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Affinities: En Garde on Balboa Street

San Francisco's pint-size fencers hone their swordplay.


Austin White

(1 of 10)

Roxanne Zaroff

(2 of 10)

Shanon Luu and Juliana Hung

(3 of 10)

Georges Casassovici

(4 of 10)

Olivia Kong

(5 of 10)

Joanne Luong and Delphine Tan

(6 of 10)

Pilar Alicea

(7 of 10)

Raine Chuang

(8 of 10)

Lucian Cheung

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Julian Ceppa

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See all the Affinities photo shoots here.

At the San Francisco Fencers’ Club in the Outer Richmond, tiny, masked six-year-olds clad in white Kevlar kits lunge toward each other, sabers at the ready. “They think they’re playing, but they’re learning,” says the club’s co-owner, Miriam Khoshnevissan. “Fencing is a physical game of chess.” The European sport has exploded in the Bay Area over the past decade, fueling the growth of a half dozen private fencing clubs throughout the city. SFFC claims one of the top girls’ programs on the West Coast, coached by Olympian Nadiya Fortunatova; in August, two teammates from the Outer Sunset’s Massialas Foundation—Alexander Massialas and Gerek Meinhardt—competed at the games in Rio de Janeiro. The sport can be fiercely competitive, both in the arena and out. (The best-kept secret? It’s college bait, says Khoshnevissan, who sent both her fencing sons to Stanford.) Ultimately, though, it’s not just about winning bouts: “It’s about empowerment,” Khoshnevissan says. “Fencing is the smart man’s—and smart woman’s—sport.”


Originally published in the September issue of San Francisco

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