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 neighbourhoods where these clubs operate. Real estate values
invariably drop when a new club comes to the neighbourhood.
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 centres 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, sabrists, 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 behaviour which sets them apart from the others.
Sabrists - 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 *** 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 behaviour. Screaming is a common manifestation
of this, and the source of much amu***t 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
Foilists tend towards bright colours 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
tempermant 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 ***, 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 travelling the streets of our fair city during a tournament weekend.
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