They say it takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a community to grow a fencer.
A part of fencing that we don’t talk about nearly enough is the positive community that this sport is brimming with. The people in fencing create an overarching sense of belonging and support, whether they are coaches, the club staff, the referees, the officials, the fencers themselves, or the fencing families.
Despite the rivalries and the intense competitive nature of fencing, the whole of the fencing community is an extremely positive environment. Good people are everywhere here, and it’s important that we highlight the good things that are happening within our community to show our appreciation and keep it going.
Camaraderie in competition
Can your foe become your friend? In fencing, they absolutely can and often do.
Rivalries in fencing tend to go across many years and many miles of distance. Though fencers come up against one another with swords in the context of battle when they’re on the strip, once off the strip that fierce competitiveness often falls away. Don’t let those screams and yells through the masks confuse you – fencers tend to be jovial with and appreciative of their foes when they aren’t in active competition.
Team members must work together and cheer one another on when they are in the training, then they must flip that on its head and try to beat their teammates in individual competition. This kind of seeming conflict means that fencers must learn to separate their identity as harsh rivals during the match from their personal feelings.
Opponents help us to learn as fencers. Rather than being an obstacle that we must demolish, they are much more akin to a mentor that we can glean lots of insight from. We become better when we are presented with honest and challenging opponents. For that, there is an appreciation.
In fencing competition, we also see fencers across divisions supporting one another. Youth level fencers are often competing on the same day at the same venue as Cadets, Juniors, Seniors and Veterans. This wide reaching range of fencing all in one place allows fencers to connect with one another and envision what their future in the sport can look like.
Especially when you go to the big regional or national competitions, you’ll see some of those fencers who you model yourself after just walking around. This community is a niche, and that niche shows us that our dreams are not that far away. Olympic level fencers go to competitions like North America Cup (NAC) or Fencing Summer Nationals. It’s truly something special to see a child fencer recognize one of their heroes at the same tournament that they’re competing at. This particular aspect of the fencing community pulls those big dreams closer, which inspires young fencers to keep working and improving.
The microcosm of fencing is the local level. Though the pandemic, unfortunately, forced too many fencing clubs to close, we’re slowly seeing a resurgence as those communities rebuild now that the pandemic is over.
Club communities tend to be close knit and fueled by passion for the sport. Coaches are doing the thing that they love to do, which is fencing, and that’s a definite privilege. Because fencing is built on small classes and private lessons, fencers often forge close mentor relationships with their fencing coach that keep on going after they move on to college or even to another sport. At AFM, we see our fencers come back during college to reconnect with teammates, staff, and coaches. That experience of having fencers come back to the club shows us what a great community we are in and makes us so thankful to be in it.
Local tournaments are the first place that fencers start to challenge themselves. Meeting opponents that are outside of your own club can be intimidating, but the culture of club fencing means that new fencers are supported in their pursuit of improvement. Though there is a great deal of hard work and there are lots of difficult moments in fencing training, working with a supportive club makes it much easier to weather those difficult times that generate the growth we are looking for.
The online fencing community
The people of fencing have definitely embraced online platforms as a way to support each other, share information, and build relationships. The internet is a richly connected place for fencing, whether it’s /r/Fencing/ on Reddit, social media forums, blogs like ours, or even YouTube. There is so much wonderful information available online for fencing enthusiasts, and it’s good to remember that every picture, every word written, and every video posted is the result of someone who is passionate about fencing putting that online. It takes time and effort to do these things, and it all flows from the passion that we have for the sport.
What’s so wonderful about the online fencing community is the raw positivity you’ll find. There are disagreements within any community, but far and away what we see in fencing is that everyone is lifting up everyone else, even online.
If you have a question about anything from history to weapon mechanics to qualification, you’ll find answers that have been posted online. Check out videos of fencing matches from around the world by the likes of Cyrus of Chaos, as well as the plentiful amount of Olympic content and commentary online.
One of the things that we love most about the fencing community online is how people connect from all over the world through social media and forums. You can meet a fencer at a divisional, regional, national, or international tournament and then find one another online. Long term friendships and mentors grow from the simple encounters at fencing competitions. It goes the other way too – you can meet someone in the fencing community online and then find them in person at a tournament!
What’s more, you never know where these connections will lead. The fencing community is accessible and open, a quality that’s bolstered by the virtual fencing community.
When it comes down to it, we all just really adore and appreciate this sport! There is something magical and empowering about holding a fencing sword, and we are all just looking for more opportunities to do just that. Whether it’s at a fencing competition, online, or within the local fencing community, we are all here to grow together and soak up the joy that comes with fencing.
Do you have stories about the fencing community that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear about them in the comments or on social media!