Fencing Talk with Catherine Case Szarwark: Understanding the Weapons of the Sport

The sport of fencing is surrounded by images of Zorro, the Three Musketeers, and numerous movie swordfights, notes Catherine Case Szarwark. The three time all American epee fencer from Penn State University points out that the actual reality may not be as romantic, but it is even more interesting once you begin to understand it. According to Szarwark, the sport of fencing grew out of European dueling practices from the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries. Catherine Case Szarwark begins this discussion by explaining that fencing involves the use of three weapons.

The foil, says Catherine Case Szarwark, is a long and thin weapon with a tip on which a push button is located.  This button is connected to a wire that runs the length of the foil, to another wire that runs under the fencer’s body armor to a machine that detects when the button is depressed.  In order to score a point, explains Catherine Case Szarwark, the fencer must hit the opponent on the torso (not including the arms, legs or head).  If both fencers hit each other, the referee awards the point to the fencer who has initiated the attack first, unless the other fencer had repulsed that attack.  This is called the right of way, adds Szarwark.

The saber is modeled on the cavalry sword, and Catherine Case Szarwark describes it as a slashing weapon. Szarwark says that points are scored by hitting an opponent anywhere above the belt with the edge or the side of the blade.  If both opponents touch the other, adds Catherine Case Szarwark, the referee awards a point on the basis of which initiated the attack first, in a manner similar to that used in foil fencing.  Hits are recorded on electronic scoring devices.  The opponents are not permitted to cross their rear foot beyond their front foot while fencing.  Saber matches are usually much shorter than foil or epee fencing, and according to Catherine Case Szarwark are often decided by the results of initial thrusts.

The epee is a slightly heavier weapon than the foil, which it otherwise resembles, says Catherine Case Szarwark.  It too has a push button on the end and points are scored by hitting the opponent with the tip of the weapon.  However, points out Szarwark, the target of the epee is the entire body of the opponent.  Furthermore, adds Catherine Case Szarwark, hits within 40 milliseconds of each other (as determined by electronic scoring devices) produce points for both fencers.  None of the complicated right of way rules applicable to foil and saber apply to the epee.

According to Catherine Case Szarwark, all three weapons include a guard located above the handle or grip that protects the hand of the fencer.  Fencers wear protective clothing, and injuries, apart from bruises, are rare during competitions.

Catherine Case Szarwark, a three time NCAA all American in the epee, reports that fencing is quite popular throughout Europe. The sport is also gaining in popularity in the United States although currently only a few schools have fencing teams.  Usually, reports Catherine Case Szarwark, fencing is learned at fencing clubs or academies from private instructors with a passion for the sport. It is also possible to fence in overseas tournaments, which are held far more often than in the United States.  Some high schools and local fencing clubs also stage local fencing meets on a regional basis, adds Szarwark.

Additionally, according to Szarwark, many Colleges and Universities sponsor Fencing teams, and the NCAA stages a National Championship Tournament each year.  The winner is determined on the basis of total points accumulated by the women’s and the men’s teams in each weapon classification.Catherine Case Szarwark was on the Penn State University team that won the National Championship during her senior year.

About Catherine Case Szarwark

For Catherine Case Szarwark, accomplishments came early in life. While friends were hoping to adapt to middle school, Catherine Case Szarwark found her passion. Szarwark started fencing in the sixth grade when a mini-fencing class was offered for physical education. She discovered that she loved it and possessed a rare talent.  Catherine Case Szarwark’s parents were supportive and her path to success began.

Catherine Case Szarwark spent six years at the Nashville Fencing Academy where she developed into one of the finest fencers in the country.  While attending Harpeth Hall School in Nashville, Tennessee, Catherine Case Szarwark rose to the highest-ranking American epee fencer in the under-17 age category.  Her fencing for the American team took Catherine Case Szarwark to Italy and Germany, and Szarwark spent time at the United States Olympic training facility in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where she trained alongside Olympic hopefuls from all over the United States.

Upon graduation from high school, Catherine Case Szarwark elected to attend Penn State University where she fenced under the legendary Coach Emmanuil Kaidanov.  There, Szarwark compiled a record of 149 wins against only 35 losses, for an 81.0% winning percentage.  This remains the sixth-best in the storied history of fencing at Penn State University.  Catherine Case Szarwark earned all America honors three times, and was the captain of the Women’s Epee team in 2006-2007 when Penn State University won the NCAA National Championship. In speaking of this team, Coach Kaidanov singled out Catherine Case Szarwark for her leadership and dedication.

Catherine Case Szarwark also earned All Academic Big Ten honors, and finished with a 3.4 grade point average at Penn State University.  Szarwark now lives in New York City and has taught fencing at the New York Athletic Club. She works at NYU School of Medicine and is involved in Junior League of New York.

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