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En Gardé

The common image of fencing as a sword battle between knights isn’t too far from the truth.

Fencers gear up in white suits that almost look like a beekeeper’s uniform. Instead of protecting the wearer from bees, they’re protecting them from an opponent’s metal sword. They have a choice of three weapons.

Epee, Foil and Saber each involve a different style of fighting.

None of the styles are just about attacking an opponent.

Local fencing coach Peter Gundunas compares the sport to dancing.

“The principle of the sport, much like ballet or dance, is to make it look effortless,” Gundunas said.

Foil is the most basic weapon, and a common starting place.

“I like all three, but foil the most,” said Jacob Malone, a 15-year-old fencer.

Malone described Epee and Foil as thrusting weapons, where competitors score only from the tip. In Epee, the entire body is the target, Malone said.

“You’re just waiting for a hole to open so you can get the touch on them,” he said.

Foil, the most basic style, is based on the torso alone, he said.

In Saber bouts, the scoring is based on waist-up moves.

“You can slash and thrust,” Malone explained.

The different weapons also have different speeds. Saber is very fast and aggressive, Malone said.

“Epee is slow, and its almost like watching paint dry if you’re watching it,” Malone said.

Much of the scoring is electronic, although judges pay attention and sometimes have to make judgement calls on who deserves a point depending on positioning, weaponry and other details. Malone said that in foil bouts, a judge has to decide who gets points based on certain right-of-way rules that dictate whose turn it is. In Epee, those rules are not in play: both fencers can get points at the same time.

Peninsula fencers learn to direct bouts — the technical term for judging — as well as fence, Malone said.

“I personally like bout directing,” he said.

Fencing is an old sport, an original Olympic competition, and one of just three western martial arts. The others are boxing and wrestling.

Gundunas said it costs about $300 to outfit for one weapon including the electronic scoring mechanisms required for tournaments.

New fencers usually use club equipment for their first month or so, and then invest in their own gear, Gundunas said. No one in Alaska sells the equipment right now, so it has to be ordered from Outside.

Despite the cost, fencing is accessible to everyone.

“Fencing is the equalizer,” Gundunas said.

It requires more thinking. Size and weight are less important.

“If you know what you’re doing and you use what you have, you can be a champion,” Gundunas said.

The Kenai Peninsula Fencing Club meets at Skyview High School, as part of the Soldotna Community Schools program. Adults are also welcome to participate. For more information, visit the club’s website at or the community schools website at