Art of Fencing, Art of Life

Month: April 2023

When the Fencing Coach Says Your Kid is Great but You’re not so Sure

When the Fencing Coach Says Your Kid is Great but You're not so Sure

Sometimes, what we see doesn’t line up with what people say. What do you do when the words of the coach don’t make sense with what you see happening on the piste?

If you’re a parent who doesn’t have a history in fencing, this can be all the more confusing and frustrating. Though you might observe matches, watch videos, and read blogs, fencing is not a sport that’s quite as clearly defined as something like basketball or soccer, where you can clearly see that the ball gets points. All fencers lose points, and the intense vigor of the sport can make it difficult to see the progress a fencer is making when they are indeed making progress.

What happens if you can’t see how a fencer is moving forward? Is your child really a potential Olympian, or is that just something the coach says to all the kids? It can be confusing and challenging when a fencing coach provides feedback that is different from what you observe about your child’s abilities. 

Consider Your Child’s Development 

The first real question to address is this – does it matter if your child is going to be the greatest fencer of all time? What are the goals that you and your child have, and how do those goals dovetail with what’s happening in the fencing club and also with what’s really possible?

Keep in mind that youth sports, in general, works best for kids when it’s focused on development and improvement. If you’re looking at a goal that’s eight or ten years away, then you’re putting the focus on something that’s so far away as not to have a real impact on today. By this same token, if your child’s fencing coach says “your kid is gonna be a great fencer”, but your child isn’t winning all of their matches, it might well be that they are doing great for where they’re supposed to be developmentally.

Another important point to think about here is that your child’s abilities will change over time. It’s also important to consider that different children develop at different rates. Your child might be losing a lot right now to kids in their age category that are taller and stronger than they are because kids grow and mature at different rates.

When your child has a seeming dip in their performance in competition or they experience a plateau, it’s more likely than not that they’re still on track. Their coach can see things that you don’t, like longtime patterns of development. 

Regardless of the coach’s perspective, it’s important to encourage your child and to help them build confidence in their abilities. This can include focusing on their strengths, celebrating their accomplishments, and helping them to build resilience. You can do this while at the same time understanding the long game that’s at play for your child. 

From a developmental standpoint, focusing on effort rather than outcome is where we should be for kids. If they keep on trying to improve, they’ll get better over time. If we saddle them with lofty goals that are unattainable, or if we forecast that the most important thing is the outcome, then we rob them of resilience and the freedom to fail. We learn more from failure than we do from success, and failure is a natural part of life. Allowing kids the opportunity to fail gives them the space to grow. 

The enjoyment of fencing is the other thing that parents need to prioritize. It’s ok to be a recreational fencer and just enjoy the sport in that capacity. It’s ok to be a competitive fencer who goes to regional competitions or local competitions – those are still fun places to be on the spectrum of playing youth sports. It’s ok to go all the way to Summer Nationals and not place at the top – you can still really enjoy the competition.  

Instead of focusing solely on winning, encourage your child to focus on their effort, their improvement, and their enjoyment of the sport. By focusing on these priorities, your child can build a love for fencing that will last a lifetime, and that’s what it’s really about anyway. Everything else is just gravy. 

Remember, it’s all about your child!

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that fencing is about more than just what happens on the podium. Winning and losing are such a small, small part of the process.

Your coach might say that your child has Olympic potential, but you might not see it. That doesn’t mean it isn’t there – it could be that you coach sees the bigger picture. 

Fencing is about helping children to develop physically, mentally, and emotionally, and to build a love for this sport that will carry along with them throughout their life.  By keeping this perspective in mind and working closely with your child’s fencing  coach, you can help your child to have a positive and enjoyable experience, no matter where they end up.

Lack of Confidence, Overconfidence & Self Image in Teenage Fencers

Lack of Confidence, Overconfidence & Self Image in Teenage Fencers

“Raising a teenager is hard… But, being a teenager is hard, too, which is why our kids need someone they trust to lean on, to come to for advice, and to share their lives – the good, the bad and the ugly. Having a front row seat in our kids’ lives is a far better place to be than sitting on the highest bleacher.” 

This quote from Raising Teenagers Today really hit home when I saw it. While kids today have a lot of advantages in life, they also have their own tough things to carry. The world is more complicated than ever, and teenagers are right at the crossroads of the world that came before and the world that is coming ahead of us. At the same time, they’re dealing with their own growing pains as they figure out who they are and what their place in the world is. 

Parents and fencing coaches have a front row to the ups and downs of teenage life. The old joke is that teens are full of drama, but trivializing the teen experience is not helpful to anyone – not the teenagers themselves, not the parents who are raising them, and not the sport of fencing. To minimize their experience is shortsighted and can ultimately be destructive. Instead, it’s better for everyone if we acknowledge the reality that highs and lows are baked into the teenage experience. That way, we can support them in becoming the best athletes and people that they can be. 

We see a lot of teenagers in our fencing club. In fact, competitive fencing is chock full of teenagers, no matter where you look. As a parent of teenagers, I watch my own fencers as they navigate the sometimes rosy and sometimes rocky terrain of growing up. As the quote says, having a front row seat to these experiences is better than being far away. That goes for my own kids of course, but in a fencing club we’re also there for the other kids, too. 

What I see a lot of in teenage fencers is the oscillation between a lack of confidence and overconfidence. It’s hard thing for them to learn to thread the needle and find a balanced place for themselves, but with the right kinds of structures and supports, we can help teens thrive.

Why I’m Running for an At-Large Director Seat on the USA Fencing BoD

Igor Chirashnya - Running for at At-Large Director on the USA Fencing Board of Directors

Fencing is about more than just medals – it’s about personal development and community.

Running the AFM blog has given me a huge appreciation for the broad range of people who participate in fencing across the United States. I have learned so much about this sport by articulating it through this online platform. That’s in addition to all that I’ve learned through the work that I do traveling to competitions across the country with AFM and supporting our fencers and coaches at our home base in California. 

As an outgrowth of the work that I’ve done both online and in person, I’ve decided that it’s time for me to help give a voice on the Board of Directors at USA Fencing. I am currently a candidate for the BoD’s 2023 election cycle, with voting taking place by June 5th. 

Joining the board will allow me to advocate more effectively for the people across the country who are committed to fencing, who put in the hard work day in and day out. My passionate support of fencing over many years is what has led me to seek this role, and I view my place as being one of giving voice to clubs and individual fencers. 

Who is Igor Chirashnya?

If you’re here on the AFM blog, then you probably already know who I am, but in case you don’t, here’s a quick overview of me. 

For more than a decade, I’ve been a passionate advocate for fencing. Along with my wife Irina, I’m the co-founder of the Academy of Fencing Masters, one of the largest fencing clubs in the United States. We started AFM ten years ago with the mission of bringing the joy of fencing to people in the San Francisco Bay area through a personal development, family-oriented club atmosphere. From the small beginnings with a tight-knit group of competitors, we have been so fortunate to grow and expand – all thanks to the dedicated work of our coaches, staff, and incredible fencing families. 

AFM has seen our fencers rise to the highest level on the national and international stage, has hosted Regional and Super Regional tournaments, has been named a Club of Excellence by USA Fencing three times, and has been the recipient of Congressional Recognition for its promotion of youth sports. Though I am fortunate to be a part of this success, I always look back to the people in our club who really make it happen. 

Shortly after we began the club, we started the Academy of Fencing Masters Blog, which is where you find yourself right now. Through many hours of writing and a lot of openness from the online community, we’ve risen to be one of the top online resources for fencing. The core belief of this blog is that fencing should be accessible to everyone, and that everyone can benefit from participating in the sport. The privilege of writing here is that I have gotten to connect with fencers all over the country and all over the world, and I cannot say enough about how much I love working with our extraordinary community. 

In 2019, I published From Cool Runnings to World Superpower: The Rise of American Fencing, a book that analyzes the meteoric rise of USA Fencing and its tremendous achievements on the international scene. This book was a passion project for me, as I am constantly fascinated by the history of fencing and how that history impacts our sport today. There is so much to be learned about where we are going when you look at where we’ve come from. 

Before AFM, I worked in the technology industry on large, interdisciplinary projects that spanned multiple countries. Within big tech, I was in senior management in places like SanDisk, IBM, and CSR. In 2008, I founded and led my own tech company, eMazeU, which was acquired by a public firm two years later. I still work as a strategic advisor in technology, but I am lucky to be able to put my focus on fencing. 

It’s not just about running the business – I have a personal stake in fencing. My four children (two sets of twins!) have all been fencing since they were six or seven years old. Though they are each unique, they have all found a place in the wonderful world of this sport, and it brings us together as a family. All four of my kids have gone on to compete, including on the national level, but more importantly, they have all grown through the sport. A big part of why I want to help support fencing by being on the Board of Directors of USA Fencing is so that I can help young fencers all over the country have the kinds of benefits that my kids have had. 

At the heart of all of his ventures, in business and in sport, is a belief that trust, hard work, innovation, and community building are the keys to success. 

How USFA can Transform Team Fencing in the U.S. (And Why We Must)

How USFA can Transform Team Fencing in the U.S. (And Why We Must)

Right now, the everyday domestic vocabulary of American fencing is in the individual context. No one who thinks of fencing in any context thinks of it as being a multiple-player sport, at least not anyone in America. 

This is different in other places. In European fencing competitions, the team component is highlighted and embraced. The shorthand of fencing is that it’s an individual sport and a team sport. It’s just built into the way that sport is carried out in Europe. 

In America, on the other hand, we seem locked into the individual way of doing things. In fact, when we imagine folding team competition into American fencing, it seems like it’s a burden being placed on our system every time we add the team competition in. A square peg in a round hole. An extra thing that we do out of obligation instead of the enriching expansion that it really is. 

It shouldn’t be this way. Team fencing should be a great support to our fencing culture, for many reasons, including the way that it extends camaraderie and how it helps fencers better develop their skills. If our goal is to support the growth of fencers in skill and happiness, and if we also want to better position ourselves on the international stage, then how can we think of team fencing as a burden when it’s such a big part of international competition and when team fencing so beautifully supports personal and athletic development?

Team fencing needs to be expanded, and soon

We need to move on expanding team fencing in the United States, and we need to move on it soon. There’s every reason for us to have this kind of expansion in place next season, because our fencers deserve the kind of holistic development that team fencing gives them. 

Right now, we have almost no team events. When they do happen, they are a side note and people complain about them. That’s a tough mentality to push past, but I am saying here that it’s so worth getting past those limitations. 

It’s understandable that fencers prioritize the individual events over the team events, because I can see how you would extrapolate that team fencing is not a big deal because our fencers are not doing it now. If it isn’t broken, why would we want to fix it?

I think that this mentality is totally, totally wrong. 

Many of our most important events for giving fencers the skills they need for international competition, events like Div 1 and others, rarely offer the opportunity for team fencing. In any season, we have one Senior, one Junior, one Div1 team event, one Vateran, and this season there was one Cadet team event. One team event per age group. Because we don’t offer them, then fencers don’t train for them, and because they don’t train for them, no one participates in them. It’s a vicious cycle that keeps us locked out of one of the best fencing development paths we have. 

The Influence of Yelling in Fencing on the Final Result – Groundbreaking Research

The Influence of Yelling in Fencing on the Final Result - Groundbreaking Research

The sheer volume of fencing videos on social media channels like YouTube, Tiktok, and Instagram Reels, offers us a gold mine for analysts doing theoretical research on the sport of fencing.

A couple of such recent studies inspired me to conduct my own research. I decided to take a deep dive into the videos I saw online, and today I’m proudly announcing the outcome of my rigorous study of these fencing materials.

This groundbreaking, unprecedented, data-driven analysis details the influence of Yelling in Fencing on the Final Result! It’s something we’ve all seen happen in matches, but until now, we didn’t know how prevalent it was or what influence it had on the players and observers. 

I believe this deeper understanding of a singular aspect of matches will revolutionize the sport of fencing and drastically change its future. 

Let’s dive in. 

Research Methodology

Unlike other studies that limited their scope to a single weapon, I set a goal to expand the boundaries of my research and address all three weapons – foil, sabre, and epee. This choice is rooted in my belief that all three weapons are vital to our sport. 

But that’s not all. My research also expands to age groups beyond Seniors, who are usually the subject of the most intense research, to all Modern Fencers  – Youth, Cadet, Junior, Senior and Veterans, And in light of the recent decision of the USA Fencing Board of Directors to include the Y8 events at the regional level, it addresses the youngest group too.

Getting good data is the heart of quality quantitative research. That’s why I watched hours and hours of fencing bouts online and in person. Keeping meticulous notes, I was careful only to take down information that was directly relevant to the subject matter, ensuring clean data. In addition, I had support from fact-checkers, who double-checked my material consistently to ensure that the information was accurate. 

Several factors were of particular interest to this research: the number of times a fencer yells, the sequence of yells, the strength of yells (measured in decibels), the duration of yells (measured in seconds), the repetition of yells (measured in a number of yells separated by an inhale).

Here we go!

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