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My Idea of Treasure

Not the buried in the sand pirate-type I always dreamed of unearthing in the Southern California former orange-grove backyard where I grew up.  My treasure hunting has been refined to a sharper focus that has proven no less fortunate to me than those who find spectacular Saxon hoards in Middlesex with a $60 metal detector.  Possibly not as lucrative, but I’m just as happy since I don’t get taxed and I run the “museum” where the treasure comes to reside.  I’m calling it a win for me.

In the present case, it’s a big win for the history of San Francisco fencing history.  Great story.  Let me tell it to you.

Marc LeRoux is a former Letterman fencer who knew Dr. William “Bill” O’Brien well.

“Mark LaRue” in 1986.  His donation of this material is of tremendous value to The Archive and very much appreciated!

Dr. O’Brien was a fixture in San Francisco fencing from the mid-1930s, when he began under the tutelage of Maestro Erich Funke d’Egnuff, until his passing around the year 2000. (I don’t know the exact date, I’m afraid.)  Dr.O passed on to Marc a stack of papers, a couple of folios of photographs and a scrapbook.  Out of the sport and living up in Washington state, Marc recently began looking for a safe repository for the memorabilia that had been entrusted to him.  Via Facebook, he contacted David Sinkkonen, who is the club Director at West Berkeley, wherein much of my Archive collection is housed.  David, in turn, directed Marc my way with a, “Yes, as a matter of fact, I DO know a place where that material would be safe and appreciated.”  Mere days after connecting us, a good-sized box arrived at my door, and lo!  Another piece of the puzzle is filled in – and several new puzzles unlocked! Level achieved!

Allow me to describe the contents of the trove that I am fortunate to place in The Archive collection.  There are nearly 100 loose photographs, ranging in date from the early ‘50s through the ‘80s.  Many have names written on them – front or back – and can thus be easily identified.  Others without written help are people I recognize, but there are quite a few where I’m at a loss.  Some are of military personnel – the Letterman club was organized through the goodwill of the Letterman Hospital in the Presidio of San Francisco – and some are of Letterman fencing teams filled with unfamiliar faces.  Dr. O shows up pretty regularly, but he’s often surrounded by folks I can’t put a name to.  Still, the ones I can recognize make up the bulk of the collection.  Here are some highlights!

A night of fencing at Halberstadt in 1954.  No names on the back to ID either the fencers or the audience.

The 1955 Letterman Army Hospital Invitational.  1955 was the first year of electric foil fencing at the World Championships.  It seems San Francisco hadn’t caught up quite yet.

That’s Duris DeJong of the LAAC, John McDougall during his Stanford years, and Al Lambert of the Berkeley Fencers Club in an undated photo. Mid-50’s.

Dated 1964, Bill O’Brien shakes the hand of Alex Orban at a tournament in Mexico City.  The tournament is either the IPN or the JPN tournament.  Can’t be entirely sure.  

That’s how they rolled in 1970.  Left to right, we have Steve Clavere, Charles Spencer, John Nonomura, Charles Miller and Jose Leiva.

Hey, color!  From 1973, Wayne Johnson takes a foil lesson from Dr. O at the Letterman gym.

A 1976 fencing exhibition at Dominican College in San Rafael, CA, featuring, from left to right: Gerard Esponda, George Nonomura, Heik Hambarzumian, Dr. O’Brien, Asbed Kalfayan and Stuart Kaufman.

Another portion of the collection is made up of Dr. O’Brien’s collection of records regarding the competitive results of all Letterman Fencers from seasons 1977-78 through 1986-87.  Each season is stapled in a bundle that is topped with the Northern California Division schedule for the season and backed with hand-written pages.  Each page has a fencer’s name at the top, three columns across for Foil/Sabre/Epee, and down each column the name of the tournament entered and the result.  He included tournaments fenced outside of the NorCal division and National events, as well.  Clearly, he was paying attention.

Letterman fencers from the late 70’s will no doubt recognize all of these names.  I recognize a whole bunch of them, myself.

How well did he track people?  As an example, in the 78-79 season, I’ve just flipped to the page for Wayne Johnson, Letterman fencer and 1980 Olympian in epee.  I find that Wayne was not only an A in epee, but a B in both foil and sabre.  He fenced in 7 foil events and won gold and bronze medals once each and silver twice.  In epee, he fenced 10 events, taking 1st three times, 2nd once, 3rd twice – including a large event in San Antonio with 63 competitors – took 6th at a National Squad Trial (this was in the world before circuit events – or NAC’s as you kids call them today) and 7th at the US Nationals out of 203 fencers.  One can only assume that the lack of entries in any sabre events for the season speaks to a possible lazy streak in Wayne. Here’s what the rundown looked like for another Letterman standout:

Also in the packet is a running list of all the fencers, again broken into columns by weapon.  23 foil fencers, 10 sabre and 16 epee – but some folks are counted more than once if they fenced multiple weapons.  And all that is just for the ‘789-’79 season.  Ten years of this info!

In a former career, I worked in production management for animated films.  The creative side of the job, apart from managing artists which has often been likened to herding cats, revolved around the creation of spreadsheets – usually in Excel – that had two requirements: they had to actually help you keep your work organized, and they needed to be reasonably comprehensible to other people.  (If you made them too crazy, other departments would convince themselves that you were hiding something from them.  Think everybody working in animation is jolly and fun?  Guess again and keep your guard up.  I digress.)  If the spreadsheet didn’t fulfill those two requirements, it usually meant you were better off with a clipboard.  Getting a pile of data like this ten year run of names and results makes my Excel muscles tingle with anticipation.  I may have to turn all this info into something for some fun data-mining.  I’ll enjoy it, if no one else will.

The last item in the collection is off-topic from the Letterman material, but no less interesting and it is…

…yes, one of my favorite things….

…a Scrapbook!

An example page of the newly acquired scrapbook.  Lots and lots of data to mine.

Not just any scrapbook, a solid, packed, 139 pages of news clippings and articles from the Funke Fencing Academy, 1725 Washington Street, San Francisco, California.  The book ranges from the mid-1930s through the mid-1940s.  The history of how this book passed through hands to me is partly known and partly shrouded in mystery.  Fortunately, there is a card from the early 1990s in book that gives me a clue.  Apparently Heik Hambarzumian and a friend were shopping at an antique fair and came across this book and one other that were for sale.  Needless to say, Heik snapped them up and – assumption – passed them along to Dr. O.  The second book must have been (I have to ask Heik) the Funke Guestbook, which I have mentioned in previous posts, and have been fortunate to see and scan in its entirety.

I always find it interesting when articles I’m writing connect in some unexpected way from week to week.  This time, the connective tissue is one Emily Romaine, mentioned several times in my most recent post.  She and her husband had a photography studio in San Francisco, and I mentioned her as a teammate of Helene Mayer at Halberstadt.  Well, it would seem that she began her fencing career with Erich Funke.  Being both very photogenic and having a photographer for a husband, Emily is featured prominently in many of the newspaper articles that are pasted into the Funke Scrapbook.

A nice article from 1938 featuring Funke and Romaine, along with a claim of learning to fence in three easy lessons.  How about that?  I’m obviously over-thinking things.

For the Scrapbook itself, it’s a deep repository of information about San Francisco fencing in the late 30s and early 40s.  Clearly, Maestro Funke, like Dr. O’Brien, kept excellent track of what was going on, particularly in regards to publicity, promotion and notice in the local newspapers.

A press release and invite to the 1938 Fencer’s Ball.

That’s Helene Mayer in silhouette and a news clipping of an exhibition advertisement.

All the main local papers of that period are represented.  The San Francisco Chronicle, the Examiner and the Call all are mentioned in pencil notations as sources for articles and clippings.  Sometimes it will be a notice of upcoming events – tournament, demonstrations and the like, or results from concluded competitions.  There are several pages dedicated to the US Nationals when they were held on Treasure Island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay in 1939, the home of the Golden Gate International Exhibition which ran from 1939 to 1940.

Treasure Island was a happening place in the late 1930’s, but most of the expo buildings have long since been torn down.

Poster for the 1939 Expo.

In addition to the pages and pages of news articles, there are also some loose pages that have been left into the front page of the book.  A stapled set of papers contain a couple of different passes from different years of Dr. O’Brien’s fencing resumes – or professional resumes – it’s a bit hard to tell what the intention was for these pages, as they are hand written.  There is also a very interesting printed sheet describing an attempt in 1993 to establish the Presidio International Fencing Center. These 6 pages also include a brief history of the Letterman club.  I haven’t read the whole thing yet.  I’m curious about the PIFC, which might have remade the face of fencing in the city.  It never got off the ground, but it’s another topic among so many to explore when the moment arises.

I am so grateful to Marc LeRoux for entrusting this legacy to the West Coast Fencing Archive.  I’ve got an acid-free box on order for the scrapbook and have already slipped the photos into poly bags for safe keeping.  (I use the same techniques you might apply to your copy of Fantastic Four #1, only for fencing pictures.)  Now… there’s another interesting piece of history that Marc has sent my way which I am very excited to share.  It will take a little time to prep for inclusion in a story here on the Archive Website, so I’ll save that another day.  All will become clear.

Stay tuned!

Land of the Lost Trophy

I’ve been perusing the pages of “The California Fencer”, later just “The Fencer”, a West Coast publication that circulated for a few years following WW2 and prior to the start of the national American Fencer magazine.  I’ve written about it before, but in short, Harold Hayes was gifted a complete bound edition from Arthur Lane and he was gracious enough to allow me to copy it in its entirety.

It’s fun reading.  There are very lighthearted descriptions of the goings-on in the local club scene, and it seems that the small community of fencers in Nor Cal and So Cal appreciated one another enough not to use the bully pulpit to throw shade on other members.  I don’t know if ‘let’s all get along’ translated to the strip on tournament day.  I suppose it’s possible.  It was a time of greater politeness, I do believe.

Anyway, my most recent run through has got me to wondering about some various and sundry tournament trophies that are frequently mentioned.  Wonder, as in, “I wonder what became of that trophy?”  I’ve thought along these lines before in relation to a specific trove of trophies that used to get redistributed most every year – the Pacific Coast Championship trophies.  I know the location of one – the Men’s Team Epee, which is displayed proudly and safely at the East Bay Fencers Gym in Oakland.  But that’s just one.  What of the others?  Having run the PCC’s in 1982, I know there were trophies for almost every event.  There was even a Helene Mayer foil made into a trophy that was given annually as the top prize in Women’s Foil.  (Sadly, it wasn’t very visually appealing at that time; just an Italian foil mounted on a red velvet-covered board with some brass plaques.  I believe Craig Cummings eventually built a sweet housing for it.  I also believe it was lost in a fire recently.  I’d love to be wrong.)

The first two trophies I read about are both Nor Cal based and are fun oddities: The Romaine Trophy and the Heron Trophy.  The Romaine Trophy was awarded to the winner of a 5-women team foil tournament, fenced over several weeks at whatever location was convenient for the participants.  Likewise, the Heron Trophy was a 5-man foil team fenced wherever would work.  The December 1946 version had the Romaine going to the Halberstadt women’s team (Helene Mayer rather guarantees a victory) and the Heron going to the Olympic Club. Fortunately the October edition has a description of the event and the team lineups.  Here is the description:

“The Heron Trophy is one of the oldest competitions in the Northern California Division.  Donated in 1928 by Mr. Flodden W. Heron it has been fought for every year since, the War notwithstanding, and has become something of a tradition.  The nameplates on the Trophy are a real history and include nearly every big name in Northern California Fencing.  Even Helene Mayer’s is there for the Eastbay Fencers’ Club in 1934.  That was the last year in which women fenced in the same competitions with men…. The total number of bouts won by a team, rather than total meets, determines the winner.  In the eighteen years of the Trophy’s history the Olympic Club has won twelve times, Stanford University three times, and the University of California, the Funke Fencing Academy, and the Eastbay Fencers’ Club once each.”

Unfortunately there is no similar write up for what the Romaine trophy was about and who donated it.  I’d love to know a similar history, but all I have to go on is an ad like the below that I find often in the pages of the magazine:

I assume it’s the studio of Karl and Emilie Romaine, as a quick internet search landed me here:

http://www.luminous-lint.com/app/photographer/1_Romaine_Romaine/A/

Ok, that was a rabbit hole.  Emilie Romaine is mentioned often in the magazine as a Halberstadt fencer, and in 1946 was a teammate of Helene Mayer’s for winning her (presumably) own trophy.  Anyway, my guess is the Romaine’s sponsored the trophy as a women’s version of the Heron, but what year it began isn’t mentioned anywhere I’ve looked so far.  Also haven’t come across a photo of either trophy, so I’ve no clue what to look for when my internal switch flips to ‘scavenger hunt’ mode.

But wait, there’s more!

San Francisco had the Funke Trophy for a Women’s Foil Team tournament, and the Funke Trophy for a Men’s 3-Weapon Team.  Add another item for future rabbit-holing (is that a term yet, or did I just make it up?).  In further reading of results, I find that Emilie Romaine was on the Halberstadt team with Helene Mayer that claimed the Funke Trophy in October ‘46.  For both of these, I’ll have to dig further to find out when Erich Funke d’Egnuff began sponsoring these events.  I have a fair bit of info on Maestro Funke, so perhaps there’s something to be learned by perusing old news clippings.  If you’d like info more on Funke’s history, see:

http://www.westcoastfencingarchive.com/2016/04/11/hall-of-famer-erich-funke-degnuff/

Not to be outdone, Los Angeles had its own collection of named events.  The Bowen Handicap Foil, the Cathcart Memorial Epee and the Duff Foils.  The Cathcart was named after one Charles Cathcart, who was, according to one source, “a most beloved epee fencer” from So Cal.  I find a 1939 mention of him in The Riposte magazine, which predates both The Fencer and AmFen magazines, but did not survive the War years and stopped publication in 1942.  The Duff Foil is named for fencing coach, soldier and early auto racing enthusiast Captain John Duff, who I’ve written of previously. (http://www.westcoastfencingarchive.com/2015/06/15/a-man-without-fear/)

The Bowen Handicap is actually one I can account for.  A quick google search led me to discover that the trophy was donated by Bill Gelnaw to Andy Shaw’s Museum of American Fencing.  That’s a win for history!  Thanks, Bill!

Next I found this little intriguing notice:

Now there’s something you don’t see much in fencing these days: a Sportsmanship award!  However, this trophy was voted by members of one club for their favorite competitor from a different club!  John McKee was an intriguing fellow, and I wonder if this might have been a subtle (not so subtle?) recruiting tool.  “Gosh,” thinks the recipient of the Cavalier Sportsmanship Award. “Those Cavalier folks think the world of me!  Perhaps I should change clubs!”  Am I too jaded?  Maybe they were just really nice.  Heck.  Let’s go with that.  The good thing is this actually describes the perpetual trophy: a silver cup!  Somewhere out there (sings Fievel in your head), there lives (perhaps) a silver cup perpetual sportsmanship trophy presented by the Cavaliers Fencing Club.

Ok, who needs a bracer?  Watch this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFoLmhIgIxM

Huh?  Right?  How about that!  Did you spot Ralph Faulkner in the long shots?  By the way, if you’ve got slightly over a thousand bucks burning a hole in your wallet, there’s 3 pictures up on Ebay that I won’t be bidding on:

That’s an extremely young Errol Flynn learning how to swordfight from Fred Cavens in preparation for Flynn’s first starring role, Captain Blood!  Come on, somebody!  Go get ‘em!

Ok, I’m a bit punchy tonight I guess.

The other two trophies that I know of for certain were the Nadi foils and the Helene Mayer Memorial.  The Nadi foils, awarded in Los Angeles, were given out to the winner of a tournament that Maestro Nadi himself would officiate.  So take your chances.  The Helene Mayer was a beautiful silver cup and is the only one of the various trophies (not currently accounted for) that I’ve mentioned and have a picture of.  My guess would be that Hans himself had this trophy made after Helene’s untimely death at the age of 42, but whether it was a perpetual trophy or that beautiful cup went home permanently with the first winner (Maxine Mitchell, I believe) I don’t know.  The last Helene Mayer Memorial tournament I recall taking place was in the early 1980s, but I don’t know if that was the end, or if it continued on for a while longer.  I do know that that tournament used to attract some big names.  I remember in 1982 it was won by two-time World Champion Cornelia Hanisch.  I was fortunate to be able to direct some of her bouts.  She “warmed up” by sitting in the stands people watching until she was called to the strip – then went about demolishing her competition.  Here’s the man himself with the giant silver trophy for the premiere Helene Mayer Memorial competition:

I guess the last thing is an appeal to those who may have, or may know who has, any of the above trophies – or others not mentioned.  There is, of course, a home for them if they are unwanted (feel free to contact me!), but mostly I’d just like to create a list of what’s where and in whose hands.  And maybe get a few photographs to document what it looks like and who’s on it.  It’s our history!  Let’s track it down!

Who’s got something?  Anyone?  Bueller?

 

Historical Documents in the Digital Age

Fear.

That’s the thing.  It’s a motivator for me.  Not the average, everyday kind of fear, nor an amorphous fear of zombies or clowns.  Rather, the fear of loss.  A very specific kind of loss.

The loss of fencing history.

I don’t know why it gets to me so much, but it keeps coming up.  In my line of work (fencing history), loss can be a very tangible, obvious fact.  Other times, it’s a bit more amorphous.  The latter might consist of having a picture of a fencer that I can’t name.  In the moment, I might be frustrated that I can’t put a name to that person.  However, I may have a known resource that can help.  Someone who may know or have a better guess as to the ‘who’ in a particular photo. Not always, of course.  The older the picture, the more limited the resources.

This picture was taken down off the wall of the Selberg Salle in Southern Oregon.  The damage from rodents and age is obvious, but there’s nothing written on the back and I don’t recognize a single person.  Anyone? 

But the ones that really hurt are the tangible losses.  Fortunately, sometimes the losses are manageable.  The water damage, curling, fading, physical damage of the type that is so obvious in many of the photos that bedecked the walls at Charlie Selberg’s highly unprotected-from-the-elements-and-rodents salle walls in Southern Oregon are frustrating and unfortunate, but I’d rather have a damaged image over no image at all.

More from Selberg’s wall.  Michael D’Asaro from his time as the fencing instructor at Halberstadt in SF.  Multiple damage hits, but at least I know who it is.

A little more obvious rodent-induced damage here.  I don’t recognize two of the fencers here, but I know Angela Dracott and John McDougall between them could tell me their names.

Another example is the fortunate fate of the scrapbooks kept by Hans Halberstadt.  The four books have survived to the present day, but not in their original state.  A burst pipe at Halberstadt in the early ‘80’s (I think) damaged both the building and any papers in the path of the deluge.  A concerned club member took the time to reconstruct the scrapbooks to the best of her ability (which was significant – thank you Lee!), preserving the photos, cards and news clippings that Hans had stashed away in years past.  That water had damaged and discolored much of the material is unfortunate, but they’re still here.

Some examples from the Halberstadt Scrapbooks:

Water damage caused ink from a backing page to seep through onto the cover of the PCC’s program from 1966.

Water damage turns to black mold residue on this photo of the very first Helene Mayer Memorial trophy, won – I believe – by Maxine Mitchell.

 

Ink runs and seepage, mold, and discoloration makes this letter from Harry Maloney, long-time Stanford coach, to Hans Halberstadt a very tough read.

And there are more examples I’ve been privy to since starting in this line of work.  Fencing great Heizaburo Okawa, in the midst of a remodel at his home, was near to discarding a great deal of memorabilia that had been in a small storage unit in his backyard.  Age and water damage (my forever nemesis) had caused no small amount of deterioration to the contents of his shed, and I can fully understand why it was an easier decision for him to move the pile to a dumpster rather than try to salvage it.

That’s most of Heizaburo Okawa on the far left of the photo.  And this scan was made from the film negative, not a print, so there’s not much that can be done to restore what’s lost.

Thanks to the aid and support of Jamie Douraghy and Greg Lynch, the West Coast Fencing Archive was able to take Maestro Okawa’s material – all of it – that was otherwise destined for destruction.  We saved some priceless treasures dating back to the 1940’s and the Joseph Vince fencing studio in Los Angeles, where fencers trained side by side with Hollywood stars like Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood and James Coburn, along with amazing stuff about Torao Mori, Heizaburo’s father-in-law.  (See: http://www.westcoastfencingarchive.com/2015/10/12/the-walls-of-the-joseph-vince-studio-los-angeles-ca/)

Like the photo above, this scan is from a negative, so the damage has been done to the original source.  Too bad, as this batch of negatives from an undated (mid-60’s) New York Martini & Rossi International contains what might be some terrific information. If only we could see it.

Now, all of these stories are things I’ve had first hand experience with.  I took all the photos down from the walls of the Selberg salle.  I scanned the Halberstadt scrapbooks as a service to that club (keeping digital copies for The Archive, naturally enough), and am now storing the material that we acquired from Heizaburo.  There are many other things we’ve been able to rescue, as well.  But the story that really got under my skin was one that I haven’t had any direct involvement in, and happened a long way away from coastal California.  And this is an example of tangible, irreversible loss.

In 2014, the Italian fencing powerhouse Club Scherma Jesi was heavily damaged in a fire.  If the Google-translated pages I read are accurate, it was an arson fire.  Jesi, founded in 1947, is the home club of some great champions, including Stefano Cerioni, Giovanna Trillini and Valentina Vezzali.  They’ve had a tremendously successful program for many, many years.  Take a look at the result of the fire.

Four pictures of the devastating results of the fire at Club Scherma Jesi.  There are lots more on their website if you care to look.  

These photos, showing the shattering damage done to the club, made me spend a great deal of time considering the ephemeral nature of all human history.  (I won’t relate the story of the hour spent shivering in a corner overcome by the horror I felt from looking at the pictures.  Even second hand, it gives me the shakes.  I can’t imagine seeing it in person.)  The sad fact is this; in one manner or another, this is the fate ahead for all the pictures, articles, letters, slides, film reels, videotapes – in short, everything I’ve been collecting in an attempt to stave off the loss of historic memory of the sport.  That’s the depressing part.

And yet, thinking about that made me realize that, in this modern era of cloud storage and cheap backup drives (8 terabytes for under $200? Where’s my checkbook?), there is no reason why a concerted effort couldn’t be made to push all our Historical Documents into a preservable state for future fencers.  I’m doing that on a small scale myself, but why not a larger, sport-wide effort?

Think about it.  Every fencing club I’ve ever set foot in has had some unique bit of memorabilia.  A photo, a tournament poster, a trophy – something that only they have.  How many of you reading have experienced this?  I believe we all take it a little for granted.  You see something you’ve never seen – or something you seen every day – and you pay more or less attention to it based on your own personal interest in history, in memorabilia, in the particular subject.  I think back now, with the advantage of age and experience, to all the things I saw as a youngster that I should have paid more attention to.

Today I can whip out my iPhone and take a digital picture, download it to my computer, drop it into an “Interesting Things I’ve Come Across” folder in a backup drive and suddenly there are 3 more copies of that <object/thing> than existed previously.  Which one will last longest?

Two scans of film fragments so aged, shrunken and dried that they fell apart upon attempting to get the film off the reel and onto a film scanner.  The only way to make anything of this would be to take each crispy bit, scan it on a flatbed scanner one chunk at a time and then reassemble it in a digital editing program.  Not impossible, but time consuming.  And costly.

When lumped all together, it sets me thinking about what might be done.  How does one go about creating a consortium of collectors/historians/like-minded fencers, all folding their various assemblages into a repository that can be handed forward in time?  There are so many ways this could be accommodated today.  Local storage is inexpensive.  Cloud storage and sharing services like Dropbox are available almost universally.  File formats for images or movies – tiffs, jpegs, mov, etc. – have now been carried forward intact for many generations of software upgrades.  The hardware requirements are a flexible hash of possibilities, with the addition of a couple of hardware extensions like a good scanner or two.  The main effort is in the hours needed to do the scanning, and that isn’t a technical challenge but more a trial of patience and file management.

What if?  What if Andy Shaw’s entire collection at his Museum of American Fencing was available digitally?  Or mine?  I try to share what I’ve got through these stories, but I haven’t the resources to create an online presence to share the collection in its entirety.  What about the things that might be found at long established clubs like the Boston FC or the NYFC?  Or moving further afield, Paris’ Racing Club, the Oxford Fencing Club or Hans Halberstadt’s former home club in Offenbach?  What material does each of these repositories of fencing history have that none of the others have?  And truthfully, their storage situation is ‘for better or worse’ since fencing clubs are just that; fencing clubs.  They’re not libraries, nor establishments set up for long-term storage and preservation of ephemeral bits of history.  Each club does its own thing with the on-site material that gives evidence to their own history and/or the larger history of the sport.

How much better if we could consolidate it all under an umbrella organization that could provide a storage strategy and advise on technical or methodological approaches for creating a digital record of all the history lying about in all these various places?

And for precedence, we need look no further than some of the other sports out there.  Here’s a quote for you:

“The International Tennis Hall of Fame preserves and promotes the history of tennis and celebrates its champions, thereby serving as a vital partner in the grown of tennis globally.”

As you might imagine, sports like tennis and golf have very fancy Hall of Fame websites.  But the handful of other sports whose sites I took a quick tour through – boxing, bowling, skiing  – all have a web presence that denotes a professional organization with employees and a budget.  So apply the quote from the tennis HOF to the sport of fencing and think about what it would require of fencing and fencers to establish a similarly driven cabal of like-minded preservationists to collect, digitize and disseminate fencing’s long history.

Websites like Andy Shaw’s, both his Museum of American Fencing and Hall of Fame sites he created and manages – and this West Coast Fencing Archive website – are essentially labors of love.  The US Fencing website has a smattering of history up, but several of the links go straight to Andy’s Museum or HOF sites.  The FIE website has a few pages of historical information, some photos and videos from their 100th anniversary celebration, and some documents that list results of Olympic or World Championship events.  (In the FIE’s defense, I’ve been told that what history had been collected up to a certain point was all lost during the Second World War.)

What I wonder is this; what is the appetite across the fencing community, both locally and internationally, for establishing an organization that could look after our history and preserve it for the future?  Remember the old saying, ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’?  Is there the will for preserving the history of fencing?  I feel like there might be.  The reaction I get from fencers when they find out what I do has been universally positive.  Andy no doubt gets the same reaction and he’s been at this longer than I.  Fencers thank me.  It feels good, but it makes me wonder what more I could do.  How much more material can I find before it’s lost?  How could I do my job better?  What would it take to pull together even the handful of people I’m aware of that are making attempts to preserve information?  Is there the will and a way forward for this idea to coalesce into action?

I don’t have an answer.  Or maybe, I don’t have an answer yet.  Perhaps one of you reading this might have an idea of a way.

Let me know!

So that you don’t think such an effort would be starting from scratch entirely, here’s a collection of websites that give an idea of just what is known to be out there.  I therefore offer you this opportunity to cruise the web with purpose.  Don’t get (too) lost.

http://museumofamericanfencing.com/wp/

http://www.synec-doc.be/escrime/musee/index.html

http://musee.escrime.free.fr/musee%20right.htm

http://www.fencingmuseum.com/index.htm

http://www.propatriascherma.net/index.php?option=com_oziogallery3&view=nano&Itemid=419

 

What’s the Rumpus?

There’s been a bit of hiatus around here.  Perhaps you’re one who noticed.  I’m sure someone must have.  The overriding catchall reason for the long layoff since our last story is all about how much effort it takes to make a feature documentary.  “What?” I hear you say.  “With all the technology at your fingertips now, and still – movie making takes… effort?”  Go figure, right?  The good news is it doesn’t take a whole lot of people to just run & gun to get your interviews shot, but after you finish shooting there’s all this footage that needs to get turned into some semblance of a coherent story.

At least, that’s the goal.  We’ll see what comes in the end.

Actually, we aren’t really that far away from being done.  Our subject, the most excellent Olympic and World champion and coach, George Piller, has proven to be a pretty deep file and we learned a ton about his life.  Even after about 3 years of research, there were so many moments of discovery that we really had to give up on our initial expectations of what the story would be and just roll with the actual tale as it unfolded for us.  It’s been fun.  When we’re completely finished, we’ll get out word on where & how you might see it.  Watch this space.

In the meantime, although somewhat slowed by the filmmaking process, the collection of new material around here hasn’t stopped.  Nor has the sorting through material that was already to hand.  There have been a couple of boxes worth of material that I’ve only very slowly been going through, mostly from the initial clean out of the old salle at Charlie Selberg’s place.

(See: http://www.westcoastfencingarchive.com/2015/01/08/the-hans-box/)

There were a lot of boxes at Charlie’s.  A lot.

What that means is that it can kinda be Christmas around here any day of the week!  I just start rummaging through a box and find pictures or documents I had no recollection of packing safely away.  “Look at this!” I exclaim to no one at all, feeling like nothing so much as Gandalf, lost in the Mines of Moria.  “I have no memory of this place.”  Only it’s a picture.  Of fencers.

Ok.  I’m starting to stray.  Let’s share!  This is a mix of new acquisitions and things I’ve recently sorted & scanned, all jumbled up because that’s the state I’m in right now.

The old becomes new again:

That’s San Francisco’s Own Hans Halberstadt in the background watching over Connie Dixson and Emile Romaine.  At least, I’m going to assume that’s the names for the ladies since in the caption on the back of this photo, Hans is identified as “Hans Hildebrandt”.  So, perhaps not so much trust.  I’ve come across Emily Romaine’s name once or twice, so I’m willing to concede that one, to a point.  I don’t think her name was “Emile”.   This was taken in 1946.  I mention ‘old becoming new’ above, as I had bought this some time ago (Ebay) and mislaid it.  Found it again this past Wednesday while doing some sorting.  Yay!  New picture!

Moving down the coast from San Francisco, we find this little item:

This idea, from 1939, hasn’t really caught on much.  What’s up, Santa Barbara?  Anyone recognize this pool?  I know UCSB is on the beach – it’s why I didn’t go there, as I knew my class attendance would have been severely impacted by the proximity to the ocean.  One of few clear-headed decisions I made as a teen.  Anyway, is this pool also on campus?   The caption on the back doesn’t name the perpetrators, but does state: “…unbalanced posture and poor foot control would result in a ducking.” I’m guessing both of these two wound up wet above the ankles.

Traveling further down the coast again finds us at the 1940 Pacific Coast Championships in Los Angeles, with these two in attendance:

This time we have names; Cornelia Sanger on the left and Muriel Calkins on the right.  The point of curiosity for this photo is that both women are holding epees, not foils.  I wasn’t aware that women competed in epee or sabre at the PCC’s as early as 1940.  Hmm… I wonder if I have any reference for this.  Hang on a sec…

Ok, sorry that took so long.  Had to download a scanned scrapbook into iphoto.  Anyway, the closest I could come was the schedule for the 1938 PCC’s and no women’s events in either epee or sabre are listed.  So I don’t know if these two are posing with epees because the photographer thought they looked cooler than foils or they were participating in an unsanctioned women’s event.  Or just fooling around.

Another in a line of ebay finds, and zooming back up to the Pacific Northwest, was this:

Taken in 1988, that’s Salle Auriol’s Pat Gerard.  I was just looking at a sheet from 1984 listing the top 12 National finalists and the Olympic team selections and Pat showed up in the National foil finals that year, taking 7th.  I believe he and his brother both fenced as juniors.  All I remember about Pat, whom I didn’t know well, was that I couldn’t freakin’ hit him.

Last, a pair of photos that will give you an idea of the kind of damage that was, sadly, done to many of the photos that adorned the walls at Charlie’s salle in the woods.  These were both stapled to the wall.  Both had once been in one of the many scrapbooks Charlie kept, but had been taken out (ripped out; the glue marks and scrapbook backing paper still adorn the back of both) and STAPLED to the wall.  When Mark and I packed everything up, I started with the framed photos.  Once I had all those down, I noticed there were still a ton of photos up – and that’s when the realization hit me.  At some point in his later years, Charlie decided to forego framing and simply stapled things to the walls.  Many were put up with no simple corner pattern of staples, but a haphazard and liberal application of staple staple staple staple staple…  AAAARG!  It makes me crazy just to think about it.  Mark had been working outside when I first began cursing and damning to hell the staple gun that Charlie had got his hands on.  He had to come in and see what the rumpus was all about.  We agreed that stapling things to the wall wasn’t Charlie’s best idea ever.  But revenge was sweet, indeed!  At some juncture, Mark actually found the culprit staple gun.  GUILTY! I wouldn’t want to say that we took it out back and shot it full of holes with a 30.06…. but that’s exactly what we did.

That’s Michael D’Asaro (senior) directing at a tournament held at UCSC in the early 1970’s.  There’s no date on the photo, but you’ll see in the next example why I date it that way.  If you look at the top right & top left corners, you’ll see the horror of my life – staple holes in the original print of a photo for which I do not have the original negative.  Down at the bottom you’ll see the water damage from having been stapled to the wall of a less-than-elements-proof old barn in the woods.  Worse though, there’s no certainty that it’s simply ‘water’ damage.  Rodents had the run of the place for way too long.  I’ll just leave it at that.  Use your imagination.  Whatever you’re picturing – it was worse.

Now that’s early 1970’s.  Big bellbottoms and platform shoes.  Don’t ask how I know.  (Sing with me!  “Memories….”)

Anyway, that Michael D’Asaro (senior) again, same tournament, same location, struttin’ his stuff y’all.  Some of the same damage as the above, but the fates and the rodents spared this one to survive to the present day in somewhat better shape.  It still has the staples holes, though.

I can’t begin to top disco-era ‘Stro (short for ‘Maestro’, Michael’s forever nickname), so I’ll just end this right here.  Hopefully I’ll get back to a consistent weekly drop of new stories for the WCFA website.  As the movie production winds down, this winds back up.  Wish me luck!

Flea Market, Budapest Style

While visiting Budapest this past summer to record interviews with a number of people for our forthcoming documentary on fencing great George Piller, we made one very interesting trip to a popular flea market in the southeast of the city, the Ecseri Flea Market. I love flea markets.  I get to them less frequently these days, as there aren’t any close by my house.  Still, they’re familiar and comforting, in a way.  When you get used to the ins and outs of bargaining (or not) and especially if you know what you’re looking for, it can make the experience as close to a hunt for pirate treasure as I’m ever likely to get.

I didn’t know what to expect from a Hungarian flea market, though.  I was relieved to discover that it’s as close as can be to any flea market I’ve ever been to in California.  The biggest distinction was language.  In California, it’s handy to have a little Spanish to communicate.  In Hungary, it would have been handy to have a little Hungarian at my disposal.  Not a surprise, exactly.  My shooter/editor/co-producer/webmaster Greg and I arrived separately from our interpreter and she was running behind, so we just dove in and started wandering through the narrow aisles.  The first thing that jumped out at me was the age of the paintings that were common in the first part we saw.  Instead of the typical type of home-artist paintings you’d see around here, (no offense intended to you home painters out there) a great number of the paintings we saw were early 1900’s.  Lots and lots of older European paintings by unknown, but classically trained, oil painters, often depicting religious scenes and figures.  Some really nice paintings, but I wasn’t there to collect paintings – unless they were of famous fencers.  The one word that we could say to sellers that would aid us in getting after what we were looking for was “kardvivas”, meaning, more or less, sabre fencing.  Nothing really came our way immediately, but I did find a paperback book about the Ludovica school, where Piller’s master, Lazslo Borsodi taught.  There’s a photo of Borsodi in the book, so it was a good pickup.  Once our interpreter arrived, we had better luck.  I found a bronze fencing medal from 1940 – engraved with the date!  Not much else came to light, but our interpreter was great at explaining, in much greater detail than our near-lame ‘kardvivas’, exactly what we were looking for.  One dealer, with a table full of sports magazines from years past, explained that he had some fencing-related papers or magazines, but not at the market that day.  He exchanged cell phone numbers with our interpreter and promised to let her know soon what he had.

We had gone to the flea market shortly after arrival in Budapest – our first Saturday in the city.  Over the next week, I sort of forgot about the possibility of getting some old sports papers.  The busy daily schedule of travel, setup, interview, tear down, travel, crash, kept my focus on other pursuits.  So it was a nice surprise over a week later when Xenia, our translator, showed up with a stack of old newspapers.  The dates of the seven papers she scored ranged from 1928 through 1936.  Each had at least one photo of someone fencing, or a photo and caption of some fencer or other.  Total cost?  About $6.

Some of the pictures were easy to interpret.  Famous fencers, famous situations, those were simple.  Others, well, not so much.  I thought for today I’d share the fencing photos I scanned from the pages.  There isn’t really anything that helps us much for our documentary, but it’s cool (at least to me) to have these old Hungarian papers with our sport prominently portrayed as a staple part of the daily news of the country.  I’ll put them in order of date, oldest first.

The first four are from a paper called the “Pesti Hirlap”, which Google Translate tells me means “The Herald”.  A very newspapery title.

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From July 29, 1928.  

The 1928 Summer Olympics began on July 28th, so this article is part of full page of photos showing some of the Olympians participating for Hungary in Amsterdam.  Of the fencers shown, Garay and Glykais were on the sabre team. Rady on the sabre and foil teams, Schenker fenced foil and Toth epee.  The first three won gold with the sabre team, but the two stars, Tersztyanszky and Petschauer, didn’t make the paper yet.

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From August 14, 1928.  

Two days after the close of the Games, Petschauer makes the paper.  That’s him with the X under his front foot, fencing against the great two-weapon threat (and Beppe Nadi trained) Gustavo Marzi of Italy.  Petschauer was undefeated in the team event in 1928 and dropped only four matches out of 24 in the individual, one being the barrage for Gold against teammate Tersztyanszky.  (Tersztyanszky was killed the year following his Olympic triumph in a car crash. He had learned to fence left-handed after sustaining an injury to his dominant right hand in WW1.)

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From December 31, 1929.  

I shared these magazines with Danny Magay, 1956 Olympic Gold Medal winner, and he told me that the above was a tournament for police officers.  No famous names, but they were fencing sabre in Budapest in the late ‘20s, so it’s likely they knew what was what.

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From April 20, 1932.

Another police tournament.  Referencing Google Translate again, it seems to indicate that “Rendortiszti Atletikai Club” would be “Police Officers Athletic Club”.

This next one, a two-page spread, is from another magazine, this one called “Fuggetlenseg” or “The Independent”.  At least, according to GT.

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From February 27, 1934.  

The fencers in the center left are Endre Kabos on the left and Aladar Gerevich on the right.  Both spent their early years training with Italo Santelli.  Both were also superstars, but they had very different fates.  Kabos was the World Champion in ‘33 and ‘34.  Gerevich in ‘35.  Kabos won the Olympics in ‘36.  Kabos, a Jew forced to do manual labor during WW2, was killed in the Margit Bridge explosion in 1944.  The Nazi sappers mistakenly blew up the bridge while they and the foot traffic were still on the bridge.  Kabos was returning home across the bridge after a chess match with a friend.  He and hundreds others were killed in the explosion.  Gerevich, over the course of his career, went on to win two more individual World Championships, an individual Olympic Gold, a total of six Olympic Team Golds and twelve World Championship Team Golds.  He was on the Hungarian national sabre team from 1931 to 1960.

Yet another paper yields the next article.  “Estikurir” is how this paper is titled.  Google Translate would have me believe this paper is called the “Evening Bishop”.  I’m going to go ahead and doubt the exactitude of that translation.

estikurir-aug-15-1936

From August 15, 1936.  

I’m assuming this article, published the day prior to the closing ceremonies of the Berlin Olympics, is boasting of the triumph of the Hungarian sabre fencers.  The six fencers pictured make up the Gold medal squad.  Kabos, as mentioned previously, won the Gold individual and Gerevich the Bronze.  (Gustavo Marzi took the Silver.)  One thing to note for those of us keeping score, or just those afflicted with a little OCD (guilty), two of the pictures have their name captions swapped.  The bottom row pictures Pal Kovacs on the left and Tibor Berczelly on the right.  Just to be, you know, exact.  It’s also not clear to me that the column on the right is talking about the column on the left, but I included it anyway.

The final six images are from a single paper.  It’s a special edition for the 1936 Olympics and runs through a history of the modern Olympic games, mostly as it relates to Hungarian success.

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The first Olympics, held in Athens in 1896, included fencing, as has every succeeding modern Olympic games.  Above is a photo of the event for Fencing Masters, showing a demonstration of the Grande Salute.

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This photo is the Gold medal Olympic sabre squad from 1908.  One interesting piece of trivia we learned on our trip was about the gentleman second from the right, Jeno Fuchs.  He won the individual and team Gold at the Olympics in both 1908 and 1912, but never won major Hungarian championships.  The reason for this, from what we were told, was that he wasn’t a terribly pleasant man and thus was not welcome in any fencing clubs.  Competing in Hungarian championships apparently had a prerequisite of being a member of a participating club.  Since he wasn’t a member of a club, no Hungarian championships.  Somehow I don’t imagine the lack thereof made his four Olympic Gold medals very lonely.  I would guess that having those four would make up for a multitude of slights, real or imagined.

olympics-1936-3

This caricature is of Dr. Sandor Posta, who was coached by both Italo Santelli and Laszlo Gerentser.  Interestingly, he is best remembered in Hungarian fencing circles as the man who lost the last bout against the Italians in the team sabre match at the 1924 Olympics, making the bout score 8-8 and giving the Italians the Gold medal on touches received.

olympics-1936-4

A photo of Ellen Preis of Austria, winner of the Gold medal at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics.  Along with Ilona Elek of Hungary and Helene Mayer of Germany, Preis was one of the great women fencers of the 20th century.  She won the World Championships 3 times, won two additional Bronze medals at Olympic games and competed until age 44 at the 1956 games where she finished 7th.

olympics-1936-6

Here is the subject of our documentary, Jekelfalussy (Piller) Gyorgy.  Piller was his father’s name.  A career military officer, he was selected for the Royal Guard after his 1932 Olympic victory.  At that time, he took his mother’s name, Jekelfalussy, as it was a more traditionally Hungarian name.  He fought in WW1 in Romania and Italy.  He lost at least one brother (he had four) and his father to that war.  He competed at the 1928 Olympics on the foil and epee teams.  After that Games, he switched to sabre and quickly rose to the pinnacle of the international ranks.  He won the World Military championship, the Hungarian championship multiple times, the European championship multiple times, the World championship twice and the Olympics in 1932.  He retired from competition after 1932, but was called back into the game in ‘33 during the World Championships which, fortunately for the Hungarians, were held in Budapest on Margit Island in the middle of the Danube.  Finding themselves one fencer short for the Gold medal match against Italy, Piller – ill at home – was called and asked to hurry to Margrit Island to fence in the team match or the Hungarians would have to forfeit.  Down 3-0 in his first bout, someone (multiple attributions) shouted to Piller something along the lines of “have you forgotten how to fence?!”  Piller answered something along the lines of, “I was studying!” and went on to win that match 5-3 – along with the rest of his bouts.

olympics-1936-2

Imre Rajczi was on the 1936 sabre team, won the Hungarian championships in 1937 and was a team member of a couple World Championship teams.  Rajczi was coached by the great university instructor, Laszlo Gerentser, who was also the coach of Csaba Elthes.  He moved his family to Argentina in 1945 and was the Argentine national coach for 10 years.

I’ve never had such good luck finding fencing memorabilia at (or through the auspices of) a flea market before.  I will confess that I once found a Hungarian fencing medal at the Skyview Drive In Flea Market in Santa Cruz, CA.  This was in 1978 and I was a poor student.  There were two medals, but I could only afford to buy one of them.  I’ve still got it:

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It’s a beautiful thing, isn’t it?  I wish I had a photo of the one that got away, but I really only remember that this was the nicer of the two.  How it wound up at a flea market in Santa Cruz, I can’t begin to imagine.

I digress, naturally.  It’s what I do best.  The point: Budapest.  Flea market.  Win!

Fencing Times Reports on the 1981 World & National Championships

Between my own collection and some donations to The Archive over the last couple of years, I think I have every edition of the Fencing Times that were published beginning, I believe, in 1980.  It was nominally the So Cal Division newsletter, but for those of us that knew of its existence, it was a lifeline to all the stories that were afoot in the sport worldwide.  There were no comparable sources of information that were as detailed or informative.  The internet was still about 10 years away.  The modern tech we take for granted today was just a wee little baby.

The issue I’m sharing today is a Special Edition that reports on the World Championships, the World University Games, the US National Championships and other topics of interest.  There’s so much information and so many photos packed into the 24 pages we could hardly believe it when this came out.  It was similar to when the skateboard punks I went to high school with in Santa Cruz first saw a copy of Thrasher.  While they were reading about Christian Hosoi, I was reading about Vladimir Smirnov.  So, you know, even.

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The cover of Fencing Times, 1981 Special Edition.

Throughout this edition there are great articles and photos.  Page two starts the ball rolling with a report on the events at the World Championships in Clermont-Ferrand, France.

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I’m cherry-picking my favorite stories here.  The above from page 2 is just one of three stories on the page.  Turning to page 3, and you see the following two stories on men’s & women’s foil:

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The one of Hanisch, above, has identified the fencers incorrectly.  In photos from this era, with no names on the back of the lamé, it’s hard to know which fencer is which.  I’m going to guess it’s Hanisch on the right with the fleche.  (I’ll accept they correctly identified Dr. Marius Valsamis in the background.) The fencer on the right just seems more like Cornelia’s build.  I met Hanisch when she came to the Helene Mayer International in 1982, the year after this photo was taken.  I had the opportunity to direct her second round pool at that tournament and thus got to see up close what a world champion looks like.  She “warmed up” by sitting in the stands watching the other fencers spar.  The most memorable moment was after the pool was over and I was about to take the score sheet to the bout committee table, she approached me, shook my hand and said, “You directed very well.”  That made the panic I felt through the entire pool worthwhile, for sure.  (Besides her, I had a past US National champ, a perennial US finalist and two Canadian National champs.  And the 6th fencer was tough, also.  It was a killer pool.  Hanisch nearly broke a sweat.)

1981-ft-wc-05

This was the year prior to Smirnov’s tragic death in Rome at the 1982 World Championships.  If you’d like to see Smirnov in action, you can go back to a previous entry on this website and see two of his bouts in the final of the 1981 World University Games, which is also reported on in this issue of FT.  Here’s a link:

http://www.westcoastfencingarchive.com/2015/03/12/july-1981-world-university-games-part-2/

That’s all good for the international set, but let’s take a look at one of the Americans in action.  Here’s one of my favorite pics, possibly ever:

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I didn’t start fencing until I was 18 in 1977, so I was only able to participate in one Junior Olympics.  Before I flew to Boston, my coach, Len Carnighan, told me to watch all the finals and to be sure to watch Jana Angelakis, who was a young fencer tearing up the national scene.  I remember getting to the venue when the preliminary rounds of the women’s foil was underway.  Walking around with my friend Clay Fingerman from New Orleans, we were stopped in our tracks when we saw a woman attack with the same lunge you see in the photo above.  I turned to Clay, who’d fenced longer than I, had attended several junior championships and knew everyone, and asked, “Who is that?!”  “Oh,” he answered.  “That’s Jana Angelakis.”  Needless to say, I didn’t move from that spot for the balance of her pool and followed her progress from round to round.  She won that year, beating my future teammate, Joy Ellingson. Sorry, Joy.  I’m afraid I was watching Jana.

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I think the above chart, from page 8, was when I first learned that there was something called the World Cup in fencing.  Nowadays I can look up the standings for the World Cup on the FIE website and the points are up to date as of the most recent World Cup tournament.  But you know what the biggest difference is from this ranking to what you’d see today?  Today there’d be Americans on the list.

Speaking of Americans, the coverage of the US National Championships starts on page 11.  This was my first Nationals, so I’ve been having a nostalgic flashback going through all the results and seeing so many names I remember from this tournament, which was such a powerfully formative event for me.

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The center of the magazine has these two facing pages above that was a who’s who of the fencing scene in the US in 1981.

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I had a great time at this Nationals.  As a first timer, it was hugely informative.  One of the clearest memories I have is walking into the venue for the first time when the sabre prelims were underway.  I fenced foil & epee, so I was there to get my weapons checked.  The pool nearest the entrance had a bout in progress, so I stopped to see some sabre action.  But what really got my attention was that the fencer with his back to me was wearing a chainmail shirt under his sabre jacket.  You could just see a couple rows of rings peeking out the bottom of his jacket.  Now, I’d fenced a little bit of sabre, but it was, you know, in Santa Cruz, where everything is mellow and sun drenched and people are more likely to have on sunscreen under their jacket – not freakin’ chainmail.  “What the hell?” I said aloud.  My teammates, John Ryan and Noel Hankla, asked me what was up and I pointed out the chainmail under armor.  They kind of paled, having the same thought I had, which was, “Holy moley, how hard do people hit at Nationals?”

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In 1981, I had just finished my first year at San Jose State, so Mike D’Asaro, above, was my coach, and I got thrashed by Greg Massialas, also above, whenever I picked up a foil.  Mike had me fencing epee that first year though, so I spent most of my time getting thrashed instead by Peter Schifrin – who made it all worthwhile by giving me daily epee lessons.  It wasn’t until the following year that I got regularly thrashed by Greg.  (Greg’s idea of training with me was to try to win every bout without me scoring.  I knew I was getting better when I actually started making some touches, but in the 3 or 4 years that I spent training with Greg, I know that I beat him in practice exactly twice. And both victories were on the same day.)

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Since I put up the World Cup standings, it only makes sense I put up the US standings, which show up on page 16.  So many familiar names on here.  Others will no doubt recognize many more than I do.  And it’s kinda regional, right?  I remember the names of the West Coast people a lot better than the East Coast folks, as I saw my locals so much more often.  I represented the Santa Cruz Fencers Club at this Nationals – we took 8th in team foil (crushed by NYAC 9-1 in the 8) – and one of my teammates, Noel Hankla, finished 30th in individual foil, so that put him on the points list.  Last on the points list, but still on it.  He’d been fencing about 2 years.  A natural competitor, he’s been the badass of his high school football team.  He told me the only opponent who ever beat him in a game – on almost every play – was Ronnie Lott.

Buried on page 17 was an announcement that was much more prominently covered in American Fencing magazine:

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No more amateur fencers here!  I remember there being a lot of discussion about this re-branding.  It seems to have worked out ok.

Pages 19 & 20 have the results for the World Championships, pools through the direct elimination rounds.

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Following the international results, the two last pages of the magazine are the pools through finals results for the US Nationals.  (“Hey, Mom & Dad!  I got my name in the paper!  See?  I got eliminated right here!”)

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That’s what you had before the internet, folks.  Fencing Times didn’t last too long.  I haven’t counted to see how many issues they published.  And I don’t know all the ins & outs of its demise.  However, I do know that the So Cal division put on a big, fun, entertaining and way too expensive Junior Olympics in, I think, 1982, and lost a bunch of money.  I’m guessing that’s what cost us a longer run of Fencing Times.  It was nice while it lasted.

Unforgettable: Jan Romary

Janice Lee York Romary was the US National Foil Champion ten times in a span of 18 years from the first win to the last.  She represented the United States at the Olympic Games a then-record six times.  She finished just off the medal stand twice, taking fourth in consecutive (‘52, ‘56) games.  Very few fencers in the history of US fencing have come close to achieving a similar record of success.

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The young Jan York, fourteen in 1941, receiving the trophy for Junior Pacific Coast Champion from her coach, Ralph Faulkner.

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An undated photo, but probably from around 1945.

When you’re so successful at something from a young age, I guess you get your picture taken frequently.  Certainly the case with Jan.  Most of the images – actually, all of the images – shown here are from Andy Shaw’s collection from his Museum of American Fencing.

Jan’s career as a fencer can easily be described as spectacular.  She made her first Olympic team in 1948 as a 21 year old, and her final Olympics in 1968 at the age of 41.  At that final Olympics, where her participation set the record for women athletes by making a sixth team, she was honored with the task of carrying the American flag during the opening ceremony.

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Jan York Romary carrying the flag at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games.

In 1948, in addition to making her first Olympic team, the women’s squad from Ralph Faulkner’s Falcon Studio also took home the National team trophy.

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Ralph Faulkner of the Falcon Studio with his successful Falconettes.  From left, Jan York, Dierdre Gale and Polly Craus.

(Andy’s notations and captions on the original photos shown above reveals conflicting information.  The above photo is dated 1948, but another note claims this team won 3 consecutive Nationals from 1949 to 1951.  So this photo is either 1948 or 1949.  I’m going to guess this is 1948, simply because there is only one trophy here.  See the next photo to see what I mean.)

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Another crew of champions from the Falcon Studios.  From left: Bernardine Meislahn, Marion Washko, Polly Craus, Dierdre Gale, Jan York (she’s got a ring on her finger now) and Ralph Faulkner. 

Note the two trophies above.  This photo also has no date, but if the run of three National team tiles is correct, then this could be ‘49, ‘50 or ‘51.  In ‘49, Polly Craus won the US National individual title and in ‘50 and ‘51, Jan won the individual title.  So the above is from somewhere in that timeframe when Faulkner’s Falconettes took home both the individual and team titles.

In 1952, the West Coast shut out the East Coast for placement on the Olympic team with two members coming from Faulkner and the third coming from across town.

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The 1952 US Olympic women’s fencers: Maxine Mitchell, Polly Craus and Jan Romary.

Jan and Maxine both made the finals at the 1952 Olympics.  The top two finishers had 5 victories in the 8 woman final, and had to fence off for the gold.  The next four finishers all had 4 victories.  When the dust settled, Jan finished 4th and Maxine 5th.  Polly wound up 13th in the field of 37 fencers.  No other country had 3 fencers in the top 15.  Had there been a team event held for women’s foil, they may well have had a chance to bring home a medal.  Alas, no women’s team foil events in the Olympics until Rome, 1960.

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When you live in Hollywood, you have to have head-shots handy in case a casting director approaches you in a grocery store. This was Jan’s, I’d guess. (My friend Dave Schwartz once got in line at the bank right behind Moe Howard of the Three Stooges. “Excuse me,” said Dave. “Are you Moe Howard?”  “Why, yes I am!” answered Moe Howard, turning and shaking Dave’s hand. Moe gave Dave an autographed head-shot like this photo, that he just happened to be carrying around.  And once other people in the bank realized who he was, he was able to give away a bunch more.  Anyway, that’s Hollywood!)

Jan didn’t stay with Faulkner’s Falcon Studio for her entire career.  She changed clubs several times, although she would sometimes return to Falcon for a period of time.  Today, that wouldn’t seem too odd; people do move around, or fence at one club one night of the week and another on a different day.  Not so, back in the day.  If you were a Falcon, that’s where you fenced.  So Jan was a bit of an outlier in that way.

One of the other coaches she worked with was Aldo Nadi.

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Aldo Nadi, center, in the suit, watches Jan fence.  She’s on the right.

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Another photo of Jan with Aldo Nadi, from 1951

Later in her career, she would frequent the Joseph Vince Studio.

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The great Hungarian-born maestro, Joseph Vince, gives Jan Romary some pointers.

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The 1967 Pan American team. From left: Veronica Smith, Harriet King, Jan Romary, Maxine Mitchell.  And is that not a great mid-60s outfit?  

After retiring from competition, she remained involved in the sport and the Olympic movement, taking administrative positions for both the ‘76 and ‘84 Olympics.  She’s also (not surprisingly) in the US Fencing Hall of Fame.  Because let’s face it, 10 National championships (a US record for men or women until Peter Westbrook won his 11th of 13 in 1986) and 6 Olympics?  That’s a Hall of Fame career.

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Melbourne, 1956

The 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia comes up frequently around here.  It was, after all, the tournament from which many Hungarian athletes made the difficult decision to not return to their country.  The challenging notion of having to make such a fateful determination is one that I really can’t imagine.  Knowing you could be leaving friends and family behind, perhaps for good, would be tough on anyone.  However, the US benefitted mightily due to the strength of will that the fencers who came to our shores showed.  The Bay Area alone found itself with fencing great George Piller, Olympic Gold Medalist Dan Magay, Junior World Champion Tom Orley, Hungarian Olympic training squad member George Domolky and youngster and future 5 time US National Champion and Olympian Alex Orban.  They all had a too brief but resounding impact on the fencing scene around San Francisco.

What with the effort going on hereabouts to make a documentary about George Piller, I keep an eye and ear out for relatable tid-bits that may prove of value in helping to tell the tale.  This is one such small item that I recently picked up via my online addiction to Ebay.

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That’s the cover of the programme for all the 1956 Olympic fencing events, held at St. Kilda’s Town Hall, which, by use of Google Map’s clever 3D viewing tools, I now know looks like this:

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Thanks, Google!

(Trivial note: if you drop the little street view dude right on top of the building, it’ll take you inside!  They seem to be setting up for a concert.  Maybe Crowded House is going to play.)

Where was I?  Oh, the programme!

The one I picked up is in near perfect shape.  No pen or pencil marks.  No tears.  Of course, that means somebody got it, put it away and paid no attention to keeping track of the scores of the bouts they were watching.  How come fencers don’t do what baseball fans do and keep a running tab of everything that goes on?  A little personal score sheet.  “Oooh, another off-target.  That’s 3 in this bout!  Never gonna win that way.  Mark it down; off target, forearm.”  Anyway, we don’t do that, do we?  Well, whoever owned this didn’t either.  So, no notes or personalized stuff.  Sure, it’s pretty much mint condition, but I like the personal touch of someone handling things.

I digress, as per usual.

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The opening two pages give a nice idea of whose country abbreviation might show up on a scoreboard.  I say might, as not all these countries had a team or individual represented in the fencing event.  It also names all the big wig Olympic – I was going to say ‘guys and gals’, but now that I look more closely, I have to just say “guys”, as not a single woman seems to be represented on the executive board, executive committee or anywhere else.  I want to think the world has changed a bit since ’56.  I wonder, has it?

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…and then we get to the good stuff – the names of the actual competitors.  Only 8 teams up for the Men’s foil.  The US team of Axelrod, Bukantz, Goldsmith, Krieger, Lubell and Shurtz took 4th in the event and nearly landed a bronze medal.  Ah, so close.

And, if you’re interested in following the thread further, since the scoresheets here are all blank, check out this link:

http://library.la84.org/6oic/OfficialReports/1956/OR1956part1.pdf

http://library.la84.org/6oic/OfficialReports/1956/OR1956part2.pdf

That’s parts one & two of the Official Report from ’56, containing the result of every race, match, and bout for the entire games.  Plus a lovely photo of the Queen!  Fun to check out! Peruse at your leisure.  In the mean time, here’s a shot pulled from the above:

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Here’s the lineup for the Epee Individuel (I like this spelling; I think I may keep it.):

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My pal Skip Shurtz went down to defeat in the semi-final after fencing well in the early rounds, leaving him in the top-16 of the event.  His teammate, Dick Pew, was on fire that day, finishing first in his pool through the semi-final with only 2 defeats.  In the final, a pool of 8 fencers, he dropped 3 bouts, leaving him in 4th spot, just below the top 3 who all tied with 5 victories each and had to fight it out in a barrage for medal placement.  Oh, and, all three were Italians.  And!  I just found an error in the above programme!  Of the three Italians listed above in the individuel event, Bertinetti is listed, but the Olympic Silver Medal went to Delfino of Italy, so he was either a late swap or some other shenanigan that bumped Bertinetti for Delfino.  (Gold to Pavesi, Bronze to Mangiarotti.)

Last, I’ll put up the sabre team:

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Let me bring your attention to the Previous Olympic Winners near the top of the page.  All Hungarians, but for two Italian victories, only one of which was contested.  The Hungarians, after taking home just about every sabre medal in ’08 and ’12, didn’t participate in 1920, leaving the competition clear for Nedo and Aldo Nadi to command the field.  (In 1912, the Italian team couldn’t get out of the first round in the team event, and Nedo found himself as the only non-Hungarian finalist in the individual.  He placed 5th.)

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Above here is another clip art piece from the Olympic Record, with four Olympic Gold medalists: Gerevich in ’48, Kovacs in ’52, Piller in ’32 and Karpati in ’56 (and again in ’60).  None of them ever took less than gold in an Olympic team event, either.  Gerevich had 6 on his own – 1932 through 1960.  He was, you know… pretty good.

One interesting last point I’ll make that comes from the research and conversations we’ve been having about Piller for our film.  You might have noticed that he is titled above as “Manager” and not Coach.  This was a revelation to me, as I’d always heard about him as a coach.  That’s what he did at the Pannonia club in San Francisco and I just assumed that was the sort of role he played with the Hungarian team.  Not so!  I got this confirmed by Dan Magay, one of the members of the ’56 Gold Medal winning sabre team.  Piller did give lessons, but he was more useful as a strategist.  He could watch another fencer and give direction and advice on how to beat that person, right now.  He watched everyone and everything.  He analyzed tendencies, favorite attacks, preferred parries, and kept it all in his head.  When you needed to know how best to approach a bout, he would have a ‘here’s what to do’ all ready.  That, it seems, is what truly set Piller apart.  Not style, or technique, or his size.  He was, above all, a strategist.  That is what carried him as a competitor (he was World Champion in ’30, ’31, Olympic Champion in ’32, then retired.  He was 33 years old).  It also what set him apart as a coach and mentor.  If such a thing had been done at the time, it seems he would have been the penultimate strip coach.  Back then, of course, coaches could only offer advice before the match.  No talking during, no time outs, no bits of guidance or intelligence allowed.

And last, just so you know how serious we are about the documentary about Piller….

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…this is me at the Hungarian Military History Museum in Budapest (on the Buda side of the Danube) holding George Piller’s 1932 Olympic Gold Medals, team and individual.

That was a pretty good day.

TFC MF, June 1984

I confess that it has been hard to sit down and find the wherewithal to come up with a story in the past weeks.  Since the death of my first coach, Len Carnighan, it’s been frankly a challenge.  For those of you who don’t know, we here at the West Coast Fencing Archive are in production on our first documentary feature (I say “first” in hopes of their being a second someday) on famed Hungarian sabre champion and coach, George Piller, and I had very much hoped to share all we’ve learned about Piller both stateside and in Hungary with Len.  I won’t have that chance now.  Without Len, I’m certainly not doing the work I’m doing now, nor would I be the person I am today, although my failings are my own.  I find that his death has sapped some motivational force from my creative space.  But like any challenge I ever faced with Len as my coach, I’ll take his advice from memory and search for a way through to some sort of success.

Searching around for something to focus my attention, I’ve been digging through boxes, pulling out old photos and postcards, looking at pictures – you know, making a mess.  Finding nothing to hold my attention, I tucked things back away and sat down to go through digital files and came across a folder of scanned photos titled simply, “McDougall Negatives”.  Now, lucky me, I have a number of negative sets from John McDougall – student of both Piller and Nadi, fencing master, and founder of American Fencers Supply, if you need a reminder – but I hadn’t paid much attention to this batch of images since scanning them.   Since the files were big (I scan at the museum standard 600dpi, tiff) my poor 2006 Mac was having a hard go of showing me images, so I imported them all into iPhoto to get a look at what I had.  Lo and behold, some interesting images!  Some casual pics taken up at the Charles Selberg Southern Oregon homestead, some goofy shots of John & Charlie in Charlie’s salle – and then a series of images from a 1984 men’s foil national event that took place at The Fencing Center at their 40 North First Street location.

There aren’t a whole lot of photos and not all the bouts are represented, but there is a finals lineup, so we can at least ID the players.

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From left to right: Ed McNamara, Mark Smith, Don Blayney, Pat Gerard, Michael Marx, Mike McCahey, George Nonomura, Greg Massialas.  So, final of 8, direct elimination table.

The bracket (seen in a couple of blurry images) breaks down like this:

Massialas v Gerard

Nonomura v McNamara

Smith v Blayney

McCahey v Marx

No pictures from the first match, but a nice one from the second.

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George Nonomura on the left puts out a stop hit against the attacking Ed McNamara.

We do have a photo from the third match, with local product Don Blayney having a go against 2 time National Champ and Olympian Mark Smith.

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Blayney, the big lefty, throws a late stop against Smith that’s probably out of time, if Mark reached.  But reaching Don was always the issue, him & his long arms.  I still have nightmares.  (Ok, not really nightmares so much…)

The final matchup in the quarters has the two Mikes; McCahey and Marx, New York versus Oregon.

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McCahey attacks, but Marx keeps good distance.

After the quarters wrap up, we’re left with Massialas versus Nonomura in the first bout, and Smith versus Marx in the second.

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Nonomura and Massialas joke with director Jeff Bukantz in preparation for their semi-final matchup.

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George goes low against Greg, but it looks like Greg picked up the blade with that sweeping prime parry and took the point to the back.  Also in this photo you can see the score – and this is back in the day, so touches were scored against.  George is down 5-2 at this point.  Note the scorekeeper in the mask .  Better safe…

Greg wins the battle with George and moves on to face Mark Smith.  Sadly, no photos from the Marx/Smith match.

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Greg & Mark, ready to go.  (Hey, scorekeeper!  Get that mask on!)

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Mark Smith was a master of counter-time and you can see he’s stepped into the teeth of Greg’s attack here.  Blowing the image up big, I can’t see an impact divot on Greg’s lamé, so maybe Greg picked up the stop with the septime parry he’s making in this shot.  Or maybe he’s parrying with his forearm.  Can’t really tell.

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Smith stepping in again, and it looks like this time it paid off.  Without the lights, I can’t tell.

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Positions reversed, but action continuing.

I wasn’t going to put that last picture in, but then I realized it had both the score and the event poster over on the scorer’s table.  The poster, which I’ve seen before (and have a copy of) can be seen in the photo below, taken at Charlie Selberg’s old salle in Oregon.

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The D’Asaro Foil Weekend, June 21 & 22, in San Jose.

You see, I was going to title this article something generic and ask for help with trying to find a date, and there it was in the images staring out at me.  Took me long enough to spot it, but there you are.  At any rate, I’ve put all the puzzle pieces together now.

What I don’t know, and there isn’t a shot of the score sheet to tell me, is who won the final bout?  Greg probably remembers.  And if they fenced off for 3rd place, with Nonomura versus Marx, did George pull out a 3rd place over Michael?

Perhaps the interwebs and social media connectivity will help us put those questions to rest.  It’s certainly a safer subject than the presidential race.

Here’s to fencing, everybody.

A Lifetime of Lessons

“Do you not know that a man is not dead if his name is still spoken?” – Terry Pratchett

My first fencing coach, Len Carnighan, died a week ago today, September 11, 2016.

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I was in his first class at Cabrillo College in the fall of 1977.  It was his first opportunity to teach at the college level, and only about a year after he had decided to making fencing his career and future.  He was also teaching at the Freedom Fencers Club in Freedom, California, founded by John McDougall, which gave him a way to offer interested students additional opportunity to fence.

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The usual suspects out at the former hay & feed barn that housed the Freedom Fencers.

As an 18 year old coming to fencing with a mind filled with sword slashing fantasies harvested from books and movies, I well remember the first speech Len gave to start us off.  It was like a splash of cold water combined with a statement so intriguing that it demanded to be investigated.

He said, “Now, if you’ve come to this class with the idea of being Errol Flynn or Conan the Barbarian,” (for me, check and check…) “…I must tell you that that is not what fencing is about.  However, what you are going to learn in this class – is even better.”  My reaction was, “wh…what?  Even better?! This I gotta see!”  I was hooked from that moment.

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That’s me, 5th in from the left, with the proud instructor far right.  

Len spent 5 years teaching at Cabrillo and developed some terrific fencers and competitors, amassing a successful record in the now-defunct Junior College Championships in Nor Cal.

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Cabrillo College’s 1980 team with a collection of trophies and medals, a broken sabre, and Len’s boy Lencin Carnighan.

Len enlisted in the Marines at age 17, served in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive and came home with a Purple Heart and PTSD.  He went to college on the GI Bill, starting at LA Valley College where he started fencing under Joe Abel.  The story he told me was that he took up fencing because he was sure that when Atlantis rose again, guns would no longer be available and knowing sword fighting might prove useful.  Now, I don’t know how late he was up or what he’d been doing prior to coming up with that particular theory of the future of Earth, but his ability to tell that story with a straight face in a passionate tone made the listener, at the very least, think, “well, I guess that could happen…”  He transferred to UC Santa Cruz on the advice of Joe Able, so that he might study with Charles Selberg.  It was under Charlie’s tutelage that Len settled on the idea of becoming a fencing teacher himself.

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Len as a UCSC Banana Slug fencer, although the fencing team chose Robert Crumb’s Mr. Natural as their own mascot.

Around 1980, Len closed down the Freedom club and opened up the Santa Cruz Fencers Club at the Palomar Hotel on Pacific Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz. The club met in the ballroom of the old Spanish style hotel, built in 1928.

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Santa Cruz fencers at the Palomar Hotel.

Len credited his teaching methodology to several fencing masters besides Charlie Selberg.  He also learned a great deal from John McDougall, Jack Nottingham and Michael D’Asaro Sr.

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Michael, Angela Dracott and Len.

Len was never shy about getting knowledge about fencing from whatever source might present itself.  He often told a story about eavesdropping on an historic moment at the 1984 Olympics involving Peter Westbrook and his fencing master, Csaba Elthes.

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Elthes & Carnighan

Len scored a credential for the LA Olympics in 1984 and spent his time finding ways to get into places and situations where he could see and learn from these, the best and brightest of the fencing world.  His instinct for being in the right place found him backstage at the moment Elthes approached Westbrook before his bronze medal match.  Other fencers, seeing that Csaba wished to say something to Peter, backed away to give them space for a private moment.  Not Len.  As he put it later, “I wasn’t going to miss this!”  He stuck in his ear to learn what the last wisdom before such a momentous bout might be.  As he told it, Csaba simply said, “Fight, Peter!  Fiiiight!!”

After Santa Cruz, Len taught in Ashland, Oregon.  It became a bit of a hotspot for fencing masters.  Len, Michael D’Asaro, Charlie Selberg and John McDougall all moved from Central Cal to Ashland at about the same time.  That’s a lot of fencing masters for one dinky Southern Oregon town.

Moving again, Len settled in Portland, Oregon, opening the Studio of American Fencing in Northeast Portland.

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Len at SAF.

He taught a lot of fencers at this salle and it was fortunately situated right next door to a local bar with a pool table.  Of course, being next to a bar, you could expect some interesting situations.  One story went like this.

“One night, it’s late and I’m wrapping up teaching.  Some drunk biker dude stumbles from the bar into the club and starts yelling that fencing is for wimps and he’s there to kick all our butts.  I tried to talk him down, but he just yells at me.  “Are you the teacher here?  Gimme a sword, I’ll kick your ass!”  Well, I didn’t really want to hurt the guy, but I put a sabre in his hand and say, “Ok, On Guard.”  He makes one step forward – he’s wearing a leather jacket, remember – and I step forward and crack him across the chest with the best chest cut of my life.  Well, he stands straight up, hands the sabre to me guard first, turns around and walks out without saying another word.”

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Eric Patton and Len

One of Len’s young fencers in Portland was one of those rare prodigies.  Eric Patton was a young fencer that had a tremendous talent for competing.  As a young fencer, he attended his first international competition in Tel Aviv for the Cadet World Championships in 1987, where he placed 9th in the world.  Sadly, he didn’t stick with fencing and Len was left wondering how far this young man may have gone.

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Len and his fencing master, Charlie Selberg at the Studio in Portland.

Len was a fencing master, but don’t look for his name in the records of the US Fencing Coaches Association.  Charlie Selberg, living out in the woods of Southern Oregon, decided to confer his own degrees to deserving fencing teachers.  That was the closest Len would get to anything remotely ‘official’.  His stint in Vietnam left him with both PTSD and another P –  paranoia, especially toward anything to do with the government who he credited with nothing less than trying to kill him in Southeast Asia.  That paranoia was also reflected in his attitude towards any number of organizing bodies and certainly colored his opinion of joining something like the USFCA.  That he was capable of doing anything that may have been required of him to pass a credentialed exam by USFCA members, there isn’t any doubt.  That he never considered it was simply an example of who he was and what he stood for – or against.  He drew clear lines, sometimes in places where his friends and colleagues would be left scratching their heads, but you always knew where Len stood.  His talent and passion for teaching fencing was never in question.  He could teach individuals and classes with a panache that brought out the best in his students, and he could create in those students an enduring love for the game.

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Len’s last class, Portland State University, 2016.

Len was married three times and had two sons, Lencin and Ray.  During his life, Len collected a great number of dedicated friends as well as professional colleagues.  Sadly, his life also featured a number of tragedies.  But what led to the end game?  We’ll never know, it would seem.  You see, it appears that Len killed himself.  I can’t figure it.  After all he’d been through, why now?   At other points in his life, maybe.  Now?  This is a lesson I can’t process.

A last tragedy from Len’s life, left behind for all of us to wonder about.

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Len and Claire Braunhut at Freedom Fencing Club.  Claire was one of Len’s Cabrillo students.

I suppose that’s the natural stopping point for this.  I won’t though.  There’s other, better, lessons and memories to recall.

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The Cabrillo team in 1979.

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Charlie, Len and Zack, who now runs the Studio of American Fencing.

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Left to right, Michael D’Asaro Jr, Len, Charlie Selberg, Michael D’Asaro Sr, and Gay at a San Jose State summer camp.

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Len and Dean Hinton.

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Greg Massialas and Len at the San Francisco Men’s Foil World Cup.

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Len flanked by Leon and Yves Auriol.

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Vinnie Bradford sharing a laugh with Len.

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I’ll end here, with a glass of wine and a smile.  Hasta la vista, Len.

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