Lock up Your Silver: There’s Fencers in Town

You can pick them out of the crowd. They travel in little groups that have “Attitude” written all over them. They sneer. They like to jostle strangers and push elderly women into the bus lane. They hold spitting contests on crowded sidewalks. They smell bad, and know it. They’re fencers. And they’re here for the weekend.

Like many athletic groups, fencers travel to competitions on the weekends. Unlike many athletic groups they are required to register with the local constabulary on arrival. In the east, and in many European countries, city police departments cancel all leaves and days off when there’s a fencing tournament in town. Hospitals double up their emergency room staffs. Many downtown businesses hire private security. Some just board up their windows and stay closed for the weekend.

Fencers in their home cities are always uneasy customers. In many eastern cities there are specific zoning laws restricting size, activities, types of entertainment allowed on premises, and locations, of fencing clubs. Many insurance companies refuse to cover business situated in neighborhoods where these clubs operate. Real estate values invariably drop when a new club comes to the neighborhood.

So the question becomes: why put up with them? If they are this much trouble why not merely ban them altogether?

This question has been proposed many times and in many jurisdictions. The fact of the matter is that fencers spend money. It has been estimated that fencing and fencing-related activity generates millions of dollars yearly. For smaller centers the multiplier effect of the economic activity generated by a large and active fencing club can contribute substantial revenues to the municipal coffers. Other estimates suggest that fencers at large tournaments will spend $500-$1000 each over the course of the weekends; on food, lodging, entertainment, transportation and retail purchases. The sum of money spent by fencers on CD’s and tape cassettes alone is staggering.

There are those who say that if we outlaw fencing only outlaws will fence. There are also those who feel that this would only formalize an already existing situation.

There are three types of fencer: epeeists, sabreurs, and foilists. Fencers tend to prefer the company of their own kind, sometimes going so far as to restrict club membership to proponents of a specific weapon or style. Moreover, each group has its own distinctive style of dress and behavior which sets them apart from the others.

Sabreurs – or “sabreurs” fence sabre – a single-edged weapon characterized by sudden charges and wide, slashing attacks. Sabreurs prefer tight black leather clothing. Studded collars and wristbands are also quite common, as well as dog-collars, leather hoods, multiply- pierced body parts and grotesque or obscene tattoos. While many wear highly-polished pointed-toed boots with silver toe caps and spurs, most prefer heavier stompin’ boots of the Doc Marten variety.

Sabre fencers tend to be more heavily built than the other two. In sharp contrast to the casual brutality of the epeeists, or the studied, exquisite cruelties practiced by foil fencers, sabreurs are most often prone to random behavior. Screaming is a common manifestation of this, and the source of much amusement for groups of sabreurs out on the town. (Particularly when touring libraries, museums, retail outlets, and hospital wards.) Occasionally a sabre fencer will leap without warning into heavy traffic. His compatriots will generally take advantage of the ensuing confusion to loot the nearest music store.

Epeeists are tall. Very tall. A group of very tall men and women lounging on a street corner are either basketball players or epeeists. The difference is that basketball players will help a little old lady across the street, while epeeists are more likely to take her purse and throw her over. There is no real epee “costume”, except that they tend to wear track suits and shave their heads. Their women are the most beautiful of all the fencing women, but also the most likely to knife random passers-by and take their wallets.

All epeeists wear very expensive running shoes which they have invariably stolen. It is a mark of shame in the epee subculture to wear legally-purchased footwear. Naturally this is difficult to ascertain merely by looking, and of course asking about it can lead to other complications.

Foilists tend towards bright colors and flashy outfits. White sports jackets with pink shirts, gold chains and floppy white hats are common foilist attire. Foilists are usually smaller and slighter than their colleagues in the other weapons. This has bred in them a furious temperament and a tendency to pick fights with anybody at any time for any reason. It is said of foilists that if the chips on their shoulders were any bigger they could fly to tournaments on the next stiff breeze. Certainly it is true that after a night on the town any given 5′ 6″ foilist considers himself a match for any two members of the local police department. Additionally, foilists have a thing for knives – not surprising, given the nature of their sport. Most foil fencers carry at least one secreted about their persons, which they are prone to pull on people who upset them. Bar staff take note: junior and cadet-age foilists invariably become upset at persons asking them to provide proof of age at licensed drinking establishments.

Unlike epeeists and sabreurs, few foilists will stoop to common looting or shoplifting to support their lifestyle. Extortion, protection rackets, and credit card fraud are their thing. And while a sabre fencer might bodily throw a blind person in front of a bus, the more subtle foilist will merely suggest to one that it is now safe to cross. It is this delicacy of disposition, combined with a propensity towards sudden, directed violence, which makes the average group of foilists walking down the street as cunning and as dangerous as a bag full of mutant wolverines. Certainly it is this last group which is most to be avoided when traveling the streets of our fair city during a tournament weekend.

by Jeff O’Brien, The YUFC Riposte

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