An Open Letter to the USA Fencing Community about the Coronavirus Pandemic

We are living an extraordinary time that requires extraordinary choices. Everywhere around the United States, families and businesses are making tough decisions about how to prevent the spread of coronavirus. We have had to make the extremely difficult decision to close our club to group classes to help stop the spread of the illness, despite what we thought we can do to keep going. It was the most gut wrenching decision that we have ever had to make, and it will challenge us, but we will make it. 

It’s important to be clear about this – this is not a vacation, this is more like a quarantine. It’s not a strict quarantine, but it does mean that large crowds must not gather. So no cinema, restaurants, video games centers, museums or Disney. Outside is good, but playgrounds with lots of kids aren’t. It is different, totally different than anything else we’ve experienced before. The whole country, and most of the world with it, is holding up inside and away from each other in order to protect the most vulnerable. 

No one knew where this was going a week ago, well we certainly didn’t at least. Containment of the virus has turned out to be much more of a challenge than we ever thought, and things have gotten very real very fast. Where we thought it could be stopped with preventative measures and precautions last week, and even wrote about it here on our blog, it is now clear that the impact will be much bigger than we anticipated. While the threat was always serious for us, the situation has evolved and so have the recommendations from our leaders. We expect that it will continue to evolve.

Every family who puts their kid in fencing has entrusted that club with the most precious thing in their lives – their child. Clubs do not take this lightly. They feel obliged to protect your children as their own. For those of us who run fencing clubs, these kids are our kids. The choice to halt classes or cancel competitions is extremely tough, but it is part of the responsibility that the community has to take. We are in this together.

What I find most amazing about this time is that it can and is bringing us together, even as we are separate. In that way it is not unlike fencing, a sport that brings us together. 

The importance of supporting fencing coaches and clubs

Fencing clubs are small businesses, just like the thousands of other small businesses around the country. No fencing club has deep pockets that will allow it to keep its space and pay its people indefinitely without student classes. Even a month or two of lowered income could be devastating. 

Without student fees to pay the bills, fencing clubs will eventually not be able to pay their coaches. What makes fencing different than lots of other sports is that fencing is filled with amazing coaches that come here as immigrants. Many coaches for fencing are here on visas that require them to work. Their ability to be in the United States is tied directly to their job as fencing coaches. Though they may have been here for many years and have their families here with them, they are still vulnerable. They can’t just go out and get another job. Supporting fencing clubs means directly supporting these families. It matters, so much more than many people realize.

If you have the ability, support your fencing club by continuing to pay your monthly class fee. Even a partial payment of the fee will mean a lot to clubs. If they are offering private lessons and you are comfortable with the social distancing that provides, then please take private lessons. With private lessons, fencers can continue to improve, sometimes a great deal. Any support you can give to your fencing club will have a major impact! 

We hope that we do not see fencing clubs have to close their doors due to the coronavirus, but it is very possible that this will happen. We all need you! Without a club, your fencer will not be able to train in fencing. USA fencing will suffer without clubs to groom and train fencers. This beautiful progress that we have seen over the last thirty years in American fencing will slow down dramatically without the fencing clubs that we have built to be so strong. 

We are in this together, and we thank you all for being part of this community. 

The importance of structure and activity

With so many schools out, there is a lot of unstructured time and a good deal of looseness going on. Kids, and adults, need structure. Staying up until midnight and sleeping till noon is going to come back to haunt our teenagers. Staying up until ten and sleeping till ten is going to haunt our little ones. Families should try to maintain a similar schedule to what kids are used to, especially as this looks like it might go on for a while.

Fencing season will start again eventually, and things will eventually go back to normal, or at least some new normal. When that happens, we don’t want to have lost all of the progress that we have made. This is a time that we can continue to grow.

Check here at our blog for continued insight into how you can make the most of your time away from school and away from regular training at your club. We’re here to help!

Many parents and fencers have expressed concerns that Fencing Summer Nationals will be canceled. If that might happen, then what is the use in training? Even competitive folks are talking about this. This kind of thinking is a disaster! Though SN is definitely a great motivator for our training, it cannot be the main reason we are doing this. We train in fencing to get better, not for a specific competition or a podium. We don’t know how this will all play out, but we do know that there will be competitions again. What if Summer Nationals are not canceled and you stopped training because you thought they might be? Don’t risk that position. 

Training gives us purpose. Without the other tethers that are there to support growth and give structure, this matters a lot. You know what you have to improve, and your coach is not gone if you are unsure. Coaches can be reached with the telephone, with email, with text, with facetime, and potentially for private lessons still depending on your club and your comfort level. Continue training! Do not be daunted!

Coronavirus is more dangerous when there is contact with groups of people. It is transmitted through social contact. Fencing lessons are limited to the coach and the student, and there will never be more than a handful of people there at one time. For families, this can be a welcome way to continue to have important structure when other forms of engagement are not possible. Kids need something to focus on and keep going with. 

Fencing is already a passion, so let it be a cornerstone right now. 

The sun is still shining!

Fencing means so much to all of us. Though this feels like the apocalypse, it’s not. With all of these preventative measures, we have every reason to believe that we will all make it through and that the virus will be contained. We have seen the virus rise and fall in other parts of the world, and with the right discipline on our part that should happen here too. 

There will be fencing tournaments and classes to go to and points to acquire again before you know it. We’ll have fencing potlucks and international coaches flying in once again. Most importantly, we will get to join in the camaraderie that this sport brings to all of us. 

Thank you for being a part of our fencing journey thus far. This moment is just that, it is a moment. It is a bump in the road. As someone who has lived in other places and seen tough situations, I know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. While there has never been anything quite like the threat of coronavirus before, human tenacity and ingenuity know no bounds. 

We sincerely love our fencers, all of our fencers, and their families. We love being a part of this community, and the chance to meet competitors that challenge us. Not because they are customers and they bring revenue. Not because they are phenomenal fencers that get results and podiums. We love our fencers and their families, and even our competitors, because we feel a warm connection to you through this sport. We get this beautiful chance to watch children blossom and grow. We’ve also watched adults come to this sport and grow. There is nothing like it, and we are thankful for the chance. 

When this is all over, we cannot wait to see our fencers together again, all over the country at competitions and in clubs. In the meantime, we ask that you keep up your fencing training and that you keep up your support of fencing clubs. We only are here because of our community and the talent and hard work of our coaches. One day soon we will all look back on this with thankfulness for these precautions.

Please stay healthy, positive and kind to each other. This is the time we need to show humanity and kindness, extend an arm of support one to another, and understand each other!