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Fencing; where to learn, where to watch in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Where to learn, where to watch in the San Francisco Bay Area (and tournaments in Portland, Colorado Springs)

The grace of dance, the strategy of chess, and the excitement of old swashbuckling films all meet in the sport of competitive fencing. It is simultaneously fast and furious, graceful and elegant.

This time-honored sport is rooted in tradition, but technological advances in scoring have caused some changes: because all direct hits (not just those seen by a judge) are scored, it has become more aggressive and flamboyant. And as the sport's popularity increases, northern California is becoming known as a fencing center.

If you're looking for an aerobic workout, fencing qualifies. Some compare the energy expended in a three-match tournament to that required for a marathon race.

Attending class competitions or local meets is a good way to introduce yourself to fencing. A match consists of a 6-minute bout in which fencers try to score five touches in the opponents' target area (see below). They must stay within the fencing strip-about 6-1/2 by 46 feet. Bouts begin at the strip's center and return there after each touch. A halt is called after a touch or when a fencer steps off the strip.

Fencers use any of three weapons: foil (43 inches long; a 17-5/8-ounce button-tipped version of the old rapier), epee (also 43 inches; heavier at 27 ounces, blunt tipped, and derived from an early dueling sword), and saber (41 inches; the thin, rectangular blade weighs 17-1/2 ounces).

Foil touches must hit the torso; with the epee, the entire body is a target. Originally used in cavalry fighting, the saber (used more in slashing, thrust-and-cut motions) can hit anywhere above the waist using either the point or edge of the blade.

In competition, foils and epees are wired so that when they touch the opponent's metallic vest, a light flashes to score a hit. Sabers, on the other hand, are still generally unwired, and judges score bouts.

Look for classic attack moves such as lunge and feint and the defensive parry and riposte. Besides trying to touch the opponent, fencers fight for ground, since being forced backward off the end of the strip costs a one-touch penalty.

Getting started

Learners can be as young as age nine; there's no upper age limit. An average eight-class series costs about $45, including equipment; private instruction runs from $8 to $20 per half-hour. To learn more or to join tbe United States Fencing Association ($25 a year, $15 under age 20), write to USFA, 1750 E. Boulder St., Colorado Springs 80909, or call (719) 578-4511.

If you decide to take up the sport, you'll need a weapon ($30 to $50), mask ($45 to $120), jacket ($35 to $60), and glove ($9 to $20). Discounted starter kits begin at about $90. Later you might add knickers ($30 to $60) and fencing shoes ($30 to $80). Look for equipment at some sporting goods stores or at American Fencers Supply Company, 1180 Folsom St., San Francisco 94103; (415) 863-7911.

Nine Bay Area clubs offer instruction.

San Francisco. Halberstadt's Fencers Club, 621 S. Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco; 863-3838. Open 5:30 to 10 PM. Mondays through Thursdays, 9 to 5 Saturdays. Tuesday and Thursday classes at 6 and 7; $45 per month for twice-weekly instruction, including equipment and membership. Four working strips, target dummies, video cameras.

Letterman Fencers Club, Gym #2, Building 1152, Presidio of San Francisco; 5615051 after 7 PM. Mondays and Thursdays. Hour-long classes between 7 and 10 Pm. on those days. Weight room, four fencing strips. Free tournaments Saturdays and Sundays this month; most begin at 9:30.

Pannonia Athletic Club, 1052 Geary Street, San Francisco; 652-2226. Classes 5:30 to 10 Pm. Mondays and Wednesdays; $80 for eight sessions. Tournaments Saturdays from 9 to 2.

Chinatown YMCA, 855 Sacramento Street, San Francisco; 982-4412. Eightweek classes for ages 9 through 17 from 3:30 to 5 Wednesdays; $25.

East Bay. Claremont Middle School Gym, Birch Court and College Avenue, Oakland; 273-3495. Free drop-in lessons by the Oakland Daggers and Oakland City Parks and Recreation Tuesdays and Thursdays 6:30 to 10 PM.

Over the Hill Fencers Club, Pleasant Hill Recreational Center, Civic Drive near Taylor Boulevard, Pleasant Hill; 6765200. Classes, from 8 to 9 PM. Wednesdays, begin in January; $37 per quarter, or join drop-in sessions ($2) from 9 to 10. Pacific Fencing Club, 1249 34th Avenue, Oakland; 436-3800. Classes 5 to 10 PM. Tuesdays to Fridays, 10 to 5 Saturdays; $8 per lesson or $60 per month.

South Bay. The Fencing Center 40 N. First Street (second floor), San Jose; (408) 298-8230. Classes 6 to 10 PM. Mondays through Thursdays; $40 per month. Visiting fencers pay $5 per night. Call for weekend tournament schedule.

Jewish Community Center 655 Arastradero Road, Palo Alto; 493-9400 (ask for fitness center). Ten-week classes for ages 9 through 17 run 4 to 5:30 Tuesdays and Thursdays; $80.

Two big tournaments coming up

These tournaments offer a high level of competition and are worth a detour if you plan to be in Portland or Colorado Springs. Both are free.

Portland. January 13 through 15, the Grand Challenge will be held at the Hampton Courts, Oregon Episcopal School, 6699 S.W. Oleson Road; (503) 254-8112. Nearly 500 fencers, including some ftom the recent U.S. Olympic team, are expected to compete in five events (men's and women's foil and epee, men's saber) beginning at 8:30 A.M. women's epee finals begin at 5 Friday, men's foil finals at 6:30 Saturday, men's saber finals at 5 Sunday (times for other finals weren't set at our press time).

Colorado Springs. February 17 through 20, the Junior Olympic Championships will be held at the U.S. Air Force Academy Gymnasium. From 9 to 7 daily, more than 900 fencers under age 20 will compete, with finals each evening at about 6. From Interstate 25 south of Denver, take Northgate Road and follow signs to the academy grounds and the gym.
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Date:Dec 1, 1988
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