En garde: Fencing club prepares for tournament

Two combatants masked and dressed in white stand face-to-face each wielding metal swords to defend their honor. Locked in a long, intense bout, the stalemate is broken when one lunges forward in attack for the decisive blow.


The dueling adversaries, Jake Malone and Joey Bishop from Soldotna, are actually cousins both trained by Skyview High School teacher Peter Gundunas in the ancient martial art of fencing.

Gundunas, coach of the Soldotna/Kenai chapter of the Kenai Peninsula Fencing Club, said he views fencing as the origin of sports because it turned the lethal activity of sword fighting to a training discipline.

“It is one of the oldest sports and one of the original Olympic events,” he said. “The fluid movement, balance and patient focus you develop crosses over to other sports, like ballet dancing. … You cannot just jump into it and become a master. It is a lifelong sport.”

The KPFC has two chapters with one club in the central Kenai Peninsula and the other in Homer. The two clubs, who have a combined 12 participants, will meet for a friendly tournament Jan. 20 at 6 p.m. at Skyview High School.

The KPFC was started up in Homer by Wes Cannon more than 20 years ago. Today, Scott Meyer and Ethan Ford direct the Homer chapter which meets Mondays and Thursdays from 5:45 to 8 p.m. at Homer High School.

Gundunas moved from Juneau to Homer in 2001 and quickly joined the club, but his fencing days did not begin in Alaska. Gundunas was introduced to fencing at a catholic high school in California. His high school teammate Dennis Christianson currently coaches the Anchorage fencing club.

Shortly after Gundunas moved to the central Peninsula four years ago, one of Homer’s best high school fencers, Logan Patrick moved to Soldotna. Not wanting his talent to go to waste, Gundunas formed the Soldotna chapter. The club meets Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3-5 p.m. at Skyview High School.

Malone, a senior at Skyview, has been fencing since he was a freshman and introduced his cousin to the sport when the club started practicing at Skyview. Bishop, a freshman at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, graduated from Skyview last year. Both have qualified for national tournaments and last year Malone qualified for the Junior Olympics, but could not compete due to logistical reasons.

Malone, who played multiple sports at Skyview during his first three years, decided to focus solely on fencing his senior year.

“This is a sport I see myself playing the rest of my life,” he said. “I like that it’s a mental game and you have to be quick on your feet.”

Fencing has three types of fighting swords: foil, epee and saber. Gundunas said the foil is light and recommends it for all beginners.

“All require a different skill,” he said. “The foil is a light learning weapon that is important for everyone to focus point control on the torso target area.”

Using the epee specializes in defense or parry, meaning to deflect an attack. It is heavier than a foil and points are scored by hitting the point anywhere on the opponent’s body.

“The epee is for old men with more patience,” Gundunas said. “In history it is known as the dueling weapon.”

The saber is a heavy cut-and-thrust sword and points can only be scored hitting the opponent’s target area above the waist.

In a fencing bout, two competitors stand in a strip 14 meters long by 2 meters wide armed with an electric foil, epee or saber. The first to score 15 points wins.

“Fencing appeals to all the fantasy nerds,” Gundunas said. “It is the romantic side seen in movies of defending one’s honor that attracts people.”

Al Weeks of Kenai said one of the first things he looked for when moving to Alaska from Belgium in September was a fencing club. Weeks along with his two sons and daughter are members of the club and he said they are looking forward to the upcoming tournament.

Club members pay $135 quarterly dues and are all registered through the US Fencing Association which makes it an officially sanctioned club, Gundunas said. The club is open to all ages.

For more information on the KPFC, visit their website at http://sites.google.com/site/kenaipeninsulafencingclubkpfc/


Reach Dan Balmer at daniel.balmer@peninsulaclarion.com.


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