Art of Fencing, Art of Life

Month: August 2023

Why Fencing Should be Your Child’s Next Sport: Benefits and Advantages

Why Fencing Should be Your Child’s Next Sport: Benefits and Advantages

When you’re looking for a sport for your child to try, you’re competing against a host of rivals for your child’s attention. Trying to find something that is mentally engaging, physically active, goal driven, and also fun and offers a positive culture is a challenge. 

Steeped in tradition and full of excitement, fencing offers a unique experience that sets it apart from other youth sports. It’s a great place for kids to start exploring themselves and building confidence.

Let’s explore some of the benefits and advantages of enrolling your child in fencing ths year.

1. Building physical and mental fitness through fencing

Fencing engages both the body and mind. As fencers participate in intense bouts on the piste, they enhance their cardiovascular endurance, speed, agility, and coordination. Footwork drills, lunges, and quick changes in direction are integral to the sport, leading to improved balance and flexibility.

Moreover, fencing is a mentally stimulating activity. It requires split-second decision-making, anticipation of your opponent’s moves, and the ability to strategize on the fly. Fencers learn to think critically, analyze situations, and develop tactical approaches to outmaneuver their opponents. This mental challenge helps sharpen focus, enhances problem-solving skills, and boosts cognitive abilities.

For kids, this kind of whole-body and whole-mind engagement supports their development in incredible ways. Young fencers enjoy being in a place that pushes them and keeps them growing. It’s also important to note that fencing is a great way for kids to get immersed in something that’s positive and not screen-oriented. 

Celebrating a Decade of Growth & Excellence at AFM!

AFM Founding - installing our signature floors

Ten years ago today if you’d told Irina and I where we’d be today, there’s no way we would have believed you.

With our two sets of twin kids, all in elementary school, in tow, we opened the doors of the Academy of Fencing Masters with our coaches Natasha and Alexander Maximovich. Since those early days of just a handful of students working together in a small space, we have grown by leaps and bounds, watching our own children grow up and hundreds of fencers come through the doors. 

We came together with others to grow our shared love for the art of fencing. The dedication and perseverance of our incredible staff, athletes, and families have paved the way for a remarkable transformation from a small fencing club to one of the largest in the United States. As we celebrate the tenth anniversary of AFM, we’re taking a moment to reflect on the tremendous journey that we’ve come on together. 

It started with a dream & practical needs

Ten years ago, a handful of fencers gathered together in our not yet fully furnished location in downtown Campbell, ready to work and armed with their determination. With a shared vision of giving fencing a home in the Bay Area, we set about laying a foundation for a community that would grow beyond what we could have ever imagined. 

At the time, we felt there wasn’t a strong place for fencers here that focused on families in the way we see it. With our young children, we saw a genuine need for a welcoming home for people interested in fencing. We loved it, and then we surrounded ourselves with other passionate people, and now here we are!

AFM was always about community. Early on, we knew that we wanted to create a place for families, a place where they could bring their children to train in a safe, supportive environment. What truly sets us apart is  the strong sense of community that has blossomed over the last ten years. From those first days with those big dreams, we set out to foster a welcoming and inclusive community. Whether you had a background in fencing or were totally new to the sport, you were welcome here. No matter your nationality, race, or place in society, we wanted this to be the place that you could call home. 

AFM was always more than just a place to refine fencing skills; it has become a second home to people of a wide variety of ages and backgrounds. We’ve seen friendships forged and mentorship established as we watched everyone develop their shared passion for fencing. There has been so much hard work involved in this journey, and much of it has been done by the staff, coaches, and families who are part of our community. We cannot emphasize enough how much this club is a group effort, much more than just one person or one family, but a whole group of people who share the same love of this sport. It’s wonderful. It’s exciting. It’s something we’re so, so thankful for!

From Local Training to the National and International Stage

Our journey from a small fencing club to one of the largest fencing clubs in the country has been marked by success from the ground up. It’s all driven not only by the dedicated members of AFM on the fencer side, but also of course by the exemplary coaching and training programs that have been developed throughout the last decade. 

Because of our innovative coaching staff, we offer something unique. The training continues to grow and change with new demands, and we particularly saw some amazing pivots and innovation during the pandemic. As our reputation has spread, we’ve been able to work with fencers from across the country and the world to scaffold the growth of everyone. Coaches from across the world are part of our dynamic community, and recently, we’ve seen our homegrown fencers compete at the international level. What a remarkable achievement!

Central to AFM’s success is our commitment to nurturing young fencers. Our youth fencing program gives young fencers a place to learn, grow, and shine locally, then regionally, and eventually on the national stage. Our emphasis on mentorship and sportsmanship has not only produced remarkable athletes but also helped us create a roster of past and present fencers who embody the values of hard work, creativity, perseverance, and commitment. 

The culture of AFM is about so much more than just winning medals or going to competitions. Those things are great, but it’s not why we started this club ten years ago, and it’s certainly not why we keep going. We’re building a legacy through the countless fencers, coaches, and families whose lives have been enriched by their involvement in the sport and in both our community and the wider fencing community. From beginner youth fencers to veterans still enjoying the sport, every single person has contributed their own unique chapter in the story of AFM.

Eyes Towards the Future

As we celebrate this milestone tenth anniversary, we don’t just look back at what’s behind us, but we also look forward to the next ten years with excitement and so much optimism. The journey of the past decade gives us a solid foundation that we can build on. 

Through our commitment to promoting the sport of fencing by being an inclusive place that nurtures talent and fosters a strong sense of community, we’re looking ahead to keeping it all going for many years to come. This is just the beginning for us, though the beginning has been a huge swell of support from so many people over the years. 

Our transformation as a club from a small gathering of dedicated coaches and families to where we are today is a testament to the power of dedication, passion, and shared vision. Over the past ten years and with your help, we have not only reveled in the sport of fencing but also created a tight-knit community that supports and inspires one another. As we celebrate this major milestone, we extend our heartfelt gratitude to every family, every member, every coach, every supporter, and every friend of AFM who has contributed to the remarkable journey of our fencing club. 

Here’s to the next decade of excellence, challenges, growth, and the enduring spirit of camaraderie that defines us!

AFM founding - installing our sign on the building

An Open Letter to the US Fencing Community – Why Requiring Coach Certification is Detrimental to Fencing

Dear American Fencing Coaches, 

Do coaches who have guided their fencers to international championships need to be taught how to coach? 

What about coaches who are former Olympians or National Team members? 

What about coaches who have graduate degrees in coaching from universities?

What about coaches that constantly produce top level fencers, that feed NCAA teams, whose students reach high levels regionally, domestically and internationally.

This list can go on and on and on and on.

With the new rules that were just announced by USA Fencing, even the most accomplished coaches will be required to spend their valuable time taking courses that are well below their skill and experience level and in most parts are incorrect and unprofessional. This centralization of certification is a requirement that has been long opposed by clubs and is opposed by a great many coaches. Its passage came out of nowhere – completely unexpected as it has been hotly debated.

Why is this such a big deal? Why are we crying out so loud against this requirement? Let’s dive into the reasons.

Forcing highly accomplished coaches to certify is a problem

Fencing is not a monolithic sport. 

The sport of fencing in the USA is club-centric. Our model has always been driven by the clubs. 

We are a decentralized sport. In fact, all Olympic sports in the United States are decentralized. There are many varied groups who have different methods and different priorities, even though they feed through the national organization into the World Championships and the Olympics. There is a huge strength in that diversity of viewpoints. It’s also what makes American sports unique and successful.

Other countries, like Hungary or France for example, do have rigorous requirements of everyone in their sport. In those places, there is a central group that has a huge amount of control over the way that athletes train and the way that their coaches are trained to coach them. There is also government funding to make it all work.

We are not that way! In America, things come from the ground up as clubs build their base through bringing in accomplished coaches that already have training from other sources, or else they are athletes who have a passion for the sport and develop as coaches through mentorship. There are of course ways that we should be supporting developing coaches, but we’ll come back to that later. 

We also have a very unique way to develop our athletes for international competitions, totally different from any other country. Many of our top athletes are developed through the NCAA, and the university model is a wholly different path than centralized anything through USA Fencing or the USFCA. These are different paths, and this current attempt to force coaches to come under one banner is counterproductive. 

Most of the clubs in America are built on the expertise of extraordinary coaches from abroad. These are the people who created American fencing as we know it. Yes, we have a few fantastic coaches, both now and historically, who were born in the U.S. – people like legendary Bucky Leach,  Sean McLain and Greg Massialas who did a tremendous job in foil. For the most part, the best international results we’ve gotten have come from fencing masters who came to this country from the outside. 

Who creates this certification?

Let’s start here – no other major group has any kind of coaching requirement. Not gymnastics or tennis, not soccer and not even football. What some of them do offer are training, but it’s always optional.

With all respect to the USFA, what is it about this organization that makes them a high authority in coaching education? Even beyond that, what made them an authority here at all?

Unless we’re missing something here, there was never a forum of the most accomplished coaches convened to judge whether this course is even qualified to train coaches at any level. And now, after the course is out – this course is far beyond a reasonable level of critique.

It would be easy to gather the top dozen coaches in each discipline, as measured by who has produced the best results in the last decade on both the domestic and international level, then have them review and analyze this course and define its place in the sport. 

  • Does this course authors meet the criteria for fencing mastery? 
  • What are their credentials to dictate the course as mandatory? 
  • And most important, why this course should be mandatory? 
  • Who gave the USFA right and authority to dictate the coaching education? 
  • What was the process of buying this in among the fencing coaches community? 
  • How mandating this course fits our bylaws?
  • Are the people who created this course even qualify as the best fencing coaches?
  • You can add dozens of additional questions to this list because by no means this list is even close to be encompassing all the aspects
  • Why during the last 100+ years the USA Fencing was ok with its current decentralized model of coaching, which in the last two decades has brought unprecedented results at every level of International competitions, including raising Olympic and World Champions, and all of sudden the USFA must mandate this education?
  • And most importantly – what’s next, as it is clearly the first step?

It’s important here to note that this has all gone very fast, with a proposed start date of finishing this requirement just around the corner. Add to this that all this was announced and became mandatory after the annual coaching fees were paid by all coaches, putting the entire coaching community on an uneasy path of antagonism with the organization. We don’t have time to process important questions like:

  • What are the certificates for exactly?
  • Will coaches be allowed to strip coach without these? 
  • What about having them coach in the club setting? Will the USFA revoke club membership/insurance if they don’t make their coaches take these courses? Or if one coach refuses? And if yes, then on what basis? 
  • If a coach disagrees with the curriculum, will they be exempted? Punished? Will their students be able to write their coach’s name during the medal ceremony? Or put a coach medal around their coach’s neck?
  • Will coaches be required to teach what these courses say if they disagree? Who will monitor or enforce this? How and why?

There are a huge number of unanswered questions here that are materially essential for our understanding of how it will work.

The danger of bureaucracy

Why do this now? What is the urgency?

Why not give the new board to review all this?

This move adds power to the bureaucracy. The coaches who will need to be certified are some of the best ones in the country, they built the sport in the United States. We’re talking about people who are at the top of fencing expertise in the United States. 

Doing this whole thing adds time, money, nerves, and energy. The time and energy could be put to much better use for professional development of coaches in different ways. Do we need more qualified coaches? Absolutely we do if we want to grow the sport, and we definitely do. Is making our highly accomplished coaches spend time (and thus money) on something that they don’t need the way to accomplish that? Obviously not. 

The mental and emotional energy required for these coaches to go through this is completely unnecessary. It taxes them when they could better be pouring that into developing the next generation of champion fencers, who incidentally will at times go on to be the very coaches that we need to have. 

Why do it then? If it’s clearly not to develop the fencing coaches, then what purpose does it serve? Plain and simple – it’s a power play. 

By forcing coaches to become certified through this narrow path, the power becomes increasingly centralized. Our once decentralized sport becomes more and more beholden to the national organization, eroding autonomy in services of uplifting a central organization that does not have the same history of achievement.

We do not need a more heavy handed approach – we need to recognize the talent and mastery that our coaches bring, then help to build new coaches as we support clubs and parents. Forcing an additional layer of bureaucracy does not serve the sport. 

Alternatives to coach certification

There are plenty of other ways to go about this, and we know that there are because other sports do this!

We definitely need to create a coaching education program, but we need to do it in the right way, and that’s not through a mandate like this. Things that we should include are:

  • Required basic licensing in safesport
  • Required background checks for coaches 
  • Required training in sport safety

Only a very slim bit of this should ever be mandatory from the national level. Only the base line, most basic things should be required to ensure the level playing field. There is a huge difference in that and the kinds of requirements we might be looking at. Forcing accomplished coaches to certify in something that they have vast experience in is honestly insulting and mostly serves to break our community down. 

We need to educate coaches, we need to provide resources for them, we need to create resources for those athletes who want to become coaches, we need to help facilitate mentorship from experienced coaches to new coaches if such access doesn’t exist for new coaches. But instead of helping the clubs, moves like this generate more problems and create more barriers. 

Part of what makes fencing in America strong is the diversity of coaching methods and styles. Well, that diversity characterizes the It’s the opposite of a centralized coaching program. Many of our best coaches left places with centralized systems precisely because of the freedom they have here to teach the sport in the ways that they know work. In fact, models like this have proven to fail in other countries. It’s one our amazing coaches are here, and now we’re repeating it.

What I ask of you now is to sign the petition linked here that former National Epee Head Coach and one of the most prominent epee coaches in the country, the USA Fencing Hall of Famer and owner of one of the best epee clubs in the country,  Andrey Geva put online, to show your support for putting a pause on this measure and revoke this mandatory and useless training. We don’t have to just stand back and let things happen that are not in the best interest of our sport. 

If you read this and you are not a coach, you might think why should I care? And the answer is simple – you should care because when the power becomes centralized and monopolizes your access to your most trusted resource – your coaches, at the end of the day the heaviest price will be paid by you. And not only in increased fees (which you already see) but also in quality of service you receive and the opportunities you have.

The Countdown Begins: Join us for the Electrifying AFM Super Regional Tournament!

The Countdown Begins: Join us for the Electrifying AFM Super Regional Tournament!

We’re excited to announce that we’re hosting the coming AFM Super Regional Tournament!

This will be the second year that AFM has been the organizer for this major fencing competition. After the great success of last year’s tournament, we can’t wait to see how this year’s will come along. 

The Mega Tournament

Last year, we aptly called this competition a “Mega Tournament,” and that’s exactly what it felt like when it actually happened. It’s a colossal regional competition that brings together three circuits into one exciting event. Over the course of a single weekend and under one roof, the tournament combines a Super Youth Circuit (SYC), a Regional Junior and Cadet Circuit (RJCC), and a Regional Open Circuit (ROC). 

Because of the tournament’s wide-ranging nature, the vast majority of the participants can compete in at least two events. This is an excellent opportunity for fencers to get in a lot of tournament competition early in the season, gaining both experience and points for the upcoming season.

We are proudly hosting this all-encompassing competition from October 6-8th, 2023 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, California. You can register online by clicking here. Register early to secure your place!

As the biggest event on the West Coast for the 2023-2024 season, a large number of fencers from all over the country, particularly the West and Southwest, are expected to participate in this competition.

This remarkable tournament will feature 60 metal strips and scoring apparatus provided by Absolute Fencing Gear. Additionally, there will be an Olympic-sized fencing strip exclusively reserved for the finals. The tournament setup will resemble that of prestigious events like NACs and Fencing Summer Nationals, complete with national-level referees and officials. Our Head Referee is Mark Stasinos, with Charles Astudillo as Assistant Head Referee, Brandon Rochelle as Bout Committee Chair, and Dwight Chew as Head Armorer. Absolute Fencing will be on hand as an equipment vendor, and the convention center is a major venue with lots of amenities. This tournament offers fencers a thrilling opportunity to compete in an electrifying format.

By consolidating all these elements under one roof, this tournament supports fencers who desire a larger and more diverse competitive experience. Although nothing compares to Fencing Summer Nationals, a mega competition like this brings a semblance of a national tournament right here in the heart of Silicon Valley. Similar to an NAC (North American Cup), this competition offers fencers a taste of competing alongside a multitude of participants from various levels. That kind of cross-level competition helps fencers to see what’s possible and get that fire for their own progress. 

Out of Control – How to Teach Young Fencers to Control Their Emotions in Loss

Out of Control - How to Teach Young Fencers to Control Their Emotions in Loss

Fencing, like any competitive sport, is a rollercoaster of emotions. Victories can elate fencers, filling them with a sense of accomplishment and pride. However, on the flip side, defeat can be a bitter pill to swallow, especially for young athletes who may struggle to control the intense emotions that come with losing. 

We’ve seen this recently in large competitions, and it’s always troubling when it happens. It can have serious consequences for everyone involved, and things can reach well beyond the player involved, as we saw with a recent incident at the Pan American Games that could keep the U.S. Men’s Epee Team out of the Paris Olympics. 

An outburst at the Pan-American Games

Curtis McDowald, a 2020 Olympian representing the U.S. men’s épée team, had serious trouble controlling his emotions during the Pan-American fencing championships in Lima, Peru in June. 

Following a crucial loss in the semifinals against Colombia, McDowald received a red card on the decisive point. Frustrated, he stormed off the competition strip and expressed his anger by kicking and damaging a free-standing banner nearby. We’ve seen it before in other competitions with other fencers, and though we can understand the emotions, the consequences of these actions are serious. Another member of USA Fencing attempted to calm him down amidst the heated moment. 

As a consequence of his actions, McDowald was shown a black card, resulting in a complete disqualification for the U.S. men’s épée team. This disqualified them from participating in the bronze-medal match and dealt a severe blow to their chances of qualifying for the 2024 Olympics. Prior to the incident, the U.S. men’s epee team held a strong position to qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympics.

In response to the incident, USA Fencing expressed disappointment in Curtis’s actions, acknowledging the harm it caused to Team USA’s Olympic qualification prospects. The national governing body revealed that McDowald had been removed from the Pan-American Championships team following a hearing. As a consequence of his actions, he was also ineligible to compete at the 2023 Fencing World Championships.

His actions have highlighted the importance of sportsmanship and maintaining composure in the face of defeat, as emotions can have significant consequences on an athlete’s career and their team’s prospects.

As coaches, parents, and mentors, it is crucial to teach young fencers how to control their emotions in the face of defeat, fostering resilience and empowering them to grow from setbacks. These are important life skills not just for right now in their pursuit of sports, but for their whole life as they have to learn how to control their emotions in all kinds of situations. 

We want to grow a group of young people who can interact in healthy ways by handling their emotions effectively. It’s important for them and it’s important for society as a whole. Finding effective ways to support young people when their feelings are too big for them is a great way to help our fencers. Learning emotional control and how to cope with losses in a constructive way will help your fencers get to the next level on the piste and off.

But how can we do it? How can we learn from these kinds of incidents and show our kids that they don’t have to respond with this kind of outburst? Here are some effective strategies. 

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