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Fencing comes to Phoenix

Fencing began as a way for men to perfect their swordsmanship — before warfare or duels. In the time since someone depicted a fencing — match on the wall of an Egyptian temple in 1190 B.C., the practice has — transformed from a deadly art to a cunning sport. The noblemen and soldiers — have been replaced by Olympians, children, senior citizens and, at two — evenings a week at the Phoenix Grange, John McDougall and the dozen fencing — students he coaches.

"People have kind of a romantic idea of fencing that brings — them here," said McDougall, who has been involved in the sport for more — than a half-century. "Then they get to find out what it really is."

McDougall, 70, started offering lessons in Phoenix at — the beginning of the year, although he has coached fencing since 1956 — and had run a similar fencing school in Ashland for many years. He retired — from coaching in the mid-1990s, but found he couldn't stay away.

"I just really love working with them," McDougall said — of his students. "I love it when they get better. It's like a family. — We all help bring each other up."


While fencing comes from violent origins, the sport is — now divided into three events - the foil, the epee and the saber - that — require both finesse and intelligence to

perfect. —

"I tell people it's chess at 90 mph," McDougall said. — "It involves your brain and your body."

McDougall has been internationally certified as a master — of all three weapons for more than 30 years.

After competing on the Stanford University varsity fencing — team from 1952 to 1956, McDougall stayed in the San Francisco area. At — the time, Northern California was the fencing hub of the country. Fencing — legends from around the world made their way to San Francisco. During — that time, McDougall worked with Italians Eduardo Manigarotti and Aldo — Nadi, as well as Hungarian Olympic coach George Pillar. Combined, the — three fencers won 19 Olympic championships during their competitive fencing — careers.

McDougall himself earned Western intercollegiate all-star — accolades and won several open championships in the Bay area.

"I studied with these wonderful people because I was just — in the right place at the right time," McDougall said.

An 'equalizer' —

Unlike all other martial arts, fencing competitions are — not divided by age or body size because the sword creates an equal playing — field for fencers. Olympic fencing champions have been as old as 50 years — old, as young as 16. In recent years, some of the oldest Olympians have — been fencing competitors.

One of McDougall's favorite fencing fact is that, for — many years, the flag of each country was carried by that nation's most — senior athlete. However, other athletes protested because Olympiad after — Olympiad, only fencers carried the flags. The tradition has since ended.

At the Phoenix Grange, McDougall works with a variety — of athletes, something he attributes to the universal appeal of fencing. —

"The thing is that most of my people right now are younger," — he said. "But I've had fencers older than me. It isn't limited by age — as much as other sports."

Still, McDougall would like to see more young people get — into the sport.

Following his stint on the Stanford team, McDougall began — coaching at the collegiate level in San Francisco. He worked with the — Stanford women's team in its first years of existence, taught at the University — of California Berkley and Santa Cruz and formed the first fencing team — at Occidental College in Los Angeles, as well as coaching at a number — of private fencing clubs all along the West Coast.

"I just started my first day in college," McDougall said. — "I loved it. I never stopped."