Art of Fencing, Art of Life

Month: January 2021

You Were Always Training Alone

You were always training alone

Thanks to pandemic lockdowns, we have been forced to think differently about the way that we approach our training. Though fencing is an individual sport, it’s long been one that we practice in group settings, with coaches, classmates, training partners, and mentors on the strip to give us active feedback while we are learning to fence. Rarely was a fencer off training alone in their sport.

That is no longer an option, with pandemic lockdowns pushing our fencing at best to socially distanced lessons with masks and small groups, at worst to virtual classes over zoom. We are still part of a community, but that community is physically disconnected. 

We get lost in the rush of classes and competition. There is a busy-ness to being a competitive fencer. As the fencing season rose and fell, we were always following the hectic schedule of competition and training. There were so many things to do, and we chased them with gusto. When everything stopped, it challenged us deeply. We could no longer just think about where we were going next, we had to think about why we were going anywhere at all. 

One of the hardest parts of training throughout this whole time of lockdown has been that we are training alone.

How Accessible is Fencing?

How accessible is fencing - Geico ad about Neighbors fencing problem

There is more to fencing than just being passionate about it and wanting to do it – you have to have the means to fence. There are many reasons that someone might not be able to fence, but by far the biggest impediment is the simple fact that it is accessible everywhere, that there are no fencing clubs in every town, or even sometimes in a region. 

If we want to grow our sport, we need to understand where we are right now so that we can see those opportunities. There are so many opportunities! Defining the parameters is an essential part of the process, kind of like evaluating a new opponent on the strip.

We are not alone at least. Many Olympic sports face similar challenges to what fencing faces in terms of reaching into sparsely populated areas. This is a reality for anyone who wants to train for an elite competition of any kind, even when it is not specifically sport related. Think about the arts or academics – the best tutors and the highest universities are generally centered around urban areas, or at the very least aren’t too far from them.  If you want to be the best, then you need to go where the best teachers are, and the best teachers, by definition, have to be rare. 

For fencing, it’s not just that most of the population is far from the best coaches, it’s that most of the population is far from ANY coach. There are irregularities in the training that is available, both in the quality of instructors and in the ability to compete, which is such a big driver for growth in fencers.  These are problems to solve and overcome, but also realities that won’t change too much with time. We have to figure out where we are at so that we can make the most of what we can be as a sport. 

Ideas and Steps to Encourage Your Child to Stick with Fencing

Ideas and Steps to Encourage Your Child to Stick with Fencing
Rear view of father and son walking in autumn forest

Pandemic-era parenting challenges is completely new territory. Before coronavirus, there were challenges in parenting, but on the whole we felt like we had a handle on what we were doing. There wasn’t a roadmap per se, but there were people who had been there before. We could follow the advice that we knew had been tried and tested by other parents. If your child wanted to make it to Summer Nationals, well there were other parents whose children had done that and could tell you the way. If your child was struggling with self-confidence after a loss, a parent could go to another parent who had experienced that and find a wise ear. 

During the pandemic there is none of that. There are no other fencing parents who can talk us through what it’s like to fence with social distancing outside and no competitions. 

Encouraging your child to keep fencing

The way that we support kids has a lot to do with their eventual success. We start off by doing a lot for them, then we step back bit-by-bit until they are totally on their own. Want your child to stick with fencing? Here are seven ways to help that happen.  

Why Fencers Must Learn to Trust the Sweat

Why fencers must learn to trust the sweat

What does it take to become an elite fencer?  This is a question that just about every fencer wants to know, and it’s one that we are always on the hunt for an answer to. There is actually not a simple answer, not in the slightest. There are things that we know work, but one that cuts through them all is this simple mantra – trust the sweat.

The grind?

I am not a real fan of the idea of “the grind” because it sounds far too negative. Work is a daily grind. School can be a daily grind. These are things that we do not have much of a choice in doing, though we do them anyway because of the other good things that we know are on the other side of them. Fencing should not be a grind, because in the end it is something that we are freely choosing to pursue. Even kid fencers who are being shaped by their parents are hopefully choosing to pursue this sport rather than being forced into it.

When we think of grinding, we think of two things coming together and pushing on each other until one or both sides wear away or the thing that is between them is crushed. The notion in sport is that you have to grind away at your sport in order to slough off all of the things that are holding you back and to polish your athletic ability into the shiny thing that is underneath. 

Polishing is a great idea, in part because that metaphor hints at the wonderful things that are underneath. There are wonderful fencing skills under there for every fencer who is willing to pursue that dream! However, this idea that we have to grind away at ourselves to get better is not appealing. 

Fencing practice should not feel like punishment. Not ever. When we engage with elite fencing athletes, they all talk about motivation in positive terms. They feel an obligation to get up and practice even on those hard days, but it is an obligation that rises from inside of them, not one that is pushed onto them. It is important to take apart the difference between motivation that comes from inside and motivation that comes from the outside. Only one of those things is sustainable. No one can grind their way to success, and especially parents and coaches cannot grind fencers towards success.

All that being said, it does not mean that becoming great is a walk in the park. 

Mercantile Goals in Fencing

Mercantile Goals in Fencing

A mercantile goal is one that is based on trading up. You want to progress from where you are now to a place that is higher, for whatever reason, and there is a tangible payoff when you arrive. In fencing, some examples of mercantile goals would include getting into college, earning a rating, qualifying for a specific competition, etc. 

This is a phenomenon that we see in sports so clearly, but also that exists in every aspect of life. You can do things for the purpose of a payoff, or you can do things because you enjoy the process and the growth that you get in doing it. The satisfaction when it is about your own growth is deeper and more fulfilling. 

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