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Speedy sport of fencing returns to Long Beach

March 15,2017 10:14

We don't understand all sports. Cricket, curling, rugby, the ancient pentathlon. In the 1984 Olympics, we covered the dressage events at Santa Anita Park and watched with confusion as the genteel crowd occasionally burst into polite and inexplicable ...



We don’t understand all sports. Cricket, curling, rugby, the ancient pentathlon. In the 1984 Olympics, we covered the dressage events at Santa Anita Park and watched with confusion as the genteel crowd occasionally burst into polite and inexplicable applause. We didn’t understand a thing, so we went to the Sports Arena to watch boxing, which is a sport that’s easy to grasp.Fencing is another esoteric sport that we don’t fully comprehend. The fencing competition in the 1984 Games was held in Long Beach, and it’s returning to our town on Friday and Saturday with the FIE Absolute Fencing Gear Grand Prix of Fencing, a prestigious event that includes stops in Turin, Italy and Shanghai, China.
When we don’t understand something, we call an expert who, in the matter of fencing, is Bob Maguglan, director of public relations at Long Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, though for our purposes, he’s a fencing athlete who has taught the sport for Long Beach Parks & Recreation.Q: Give us a quick overview.A: Fencing comes from the ancient art of killing people with swords, but today it’s down to three weapons: The foil, the epee and the sabre. In fencing, we say the foil is the conversation, the epee is the argument and the sabre is the street brawl. In Long Beach, they’ll be competing with the foil only.
Q: So, let’s have a conversation about the foil.A: It’s the lightest of the three weapons and it’s very flexible. It’s used for thrusting only and the target is just the torso, not the arms or legs or head. But the torso includes the back, so if you scream and run away like a little girl...Q: Totally what we’d do. Tell us about the street-brawl weapon.A: The sabre is a thin blade, but it represents a cavalry sword, which is curved. The target with the sabre is everything above the waist. That reflects the fact that if you were on horseback, stabbing a person in the leg isn’t going to do you any good, because they’ll still be on their horse.
Q: How is fencing scored?A: Typically, in the prelims, the first person to get five touches wins. In the finals, usually, it goes to 15 touches.Q: How long can one of these matches last?A: They’re three-minute bouts; whoever’s ahead after three minutes wins. It’s a short period of time, but a very intense workout. You don’t think of a fencer as an elite athlete, but they’re every bit as conditioned as any athlete. In some ways, it’s the fastest human sport. The tip of a foil goes over 125 mph.Q: Will I understand it, or will it be like dressage all over again?

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A: The problem with fencing as a spectator sport is you have to be fairly experienced to appreciate the footwork, the feints, the fancy blade work. The average person just sees a fuzzy blur.The FIE Absolute Fencing Grand Prix will be held at the Long Beach Convention Center. Prelims are from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday. Tickets are $20. There are two sessions on Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. ($20); and semi-finals and finals from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. ($30).Contact Tim Grobaty at 562-714-2116, tgrobaty@scng.com, @grobaty on Twitter.

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