Obituary: Rudolf Karpati

AS A member of the illustrious and world famous Hungarian sabre team during the Fifties and Sixties, Rudolf Karpati played an important part in his country's domination of international fencing over very many years.

Karpati competed in four Olympic Games, winning six gold medals - team golds in 1948, 1952, 1956 and 1960 and individual golds in 1956 and 1960. He also won seven World Championship titles.

He was born in Budapest in 1920 and studied at the Hungarian Academy of Music; he became a musicologist by profession, while continuing to pursue his sport. He dominated the sport at home, becoming Champion of Hungary prior to his international achievements. In 1965 he published his autobiography in Hungarian, entitled "Around the World with a Sword".

Although originally of the old fencing school based on the solid foundation of firm footwork and lightning but controlled parry- ripostes, Karpati very soon adopted a more fluid style. This enabled him to deal effectively with the emerging athletically mobile tactics of Italian and French sabreurs.

Karpati was the model sabre fencer: tidy, wholly confident and self-contained. He was always quiet and polite to those who succumbed to his impeccable timing; his extraordinary, efficient parrying was followed by ripostes no more complicated than absolutely necessary.

It was indeed an experience and a privilege for me to fence against Rudolf Karpati on several occasions including the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne and in Rome in 1960 as well as at several World Championships. He also kindly came to London in May 1963, along with three other international fencers, for a Gala at the National Sporting Club to help raise funds for the new Amateur Fencing Association building.

Until comparatively recently the complicated nature of sabre fencing - in which hits can be made with both edges of the weapon as well as its point - has prevented the introduction of an electrified scoring system, which has been in use for several decades for the sister events of epee and foil. Before electrical devices, sabre required four judges in addition to the President, and consequently a very particular technique on the part of the fencer. With the advent of the new system, there is no doubt that we shall never again see the like of Rudolf Karpati.

A. Ralph Cooperman

Rudolf Karpati, fencer and musicologist: born Budapest 17 July 1920; married (two children); died 1 February 1999.

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