Cardinal Fencing Academy: Loudoun’s Premier Fencing Gym

Fencing is not just a sport, it’s an experience. It’s a physical and mental challenge that requires quick thinking, agility, and strategy. That lesson is what Ilya Lobanenkov, head coach and founder of Cardinal Fencing Academy in Sterling, aims to get across to his students.

Head Coach and Founder, Ilya Lobanekov with a student showing fencing equipment

Head Coach and Founder, Ilya Lobanenkov with a student

“Fencing is for people of all ages, and it’s a great workout,” said Lobanenkov. “We have students as young as six and as old as 80. It offers the thrill of a real sword fight while also stimulating their creativity, like a game of physical chess, where you need to outsmart your opponent through footwork, blade work, and tactics.”

Lobanenkov got his start in fencing as a child. After coming to the United States, he began fencing in Seattle at the age of 12 and remained passionate about into adulthood as he entered a network engineering career. In 2009, Lobanenkov took a position as a full-time fencing coach at the DC Fencers Club in Maryland while also being a full-time networking engineer but ended his IT career in 2013 to focus solely on fencing.

“I wanted my own gym. I worked two full-time jobs so that I could finance everything myself,” Lobanenkov reflected. “Without external capital, it was slow starting up, but I wanted to dictate my own way. I pretty much started out of my truck. A local elementary school let me use their gym for a time and a martial arts facility even rented to me one summer, but I wanted my own space.”

In 2018, Lobanenkov found his original Sterling location, which fit his needs at the time, but he soon began to outgrow the space. In 2023, he moved into a bigger gym, triple the size of the original location.

“We needed a bigger space for our students because this is important to them,” Lobanenkov said. “It teaches them strategy and time management but is also competitive fun. It’s an alternative to screen time but they can still create combos like video games. When the mask is off, they are themselves but when the mask is on, they feel safe becoming someone else.”

Along with being a fun and engaging activity, fencing offers numerous other benefits. It improves overall fitness, sharpens reflexes, and enhances coordination and balance. Furthermore, it teaches discipline, focus, and perseverance, all of which are crucial for success in any field. Lobanenkov believes anyone can master fencing and welcomes those with zero experience to reach their highest potential. Cardinal Fencing caters to a wide variety of students, including parents and children learning together, as well as camps for students with autism and ADHD, who thrive in the sport due to the requirement to be hyper-focused.

Lobanenkov mentions that contrary to popular belief, students can start fencing on day one and don’t need to wait long to begin. Safety and etiquette are always top priorities, and students are taught the rules before they ever pick up an epee (sword).

USA Fencing medal

One of the many fencing medals that Cardinal Fencing Academy earned

All of the coaches at Cardinal Fencing Academy have impressive resumes, possess national and international competition experience as both fencers and coaches, and they see coaching as a form of continuing education. Up-and-coming fencing great, Michaela Joyce, got her start at Cardinal Fencing Academy, where she earned a fencing scholarship to Notre Dame. During her time at the Academy, she won several medals at the Junior Olympics, Division 1 National Championships, and numerous World Cups with Team USA. While winning competitions are an achievement, Lobanenkov notes that skill-building must come first.

“Results have to be a side effect,” Lobanenkov insisted. “I teach my students to not chase rankings as goals. They need to develop skills and make it part of their lives. Some of our students are ranked very highly but we don’t push results from the beginning. Education and skills come first, and students shake hands when the match is over.”

Ilya Lobanenkov standing in front of Cardinal Fencing Academy logo showing handheld scoring equipment

Lobanenkov showing the gym’s innovative, hand-held scoring equipment

Another aspect that sets Cardinal Fencing Academy apart is its innovative approach to the sport. While traditional fencing scoring equipment is heavy, bulky, and takes about 15 minutes to setup per match, Cardinal’s wireless equipment takes seconds, can be setup by the students, and can be moved anywhere in the gym since it is hand-held. They also have their own armory service and maintenance of equipment is done in-house. Lobanenkov is taking a modern approach to a traditional program and is working with Loudoun County Parks, Recreation, and Community Services and Loudoun County Public Schools to raise awareness of the sport and program.

“For those that are curious about fencing, just try it,” Lobanenkov said. “Music teachers teach us to play music. When you master a song, you feel accomplished. Fencing is the same, but the song is a swordfight and students feel progress immediately.”

So, whether your child is looking for a new hobby or wants to explore a unique sport, fencing is definitely worth giving a try. It’s a sport that encourages creativity, challenges the mind and body, and fosters lifelong skills.

Cardinal Fencing Academy is holding a ribbon cutting celebration to mark the opening of their new location at 45980 Center Oak Plaza, Suite 140 in Sterling, on September 7 at 4:30 p.m.

Learn more about Cardinal Fencing Academy by visiting