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July 22, 1988 - Image 38

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-07-22

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Saber Rattling

Former national fencing champion
Yuri Rabinovich is developing some
of the best young fencers in the U.S.


Sports Writer


ost of the fencers working
out in the Southfield Civic
Center on a hot summer
evening are dressed in elegant-looking,
all-white uniforms, topped with the re-
quisite mask.
One is dressed differently — yellow
pants beneath a brown padded shirt
with long gray sleeves. But Yuri
Rabinovich would have stood out in the
crowd of fencers no matter what he wore
because of the respect his skills and
knowledge draws from his students.
The Russian-born Rabinovich is a
two-time NCAA saber champion. He
gave up competitive fencing after his
1979 graduation from Wayne State
University. He now earns a living by
sharing his fencing knowledge as the
head coach at the University of Detroit,
as a coach at the Fencing Academy of
Michigan and as a member of the U.S
national team's coaching staff.
Rabinovich was a member of the
Soviet Union's junior national team
when he emigrated to Israel. He com-
peted for the Israeli national team dur-
ing his year there. He moved to the U.S
in 1973.
His arrival in America brought him
to a country where most people, when
they consider fencing, think about the
"Some scenes are very good," he
says. However, "theatrical fencing is a
little bit different than actual fencing.
Especially when fencing became a
sport, the weapons got very light. It's
much quicker action. It's controlled by
electric equipment because some
touches a human can't see — it's so
Movies, however, can inspire people
to learn real fencing, particularly those
of Hollywood's most famous
"Errol Flynn movies, they are not
bad," says Rabinovich. "Except they
make it theatrical. But actual fencing
is much quicker than that. It's a lot of
rules and regulations. You cannot de-
fend with an arm or hand. And it's a
very gentlemanly sport . . . You shake
hands after the bouts. If you lose you
are still friends."
Flynn is not needed as a motivation
for future European fencers. It was an
older friend of the then six- or seven-
year-old Yuri who inspired him to join


FRIDAY, JULY 22, 1988

the Odessa Dynamo Fencing Club, after
Yuri saw him in a fencing tournament.
"As soon as I joined, I fell in love
with the sport," he recalls. Rabinovich
says he had no trouble eventually
emigrating to Israel, but his long-term
goal was to live and study in the U.S.
"I always wanted to come to the U.S.
Plus, I wanted to go to school here. I
thought with English it would be bet-
ter than with Hebrew, because I had a
problem with Hebrew." Rabinovich is
fluent in English, though he understan-
dably retains a distinct Euro-Russian
In addition to his NCAA victories,
he finished second twice and fenced for
two NCAA team champions at Wayne
After his graduation "I got tired
from competition; I was competing for
so long."
He became an assistant at Wayne
then a head coach at the University of
Michigan-Dearborn before taking the
U-D job, where he begins his third
season this year. He and former WSU
teammate Gil Pezza run the 13-year-old
Fencing Academy, which won a recent
national award as a development center
for junior fencers.
Rabinovich trains two world-class
juniors: David Stollman, 19, the second-
ranked junior in the U.S. and Ann
Marsh, 16, who finished second in the
19-and-under class at this year's U.S.
Rabinovich, whose Southfield base-
ment is filled with his own trophies,
medals and plaques, takes more pride
in his students' accomplishments than
in his own.
"It's even more satisfying" he says,
when his students win, "because you
put so much time and effort in with
your students. They are doing
something which you, work for, for a
very long time?'
Stollman, who will compete in the
junior Pan American Games in
September, says, "I've seen just about
all the coaches you can see. He's pro-
bably one of the best saber coaches, if
not the best saber coach in the country
. . . If you give him the time to do it, he's
very good, he's very thorough."
Rabinovich, says Stollman, uses a
methodical, far-sighted method of
teaching fencing. "He doesn't skip stuff,
he won't go around things. A lot of the
coaches will do stuff primarily just so
the guy can win. I don't do a lot of that?'

What Rabinovich teaches is "a lot more
technical. You do it and in the long run
it helps you much more than doing the
superficial performance stuff?'
Stollman began fencing at a
relatively old age, 14. Rabinovich
prefers to get seven- or eight year-old
students who have never fenced before.
"If I have a student start from the
beginning, then I do with the student
what I want to do. If I get somebody who
already fenced for awhile, then it's very
hard to change them. But again, I adapt
what they have and try to improve from
Fencing has unique physical and
mental requirements, says Rabinovich,
which set it apart from other sports.
"You develop the coordination, flex-
ibility, speed. Fencing is a very exciting
sport. It's not like you see in the movies
with Errol Flynn. It's a lot of discipline.
"Fencing is one of the sports which
takes a very long time to develop.
There's a lot of strategy involved in fen-
cing. A lot of strategy, a lot of skills. To
combine both of them together probably
takes the longest .. .
"It's a very interesting game. It's
like playing chess with your opponent,
except with a lot of movements. You do
a movement and your opponent does a
different movement, trying to throw you
Fencing matches are won by the
first swordsman to score five touches in
the scoring area. Each of three different
weapons has a different scoring area.

The epee's area is the entire body; the
foil's only the torso. For the saber,
Rabinovich's specialty, the target is
above the waist.
In the heat of battle, Rabinovich ex-
plains, a fencer must stay with a game
plan, but must also be ready to
"You have an overall strategy,
especially if you know your opponent.
You approximately know what he is
good at, if he has a good attack, or good
defense. You try to out-play him. But
(with) all the actions and counter-
actions, you don't have time to think.
You have a general idea, approximate-
ly, what to do, but you cannot decide,
`Now I'm going to do something, and do
it, because what if your opponent
doesn't respond? This has to come very
quick. That's more or less an automatic
Competitive fencers must also be in
good shape. "You can fence in a tourna-
ment and lose, easily, 10 pounds. It's a
lot of movements in fencing,"
Rabinovich says.
Another fencing prerequisite, at
least in Rabinovich's school, is a sense
of humor. Stollman recalls with a smile
how dangerous it is to turn his back on
his instructor during a workout.
"No matter how hard I'm fencing,
when I turn around he hits me in the
butt. I know it's coming so I start block-
ing. I turn around," he rises and
demonstrates, with his saber guarding
his rear. "I'm turning around like this,

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