Here is another tidbit from “The Fencer”, a mimeographed newsletter started by a couple of fencers from the San Francisco area that eventually became a statewide endeavor. There are so many little bits of fascinating history tucked into its usual eight pages that I hardly know where to look for something to share. Harold Hayes, he of the Pacific Fencing Club in Alameda, CA, put this into my hands, so I thought I’d share a little article from the May, 1946 issue that caught my attention. This particular article was written by Pierre Paret, one of the Associate Editors of the newsletter. I’ll transcribe, rather than putting in an image of the text, as they typed fonts often fail to read easily in its latest incarnation. Having started as typewriter-typed sheets, transferred to mass-mailing form via mimeograph, much later Xeroxed and now scanned as a .pdf, I hope you’ll trust me that this format will be easier on your eyes, if not mine.
Everyone has been very sorry to hear that the Oakland Fencing Club was dissolved a few days ago. I know we all had hopes that it would become well established and grow into a rallying point for every East Bay fencer, and furthermore would develop new ones who could give the older groups in the City some competition. Well, that hope is gone.
Now fencing in Berkeley and Oakland is reduced to the Berkeley Fencers Club and the University of California. The Berkeley fencers just manage to keep going, but still have some of the better women fencers of the Bay Area. As far as their men are concerned, they will be helpless in every competition next season except possibly Prep. The situation at U.C. is so sad (despite the hard work of the U.C. fencers themselves) that I couldn’t bear to write about it, and Arthur Lane had to take over and cover that particular wake separately, somewhere else in this issue.
For the failure of the Oakland Fencing Club, Bischoff blames the lack of interest among the former members. But I think that the Club could have continued on, and even grown, if a competent professional had been available. And it is the same with the other East Bay groups – – they could revive, and they could expand, if a good professional would settle over there. An interest in fencing existed in that area even before the War. I got my first fencing lessons in Oakland from Mr. Funke, who used to cross the Bay twice a week and instruct. When he was forced to discontinue his East Bay branch many students who could not afford the time to go to San Francisco gave up fencing and were lost to the sport. Today there are a lot of people over there who would take fencing lessons if only a good instructor could be found.
Of course we have had some of these fly-by-night teachers before and we might have one of the species again. I remember a certain person here who took lessons for little more than a month and then turned “professional”. He, and people like him, have ruined more prospective fencers than this division has active members. They aren’t any good, but they talk a fine game, and at changing innocent novices into wild, dirty fencers they are excellent. Quack professionals.
Enthusiasm and willingness to work are necessary, but without a competent teacher they don’t mean a thing. The enthusiasm exists in the East Bay – – the professional doesn’t. If there is a good instructor footloose anywhere, I’d just like to tell him that the market is here, the opportunity is here, he would have all our support, and I hope he comes to us soon. – PARET
Reference above, here is Maestro Erich Funke d’Egnuff, taken around 1940
As mentioned, there is indeed an article written by Arthur Lane about the state of affairs at UC Berkeley. The title of Lane’s article is “A SAD COMMENTARY”. Interestingly, it outlines a problem that UC Berkeley has had for much of its existence in relation to the fencing program. They very seldom get organized to a point where they are willing to pay enough to retain a quality coach for a long period. At the present time, this is as much due to the “club” status of any team that Berkeley may field. As such, as with any University club, leadership changes every two to four years, if not more often. That makes it impossible for the fencers to involve themselves in a program that can establish and maintain long term goals for the creation of quality athletes in the sport. This isn’t meant to denigrate the effort of anyone who is currently at Cal, either as teacher or student. But let’s face it; no club team is going to get anything like a percentage of the funding that the Cal Bears football program is going to get. To quote Mr. Lane from 1946:
“A few (professionals) have offered their services in the past, usually for the prestige that would accrue to them, but there is none there now – nor is there likely to be. The University offers too little. ‘Fencing is a minor sport,’ it says. Therefore the gate receipts from football go back into football.”
“But how many football players are on the field after they leave college? How many fencers continue active beyond their fiftieth year? The University, which professes to offer every opportunity to its students of learning something of lasting value, is missing the boat.”
Well said, Mr. Lane, well said. It certainly seems like the above is as true today as it was in 1946. C’mon Cal! Give that fencing program some green to go with the blue & gold! It has certainly been done in the past. Maybe if someone starts an online petition or a crowd funding effort?
Left to Right: Arthur Lane, Erich Funke d’Egnuff, unknown, Hans Halberstadt, unknown.
A recent study showed that fencers who competed in High School had nearly a 30% chance of competing in college. I don’t know what the stats may be of fencers in college who continue to fence after college, but it seems pretty clear from what I’ve experienced that the percentage has to be near “a lot”. It’s worth noting that the next highest sport to translate from High School to College is gymnastics at 19%. No other sport is above 13% and most are in single digits. Football is at 8%, and how many of those go on to play post college? Approximately 1.6%. Thus, about one and a half out of every one hundred college football players continue to play football post college – so, pro. (What the other half of that player does is anyone’s guess.) Certainly more fencers than that continue on after college.
I was further intrigued by Paret’s reference to fly-by-night instructors. That seems to be more of a dying breed. So many more opportunities are available today to learn how to teach. Coaching clinics happen fairly regularly and the internet makes it so much easier to Google-stalk someone’s credentials for accuracy that I think it would be a lot harder today to claim unwarranted excellence in this sport – and get away with it – for very long. Hey, we’ve made some progress since 1946, haven’t we?