Fencing was one of the first sports to be played in the Olympics. Based on the traditional skills of swordsmanship for duels and self-defense. The modern sport arose at the end of the 19th century,
Fencing requires concentration, coordination, self-awareness as well as great physical strength and great speed.
Fencing is an Olympic sport, and is one of the founding sports which were resumed in the modern games. Fencing is one of the “founding” sports of the Athens Olympics (1896), where they competed with the sword and foil and had a separate competition for masters. The Epee was added at Paris Olympics (1990), and since the Antwerp Olympics, men’s competitions have been conducted in their current form in individual competitions and in groups in Sabre, Foil and Epee.
Women were allowed to participate for the first time at the Antwerp Olympics only in the single event of foil. In 1960 during the Rome Olympics, the group competition was added but also only in foil. At the Atlanta Olympics (1996), the Epee competitions were added to women, units and groups. Only at the Athens Olympics (2004) did the women compete for the first time with individual Sabre competition and thus came the end to the group competition as all three fields were represented.
Competitive fencing is one of the five activities which have been featured in every modern Olympic Games.
The International Fencing Federation is the official body that decides for each Olympic Games what competitions will take place, so that the number of competitions will reach ten.
Fencing in Israel 1942-1965
The generation of fencers during the 50’s & 60’s were responsible for the gigantic breakthrough into the International competitions in Europe. The invitation of the ASA (Academic Sports Association) team to Poland in 1958 was among the first for Israeli sports in general and the first for the Israeli fencing team, in particular, to venture into Europe and later into the rest of the world.
Until the early 1950’s, Fencing in Israel was mainly operated in only two cities, in Haifa as part of Maccabi and Tel Aviv, within the Maccabi alliance and even so, these members only amounted to a handful of dozens of participants.
In 1952, a new club was opened in Ramat Gan under the initiative of the two Gerd brothers, Hadar and Ran, and soon became the leading club in the center of the country. It also hosted the representatives of the Maccabi Brit, including Shalom Shpilman and Elnqueva. A Hungarian coach named Mazay was the first to bring Ramat Gan a scent of modern fencing. And since then the club has specialized in the foil discipline. Fencing, till then, an unrecognized sport, came to the awareness of the public thanks to the reporter Nehemiah Ben Avraham, who chose to broadcast every Saturday on the radio, information to the sports news listeners about the results of sports competitions that very few people knew and the sports press tended to ignore: Fencing thus became more and more popular. In the Ramat Gan Championship, David Mendes was the upcoming winner. David Mendes was trained by his grandfather, a General in the Italian army, and continued to win competitions in the years that followed.The Cup was donated by the veteran gym teacher Baruch Hefetz. The club stayed in the green hut of Maccabi Ramat Gan (which still exists) and was a great attraction to new comer fencers such as Dan and Yoram Alon, Johnny Lesner, Israel Weinstein, Azriel Smaragon, Trebolos, Gideon Ehrhard, Yoram Weizen (Ziv), Hahah Itskovitch and later two doctors Julius Tsoref and Waldemar Wiyborski. The club was also a target for visits by Ramat Gan sports lovers, including Avraham Haim Matzliach, who lost his life during the Sinai Campaign as a fighter in the Paratroopers Brigade that infiltrated the Mitle in Sinai.
The first of the Haifa club’s annual meetings, accompanied by its coach, Kalai (Klein) and the Ramat Gan club, took place in Ramat Gan in the framework of youth championships in the competition for the “Magen Zvi Keller” who lost his life in the War of Independence. The shield was donated years earlier by Zvi’s parents who owned the Argaman factory in Ramat Gan as a bar mitzvah gift for their son. The first competition was held in 1942, and every year the best young fencers competed. Each year the Haifa club won: 1942 – A. Ladeb, 1943 – Shimon Jacoby, 1944 – Avner Karzbaum, 1945 – Shaul Weinshel, 1946 – Jacob Victor. In 1947 No competitions were held. 1948 – Michael Rubinstein (Ron) during 1949-1950 no competitions were held. 1951 – Itshak Meshulam’ 1952- Rafael Katznstein (Einat), 1953 – Eran Katznstein (Einat), 1954 – David Mendes of Ramat Gan. This was the last year of these competitions held at Beit Zvi (Clear) (????), which is recognized as an appreciation between the arts schools. The competitions in Ramat Gan created a strong media resonance and attracted the veteran patrons, some of whom were passive due to lack of regular activity. Shlomo Popper, Meir Alon and his friend Shmuel Price and Kalman filled the roles of judges regularly with enthusiasm and enjoyed exchanging combat calls (????) with Yitzhak Kalai in Hungarian. Since winning the Magen Tzvi in 1954, the Ramat Gan club has constantly starred in every competition and established their place over the Haifa Club. Haifa journalists, such as Amos Carmeli and his students, also wrote extensively about the quality of Ramat Gan. In 1955, the State Junior Fencing Championship was held in Jerusalem under the auspices of the Rotary Club, under the initiative of a supporter named Sophia. David Mendes, who served in the artillery officers’ course, won the championship cup. He won the final against Haifa’s, Avner Karzbaum, and since then he has remained an unshakable champion who defended his title in 1957, 1961 and 1963. In 1965 he immigrated to the United States to specialize in orthopedic surgery, and Dr. Viborsky from Ramat Gan succeeded him as the country’s champion in foil.
The Swords and Sabre Championship was only sporadic at the time and their timing was mainly related to the Maccabees.
In 1955, a new and prestigious fencing club was established and opened in Jerusalem. The Hebrew University Students Club within the framework of ASA (Academic Sports Association). It was an initiative by Dan Friedland and together with David Mendes, who began his studies at the medical school, they established a compulsory sports course with dozens of trainees each year. Yaakov Wilf joined the club as the coordinator and coach. And was later joined by Eran Einat, who completed his army service. The active spirit of the ASA sports club was its founder, Adin Talber, and was reinforced by the head of the department and its director, Hillel Raskin, who promoted and cultivated the sport at the Hebrew University to an international academic and research level in the framework of the Kosel Association… At one point, Einat served as an assistant to Raskin. Fencing began receiving the allocation it was worthy of. Mendes was chosen in 1957 as the outstanding athlete of the Hebrew University and joined the ASA Sports Committee in Jerusalem in preparation for the participation of the Fencing team at the University of Paris.
It was the first appearance of an Israeli Fencing team abroad as the country’s representative, and the team consisted of Fencers: Eran Einat, Yaakov Wilf, David Van Gelder (who joined as a high school student), David Mendes as team captain, Yaakov Zabitsky was the representative of the Epee category. The team was invited to train with the Italian team and on the way participated in a friendly competition against Luxemburg. Unfortunately, due to the lack of formal communication, the team was surprised and un-aware of the introduction of electric equipment. The new equipment was purchased in Italy but the lack of proper experience in fencing with the new equipment and misunderstanding of the referee ruling evoked little success.
Towards the summer of 1958, the University’s sports committee decided to accept the invitation of the Polish Student Union for student competitions in the three categories of Fencing. The uniqueness of the invitation was the request of the Israeli team to arrive a few days before the rest of the teams and the Polish friendly attitude towards the National team from the other side of the Iron Curtain. The Israeli team included Coach Alfred Nobel and the fencers Eran Einat, Yaakov Zabitsky, Yaakov Wilf and David Mendes as captain. The idea was that everyone would compete within two different categories. Because of the importance of Israeli representation in an Eastern European country, Israel sent two leaders of the delegation: Haim Mudrikman (Marom) and Minister Shalom Schwartz (Shiran) and a representative from the University- the treasurer Moshe Klofer.
The competitions were conducted in Polish. In each of the professions, the fencers accumulated both victories and defeats, but in the sum of the competitions they did not achieve any first places. After the competitions, the hosts again expressed their special respect in a gesture to the team who were officially invited to visit Wavell, the home of the kings of Poland, and another day as the first ever Israeli delegation to Auschwitz.
The first appearance of Israeli fencers at the Olympic Games was in Rome in 1960. It was supposed to be a first-class sporting achievement as a continuation of the international appearances of the ASA teams. But the Hapoel representatives decided in advance to send two Haifa fencers from Maccabi, David Van Halder and one from Hapoel, Mickey Ron. David Mendes, who represented ASA and was ranked at the top of the table, objected to the arbitrary decision and with the help of Hillel Raskin and the media rumors, a test match between him and Mickey Ron was decided. Maccabi representatives refused to allow Van Halder to join the match. The competition at the Wingate Institute was held close to the departure of the entire Israeli team to Rome. The negative atmosphere and bad judging contributed to Mickey Ron’s narrow victory and he was joined by Van Halder. Both were defeated in the qualification rounds for the Olympics in Rome.
In the 1960’s, the sports association’s fencing committee was left without initiative, and the rift between representatives of Hapoel and Maccabi caused a lack of activity. At one point, Ramat Gan’s fencers decided to take the initiative and launched a weekly system of local and national competitions, which was always accompanied by strong media resonance. The initiative was institutionalized when David Mendes was officially elected in the early 1960’s as Chairman of the fencing committee.
Fencing from 1965 till today
In 1963, the Maccabi Ramat-Gan team was invited to the foil and sword competitions by Istanbul’s prestigious “Tennis and Swords Club”. The response to the invitation was formally and financially supported by the mayor Avraham Krinitzi (who served in the Ottoman army at the time and was charmed by the idea of defeating them with the sword) and with the encouragement of the activists of Maccabi Zisman and Kabshani. The Ramat Gan team included Julius Tsoref, Waldemar Viborsky, Dan Alon, Kocach and David Mendes as captain of the national team.
Club Director Ben Zion Amitzur and Yaakov Amitzur accompanied the delegation. The first day of the fencing was held in a large hall filled with enthusiastic Turkish spectators who encouraged their team to no avail, the Ramat Gan team won. In anticipation of the sword competition on the second day, the spectators also filled the inner balconies of the second floor. At an advanced stage of the competition, when it was clear that the Turkish team would be defeated once again, the gallery was heated with verbal violence. The representative of the Israeli Embassy, who accompanied the competition, insisted that the Israeli team should lose in fear of what might happen. The competition ended in a draw.
In 1965, Amnon Carmi was appointed as the Chairman of the Fencing association while at the same time he was officiating as a judge at the Safed Magistrate’s Court. His contribution to the popularity of Fencing is mainly due to his encouragement of the opening of new fencing clubs all over the country. His son, Udi Carmi, a renowned fencer in his own right, continued this legacy and initiative by establishing courses for coaches.
Today, Israel has more than 19 fencing clubs, from Maalot in the north to Be’er Sheva in the south, who have won medals in international competitions in the various categories (foil and Epee) and sent Olympic representatives and judges to the last 7 Olympic Games. (List of Clubs to be followed).
In the past, the leading category in Israel was the foil. Udi Carmi (fourth place in the 1987 World Championships) and Lydia Hatuel (seventh place in the 1991 World Championships) achieved the best achievements. As of 2007, the leading Israeli foil fencer is Tomer Or, former world champion for youth. He was ranked in the world’s top ten and won three World Cups. Other prominent fencers are Delilah Hatuel, who won several World Cups and twice in seventh place in the European Championship (2007 and 2008), her brother Maor Hatuel, who won second place in the European Youth Championship 2005, and Oren Besel, who won third place in the 2006 World Youth Championship.
Information about the Sabre and Epee categories to be updated
The Munich Olympics Massacre of Israeli Athletes – 1972
The massacre of the athletes at the Munich Olympics was a Palestinian terrorist attack that took place on 5-6 September 1972 during the 20th Olympic Games in Munich, West Germany. 11 athletes, trainers and judges were killed by Palestinian terrorists from the Black September Organization. 2 of the victims were murdered inside the Israeli delegation’s residence in the Olympic village, while the terrorists took control of the delegation. The other 9, held hostage for about 19 hours, were murdered during an unsuccessful rescue attempt by Bavarian police at an airport near the city, of the 8 terrorists 5 were killed as well as 1 German policeman.
Andre Spitzer (4 July 1945 – 6 September 1972), was a fencing master and coach of Israel‘s 1972 Summer Olympics team. He was one of 11 athletes and coaches taken hostage and subsequently murdered by Palestinian terrorists in the Munich massacre.
Spitzer was born in Timisoara in Romania. After his father died in 1956 when he was 11, Andre and his mother moved to Israel. He served in the Israeli Air Force and attended Israel’s National Sport Academy, where he studied fencing. In 1968, he was sent to the Netherlands for further instruction in fencing for further training in The Hague with fencing Master Abraham. Most of his first year in the Netherlands he stayed with the Smitsloo family in Scheveningen. In 1971, he married one of his students, Ankie. Andre returned to Israel with his wife soon afterward, where at age 27, he became the country’s top fencing instructor. He helped found the National Fencing Academy, and became chief fencing instructor at the Wingate Institute. He lived in Ramat Gan with his wife and baby daughter, who was born a few months before the Munich Olympics.
Spitzer arrived in Munich about 4 hours before Palestinian members of Black September broke into the Israeli quarters, killed coach Moshe Weinberg and weightlifter Yossef Romano, and took Spitzer and 8 of his teammates hostages.
Spitzer was seen once during the hostage crisis, standing at a window in a white tank top and his hands tied in front of him, talking to the negotiators. At one point, when Spitzer tried to give the negotiators some information that the terrorists did not want them to have, one of the terrorists clubbed Spitzer in the head with the butt of an AK-47 assault rifle and pulled him away from the window. That was the last time most people saw Spitzer alive.
After 20 hours of tense negotiations, the hostages and terrorists were flown by helicopter to Fürstenfeldbruck airbase where, the terrorists believed, they would be flown by jet to a friendly Arab nation. Instead, the Bavarian border patrol and Munich police attempted an ill-prepared ambush/rescue operation. After a fierce two-hour gunfight, Spitzer watched helplessly as 4 of his teammates were executed with machine guns, then incinerated when a grenade was detonated inside their helicopter. Seconds later, Spitzer and 4 more of his teammates were then fatally shot by the terrorists. 5 of the terrorists and a Munich police brigadier were also killed in the gunfight.
His widow Ankie remarried and changed her name to Shpitzer-Rekhess. She was one of the leaders of the struggle demanding that the German Government admit their responsibility in the failed rescue of Andrei and the other members of the delegation.
In 2003, a financial settlement was reached between the German Government and the families of the Munich victims. Today she is a correspondent in Israel for Dutch and Belgium televisions.
In 2015, Ankie and Ilana Romano, Joseph Romano’s widow, revealed in interviews and in a documentary film that according to photographs and reports given to them by German authorities, the hostages were beaten and tortured before their friends were killed.
The families continued throughout all the consecutive Olympic Games to demand that the Olympic Committee recognize the atrocity of the Munich massacre with a minute silence in the opening game. This was finally accomplished for the first time since the 1972 tragedy. The International Olympic Committee held an official ceremony in Rio in memory of the fallen 11. During the ceremony, members of the Israeli delegation laid a memorial to the victims of terrorism at the Olympic Games, The Israeli Olympic Committee views the ceremony as the first International Olympic Committee’s recognition of the murdered. The massacre in Germany is still considered the most difficult event in the history of the Olympic Games.
Current List of Fencing clubs and coaches in Israel
Maccabee Maalot – coach Yaakov Ferdeman
Hapoel Abirim Acre – coach Haim Hatuel
Hapoel Gilboa – coach Nathan Avitan
Hapoel Megiddo – coach Natan Avitan
Hapoel Haifa – coach Yoav Offenburg
Hapoel Emek Izrael – coaches: Shlomy Eyal and Boaz Alice
Hapoel Kfar-Saba – coach Ohad Balva
The Association for the Promotion of fencing in Tel Aviv – coach Doron Levitt
Maccabee Jerusalem – coach Alexander Ivanov
Fencing club Modiin – coaches: Victor Glaz and Dimitri Padolski
Fencing club Lod – coaches: Victor Glaz and Dimitri Padolski
Fencing club Rehovot – coach Sasha Moskovitch
Maccabee Hod HaSharon – coach Shimon Spruchman
Fencing club Ashdod – coach Meri (Mark) Shamis
Fencing club Ashkelon – coach Boris Wiener
Fencing club Beer-Sheba – coach Gregory Gross
Maccabee Haifa – coach Michael Reichman
Hapoel Lachis – coach Shirley Dray-Last
Hapoel Givatayim – coach Doron Levitt
Sportivili Acre – coach Lidia Hatuel
Maccabee Petach Tikva – manager Ela Zweig