
cheering for Pawlowsky,

because it's a Pawlowsky thing.
Pawlowsky comes over he says,

so oh sorry Michael.

And Michael goes and grabs him
and gives

him a kiss on the cheeks.

And the crowd went
absolutely nuts.

They were yelling, before
they were like Pawlowsky.

Pawlowsky. And all of a sudden
when this happened,

the crowd turned around and they
were yelling D’Asaro.


Here’s a guy
that being rooted

for by the enemy.

then the next day.

The fencing magazine
in Poland with Michael

in a full lunge caption was that
the American fencing

team is so bad that Jesus
Christ himself

is now fencing for them.

These guys
were were born and bred

to win Olympic gold medals
and be the top in the sport.

And this guy from Brooklyn
comes out

and just beats the crap out
of them

when they're not expecting it.

So what can be said
about D’Asaro as a fencer.

wasn't a bragger.

He didn't say I did this and
I did that and I'm

going here and I'm going there.

It was about
the experience.

I think he let
his fencing skills talk for him.

He would talk about
other people's bouts as much

as he’d talked about his own.

When he decided
to make that hit,

there was there there
was nothing stopping it.

There might be some correlation
between being a

capable international
level fencer and being

willing to destroy people.

Michael did have
an edgy side.

As do most
successful competitors.

This is a combative sport
and there's a there's

a fierceness that's needed
and Michaels was not

far from the surface.

You didn't see any
games or anything,

any referee baiting
or any of those things.

He just fenced.

they smoked some marijuana

but when they got on that strip
and they were training,

they were focused on one
thing and that was fencing.

The fact
that he could fence

with that stuff in him
was doubly impressive

because these were not
performance enhancing drugs.

When he took off
his mask to shake

your hands afterwards,

he had the biggest
grin on his face.

Even if he lost.

Of course he could fence
every weapon

and he was he was modest
about it but he was a great

guy to have on a team.

You knew that he
was going to fence

hard which is all we ask for.

So I would classify
him as a good teammate.

But not a I wouldn't
say great teammate.

He was supportive
everybody on the team

and we all liked
watching him fence

because he could beat anybody.

He wasn’t a showboat
but he was showy. Absolutely.

That's part of his style.

Which brings us
to the 1964 Olympic team

and D’Asaro’s selection
for that team.

He won the 1962 nationals.

He won the 1963 Pan Am Games
and he won the 1963

military World Championships.

D'Asaro was the only American
fencer to make it out

of the pools and into direct
elimination at

the World Championships
in Gdansk Poland where

he was narrowly defeated
by Jerzy Pawlowsky.

He had better international
results than any

other American saber fencer.

If they used the same selection
criteria they used

for the Rome Olympics,

it would appear D’Asaro was a
lock to make

the team going to Tokyo.
But it was not to be.

Rule changes made the selection
process more merit based.

Your position on the team
would now be derived from a new

point system based on your

from national tournaments.
In 1963,

D’Asaro had a down year
in the national tournaments.

Despite the changes,

D’Asaro still had enough
points to be third

on the national team competing
in the Tokyo Olympics.

Officials were so confident
of D’Asaro’s

participation in the Olympics,

D’Asaro was sent to Tokyo
for an Olympic test event.

Unfortunately there was one
more complication.

The Hungarian fencers
who had arrived

in the United States after
the 1956 Hungarian Revolution,

were now going to be allowed
fence for the U.S. team.

The Hungarian fencers were given
points to indicate

how they potentially
would have done

if they were allowed fence
in the national

qualifying events.

Once the new numbers
were added D’Asaro

slipped from third place on the
team to second alternate.

Michael would not be going
to the Olympics

in Tokyo in 1964.

By 1965 it appears that D’Asaro
had left fencing behind him

and embraced a life far removed
from competitive fencing.

He'd become
a hippie.

And he had long
hair like Cyrano de Bergerac.

There are no
mentions of D’Asaro

participating in any fencing
tournaments in 1965.

His personal life was also
in a state of upheaval.

He left his wife,

Leonora and his six month old
son, Michael Junior.

In 1966 D’Asaro returned
to fencing.

He became a member of the
New York Athletic Club

team that included Alex Orban
and Al Morales.

That year D’Asaro took
third at Nationals

and New York Athletic Club team
took first in the Sabre

team event.

D’Asaro fenced
internationally at

Lake Balaton in Hungary.

His USA team came in fifth
at the Warsaw World Cup.

By the time of the national
championships in 1967,

D’Asaro was ranked third
in the country in Sabre.

A good showing at the Nationals
would assure

him a place on the U.S.

team for the Pan Am Games
and eventually the Olympics.

I recall going
to my first national

championships in 1967.
It was in Santa Monica.

We all heard about
this Michael D’Asaro.

And there
was this a full out

hippie sitting on the ledge.

I walked by a little Daisy
in the

beard and the whole thing.
Holy God.

From somewhere in there
came out Hey, Buzz.

How you doing. One
of these things.

It was Michael.

Because this person
Michael D’Asaro was going

to be fencing,

a bunch of us kids went to watch
the finals.

announced him.

He comes on the strip with this
rose in his teeth

and he threw it out.

And he was the hero
of every fencer

that was probably
under 25 years old.

In a repeat
of D’Asaro’s 1966 U.S.

nationals performance,

D’Asaro came in third

and his New York Athletic Club
team took first.

D’Asaro had earned the points
to be on the national team,

yet he was still kept off
the team going to Mexico.

I was the
Pan-American champion.

Fenced in that competition.
I was third.

And they take the top five.

But they wouldn't
take me on a team

because my hair was too long.

The powers
that we're putting together

the preparations for the Pan
American Games

in Winnipeg Canada 1967,

came up to him and said
Well Mike you're at

the top of the list for being
on the US team again.

He was challenged
by the American Olympic

icon Avery Brundage,

who ran everything for the
Olympic Committee,

to either cut his hair or not
be on the Olympic team.

If you look at
those guys,

those guys who get off
the bus in the suit and tie

and you know the straight hair,
I mean,

he's the only one
who's out there.

They were calling out
who'd made the Pan Am team

and they didn't call his name.

He didn't cut
his hair.

Once he did
that I just had so much

respect for him.

I mean
he had principles

and he stood for something
and sometimes

those are controversial.

Think he was pretty
bitter about it.

he had great hair.

I wouldn’t have had them
cut my hair either.

He was not
allowed to compete

on that Pan Am Games.

And the next year's
Olympic Games.

I was so proud
of him.

I think
I respected him more for having

stood his ground.

There is some
the good old boy network

that took place and Michael
was not part of that.

We got to keep
the guys with long

hair out of it.

We got to keep the poor
people out of it.

Frankly, they make
up any reason to get

one guy off the team
so they could put their

guy on you know so this happened
to be long hair.

You do
what you think is right.

And you you have
to have principles.

And he showed that when
he wouldn't cut

his hair just to make a team.

You know,
that’s Michael.

It was his was his style.

Michael the rebel,
the gunslinger,

the anti-establishment,
he liked to drop out.

He threw everything away
because he had athletically

qualified to make the Olympic
team and just disappeared

from everyone's lives.

He walked away
from the sport the way he walked

away from the rest of his life.

He felt
he was a failure at

what he was doing.

And I don't know he just
got mad threw everything away.

Took all his trophies
and threw them away.

Our team kind of broke
up after that.

In leaving New York,

he really was leaving
his career.

Had he stayed with,
with Elthes,

he would have excelled as far
as I'm concerned

because they know he was right
up there.

Given the seasoning
that both he and Al

had that they that might
have given

us some interesting results in,
in 68.

If he had been
a competitor for many

more years,
I think he would have
changed the way that a lot

of young competitors
would look at fencing

and he might have shortened
the journey from being

an also ran country that never
saw good fencing up until,

you know, where we started
doing well.

I think he could have
won a World Championship.

You know.

He could have won
an Olympic champion.

He could have won anything.

People came
to San Francisco to change

their life.

They left their old life
behind them.

Michael left a whole
complicated real

life behind him.

to San Francisco where

he took acid everyday
for a year and ate

brown rice and meditated.

Did the whole
Haight Ashbury hippie scene.

It was great. It was fabulous.

While D'Asaro
expanded his consciousness,

he supported himself
by selling newspapers

in the Haight Ashbury
section of San Francisco.

A few blocks away
on Fillmore Street,

the Halberstadt fencing club
had lost its maestro

and was in search
of a new head coach.

We went
to San Francisco to meet

Hans Halberstadt and when we got
to Halberstadt fencing club,

there was a sign on the window
saying the club

was closed because Hans
was sick.

And he never recovered.
And he died shortly after.

Chuck Selberg
had left and so we didn't

have a coach.

I think
they were even

considering shutting it down.

Michael and I
were selling Berkeley Barb

and Oracle's out of my
Cadillac and some guy comes

up to him and says
Michael D’Asaro

what are you doing here.

Jack Baker saw him
selling Berkeley Barb

and says oh no. This is
you can't do this.

Jack Baker,
the chairman of AFLA,

came in to the fencing
shop one day

when I was working and said
Mike D’Asaro

is in San Francisco.

Jack tell him to come
and see me.

I'd love to meet him. You know.

Michael went OK.

and John McDougal met at

the Halberstadt fencers
club for what would be

the start of the next chapter
in D’Asaro’s fencing journey.

Then Michael
walked around

looked at the Salle,
looked at the Salle.

Then he said this place
has good vibes. I said Yeah.

What’s vibes?

And he said
vibrations vibrations.

He had no idea
or any desire to do such things.

Cause he thought he had left
fencing behind.

I never in my life thought
of coaching fencing.

The thought had never
entered my mind.

But at that time,
yeah I needed a job.

then looked around a little

more and he said look it,
he says,

you get me a job teaching
fencing and I'll

give you hippie lessons.

And there
was an apartment there.

And all kinds of the guys stuff
and all the fencing equipment.

And he says Yeah I'll
be the maestro.

I was living next door
to Halberstadt.

I got back from school one
day I looked out

the window and I saw two
crazed hippies

painting a Cadillac.

Oh that's the hippie
guy who's now the fencing

coach at Halberstadt.

He's a better hippie coach
than a fencing coach.

The Mike didn't go
to and the kind of coaching

classes or anything.
He just started doing it.

He figured it out
and his role model of course

was Csaba Elthes.

He was a
natural teacher.

No problem there.

Very difficult to teach yourself
something and then

be so highly successful.

It didn't take very
long at all and the place

was we didn't have
room for anymore.

Okay. At San Francisco
in 67 of course you have

a hippie fencing master.

He was a hippie
but he was a Brooklyn hippie.

reputation quickly drew

fencers from all
over the Bay Area.

They came to see what he
had learned as a top

ranked fencer and if
he could teach

those skills to them.

At that time
he was probably the most

accomplished fencer,

certainly on the West Coast
and I think

that was a significant draw.

Friend of mine a woman
named Emily Johnson

said Guess Guess who's coaching
at Halberstadt now.

And I said who.

And she told me Mike
was there and I thought

that was really wonderful.
And I said Good.

I'm hurrying back.

But I said
What the hell. I’m going.

Let's see if I can get
lessons from D’Asaro.

He saw me fence
and he asked my parents

if they'd be willing to take me
to take lessons

from him in San Francisco.

Cause I had heard
that there

was a energetic cool dynamic
coach by the name

of Mike D’Asaro.

There’s this guy
I’m looking at him

like is that D’Artagnan.

He believed
in discipline and he taught

a very simple
straightforward game.

Exactitude and high

standards and stuff I think
came from Csaba Elthes

because his reputation
was one of tolerating

nothing but perfection.

Mike was very hard
on the students.

The better students.

The old coaching
was if you execute

it the way I tell you,
you will score.

Michaels was this is how
you do it,

now go out and use
your head and score.

He was able
to take what his fencing style

which was so very creative
in thinking wise and what's

going to come next or what's
what do you feel

is going to come next.

As to what should logically
come next.

And translate that into
a lesson.

To me that was
his strongest point.

He taught you do this.
You do that.

And Michael said hit him.

He instilled in you
that that love

that he had for the sport.

During the lesson
he would really cut you.

So you'd really had to parry
for example,

otherwise you get nice bruises.

He had me doing
so many lunges and advance

and retreating,
I almost would get on the floor
puking and he'd say get up.

Come on. Let's keep going.

He’d be
with his casually

with his legs crossed,

talking to a colleague
across the room and he'd

look over and he'd watch
practice and then he’d yell out,

you call that a lunge.

Despite his lack
of formal training as a coach,

D’Asaro’s teaching did
pay off for his students.

He basically cleaned up
my game and I won two

more National’s with him.

I won all three
weapons and under 19

West Coast championships.

I won more under
him than anybody else ever.

Somehow I managed
to make the saber team,

you know,

beating out several other
potential candidates.

Surprise. Surprise.

But then I would mention
that D’Asaro was my

coach and then of course.

As usual,

D’Asaro ran the club according
to his own rules.

There was a two tier
population at Halberstadt.

who were very straight

and didn't smoke and they stayed
in the salle all the time.

And the people that did smoke
which was about half the people,

would go out back and smoke
all they wanted out there

and nobody bothered
anybody else.

Smoked a lot of dope
at Halberstadt.

At Halberstadt,
you know,

you trained took a lesson.
You went out.

Talking to Michael,
in the back room,

late night stories.

You know Michael the first
time I saw

you I was looking out
the window and I saw

you with your buddy Jerry
painting that Cadillac.

What the hell was that about.
We were on acid.

As the years
progressed at

Halberstadt D’Asaro
started to think

of coaching less as a part
time endeavor

and more as an avocation.

I sort of marveled at
his ability to do that job.

It was really kind
of in the course

of when I met him that he
transitioned from being

an accidental coach to saying,

oh maybe there's
something in this.

Maybe this is my life.

When you're coaching
a team,

it has to be disciplined
and schedules and all

kinds of stuff which didn't
fit with my picture of Mike.

In 1970,

D’Asaro accepted
an invitation to be

on the World Masters team
that was going to take

part in an international
competition in London.

It was a chance for D’Asaro
to compete once again

on the international
stage and maybe show

the AFLA what a mistake
they made when they didn't

select him for the 1967
Pan Am team.

Raul Sudré, who was my
coach at Cornell,

he came up with the idea
of putting together a team

of American fencing masters
to create an American team

for the world
master championship.

it was a great team.

Sudré picked Michael
for the reason any

fencing coach picks anyone
for their team because they're

looking for the best.

The same people
who are at the world's

masters are the same people
who were at

the World Championship.
For him to win that is
the same thing

is winning
the World Championship.

He very much remained
Michael the hippie,

which for some of the other
people on the team

was difficult.

You know the Geraci’s
of the world.

Because if you look
at pictures from that,

the hair is absolutely long.
There he is in sandals.

He took
that competition very seriously.

He really really got
into the training.

You would think that he
was really a world

class fencer still.

And he went
to the Masters and he won.

That was an amazing
eye opener to watch

everybody fencing. Watch them
win so many bouts.

And I think
he wanted to like make

a statement to the AFLA,
that he was not gone.

Being on the World
Masters team

had the added benefit of putting
D’Asaro in contact with some

of the top coaches
in the country.

He was invited to help at
seminars at Cornell University.

He was selected to coach
on the junior

world teams in 1973 and 1974.

Really met him at
the junior world

championships in 1974
in Istanbul Turkey.

And always gave me
the confidence that I can

make an impact
in this tournament,

even though there were no
junior fencers

from the United States
ever made the final.

So real fast forward, that day,
it was a two day tournament,

I made the final
and came in fourth.

One of the things that Michael
always sort of encouraged

the athletes to do is that
you know when you go

to fencing tournaments,
it's not about just fencing.

It's about
the entire experience.

Yes, you want to be
successful what you do

in fencing but it's really
about the overall

life experience.

And that’s something that he
really reinforced.

So, he was very
instrumental in us,

the US saber team,

getting a silver medal
in the Pan American Games

in Mexico City.

I think
he was extremely

excited and honored,
because Olympic coach.

Good title.

In 1972 I graduated
from high school,

went off to college,
went to Cornell.

Cornell being in the Ivy League
fenced other Ivy League schools.

And one of those was Penn.

Penn had a shall we say
a much more colorful

team than most of the era.

Csizar recruited heavily out
of the black

community in Philadelphia,

was colorblind and just
wanted great athletes.

The Penn team was pretty cool.

Csizar was a traditional
fencing master i.e. a maestro.

Csizar had always been
maestro but given

the sort of cultural change
that was taking place there,

the guys fencing for him
shortened maestro to Stro.

I couldn't help but notice
that they simply reflexively

referred to Csizar as Stro.
I came back from my first break,

Christmas break,

reporting to Michael
and he was saying

what was it like. I said it was
great. Wonderful.

Love college fencing
and an interesting thing

there is a phenomenon at
the University of Pennsylvania

where they call Csziar Stro.

Everybody laughed and we sort
of picked up on it ourselves.

And called would call
Michael Stro.

It was almost facetiously.

Michael Tarscio took
that and ran with it.

He called Stro Stro repeatedly
from the get go.

He kind of insisted on it.

I went off back to back
to college.

But when I came back that summer
Michael D’Asaro was the Stro.

I think Tarascio really stuck
it to him.

Stuck it on him. Michael loved
it. It was cool.

And it reflected his place
in American fencing.

He wasn't a maestro in the
traditional sense.

He was the new version of a
fencing coach.

And that was a Stro.

D’Asaro became
a popular choice for top level

coaching jobs around
the country.

Hugo Costello at NYU and Csaba
Elthes both offered

him coaching jobs in New York.

D'Asaro chose to remain in the
Bay Area and took a job

at San Jose State University
coaching the women's

fencing team.

They hired
Michael D’Asaro to build

the woman's fencing team
because they had to meet

the title nine criteria.

He was the wild
coach from the west coast,

as opposed to one of these staid

coaches from the east.
Selecting him,

it was on his merits. Purely.

Back then the bay
area was like nothing

in fencing.
We were outcasts
over here on the west coast.

There wasn't a really
strong West Coast program.

You can only get strong
and fencing in California,

if you work
with Michael D’Asaro.

For the new job at
San Jose State,

D’Asaro opted to make
some lifestyle changes.

One of which would have been
unthinkable just

a few years prior.

One day I walked
into the fencing club and he'd

cut off all his hair.

The hair was cut.
He had the straight laced.

Very different Michael than was
the pre San Jose days.

D’asaro was able
to quickly attract top

level talent to the San
Jose State

fencing program.

Michael D’Asaro,

because of his charisma
and incredible skills, you know,

drew people to San Jose State.

He did
the ultimate recruit for me.

Marriage. And then got
Vinny Stacy.

We had met Michael I think at
the national championships.

I met two
ladies on a junior team

that I coached back
then who were really

impressed with my coaching
and they were ready to go

to college and they came here.

My name
is Stacy Johnson.

I'm originally from Texas.
Vince and I both are.

We just moved to California
especially to train

with Michael.

And we were both
like Oh my God he's just

so fantastic.

I wanted to be
with the best women fencers.

And we got
ourselves out

to California and started
to study under him

and we started to get
incredible results.

He had the most
dynamic women's program by far.

They’re dominate
the NCAA.

were legendary.

Didn’t have
results in Halberstadt.

Didn't have a whole lot
of results here in L.A.

San Jose? Man, he crushed it.

Maybe he was
a former hippie.

Maybe he was a party guy.

But the reputation was also
he had an amazing

group of fencing athletes.

There was a Jekyll and Hyde
quality to D’Asaro's reputation.

We were told stay
away from Michael D’Asaro.

He is brutal.

Kind of the scum
of the fencing world.

He learned everything
from this Hungarian

maestro named Csaba,
who would hit people.

As I grew older
as a young teen

I was like titillated
by that idea.

He did draw
the rebels.

I mean look at Greg and Peter
and Vinnie and Stacy.

And because that's the kind of

that could understand him.

While D’Asaro did
manage to build

the top rank women's fencing
program in the nation,

when it came time to build
the men's program,

recruitment proved
far more difficult.

He couldn't get
any saber guys because they all

wanted to be on the these coast.

of the saber

fencers he had there,
he created.

He plucked me out
of the projects in New York

and I came to San Jose State
and my life is forever changed.

I don't think I would've
survived back there.

But everybody
that I saw that he worked

with for any sort
of period of time,

improved tremendously.

I knew Michael
was a saber fencer.

I didn't know what he knew
about epee.

And I was an epee
national champion.

Junior champion. Under 20.

You know so he said
well let's fence.

And he proceeded to beat
me thoroughly and handily.

By that time Michael
had taken over

and turned first
into a West Coast

power and then national.

I wanted to be
an Olympian. So,

I felt like it might be
smart for me to study there.

Mike settled.
He’s have wife. Family.

He’s have house.
He’s have garden.

In his new role
as head coach at San Jose State,

D’Asaro kept some things
the same

in his coaching style but did
a complete turnaround in others.

So he ran practices
with a stopwatch

and a clipboard.

Totally opposite
than he had been

in San Francisco.

He realized
he had to get all these people

moving and when you're talking
about college students

some of them may be kind
of interested but not

showing it at all.

So he really had to work
hard to keep them going.

Michael's teaching
at Halberstadt and at

San Jose State was the same.

What was different was that
he was responsible

for so much more.

From a hippie
to a law abiding citizen.

He'd have a whistle and bark
orders and this kind of thing

like a basketball coach.

San Jose State,

he was a very rough coach.
Lots of yelling.

Lots of screaming.
Lots of cursing.

would berate you.

It was physically difficult.
He would hit you.

It taught me how
how I don't want to coach.

He had this amazing
ability to be sensitive

as well and this
was the contradiction

of Stro.

Just as strong
and mean and loud

as he was when you were fucking
it up,

that's just as great as he
was when you were doing

it well.

It's possible
that D’Asaro remembered

his days in the Army
as a pentathlete

and the benefits
of physical training

when he made conditioning
a priority

for the fencers
at San Jose State.

Stro physically
was always pushing himself

and his students in ways
that fencing at the time

wasn't doing. So,
for the first month,

you didn't touch a weapon.

We didn't do a lot
of free fencing.


people should be doing this for
six months to a year

before they even touch a weapon.

We were all super fit.

We are going
to make athletes.

And the first thing
he says is two miles.

You're running
to the south campus,

to the stadium. You're going
to do sprints.

You're gonna do stairs. You know
you suffer together.

And you also find out how
far you can push yourself.

Lessons drilling
footwork fencing.

We get do all that in a day.

the athleticism and lessons

with Stro,

you couldn't be killed
with ordinary weapons.

He was there
working his team

you know harder himself
than they were willing to work.

I mean he was infusing
them with passion.

I'm a coach myself,

I don't know where he got
all of that energy.

D’Asaro placed
an extraordinary emphasis

on footwork in his training.

was a taskmaster in those

footwork sessions.

He would have
the class do like 100 lunges

before they ever started
the lesson or did anything else.

So many
freakin' lunges.

Ah, the footwork.
The footwork. The footwork.

The footwork. The footwork.

I also had these
pictures of Stro

with his long hair doing
footwork with the waves.

And we definitely
went over to Santa Cruz

and did footwork,

just like our coach Michael
D’Asaro used to do.

D’asaro I think
it was able to get some

of these kids at a relatively
young age where you can

instill in them the proper
fencing technique and the proper

conditioning that was required.

Well I don't know
if he is good with beginners.

But I think
he inspired beginners.

D’asaro believed
in individualized lessons.

Everyone was trained
according to their

own abilities.

Michael's lessons
were not formulaic.

Michael would make
it up each time for each person.

He would teach
his students how to think

for themselves.

And come up with their
own style that fits them.

Because he really
was able to adapt,

like any good coach, adapt
to any student's ability.

Greg didn't
fence like anybody else.

He was twitchy. He was twitchy.

Greg was the only
one I knew flicked.

Schifrin was kind
of the same way.

You know he’s sort of stay out.
Where's the distance.

Maybe I’m up here. Maybe not.
Maybe I’m down here.

Where all the other epee fencers
were like

like you know regimented.

4 6 4 6 up 7 8. It's his
students that do that.

And that's incredible. I mean
Joy was the same way.

Gay was the same way. You know,
actually Gay wasn’t.

Gay was a perfect
classic fencer.

So he could do anything.

Every time you step
on the Strip,

you give your best performance.
Every time.

Whether it's practice.
Whether it's a bout.

You're always give
your best performance.

And he could be
very intense,

like just so focused on you.

And he could just draw
out of you a really

high level of performance.

D’asaro challenged
his students constantly.

You could argue his methods
bordered on a form

of cruel and unusual punishment.

He came from the mean
Daddy school of giving lessons.

Michael's idea
about the lesson was it would be

so difficult and so grueling.

Any lesson you take
any fencing you do.

Should be so much
harder than the competition.

So when you get to the
competition it's easy.

He said that's why
he was such a you know

abusive bastard on the Strip.

Because after lessons with him
what can they possibly

do to you?

Fencing you is nothing
like being yelled at by Michael.

Mike knocked
the weapon out of my hand,

took a shoe,

picked it up with his weapon
and flew it at

me and said I’m done tonight.

And he could be
in a bad mood and ask

you to make a parry four
and you think you're gonna

make a perfect tiny parry
four and he would like whack

you on the head and go too big.

He whacked the shit
out of me.

The guys
who were consistently

bleeding at the end
of the lesson

were the Sabre guys.

And they weren't like oh
they were like they're

pumped up by it.

he was a young man,

a coach abusing an athlete
was acceptable.

We didn't call it abuse.

We said the coach was trying
to motivate the student.

He would hit me once,
I wouldn't let him hit me again.

So, I'd keep the distance
or I'd make that that parry.

So, Michael
was abused by his coach

and he brought that to coaching.

But how much
was too much?

Did he cross the line
into abuse?

It was just
Michael myself.

And he broke me.

The theory was
that you had to break

somebody down completely
and then rebuild him.

Michael always
tried to feel out his pupil.

See what his pupil was capable
of so that he wouldn't

push it beyond what the student
was capable of.

Just another lesson
with Stro,

where nothing you did was right.
Everything you did was wrong.

And not only was everything
wrong but everything

was wrong and you were a bad
person for doing

everything wrong. And everything
was wrong,

you were a bad person
for doing everything wrong

and you'll never
do anything right.

He's not taking it easy on me
and I actually dropped.

No no.

Wrong wrong wrong and you're
stupid and you're wrong.

That's not a fucking parry.
This is a fucking parry.

This is a riposte? You call
that a fucking riposte?

And I thought
the lesson was over.

He said get up.

I'm just so fed up.

I can't do anything right.

And so I'm hitting
him as hard as I can.

Tears are starting to stream
down my face I'm

so fucking pissed.

And the lesson
continued until I dropped

maybe three four or five times.

And I’m hitting him
as hard as I can.

Hitting him as hard as I can.
Hit him as hard as I can.

One of the few
times that I wished

I'd never been a fencer.

Why you hitting me
so hard?

Because I want to kill you.

He broke me
to 98 percent.

Oh. OK.
Nice and easy now.

Nice and easy. That was pretty
good. OK. Nice.

OK. Now lunge. Right. Good. OK.
Good lesson.

He never did
that after that.

But one time just to show
that when you're fencing,

you don't give up.

It would never
occur to me to quit.

He was mean and miserable
and horrible to me, too.

But I just thought well that's
Michael like.

When you become
a varsity coach,

by definition you have to strive
to produce a winning team.

Whether the kids are happy
or not isn't what is going

to necessarily impress
the athletic director and get

another year’s contract.

Some of D’Asaro’s
teaching examples owed

more to the streets of Red Hook
than traditional

old school fencing lessons.

He would use analogies
that were often very street.

The seconde parry
one was a classic

because this was pure Stro.

I remember someone
asking like how do

you take parry seconde.

You don’t know
what seconde is?

It's like you got
a beer bottle.

And you break
it on the bar before

you cut the motherfucker.

That motion,

when you crack the bottle
is parry seconde.

Oh it kind
of just clicked.

We know exactly what you mean.

We know how to parry

seconde now.

The formidable
passion D’Asaro brought

to coaching in the gym
didn't translate very

well to competitions.

There's different
elements about strip

coaching tactics emotions all
that kind of stuff.

And I think he would have
been very good about that.

He was not a great
strip side coach.

He was almost
regularly kicked out of the gym.

He was great
in the salle.

He was terrible at fencing
tournaments in fact

we banned him.

He would be yelling
at us.

And he could get
too emotional and get

us too upset. So we kept
him away.

The one thing no
one could question

was the fact D’Asaro pushed
himself to be better

as a coach just as hard
as he pushed his athletes

to be better fencers.

I cannot express
how much this guy all

the time looking to everybody
who is doing anything.

Can he learn something
and improve his fencing.

A lot of other
coaches seem to think

I know it all.

Michael never said he knew
at all.

And every year he would have
new information.

He always sought out information
and would come

in and inflict it on us. I.E.
hundred lunges with a brick.

I never
considered myself

a coach because I never thought
I knew enough myself.

I was learning always learning.

Mike sponge.

He’s one take what he's
thinking right

for fencing and putting
in his so he's can give

something more to his students.

He was the first
person I definitely worked

with who who brought in some
different drills that were all

about the mentality of fencing.

We did sports
psychology work.

And that was really kind
of the nascence of that.

I think great
teachers create

the space for students
to flourish in their own way.

Michael would say
he's only has us for a couple

hours a week.

You know if you can
do more do more.

Michael didn't impress
me as a deep thinker.

He was curious and he
would pursue a theme.

But but I didn't think
he was a deep thinker

in the sense of a
scholarly mind.

If you just talked
to him briefly

you'd be like what, he's an
inarticulate mook.

He was a fabulous
tactician but he didn't

have the words for tactics.

He was smart
but he wasn't articulate.

Michael taught
by example.

He could perform.
He could show you.

Just grab the weapon.
This is how you do it.

Then you listen
to what his words

are and you're
like he’s somebody

who's got a ton of depth.

And yet like any
great fencer,

there's something hidden.
He's might appear friendly,

but he's going to try
to soundly defeat you.

He could suss out
what a person is about

very quickly.

But we also say
that about fencing.

You know if you're on the strip
with somebody your

if you're fencing with somebody,
you know what they're about.

You really do meet
somebody on the fencing strip.

Because you get to know
who they are. And sadly,

and unfortunately, you get
to know who you are.

You can't be
that good and not understand

things at a really deep level.

Although he looked
the part of a conforming

member of society,

some things about D’Asaro
never changed.

He wasn't a typical
fencing coach.

He was not straight laced.

There was a favorable
view of substance

abuse with that team.

When it came
to his job,

he was sober as he needed to be.

He never drank.
He never smoked.

He never dropped acid that I
knew of when we worked.

After we'd won,
we’d get really drunk.

soon as we got in,

he'd be drinking.

Seemed only fair
because probably about

a third of the team was drinking
during the tournaments.

We worked hard at
San Jose State.

We worked very very hard.
We trained very very hard.

And we played hard.

I know there's
a lot of marijuana use

and some cocaine use.

You know nobody drug tests
a coach.

Michael believed
that fencing was more

than just a physical sport.

There was a spiritual
and certain intellectual side.

We go to Michael
D’Asaro’s house

for Christmas and everybody
is given a little baggie.

He gave the members
of the fencing

team magic mushrooms.

With a little
you know note.

Go to the mountains
in Santa Cruz

or wherever with a friend
and just have a nice day.

I did take those
mushrooms and they were amazing.

We went out
to Big Basin out

in the Redwoods in the
in the forest

and we ate our shrooms
and we really

had this kind of Alice
in Wonderland

profound experience.

And it was expected
that we would take these

and that's going to be a mind
expanding experience.

Did it affect my my
fencing and make me

a better competitor.

I ended up winning
the Western intercollegiate

Pacific Coast championships. So,

I believe that there
was a connection.

That's outrageous
now to think of a coach

giving illegal hallucinogens
to the whole team.

Michael was very much
a shaman.

And that was part
of his charisma

that it wasn't just all
macho you know hit them

first hit them harder.

That there was a broader context
to being

able to make the touch first.

But we kind
of like well that was Michael.

Oh is that what the coach
wants us to do.

That sounds like a
wonderful idea.

So there's this kind
of metaphysical

quality that he tried to imbue
and inspire in us.

Harsh training
methods and quirky behavior

are only acceptable as long
as they produce

positive results.

Despite all the rumors
and turmoil surrounding

the San Jose State team,

no one can claim
they weren't successful.

They all seemed
to respond to him in a way

that allowed him to bring
out the very best in them.

Can always tell
a pretty good coach

when there's a certain
consistency you know

from year to year to year.
Not just based on some stars.

Of course,

you're going to have a really
good year if you have

some stars.

His team
was the baddest, partiest,

hardest working,
most winningest.

We love being
Michael's students.

Other people's
views of D’Asaro

weren't quite as favorable.

I took one of my
students to one

of his workshops and suggested
that she even go to San Jose,

take some lessons.

But Michael decided that the
situation was not

that he was going to augment
that students

instruction but that
he was going

to take that student.

I remember one of the
kitchen table

conversations we had where
Michael was saying

to me Look this is how it is.

They're big fish and there
little fish and the big fish

eat the little fish until
the bigger fish comes

along and then the bigger
fish eats that one.

By 1983,

D’Asaro was no longer being
chosen to coach

the national squad.

Drug and alcohol use were cited
as the reasons for the ban.

Again there
are so many sides to this.

Him the great fencer
him the great coach.

Him the not so great dad.
But him the great mentor.

He was super
intelligent in how

to teach fencing. He was
teaching three weapons.

I don't think that's
an easy thing.

Some people
who know him marginally will

know him as hard
drinking boozing,

drug taking mad man.

The fact that he
looked like he did

drugs and then it turns out
that he did might have really

negatively affected how
Americans view this person

who they thought maybe
unfairly maybe fairly

should have been an ambassador
for American fencing.

He really embraced
the hippie life and all

that went with it. So there
were some problems.

Now we're not having
some guy

who essentially advocates
drug use as one of our coaches.

I mean we're not that stupid.

I did know a lot
of the east coast fencing

politics hated Michael D’Asaro.

It certainly was not
a question that his his skills

had not been recognized.

And then there
was an incident after

eighty one world champs...

I mean the World
University Games

that he was kind of hanging out.

And they had gone out drinking
after the tournament

was over and so on so forth.

They came back and then
they were able

to use really a minorly
nothing but then used

it as an excuse to sort
of blackball him from being

coach from that point on,

which included the 84 Olympics
which he had three

students on the team.
Myself being one of them.

The decision
was was regrettable

and even the people making
it didn't really want to do

it but they felt
they had no choice.

he was working,

he was very serious.

And I know because you
couldn't be

stoned and be working with me
at a level

without me knowing it.

He never missed
a practice.

I never missed a lesson.

He's still ran the hardest
footwork sessions.

In 1985, at only
forty 47 years of age,

D’Asaro retired from San Jose
State University.

The university opted
to cancel the varsity

fencing program
at the same time.

It was really sad
to see the program stop.

I think
he simply sort

of burnt out by all the constant
constant pressure.

When I
was living with him

he was drinking heavily,
smoking pot,

mushrooms things like that.

And then all of a sudden
he's like well

I'm going to become vegetarian,

we're all going to move up
to Oregon and live off the land.

D’Asaro decided
to move to Ashland, Oregon,

an area he had looked into with
his old fencing pal,

Charles Selberg.

I know he just
wanted to cash out and buy

a house without having
any payments.

We moved
into Oregon and left

San Jose State.

I don't think there was anything
at San Jose State

that caused Michael
to want to do that.

It was just another opportunity
for him to drop out.

I think
had he been in that same

path as he was and being
selected and participating,

I think he would have deferred
those things until a later time.

Maybe after 84 85.

He stopped
working at the high

high level that he had.

So it was some sort
of a retirement.

But at the same time
his coaching was still

right on the money.

D’Asaro’s marriage
to Gay did not

survive the move to Oregon.

When you have,
I think,

a big age difference like there
is between them.

You're having these
different experiences

of evolution in your life.

He was her
first love.

She was what 14 15 even
younger when they met

and then they got married
when she’s 20

and they're together you know
through her 30s you know.

So like enough already.

As she ages,
she's mellowing.

As Michael aged,
he did not mellow.

They always seemed
like chalk and cheese.

You know they always seemed
like what is Gay

doing with Michael?

I think
it simply got old.

Mike's drinking certainly
was part of that.

I essentially went
from my father to my

father and it was time
to disengage from my father.

If I
had to guess he just

outgrew him.

At the time Gay
wanted to move

forward with a career.

And she was working on becoming
a clinical psychologist.

So Michael and I went into
this psychotherapy training.

After like three sessions,
Michael dropped out.

Because he couldn't be
around people

and reveal himself.

And that was so significant
to me. In my,

my life where I was growing
and delving deeper and growing.

And he was caving in. And that
impacted me so much.

And I never could see
him the same after that.

A little sad here.
So I realized,

it was time for me to be
independent and continue

my growth and exploration.

And I told Michael I
wanted to separate.

He was devastated.

When I chose
to leave him,

he truly still loved me.

So that whole
idyllic lifestyle

that they were putting together
up in Ashland was gone.

D’Asaro decided
to leave Oregon and accepted

a coaching position
in Los Angeles.

When I heard that Gay
and Michael were divorcing,

the moment I heard it,

I told Ted Katzoff
I'm calling Michael.

First when I met him,

he was the coach
of United States.

I was like Demi-god to me.

But then when I met
him again at Westside,

he looked a little bit like a
bum from New York City.

He grew his hair
back out in Los Angeles.

He was back to having his long
main affair again.

In many ways
had gone back

to his Haight Ashbury days at
that point in time.

I saw this guy
with long hair and these skull

rings and different things
you know coming up to me

and looking at me as if
he's recognized me

and I was like who is this guy?

And then I looked into his eyes
and I’m like Oh my gosh.

You know Stro.

The big change
was when he he and Gay split

and he moved to Los Angeles
and that's where I really

think he started to become more
or less of that fighter and more

of a maybe more philosophical.

That was a
totally different guy.

He was giving lessons
in flip flops.

And he’s laughing.

I’m teaching
fencing now as a means

of personal expression.
Personal Development.

Get in tune with yourself.
And people were like Oh,

your father's the best. He's so
sweet. I’m like sweet.

Are you insane.

I honestly don't
recall why I ended up just,

you know, trying a lesson
with Michael.

I knew he was kind
of unmistakable character

and he was somebody
who I knew had been

a great fencer and he
had coached a lot

of great athletes.

He was giving
wonderful great lessons

and making great corrections
and really

helping people along
without having to be

verbally crazy.

He was just of course
so charismatic and so good.

At work he was always
a little bit on the sloppy side.

When he came
to Los Angeles

and thought you know I'm
going to take lessons again.

I can't face competitively.

I've got a knee but I can
take a lesson.

He had a huge smile
on his face

every time I saw him.

I mean he was somebody who was
laughing all the time.

He didn't live lavishly,
that's for sure.

He he lived in a
simple apartment.

He seemed to get along
with anybody and everybody.

He just seemed to be you know
just knowledgeable,

good natured, affable, powerful,

I felt that there
was something lost.

Because last time I saw
him was with Charles Selberg

in the Colestin Valley.

You know and and now
he's in L.A.

some apartment teaching fencing.
Not his salle.

There was a sense
of frustration

because he had tried
to positively change the sport

for years and years and years.

And at the end he never
really felt that he did.

As the 1990s drew
to a close,

D’Asaro health started to fail.

He beat colon cancer only
to succumb to another

form of the disease.

The first thing
that started to happen,

that i knew something was wrong,

was he was getting angry
at people at the club

for encroaching on his space.

There I was one night,
taking a lesson with Michael.

We're having a wonderful time.

I had a lesson
over here.

He had a lesson next to me.

And he kept floating
into my strip.

He was losing
his equilibrium

and he was slanting off.

I’d smack him
in the head.

Get the fuck off my strip.
Stay on your own strip.

And he was getting
pissed off at people.

Watch the space.
Stop bothering me.

Michael asked me to do
an action. I did.

And then he oriented
himself for the next

action pointing it looking
straight ahead is six o'clock.

He was pointing off,
like eight o'clock.

And he didn't realize
that he was going slanted.

what's going on?

Are you OK.

In the middle
of that lesson,

his brain tumor kicked in.

was a geobalstoma

that was right in a place
they couldn't operate on.

He broke
in that lesson

and never came back.

D’Asaro attended
his last national

championship in 2000.

He walked
into this tournament

and he was very puffy.

His skin was like alligator
and gray.

And it just shocked
the crap out of me.

I looked
to the Mike. I feel very,

very sad.

And he was sitting
just looking out over

everything that was happening.

It was after that that
I realized

that he was there
saying goodbye.

You know
seeing Michael,

this strong guy,

you know being just worn down
by his illness, man.

It was pretty bad.

Stro was down
in L.A..

Brain tumors progressing.

He knew
he had some kind of fatal

thing happening.

A lot of people
down in L.A.

were just like yeah whatever.

He's just gonna drink himself
to death.

They didn't didn't seem to have
much of a use for him.

And Connie Yu,
because Connie Yu is both
a smart person

and a compassionate person,

was just like you know
we always Stro come up

once a year and do a camp.

Let's have Stro come up and do
a camp.

The students who had
learned from him

over these workshops,

when they saw him at
that last workshop there

was one kid Charlie Knable,

he just it's just it's awful
seeing Michael like this.

So, we do the camp.
I stand in for him.

It would go well.
He'd field questions.

He’d kind of leaning
against one the pillars.

He could still move
his hand somewhat.

So that was fine.

It was a good reminder
of how good

he was that even
in that condition

that he was still engaging.
He could still teach.

I think
he resolved in his own mind

what was going to take place.
Because he had lived that way.

He was able to meet
things head on.

the drugs they were giving him

that affected brain so badly,

there wasn’t a whole
lot of hey let's let's

clear up past 40 years.

We never really had that moment
that why did you this.

Why did you leave us.
But I miss him.

I've got lots of questions.

D’Asaro kept
teaching right up until the end.

So he lights up
and he’s smoking. He goes,

you know I was a vegetarian
for a while. Right. Said yeah,

when you lived with Gay.
So what do I get?

Fucking stomach cancer.
I beat that.

You know I've been smoking
since I was 12.

How are my lungs? Perfect.
What do I get?

Fuckin' brain tumor.

It just goes to show something's
going to get you.

Just don't worry about it.

Later on,

we realized that you know
that was that amazing

attitude in the face of imminent
death that he didn't care.

A few months before
he died,

he visited me and he
had no hair.

He was bald from chemotherapy
and he was barely walking.

This man who had been this cat,
this predator, this cheetah,

this panther on the Strip.

Who had humbled me
in my physical prime.

He'd humbled me. Here he can
barely walk.

He needs help going
to the bathroom.

And he's told me about how
difficult it was for him

to ask for help.

He told me that his mother told
him you never ask for anything.

And he said but Peter he said,
that's not the hardest part.

It's not asking. It's allowing
the help,

allowing someone to help
me go to the bathroom.

Allowing some to catch my arm.

He would tell us
that can only control

what you can control.

You can control the fact
that you have

practiced more than anyone else.

You can control you're in better
shape than anyone else.

You can control your technique.
You can control your distance.

You can control all of that.
You can't control the referee.

You can't control the opponent
you're going to have.

You can't control that stuff.
But if you do control,

and are better prepared, all
the things you can control,

your chances of success
are much better.

And so I, I continue
to use that today.

I had this wonderful sweet
dinner at Connie Yu’s house.

He was so full of life
and joyful and joking with us.

You know, let me show you my
brain scan.

And to see him in this,

in this condition and then
to see him still

so full of life was was a lesson
I'll never forget.

The three of us came
together when he was very ill,

rented a hotel suite
and we stayed and visited

him before he passed.

was bittersweet.

We talked about old times.

And it was kind
of the perfect goodbye.

But it was so sad
to see him in that condition.

You know after seeing
the vibrant

Michael all those years.

We had fun
and reminisced and thanked him.

I think
he was accepting of it.

It wasn't kind to be a battle
down to the wire, you know,

like Cyrano de Bergerac,
you know,

fencing against the specter
of death.

Michael always
taught us it was it's not

over till the fat lady sings.

like on a cliff,

holding your fingers and it's 4
0. But you have the ability

to bring it up to 4 4
and to win.

However tired
you are. However beat up,

however much pain you're in,
you can still go further.

He believed
he was going to beat it,

until he didn't.

I think
it was December 12th

and Anna Harris called me
and told me my

brother passed away.

When I found out
that he had passed away,

it was part of me passing away.

As of today, we're
living in a greyer world.

Than Michael really for for me
as a as a fencing coach

and as a person who knew
him and knew of him and heard

stories about him,

he really did make the world
a more colorful place.

He produced
good fencers.

He had fencers
on every Olympic

team from 76 to 88.

He was part
of opening the door

for women's sports
because he took us

seriously when so many
other males in the sport

of fencing were poo pooing us.

His legacy like any
great master all that resides

within his students.

So many of his top
students are still

around as coaches.

He was not
of the establishment

but his champions became
part of the establishment.

that the pebble

and then we are the ripples.

I don't think
I would be doing now

what I'm doing at this level
of success without being able

to have the same passion
and that he helped

instill in me.

We carried on what
he he he he gave us.

Greg Massialas’s kid
is doing phenomenal.

I think you can trace
that directly to the influence

of Michael D’Asaro.

My students came
back with three medals

from the Olympics something
that would've

been sort of unheard of.

Elevated the game.
He elevated the consciousness.

He elevated the art.

He opened the door
for fencers around

the country by producing
Olympians on the West Coast.

When we were all supposed
to be from the East Coast.

A lot
of people are dead now

we don't talk about
because they're not

worth talking about.

And he certainly
is someone that is.

he was inducted

to the San Jose State
hall of fame I spoke.

And I called him an asshole.
But he was. He was cruel.

He could be really
horrible you know.

But he was so many things.

And that was one
of the things I remember

you know him really you know,

building me up you know.

Making me believe
in myself more.

She said Michael always
believed in me.

And that made the difference.

He's just
a mentor.

Somebody who could take fencing
and use

that as a metaphor for life.

Once you know him,

it's kind of difficult
to forget about him.

When I think about this coach
that had the hugest impact,

really made me,

made everything I was as a
fencer, it was Stro.

And yet, technically,

I probably worked with him
for the least amount of time.

I remember asking
him like why, why are you coach,

Stro? You know. And he goes,
it's all I know how to do.

I miss him.

He was a natural
referee. Natural.

Everything about fencing,
he could eat it.

But I would not
have traded that time

for anything.
That was formative.

And he helped me
make the Olympic team.

He really helped me
make the Olympic team.

Michael took me
in and tolerated my

ignorance in the beginning,
which was hard for him.

He really made me the fencer
that I was.

He did
everything on his own terms.

You know, look,

I'm gonna I'm gonna prove
to you that I'm the best.

No matter what — no matter
what I'm wearing.

No matter how I look.

No matter what my
hair length is.

No matter who I'm fucking.
I'm the best.

He's a very
complex person.

And that's I mean that to me
was how I remember him.

You know sometimes
when I'm in a bit of a spot

or somebody is, you know,

rubbing me wrong or something's
going wrong, I can,

I can hear Michael
saying Well fuck you.

Thank you Michael
the sorrow. Thank you.

Thank you strobe taskmaster.
Shaman. Leader. And.

Just a brilliant. Fencing.