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Duel Purpose

Fencers hit the mark at the Cook Convention Center.

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There was a whole lot of fighting going on at the Memphis Cook Convention Center this weekend. But that's what happens when the United States Fencing Association (USFA) comes to town.

Over 1,000 fencers from all over the country competed in the USFA's three-day North American Cup Tournament. Fencers are dressed in white bodysuits, tight white knickers, knee-length socks, and netted masks. They lunge and parry, pointing dull-tipped blades at their opponents.

"It's not just a dainty dance. It's a workout," says Cynthia Bent Findley, U.S. media coordinator for USFA. "One bout can burn as many calories as a 400-meter dash."

Their weapons (you'll get in trouble if you call them swords) have a flattened tip, which retracts when it strikes an opponent. The first person to get in five or 15 hits (depending on the level of competition) wins the bout.

Though they sometimes experience bruising, Findley says the dull tips rarely injure fencers. "Their jackets and knickers are made from ballistic nylon, which was developed to stop bullets," says Findley.

Though most competitors are from other cities, a few locals are competing in the cadet (ages 13 to 17) competition. Seventeen-year-old David Cash, who wears purple and gold knee socks, fences at Christian Brothers High School.

"I practiced really hard for this -- jogging, biking, and focusing on building stamina and control," says Cash. "I almost got into trouble because of it. I was working so hard on preparing that my grades weren't doing so good."

The competition began Friday as fire crews were still attending to the smoldering First United Methodist Church, just a block away from the convention center. "Because of the fire, the trolley line was shut down, so competitors didn't get to experience one of Memphis' unique features," says Rick Brennan with the Memphis Sports Council, the group responsible for luring the USFA. "But other than that, their stay has been a success."

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