Academy of Fencing Masters | Art of Fencing, Art of Life
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This post was borne out of my personal parental experience at 2019 Fencing Summer Nationals in Columbus, OH, watching as my kids lost their bouts. How they cried. How they struggled. How they processed their defeat. How they talked about their lost bout afterwards, never right away.
Inside a kid fencer’s mind after a lost bout
For a parent, it is always difficult to watch your child cry. You understand that they are crying out of frustration. You know that they put a huge amount of effort into their training. They are now asking themselves tough questions like these:
It’s difficult for kids to process all of these questions without questioning their own self worth. Defeat can feel deeply personal, like a loss is a reflection of their whole personality rather than just an event that happens in one moment and for many reasons. That’s understandable, mostly because kids by nature don’t have the same kind of experience that adults do. They haven’t had as many opportunities to have a bad outcome and then find out that those outcomes are short-lived.
It only takes a few times of having your confidence knocked as a kid to feel overwhelmed. If you think of it as how a child only has a very few experiences. For example if this is their second time at Fencing Summer Nationals, they might have had two dozen total bouts at this highest level of competition. If they lose eight of those bouts, that’s one third. They don’t realize because of lack of experience what a small number that is! It feels like a huge number to them!
Fencers of this age are going to struggle with understanding that they will have so many opportunities to fence again, even at a high level. It is partly our job as parents to help them understand that this is only one bout of many. This is where growth happens. All parents want to protect our children from harm. We instinctively jump to check on them when they are hurting. That’s natural and it’s a good thing. However we should embrace these times of growth for them, even if they do seem to hurt our young fencers in the moment. These are the growing pains that we all need to feel in childhood.
Inside a young fencer’s mind when they lose a bout is a lot of confusion. They are trying to make sense of which direction they should go in, how they should be reacting to the defeat. When I watch my kids go through loss, I am reminded of my youth when I first lost matches. It was very difficult for me to lose, but then I look back at the challenges that I met with later and I am glad that I learned to make sense of the mental chaos that comes with loss. That’s what I want my kids to do.
It is difficult for my kids to process all these questions without questioning their self worth. It is more difficult for us as parents to explain the answers to our kids and to keep them motivated.
Learning to give kids space
I am not perfect, and sometimes I also get frustrated when my fencer loses to a much less experienced fencer. It happens all the time. Trust me it is difficult to not get angry off as a father. I still try to contain my emotions and focus on the positives.
A short advice that works for me and I am sure it will work for you: I leave my kids alone when they cry after a lost bout. I do nothing, just give them space and focus on other things or other kids. I leave them alone for however long it takes for them to calm down and change their attitude. Sometimes this will be five minutes, sometimes twenty, sometimes even more than an hour. I give them whatever time they need, not approaching them and not talking to them. They will eventually stop with the self pity and will be ready to talk, and more importantly to think.
Once they are calmed down and their attitude has come back around, then it’s time for us to engage. I then try, as calmly as I can humanly manage, to explain to them what I loved in their fencing. That must come first from the mouth of the parent. We must model good actions for them, otherwise how will they learn to have good actions? Only after I have pointed out the positive do I then talk about why I think they lost.
There is no match in which a fencer is all bad, they are always somehow good in some way. There is also no losing a match without a reason for the loss, whether it is the fencer’s fault or not. There is always something to be learned. These are three things that are important for me to highlight with my child fencer once they are able to think clearly.
Let me be clear about this too, it’s hard for me to stay away from my child when they are hurting. At first, I would almost say that it was harder for me to stay away than it might have been for them to lose the bout. You see your child in pain and you want to comfort them. Soothing that heartache might feel right in the moment, but they are learning to depend on you.
When you let them figure it out, they are learning how to process the emotions. We parents will not always be there for our children. They will grow up and go off on their own, and it will feel like it happens too soon. They must learn how to deal with problems independently if they are going to be successful adults though. It is essential.
My own kids take it hard most of the time when they lose a bout. They thought they would/could/should win, though this almost never happens when they lose a bout to a very clearly superior opponent. In that case they know they are ok, right from the outset. They might still cry a bit, but it’s not the deep heartache of knowing that they could have had a chance to win.
My own personal experience as a father of fencers is that most of their lost bouts are due to their struggling with the mental facet of the game. It is the biggest challenge for young fencers, beyond physicality or anything else. They are afraid to lose vs. wanting to win, and that is not the way sports work. If you are working from a place of fear, you will never advance on your opponent effectively or defend with the boldness that is needed. If you want to win, you will be confident and aggressive in your fencing, and that is where the good things happen for fencers.
This gets to be more and more true the higher in rank a fencer goes. The good thing is that mindset is a clear opportunity to improve! A fencer can always get their mindset right. For this part of it, I know that it is a work in progress for me to help them grow past this, and I am very hopeful that I will succeed in that.
Why I love the loss
There are tons of reasons for which I actually cherish the moment they lose. It’s not as thrilling as watching my child win, and believe me I want to watch them win! But lost bout is where we get to be better fencers. Really, a loss is just as good as a win in my book, as long as we are encouraging our fencers to process it properly. I see them here becoming, bit by bit, more ready for life.
Here are the ways that I see young fencers getting something beautiful out of a loss:
How it helps them to grow. The growth happens in the loss! We do not get better by winning all the time, we get better by losing and then coming back around to fix things
How it helps them to keep going. Keeping the fencing going all the way to the end of the bout, that feels very good to me. I love to watch my fencers push to the very end of a match that they clearly will not win. They are still growing! Even when they are sure to lose!
How it helps them to think and analyze. Close matches make fencers think harder and analyze better than easy matches ever could. A tough lost bout turns the brain on.
How it helps them to stop thinking about life is unfair. Just because you lose a match, that doesn’t mean something unfair happened. The other fencer was just better on that day in that match, nothing more. It does not help any child ever to look at the world as being unfair.
How it helps them to stop blaming others for their failure. Kids need to learn that failing does not make them a failure! Blaming other people only teaching children that they are only good if they win.
How it helps them to look for the reasons that outside of their control (eg, time zone, sickness, bad ref, etc.) Sometimes outside forces push on us and that can make things harder. When kids lose in fencing, they can learn how to recognize outside factors and then how to compensate for them in the future. This is a great coping skill.
How it makes me grow as a parent. As I said earlier, it is very hard to hold back and let my child process defeat. I am practicing my self control as much as they are being asked to practice theirs. I love that it makes me get better, because I want to grow too.
How it helps me to develop a deeper bond with them. Kids will remember those times that you support them when it’s tough. Even more than they remember all of the good happy times you spent with them. When my child loses a fencing match, it’s a chance for me to show them the reasons that I am proud of them, which are all of the above and more!
The biggest key to cherishing every fencing bout that your fencer loses is to embrace the process. Part of fencing is losing. Part of fencing is winning. Neither one is an outcome that any fencer, no matter their age, should expect to happen all of the time. No matter what level a fencer is at, someone will always be better than they are. Someone who is just the same or not as good as they are could have a great day and beat them anyway. By that same token, sometimes my fencer can win a bout against an opponent that they have no business winning, but would we ever question that? Of course not.
What we want is to prepare our kids for anything that life might throw at them, and there are so many ways that a losing fencing bout is getting them ready for the world outside the strip. That’s why I cherish every bout my child loses.
So I decided to create an infographic inspired by that and other posts, since a picture is worth a thousand words.
I hope you enjoy this graphical story and use it to convince your friends, children, siblings or classmates give fencing a try. And maybe you will help them discover their lifelong passion for the gorgeous sport of fencing!
Wow. Just wow! We are still reeling from incredible performance of the AFM fencers at the 2019 Fencing Summer Nationals in Columbus.
After a memorable 10 days in Columbus, Ohio, we are home and still stunned by the marvelous results from our AFM athletes. It’s impossible not to be proud of these tremendous results from our hard working fencers, so here they are! Join us in congratulating them!
Top National Fencers
Fencers from all over the United States traveled to Columbus, Ohio earlier this month to face off in the biggest fencing competition in America, Fencing Summer Nationals. After a year of hard work, building on success through the 2018-2019 fencing season, we are ecstatic to say that AFM is among the top clubs in the USA in the medal count, and the best club on the West Coast. Among the 134 American and Canadian fencing clubs that took home medals, AFM’sfinal rank is number six! That’s phenomenal!
We are so proud and humbled that we are among the leaders in the country in the medals, and it shows the great work of our coaches and fencers. It takes the hard work and dedication of dozens of people to get here, many more when you include the family and community support.
But it is not only medals that matter. We had a lot of fencers that were almost there, who made it to the medal rounds and lost by a touch or two. Each of those fencers, and in fact all of the fencers who participated from clubs across the country, deserve to be celebrated as well. No matter what your ranking or your place on the podium, what matters most is that this competition pushes individual fencers to grow. That’s what we’re here for, and that’s why we’re so proud of our participating fencers!
We had many fencers who earned their national points and qualified for next year’s Summer Nationals already. We had many fencers participated at the nationals for the first time and totally rocked it. We saw so many personal best results in every event we participated in. We saw fencers putting their training into use, balancing their talent and intellect while focusing and achieving. We had not just one or two fencers who got a big haul of medals, but rather a whole AFM fencing team who all put their best foot forward on the strip. It was truly a whole club achievement, with many of our fencers making it all the way to the top. What a great result!
Preparation, hard work
This result did not come from just one week of hard work, or one month of hard work. When an athlete gets to this level and does well, it’s because they spent years working with good coaches and putting in time and focus. That being said, practicing smart is just as important as practicing a lot.
We also saw a huge correlation between participation in our Summer Nationals preparation camps and pre-Summer Nationals training and the results that our fencers achieved. Though the talent and skill are built over years of practice, it is no secret that ramping up towards the big competition there is a critical window of training time. There is only a hair’s breadth of difference between the fencers who are in this top echelon of athletes, that’s how tight the competition is at this level. What makes the difference between who gets that last point and who doesn’t comes down to a lot of factors, but one big one is the way that they prepare in that last stretch leading towards the Nationals
It’s not even only about the result. The stretch of intense training that our fencers pushed themselves through in those last few weeks brought everyone up a notch, and not only in terms of their end result. We saw a lot of our fencers who really tried their best, pushing past where they ever thought they’d be. A lot of these young people grew up as a fencers, they matured as young people too. We love to see the personal development and growth that intense fencing training brings with it. We also saw a lot of camaraderie develop between our fencers and their opponents as well, and building those connections is a part of success that we just can’t ignore!
Our coaches are of course an integral part of the success of our fencers. Their great work during the year and of course their fantastic teamwork during Fencing Summer Nationals. This kind of coaching is no walk in the park, it’s long days and late nights. Oftentimes they are the first ones there at seven o’clock in the morning and are the last to leave, sometimes as late as nine o’clock in the evening. These invaluable people form a network of support and experience around our fencers. They have a lot on their plates, with these young fencers depending on them for the expertise and guidance that they need. Without them, all of this would be impossible.
All of this hard work and working together meant a fantastic Summer Nationals for AFM!
Shouting out for our fencers
The best place to end with our excitement is to congratulate each of our marvelous fencers who made us so very proud! Everyone on the AFM team did wonderfully, and we are just overjoyed to be a part of your success. It’s our fencers who keep us inspired to move forward!
Here are all national medalists of 2019:
Leehi Machulsky – United States Champion, Y12 Women’s Epee
Priscilla Leang – United States Champion, Division 2 Women’s Epee and a B rating
Audrey Chu and AFM Senior Women’s Epee Team – Bronze Medal
Mark Wheeler – Bronze Medal in Veteran Men’s Epee Team
Ria Jobalia – Bronze Medal, Division 2 Women’s Epee and B rating
Sanvi Sharma – Bronze Medal, Y10 Women’s Epee
Neta Korol – Bronze Medal, Division 3 Women’s Foil and C rating
Gabrielle Gebala – Bronze Medal, Y12 Women’s Foil and C rating
Gabrielle Gebala – Bronze Medal, Y10 Women’s Foil
Daniel Chirashnya – 6th Place Medal, Y10 Men’s Foil
Zoie Wang – 8th place Medal, Y10 Women’s Foil
Notable Results – a fencer earned a rating or national points in a respective age category:
Sonia Bulavko – 12 Place in Junior Women’s Epee (out of 238 fencers)
Sonia Bulavko – 13 Place in Division 1 Women’s Epee (out of 142 fencers)
Leehi Machulsky – 60 Place in Junior Women’s Epee (out of 238 fencers)
Audrey Chu – 27 Place in Division 1A Women’s Epee (out of 126 fencers)
AFM Senior Men’s Epee Team – 27 Place out of 62 Teams
Mark Shamis – 57 Place in Junior Men’s Epee (out of 348 fencers)
Rafael Zagitov – 60 Place in Junior Men’s Epee (out of 348 fencers)
Mark Shamis – 50 Place in Division 1A Men’s Epee (out of 171 fencers)
Leehi Machulsky – 24 Place in Cadet Women’s Epee (out of 187 fencers)
Priscilla Leang – 34 Place in Cadet Women’s Epee (out of 187 fencers)
Sanil Sharma – 37 Place in Cadet Men’s Epee (out of 258 fencers)
Paul Kim – 54 Place in Cadet Men’s Epee (out of 258 fencers)
Yakov Shur – 56 Place in Cadet Men’s Epee (out of 258 fencers)
Thjimen de Jong – 9 Place in Division 2 Men’s Epee (out of 239 fencers) and D2019 rating
Yakov Shur – 10 Place in Division 2 Men’s Epee (out of 239 fencers)
Jason Louie – 27 Place in Division 2 Men’s Epee (out of 239 fencers)
Dana Korol – 43 Place in Division 2 Women’s Foil (out of 172 fencers)
Priscilla Leang – 16 Place in Y14 Women’s Epee (out of 201 fencers)
Alice Lan – 56 Place in Y14 Women’s Epee (out of 201 fencers)
Noya Chirashnya – 63 Place in Y14 Women’s Epee (out of 201 fencers)
Yakov Shur – 48 Place in Y14 Men’s Epee (out of 283 fencers)
Neta Korol – 26 Place in Y14 Women’s Foil (out of 232 fencers)
Dana Korol – 46 Place in Y14 Women’s Fol (out of 232 fencers)
Andrea Leang – 11 Place in Division 2 Women’s Epee (out of 179 fencers)
Paul Kim – 16 Place in Division 3 Men’s Epee (out of 197 fencers)
Lucas Wu – 26 Place in Y10 Men’s Foil (out of 154 fencers)
Ruoxi (Cici) Sun – 35 Place in Y12 Women’s Foil (out of 163 fencers)
Chien-Yu (Cheryl) Sun – 37 Place in Y12 Women’s Foil (out of 163 fencers)
Alice Lan – 20 Place in Y12 Women’s Epee (out of 119 fencers)
Sanvi Sharma – 27 Place in Y12 Women’s Epee (out of 119 fencers)
Noya Chirashnya – 31 Place in Y12 Women’s Epee (out of 119 fencers)
Christopher Wright – 33 Place in Y12 Men’s Epee (out of 209 fencers)
Daniel Chirashnya – 53 Place in Y12 Men’s Foil (out of 275 fencers)
Biggest of congratulations to all of our fencers and our coaches!! And of course we extend our thanks to the incredible competitors from all over the United States and beyond for offering such robust and meaningful competition during the event. Without good competitors who challenge us to improve, none of this would be as meaningful.
Congratulations once again! We are so very proud of all of you – fencers coaches and parents!
There are some general fencing safety rules that all fencers should follow, though sometimes they aren’t as obvious as we imagine they should be!
Fencing is naturally a sport of weapons. Despite this, it’s consistently one of the safest sports that anyone can participate in, regardless of age. Many people are shocked to realize that sports like soccer and gymnastics have much higher rates of injury. The most dangerous part of fencing actually isn’t from swords at all, it’s from muscle strains and other sports related injuries.
That being said, there are some safety instructions that every fencer should be aware of. Many of you have heard these before, but it’s never a bad idea to review them again and again. Naturally your coach will have additional rules that you want to be aware of and follow, and always apply your best judgement
Also, it is very important to realize that safety is not only a concern for the fencers themselves, but also for anyone around them. It is equally important that parents, siblings and other people visiting a fencing venue follow fencing rules. For example, don’t allow your loose toddler to run towards a strip when people are fencing there. Even if they themselves follow strict fencing safety rules, a small child who is running through can get hit. It is super important that anyone who happens to be in the fencing venue respects and follows safety rules.
As it is impossible to state all situations and conditions, a good rule of thumb for fencing safety is this – make sure there enough space between an unprotected person and a person with a sword. Always. Use your best common sense and judgement.
1. Wear proper attire
This means the mask, fencing uniform, protective gear, and glove. Shorts and open toed shoes risk injury and should never be worn when fencing. Unless a fencer is properly dressed, they are strictly not permitted to fence.
2. Weapons always pointed down
When not fencing or doing fencing drills, weapons are always pointed to the ground. This is almost more of a law, for clear reasons. Though the ends of fencing swords are blunted, they still can be dangerous if they poke a person who isn’t equipped.
3. Weapons are pointed away from others
This is an extension of the last rule. Unless the person you are engaged with is full masked and ready to fence or drill, the weapon is never, ever pointed at them. This is something we drill into our new fencers until it’s such habit that they should do it automatically. It’s still worth pointing out though!
4. Mask are on when weapons are raised
There is no scenario where we pretend to fence, or showing some slow motion drill, or are just playing around without a mask. Not ever. Fencers must always be masked when weapons are raised, pointing forward. This goes for lame checks as well. Sometimes, especially with young foil fencers, their weapon can slip upwards and hit an opponent face in the when checking lames. Always protect your face. It is not necessary to put the mask on fully, but it is very important for young foilists to cover their face with a mask by holding it near the face with the non-fencing hand. And even for bell guard checks in epee it is a good idea to protect your face.
5. Salute must be done from the enguarde lines
Oftentimes kids finish fencing and approach each other to shake hands while saluting. They become to be dangerously close with weapon that’s pointing up, and there is the potential to hit the opponent in the face. In competition, good referees will always point to the enguarde lines and request the salute, but during the training a lot of young fencers forget this rule. Always go to the enguarde line to salute and only then, while your weapon is down, approach each other to shake hands
6. Put away all equipment
A stray epee or foil lying across a bench is an invitation to injury. All equipment should be tidy and out of the way unless it is in use. This is not just about a neat working area, it’s really about safety.
7. Don’t wear fencing shoes outdoors
The little bits of dirt and grit that come in from the outside can do serious harm to the fencing floor, which will in turn be potentially harmful to fencers themselves. Not to mention expensive to repair.
8. Inspect the mask and weapon, every time
You never know when something will go wrong with a weapon or a mask, and it warrants a check every single time! There is no skipping on this one, not once. A faulty mask could fall forward during a practice or match and cause injury, and a cracked weapon is an obviously dangerous thing to have.
9. Stop immediately if there’s an issue
No matter how close the match may be or how in the zone a practice session is, fencers must always stop immediately if someone shows signs of injury or broken equipment. There are often false alarms with this policy, but it’s always better to err on the side of caution rather than to have someone come away with an injury.
10. Report injuries immediately
As soon as something happens, the coach should be informed. No matter how small the injury or issue might be. Coaches are experienced and know what to look for, as to referees. Fencers should never keep it to themselves.
11. Stop if you feel pain or discomfort
Any pain that you feel in your body other than typical fencing bruises or regular muscle soreness is a cause to stop immediately. Again, always err on the side of caution! If you are injured, say with a muscle that is pulled or an ankle that is twisted, it is risking major injury to keep going in spite of the pain. It is very important to stop immediately and give it the proper attention and rest, otherwise you might harm yourself even more. Remember, the vast majority of fencing injuries are due to common sports injuries like sprains and twists!
12. Non-fencers out of the fencing area
Only fencers who are actively training should be in the fencing area. No parents allowed! This is for the strict safety of the fencers and the folks around them. This extends to the fencers who might be hanging around but are not actively training.
13. No food or beverages in the fencing area
Food and beverages are not allowed in the fencing area. There is a chance that these will make a mess or spill. Sticky floors and slippery floors are both dangerous prospects for fencers who should be focused on their training.
14. Only take off the mask with communication
There are times when it’s necessary to take off the mask during practice or competition. If you need to take mask off when you are in the middle of the strip – either ask permission from your coach or get your opponent to fully acknowledge that you intend to unmask yourself. Only do so at the end of the strip near the reel, never in the middle where the action is happening and more dangerous. Communication is key here!
15. Always wear protection when engaging
Yes, we play with pool noodles and sticks for fun and without gear, protection when you’re holding a fencing sword is a hard and fast rule. Never play with your weapon against another person when the two of you aren’t protected. Even innocent games can harm you if your weapon suddenly goes in the wrong direction or snaps.
16. Practice self awareness
Fencers must always be aware of their surroundings. Mind the other people around you, and be careful not to get lost in your head when you’re holding a fencing sword. Vigilance in the realm of fencing is a major part of staying safe!
17. If you see something, say something
Intervene and interrupt any foolish behavior on the part of other people. They might not know what they are doing or do not think it is a dangerous activity. Or they might know that it’s dangerous and are simply acting foolish to act foolish. Either way, speak up about it! We are a fencing community, and it’s up to all of us to work together to increase safety!
These are the rules that we strive to instill in the fencers at our club, but it’s by no means an exhaustive list of everything that you should follow when you are fencing. Every club has its own rules and every fencer has her or his own ideas about what safety in fencing is. Always listen to your coach and listen to your experience. Above all else, be safe out there on the strip! We’re here to have fun and we can only do that if we follow the safety rules!
Summer is here, school is out, and for fencers that means there’s a break in the fencing season. For those going to Fencing Summer Nationals in the middle of the summer, there is some major motivation to keep training until then. For those not going to Fencing Summer Nationals, or after the big competition is over, it can be a major challenge to find their way to keep it up.
Some downtime and recovery is good for athletes. Taking the whole summer off, or even most of the summer off, that can come back to bite you in a bad way when the season starts again. Now that the summer season has officially started (Happy Solstice!), it’s a great time to start a good summer fencing training regime. How can you know what a good summer fencing schedule looks like? Here are eight ways to make the most of the time you’ve got off during these warm months.
1 – Create a schedule
This is the first and most important step in making the most of the less hectic schedule in the summer. Sit down with the calendar and make a realistic training schedule for yourself. Fencers going to Fencing Summer Nationals will obviously have a heavier weight to their training for the next few weeks, while those who are going on vacation will need to work in some kind of training while traveling for fun.
Make sure you include things like conditioning, rest, and dietary planning in your schedule. Continue with regular training as much as you can, and if you’ve still got room for a camp or additional private lessons, this is the perfect time for it.
It’s a good idea to actually create a daily schedule for the summer. This is especially true for kids, who need structure in order to stay on track, though adults do best with structure too! Put in your wake up time and your bed time, keep meals on a set schedule. That doesn’t have to mean being on task every minute during the summer, but some kind of regularity will make a huge difference!
2 – Round your training out
Keep in well rounded during the summer! Now is the perfect time to improve your stamina with regular cardio like running, a stationary bike, or swimming. This is the type of training that will last well into the fencing season, because it’s improving the heart muscle in ways that last. The better your cardio health, the better the fencing will be. Better stamina will help support longer matches and tournaments that will be easier to withstand from the pools to the final match. It’s not uncommon for the person with the best stamina to take a match, and every bit helps.
The other way to round out training is to balance with strength training or yoga. These offer vastly different benefits, and the summer is a great time to get started with either.
Once next season gets back into swing, it’ll be easier to incorporate the new cross training into the busier routine of the school year. A few minutes running or doing yoga before school starts will be much easier to keep up if you’ve started the practice already during the summer.
3 – Get some sleep
Everyone skips out on rest, especially when there are early morning classes and evening training. Make a conscious effort to get more sleep during the summer. That might mean sleep in or juggling fencing classes so that you can get to bed earlier.
Athletes, whether they’re tweens or adults, require eight to ten hours of sleep every night, more than the average person who isn’t training in a sport. Sticking to a good sleep schedule in the summer doesn’t have to be a drag on summer fun, especially when you realize that naps are part of the equation! After a heavy workout, lie down and take a nap. Short naps of twenty to thirty minutes help the body to recovery after heavy exertion, and unfortunately there’s not always time for it during the busy school year.
Summer can be for sleeping! Guilt free training sleep.
4 – Eat well
Family outings and friendly gatherings usually mean food. There’s also ice cream and soda much more readily available when the structure of school isn’t there anymore. Of course it’s ok to have some pizza fueled summer sleepovers with friends, but moderation in the free summer is an important part of maintaining for the coming season.
Balanced meals and snacks that consist of protein, complex carbs, and fresh fruits and veggies are as important off-season as they are during the season. You can take the opportunity with the free summer schedule to mix in some of those things you’ve been pinning on Pinterest to make or clipped out of magazines. Maybe try that mango smoothie recipe you’ve been wanting to try or make the zucchini noodles you’ve been meaning to cook!
For young fencers, summer is a perfect time for them to take more responsibility for their healthy eating habits. Let the kids plan some meals or get in the kitchen. It’s a great way to have them take ownership of their athletic health, and to keep them busy when school is out. This will help them keep the treats in moderation too!
5 – Invigorate your love of fencing
You’ve got the extra time, and we know there are some summer blockbusters that are calling you to the movies, but why not watch some great films to support your growth as a fencer?
They don’t have to be fencing necessarily either. Inspirational sports movies like Rocky or A League of Their Own, or Bend It Like Beckham. The same sports spirit that you see in these movies can motivate you to get back into your own training! The guys in Cool Runnings learned how to make the most of every minute, and it’s amazing how much we can get excited about our sport by watching the fight of people in other sports.
There are of course incredible fencing related films. A rewatch of The Princess Bride or The Fencer can make you desperate to pick up that sword again. You don’t have to stick with fencing films either. Kids love YouTube for a reason, and there are uncountable fencing videos of historic matches, interviews with top fencers, and more available right at your fingertips. Instead of watching other kids play video games, encourage your young fencers to watch other people fence with their screen time. It’s not perfect, but it will make fencers more likely to get excited about their fencing training.
All the little wear and tear on fencing gear adds up during the season. Summer, or the off season, is just right for taking apart that fencing bag, cleaning the gloves and lame, and doing some maintenance on the fencing equipment. We’ve written extensively on how to maintain fencing gear, so browse our archies if you’re not sure about how to tackle a specific piece of fencing equipment for cleaning. And of course you can always ask the staff or coaches at your fencing club about how to best take care of that equipment.
This is also a wonderful time to check all of that fencing equipment for fit. Kids grow fast and you want to check the fit of everything during the summer rather than stressing about it when the season starts. That might not mean you go out and buy everything, but you can at least have an idea of what you need so that you can make plans for it.
The thing about fencing is that the fencer is integrated into their fencing gear, it’s very much an extension of who we are as athletes. Putting some time into equipment maintenance is not only good for the equipment, it’s also good for stoking the fire to get fencers excited to train in the off season!
7 – Keep in touch with your fencing coach
Though the summer isn’t the season, it’s important that fencers keep in close contact with their fencing coaches. Staying in touch, either through email or classes or private lessons, will help with motivation and direction.
Your fencing coach surely has some great ideas about what you can do to keep your training going. If you’re headed to Fencing Summer Nationals, your coach is surely in close contact with you about what you’re doing until the competition. But don’t let that communication fall away after!
Talk to your coach about what you’ve got on your docket, and be sure to share with them the other great things that you’re doing to keep your fencing up through the summer months. They are always impressed and happy with students who put in the effort and are enthusiastic about the sport!
8 – Move outside
Yes, fencing is an indoor sport. No, that doesn’t mean you have to train inside only. We have a tradition in our club of heading to the beach every year and training in the waves of the ocean. It’s magical to get outside with the sword and experience the beauty of nature along with our sport!
It doesn’t just have to be training specific to fencing. Playing other sports outside during the summer will enhance your fencing. The cardio built with backyard soccer or the agility you get from playing volleyball with friends, these things can be part of keeping you ready for the fencing season to come. Go hiking, swim in the ocean, enjoy kayaking if that’s your thing. Getting outside and breathing the fresh air will help to ground you and get you excited about the new year.
There is a lot of agility training that can be done outside too! If you choose to take your equipment out under a tree in the backyard for some practice with a tennis ball on a string, just remember to make sure you maintain the integrity of your equipment by cleaning it when you come inside. Watch out for the heat as well!
Keeping up with your fencing training during the summer might sound daunting, but you’re going to thank yourself later. Don’t let your endurance and strength slip too much by taking too much time off, but also don’t feel guilty about taking a vacation or a nap either. Both fencing specific training and overall conditioning are good for your upcoming season! Get the extra edge you want for the fencing season by maintaining your fencing training during the off season.
How you warm up and get ready for a competition is individual, but figuring out how to maximize your fencing routine for far flung competitions isn’t necessarily easy. It’s always good for fencers to have some kind of structure to any kind of training, whether it’s at the club or at a far away competition.
Maybe your far flung competition routine isn’t something you’ve put too much effort into yet, so you need to figure out your baseline. Maybe you’ve got a routine that you’re comfortable with, but you want to take it to the next level ahead of a big competition. Either way, the following tips are going to be a big help for you.
Make a fencing warm up plan
Instead of flying by the seat of your pants, sit down and make a warm up plan. There are two great ways you can do this.
Notes on your phone
We’ve written a lot about fencing journals in the past, and they are a great way to get better insight into your fencing and to greatly improve your mastery of the sport. Not just in regards to the warm up, but in all kinds of ways. If you haven’t got a fencing journal or if starting one is a little too much for you right now, then a note on your phone works well. The important thing here is to write things down, because it will give you a lot of insight that you can’t get any other way.
What you need to focus on are four parts of the warm up plan.
What to do
Where to do it
That’s it. Answer those three things, and your warm up will be great! You’ll feel better about having a solid plan, and importantly you’ll be able to recreate it and improve it every time you use your plan. Don’t fly by the seat of your pants in a big competition! Any competition that you’re in, but especially those that you travel to, is important for you to have a handle on what you’re doing. Just as important as making sure you pack your fencing equipment!
It is important to always warm up, always. Every single time you should be warming up for a competition, and you should never, ever skip one. Use the time before your first bout to warm up rather than warming up during your pools. While it might sound like a simple way to save time, I can say with certainty that this is not how the top athletes in the world, regardless of their sport, compete. Every professional athlete will tell you that they warm up prior to big competitions. It’s a no brainer! This is not the time to multitask. During the pools you need to be focusing on learning your opponents for the DE rounds, not on loosening your muscles and getting your blood flowing.
The first answer is that you’re preparing for a competition from the time you leave home until the time you start to fence. When you’re going to a major competition, all of that lead up time is warm up time if you think about it. You might add in family time or sightseeing, but leading up to a fencer getting onto the strip, everything is going to affect that performance.
If you’re unsure, start with an hour of dedicated warm up time at the venue before you start fencing. Get to the venue early, and ensure that you have a set aside space to practice your movements and get your head in the game. Remember that a warm up is as much about focusing your mind as it is about getting your body ready for the competition. Give time for your brain space too! You want all of your attention to be on your fencing.
This is a good time to talk about the time difference for fencers who are going to a big competition that’s far from home. When West Coast fencers go to the East Coast and have to be at an event at 8am, that’s going to feel like 5am to them. So if you need to be at the venue at 7am, eat at 6:30am, and be up at 6:00am. That makes it three in the morning on West Coast time when you have to wake up! That’s biologically difficult to handle for anyone, whether they are an athlete or not. The first thought is that maybe you can “steal” a half hour or more if you skip breakfast or don’t warm up as well. This is a terrible idea in my opinion. In the short term, it’s going to feel good.
My personal life hack is that when I get on a plane for my destination, just as soon as I’ve boarded and I’m sitting down, I change my wrist watch to the time at my destination. I immediately start to think about my activities based on that time zone so that I’m not stuck with thinking “Oh, it’s only 3am back home, no wonder I’m not hungry.” That doesn’t matter! Eat anyway, sleep anyway. Get onto your new time zone as quickly as you can.
No matter in what timezone you are you need to budget this time for your warming up. Plus any additional time you need for registration/equipment check. If you can do equipment check a day before – definitely go for it. It will minimize the hassle in the morning.
Figure out that warm up time, and plan for it!
What to do in your fencing warm up
Think about the warm up as really everything you do leading up to the competition the day of.
Here are some high points that you don’t want to miss in your fencing warm up at far flung competitions.
Physical warm up
Include your breakfast and your shower in your warm up routine, to emphasize the importance of both. A shower is going to wake you up and refresh you, like pressing your reset button for the day to get your mind in the right place. Hydration is critical because when you dehydrated you get brain fog – it’s science! Yes, your brain actually shrinks a little when you’re dehydrated. It’s of course a big concern when you’re competing because you need your brain to be sharp and on point. Start off your fencing day with a glass of water right when you wake up, then another with breakfast. Get it in early, and then you’ll not have to worry about sudden restroom breaks later on.
Quiet time cannot be overemphasized. For some people this might not really be quiet quiet time, maybe you have a killer playlist that you listen to with your headphones while you’re at competition. This is a great idea, because you can train yourself with music. It’s effective. It might be a ten minute walk through the venue or outside to calm your nerves. Some fencers swear by traditional forms of meditation. Whatever it is, put your focus time into your warm up routine.
Your physical warm up is going to be of course what you do that’s most unique to you. Far flung competitions are not a time to mess around with your warm up stretches or exercises. If you bout generally for three rounds with your coach or teammates before a local competition, keep it to three now. If you don’t ever do heavy stretching before you compete in your local or regional competitions, don’t start with crazy stretches now (no matter what that cool article you read on the plane says!). Don’t change your physical routine at the last minute, go with what you know.
Don’t forget that if you have a late start, you can always get in a short round of cardio exercise. Look in your hotel for a fitness center and hop on a stationary bike or elliptical for ten or fifteen minutes. Getting your blood flowing well before competition as part of a broader warm up is a great strategy. It’s also good for time adjustment. If you arrive a day early, get some cardio in the day before to help you sleep better the night before competition.
While everyone adjusts differently and has a different routine, these are five basic parts of your fencing warm up that are universal.
Where to warm up at far flung fencing competitions
The last thing to address is where to warm up at far off fencing competitions. This can be a difficult thing because you are in such unfamiliar territory.
It’s so important to just make yourself at home wherever you are at a far off competition. This is really true for younger fencers, who tend to be more uncomfortable with big travel. Find a spot in the competition hall and make it your own. It might be a few chairs or a corner of the floor that’s out of the way. Familiarize yourself with what’s around you and where things are by getting to the competition in plenty of time. The worst thing is to be running late! More time is just more when it comes to these kinds of competitions. You’ll want to know where the restrooms are, where you can score some snacks or extra water, and of course where all of the registration and weapons repairs are. The more comfortable you are with a venue, the easier things will be on the nerves of the competitor.
Also, think of your hotel as an extension of your warm up area. It’s your home away from home. Get into the mindset that competition starts from the time you leave to go to it. Not because you should feel more pressure, but because you get to feel more control that way. Oftentimes athletes go off to far flung competitions and they have this inbetween time that can be confusing, you’re not at the venue yet but you’re not home either. What is that time? Before you check in on the day and see your opponents? It’s your warm up! When you think of it this way, then it takes some weight off because now it’s defined.
What you watch on tv the night before will affect your sleep. What you eat when you get off the plane will affect your energy levels on competition day the next day. Pamper yourself, take focus time, and extend that warm up mentality through until you step onto the strip. You’re warming up at dinner and in your hotel. Even in the car ride to the venue. Use all of these places to help you focus towards your goals during competition.
Cool down after a far flung fencing competition
Unless you’ve decided this is your last far flung competition, you’re going to be doing this all again sometime. With that in mind, be sure to do a proper physical and mental cool down after it’s all over, no matter the outcome.
A cool down at a far flung competition has to include notes for next time. What worked and what didn’t? What were your impressions? What were your frustrations? What were your favorite things? Take ten minutes and write it all down while it’s fresh. Remember at the beginning of this blog when I said that you’d need insight to develop your warm up style? This is how you gain it. Truly, it takes no time but it’s one of the most beautiful gifts you can give your fencing self.
Take the same caution and care with what happens after the fencing competition as with what happens before. Soak in a hot epsom salt bath, it the hot tub at the hotel for those sore muscles, enjoy a big cone of ice cream, have a huge dinner to celebrate the achievement of even being there to begin with.
Competing at far away fencing competitions is something to treasure, it’s something that we can all enjoy and look back on with fond memories. Your warm up (and cool down) regime is going to be part of that experience. Make the most of it, and make the most of you! Good luck to all of you as you travel and chase your fencing dreams.
Fencing is quickly becoming a popular sport for parents to choose for their children for a number of reasons. It’s beneficial for both the brain and body, as fencing is one of the only sports that requires a mental skill that matches the physical skill that’s required.
The other major point is that fencing is a sport that nearly anyone can participate in. Whether you are big or small, young or not-so-young, female or male, or even in many cases if you don’t have much of a “natural” athletic ability. For parents looking for a sport that their child can play for the rest of their lives, fencing is it. For parents who are looking for a sport that can possibly help their kids get a scholarship for college, fencing is it too. For parents looking for a sport that will teach their kids profound lessons that will cross over into their academic and professional lives, fencing is definitely the way to go.
Fencing is an excellent option (and for good reason! Or how about for good reasons?)
Now it’s time to dig a little deeper into what the sport of fencing is all about, and what makes it perfect for a young person to participate in. Here are nine reasons why fencing is so very good for kids.
1. Fencing is safe
When it comes to injuries during a competition, fencing is relatively safe. Compared to other sports like soccer or gymnastics, fencing has an incredibly low rate of injury. Firstly, your child is protected by a ton of padding and gear. The gear is loaded with sensors that allow it to mark points that are scored. Any “hit” is felt by those sensors, even at a high level of competition. This is an important point because when you get down to it, the goal of fencing isn’t to hit the other fencer but to get the score to be sensed by those sensors. That distinction matters when we think of injury prevention.
No, the blades are not sharp. In fact, most of them come to a blunt end. Your child will also wear a full face mask, so there is no risk to injury to the eyes or to the face. While rare, most injuries are related to the physicality of fencing and are like the injuries you’d find in any other sport. Think of muscle injuries from not properly warming up, stretching, or using poor form during a bout. Those injuries are the kind of thing that can be prevented through repetition and better practice.
2. Fencing is Challenging
Fencing is often been referred to as a physical game of chess. It requires both physically aggressive moves where you are on the offense and mental agility to read the cues from your opponent to perform defensive moves. These often have to happen at the same time or within seconds of one another. It’s a constant back and forth, keeping the fencer’s mind on its toes as well as their feet on their toes!
A fencing bout can happen very fast. To react at a quick pace both physically and mentally helps your child learn how to react quickly. They learn how to read subtle cues in their opponent, interpret them, and hopefully, use them to their advantage, all in the span of seconds. What is best about this is that your child learns to trust their instincts. They have to follow through so quickly that their training must kick in in order for them to react appropriately. It’s a great thing for a child to be challenged and then to follow through and conquer that challenge. There’s nothing like it and fencing offers exactly the kind of challenge that kids need to grow.
3. Nearly Anyone can Fence
Regardless of any athletic experience, fencing is a sport that anyone can start at any time in their life. Although beginning while your child is young surely will prove beneficial, that doesn’t mean that starting later is going to be a bad thing. Though it was at one point common for fencing clubs to hold off on training kids until they were ten years old, today it is not uncommon for fencers to begin training as young as five. Obviously, those youngest fencers are not doing exactly the same things as their older counterparts, but they certainly get the fundamentals of fencing.
The Paralympics even have an extremely competitive (and exciting) wheelchair fencing circuit (now renamed to Parafencing). The fencers cannot move back and forth, but they must have clean hits which create very exciting matches. They are both fun for the fencers, but they are also extremely fun to watch. From the ground up, fencing is an inclusive sport.
Fencing encourages each athlete to utilize their natural height, size, and skill to their advantage. It’s not uncommon to see a taller child paired up with a much smaller one during a competitive bout. When we see those matches, it’s easier to understand why fencing is such a great sport for every child. Kids learn that there are always advantages, and how they can use what seems like a disadvantage to help them win. A taller child can use their height and arm length to their advantage in an offensive stance, while a shorter child can do the same while utilizing their height to move more aggressively and more quickly. For fencers, being a short fencer can be a distinct advantage because their opponent cannot hit them with the tip of the blade for a point so readily. There is always a way to make it work if you fence smartly!
4. Fencing is a Great Work Out
Fencing is a great cardio workout, it gets that heart pumping! By moving back and forth on the strip, doing lunges and quick recoveries, your child will naturally build up lung capacity and endurance. When you watch a fencing match, you see that the fencers are constantly moving. That movement adds up to lots of blood pumping and tons of cardio endurance.
Fencing can also be a strength training workout. Keep in mind that a fencer must hold their weapon at the ready at all times, and maintaining that posture is going to build up muscle strength. The challenge of holding the correct form, while holding your sword of choice, while lunging, striking, or avoiding a hit builds muscle. That means core strength, leg and arm strength, and muscle control as well. The movements support a healthy back, improving your child’s overall posture and their whole muscle mass. Talk to any fencer after training or competition and they’ll tell you that they are worn out! Look at someone who is a serious fencer and you’ll see that muscle definition too.
5. Fencing Improves Self Esteem
Studies show time and again how the impact of participating in sports can positively influence your child. Fencing is one of the best in that it can combine the elements of both an individual sport (such as tennis or golf) with a team sport (such as soccer or baseball).
As an individual sport, you are responsible for your wins and losses (although there are some elements that you cannot control). How you are able to implement what you’ve learned in practice over and over again in competition can feel really good. Whether you win or lose, your child can step back and look at their performance and say, you know what? I did the best that I could! And now I know what I have to do better next time!
It’s similar to a team sport in that you’re constantly practicing against and alongside your club mates, building relationships with regular opponents, and creating camaraderie through shared experiences. As your club mates improve, so do you and vice versa. And of course, don’t forget there are fencing team competitions, that are super fun in their own right!
6. Fencing Improves Academics
Much like self-esteem, studies have shown the positive impact of athletics on academic performance. Melding together exercise, competition, and mental stimulation creates a lasting change in the ability of kids to work across disciplines. Children seamlessly weave these skills into their school work, borrowing the skills that they build on the fencing strip when they are under pressure during academic tasks. Kids learn to manage the rush of adrenaline in competition with a clear head, which is strikingly like the rush of adrenaline during testing or challenging school assignments.
The exercise has the added benefit of mental clarity. Kids sleep better when their muscles are tired, which leads to improved focus during homework and class time. Fencing students learn tools to help them analyze situations, make complex decisions quickly, and think on their feet. The speed of a fencing match is quick, and learning to pull one’s entire focus into the moment is a skill that they can use in the classroom not just now, but on into college and beyond.
7. Fencing Appeals to the Gamer Mindset
Fencing is one of the five original sports played in the Olympics. There’s something exciting about wielding a sword toward an opponent that appeals to kids who love to play video games. That of course is just about all kids. The buzzing, and beeps of the scoring systems during competition also compliment this feeling that kids are chasing in their electronic games. We’ve even had some kids comment that fencing makes them feel like they’re in some kind of virtual reality video game! That’s with the exception of having the whole body move instead of just their fingers. Why just sit on the couch and push buttons when you can stand up and do the things that are in the video games? Today’s games often closely imitate swordplay with controllers, which makes real fencing even better.
If your kid is into Star Wars, this feeling is there as well. Some fencers feel like they’re swinging around actual lightsabers! Complete with a light illuminating after a successful touch (which is how a scored point is signaled).
Swords in general appeal to most kids. Everyone in the world has been exposed to swords in some way – during backyard games, in school plays, with friends, in movies. Swords and swordfighting are engraved in our culture in so many ways, regardless of where a given individual is from. That’s one reason it appeals to every single person. Beyond Star Wars, there are the Three Musketeers, the Princess Bride, Zorro, King Arthur, the Pirates of Caribbean and Jack Sparrow, and so many more. The pop culture they are a part of extends the way that kids play and imagine, so when they take a real fencing sword they are able to live the legends that they idolize.
Whether it’s gaming or movies, fencing allows kids to be a real life part of what they could otherwise only imagine.
8. Fencing Builds Lifelong Friendships
The fencing community is both vast and small at the same time. Over the years, many young fencers grow through the sport alongside their fellow athletes. They can then continue to play the sport in college and beyond. It’s not unusual to see some of your high school or junior high school fencing buddies at a college match. It’s not just kids who are on the same team that become close friends, nor is it kids who fence the same weapon. We find that fencers make friendships with older fencers who become mentors to them and then with younger fencers who they become mentors for. There is a camaraderie in fencing among those training together that is unlike anything else.
At the same time, the travel involved in fencing allows kids the opportunity to make friends with children from all over the country, and in some cases all over the world! This is rare in many other sports, which keep their matches primarily local to their city and state. The fencing community is rich with connections, and in the age of social media they stay even stronger over time. It’s the in person interactions that make it all happen though, Young fencers meet each other again and again on the tournament circuit once they get to a certain level in the sport. They become friends even as they are opponents! This is a hallmark of competitive fencing.
9. Fencing instills respect for the material
We recently wrote about what you’re really paying for when you’re investing in fencing for your child. But when it comes to a need tp purchase a fencing gear, it turns out it is not that expensive as people think. Especially as compared to some other sports (such as Hockey and Baseball). While there are a few initial investments that most parents need to make (mostly for the gear) fencing equipment is not that much more expensive than other popular sports. And most clubs will let you practice with gear that has been donated.
Fencing gear has a reputation for being expensive, after all it is the sport of the elite. It’s true that fencing is more expensive than team sports like rec soccer or middle school cheerleading. However the price tag should not be a reason that kids stay out of the sport, but because of some inflated notions of the financial cost of fencing, sometimes parents can get worried about that aspect. Fencing doesn’t have to break the bank though, and the pricey gear can actually be a good thing!
In part, it’s the expense of the fencing gear that helps it to be so good for the kid’s development. Playing and expensive sport means that kids have to learn to respect their gear, their possessions. Fencing equipment does cost a lot, but it also lasts long time. If it’s taken good care of, that is. There are lots of ways to extend the life of the gear, mostly by improving regular cleaning and taking good care of the pieces of the weapon, Even a growing child gets you a good long life to the equipment, with at least a couple of years to go through the season. It’s also true that in most cases, the broken weapons and cords are easily fixable. The vast majority of issues can be simply fixed without replacing the big parts. Better yet, some families often sell or donate their used gear as children size out of equipment so it’s helpful to ask fellow club members if they know of anyone looking to unload some old gear.
These are just a few of the many, many reasons that we love fencing and why fencing is good for kids!
The story of how America rose to the top is one that is as exciting as anything you’ll read about in sports. It’s intertwined with global politics, because we discover that America became home to some of the greatest fencing talent in the world thanks to the end of the Cold War. That talent, coupled with the incredible innovation that is the hallmark of the American ideal, has come together to create a story that it’s impossible to put down.
What happened with American fencers is the kind of transformation that you see in movies. In fact, it made me think of a classic Olympic film, Cool Runnings. You know the one, it’s the very fictionalized account of the real events that led to the first Jamaican bobsled team. U.S. fencers at one time were almost as much of a longshot as the bobsledders from the Caribbean, though without the comedy we see in the movie.
Why I wrote this book
While I watched the United States continue to grow as a talent in the World Championships and Olympics, I was full of curiosity with how it might have happened. How did America go from being a major underdog to being a major player? It wasn’t at all by accident. I’ve watched as Americans almost never stood a chance of getting to the Olympic podium, to today where we are highly ranked and can count on American fencers making it to the top not just once, but multiple times during the Olympics.
Who can resist the story of someone with no chance who comes out on top? Curiosity is a hallmark of fencing, we always have our minds going as we work to figure out what the opponent is going to do and how we can get ahead of them. What I decided was that the only way to really nurture our growing talent would be if we really understood where we came from.
The connections between varied aspects of American culture and fencing culture fit together in perfect patterns, like pieces of a puzzle. Cobbling those pieces together, I started to see where American fencing came from. My hope is that figuring that out will help us to understand and prepare for where we are going. As an immigrant myself, I have an insider’s view into what it means to come to the United States and build a life for my family full of fencers.
All of the information in the world does no do any good if it’s not shared. So I decided to share it with the fencing community in the form of a book! What I hope is that it starts a dialogue about what who we are as a fencing community, and that it helps us to know which questions to ask going forward. The American fencing story is of course only beginning.
I look out into our club and I see how very hard the fencers are training. I see them go to competition after competition, taking guidance from their coaches and with the support of their families. For them, I am always seeking something better. How better can we help American fencers to succeed? How can we maximize the potential in the athletes that we nurture? These are questions that I ask constantly, relentlessly. These are the kinds of questions that made it clear to me that I had to go deeper, and that’s why I wrote this fencing book.
Knowledge that matters to fencers
Technique is important. Practice is critical. Training is essential. Understanding our sport in the big picture is what will leap us forward even further.
This book will take you on a journey along with American fencing from the beginnings in the times of the Founding Fathers, all the way through the lackluster first decades of American competition in the Olympic Games, and on to today where American fencing stands poised to build on its success and become a major player on the world stage. It’s been a complicated road for the United States, one that’s intertwined with world politics and changing social structures. The American story is one of immigration and tenacity.
Noticing the change is one thing, understanding why it happened is another. How have American fencers gone from being at the bottom of the fencing barrel to rising to the top? What is unique about the American fencing story in comparison to established European fencing powers? Where is American fencing going and how will the past inform the future? You’re going to find lots of references in this book, because so much research went into its development. I worked hard to make sure that every figure was right, every claim could be backed up. Nothing is ever perfect, we know that as fencers, but when you read it I hope that you can see how much effort went into accuracy.
Going from a nobody to a somebody is a classic American story. Here we chronicle the influences that have pushed the United States through a breathtaking and unexpected rise to the top of world fencing. From Cold War politics to competitive structures, generational learning to innovative techniques, here you’ll find the wandering and thrilling tale of how we got here. There’s undoubtedly a long way yet to go, but learning the path here is key to taking American fencing forward towards that well-deserved success.
From Cool Runnings to World Superpower: The Rise of American Fencing by Igor Chirashnya is available on Amazon today, in both hard copy and Kindle form. The audiobook version can be found on Audible.
A fraud issue that we’ve heard reported at major competitions is also one that many fencers are afraid to talk about. It’s hard to call out fellow coaches on bad behavior, and it takes a brave person to do it. You might have seen some of these same things happen yourself, but either didn’t know what to do or maybe were too timid to confront the individual.
Luckily, we have a guest poster who isn’t afraid to tackle the tough issues in fencing. Read on to learn more about one of the dark sides of high level fencing competitions that no one is talking about, but that we should all be more aware of.
This opinion piece is offered to us by Coach Yakov Danilenko, head coach and owner of the Medeo Fencing Club. We think that his perspective is an important one to share!
By: Yakov Danilenko
With Summer National Championships and the July Challenge approaching fast, I would like to draw your attention to one important problem that may arise during these major epee tournaments. It’s something that’s happened in the past at least twice at Summer Nationals and the NAC.
I’m here to warn you about fraud on the part of some not-so-honest coaches.
Most of the epee coaches who are working in North America are good, honest, hard-working professionals who love their profession and respect their fellow coaches. Most of them are people for whom the words of honor and dignity are not an empty sound. Unfortunately, among the coaches there are also frankly some fraudsters and deceivers who will not stop at anything for the sake of victory. They are firm in the belief that winning results in competitions should and must be achieved by any means. Those means include tactics like psychological pressure on the referee or aggressive and rude behavior towards the student during the bout. This is usually a violation of the ethical standards and requirements of Safe Sport. Such “coaches” allow themselves to swear, shout, and insult the student during the bout. At times we even see coaches reach to the level of open fraud with the scamming of electronic equipment.
Here are a couple of examples of fraudulent schemes involving the equipment.
Cord disconnection – The trick is to imperceptibly disconnect the floor cord from the reel on the side of its student during the control check of the weapon by the referee. This happens after their fencer has received a touch in an intense situation during a bout.
Critical situation – The score is equal, 14:14 in a DE bout (or 44:44 in a team meet). The opponent scores a decisive touch, the audience explodes with a cry of joy and applause for the winner or with regret, they express disappointment with the loser. At this time, the coach of the loser student (or team) pulls the floor cord out of the reel from the side of its student, usually with a foot, and shouts “Check your weapon !!!” The student, suspecting nothing, delivers his blade to the referee for verification. The referee inspects the weapon in accordance with the requirements of the rules of the competition. The ref looks over the inner surface of the bell guard, makes sure that the individual cord is connected to the reel socket, and that the cord holder is in place. But this does not go further, none of the referees check the connection between the floor cord and the reel. After that, the referee presses the button of the tip and states that the blade does not work, the color light does not go off, everyone is watching the referee’s manipulations with a lot of tension. The referee, in accordance with the rules, confiscates a broken blade and annuls the touch given. Fraud plan worked! At this time, the coach-cheater acts as if nothing has happened connects the floor cord back to the reel.The fencer takes a spare blade and the bout continues as usual.
No one would like to be in either of these situations. You can imagine what the fencer feels who has not been given a deserved touch. After such a nervous shock, usually the bout is lost by that fencer who didn’t get to keep their honest touch.
As a rule, such methods are used by unfair coaches who cannot and do not have the ability to win honestly. These are people who don’t respect their colleagues, nor their students, nor the opponents of their students. We should consider them amateurs and naive fools.
If any of you have experienced this kind of fraudulent scheme, with equipment or with a coach who was unfair to their students or yours, please share your experience! Knowing how big the problem is will be a big part of fixing it.
I believe that all coaches who are dedicated to their work should read this post for information and in order to be aware during the competition. We must get rid of such false coaching practices, they make fencing harder for everyone. These coaches who do not stop at anything for the sake of a pyrrhic victory, they have no place in the sport. These people are simply horrible, they are the worst of sport, the worst of any sport. It’s a problem that makes me beyond angry, and there is only one solution – if you see something, say something! Be on the lookout for these behaviors at competition, and tell the officials when you see it.
It’s obvious that parents want to do what’s best for their child. That’s the point of parenting isn’t it? But the answer to helping your child definitely isn’t in doing everything for them. And it definitely isn’t in leaving them to do everything themselves. Now what you’ve got to figure out is how you can balance the two.
You need a guide to help you know how to foster independence and fulfill those needs. Luckily we just so happen to have one.
Most of us have heard of Maslow’s hierarchy. If you haven’t, don’t worry, we’re going to to talk about what it is and how fencing parents can use it.
Sometimes the best way to understand what we need to give to our kids is to dig into a little basic psychology. We’re not here to be armchair therapists, but there are some tools from psychology that are widely used in all kinds of settings, from education to business. Maslow’s Hierarchy is one of them. The ideas right here can translate to just about every part of life, and for parents the structure here can be incredibly useful.
Below is a pyramid called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. You may or may not have heard of it, but if you haven’t then you’re in for some eye-opening insight. If you have, then it’s time to revisit it and learn how it can help you out right now.
And hang in there fencers and fencing parents, because yes this does closely relate to our sport.
The idea of Maslow’s Hierarchy is that you need first to take care of the things on the bottom of the pyramid. Then as each of those is fulfilled, you can move up to the next and the next, until you get to the top.
Let’s then talk about the bottom two rungs, the Basic needs. These are the fundamental things that we must have in order to survive.
These are the basic needs. THESE are the things that money can buy you. You need food and water. You need warmth and rest. Money can directly buy those things. If you don’t have enough money for those, you’re definitely not going to be happy. It’s just not possible – you must have them to live and you must have money to acquire them. There are ways to upgrade those too. For instance you can buy healthier food or afford a better bed to rest more efficiently.
Parents, the physiological needs are what you’re giving to your kids on a fundamental level. You give them food and you put them to bed on time. Think back to those baby years and you’ll be on target with the physiological needs!
Fencers have an important relationship with the physiological needs. Hydration and good nutrition are central to good fencing, so this foundation of the pyramid is important for fencers.
Just above food and water are security and safety. These are also things that money can buy. Think about families who are worrying about whether they will be evicted from their home or their electricity will be cut off. Or think about families who live in the part of town that has a higher level of crime so that they don’t feel safe in their home. You have to make sure you have a home to live in, and again money can buy that. Directly and essentially.
If you have ever been without these basic things, then you know that they are all you can think about when you don’t have them. When you do have them, you tend not to notice them. The more money you have, to a certain degree, the better those things on the bottom can be. There is a limit to that of course. You need a safe home to meet your needs, but you don’t need a home with a swimming pool to meet your needs.
The safety need is one that you have been working on for your children since they were tiny and you rocked them to sleep. You’re still providing that to your children as they get older, and let’s be honest even when they are adults you’ll probably be doing this same thing! Lots of us call home to mom or dad still when we are parents to get reassurance.
For fencers, think about how the need for safety extends to mental and emotional safety. Your child needs to know that they can travel safety to and from competitions, and that they are safe with the adults that surround them in the fencing club. And of course they need to feel safe from injury during fencing.
In the second section, Psychological needs, there are things that are given to us by other people.
Belongingness and love
We as families can give those to our kids. In fact, that’s what we’re supposed to do! They can come from other places too, like the fencing club or the school.
People need to feel that they are a part of something that is more than just them. They need to be a part of something bigger. The first thing that they are part of that is bigger than themselves is their family. Later down the line that expands out from just the family unit to the school, and eventually to activities beyond the school like fencing. Though we can sometimes gloss over the importance of this, we really shouldn’t. For children and for adults. Community and connectedness give us a reason for living! Sure you can fulfill those basic needs, but without being loved they have no meaning.
Notice that this connection with other people is right there next to safety and security. It’s in the bottom half of the pyramid! You have to be a part of something that is beyond yourself in order to function on a basic level. As parents, it’s a big part of our job to give that to our kids.
Self-esteem and feelings of accomplishment are things that we can’t hand to our kids, but we can give them the best environment possible for them to grow those on their own. That might mean enrolling them in the best school or encouraging an afterschool activity like fencing.
You must feel accomplished within the group that you are in, like you are worthwhile. So many kids today seem to struggle deeply with feeling that they are not worthy. That’s really the case for kids as they reach middle school and high school. Every little thing at this age is either building their esteem or taking it down, and of course we as parents want to be doing things that are building them up. It is critical that we surround our kids with positive peer and adult relationships so that they can get the good reinforcement that they need to build their self esteem.
Keep in mind that a kid doesn’t have to be a fencing champion in order to have a good sense of self esteem. You can build self esteem through the fundamental, every day fencing that happens right there in the club. It’s the camaraderie with the coaches and the other fencers, as well as your positive reinforcement as a parent, that really gives kids that boost that they need.
Top of Maslow’s Pyramid
The top section is something totally different, and it’s a place that many of us hope to reach without even knowing that its teh place that we’re striving for. What’s great about Maslow is how this sections becomes a beacon for us to reach for. As a parent, I know that I sometimes wonder what the aim is of all this. I know I want to be a good parent because I love my kids, but what is the end game? The answer is right there on Maslow’s Hierarchy!
The top of the pyramid includes things that parents cannot give to their children. Not at all. Self fulfillment is not anything that you can purchase or that you can make your child work hard on, no matter how smart you are or how much money you have. This particular thing must be earned through hard work and self-discovery. It takes reflection and making mistakes to get to the top, but that is the ultimate goal of every person really isn’t it? No matter what your personal beliefs are, everyone wants to feel whole and like they are doing their best in life.
For fencers, that really means the nitty gritty. Self fulfillment is that trigger moment where the fencer feels that he or she is truly part of something bigger but that they also are at peace with their journey. It’s not a thing that your child is going to have all the time, but it’s a noble and important goal. Self-fulfillment doesn’t come from medals or podium finishes, but rather it’s an everyday strumming of happiness. Your child will find this top of the pyramid right down on the ground, hopefully with the fencing sword in their hand!
The “good life” is up there at the top of that pyramid. The tough part is that no amount of money can buy you or your child “the good life.” That might be hard to hear, because we as parents want to give our kids everything. It’s just not possible. We can only give them their basic needs, then surround them with psychological supports, then watch them find self-fulfillment on their own. There are no shortcuts, no tricks.
How Maslow can inform fencing
Now let’s look at how Maslow’s hierarchy can inform our fencing.
If you are a parent who is contemplating putting your child into a fencing program, or if you have already got your child into a fencing program, then you’ve likely managed to support that child in the bottom section of Maslow’s hierarchy already. You’ve got a safe home with food and shelter for your child. Those things might seem somewhat trivial, but they aren’t available to many families.
That leads to the second third of the pyramid. This is really where fencing becomes a bigger part of the pie and is able to support your child’s development in really positive ways. Fencing comes in through the support and growth that happens in the fencing club and with you as a fencing family. A great fencing club becomes an extension of the belongingness and love that happens at home. Fencing clubs are places where relationships are built and self esteem has a chance to grow!
As for the top of the pyramid, that’s more challenging to reach. Many fencers, in fact many coaches too, that we know have found their calling in the sport. We see competitors all the way into their, well let’s say “golden years” who are enlivened by their passion for fencing. They have found a love for this sport that keeps them going and brings them fulfillment. It’s a wonderful thing to see! It’s not easy to find that in life, and we who have found it in fencing certainly consider ourselves lucky. Fencing may or may not be where your child finds their ultimate meaning in life, but it’s not a bad place to try, and many people have found their perfect match with fencing. That could be your child! (Or you! It’s never too late to try fencing!).
We’re not saying that fencing is the answer to everything for your child or that it’s the key to happiness. But what we are saying is that Maslow shows us how important it is to support your children through all of their needs, and fencing can certainly be a positive piece of that support!