Fencing: Where wits foil physical prowess

Athletes need more than a quick hand to defeat their opponents in centuries-old sport. Classes available at South Coast Fencing Center.

November 08, 2012|By Lauren Williams
  • Adam Lin, left, of Irvine, squares off with Dante Rovere, of Huntington Beach, both 12, as they train during a class for students ages 14 and younger at South Coast Fencing Center in Santa Ana on Wednesday.
Adam Lin, left, of Irvine, squares off with Dante Rovere,… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

SANTA ANA — For those who practice it, fencing is a form of physical chess.

Each move is carefully plotted. Possible scenarios are planned. Defensive strategies are at hand, should an opponent make an unexpected move.

Tucked away off busy Harbor Boulevard, South Coast Fencing Center sits in a row of white office buildings, not unlike a pawn at the ready.

Inside, the centuries-old sport lives among the 40 or so athletes who pass through the club's doors on a given day.

Like its athletes, each weapon has its own personality. The saber is aggressive. The foil traces back to nobility. With an épée, anything goes.


Instructor Missag Hagop Parseghian is an épée and foil person.

"As I always like to say, a well-armed society is a polite society," Parseghian joked.

Among those at the club who are drawn to the sport are engineers and scientists, he said. He himself develops new cancer therapies, and others in the club study molecular biology, physics and engineering.

For 15-year-old Lucia Procopio, a student at Long Beach Polytechnic High School, fencing honed her discipline. A musician who plays viola, Procopio said the rhythm of fencing is similar to that of music. She says fencing changes "how you approach things in general."

Braden Saito, a 16-year-old student at Irvine's University High School, said the hobby helped his problem-solving.

The basic principle of the sport speaks to other aspects of life: "thinking under pressure to find a solution," in Braden's words.

Before fencing became a codified martial art hundreds of years ago, bludgeoning was a popular means of self defense, Parseghian said.

"Where's the sport in that?" he joked.

Along with the crusades came thinner, sharper weaponry more effective at injuring an opponent. Scoring reflects the objective of aiming for vital organs — at least with foil. In épée, the entire body is fair game.

With saber, slashing with the edge of the weapon is the preferred means of attack. Its methodology dates back to the days when mounted men charged one another, working to hurt each other but not the valuable horses.

To this day, those who fence wear white gear, but the tradition of blunting a weapon with red chalk to mark points on an opponent has long passed. Now electronic buttons at the point of a foil or épée keep score.

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