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Touché and go

For many, this sport is akin to chess. Players have to think clearly and plan moves well in advance. But unlike chess, in fencing the contenders have to think and move fast.

Friday

For many, this sport is akin to chess. Players have to think clearly and plan moves well in advance. But unlike chess, in fencing the contenders have to think and move fast.

The two ghostly figures are similarly poised – the left hand is folded behind their backs while the right holds a long, slender weapon called the foil, pointing straight ahead.

They approach each other with calculated steps, then raise their foils in a salute to each other.

The two then don caps before pulling on a netted wire mesh mask over their faces.

Armour ready, the two take a few steps backwards, and, in a flurry of lightning-speed wrist work, the graceful foils attempt to make a touché.

The swish of the blades and the crisp sound of metal meeting metal fill the air as one masked figure lunges with balletic grace towards his opponent.

But as quick as a cricket and with dexterous legwork, the defender steps back, out of the way of the wily attacker.

At a fencing hall provided by the Quay Club at Mina A’ Salam Club, Madinat Jumeirah, venue of the Dubai Fencing Club, another bout of modern-day fencing, a sport with rapid but subtle movements, has just begun.

The arena is devoid of all glitz. Unlike scenes from The Three Musketeers or Zorro, there is no hero making sweeping motions with his sword and no clear winner or loser.

The players engaged in this bout of fencing is the Bulgarian brother-sister coaching team of Mihail G. Kouzev and Maria G. Kouzeva.

“Fencing is one of only five sports that have featured in every Olympic Games since 1896,” explains Kouzev, who is vice-president, founder and head coach of the Dubai Fencing Club.

Fencing, he says, requires a blend of patience, determination, discipline and competitiveness. It is a traditional and prestigious sport that challenges body and mind.

“Modern fencing is a sport for almost all ages and there are different levels of play, even a recreational one,” he says.

Modern fencing has evolved over the years. If once upon a time it was staged to settle scores till one of the duellists was killed, today the objective is to show who is the more disciplined.

There is still the fighting between two opponents, but the duel is to achieve a touché (the touch on a specified body part with the weapon), and not to hurt.

Kouzev holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sport Fencing and Modern Pentathlon from the National Sports Academy in Bulgaria, and in Physical Education.

He also has degrees in Sports Marketing and Management, Fitness & Personal Training – USA and Life Fitness Emergency First Aid from St John Ambulance. He started coaching in Bulgaria way back in 1999.

From a young age

Kouzev took up fencing at age 9 and donned the mask for his first competition when he was 12.

Though he loved fencing, his dream was to become a pentathlon champion (fencing, horse riding, shooting, swimming and running). And he did.

He participated in three Modern Pentathlon World Championships and two European Championships where he qualified as a finalist.

A lot of women are passionate about fencing, informs Kouzeva.

“My classes have a good attendance of women and children including many UAE nationals, who really have a feel for the sport.”

He feels women, with their more patient mind-set, are attuned to fencing.

“At the Dubai Fencing Club, we apply coaching techniques of the Bulgarian National Sports Academy influenced by the world’s leading fencing systems developing champions in the different fencing weapons mastered by David Tyshler, V. Arkadiev, Keller and L. Seichuk, all world champions in fencing. This combination of systems, mixed with the best of Hungarian and Italian styles, makes the result that much more exclusive.”

The Dubai Fencing Club

Kouzev believes fencing has close links with Arab culture as there are references to sword fencing in several ancient texts.

Several nationals train with their club, some even coming all the way from Abu Dhabi. Abdul Rahman A. Falaknaz, our founder member, and Ibrahim Belsaleh, president of the Dubai Fencing Club, are the backbone of their club, he says.

They are striving to get the sport recognised as a federation, after which we can offer fencers to represent the country at international tournaments.

“When I arrived, I found that fencing was a programme [available] in national schools, but [private coaching was not being offered] to produce international level fencers.”

Kouzev acts as a technical consultant “to create a strong Fencing System in the UAE.”

Coming to Dubai in 1999 as sports activities co-ordinator at Jumeirah International, Kouzev began to offer, on a small scale, classes in the art of fencing “to see how it was being accepted”.

From two to three members the number grew rapidly to over 20 by the end of the week.

Kouzev was amazed at the interest shown and the variety of nationalities who were keen to enroll.

Unable to accommodate the growing number, Kouzev was in a quandary ... till help came from an unexpected source.

 A woman who had been observing the sport casually asked him if that was all the equipment I had. (At the time, he only had basic equipment, not having expected so many people to join.)

“When I admitted it was all I had, she asked me if I would like a sponsor to help the sport grow in the region.”

The woman turned out to be Cyma Gargash, and since then Mercedes-Benz [distributed here by Gargash Enterprises] has been providing them with top class equipment.

From there, they moved to the Quay Club premises at the Min a’Salam.

Though Kouzev has changed jobs, fencing continues to be his passion.

The goal of the club, he says, is to help members develop physical prowess as well as social competence such as working as part of a team, having solidarity with a cause, being tolerant and indulging in fair play.

The club was to also provide budding fencers with all facilities and the latest equipment so that they could enjoy the sport of modern fencing.

Now that they have a full-fledged club, Kouzev says the next step is to help make the sport a federation and get it recognised by the sports ministry.

“Some of our best players are UAE nationals, and I believe we have an excellent UAE team in the making right here in our club. The UAE has already produced a medallist at the last Olympics, so why not a few more?’’ he asks.

An elegant sport

Fencing is an elegant sport, says Belselah. “We set up the Dubai Fencing Club, and are doing everything to spread the word on the sport and organise competitions.

We are now in the process of approaching the authorities to recognise it as an association, and then eventually, a federation.

“Our mission is to promote the sport of modern fencing in the UAE, especially Dubai.”

He expects young and old, men and women, boys and girls from different cultures and educational backgrounds to take up the sport.

“We hope to develop competitive fencers of all levels from beginners to Olympic players, encourage recreational fencers, and make fencing a sustainable and viable prospect throughout the UAE,” he says.

Benefits

Fencing is a sport that works on more than just the physical level.

It takes a lot of mental dexterity and alertness, and for this reason it is referred

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