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Fencers I Have Known - page 3

Last updated January 25, 2014


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Lathrop Gay

My first real fencing instructor, Lathrop Gay, taught at the Phoenix, Arizona YMCA. He had, I believe, studied under the Italian master Joseph Vince, former Olympic Silver medal in saber, who had migrated to Los Angeles. Lathrop was excellent in all three weapons and was ranked 10th in the United States in epee. I credit most of my expertise in epee to the techniques that he knew and taught.

Lathrop was an accomplished artist by trade and had some excellent paintings, and I believe that his art has become quite valuable and collectable.. He was a large in stature, and quite muscular. He knew many of the fencers in Southern California, including the renowned ladies' champions, Maxine Mitchell and Janice Lee Romary. He, like Frenchy Bible, was rather fearless. This courage was inspiring, and it helped me greatly with acquiring confidence in my fencing ability and techniques. Being associated with the arts, he and Frenchy staged the swordplay at the Phoenix Little Theater. In one act, Frenchy overdid it and hit Lathrop on the head with a wooden sword and real blood spilled onto the stage. The acting can't get much better than that. Under the tutelage of Lathrop, I soon became a competitive fencer and began to win gold medals in the competitions. After less than 3 years of instruction, I won the bronze medal at the Southwest Regional Championships, which is a credit to the teaching abilities of Lathrop. Having a great fencing master is a huge advantage, and I still thank Lathrop for giving me the knowledge and training to become a good fencer.

Here is how I got involved in the Phoenix Fencing Club duels (mentioned earlier):

This was a time before electrical weapons, and the pointe d'arret is a round tip that was attached to the tip of the blad. It has three points and it is fastened to the blade with tough thread wound through the crevices between the points and back around the flat tips of the weapon. The three points were never very sharp until they were filed. The first time I saw it, Frenchy and Lathrop took off their jackets and fenced epee with the sharp tips. I observed that both fencers were very cautious in their attacks and kept good distance (a very good practice). Eventually, a hit was made on Frenchy's arm, and the blood spewed out of the wound. Someone brought a cloth and they tied it around the wound. This was the first time that I had ever witnessed an actual duel. This duelling sport, where the flow of blood signified a touch, became fairly popular in the club. So much so that these bouts had to be moved to the handball court where the door could be locked from the inside in order to preserve privacy. I duelled with several of the members of the club, including Lathrop, in which I sustained a very small puncture on the bottom of my hand, and I wanted to continue the bout. However, Lathrop said that when blood flows, that is the end of the bout. On one occasion, I hit Lathrop under the arm, and it made a long incision that took eight stitches to close. My one main loss was to Frenchy when I bent my arm and he was able to avoid my parry. When he hit my arm, it made a small hole in the crick of my elbow through which a small stream of blood gushed out (it felt like a hot poker stuck me). It didn't need stitches, but it took a while to heal. As I look back on it, these duels now seem to have been rather reckless, and with all of the law suits prevalent today, it would be nonsensical. We were lucky we weren't thrown out of the YMCA, but we were never caught. In spite of all this, it did give me a true feeling for what the sport is all about.

I have lost contact with Lathrop, but I still respect him and wish him well, wherever he may be.

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