Art of Fencing, Art of Life

Month: June 2023

Book Recommendation: The Devil’s Sword, A Fencing Thriller for Your Child’s Summer

Book Recommendation: The Devil's Sword, A Fencing Thriller for Your Child's Summer

You never know where fencing connections will come from, and I just had one come out of nowhere. It’s one of those things about fencing that makes it extraordinary.

Recently I had a discussion with NYT Bestselling Author Douglas E. Richards about my newly published book, Breaking News of Tomorrow. I love Richards’s sci-fi and technothrillers, in particular, I recommend his book Wired, a great summer read for anyone looking for an engaging summer read. If you read my book, which is a technothriller/political thriller, you surely understand why Richards’ writing fascinates me so much.

We started off talking about our writing work, but then Doug brought up his son, a fencer! He spent countless hours in fencing tournaments and at his son’s fencing gym, watching his son practicing and competing. In fact, he’d been a fencer himself. Not only that, but Doug dropped into the conversation that he’d written a young adult novel about fencing.

This was one of those little revelations that just blew me away. Having read and absolutely loved about a half dozen (if not more) of his books, I was completely astonished to discover that one of my favorite writers was a seasoned fencing parent, a fencer himself, and even wrote a middle-grade thriller that involves fencing—two worlds colliding in the most wonderful way.

As soon as we got off the call, I immediately hopped online and purchased the book, The Devil’s Sword. A few days later, when it arrived, I put it to the top of my reading stack, diving in the minute it came through the door. One of my favorite things in the world is to get a new book with a premise that I can get excited about.

A fencer’s review of The Devil’s Sword by Douglas E. Richards

Here’s my spoiler-free review of The Devil’s Sword. You’ll get some basics here, and you’ll get my opinion, but the major plot points that are important for the reader are left out so that you can experience it for yourself. 

Usually, I am skeptical about books with fencing – most of them depict fencing as inaccurately as Hollywood movies depict sword-fighting scenes. In most books and films, fencing is usually just a fleeting activity, a nice addition that shows a character’s personality or gives a setting for the plot to move forward, but often it could easily be removed from the story and doesn’t have much meaning. This is frustrating beyond belief, because I always want to have more than the usual plug-it-in-character device that media has for fencing.

To my huge surprise, that was not the case with The Devil’s Sword

Doug’s personal understanding of fencing is crystal clear thanks to his vivid descriptions and accurate portrayals of the fencing world. He is a writer who obviously knows what he’s talking about. There’s no way that someone on the outside would be able to do the in-depth kind of writing that we see in this book. The meticulous attention to detail in depicting weapon checks, pools, DEs, and bouts rang true immediately to my experience. This is totally different than most of the works out there about fencing, and it was refreshing to see. It was real fencing tournament! Sometimes I even had a de ja vu – explanations of weapon check, pools, DE’s and bouts were so truthful and detailed that I caught myself thinking that this is a fantastic introduction to fencing. 

In this book, fencing is the central theme. You cannot take it out, like you cannot take out Jedi from Star Wars. The main characters are fencers at heart, and the whole plot spins out from the world of fencing. What’s more, the plot itself is woven in with the whole world of fencing in terms of the themes and metaphors. It’s unlike almost anything I’ve read. 

Three fourteen-year-old foil fencers in San Diego are invited by their coach to attend an RYC in Las Vegas, held at the highly secure Nellis Air Force base. They don’t know it, but the base is home to a top-secret military defense project. While there, a rogue faction of Black Ops agents turn the weapon into a dangerous offensive weapon called “The Devil’s Sword”. And international arms dealers are after this piece of tech with the potential threat to take down the entire country. The young fencers must use their wit, stamina, intelligence, and fencing skills to help them stop the internationally woven threat and save everyone from looming disaster. 

The plot fits well within the action/thriller category, with tons of twists and turns that are exciting but also believable. Though it’s definitely targeted at young adults, it’s well-paced and engaging enough for someone well past their teen years to enjoy. 

The RYC is actually the mechanism that allows the villains to get their foot in the door and make their play against the lead scientist. The book does a great job of integrating the real world of the fencing tournament into the action-adventure of the plot. There are excellent depictions of the fencing competition, and it’s fun to imagine how this experience would go if it were to happen at one of the real competitions we attend! Every fencer who has been to a regional competition will see themselves in the characters and events. It’s a huge plus factor to the book. In fact, the depiction of the fencing event and everything surrounding it is so accurate that for the fencers this book would feel right at home.

As the coach says at one point in the book – going to Regionals is a totally different experience! 

Especially for young adult readers, the story and writing style will keep them engaged and reading along throughout. It’s a great way for them to see themselves in a piece of literature. It’s important that they are able to find reflections of their experiences in the texts that they read – it helps them to understand their importance in the world around them. 

For your child’s summer reading, or especially as a book to take with you for the trip to Arizona for Summer Nationals, The Devil’s Sword is a fantastic book. Highly recommended! Prepare to be enthralled and transported to a world where blades clash, secrets abound, and the fate of nations hangs in the balance.

Now for the real question that we need to know – when is Doug going to be releasing the sequel? We need more great fencing-related books like this one in the world, especially since the nation’s top secret is promised to be revealed in the next RYC!

Leaving Russia – What it Means and Why We Must Support this Kind of Bravery

Leaving Russia - What it Means and Why We Must Support this Kind of Bravery

Standing up for what’s right sometimes means sacrificing everything.

It’s hard to comprehend the ramifications of decisions that people make, especially when those people are coming from a place that is far removed from where we are. Such is the case with the oppression of the Russian regime, both in its war of aggression against Ukraine and its hard line against its own people. 

What happens when speaking out is dangerous?

The people of Russia who are against the war cannot speak up for fear of retaliation from the very same regime that is so visibly hurting the citizens of Ukraine. 

It’s important that we understand that many people in Russia are against Putin. Many people are against the war. Many people are against the whole breadth of atrocities committed by this regime. Just as we see here in the United States, brave people want to speak out against wrongs that they see happening. The difference between America and Russia is that here, you can go out and protest. Here you can post on the internet about how you disagree with what our government is doing. There are many problems in the United States, but we have the freedom to speak out against the ills of our government. 

Can you imagine what it would be like if your family was in danger because you criticized your government? If you could be thrown in prison or worse for even being suspected of harboring resentment against the rulers of your country? What if you are imprisoned because your ten years old child drew a picture against war?  Imagine you can be thrown to prison for holding a blank sign because police thinks you renounce the war? For calling the war a war, people were are sentenced to 25 years in prison. Even elderly people can be arrested for speaking up against the war. Not talking about opposition, which can be poisoned and, if still alive, sentenced to life in prison

For many people, the only way for them to speak out is to leave. About 1,000,000 people left Russia in 2022. By leaving the country, they are standing up. But it doesn’t happen in a single day. It takes a lot of time, a lot of preparation, a lot of resources. It’s not an easy thing to do, and it is undoubtedly a dangerous thing to do. The risk for the families of those who leave is a burden as well. Totalitarian regimes are known to retaliate against the loved ones of defectors, so making the decision to go must be weighed against the possibility of collateral damage to your family. Even if their loved ones are safe, those who leave won’t be able to go back to the place that they’ve known for their whole lives, not even for a visit. You cannot unmake the choice – once you leave, there is no way back home, otherwise, you go to prison for 25 years. Even American journalists who are doing their job and are protected by International laws aren’t spared by the Russian totalitarian regime.

A person who moves secretly to the USA from Russia because they cannot stand this regime is a brave person. It’s a person who can’t live with the regime anymore because the regime is aggressive and totalitarian. The regime is committing genocide and war crimes. Leaving this place means facing huge danger. Their personal well-being is at stake. They are putting their lives in jeopardy because, at any point in time they could be intercepted by the security forces of Russia with the real possibility of a very severe punishment. The higher your profile, the greater the risk. 

The mere fact that they left is a statement of their renouncement of the war and policies of the country they have fled. 

The conundrum of professional athletes and soldiers

One common misconception about professional athletes in Europe is that they are members of the military. This is a foreign concept for Americans, where we have a distinct separation between athletics and the government. Across Europe, professional athletes are woven into the military structure to give them support as they pursue their sport.

Professional athletes are employed by the government in many countries – Italy, France, Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, and Russia. As athletes, they hold some kind of military rank. They usually get a salary or a stipend from the military for their living expenses. In the United States, athletes are on their own to raise money and figure out how to train by acquiring private sponsorships, but in Europe, the government sponsors them.  

Their military rank does not mean that they are fighting in a war, nor are they training to either. In these countries, they receive salaries from one of the military organizations so that they can focus on their sport. It’s one big reason athletes in Europe can have such a big advantage against athletes from other places – they don’t have to hold down day jobs or hustle to pay their bills. It’s simply how things work in these countries. 

We don’t consider the best fencing athletes in West European countries to be soldiers. Yet they all hold military rank due to their work as professional athletes in their respective countries. When we look at a totalitarian regime, we must look at the reality of the situation. Professional athletes have nothing to do with the army, even when they technically hold a rank.

It’s important to look at things from this angle because there are complexities at play.

High-performing athletes in Russia hold a very high place in society there. They have financial support and cultural significance. They will not have that same level of lifestyle should they leave. They are also a bigger target should they speak out. It’s a lot of money to give up, a lot of hard-earned social capital. Athletes of a high rank have a huge amount of opportunities in Russia. Leaving all that to come to the United States equates to a step backward, often a huge one. It means starting over again, leaving behind a lifetime’s worth of work, and in most cases, completely giving up their athletic aspirations. But they do it because their conscience is more important to them than their status and money.

People who are doing nothing are thrown into prison for ten or twenty years or even shot. Instead of condemning these athletes as soldiers, we must consider their experiences. These defected athletes are professional athletes who have nothing to do with the war. They are against these terrible things, and because of that, they escape. It takes a lot of bravery, a lot of time, a huge amount of sacrifice, and a huge amount of risk to do it. I think they deserve our respect.

The crimes of Russia are inexcusable

Taking a hard line with the unconscionable acts of the totalitarian regime in Russia is important. There is no room for excuses, no way to justify the continued atrocities they commit. There is no “middle ground” – there are only two sides: right and wrong.

This is a moment for both words and for actions. We must keep the conversation going, we must push for change by lifting our voices. We must raise money to send to the people of Ukraine who are fighting for their lives, supporting them in every way possible. We must also support all the people who stand against the regime. By doing that, we help to put an end to the war and to change this regime for good.

It’s a difficult situation and a complex one. The best that we can do is to meet each other with compassion and understanding, all while staying true to our own beliefs in freedom and autonomy.

Welcome Sergey Bida to the United States and to AFM!

Sergey Bida

Join us in welcoming a tremendous fencing talent to the United States and to AFM! It is with great pleasure and pride we share that Sergey Bida is joining the AFM Coaching Team!

This week, Coach Bida stepped into his role as the newest member of our already talented coaching staff. His work in epee is extraordinary, and his coming to California is a wonderful addition to the training opportunities for fencers here in America. Violetta Bida, Sergey’s wife, is also a hugely accomplished fencer and is also joining our fencers at AFM!

Sergey will not only be coaching at AFM, but he’ll also be training with our competitive class and competing. Bida joins AFM as he prepares for domestic competitions here in the United States. Expect to see him in the coming season in the Senior Men’s Epee categories at tournaments across the country! This is wonderful not only for our fencers, who will have the benefit of training alongside him as he works with our coaches, but it raises the bar and supports the strengthening of fencing in America.

Very few fencers don’t require an introduction, and Sergey is one of them, but let’s give you a rundown of what makes him so extraordinary.  

Sergey Bida – a top fencer

Bida is one of the best epee fencers in the world, an accolade he earned through more than two decades of hard work. He comes from a long tradition of world-class athletes, but he has proven himself a force to be reckoned with in his own right. 

From 2017-2019, Bida blew away the competition with a three-year Gold medal streak in the European Championships with the men’s team epee competition. In 2019, he took individual men’s epee Gold in the World Cup as well as the Silver at the World Championship.

In 2019, FIE named Bida their Athlete of the Year. It’s easy to see why. 

The following year, he took the Gold in the individual Men’s Epee at the Grand Prix. Then to the biggest stage, where he and his teammates took Silver at the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2021. These are all only his most recent accomplishments in the Senior division, as he took over ten World Cup victories at the Junior level! 

At the age of 30, Sergey has a lot further to go and a whole lot more to give to the sport of fencing. Bringing his passion for training to a new generation means that he creates an even stronger legacy. 

While he is hugely accomplished on the strip, Sergey is also a compassionate and adaptive teammate and teacher. In training, he brings a high level of professionalism to his students and a wonderful ability to bring out the best in fencers. His personal success translates to strong strategies that elevate the athletes he coaches and mentors. In the club, Bida supports the growth of fellow and student fencers through his laser focus and attention to detail.

Mentorship has been a big part of Bida’s own journey in fencing, and that kind of personal attention is going to be a tremendous benefit to the fencers who are able to train alongside him and under his guidance here in the United States. 

Violetta Bida – a champion in her own right

Sergey arrived in San Jose with his wife, Violetta Bida. Bringing her strength and style to those training with AFM, Violetta is also set to join our team as she trains with our fencers. It is truly a privilege to have her be a part of our training team.

Violetta is a tremendous fencer herself. As a three-time Junior World Champion, Silver medalist in both the Senior World and European Championships, and Tokyo Olympian, she is a force to be reckoned with on the strip. Currently competing in women’s epee, she continues to push herself further even as she brings her elite fencing style to the young fencers who need the powerful level of fencing training she offers. 

The warmest welcome!

Please give both Sergey and Violetta your warmest welcome!

We could not be more excited for him to be here, and we look forward to having him train alongside fencers at AFM as well as travel with us to tournaments. He’s an incredible asset to our team, and we are fortunate to have him here with us! 

Sergey and Violetta will also participate in our World Champions Camp in August, which already has Gergo Siklosi and Valerio Cuomo as sparring partners and Sandro Cuomo as the leading coach for the camp! This is open to all fencers, regardless of the club they are affiliated with. 

Here’s to a positive evolution of fencing, and to having hugely talented fencers join us in our training. Fencing is truly a sport that crosses all boundaries, and we are so fortunate to have these athletes here to support our fencers. Let’s create growth together for everyone! 

Violetta Bida

Strategies to Help Youth Fencers Learn to Trust Their Skills

Strategies to Help Youth Fencers Learn to Trust Their Skills

Building trust in your skills is a crucial skill for young fencers to learn to perform their best. Often, we see kids who come to class, work hard, enjoy the sport, but then they struggle to believe that they can do it in competition.

This can be truly challenging when kids make that cross into tournament fencing. The intimidation of putting themselves out there against unknown opponents is not easy, and it requires a level of confidence or a leap of faith. 

Part of the problem is that kids sometimes struggle with their emotions when they don’t perform the way they think they should. For example, a fencer who has been doing great in their fencing bouts in class can then get into a competition and find that they aren’t doing as well against new opponents as they expected to. This can quickly erode their confidence in their ability, even when their coach and team are telling them that the transition is going well. 

Imposter syndrome is something that we see increasingly with athletes. Despite the fact that they are performing well in fencing, they assume that it’s just a fluke and not indicative of their real skill level. They jump to the assumption that they are doing well because their opponent happens to be having a bad day or because they just found a random flow in their fencing. Kids (and adults for that matter) are happier when they learn to own their talent and growth. 

We can help these young athletes move to the next level in their fencing lives by giving them strategies to learn to trust their skills. 

Strategy #1 – Positive Self Talk

The person that kids talk to the most is themselves. Though the social interactions with parents, siblings, teachers, fellow fencers, and others have an impact, it’s the way that they talk about themselves that carries the most weight. 

We must encourage youth athletes to practice positive self-talk. This involves replacing self-doubt or negative thoughts with positive and affirming statements. 

“I am a strong fencer who is growing with every match” versus “I can’t do this because I’m not getting good fast enough.” “Everyone loses a match sometimes, and it’s ok for me to” versus “I lost the match and so I must be no good at fencing.” 

Talking about the inner monologue is important. Oftentimes, kids don’t even realize how they talk about themselves until we bring it up. It can start with saying things out loud, and of course, the way that we talk to fencers about their skill is important as well. This can help build confidence and reinforce belief in their abilities. Teach them to focus on their strengths, past successes, and the hard work they have put into developing their skills.

This dovetails with visualization and mental rehearsal, which can help support positive self-talk.  Fencers can visualize themselves performing their skills successfully in their mind’s eye, crafting the way that they see themselves. This mental rehearsal helps create a positive image and reinforces belief in their abilities. Vividly imagining executing their skills with precision, confidence, and success will also help them to improve their performance practically. It’s definitely a win-win.

Strategy #2 – Process over product

We repeat this over and over on the blog and in our club, but that’s because it’s so, so important. Whether you get to a podium or win a match is not something that you can control entirely. We do our best, we practice hard, and then we have to trust that the outcome will be authentic. 

Young fencers should set process-oriented goals that focus on skill development, effort, and improvement rather than just winning or specific results. By focusing on the controllable factors, they can build confidence in their ability to execute the skills they’re developing through all that practice and all those private lessons effectively.

This is where the training really comes in. Consistent and deliberate practice is essential for skill development and building trust in a fencer’s own ability. Dedicated practice sessions, private lessons, and open fencing all work together to support the development of athletic skill and reinforce their technical abilities. As they see their skills improving through consistent practice, their confidence in their abilities will naturally grow. 

The big growth points don’t happen in competition – they happen in the club. The podium and the medals are only an acknowledgment of what has happened throughout the process. 

Strategy #3 – Setting realistic expectations

Youth fencers need to set realistic expectations for themselves. It takes years to develop into a champion fencer, and there’s no way to rush the process. Unrealistic expectations can lead to self-doubt and frustration. By setting achievable goals and recognizing progress, fencers will gain confidence in their abilities and trust the incremental growth they experience over time. 

We can help support this by giving them lots of feedback along the way. Fencers need feedback from coaches, mentors, experienced fencers, and their parents. Constructive feedback provides valuable insights for improvement and helps them trust their skills by identifying areas of strength and areas that need work. Both seeing the good and seeing the bad are important. We can’t keep kids in a bubble because they know that’s not real. Mistakes should be seen as learning opportunities rather than failures, as they contribute to growth across all areas.

We must encourage our youth fencers to embrace challenges and step outside their comfort zones. By taking on new experiences in the sport, trying different movements and learning about what works for them and what doesn’t, they’re able to test their skills and prove to themselves that they are capable of performing in various situations in fencing. Each successful challenge helps build trust in their skills. This kind of cyclical learning is exactly what the best fencers benefit from and how we have to help them progress. 

That being said, we also need to celebrate successes, both big and small. Recognizing their achievements boosts their confidence and reinforces their trust in their skills. They have to hear it from you. Personal bests and displays of improvement are part of the goal-setting process that really boosts fencers growth. 

Consistency is key

Building trust in one’s skills takes time and consistent effort. It also takes a whole group of people to raise strong fencers who believe in themselves, and that’s exactly what we’re here for. When there are hard days, we can build them up to believe in themselves. Learning to take the good and the bad without falling down takes time. 

By implementing these strategies and providing a supportive environment, we can help our young fencers develop confidence and trust in their abilities, enabling them to perform at their best. We all want to see our fencers succeed, but in the end they have to learn to do it on their own. 

Congratulations to the New At-large Directors of USA Fencing – Ivan Lee, Damien Lehfeldt and Abdel Salem

Congratulations to the New At-large Directors of USA Fencing - Ivan Lee, Damien Lehfeldt and Abdel Salem

Sending out a huge congratulations to the newest USA Board of Fencing members – Ivan Lee, Damien Lehfeldt, and Abdel Salem! 

The expectations for this particular board are high. We are at an inflection point in fencing, and where things go from here has everything to do with what steps the leadership takes. I take heart in knowing that the three individuals elected are from the field, and I am confident from my interactions with Abdel, Ivan, and Damien that they will listen to the people who put them in this position. 

Where we go from here has everything to do with how much we advocate. There is so much potential to make fencing in the United States stronger, more inclusive, and for it to be even better than it is right now. Growing our sport and improving our profile both domestically and internationally will help not just those at the top, but it will also support the athletes who are currently in the pipeline. 

The board has a huge impact on the policies, structures, and direction that make up fencing. These decisions are important, and they will have long lasting effects on how fencing functions for years to come. Keep in mind that these At-large seats are only one fraction of the board but that they are an integral part of the direction of fencing. Their votes will guide decisions from which ages are included to where competitions take place to how coaches and referees are structured within the national body. 

Working together for the future of fencing

In the same spirit that we say to our fencers in our club and on this blog – defeat doesn’t always have to have a bitter taste. I am thankful for the wonderful support that people gave me in the campaign, and it was wonderful to have the chance to listen to your concerns and learn more about the needs of fencers all over the country. 

Losing this election doesn’t sting because the community is so strong, and also because I do truly believe that the three men elected are going to be a positive force. While I don’t agree with them on everything, what I do know from my interactions with them is that they are compassionate and willing to put the needs of others on the table at the national level. 

This board is a step in the right direction, without question. We’ll continue to move forward, and it’s important that we reach out to the board members in general when we have strong opinions. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your place in the fencing community is – parent, fencer, referee, coach, staff, etc. Your opinion matters. Your voice matters. 

The three new at-large members are all experienced in the fencing world, and that kind of field understanding is essential to guiding the direction of fencing. These men love the sport, and that shows in how they ran their campaigns and in their backgrounds. It’s exciting to have people representing us who know what’s happening in competitions and clubs across the country. 

We as a community need to lend them a hand.

No one can do this alone. Being on the board is a major undertaking, and it comes with its own set of pressures and responsibilities on top of everything that these people are already doing. This is not a paid position, and it’s not one that goes with a lot of glory. There’s hard work and thankless hours of meetings and correspondence that are essential for the functioning of the board. We must be there for them. 

These new At-large board members have all shown that they are here to represent the people in fencing, and it should not be incumbent on them to do it all themselves. If something isn’t working – let them know! If you have concerns about how things are being carried out, say something! Especially if you have ideas about how to solve problems, lend your intellect and problem solving skills to USA Fencing. 

We are all in this together. This sport is full of highly intelligent, hardworking, wonderful people who have the ability to get things done. No one knows better than the fencers, their families, the coaches, and the people in clubs all across the country. It’s up to the community to push things in the right direction. 

Thank you for your participation!

Increasing participation in USA Fencing is how we make a difference! Many of you put your views out there, and I especially want to thank Andrey Geva and Ann Marsh-Senic for campaigning alongside me for change. 

The last six months of campaigning has brought up a great deal of conversation that will help to define what fencing looks like moving forward, and it’s exciting to see how many people are engaged, though there’s still lots of room for more voices! There was only a 26% participation in this round of voting. We have a fantastic electoral process that makes a huge difference on the ground for fencing, and your vote makes a difference!! 

This election showed so much awesome activity from the people of fencing, with lots of issues coming to the fore in passionate ways. Whatever level you participated at, remember that there are more opportunities out there for you. The board will have open seats again next year, and we’ll all be called upon once again to make our voices heard. There’s always an opportunity for us to make a difference. 

As for me, stay tuned. There’s still plenty to be done and I’m looking forward to continuing to be a voice for positive change. Next year’s election will be here before you know it, and look for me out there!

This board is a positive move for fencing in the United States, and again I want to congratulate Damien, Abdel, and Ivan. Thank you for your positive campaigning and I look forward to having you represent the community!

The image was adapted from the USA Fencing site.

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