You take your child to fencing practice, you support them, you work with them, you see their growth and you are so excited to watch them compete. They’ve been growing and changing, and it’s a great feeling!
You’ve been talking to them about their growth in fencing, listening as they tell you about their newest skills in parrying or fast footwork. They’ve gotten better with their ability to dodge attacks from opponents, and they’ve been on a hot streak in the club. Private lessons are going great, and they’re really working well with their mentors and coaches. They’ve come into their own, and it’s so very heartening for you to see. This is the kind of progress that parents revel in because it feels so great to watch your child succeeding.
The big day comes, and you’re right there at the fencing tournament to watch them. You don’t stand all too close, because you don’t want to distract them. Instead, you’re off to the side a little, able to see everything but not super close to the strip. You can hear all of the other bouts going on around you, but all you can see is your child, lunging and dodging. You watch as your child misses a point they should have gotten, as their opponent bests them on skills that you know your child has mastered. How is this happening? Another green light for their opponent. And another. . . and another. Before you know it, the score for your child’s opponent is fifteen and the bout is over. It all happened so fast.
The disappointment that you feel presses down on you, and your heart becomes heavy as you think about how the bout went off the rails. It’s a weighty feeling, and you can’t help but slump your shoulders and shake your head. How did this match go so wrong?
On a recent quiet night, I found myself reading a book by Michael Dell called Play Nice but Win, in which he quoted Theodore Roosevelt. Though I stumbled upon this quote many years ago, for some reason it resonated with me in a different way than before.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
It’s a meaty quote, with a dense mesh of words that are so thick that you can’t understand it in one go. When I came across it, I read it over again several times. Every time, I peeled layers of meaning back, one after the other, like an onion, until I got to the core of it. Or at least to what I thought was the core of it.
I encourage you to read through it again before you go on. I would even go so far as to say that you don’t need to keep reading this blog, because what follows are my thoughts. Perhaps it’s best if you think over Roosevelt’s words and how they impact your life. It might be that you need to peel your own onion before you see how I peeled mine.
Before we get into it, I want you to think about how it feels to do something versus watching something. As an Olympic sport and a combat sport, we are among a small group of sports that people see much more than they do it. Though everyone has picked up a stick and pretended to hold a sword, it is very different to do the actual thing. It’s very different to be a fencer than it is to play pretend with a pool noodle.
The moment when a fencer gets a new rating is an exciting one. After working hard and continuing to grow, they finally push past their old rating and up to the next level.
Like anything in sport, or anything in life, a rating captures a single moment in time. It’s a marker of where someone was on the day that the rating was granted. Because that rating follows fencers, being put next to their name and being used to seed them for competition, it can feel like it’s part of their identity.
Clubs congratulate fencers on their ratings in newsletters and social media posts, celebrating this achievement. It can seem like a rating is graduation from one level to another, like moving from the novice class to the advanced class.
There are two sides to every coin, though. Intertwined with that joy and excitement about this accomplishment, there is also a great deal of pressure.
There is always some question about the path to the national fencing competition. This is especially true during the spring, as fencers start to need to do the math to figure out what they have to do to qualify. This time of year, we always have parents and fencers asking us about their qualification status for Fencing Summer Nationals.
To make your way from a competitor who wants to compete to a qualified candidate, you have to figure out three things:
How to qualify (the process for everyone)
What your standing is (verifying your individual point standing)
What gaps you have in qualification (and where to go to find them)
This is the same for everyone, no matter what age or stage you are at. It’s not a thing you’ll do just once and then have it figured out, either. Though the whole system is similar for every kind of fencer, it’s not exactly the same for each level. A Cadet and Y10 fencer will find familiarity in their qualification paths, but they will be different enough that they have to figure it out fresh for each of them.
It’s not that difficult to figure out, so let’s jump in and walk through it!
Humanity must stand strong in the face of oppression. Humanity must win. Good must prevail over evil.
These are not just words, they are words with meaning and depth. We are sitting at a crisis point in which the world has to stand united against injustice. The fencing community is a global one, even as we are each in our own individual clubs across the world. What’s happening in Ukraine is affecting our global community.
An immoral war calls for us to speak out
Standing strong means publicly supporting those who are facing the unimaginable. This is beyond politics, beyond borders, and beyond our differences. There is no question that the people of Ukraine are brave, and it is up to us to find the bravery to speak for them.
The aggression towards Ukraine is abominable. The blame for the lives lost lies directly at the feet of the Russian government because the overriding sentiment of the people of Russia is the same as the rest of the world’s view: this invasion is unjust.
This is a moment where we have to do something. Over the last few years, the world’s eyes have been opened to layers of injustice. Today, we are urgently pressed to come forward and raise our collective voices for Ukraine. It is a true matter of life or death in an immoral war of aggression.
There is good in the world, and there is evil in the world, and we are truly seeing an epic moment of clear-cut good versus evil. No country deserves to have its humanity violated. This is why the world is united on one side, with brave Ukrainian people who are standing up to this evil.
Our Ukrainian fencing community
We have seen, up close and personal, the resilience and strength of the Ukrainian people.
Look around you, in your club or in your opponent’s club. Chances are there are coaches from Ukraine. Here in our San Francisco Bay Area, most of the fencing clubs have Ukrainian coaches, including AFM. There is a powerful tradition of fencing that has poured out of this nation. The culture and the people are worthy of admiration, and we are fortunate to have them among us.
It’s difficult to imagine the strain that they are under, twenty four hours a day and with no end in sight. They live with the knowledge that their families are under fire, that their friends and colleagues back home are in the worst situation. The images that are coming out of Kyiv, Kherson, and Mariupol are difficult to look at for those of us on the outside – what must it feel like to see them when they are your friends and family?
Schools, hospitals, and everyday people are subject to a war that they did not ask for. In any place in the world, in any war or oppression, human pain and suffering are intolerable. In the case of Ukraine, especially for the fencing community, it’s the suffering of a family of somebody that you know, somebody that is dear to you.
Stop for a moment and take stock of how many friends and fellow fencers you know who have connections to Ukraine. The people who you share your club with and who you fence with and tell jokes with. Right now, their families are being bombarded by the invading army of a totalitarian regime. It is unimaginable.
As a fencing community, we have no influence on what happens with international politics. But as people, as human beings, we all have a huge influence on each other. Public sentiment may not directly stop the tanks from rolling through the wheat fields of Ukraine, but it can make a difference as it pushes politicians to make choices that will stop those tanks.
Together, we have an impact
When we speak out, we plant a seed. If the world unites in global outrage at this brazen violation of sovereignty, the international community can indeed make this war stop soon, fast, and forever.
Many Ukrainians now feel helpless. Those who have emigrated are far away and unable to make a change, and those who are trapped under this siege in Ukraine itself are facing a deep horror at their door.
Speak out with your support! Your voice, when you speak to your Ukrainian colleagues and fellow fencers, makes a huge difference in helping them feel less alone. If you have friends in your club or coaches or families, take a leap and talk to them! Don’t walk around on eggshells with their feelings. They will tell you if it’s overwhelming, but they’ll also feel your support. Sometimes even a listening ear helps make all the difference.
Many people have asked about how they can support the Ukrainian community. The first thing is to be a front line with your coaches and teammates with Ukrainian connections. Show them your empathy and your compassion.
That is the first step, and it’s the best way for you to make an impact. If you want to do something that reaches out beyond your local community, look to this link for more information on how to make a difference on a global scale – how to help Ukraine.
Right now, right here, it is absolutely critical that we stand up for what is right. We can speak out against the cruelty and greed of war, and in doing so we show a small piece of the bravery that the people of Ukraine have shown while they face the worst kind of brutality.