How can this possibly be a good time to start a new sport? Is it even possible to start a new sport right now?
The answer is that yes, it is absolutely possible to start a new sport right now. In fact, now is a really awesome time to start a new sport. We are all searching for some kind of meaning in the madness of the last few months. That meaning can come in the form of a sport like fencing!
1. Mental Engagement
During the time of the coronavirus pandemic, mental engagement is not the easiest thing to come by. Fencing offers a particular brand of stimulation that is hard to beat. Part of this has to do with the intersection of the physical and the mental. Fencers hold their swords in their hands, but the real work happens in our heads.
What we’re talking about here is really problem solving. It’s a puzzle to work out, one that is not simple or straightforward. Initially, it’s a lot to get your feet under you as a fencer. Over time, the puzzle becomes increasingly intricate. The feedback from the opponent is always changing, even with old opponents because they are growing as well.
In this situation, fencers are putting a special emphasis on mental acuity. There is time to break down movements and slow down. Yes, we are missing the clanging for swords if the fencing class is online, but that allows us to focus on other aspects.
One of the best parts of fencing is that fencers become close with their fellow fencers and fencers connect with people in a wide range of skills and ages. During the pandemic, this is not as much the case as it is during normal times, but it’s still very much a part of fencing.
Camaraderie now, especially for new fencers, is built on the foundation of interacting during classes and private lessons. The coach relationship has become primary. Zoom is intense and laser focused, which is a benefit. Mentorship is another highlight of pandemic times. The good thing now is that it is building for more to come in the future when things go back to normal.
Joining fencing means joining a niche community. The smallness of our circle means that once you are in it, you’re in it. It’s a welcoming and wonderful place to be.
In a time of disconnection from the communities that we have traditionally relied on, joining the fencing community is a means of engaging in something that is normal and needed. Belonging – it’s important! While lots of other sports have to stop almost completely during this time, fencing is an exception. Online classes and connection over virtual platforms is very much alive during this period of seclusion.
The way that sports build up individuals through community building, it’s so important right now for mental and emotional health. Lots of us are looking for connection and sanity through that connection. Fencing offers this in spades, which is exciting given the circumstances.
4. Physical Fitness
Fencing is a hugely physical sport. It is as physical as something like tennis or soccer or softball, just name a sport. It looks fast and elegant, but all of that takes a great deal of control and a lot of explosive energy. The speed on the strip does not betray the amount of work that goes into preparing for that physically.
Stamina for fifteen touches or even five touches means doing a lot of cardio to prepare the body. Those few minutes on the piste are simply explosive. Serious fencers cross train in weights and cardio to boost their performance on the strip. It becomes about so much more than what you are doing in a lesson or in a class or in a tournament, the love of fencing drives a push for you to get out and do that cardio or that yoga. There is a reason behind it, which gives motivation.
Especially during these pandemic times, motivation can be a difficult mistress to find for physical fitness. Fencing offers some of that incentive.
5. Self Esteem
Holding a sword has a quality of power to it that is difficult to describe. Whether it is epee, foil, or sabre, you get the sense that you are in control when you pick one of these weapons up. Even though they are not dangerous weapons at all. It’s not about that, it’s about the control that you feel. This is really true for kids.
There is an innate responsibility that goes with holding a sword. That trust breeds higher levels of self worth. It’s an identity that you can be proud of. Every touch that you make on your opponent, or if you are fencing at home then every touch you make on the target, it makes you feel like you can take on the world.
6. Cool Factor
We are looking for motivation right now in the pandemic, and there is no way around how cool fencing is. It’s inspiring!
Look at all of the movies that feature swordfighting. Whether it is with lightsabers or with rapiers, we love to watch the excitement of a sword fight on the screen. The amazing thing is that you can do that in real life! Yes, other sports are fantastic. No, they do not have the same flavor of cool that fencing does. There is something totally different and cool about chasing someone down the piste with a sword in your hand that is not the same as chasing someone down the field with a ball at your feet.
During the pandemic, this can be truly transformative. When your kids get on a zoom call with your classmates and everyone asks what they’re doing, most of the kids today are talking about the thing they did in Minecraft or the exciting walk through the park that they took. When a child then comes to show off their new fencing sword, that marks something truly different. Instead of thinking of all the ways that quarantine is limiting, this can be a very positive thing to remember. “Remember how I started fencing during the pandemic?” This is true for adults too!
7. Self Discipline
Fencing teaches self discipline. It’s an integral part of the sport. Form, control, intellectual agility, focus – these are all foundational to fencing training.
What is the motivation to get up and get going in the morning when there is not the call of in-person school or work to push us in the right direction? With the loss of those structures, it all falls on the individual to be the driving force. That is not easy. Many of us don’t even know where to begin, and this isn’t just with fencing or sport. It’s with everything.
One of the things that’s missing right now is the structure of our lives. It is just not as easy now as it once was. Fencing is a means to access growth and grounding. It gives us something that we can control and a way to develop inner strength in a structured environment. We carry that beyond the fencing club or the zoom lesson.
8. Pandemic safety
Whatever the means to get to it, safety has to come into play here. Centrally. When we recognize that safety is first, then we can start to adapt. That adaptation is not easy. Not at all. Parents are trying to juggle their own fear about the future with work and with giving their kids what they need. It can seem like an insurmountable task. Parents are not endless sources of strength and focus. That is an unfair expectation. For anyone.
Fencing also happens to be well-suited to social distancing because it inherently maintains distance and does not use any shared equipment. It doesn’t hurt that fencers are used to wearing masks, though fencers practicing social distancing must also wear cloth masks to prevent the spread of COVID in addition to their fencing masks. It takes increased discipline to practice with additional pandemic precautions. It also takes increased discipline to practice over zoom instead of in person. It’s a lot to manage while, and a new territory to manage, but we’re seeing many fencing clubs make it work.
In a disciplined environment with small groups, like fencing classes that many clubs are doing during the slow reopening, it’s been possible to maintain a baseline of safety. The kids want to be in such classes and they already have a level of self-discipline that has been developed through their training that many other kids don’t. It is one of the biggest benefits of sport in general and fencing in particular.
How to start fencing in the pandemic
How can you get started in fencing if you can’t go to a fencing club in person?
Online lessons are one answer.
Even if there is not a fencing club near you, there are lots of opportunities for online training from many fencing clubs. These can come in the form of group classes or private lessons.
To choose an online course, reach out to some of the people that are offering them. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! You’ll want to know how long the classes or lessons are, what the cost is, what equipment you’ll need, and what kind of progress you should expect to make with their class. Whoever you are considering should be able to answer all of your questions without much trouble. Make sure that you’re comfortable with what you’re getting into, and of course you can ask to observe a group class or have a tryout of a private lesson before you commit.
Online lessons in fencing have proven to be very effective means of training. Of course they do not totally replace the in person training that fencing clubs have been offering since time immemorial, but even a brand new fencer can progress with the attention given through this format. Coaches can see a lot through a screen, and they can give a lot of instruction.
Many clubs around the world have reopened in the wake of changing understandings of the virus. Protocols for these classes are specific to each club and locality, but whatever your comfort level, there is certainly something out there for you. We as parents are between a rock and a hard place. There are no perfect answers. You cannot control whether your child’s school will reopen in person. You cannot control whether it is safe to go play team sports, or if team sports will even be an option. Online options and homeschooling are on the minds of a lot of people right now because they are options that take back some of the autonomy. With any in-person option, there is some sort of risk involved, even if it is very low. Going to the grocery store or on a hike carries some level of risk. Balancing the risk – it’s the crux of the issue and it’s incredibly tough. It doesn’t make it easy, but you are not alone.
What about equipment? The great thing here is that if you are fencing from home through online classes, you bypass some of the equipment that you might otherwise need. The weapon can be bought online and delivered. The uniform, which isn’t strictly necessary at first if you are practicing from home, can be bought online as well. Otherwise, you need athletic shoes, an open space, and a device. A yoga mat and a jump rope are other potentially needed items for online classes. It is so simple! When you choose an online fencing program, the coaches can tell you exactly what you need.
Don’t be intimidated by starting online classes in fencing! Even if you have never fenced before. Whether you are an adult fencer or the parent of a child who is interested in fencing. It’s a wonderful time to learn new skills! Safely and with social distancing in mind.
Michael Douglas Houst
And right in the picture breaking a cardinal rule.
What is a cardinal rule?