(1912 - 2008)

Ferenc Marki, a fencing master and former fencing coach at San Francisco State University, City College of San Francisco, Mills College, and Pannonia Athletic Club who was internationally known for training skilled fencers at the Olympic and Intercollegiate levels, passed away on Memorial Day, May 26, 2008 in Boulder, Colorado. He was 95 years old.

He was born on November 7, 1912 to Ferenc Marki and Etelka Pinter in a historical part of Szeged, in southern Hungary. Later he would be proud to say that he could trace his family line back to 1522. After his father died as a hero in World War I, young Ferenc went on to enroll in military school at the age of 14. He did so well in his studies and excelled so quickly at learning the art of fencing foil, epee, and saber that he was one of the few selected to attend at the prestigious Toldi Miklos Royal Hungarian Sports Institute to become a fencing master.

His teacher was the world renowned Maestro Laszlo Borsody, who is acknowledged in Hungary as being one of the greatest fencing masters of all time and the creator of the modern Hungarian style of saber fencing. Maestro Julius Palffy-Alpar, another Toldi Miklos graduate, in his book Masque and Sword, states Maestros Borsody’s “ability to build an artistic compromise from the simplest movements, his personal philosophy, and his natural psychological approach caused him to admired by his students.”  (Philadelphia:  F.A. Davis, 1967:21-22). Maestro Borsody taught Olympic Sabre Champions George Piller, Pál Kov
ács, and most of the best Hungarian fencing masters. All of the great Hungarian fencers of those times were trained either by Italo Santelli or Laszlo Borsody. At Toldi Miklos, Ferenc Marki was also taught by the famous Maestro Alfred Geller (also spelled Gellert in Hungarian).  Palffy-Alpar identifies Borsody and Geller as being among the top fencing masters in the world during the post World War I era, and states  “Geller, the master of the thrusting weapon at the same institute and a follower of the Italian school, was the author of a book with Tomanoczy in 1942 titled Vivas Kezikonyve [Fencing Handbook]."  (Palffy-Alpar, 1967:21-22).

In 1935, he achieved the rank of fencing master or “maestro” when he graduated among the very best of his class and received the diploma of Maître d'Armes and Fencing Instructor. After teaching at Toldi Miklos along side of Maestros Borsody and Gellert for three years, Maestro Marki entered the military and taught fencing at the Hungarian Military Academy to start his career as a fencing teacher and began to raise a family.

However, by the end of the decade came a dark period when Germany, after annexing Austria, became a western neighbor and pushed its influence into Hungary. As a result of the German persecution of Jews in Hungary, Maestro Laszlo Borsody shot himself rather than be coerced into submission. Hungarian soldiers had to fight against Russia and Ferenc Marki was taken as a prisoner of war in one of the major battles. With the defeat of Germany at the end of World War II, Hungary next came under the sphere of influence its eastern neighbor, the Soviet Union.

In 1945, Ferenc Marki returned to Szeged after his mother passed away to manage the family paprika business, and to resume his passion of teaching fencing.

During this time from 1948 to 1956, Maestro Marki became a very successful fencing master. He joined the SZTK Fencing Club, and other leading sports and military fencing clubs, and at the University of Szeged. The value of his skills in teaching championship fencers was quickly recognized.  In 1953, he was invited to teach East German and Checkoslovakian fencers at the Tata Olympic Training Camp. In 1954-1955, when the Soviets launched their program to become the most dominant fencers in the world, he was asked to teach Soviet fencers at Budapest. His Soviet students in saber included Evgeny Cherepovsky, Yakov Rilszky, and David Tischler, who thereafter became the first Soviet fencers to win medals at the World Championship in 1955 and in the Olympics a year later.

In Hungary too, his students excelled and became fencing stars: Daniel Magay won first place saber team at the 1954 World Championship and at the 1956 Olympics, Tomas (Szabolcs) Orley won the 1954 Junior World Championship, Katalin Juhasz who was later to win team foil Olympic medals (1960 Silver medalilst, and 1964 Gold medalist) and World Championships (1959, 1962, and 1967), and Josef Gyuricza who went on to win the 1955 World Championship Gold medal in foil in 1956 (beating Olympic and World Champion Christian d’Oriola of France) and a Bronze Olympic foil team medal in 1956).

A moment of great personal recognition came in the 1955 international competition finals at the end of a bout where Daniel Magay beat Hungary’s best saber champion Rudolf Karpathy 5:0, when Ferenc Marki’s old Maestro Alfred Gellert congratulated Maestro Marki by stating "Now, I can proudly say that I was your fencing master at one time."

In 1956, Hungarians began challenging their Communist Russian controlled government.  When state police massacred protesting students, members of the Hungarian military came to their defense and Russia
sent in tanks and troops to seize military control of Hungary and begin purging the opposition. Many Hungarians immediately rushed to leave the country. Ferenc Marki with his wife and three children left their life and home in Hungary behind when they fled across the border in the night at a time when a friend told them the border guards were away having dinner.  They sought refuge in neighboring Yugoslavia, where they first lived for a few months in temporary refugee camps.

In the exodus from Hungary, it lost its most talented fencing masters and fencers. At the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, the Hungarian fencing team refused to return to Communist-controlled Hungary. Richard Cohen, writing of this historic exodus of fencing talent from Hungary in his encyclopedic book "By the Sword:  A History of Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai, Swashbucklers, and Olympic Champions" (New York:  The Modern Library, 2002:  402-403), lists among the emigrants Maestro Marki as one of "the best coaches from the Toldi Miklos Institute" with others in that list including George Piller, Csaba Elthes, Nicholas Toth, and Julius Palffy-Alpar.

Soon, the Marki family decided to move west into Italy, and Maestro Marki again resumed teaching fencing, this time at the Club di Scherma in Turin. There he taught Guiseppe Delfino (Olympic medals in epee: team gold in 1952 and 1960, team silver in 1956 and 1964; and individual gold 1964), Georgio Anglesio (Olympic gold medal in 1956 for epee team) , Alberto Pellegrino (1956 Olympic medals of gold for epee team and silver for foil team, 1964 Olympic silver medal for epee team),  Fiorenzo Marini (Olympic medal for epee team of gold for 1960, and silver in 1948) and Pier-Luigi Chicca (Olympic saber team silver medals for 1964 and 1968; and bronze in 1960).

Again, the recognition came and he was offered the position of coach of the Italian National Team, which he turned down because he did not want to put his friend who was already in that position, out of a job. As he came to realize that the future educational and occupational opportunities for his children were limited in Italy, he decided to accept an offer as a fencing master at Paulistano Athletic Club in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Maestro Marki remained in close contact with other Hungarian expatriate fencing masters and fencers, including Olympic Sabre Champions George Piller (a famous fencing master and three time Olympic sabre champion in the 1930s who was teaching at Pannonia Athletic Club in San Francisco and UC Berkeley), and Daniel Magay (Sabre 1957, 1958, 1961 National Champion; Gold Medal 1956 Olympics).

After Maestro George Piller passed away in 1960, Daniel Magay sent to Brazil for the only available fencing master of equal stature who could take Piller’s place as Maestro of the Pannonia Athletic Club: Ferenc Marki. A News-Call Bulletin article told the story. On January 17, 1962, Maestro Marki reopened the Pannonia Atheletic Club on the 5th Floor of California Hall, as shown by this re-opening announcement. Above is an early 1962 photo of Maestro Marki teaching one of his first new students, Shirley Canter, at the Pannonia Athletic Club.

As before, Maestro Marki’s reputation for excellence soon spread. By the Fall of 1963, Maestro Marki was offered a position as fencing master and instructor at Mills College. Every year, Maestro’s fencers would do an annual Fencing Demonstration at Mills College. Maestro Marki soon became fencing master at City College of San Francisco, and San Francisco State University, as well.

At Pannonia Athletic Club, Maestro Marki continued to train many skilled fencers, including Olympic fencers and US Champions Daniel Magay and Harriet King, and his Pannonia Athletic Club teams won Pacific Coast Championships in 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, and 1979. Other well known fencers from Pannonia Athletic Club included Eleanor Turney, Tommy Angel, and Girard Biagini.

Again, Maestro Marki’s success did not go unrecognized. Below is a photograph of Maestro Marki with Saber Champion Daniel Magay giving Governor Edmund G. Brown, Sr. a brief saber lesson.

As a result of Maestro Marki’s insistence on the highest standards of excellence and self discipline in teaching his fencing students, the individuals and teams he coached at City College of San Francisco (including the CCSF men’s team of Raymond Chiu, Alan Fong, Chiu Dea, Tat-Ming Ko, and Robert Qwan, and the CCSF women’s team of Kathy Aanestad, Jean Michaelis, Barbara Scott, Connie Louie, and Dolores Hong) and San Francisco State University (including the men’s team of Carl Sundholm, Byron Streitz, and David Bardoff, and the SFSU women’s team of Jan Lenzini, Laura Kryworchenko, Kathy Aanestad, and Jean Michaelis) rose to the top of the Northern California Intercollegiate Fencing Association and Western Intercollegiate Fencing Conferences, yielding many first place trophies and medals by both teams and individuals, even besting the teams of his Hungarian Maestro colleagues Julius Palffy-Alpar at the University of California Berkeley, Francis Zold at USC, and Nick Toth of the Air Force Academy.

Teams and individuals coached by Maestro Marki won and medaled in many intercollegiate championships, including gold medal finishes in Northern California competitions in 1970, 1971, 1972, and 1973, and took first place in the Western Intercollegiate Conference in 1971 and 1973.

In 1987. Maestro Marki retired and, as he put it, exchanged his fencing sword for a fishing pole. A celebration was held at which over 200 of Maestro’s students, family, and friends attended. A retirement handout, a Mills College article, and a photo of SJSU fencers commemorate the event.

Wherever Maestro Ferenc Marki went, he brought success. He was sought out by those who wanted to become the best at their game, he turned ordinary people into skilled fencing champions, he had well over a dozen Olympic Medalists and World Champions among his students, and he transformed mediocre or nonexistent fencing programs at the national, club, and collegiate levels into championship caliber fencing powers to be reckoned with.

Fencers in his home town of Szeged remembered him with this fitting Hungarian Salute to his life.

Maestro Ferenc Marki is survived by his family, including two sons, daughter, and grandchildren, and by many loyal fencing students who will never forget his intensity, courage, integrity, and who will be forever indebted to him for the broader value of the lessons he taught on the fencing strip.

-by Carl Sundholm
San Francisco State University
Varsity Fencing Team 1969-1973

Special thanks is owed to Julia Marki, Tom Marki, Daniel Magay,
Elizabeth Magay, Kathy Aanestad, and Mark Rudo for their kind
assistance and contributions in bringing this Memoriam together.