DUBAI // Behind her mask, Irini Maria Van Zijderveld Paipai hears only her heartbeat before she strikes a decisive blow with her foil.
Fencing, known as the sport of kings, is catching on in the UAE. A national federation was set up three years ago and several competitions have already been held.
For 11-year-old Irini, who lives in Dubai, it is already a passion, and it is the donning of the mask and the sound of victory that has led to her embrace of the sport.
"When you put on your mask, you transform into a whole other person," said Ms Paipal, who has won gold four times in UAE and club championships. "If you win, you then hear everyone clap."
Irini started fencing four years ago when her mother, who had some experience in the sport, showed her videos of fencers competing.
"I really liked it and decided I wanted to try it," Irini recalled.
While some of her friends have only dabbled in the sport, she trains at least four hours a week and has excelled to the point where she now battles it out with those in her age group or older.
"It helps with your reactions, helps you get better at distance, and you can exercise your feet and with the reactions and you can go really fast and it helps you get points," she said.
Maria Kouzeva, a coach at MK Fencing in Dubai, said there was a steady stream of new students enrolling in a sport that demands several skills.
"It attracts them because it's a physical as well as a mental workout all," Ms Kouzeva said.
Some find the moves difficult but with practice they can be mastered, she said.
"In fencing you need a lot of coordination because you are moving the whole body and some people are not persistent enough with it. Those who are patient learn good coordination," she said.
Ms Kouzeva noted the health benefits of fencing, saying that fencing burns more calories than running in the same period of time.
"You are all the time changing the speed and your heart rate is all the time high," she said.
In fencing, there is also a premium placed on discipline and respect for one's opponent - skills that are especially important for children and teenagers to develop.
"I was watching kids play football and they were running all over the place and not focused all the time," Ms Kouzeva said, adding that fencing requires an unusually high degree of concentration.
Whether Olympians or not, the clashing of foils is sport for all ages.
"We've had people who were very unfit and we've even had a gentleman who was 75. He came and loved it and said it was something he always wanted to do in life."