At Sword's Point

League City, TX

#3 Aug 16, 2009

As the new fencing year begins chugging forward we come into the weekend of August 22nd with offerings in the DFW Metroplex and the Houston/Galveston area.

To the north, the Fencing Institute of Texas, affectionately dubbed "FIT," is hosting their "End of Summer Foil" tournament. You may recall in my previous post I mentioned that foil is a weapon traditionally taught to beginners. I neglected to mention that it is also the discipline that many devote their lives to mastering.

The "End of Summer Foil" consists of two events.

One is for fencers age 12 and UNDER.

One is your basic Senior (age 13 & up) Mixed (both men and women in the same event) Foil. So far 25 fencers have pre-registered for that event. While the number may seem rather small, some of the Lone Star State's best foilists are already on board. Leading the pack is Enzo Castellani, who has seen more than one gold medal at the national level. Just as intimidating are the sisters Mai and Mona Shaito. As one colleague once quipped, the Shaito Family is "all over foil." Watch for all three of these names to appear in the future.

Across the state, the Clear Lake Fencing Club, based near the Johnson Space Center, is hosting their 11th annual Fete de Lune "veterans' tournament." This is not a reference to military service, but to age. All of the competitors are 40 years old and OLDER... some much OLDER. This event has competitions in all three weapons (foil, epee, and sabre).

While the women's events are still a bit small as far as pre-registrants go, it is not going too far out on a limb to predict that Diane Kallus from the Texas Hill Country will sweep all three women's events.

The mixed events are a trickier game. Reviewing the pre-registrants, there are four to focus on. The local favorite is Don Cravey, an aerospace engineer working at the Space Center. He is by far the host club's major threat in all three weapons.

Another local concern is August Skopik of Katy. Both Cravey and Skopik have won the Grand 3-Weapon Prize in the past.

Ray Sexton, however, must be taken into consideration. Not only is has he competed on an International level in his age group, he once travelled to Budapest and defeated the locals in sabre (Young boys in Hungary take to sabre fencing like American kids take to Little League Baseball). I should add that Ray is Diane Kallus' significant other. They are the double-threat from the Hill Country.

The real concern, however, may be Curtis Hardy of the San Antonio area. He just "aged up" into veterans events awhile back and took the 3-Weapon Grand Prize last year.

This time next week, we will know.

League City, TX

#5 Aug 25, 2009

LAST WEEKEND: We had two tournaments this last weekend. In Farmer's Branch near Ft. Worth, the Fencing Institute of Texas hosted their "End of Summer Foil" Tournament. Unfortunately it was not a diverse event in terms of affiliation. Most of the competitors, and all of the winners, came from FIT.

First place in the "Youth-10 & Under Mixed Foil" competition went to Brycen Rushing. Douglas Lovelace won the gold in the "Youth-12 & Under Mixed Foil" event. The "Senior Mixed Foil" event had the real upset. The heavily favored Enzo Castellani did not participate. More interestingly, Longda Yin, who carried a B2009 classification beat the formidable Zain Shaito (A2009) for the gold medal. This elevated Yin to an A2009.

On the far southeast side of Houston, the Clear Lake Fencing Club's 11th annual Fete de Lune veterans'(age 40+) tournament was held August 22. Diane Kallus from the Texas Hill Country was an early favorite to capture the best overall prize in women's events. Diane, however, was held back by having to fence through a summer cold. She wone the Women's Epee event, but Cheryl Laird of Salle Mauro in Bellaire, TX won Women's Sabre and Women's Foil. By also tieing for 3rd place in Women's Epee she secured the Women's 3-Weapon prize (a Wedgewood pin on a string of pearls).

The field was far more spread out in the mixed events. Mixed Foil was completely dominated by Emilio Ybarra, representing San Antonio's Texas Fencing Academy. Ybarra took the gold in the final by defeating Don Cravey from the host club. In Mixed Sabre, August Skopik of the Katy Blades in Katy, TX won the gold by defeating Cravey in the final for that event. Alexander Popovici of the Alliance Fencing Academy in The Woodlands secured the Mixed Epee gold by defeating Sam Gilchrist of the Halberstadt Fencing Club in San Francisco.

Interestingly, while Ybarra and Skopik were both contending for the 3-Weapon prize, they lost their chance for it by doing far less well in the other events they fenced. Instead Don Cravey won the best overall in all 3 weapons by finishing 2nd in both foil and sabre and 5th in epee, and gaining the prize by accumulated points. The prize was a custom modified epee with a grip made from antler and a guard of sterling silver over polished copper, with sterling cameo of Greco-Roman figures.

NEXT WEEKEND: We have a slow fencing weekend in Texas upcoming with only the "End of Summer Sabre" tournament by the Fencer's Institute of Texas scheduled in Farmer's Branch. A glance at those who are preregistered as of this writing seems to show Kate Sierra of the Cutting Edge Fencing Club in Ft. Worth to be the favorite in the Senior event. Check by next week for the results.

League City, TX

#7 Aug 28, 2009

The fencing year in this region has begun and by next week the preliminary competition schedule will be determined, and posted. It seems a good time to discuss a bit about fencing and the traditional "first weapon" taught to a beginning fencer.

Nine times out of ten, if you are talking with someone and they mention that they "used to fence" or "took fencing in college" (and there really are quite a lot of them out there), what they mean is that they took lessons in FOIL fencing.

Modern Olympic fencing has three different disciplines, or "weapons": foil, epee and sabre. In EPEE, while all touches must be scored with the tip, the entire body is target, literally from head to toe. It also does not have those bothersome rules of right-of-way. SABRE does have rules of right-of-way, and there is less valid target than epee: basically everything from the hips up is fair game. What sabre has going for it is that you can score with the tip or the edge.

Foil is a tougher nut. It has the tiniest target, basically the torso. You hit your adversary's head, arms or legs and the referee may call "halt!" but no points are awarded. Even then the referee won't even call a halt if you just hit your opponent with the edge or side of the foil. You are only awarded a point if you land a touch on your opponent's valid target (torso) with the tip of your foil...

and maybe not even then.

You will recall I said something about RIGHT-OF-WAY.

The foil was created in the late 1600s/early 1700s as a training tool for those who might expect to find themselves in a duel with the primary dueling weapon of that age in England, France and their colonies: the smallsword.

Barely 30-32 inches long, the smallsword had no edge (in fact, the blade's cross-section was a trifoil) but a needle-sharp point. If you impaled your opponent's thigh or arm, it would hurt him, but he could still kill you.

Therefore, foilists were taught to target the torso, infliciting the kind of injury that would, at least, give your adversary pause.

As to right-of-way, in a tournament or classroom situation, it works like this. Two fencers are en garde, facing each other. Inevitably, one attacks. The attack is defined as the INITIAL offensive action, caused by extending the point at your opponent and threatening valid target. If my opponent does exactly that, and my response is to do the same, and we both hit on valid target... only my opponent gets a point.


My opponent attacked. A perfectly reasonable thing. I, on the other hand, did not defend myself. I threw myself on their point while trying to hit them. In essence, I just committed suicide.

In foil, we do NOT award points for suicide. Instead, once my opponent attacks, I have two options (well, more, but for now...)

If I counter-attack (which is what I did in the paragraph above), I can win a point ONLY if: 1.) I land my tip on their valid target; and, 2.) they completely MISS me.

My other option, once they launch an attack is to PARRY their attack (that is, deflect their blade with my own blade) and launch an IMMEDIATE "Riposte" (an offensive act after parrying their attack).

Foil was created to teach an 18th Century gentleman what to do in oder to get home once he had begun a duel. Thanks to two hundred years of adapting it into a sport, it can also be one of the fastest, most difficult, most athletic and most intellectual of sports.

It is also how we instruct beginners: learn the hard stuff first.

League City, TX

#11 Sep 13, 2009

Now for sabre.

Sabre is the only one of the three modern fencing weapons that allows the fencer to score with the edge as well as the point. It makes sabre somewhat less linear, more multi-dimensional.

Like foil, sabre has a restricted area that is considered valid target, but it is less restricted than foil. In foil, only the torso is considered valid target. In sabre, everything above the forward curves of the pelvic bone is valid target: belly, chest, back, arms, head.

Because of this expanded valid target area, and the fact that even simple contact by any part of the blade on that target is seen as a "hit," sabre becomes a very fast game. Like foil, sabre employs conventions of "right-of-way" or "priority."

One fencer attacks. Their opponent must either avoid the touch or parry it (with an IMMEDIATE riposte), As with foil, once the first fencer attacks, if their attack is not parried and lands on valid target, only they are awarded a touch, even if their adversary also hit them. If attacked, you must defend or successfully evade. As with foil, sabre does not reward suicide.

Because of the large amount of valid target and the ease with which an attack may be subtly altered (a verticle stroke that appears to be a cut to the head can easily shift in mid-extention to a lateral cut to the flank), sabre can be more difficult to parry. Thus we see many actions where the defender retreats just out of range then, as the attacker's cut/swing misses, leaps forward to deliver an attack of their own. All in seconds... or less.

Sabre is a very, very fast game. It is also, at the higher skill levels a very nuanced game. The number of people qualified to referee sabre is much smaller than with either foil or epee.

Even at the elite level of Olympians the unexpected can happen.

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