Where Have We Been?
What a crazy bunch of weeks! It may still take a bit to get back up to speed with regular stories, but the reason will hopefully be made clear as I describe recent events.
First, Nationals. That would be the US Fencing National Championships, held in San Jose, CA from June 27 through July 6 with over 4,000 competitors, making it the largest single tournament in the world. What a change from the first time I went in 1979! I’ve got the program for that; I should count how many competitors are listed. It won’t come close to that number. It won’t come close to a quarter of that number. Things have certainly changed and all for the better. We (that is, my camera man/editor/web guru Greg Lynch and I) made some great contacts at Nationals and were able to get some interviews with some stellar folks including my good friend Maestro Peter Burchard, 1956 Olympian Skip Shurtz, 1988 Olympian George Nonomura, and multi-Olympian, multi-National Champion, Michael Marx. We’re in the process of editing that material and will slowly roll out some great stories in the near future. In addition to the folks we were able to corral on site, we also made some contacts with other folks we wanted to sit down with and will likewise be putting together some stories from those ongoing interviews as well.
The other big ticket item and a major source of time away from my computer has been the intake of a new collection for The Archive. Through the heroic efforts of Friend of the Archive Jamie Douraghy, we were able to acquire a huge amount of material related to three extremely important fencers: Joseph Vince, Torao Mori and Heizaburo Okawa. There is a great deal to be said about all three, but I’ve just scratched the surface of the trove. (If you’ve been following our Facebook feed, you’ll have seen some items already that Greg posted. If you don’t Facebook – join up and check us out! You don’t have to look at anything else…) But having scratched that surface, some items jumped out that I really felt like sharing.
Usually when I’m putting a story together, I like to find a theme with which I can build a story to help put in context a time, a place, a person. This time around, with so many threads still to unravel, I thought I would simply share some of the interesting items that came to hand. So, a mixed bag. But an interesting mix and I’ll explain the pieces as I go.
Some time in the early 60’s, Torao Mori bought out Joseph Vince and became president of the Joseph Vince fencing equipment business. Vince came west in the mid-1940s and continued the operation of the business he had begun during his long tenure in New York. Apart from his connection to Mori, the fencing coach for the Japanese Olympic team for several Olympic cycles, there was another connection to Japan. I’m still digging on this item, but it seems pretty clear that Vince had a manufacturing relationship for Vince-branded equipment with a Japanese firm that either began life as Tokyo Sports or became Tokyo Sports with Vince’s support. Here is the design for the Vince-branded foil guard:
And the design specifications – all in Japanese!
Another interesting piece of the Vince story is his connection to Hollywood. At some stage in his tenure in Hollywood, he became one of the handful of coaches who might be called upon to work with actors or productions to bring the level of swordfighting up to scratch. As an example, here is the pay voucher from Twentieth Century Fox for the work Vince did to prepare James Coburn for “Our Man Flint”.
In the files there were numerous other invoices for famous folks: Blake Edwards, Stella Stevens, Yevtte Mimieux, Andre Previn – and the three swordfighting cast members from “The Great Race” – Natalie Wood, Ross Martin and Tony Curtis.
In fact, the relationship between Curtis and Vince developed into a real friendship, as evidenced by the following two letters:
So I guess Tony Curtis gave Joseph Vince a 1966 Thunderbird – a hip car then and probably even more of a hip car today.
In other star related material, one of the first ‘finds’ in the material was this envelope:
Alas, it was empty. But hey! What the heck was “Fencing for Fun and Health”? An in-joke between Mifune & Curtis, a pair of known movie-swordsmen? No ideas on my end. But then, going through files, I came across this letter from Vince:
So, my personal favorite movie swordsman, Toshiro Mifune, visited the Vince Fencing Studio in Hollywood and was photographed with Tony Curtis and Joseph Vince! The empty envelope above doesn’t have a date stamp on it anywhere, so no way to know if it was before the meeting, possibly to arrange it, or after, with an enclosure for Joseph Vince. Or a letter of regret? Maybe Mifune’s office lost the negatives. Who knows? Did they talk sword fighting? How was Mifune’s English? Vince was Hungarian by birth, but did business in Japan. Did he speak Japanese? Or did Mori handle that part of the business and was he also there to interpret for Mifune? I HAVE QUESTIONS!
Ok, ok. Sorry. I’ll calm down. I try not to let my passion for fencing history creep up to the surface of my writing; it makes my spelling go south.
So, as a last little bit, I’ll also add a small item related to Heizaburo Okawa. Small, but clears up something I’ve always wondered about. People who’ve been in the sport longer than I have always spoke of Okawa being a threat on the International fencing scene. However, by the time I knew him, he was Coach and Maestro and only rarely competed. (I did have the pleasure of losing to him 5 to zero in a team PCC bout. He hit me so effortlessly with the first touch I laughed out loud at my own helplessness. It didn’t get better.) So this item jumped out at me, because of the Ah-Ha! factor. Yes. He was that good.
If you’ve seen the famous poster of Okawa, you may or may not know that the person he’s fencing against is the abovementioned at #4, Jean-Claude Magnan. Wait a sec… I’ve got it around somewhere… hang on…
Ah! Here it is:
One last thing about this action. Okawa is coming from the right. He hasn’t passed by Magnan to reach back, he’s come toward Magnan and turned his back and dropped to the ground. I’ve seen him do it. It was all one fluid motion and Okawa’s eyes never left the target.
More to come!