Art of Fencing, Art of Life

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Urgent: Why You Should Sign the Petition to Save National Y10 & Y12 Competitions

In photo: some of these Y10 kids compete today on International Cadet Circuit

Things change in fencing, but they don’t always change for the better. Right now, we’re potentially facing the loss of a section of fencing on the national level, and such a decision would be a big step backwards. 

What is the issue? In short – some of the USA Fencing Board Members proposed to eliminate Youth 10 & 12 events from the national competitions in order to free resources for Senior level Divisions 2 & 3. This proposal was discussed in the recent Board Meeting and there was created a task force to evaluate this proposal and make a decision. More about this is below.

Though we all want to be conscious of pushing our young people too hard and with too much intensity, removing these competitive levels is not an effective way to do that. In fact, Y10 and Y12 fencers competing at the national level is hugely positive for them overall as well as hugely important for the development of international level fencers. The exposure that they gain by having the chance to compete at the high levels helps to propel them forward to be confident in the future.

Back in April, I wrote a post about the importance of Youth 10 national events after I heard some rumors about this.  Please read this post to get some additional insight.

This issue is incredibly important, and we need to mobilize our fencing community as quickly as possible to help preserve Y10 and Y12 national events. These are incredibly important for young fencers, and we are all blindsided by the idea that they could be taken out. Fencers hugely benefit from being able to compete at the national level at this age!

Why we need national Y10/Y12 events

Eliminating Y10 and Y12 events is the absolute wrong move for USA Fencing. Why?

  • National events teach goal setting
  • National events are exciting, giving Y10 and Y12 fencers something to reach for
  • Y10 & Y12 fencers become comfortable competing at a high level because of these events
  • FenceSafe and MAAPP at national events supports safer fencing in those categories at all levels
  • Clubs and coaches can support young fencers effectively by starting early
  • Future international competitors lose precious training and competition time, jeopardizing America’s ability to compete at the highest level
  • Young fencers are not under huge pressure to perform, but rather are gaining invaluable experience

Those of us who are on the ground with Y10 and Y12 fencers are widely in support of keeping these events. We are in direct contact with these fencers, and have seen how much these competitions support their ability to grow within the sport. 

Personal perspective

My own kids started to compete when they were in the Y10 category, and I watched them grow tremendously through national-level competitions when they were at this age. 

On the whole, kids love to go! It’s exciting and interesting to see the events, and for the most part the stakes are low for kids this age. They tend to go with such wide-open eyes and hearts that they just relish being in the environment of a national competition. In my experience, going to these actually helps to reduce their anxiety about competing at this level later on. It’s not a massive stressor, because kids at this age are usually too excited about fencing to be overly worried about what rank they are. For a kid to go to a national level event is often equivalent to ‘attending’ Olympic Games! This huge venue, officially looking referees, all the protocols of the highest level competition, name on the back of their jacket or lame! Just having their name is a huge deal, and most kids are full of excitement when they are back in the class, and everyone sees them as their fencing class heroes or at least celebrities. It’s really a big deal, both for those with the name and for those without it yet, and an aspiration!

I remember walking with my kids around the venue at their first Summer Nationals, and they spotted their idol, the first American World Champion Miles Chamley-Watson. No piece of my kids’ fencing uniform was left unsigned by him – glove, mask, lame! They keep it till this day. National competitions are confidence-building for Y10 and Y12 fencers. Think about it – how wide-eyed would you have been when seeing your heroes at that age?! This is exactly what happens for these fencers. They go to compete themselves, but they also soak up the higher level Cadet, Junior, and Senior fencers as they do amazing things on the strip. It gives them something to aspire to, and that is oh so wonderful!

I remember one March NAC, the kids in our club were talking about this super girl, Lauren Scruggs, whose name I learned from that March NAC. Lauren, at age 10, won 3 events at this March NAC – Y10, Y12, Y14. A few years passed, and Lauren became a World Champion, and not once! She is undoubtfully one of the most decorated Junior fencers in the world! Think about what would happen with her experience and confidence, if the Y10 and Y12 events in that March NAC and in two more consecutive years of March NACs and Summer Nationals were eliminated.

This is just one example of a World-class fencer, one of too many to remember. Take a look at the USA Team roster, current and in the previous years, and track their performance all the way to their youth – you will see that the overwhelming majority started competing when they were young Y10 fencers.

These events really help to build fencers to become stronger, as well as enriching their fencing experience. We strongly support USA Fencing continuing to offer Y10 and Y12 national events because we have seen firsthand how positive they are for fencers. 

Making tough decisions

There’s this idea going around that we can’t have it all, and there’s of course some truth in that. However, if we need to choose what to cancel nationally, then youth is definitely not it. The logistics of adding Div2/3 to the national roster might be tough, but this needs to be addressed in a way that doesn’t sacrifice the future of fencing. 

It’s also been said that canceling youth events will make things easier on families, given the rising costs on everything in every part of life. While it sounds like a nice thing to try to save family budgets, in reality those decisions are not something that USA Fencing should make. When there are Y10/Y12 events at national competitions, this can allow families with a wide range of ages to have a good experience for everyone, rather than leaving the younger kids out. Family budgeting is up to families, and taking something away will not ease that burden. 

We’ve seen too many good things come out of youth fencing to have something like this be stripped from our competitive schedule. There are better, more creative ways to fix the problems that are attempting to be solved with this proposed elimination.

The timeline of eliminating Y10 & Y12

In October, a proposal was submitted to eliminate Y10 and Y12 National Youth Fencing Events at USFA. Where this proposal came from and the politics of a national sports event are less important than understanding that the other side needs to be heard, however you can read the full minutes of the board meeting at this link

After this proposal was made to the national body, USA Fencing’s board moved to create a Task Force that will issue a report in February 2023 on the notion of canceling these events. They’ll then report their findings to the USA Fencing board, who will move forward with a decision.

There’s a lot that we don’t know here, but what we do know is that this information-gathering period is essential for the future of these events. USA Fencing is unlikely to eliminate anything for Summer Nationals 2023 as that season is already in full swing, but it could absolutely change the way that next season goes for the youngest fencers. 

The urgency is in the next few weeks, when the Task Force is collecting their information. It’s during this time that the biggest impact will happen, though it’s important to understand that this issue is likely to be a debate even after the board makes a decision on this proposal. 

How to have your voice heard

What we do know right now is that there’s a moment to have some influence. The biggest action item right now is for fencers to reach out to their networks to get as many people to sign this Change.org petition to keep Y10 and Y12 events. By presenting this fencing support of keeping these events, we can hope to have our voices heard by the Task Force. 

The other thing that people can do is to contact their board members at USA Fencing. If you are unsure of who represents you, then reach out to your club staff to find out. You can directly email your board members to tell them what you think. This is a huge way to have your voice heard!

In recent years, fencing has grown wonderfully, particularly competitive fencing. This is true for Youth, Cadet/Junior, Senior, and Veteran levels. The more we are able to extend these events to grow fencing, the better we will be able to keep our sport going. We must build fencers from the ground up, and that starts with our youngest competitors. 

We’re passionate about preserving this important part of the fencing experience. Please share this post with others to understand the whole picture and get all the implications, and to get as many signatures as possible so that we can hopefully save this event.

Please share on your social media accounts or send via email. More people see this post, read all the important points, sign the petition, more impact we will have on the Board decision.

AFM Super Regional at Santa Clara Convention Center in November

AFM Super Regional at Santa Clara Convention Center in November - Winners Trophies

What is a “mega tournament”? In this case, it’s a massive regional competition that combines three circuits into one. It’s a Super Youth Circuit (SYC), and Regional Junior and Cadet Circuit (RJCC), and it’s a Regional Open Circuit (ROC) all in one weekend and under one roof. Academy of Fencing Masters is hosting this combined competition, AFM Super Regional, November 4-6, 2022! (You can register here!)

The competition will include 53 metal strips and scoring apparatus from Absolute Fencing Gear, with an Olympic-size fencing strip for the finals. The tournament setup will be similar to NACs and Fencing Summer Nationals, with national-level referees and officials. It will give fencers the chance to compete in an exciting format. 

Take note that all of the events are capped, so please register early to participate. This is the biggest event on the West Coast in the 22-23 season, and we are expecting a lot of fencers from all over the country, especially from the West and Southwest, to come out for the competition. 

AFM Becomes an Epee-only Fencing Club

AFM Becomes an Epee-only Fencing Club

You can do anything, but you can’t do everything. – David Allen

This quote rings so true for us at this moment. Though we often tell our children that they can do anything they want to in life, we must also balance that with encouraging them to focus on their strengths and to learn to adapt. In fact, adaptation and knowing how to change is what makes a fencer successful. Learning to adapt is a key skill, and it’s something that we have to practice even when things are difficult. Right now, we are making choices about how to adapt to make things as good as possible for our fencers. 

Doing the right thing often means making the most difficult decisions. This was very much the case for AFM when we decided to make the move to close our foil program and become an epee-only fencing club. When you want to grow and become better than what you are, you do well to focus on your strengths. That’s what we’ve decided to do, and it’s a huge step in the right direction for AFM. 

Through the last eight years, we built foil and epee fencing programs from the ground up. We began with two tremendous coaches and a handful of students. From those small beginnings, our club grew and widened its reach, all along the way with us cheering our fencers and their accomplishments. 

We are proud of what the foil program achieved and what everyone involved achieved up to this point. In the last season alone, we had national-level top finishes in every single NAC. Each and every one of our competitive fencers made us proud, growing as people as well as athletes. It’s not possible to put into words how much we appreciate the sacrifices and hard work that our foilists brought for this success. To part ways is heartbreaking, even though we step onto this path knowing that it’s the right thing to do. 

Once the dust settles and the logistics of changing clubs and adjusting to schedules has transformed into a daily routine of training, we hope that both our epeeists and our former foilists will see the integrity in this decision. We as a fencing community build beautiful things together, and that doesn’t stop. We are so privileged to be a part of this community and to have been a jumping-off place for the long and fulfilling journey that these incredible foilists will have in this sport. We will always continue to cheer our foilists on. We know that they will look back and see what a positive step this was in their fencing journey, even as it was an incredibly difficult step to take. 

Our epee coaching team is one of the best in the United States, and we are so grateful for our remarkable coaches. With two Olympians and coaches who have put many fencers through the many national teams, AFM has a core epee program that speaks to the best in our fencers. At every level, our epee fencers provide a strong competitive discipline that rivals any fencing in the United States. We are rightfully confident in our skills and in the direction that AFM will go with this new focus. 

Going forward, we will continue to raise the bar and improve our programs. As a strong fencing club with a laser-sharp focus in epee, our members will now be able to reach even higher heights, to reach out towards new horizons, and to elevate our epee fencers to whatever level they wish to rise to! 

This marks an exciting season for everyone. For the fencers in both disciplines, the future is brighter and better than it ever has been. 

AFM Online Fencing Training

You can continue to train even when the entire world seems to come to halt. Our first online fencing training today was a real blast – we had more than 160 kids who participated in all classes and their energy, smiles, and joy were really contagious!

Don’t wait – join the movement! #OnlineFencingTraining

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

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! 

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