Raising kids is not for the faint of heart, and one of the most difficult things that parents do is learn to let go of control of their kids and allow them to spread their wings in the real world. We agonize over whether they will be ok. Will they get hurt? Will someone bully them? Will they achieve the things they want to achieve? Will they be happy?
The truth is that we only get our kids for a few years before they are out there on their own. The hours that we spend with them are precious few and always precious. The natural inclination that we have is to hold onto those years tightly, keeping them as close as we can for as long as we can. This is both because we want to protect them and also because we just want to be with them.
There comes a time that we have to let them go, but luckily for us it doesn’t happen all at once. There’s the first time we leave them with a babysitter when they’re babies. The first day of school. The first sleepover. The first time we let them go head to head with another child with a sword.
Giving kids a sword
Fencing is unlike other sports. Though there are fewer injuries with fencing than there are with things like soccer or track and field, there is also the reality that it’s a sword that we put into the hands of children and the psychological reality that goes with that. It’s important to note here that fencing is the safest of combat sports. Karate, Ju-jitsu, Taekwondo, boxing, etc., are have far more potential for injury than fencing does. It is still considered a combat sport, even as it is much safer than most non-combat sports.
Our swords are engineered for safety, but they are nonetheless still the descendants of deadly weapons. In our minds, swords are deadly weapons that are used on the battlefield. They are striking both in the visual beauty and power that they possess and in the way that they are used to strike other people. The point is to poke or strike another child with that weapon and to have that other child poke and strike our own child with one. It’s an astonishing thing! The intentional giving of an epee, sabre, or foil to a kid is an extraordinary choice for a parent to make.
It is brave to give a child a weapon, no matter how much we might have worked with that weapon to make it safe. (It’s also very, very cool to give a child a sword.)
Kids who first start fencing often have visions of lightsabers and pirates rolling through their minds. They imagine that they are learning the lightning fast skills that would protect them should they ever find themselves in a dark alley with a bad guy. As long as they have their trusty sword and their fencing training, they are well protected. While it’s no good to put much stock into a fencer being able to use their sport fencing skills for self defense, there is very much something to be said about the empowerment that kids feel through the power of fencing.
Independence is gift
The first gift that a fencing parent gives to their fencer is a trust in their independence.
To put a sword in the hand of your child and say “Hey, I trust you to use this weapon properly and to not hurt your opponent or to get hurt yourself.” That’s huge! You are communicating to them in a big way that you believe in their ability to handle themselves in a situation that is not only new and unfamiliar to both of you, but also that is potentially dangerous.
The only word to describe most new kid fencers when they first pick up a sword is reverent. There is power in the blade – the kind of power that elicits movies and books and songs to be written about swords all over the world. The magic in this piece of metal is palpable, and almost no one who holds a sword doesn’t feel it in some way. To hold a sword is to feel an extension of yourself and to become stronger. It’s almost impossible to capture that feeling into words.
In this sport, we put a heavy emphasis on taking care of our equipment to help keep everyone safe. That care comes from coaches, but it is the responsibility of fencers to take it on and make it happen. Every time we step onto the strip, we are trusting our opponent to follow the rules and keep us safe. We believe in their self-discipline and their training. Though we trust the coaches and the referees to make sure everything goes as planned, it is the fencers who carry the weight of responsibility to not go too hard or to neglect the rules and injure someone. This is not lost on kids who are fencing.
This is a big reason that fencing is such a wonderful tool for building confidence in kids. They know the power that they’re being entrusted with, and parents of fencers are doing the right thing by giving them that opportunity. There is a pride in being able to do this sport safely, to walk that line of responsibility that has just a hint of danger. We are not jumping around a castle fighting a foe, but we still have that sense of being a hero in our own story when we are on the fencing strip. This kind of pride can propel a kid forward towards independence. From the very first time a parent watches their child pick up that sword with awe and excitement, they are fostering empowerment.
Though allowing our kids to stand on their own two feet can be difficult at times, fencing parents give their kids an incredible treasure just by allowing them the chance to participate in swordplay.