Alan Buchwald at the finals of the International Veteran Foil tournament in Torino, Italy

Alan Buchwald is a true long distance fencer. Not only has he been fencing for many years with tremendous success, but he is also fencing from a long distance thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. This veteran fencer continues to inspire me every day, and oftentimes I mention his name in discussions about persistence and goal setting.

These are difficult times for everyone. For some of us, they are definitely more difficult. 2020 has been a year that has turned the whole world upside down, and it’s easy to get caught up in all of that and forget who you are and why you’re here training. 

The older we get, the more understanding we have of how time and events work. Turbulent times have come before, but if you’ve never experienced that then this can all seem like the end of the world. I don’t think it is. I think it’s the beginning of a new and better world. One thing that I find helpful is to look towards people like Alan who have more experience and a longer vision. It keeps me going. 

Good role models matter

I recently saw a post from a very good young fencer who publicly notified the whole fencing community about her intention to quit the sport, right at the top of her career. It resonated with the fencing community because many young fencers are feeling this kind of deep uncertainty about the future. While it’s possible that her decision had nothing to do with the pandemic, the timing is impossible to ignore. It got kids messaging each other about the future in fencing being less than bright for them, that this might be a good time to step back from training and rethink fencing. The whole scenario evoked a sadness for me. I saw the influence in my own children, and in other fencers at our club. They questioned the rigor of what we did, of what we continue to do, and they were upset at the loss of a member of their community. 

It’s a situation that is difficult to navigate, for everyone. It’s both incredibly complex and also shockingly simple. Staying positive is the key. That’s simple. How to stay positive, that’s the complex part.

I insist on having positive examples of strong people during this difficult time. Parents, it’s our job to keep our kids inspired with the best stories and the best examples. Routine and a sense of normal life helps! Training, in any sport that you love and is part of your life, that’s part of normalcy. We’ve written about those things. However, there is nothing like having a roadmap to show you the way. Positive examples are that kind of road map. Negative examples can be a roadmap too. That’s why we have to choose which one we give to our kids.

It’s all too easy to listen to those friends and neighbors who say that the world is ending this year. There have been major, incredible, unprecedented things that have happened and will happen. With the pandemic, people will say that the vaccine is impossible or that we will all be sick. I’ve even found myself in one of these situations, and I didn’t have the courage to stop the negative talk from my friends. After feeling down about it for a few hours, I decided that I would never let something like that happen again. We need to spread hope and strength, not give into fear and doubt. Not even for a couple of hours!

Strength and positivity

When Alan wrote me a letter about his plans for fencing training and competition, I decided that I had to share this beacon of strength and positivity with the whole fencing community. Let’s take examples of strong and positive people and share them with each other!

Alan is over the age of seventy. He’s one of the oldest veteran fencers in our club, and he’s one of the most decorated foil fencer with us, veteran and youth. You can read more about him in this previous post. He is extraordinary. 

This veteran fencer has AMAZINGLY BIG fencing plans and he prepares for his future competitions fearlessly! Even in the midst of uncertainty as we are now. He has a perspective thanks to his long life experience that allows him to know that there will be normalcy on the other side of this. That is so easy for us to lose sight of. He is a positive, powerful role model for fencers of any age. 

He is always ready to answer the question of what’s next. He has a plan for veteran competitions and for getting better every day, even at the age of seventy! Age is only a number they say, and it’s so true about Alan! 

Even with the uncertainty in fencing right now, he has signed up for the International Championships of Marburg 2020, which will be held on November 22nd in Marburg, Germany. Alan will be fencing in the Veteran Men’s Foil event.  

The remainder of this post is in his own words. 

My fencing journey: a fencing life of almost 50 years.

Alan Buchwald, veteran foilist, at the top of a trail near his home at Big Sur

My fencing journey started in 1973, when I was in medical school, I saw my girlfriend’s foil that she had used while on the UC Berkeley fencing team. Soon after, I enrolled in a beginners’ class at Fullerton State near Huntington Beach, then a well-known school of fencing. 

From there, I began to make the rounds in local tournaments in Southern California, advancing my expertise. Later while doing my ER residency at San Francisco General Hospital, I fenced as a member of Halberstadt’s Salle, 1978-80. In the 1980’s, while practicing Emergency Medicine in Santa Cruz (California), I fenced at the club run by Maestro Len Carnighan. I also attended The Fencing Center in San Jose and trained under Peter Schiffrin (1984 Olympian). For five years (1982-86) I hosted the Buchwald Open Foil, a mixed senior foil tournament with special prizes and medals to all participants. I then had a hiatus from fencing for about five years, while raising a family and developing my medical practice. 

Then in 1995, while touring Greece, I tried to run the track at Olympia. It was a sobering experience. I was overweight and out of shape, and I vowed to correct that. I began workouts at the gym and began fencing again at Salle Santa Cruz, where I’m still a member. My Maestro is Alexander Maximovich at Academy of Fencing Masters in Campbell, where I am also a member. I am also “Hanai” of the Hawaiian Island Fencing Association on Big Island. Over the last 9 years, I have perfected “travel fencing”. I find an area of the world I want to tour that has an interesting tournament and head out.

What a fabulous experience it has been – including about 25 international venues from Finland to Malta to Brazil! I am now also a four time Pan American Veteran Champion in Men’s Foil in my age group (60-69 – Costa Rica, Peru, El Salvador and Bolivia). I love the sport of fencing and it has given back wonderful experiences in life.

Training from home with Veteran Fencer Alan Buchwald

First you must have goals and a plan- then stick to it! (that’s the hard part) 

1.  Staying healthy 

I follow the CDC recommendations and a balanced diet. Nothing fancy. It’s important to avoid alcohol, drugs, and smoking.

2.  Working out physically

Know what you can do, based on your history  

As a Veteran fencer with back issues (I had disc surgery in 2008), I know I can get through long periods (1.5 years to recover fully to fence) without fencing and still be able to do it again.  Core exercises, an exercise regimen, and target practice will get you through.  

  • Core – I do my core exercises every morning rain or shine. It takes 20-30 minutes. I do this mostly to protect my spine and keep it flexible.  Over the last 3-4 years this has reduced disc flare-ups to a minimum.  
  • Cardio – I work in some type of aerobic work 2-3 x per week.  I live in Big Sur and have a mountain road I can hike 3.3 miles on with a 1000 feet elevation gain.  Sometimes I work in some archery or an alternative hike that might be longer but not as steep. (The latter usually when I’m training for the Big Sur 1/2 marathon power walk, starting with 6 miles and advancing to 10 or more). I’m not very good at running anymore at the age of 69, but I can do some intermittently.
  • Fencing – I do my fencing warm ups followed by 100 lunges against a padded target, about 2-3x per week. I start with simple leg stretches and then stretch out in lunge and reverse lunge.  Warm-ups include a 5 minute run by the clock, then down the length of an imaginary piste (each leg alternating), cross knee bends, hip rotations, knee chest walk, high kicks, lunge walks, hamstring walk; then footwork drills- advance, retreats (parrying with the latter); advance/advance 2 long and 2 short; lunges, ballestra lunges. The fencing workout takes 45 minutes to an hour.

Otherwise, I keep generally active. For example, I cut and carry wood for my fireplace (there’s a lot of dead wood on my land at home, done for fire protection). I have a trail I maintain that goes down my ridge (1.2 miles to the beach one way, 1000 foot elevation gain).  Everyone has everyday chores they can do to help keep active.  

In addition, I signed up for this Camino de Santiago Virtual Challenge trek, which is a 480 mile walk across Spain to St. James Cathedral.  You can go any mileage per day; I chose about 5 miles over 12 weeks to complete it.  It helps to have a goal.  I am now at mile 130.

Mental workouts

Mental agility is also key. I play chess a lot either with friends, family, or the computer. I also like poker, shooting pool, and archery.  There are lots of options there.

For all of you fencers out there, keep fencing! Keep going! There is always a reason to train, and it will always be better to do it than to take a break. As someone who has taken a break from fencing, I can tell you that you’re better to stay in. Even when it’s hard. 

Cheers, Alan