By Andrew Lorenz
My son, Ethan, began fencing earlier this year as a 9-year-old. I fenced epee for a year and a half on a club team while I was at Arizona State, and I loved it. After college, my work as a freelance television sports producer, editor, and broadcast manager kept me on the road, and I was forced to put on hiatus the sport I’d grown to love. As my family grew, it became a goal of mine to get back into fencing, and one fateful day as I was walking home from the Campbell VTA station I saw my opportunity in the bold red letters shouting from across the street: Academy of Fencing Masters.
Ethan isn’t a team sport kid, and I’m not a team sport guy (unless you count pairs croquet). For those of you who have tried Little League, Pop Warner, or any of the team sport equivalents, perhaps you’ve had the same experience as we did: parents who intervene too much, gossip too much, and behave too crudely. I also had a general feeling that I was paying for my child to be a serf in the fiefdom of overbearing coaches whose main focus was on their own children.
When I stopped in to check out the Academy, Igor and Irina welcomed me with excitement and thoroughness in their philosophy, and within a week Ethan was enrolled and equipped. If you ever happen to drive past the Campbell library you may notice two white-clad masked individuals practicing parries and reposts in the front patio of the town homes across the street – give us a honk if you do.
Being a fencing parent has come with a great deal of learning, especially in the realm of competitions – call it house-training for those who have escaped the crude clutches of organized team sports. As such, I present a few thoughts, in absolutely no order, that I have learned – sometimes the hard way:
- Be on time – always. This is a sport for ladies and gentlemen, and punctuality needs to be a key attribute in education, work, and sport. Remember, the AFM coaches are Olympians – they’re the best at what they do. Respect their time, and teach your child to do the same.
- If your child wears his or her fencing shoes anywhere outside the club (no matter which club), have a wire brush on hand to clean the soles before you touch the floor. Again, respect.
- Don’t ever forget your AFM uniform jacket. Have you seen how intimidating our club looks when we all dress the part? Fencing is as mental as it is physical, and these little details can make a big difference.
- Don’t bring your dog to competitions or practices. Apparently they really like the scoring beeps, and you don’t want to have to hog-wrestle your best friend as it darts toward the piste when it gets loose. (this one is classified in the “learned it the hard way” category)
- When the judges or host club officials speak, be silent and listen carefully. Whatever amazing anecdote you’re sharing with your friends at the moment can wait. And remember to thank the host club’s owners and the officials.
- At some point or another, your child’s gear will fail. Weapons break and lames can have dead spots. Simply put, and you should know this since you live in the Silicon Valley, electric stuff breaks, including (especially) simple circuitry. Be prepared with backups for your backups.
- Practice clipping-in. It’s your child’s responsibility to know how to attach to the scoring system. Parents aren’t always allowed on the floor, and if the coaches aren’t around you risk eating up time and looking foolish.
- When you shoot video of your child’s bouts using your cell phone, for goodness sake, please (PLEASE!) shoot it in landscape, not portrait. Do you watch movies on screens that are 90 feet tall and 50 feet wide? If you do, you’re probably laying on your side. When your child is interviewed by Bob Costas at their Olympic debut, and NBC requests home videos of your child’s first bout, if you’ve shot video portrait you’re going to feel like a schmuck and the whole world will agree.
This is a sport that can be enjoyed for a lifetime. Respect it and the competitors, be smart and enthusiastic, and it will give back in dividends.