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I’ll be the first to admit there’s an element of hypocrisy to this post. I probably use my cellphone too much to check my work email, catch a Pokémon or 30 in Pokémon Go, swap texts with friends, or make an occasional s***post on Reddit (okay, more like frequent s***posts on Reddit and a few hundred Pokémon). I’m not one to sit here and rue the dangers of the smartphone revolution or the evils of social media. But there’s a time and place to put them away and focus on the world around you, and that’s the moment you enter the doors of your fencing club.

In a world where we’re constantly distracted by the Facespace, ChapSnaps, Instaface, and a game of NightForts, teens are becoming more engrossed with their smartphones, impacting time well-spent while fencing.

According to a 2018 study by Pew Research, 95% of teenagers now have access to smartphones. 45% are online ‘almost constantly’ (up 24% from 2015), and 9 in 10 are online several times per day.[1]

My anecdotal experience as a Coach is supported by the data. More and more I’m seeing kids enslaved by their smartphones to the point I’ve instituted a fairly draconian policy with my students: when you’re in the club, the smartphone stays tucked in your bag unless you’re using it for music to warm up or to get in contact with a parent.

Because razor-sharp focus is such an important part of Fencing performance, even a quick glance at your phone can have adverse effects on a concentrated practice.

In a Psychology Today article titled “How Media Use Hurts Athletes,” Dr. Jim Taylor wrote: “Focus impacts learning; without the capacity for sustained focus, athletes will forget what they are working on technically or tactically during practice. As soon as athletes lose focus, they stop doing whatever they were working on and further ingrain old and bad skills and habits. And, without that extended focus, they won’t be able to gain enough quality repetition necessary to effectively ingrain new skills and habits.”[2]

Beyond impacts to focus, cellphones also present detriments to camaraderie and good communication between athletes. In the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Season, Texas Tech had gone on a three-game losing streak. The captain of the team mandated his teammates put the phones away before their next game. They won the next game, leading the coach to make the team turn their phones in every night. The Raiders only lost one more game and would end up making it to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament before losing to Villanova. [3]

This is a parable we could learn from in Fencing. Dialogue and constant feedback loops are important to understanding what went well in a practice bout, what could have gone better, and most importantly—building rapport with your teammates. When our heads are in our smartphones, we detach from our teammates and fail to work as a collective club.

I am cognizant of the fact I sound like an old man screaming at a cloud. But for the benefit of yourself, your teammates, and for respect to your coach, unplug while you’re in the salle. The only Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) you need to worry about is getting sick touches and sick gainz. Put the phone away and fence.

[1] https://www.geekwire.com/2018/new-research-finds-95-teens-access-smartphone-45-online-almost-constantly/

[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-power-prime/201701/how-media-use-hurts-athletes

[3] https://www.foxbusiness.com/technology/texas-tech-banned-smartphones-amid-ncaa-tournament-run-report

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Image courtesy of Wikimedia

As a lover of sports, I have played Football, Basketball, and Fútbol. I wrestled, I boxed (my brain works; I can still read good), and of course, I still actively fence. Each sport, though a potpourri of individual and team has provided me with a unique perspective on the virtues of being a good teammate. Whether it is football’s high intensity “menergy,” Basketball and Fútbol’s “us first, me second” ideals, wrestling and boxing’s discipline and vigorous practices, or fencing’s inherent camaraderie, each sport has molded my ideas on how to conduct oneself in a team atmosphere.

Today, I share with you my ideas for what makes a good fencing teammate, based on the best (and worst) elements of what I’ve seen in my sporting career.

During a Tournament

  1. A good teammate will stay from the beginning of the tournament until his/her final teammate is eliminated. He/she will cheer loudly, encouragingly, and supportively even if that teammate has defeated you in a tournament.
  2. A good teammate will offer an embrace in addition to a handshake should he/she win or lose. It is the ultimate way of saying “It’s all good, bro.” Win respectfully, lose gracefully, and play fair.
  3. A good teammate will never coach against his/her fellow club mate. This applies to coaches within a club as well.
  4. A good teammate will strip coach his/her fellow club members against opposing teams if he/she possesses the knowledge to provide exceptional and useful strip coaching.
  5. A good teammate will be willing and eager to help fix weapons in the inevitable event one fails.
  6. In a team event, a good teammate will be waiting at the end of the strip to provide his/her teammate a high-five in both devastating defeat and overwhelming victory.

During Practice

  1. For God’s sake, a good teammate will wash his/her uniform regularly because no one likes an unhygienic stinkball of a club mate.
  2. A good teammate will provide constructive feedback during bouting, but only if asked for by the opposing fencer. Trust me when I say fencers hate unsolicited advice.
  3. A good teammate will channel his/her inner Ray Lewis to motivate and provide positive encouragement where positive encouragement is seen fit.
  4. A good teammate will push his/her fellow teammates to work harder, get an extra bout in, and up the intensity during footwork.
  5. A good teammate will put his/her cellphone away, because playing your Nightfort game and posting on the Instaface and ChapSnats can wait until you get home. Your teammates need you, and you need them. Be present when you’re in practice.
  6. A good teammate will provide their undivided attention and respect to the veteran fencers in the club. They provide decades of sound advice, they love fencing more than anyone, and they’re the best source of mentoring you can find.
  7. A good teammate will listen to the coach and put his/her trust in the coach. Because coaches usually have European accents, it means they probably know what they’re talking about.
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Image courtesy of wikimedia

Two weeks ago, the FIE Congress passed a series of new non-combativity rules that will bring material changes to Epee, and to a lesser extent, Foil fencing. There’s a lot to track here, so I’ve tried my best to break down the nuances of the rules below.

I’d like to qualify this post with a few things:

  1. This is my interpretation, so don’t take it for the gospel. The rules committee (and others far more qualified than I) will likely provide more guidance shortly. This is just to put the new rules on your radar.
  2. These changes are not immediate. From what I understand, they will not come into effect during an Olympic qualification cycle. Timing of enaction is to be determined.

Change #1: Criteria of time has changed to strike the word “approximately” from the rulebook (t.124)…in other words, it could be called like a shotclock now.

Why this is Noteworthy: The rule used to read: “There is unwillingness to fight when there is approximately one minute of fencing without a hit or without a hit scored off the target.”

“Approximately one minute” allowed referees to exercise their judgment to when to apply the rule, and were explicitly told not call non-combativity like a shot clock. The deletion of “approximately” seems to indicate that the rule will be moving towards a shot clock interpretation that will take fencers to the next period after EXACTLY one minute has passed.

Does this mean that a Fencer might now be mid-fleche and get a halt called on him/her? It’s unclear at this time; however, the new rules do say that the scoring machines will get a shot clock timer on them, which leads me to believe they could lock out any action after the one minute timer runs out.

Change #2: Non-Combativity will no longer advance the bout to the next period

Why this is Noteworthy: Under the current rules, when non-combativity is called, it advances to the next period without a one-minute break (and into priority if called in the third period).

Under the new rules, this is no longer the case. If non-combativity is called, it institutes a new set of penalties (more on that below), but the bout will continue without advancing to the next period.

Change #3: There will be penalties for non-combativity, depending on who’s behind, or if the score is tied

Why this is Noteworthy: This is where the rule change gets a little trickier. Let’s consider two scenarios under the new rules:

  • Scenario A: “The two fencers are equal: the Referee will sanction both fencers with a red card.” Example: Fencer A and Fencer B are tied at 8-8. One minute of fencing happens with no touch scored. Red card is given to Fencer A and Fencer B. The score is then 9-9.
  • Scenario B: “The two fencers are not equal: the Referee will sanction the fencer with the lower score with a red card.” Example: Fencer A is in the lead with a score of 10-8. One minute of fencing happens with no touch scored. Because Fencer B is down, Fencer B receives a red card. The score is now 11-8.

Change #4: The same criteria listed in Change #3 apply to Team events; however, one or both teams can be awarded a black card

Why this is Noteworthy: It’s noteworthy for many reasons. There are additional criteria to apply non-combativity to team events. Under the passed proposal, the new rule reads: “For each minute of unwillingness to fight the above “red card” sanction will be applied by the Referee, until one or both teams are assigned three red cards. In the case of a further unwillingness to fight minute, one or both teams who already received three red cards, will receive the black card and the fencer that is awarded a black card is disqualified.” It sounds like a double black card could happen in team events.

Change #5: Non-combativity cards are to be considered independent of standard penalties

Why this is Noteworthy: All the cards for non-combativity discussed above don’t follow the standard sequence of penalization. So, for example: Period #1, Fencer A is up on Fencer B with a score of 6-3. One minute of fencing transpires without a touch. Fencer B receives a red card, giving Fencer A a 7-3 lead. On the next action, Fencer B initiates a corps-a-corps to avoid a touch. This would give Fencer B a yellow card, not an additional red card. It has been proposed to incorporate a new “P Red-Card” so that the non-combativity penalties are easier to track. Black cards received for triple non-combativity will also not be subject to the FIE’s suspension of 60 days for receiving a black card.

My Thoughts: This is a much more benign proposal compared to the non-combativity rules that were rejected at last year’s FIE Congress. The enaction of these rules will have interesting implications for Epee tactics, and will force the Fencer with a lower score to act far more aggressively when down to avoid getting red carded into a deeper hole, while Fencers with a lead will be able to more easily anticipate when his/her opponent’s attacks are coming, as the onus to attack will soon fall on the opponent with the lesser score.

It would seem the intent of these rule changes was two-fold: to make fencing more spectator-friendly, and to drive more action in the bout. I’m not sure these rules will be able to further those goals. By eliminating the rule that advances the bout to the next period, two Fencers in an individual event with a tied score could still show an unwillingness to fence and just get P-Red-Carded (that sounds weird) all the way into overtime.

I don’t love the idea of a black card in teams for non-combativity, and it seems overly harsh to disqualify both teams.

Non-combativity has seen many different iterations since it was first introduced, and it seems to change now every three years. Sometimes for the better (e.g. eliminating the “15 seconds of no blade contact rule”), and sometimes for the worse (e.g. black cards for teams). This won’t be the last time the rule changes. It’ll be intriguing to see the behaviors these new rules bring to the piste.

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