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Maestro producing top fencers in Forest Park

By Justin Boron

Maestro Arkady Burdan adroitly maneuvers his sabre as he teaches students from around metro Atlanta the art of fencing in his Forest Park club.

But his instruction isn't for the whimsical. It comes with high expectations, elevated by his worldwide recognition as a fencing expert.

Burdan emerged from Russia as a refugee in 1990 to coach in the U.S. because he said the Russian government had limited his ability to succeed.

This year, he coached the U.S. Olympic fencing team in Athens.

He has produced international phenoms like Sada Jacobson, who won the bronze medal in Athens this year and was ranked number one internationally the two previous years.

The fencing team surpassed expectations this year, with Mariel Zagunis of Oregon picking up a gold medal and the men's foil team finishing fourth.

"He's probably one of the best sabre coaches in the world," said Tina Jacobson, Sada's mother.

His success likely comes from a lifetime of devotion to the sport which he regards as "physical chess."

Rigid in his approach, he veers little from he and his students' training regimen and rarely starts a lesson late, said David Jacobson, who fenced at Yale University and introduced his daughters to the sport.

"He does not like to interrupt a lesson," he said.

Jacobson's three daughters n Sada, Emily, and Jackie n form a tri-fecta of prodigies that have prospered under Burdan's guidance.

Part of Burdan's success stems from his intense focus on a small talent pool, Mr. Jacobson said.

He develops inexplicably, close relationships with his students that combine the strengths of parenthood and mentorship to produce a unique emotional bond, he said.

"It's a very intense teacher-student relationship, but out of that you develop a skill that is quite extraordinary," Mr. Jacobson said.

Fencing requires speedy athleticism and anticipatory strategy that develop prescience in those who acquire it as a skill, Jacobson said.

Diligence also is a prerequisite.

Over the course of many years, students usually work out six times a week for two to three hours to ascend to nationally recognized stature, Mr. Jacobson said.

Burdan said he recruits but will take anyone who comes into the club with dedication.

In fact, he said he prefers those with no experience.

"It's better to teach from scratch because you don't have to break bad habits," he said. "I don't like to work backward, I like to work straight."

As a sport, fencing has grown in the U.S. in recent years, Burdan said.

An increase in television coverage has exposed the sport to more Americans, pushing the U.S. Fencing Association's membership to 20,000.

But Burdan said participation in Europe still dwarfs America's interest in fencing.

The sport breaks down into three categories divided by the type of weapon.

A sabre came out of the cavalry tradition where officers used lightweight weapons in battle.

A lightweight weapon, called a foil, developed as training tool for young gentlemen.

An epee is the closest replica to actual dueling. It is the heaviest weapon and is used to attack the entire body whereas the saber and foil have limited target areas.

Always on the look out for new talent, Burdan said he has his eyes set on a 15-year old girl, named Falencia Miller.

She has fenced for only 11 months and regularly defeats people with years of experience.

"She's a very talented girl," he said.

If you know an interesting person who should be profiled, send us the name and some information and we will consider featuring that person in a coming Friday. E-mail to bpaslay@news-daily.com .