Fencing School Loses Longtime Home on Lower East Side
LOWER EAST SIDE — Three times a week, students of the Martinez Academy of Arms learn the nearly extinct tradition of early-form fencing in a dance studio on Broome Street.
They parry, lunge and strike using antique swords with blunt tips, perfecting techniques that have been passed down from European sword fighting teacher to student for more than 150 years.
“When you walk through the door, it’s not 2014, it’s 1814,” said master instructor and owner Ramon Martinez.
But the modern world — specifically, New York's rising real estate prices — recently intruded, forcing the school to move out of its longtime home.
The Kazuko Hirabayashi Dance Theater — which has owned the ground floor of 330 Broome St. for decades and rented it to Martinez Academy of Arms and other dance and martial arts groups — is in contract to sell the space for $3.1 million, according to Corcoran, the broker.
Martinez Academy, which has been located on Broome Street for 25 years, will hold its last class there on June 28 and then will bounce around to several temporary spaces while Martinez searches for a new spot.
“That place has been a haven for dance and for martial arts for as long as I’ve known it,” Martinez said. "To me, this is going to be a devastating loss to the neighborhood."
Other groups that will also be forced to find a new space include NYC Combat for Stage and Screen, which has been hosting stage fight classes at the studio for five years, and a circus company called Svindelic Cyr Wheel Troupe.
"It’s always hard to give up the old and go to something new," said Jared Kirby, owner of NYC Combat, who will hold his last class on Broome Street on June 20 and then move to IATI, a theater space on East Fourth Street. "It’s been wonderful space to work in."
Michael Brauer, a member of the Svindelic Cyr Wheel Troupe, said it would be difficult to find a rehearsal space that is as affordable as the one on Broome Street, which charged just $18 per hour.
“I understand that it’s prime real estate,” Brauer said. “But of course, it’s rough.”
Kazuko Hirabayashi Dance Theater did not respond to requests for comment.
Martinez, 60, a Bronx native, started his fencing school after learning the art from the time he was 18 years old.
Unlike most fencing schools today, the Martinez Academy approaches fencing as a martial art, he said. Instead of contemporary fencing, in which competitors learn how to score points by tapping an opponent, students learn how to defend themselves as if they were in a duel. The school currently has about 40 students, who come from all over the city as well as abroad.
Martinez has struggled to find a new space that would allow him to continue offering classes three nights a week, so he plans to split his time between three locations: ITAI on Monday evenings, the Pope John Paul Community Center in Union City, N.J. on Thursdays, and 100 Grand Dance on Grand Street on Fridays.
Martinez, who was paying $1,300 to $1,400 per month for the Broome Street space, said he does not believe he can afford his own full-time home because real estate is so expensive on the Lower East Side.
“This neighborhood has a lot of soul," he said, "and [developers] are strangling it by the astronomical costs of real estate."