The Wire @ WPI Online
VOLUME 13, NO. 2     NOVEMBER 2000

Fencing with international flair

When a sport has a glossary that includes épée and en garde and a history that goes back to European duels, it hardly needs an infusion of international élan. But that's just what the WPI Fencing Club got last spring when Arutyun "Arut" Akskalyan, (above, at left, facing camera) a former member of the Armenian Fencing Team, joined computer science Professor David Brown as fencing coach.

With his British accent and extensive experience as a fencer and coach in the United Kingdom, Brown had already brought a measure of cosmopolitan flair to the team, which he's coached since 1984. Akskalyan, a native of Tbilisi, Georgia, in the former USSR, brings his own unique experience and skills to the club, which has been active at WPI for more than 35 years.

As a teenager, Akskalyan attended fencing classes in the Yerevan School of Highest Qualification in Sports in Armenia. After graduating from high school, he went on to earn a diploma at the Yerevan Pedagogical Institute, where he was trained to teach high school students. A specialist in foil and épée, he took third place in the 1979 and 1980 Armenian Fencing Championships and won a prize in every fencing championship in Yerevan and Armenia from 1978 to 1983. He became a master of fencing in the USSR in 1979 and was a member of the Transcaucasis Army Fencing Team (with fencers from Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan) from 1980 to 1982.

"Being a master fencer in the USSR qualified me as a fencing coach, so I began to work as an assistant fencing coach in the Spartac Club in Yerevan," he says. "My training as a teacher complemented my fencing skills and enabled me to make qualitative improvements in the club's supervised fencing practices."

Akskalyan moved to the United States in 1998 with his wife, Olga Gyurdzhan, daughter of mechanical engineering Professor Mikhail Dimentberg. "The basics of fencing are the same throughout the world," he explains. "What is different are the variations in advanced techniques and the degree to which the sport is recognized by the public. WPI students are enthusiastic and talented and I am working with them to improve their skills."

Fencing takes place in all four terms and is offered for credit during A and B terms. "On a good night you'll find as many as 30 WPI students and visitors practicing or fencing in Alumni Gym," says Brown, who has taught more than 500 people to fence at WPI alone. "This is a demanding sport that requires courage, speed and fitness. Arut brings all of that to our team."

Last February graduate student Logan Yanson '99, Rich Harang '00 and Dave Silva '00, Nathaniel Keith '01, Don Huckings '03, James Kent '03, Greg Kronenberger '03 and Turin Pollard '03, and Nick Neisingh, who graduated last May from the Massachusetts Academy, placed sixth in the New England Intercollegiate Fencing Association Championships at Boston College. "Our finish was a good one," says Brown, "given that our team included four freshmen and a Mass. Academy student."

To learn more about the Fencing Club, visit

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Last modified: Dec 12, 2000, 09:20 EST