Are shorter fencers at a disadvantage? Isn’t my child too short to succeed in fencing?
This question is much more common than some might think and is one that parents of prospective fencers ask all the time. For many aspiring fencers, height is a determining factor for beginning or even continuing their career in the sport. Many people think that it is super important to be very tall with the epee but okay to be short in foil. That’s only a myth!
Being short is not a disadvantage at all in fencing.
There is a whole world of anecdotal evidence from fencing competitions both domestic and international that shows how shorter fencers are able to take on much taller opponents across disciplines.
One of the best and most recent examples of a beautiful display of the art of fencing is Samuel Imrek, the 2022 Cadet World Champion. Sam, in the last December NAC in the Division 1 event, beat two Olympians, 15:6 each, much taller and much more senior than him.
Overall, fencers on the Olympic level tend to be on the shorter side, in fact. There’s a great analysis of the anthropometry of fencers in the 2012 London Olympics on Topend Sports. Here, you’ll see that male fencers tend to be right at 6 feet and female fencers average 5.5 feet. While that might make it seem like fencers have to be on the taller side to win, it’s not so stark when you look at the greats.
Here’s a quick list of fencers who are on the shorter side, in all weapons and across both genders.
Lee Kiefer, women’s foil, Olympic Champion Tokyo 2020, 5′4″ (162 cm)
Sera Song, ranked #2 in the world in women’s epee, 5’4” (162 cm)
Koki Kano, men’s epee, Olympic Team Champion, Tokyo 2020, 5’8” (175 cm)
For both men and women in all fencing disciplines, there are plenty of examples of athletes who are on the shorter side who make it all the way to the top of the sport. In many tournaments, we see again and again that short fencers beat their tall opponents. Just like tall athletes, short ones use size to their advantage too.
How long to push a child into staying in a sport is an important question. It gets right to the balancing act that parents walk as they work to scaffold their children’s development while also giving kids the right amount of autonomy to grow into independent individuals.
This is an age-old parenting conundrum, and it’s one that we get over and over again. Knowing when to give up on something is a difficult decision, and it’s one that parents are often torn over because they want what’s best for their child. What’s best for a child is not always what they want, and that’s why we’re here to guide them.
The push and pull of the responsibilities of USA Fencing is significant, particularly as our sport has grown and of course through the massive challenges of the pandemic.
It’s critical that we look out for the future of our sport, and that means looking out for our youngest competitors. Youth fencers who compete early get a head start, making the road to the highest levels more attainable and, importantly, less stressful along the way.
A few days ago, I wrote a post about the current motion to cancel Y10 and Y12 national fencing competitions that was placed before the board back in October. In it, I encouraged our readers to reach out to their board members and to sign the petition urging the Task Force to recommend that these competitions remain in USA Fencing.
Things change in fencing, but they don’t always change for the better. Right now, we’re potentially facing the loss of a section of fencing on the national level, and such a decision would be a big step backwards.
What is the issue? In short – some of the USA Fencing Board Members proposed to eliminate Youth 10 & 12 events from the national competitions in order to free resources for Senior level Divisions 2 & 3. This proposal was discussed in the recent Board Meeting and there was created a task force to evaluate this proposal and make a decision. More about this is below.
Though we all want to be conscious of pushing our young people too hard and with too much intensity, removing these competitive levels is not an effective way to do that. In fact, Y10 and Y12 fencers competing at the national level is hugely positive for them overall as well as hugely important for the development of international level fencers. The exposure that they gain by having the chance to compete at the high levels helps to propel them forward to be confident in the future.
This issue is incredibly important, and we need to mobilize our fencing community as quickly as possible to help preserve Y10 and Y12 national events. These are incredibly important for young fencers, and we are all blindsided by the idea that they could be taken out. Fencers hugely benefit from being able to compete at the national level at this age!
Why we need national Y10/Y12 events
Eliminating Y10 and Y12 events is the absolute wrong move for USA Fencing. Why?
National events teach goal setting
National events are exciting, giving Y10 and Y12 fencers something to reach for
Y10 & Y12 fencers become comfortable competing at a high level because of these events
FenceSafe and MAAPP at national events supports safer fencing in those categories at all levels
Clubs and coaches can support young fencers effectively by starting early
Future international competitors lose precious training and competition time, jeopardizing America’s ability to compete at the highest level
Young fencers are not under huge pressure to perform, but rather are gaining invaluable experience
Those of us who are on the ground with Y10 and Y12 fencers are widely in support of keeping these events. We are in direct contact with these fencers, and have seen how much these competitions support their ability to grow within the sport.
My own kids started to compete when they were in the Y10 category, and I watched them grow tremendously through national-level competitions when they were at this age.
On the whole, kids love to go! It’s exciting and interesting to see the events, and for the most part the stakes are low for kids this age. They tend to go with such wide-open eyes and hearts that they just relish being in the environment of a national competition. In my experience, going to these actually helps to reduce their anxiety about competing at this level later on. It’s not a massive stressor, because kids at this age are usually too excited about fencing to be overly worried about what rank they are. For a kid to go to a national level event is often equivalent to ‘attending’ Olympic Games! This huge venue, officially looking referees, all the protocols of the highest level competition, name on the back of their jacket or lame! Just having their name is a huge deal, and most kids are full of excitement when they are back in the class, and everyone sees them as their fencing class heroes or at least celebrities. It’s really a big deal, both for those with the name and for those without it yet, and an aspiration!
I remember walking with my kids around the venue at their first Summer Nationals, and they spotted their idol, the first American World Champion Miles Chamley-Watson. No piece of my kids’ fencing uniform was left unsigned by him – glove, mask, lame! They keep it till this day. National competitions are confidence-building for Y10 and Y12 fencers. Think about it – how wide-eyed would you have been when seeing your heroes at that age?! This is exactly what happens for these fencers. They go to compete themselves, but they also soak up the higher level Cadet, Junior, and Senior fencers as they do amazing things on the strip. It gives them something to aspire to, and that is oh so wonderful!
I remember one March NAC, the kids in our club were talking about this super girl, Lauren Scruggs, whose name I learned from that March NAC. Lauren, at age 10, won 3 events at this March NAC – Y10, Y12, Y14. A few years passed, and Lauren became a World Champion, and not once! She is undoubtfully one of the most decorated Junior fencers in the world! Think about what would happen with her experience and confidence, if the Y10 and Y12 events in that March NAC and in two more consecutive years of March NACs and Summer Nationals were eliminated.
This is just one example of a World-class fencer, one of too many to remember. Take a look at the USA Team roster, current and in the previous years, and track their performance all the way to their youth – you will see that the overwhelming majority started competing when they were young Y10 fencers.
These events really help to build fencers to become stronger, as well as enriching their fencing experience. We strongly support USA Fencing continuing to offer Y10 and Y12 national events because we have seen firsthand how positive they are for fencers.
Making tough decisions
There’s this idea going around that we can’t have it all, and there’s of course some truth in that. However, if we need to choose what to cancel nationally, then youth is definitely not it. The logistics of adding Div2/3 to the national roster might be tough, but this needs to be addressed in a way that doesn’t sacrifice the future of fencing.
It’s also been said that canceling youth events will make things easier on families, given the rising costs on everything in every part of life. While it sounds like a nice thing to try to save family budgets, in reality those decisions are not something that USA Fencing should make. When there are Y10/Y12 events at national competitions, this can allow families with a wide range of ages to have a good experience for everyone, rather than leaving the younger kids out. Family budgeting is up to families, and taking something away will not ease that burden.
We’ve seen too many good things come out of youth fencing to have something like this be stripped from our competitive schedule. There are better, more creative ways to fix the problems that are attempting to be solved with this proposed elimination.
The timeline of eliminating Y10 & Y12
In October, a proposal was submitted to eliminate Y10 and Y12 National Youth Fencing Events at USFA. Where this proposal came from and the politics of a national sports event are less important than understanding that the other side needs to be heard, however you can read the full minutes of the board meeting at this link.
After this proposal was made to the national body, USA Fencing’s board moved to create a Task Force that will issue a report in February 2023 on the notion of canceling these events. They’ll then report their findings to the USA Fencing board, who will move forward with a decision.
There’s a lot that we don’t know here, but what we do know is that this information-gathering period is essential for the future of these events. USA Fencing is unlikely to eliminate anything for Summer Nationals 2023 as that season is already in full swing, but it could absolutely change the way that next season goes for the youngest fencers.
The urgency is in the next few weeks, when the Task Force is collecting their information. It’s during this time that the biggest impact will happen, though it’s important to understand that this issue is likely to be a debate even after the board makes a decision on this proposal.
How to have your voice heard
What we do know right now is that there’s a moment to have some influence. The biggest action item right now is for fencers to reach out to their networks to get as many people to sign this Change.org petition to keep Y10 and Y12 events. By presenting this fencing support of keeping these events, we can hope to have our voices heard by the Task Force.
The other thing that people can do is to contact their board members at USA Fencing. If you are unsure of who represents you, then reach out to your club staff to find out. You can directly email your board members to tell them what you think. This is a huge way to have your voice heard!
In recent years, fencing has grown wonderfully, particularly competitive fencing. This is true for Youth, Cadet/Junior, Senior, and Veteran levels. The more we are able to extend these events to grow fencing, the better we will be able to keep our sport going. We must build fencers from the ground up, and that starts with our youngest competitors.
We’re passionate about preserving this important part of the fencing experience. Please share this post with others to understand the whole picture and get all the implications, and to get as many signatures as possible so that we can hopefully save this event.
Please share on your social media accounts or send via email. More people see this post, read all the important points, sign the petition, more impact we will have on the Board decision.
The sport of fencing continues to grow, and the good news is that means there are more and more ways to watch fencing bouts online.
In the last few years, there has been an increase in high quality videos of competitions especially on both stand alone websites and social media platforms. In the last several years, these channels have uploaded thousands of bout recordings and other fencing videos that have become a huge resource for athletes looking to study film and hone their craft.
It should be noted that the best way for fencers to learn about the sport is through in-person training with respected coaches and accredited organizations. Nothing replaces the personal touch of having a coach give you instructions on what to do and how to do it. While watching footage of bouts is no substitute for participating in them, studying film from these events is an opportunity to learn from and about opponents, Olympic athletes, and even yourself.