Sword Play
Historical Notes

Last updated May 29, 2014

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Dr. Weldon Vlasak considers himself to be quite fortunate to have studied under some of the world's greatest fencing masters, such as Also Nadi shown below:


     Aldo Nadi - His perfect lunge is shown above. An article about him appeared in Time Magazine, and he had a full size copy of this picture at the entrance to his salle. Considered by many fencers to be the greatest fencer of all time. He was the undefeated European champion for 12 years in a row and won a silver medal in the Olympics (his brother Nido won 5 gold medals in the same competition). He fought an actual duel with rapiers, and old pictures of the duel were displayed in an in "American Fencing", USFA, vol. 42, #4 (April, May, June 1992), p. 19 (as did Giorgio Santelli, another great fencing master). This was a true fencing family that spawned a number of famous fencing masters over several generations. He trained several national champions, including Janice Lee Romary who competed in four Olympics and carried our flag in the 1984 Olympics. When I first came to study under Nadi, Jan did not want to fence me (it is not unusual behavior for a top fencer to avoid practicing with new students, but she did not know that I was experienced enough to have reached the semifinals of the Nationals in another weapon). After I had been with the club a while, Aldo asked her to fence with me. That was all it took for me to become a full-fledged member of the club. Aldo was the ultimate perfectionist and a disciplinarian. Movements had to be absolutely perfect in order to get any form of compliment. Some time after he accepted me as a serious student who was eager to learn, he told me to abandon saber and epee in order to concentrate on foil. I was unwilling to do this and, being excessively stubborn about being a three-weapon fencer, decided to seek out another fencing master. Although I found another great fencing master, I do have many regrets about my decision, as I believe that Aldo truly wanted me to become a top fencer and had devoted more efforts in honing my skills than for some of the other fencers in his salle. Aldo had some unique personality characteristics, but I really did like him personally and most certainly respect him as the most expert master of fencing technique. Here are some links to other sites:

Nadi Info Nadi's Book, About Jan Romary,

     Bela de Tuscan - One of the world's greatest sabre fencers. He once performed in an exhibition for Mussolini, who was a fencing enthusiast, and staged swordplay dancing routines at the London Palladium. He was a top fencer in the Hungarian Military Academy and narrowly escaped death after being caught in an unsuccessful revolution. He invented an electric weapon in which the electric wires were threaded through a hollow blade, but it failed to gain the approval of the F.I.E. Bela was a very outgoing person who would stop in the middle of a lesson that he was teaching and welcome me into his salle. He had some very interesting historical stories and had pictures and weapons to back them up. He showed me a saber that they used for teaching in the Hungarian Military Academy, and it was much like a real weapon, heavy and thick. Although they also used very thick jackets, he said that the weapon could still produce a painful blow. He said that when his master was displeased with his fencing he would place him with his back to the wall and would only allow him to parry the attacks of the fencing master. I never met his first wife, Joanna de Tuscan, 1936 National Foil Champion and Olympian, fenced in the Berlin Olympics, with some calling her the "most beautiful Olympian of the 1936 games". She appeared on a Wheaties box and in several cigarette ads, and supposedly auditioned for the lead in the movie Gone With The Wind.
She was expelled from the fencing association after the New York women accused her of accepting transportation money to a fencing demonstration, and she never fenced in the US championships again. Bela's second wife, Normaleen, was very gregarious and they were a great couple. When I established the fencing club at Holiday Park in Fort Lauderdale, Florida after Bela passed away, Normaleen gave me the equipment from their club to work with and his black master's jacket.

Bela at Wayne State University

     Ralph Faulkner - Known fondly by the moniker "The Boss", the name of a character he played in a Robin Hood movie. The Boss staged fencing scenes and played characters in over 300 movies. He was an accomplished fencer who won a medal in the World championships and competed in the 1924 Olympics. He also taught several national champions. Interestingly, he grew up in a small town in Kansas and told of going fishing with the Eisenhower brothers at a nearby creek. Both brothers attained eminence, but Dwight was destined to become a famous general and U.S. president. Ralph was an excellent athlete, excelling in gymnastics. He once told me that he used to walk around the gymnasium on his hands, so I told him "O.K., Let's see it". This got a laugh from the other fencers nearby, since he was in his 90's at the time (and still teaching fencing). He cut a handsome figure in his youth and became an actor in silent films after migrating to Los Angeles. His film career ended when sound was added to movies, as his voice was not considered suitable. He married a famous dancer, and they set up a studio to teach acting, dance and fencing in Hollywood. The signed pictures of many famous actors adorned the walls of their studio, and it was interesting to walk around during a rest period and view these historical gems. In the many rooms of their studio, you might find flamenco dancers, singers, actors, or TV personalities, and before fencing we could sometimes watch the ballerinas practicing in the gymnasium. Some of his fencers were also famous actors, such as Cornell Wilde, who was metropolitan junior champion in New York, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., who was a junior champion. I fenced one of the Mouseketeers, Bob Crawford (who had a twin brother) in several fencing competitions, and he was a very good fencer who was taught by the Faulkner. Halton Arp was the top foil fencer in the club, highly ranked nationally, and became a world-reknowned astrophysicist. Janice York Romary was several times national champion, as was loveable Maxine Mitchell, who often referred to me as the "Florida fencer". Maxine Mitchell became an Olympian
in 1952 - Individual Foil, Helsinki; 1956 - Individual Foil, Melbourne; 1960 - Team Foil,
Rome; and 1968 - Team Foil, Mexico City. She also won the United States National
championships in Women’s Foil in 1952, 1954, 1955, and 1958. Maxine Mitchell was
one of the oldest Olympic competitors in the games history when she competed in 1968. Don Benge (his father designed musical instruments) was also a top fencer at the club.The students loved The Boss, both as a genuine person and a great fencing instructor.

Check out: About Faulkner, Halton Arp, Maxine's Story, Women National Champions, Benge

George Ganchev emigrated to the United States from Bulgaria and became an actor and writer. He was a two-time world champion and is an expert in all three weapons. He taught fencing in Los Angeles and developed some excellent fencers there. While fencing at Faulkner Studios one day, he came up to me after a bout and asked if I would like to take lessons from him. I was skeptical about accepting his offer at the time, since I did not then know about him, but I later found out that he is a top world fencer and would only accept students who met with his approval, so it was really quite an honor. George had the "fastest eyes" of anyone that I have ever met. He could record the fastest fencing movements in his mind and was always able to keep excellent distance. He demanded the deepest lunge of any of my former fencing masters. He taught what I would call the "forward parry", which is very hard to do but provides the greatest protection. George returned to Bulgaria and actually ran for president of the country and did quite well. He is still a major politician in Bulgaria, and you can learn more about him on the Internet at:

About George Ganchev

Dr. Sam Munson - Another of my favorite fencing masters, Dr. Munson was a professor at The George Washington University when I was a graduate student there. He studied under some of the great Italian fencing masters who migrated to Washington, D.C. after WWI. After an evening of fencing at the downtown YMCA, Dr. Munson and some of the fencers would go to the Red Lion (a local pub) and quaff a few beers and discuss fencing, politics and other interesting subjects. Dr. Munson would tell fascinating stories about various Washington luminaries, such as Eleanor Roosevelt, with whom he took a stroll in the flower garden. After leaving the Washington area, I met him again at the 1972 National Championships and we had dinner and talked about fencing. The saber fencers in the competition were wildly attacking each other with fleches (running attacks) at the instance of the command to fence, and it was never very clear as to who had right-of-way. I asked Dr. Munson what he thought of that, and he replied: "They [the competitors] haven't learned how to parry yet". How true! And how unfortunate that they have now done away with the often beautiful fleche.
  

Lathrop Gay - Lathrop was a three-weapon expert who taught fencing at the Phoenix YMCA in the early 1950's who first got me interested in fencing. He was also ranked in the top ten fencers in the United States, and I believe that he may have studied under Joseph Vince, an Italian who earned a silver medal in saber in the Olympics in 1920 and taught in his own salle in Los Angeles. Lathrop was an accomplished abstract artist, and I respected him as both an instructor and a brave fencer of honor and spirit. See more here.

Nick Kariagin - After Falkner passed away, I began fencing with Nick, who was teaching some young fencers. Nick was from Rumania, I believe, and was a very good fencer and instructor. One of his young students was Frank Fox who eventually became nationally ranked and a top Southern California fencer. Nick, like Aldo Nadi, believed in very small hand movements and high accuracy. His young fencer became extemely accurate in point placement, which is a tribute to Nick's teaching methods. Nick was a nice guy, and he got me interested in Senior Olympics. One year we both went to San Francisco for the Seniors National Championships.

World's Greatest Fencing Masters  

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