In a world where sports transcend borders, sometimes athletes make decisions that go beyond medals and championships. Today, we bring you an inspiring story of courage, conviction, and unity on the fencing piste.
Meet Konstantin Lokhanov, a sabre fencer now training at the La Jolla Fencing Academy in San Diego, and Sergey and Violetta Bida, who have found their new home here with us, at the Academy of Fencing Masters. These remarkable athletes have taken a stand against the Russian war in Ukraine and defected to the United States. Their goal? To continue their fencing journey and represent their new home at the Olympic Games.
Watch a heartwarming video from the BBC, sharing the incredible journey of these fencers who are not only chasing their Olympic dreams but also championing a cause they deeply believe in. 🇺🇸🤺❤️ #FencingForPeace #OlympicDreams
Ten years ago today if you’d told Irina and I where we’d be today, there’s no way we would have believed you.
With our two sets of twin kids, all in elementary school, in tow, we opened the doors of the Academy of Fencing Masters with our coaches Natasha and Alexander Maximovich. Since those early days of just a handful of students working together in a small space, we have grown by leaps and bounds, watching our own children grow up and hundreds of fencers come through the doors.
We came together with others to grow our shared love for the art of fencing. The dedication and perseverance of our incredible staff, athletes, and families have paved the way for a remarkable transformation from a small fencing club to one of the largest in the United States. As we celebrate the tenth anniversary of AFM, we’re taking a moment to reflect on the tremendous journey that we’ve come on together.
It started with a dream & practical needs
Ten years ago, a handful of fencers gathered together in our not yet fully furnished location in downtown Campbell, ready to work and armed with their determination. With a shared vision of giving fencing a home in the Bay Area, we set about laying a foundation for a community that would grow beyond what we could have ever imagined.
At the time, we felt there wasn’t a strong place for fencers here that focused on families in the way we see it. With our young children, we saw a genuine need for a welcoming home for people interested in fencing. We loved it, and then we surrounded ourselves with other passionate people, and now here we are!
AFM was always about community. Early on, we knew that we wanted to create a place for families, a place where they could bring their children to train in a safe, supportive environment. What truly sets us apart is the strong sense of community that has blossomed over the last ten years. From those first days with those big dreams, we set out to foster a welcoming and inclusive community. Whether you had a background in fencing or were totally new to the sport, you were welcome here. No matter your nationality, race, or place in society, we wanted this to be the place that you could call home.
AFM was always more than just a place to refine fencing skills; it has become a second home to people of a wide variety of ages and backgrounds. We’ve seen friendships forged and mentorship established as we watched everyone develop their shared passion for fencing. There has been so much hard work involved in this journey, and much of it has been done by the staff, coaches, and families who are part of our community. We cannot emphasize enough how much this club is a group effort, much more than just one person or one family, but a whole group of people who share the same love of this sport. It’s wonderful. It’s exciting. It’s something we’re so, so thankful for!
From Local Training to the National and International Stage
Our journey from a small fencing club to one of the largest fencing clubs in the country has been marked by success from the ground up. It’s all driven not only by the dedicated members of AFM on the fencer side, but also of course by the exemplary coaching and training programs that have been developed throughout the last decade.
Because of our innovative coaching staff, we offer something unique. The training continues to grow and change with new demands, and we particularly saw some amazing pivots and innovation during the pandemic. As our reputation has spread, we’ve been able to work with fencers from across the country and the world to scaffold the growth of everyone. Coaches from across the world are part of our dynamic community, and recently, we’ve seen our homegrown fencers compete at the international level. What a remarkable achievement!
Central to AFM’s success is our commitment to nurturing young fencers. Our youth fencing program gives young fencers a place to learn, grow, and shine locally, then regionally, and eventually on the national stage. Our emphasis on mentorship and sportsmanship has not only produced remarkable athletes but also helped us create a roster of past and present fencers who embody the values of hard work, creativity, perseverance, and commitment.
The culture of AFM is about so much more than just winning medals or going to competitions. Those things are great, but it’s not why we started this club ten years ago, and it’s certainly not why we keep going. We’re building a legacy through the countless fencers, coaches, and families whose lives have been enriched by their involvement in the sport and in both our community and the wider fencing community. From beginner youth fencers to veterans still enjoying the sport, every single person has contributed their own unique chapter in the story of AFM.
Eyes Towards the Future
As we celebrate this milestone tenth anniversary, we don’t just look back at what’s behind us, but we also look forward to the next ten years with excitement and so much optimism. The journey of the past decade gives us a solid foundation that we can build on.
Through our commitment to promoting the sport of fencing by being an inclusive place that nurtures talent and fosters a strong sense of community, we’re looking ahead to keeping it all going for many years to come. This is just the beginning for us, though the beginning has been a huge swell of support from so many people over the years.
Our transformation as a club from a small gathering of dedicated coaches and families to where we are today is a testament to the power of dedication, passion, and shared vision. Over the past ten years and with your help, we have not only reveled in the sport of fencing but also created a tight-knit community that supports and inspires one another. As we celebrate this major milestone, we extend our heartfelt gratitude to every family, every member, every coach, every supporter, and every friend of AFM who has contributed to the remarkable journey of our fencing club.
Here’s to the next decade of excellence, challenges, growth, and the enduring spirit of camaraderie that defines us!
We’re excited to announce that we’re hosting the coming AFM Super Regional Tournament!
This will be the second year that AFM has been the organizer for this major fencing competition. After the great success of last year’s tournament, we can’t wait to see how this year’s will come along.
The Mega Tournament
Last year, we aptly called this competition a “Mega Tournament,” and that’s exactly what it felt like when it actually happened. It’s a colossal regional competition that brings together three circuits into one exciting event. Over the course of a single weekend and under one roof, the tournament combines a Super Youth Circuit (SYC), a Regional Junior and Cadet Circuit (RJCC), and a Regional Open Circuit (ROC).
Because of the tournament’s wide-ranging nature, the vast majority of the participants can compete in at least two events. This is an excellent opportunity for fencers to get in a lot of tournament competition early in the season, gaining both experience and points for the upcoming season.
We are proudly hosting this all-encompassing competition from October 6-8th, 2023 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, California. You can register online by clicking here. Register early to secure your place!
As the biggest event on the West Coast for the 2023-2024 season, a large number of fencers from all over the country, particularly the West and Southwest, are expected to participate in this competition.
This remarkable tournament will feature 60 metal strips and scoring apparatus provided by Absolute Fencing Gear. Additionally, there will be an Olympic-sized fencing strip exclusively reserved for the finals. The tournament setup will resemble that of prestigious events like NACs and Fencing Summer Nationals, complete with national-level referees and officials. Our Head Referee is Mark Stasinos, with Charles Astudillo as Assistant Head Referee, Brandon Rochelle as Bout Committee Chair, and Dwight Chew as Head Armorer. Absolute Fencing will be on hand as an equipment vendor, and the convention center is a major venue with lots of amenities. This tournament offers fencers a thrilling opportunity to compete in an electrifying format.
By consolidating all these elements under one roof, this tournament supports fencers who desire a larger and more diverse competitive experience. Although nothing compares to Fencing Summer Nationals, a mega competition like this brings a semblance of a national tournament right here in the heart of Silicon Valley. Similar to an NAC (North American Cup), this competition offers fencers a taste of competing alongside a multitude of participants from various levels. That kind of cross-level competition helps fencers to see what’s possible and get that fire for their own progress.
First off, let us send out a huge thank you to the American fencing community for their continued striving and the inspiration that it brings to all of us! Every year we have the privilege of coming together to push ourselves to get better, and it’s a true honor to be able to bring our fencers to this competition every year.
To the national champions and all participants, we extend our heartfelt congratulations. Your achievements inspire a new generation of fencers and serve as a reminder of the heights that can be reached through passion and perseverance. May you continue to excel, push boundaries, and serve as beacons of inspiration for aspiring fencers around the world.
The weather might have been hot in Fencing, but the fencing was even hotter! Whether you brought home a medal or not, reached your personal goals, or found challenges that kept them at bay, we hope you got as much out of the experience as we did.
Standing up for what’s right sometimes means sacrificing everything.
It’s hard to comprehend the ramifications of decisions that people make, especially when those people are coming from a place that is far removed from where we are. Such is the case with the oppression of the Russian regime, both in its war of aggression against Ukraine and its hard line against its own people.
What happens when speaking out is dangerous?
The people of Russia who are against the war cannot speak up for fear of retaliation from the very same regime that is so visibly hurting the citizens of Ukraine.
It’s important that we understand that many people in Russia are against Putin. Many people are against the war. Many people are against the whole breadth of atrocities committed by this regime. Just as we see here in the United States, brave people want to speak out against wrongs that they see happening. The difference between America and Russia is that here, you can go out and protest. Here you can post on the internet about how you disagree with what our government is doing. There are many problems in the United States, but we have the freedom to speak out against the ills of our government.
For many people, the only way for them to speak out is to leave. About 1,000,000 people left Russia in 2022. By leaving the country, they are standing up. But it doesn’t happen in a single day. It takes a lot of time, a lot of preparation, a lot of resources. It’s not an easy thing to do, and it is undoubtedly a dangerous thing to do. The risk for the families of those who leave is a burden as well. Totalitarian regimes are known to retaliate against the loved ones of defectors, so making the decision to go must be weighed against the possibility of collateral damage to your family. Even if their loved ones are safe, those who leave won’t be able to go back to the place that they’ve known for their whole lives, not even for a visit. You cannot unmake the choice – once you leave, there is no way back home, otherwise, you go to prison for 25 years. Even American journalists who are doing their job and are protected by International laws aren’t spared by the Russian totalitarian regime.
A person who moves secretly to the USA from Russia because they cannot stand this regime is a brave person. It’s a person who can’t live with the regime anymore because the regime is aggressive and totalitarian. The regime is committing genocide and war crimes. Leaving this place means facing huge danger. Their personal well-being is at stake. They are putting their lives in jeopardy because, at any point in time they could be intercepted by the security forces of Russia with the real possibility of a very severe punishment. The higher your profile, the greater the risk.
The mere fact that they left is a statement of their renouncement of the war and policies of the country they have fled.
The conundrum of professional athletes and soldiers
One common misconception about professional athletes in Europe is that they are members of the military. This is a foreign concept for Americans, where we have a distinct separation between athletics and the government. Across Europe, professional athletes are woven into the military structure to give them support as they pursue their sport.
Professional athletes are employed by the government in many countries – Italy, France, Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, and Russia. As athletes, they hold some kind of military rank. They usually get a salary or a stipend from the military for their living expenses. In the United States, athletes are on their own to raise money and figure out how to train by acquiring private sponsorships, but in Europe, the government sponsors them.
Their military rank does not mean that they are fighting in a war, nor are they training to either. In these countries, they receive salaries from one of the military organizations so that they can focus on their sport. It’s one big reason athletes in Europe can have such a big advantage against athletes from other places – they don’t have to hold down day jobs or hustle to pay their bills. It’s simply how things work in these countries.
We don’t consider the best fencing athletes in West European countries to be soldiers. Yet they all hold military rank due to their work as professional athletes in their respective countries. When we look at a totalitarian regime, we must look at the reality of the situation. Professional athletes have nothing to do with the army, even when they technically hold a rank.
It’s important to look at things from this angle because there are complexities at play.
High-performing athletes in Russia hold a very high place in society there. They have financial support and cultural significance. They will not have that same level of lifestyle should they leave. They are also a bigger target should they speak out. It’s a lot of money to give up, a lot of hard-earned social capital. Athletes of a high rank have a huge amount of opportunities in Russia. Leaving all that to come to the United States equates to a step backward, often a huge one. It means starting over again, leaving behind a lifetime’s worth of work, and in most cases, completely giving up their athletic aspirations. But they do it because their conscience is more important to them than their status and money.
People who are doing nothing are thrown into prison for ten or twenty years or even shot. Instead of condemning these athletes as soldiers, we must consider their experiences. These defected athletes are professional athletes who have nothing to do with the war. They are against these terrible things, and because of that, they escape. It takes a lot of bravery, a lot of time, a huge amount of sacrifice, and a huge amount of risk to do it. I think they deserve our respect.
The crimes of Russia are inexcusable
Taking a hard line with the unconscionable acts of the totalitarian regime in Russia is important. There is no room for excuses, no way to justify the continued atrocities they commit. There is no “middle ground” – there are only two sides: right and wrong.
This is a moment for both words and for actions. We must keep the conversation going, we must push for change by lifting our voices. We must raise money to send to the people of Ukraine who are fighting for their lives, supporting them in every way possible. We must also support all the people who stand against the regime. By doing that, we help to put an end to the war and to change this regime for good.
It’s a difficult situation and a complex one. The best that we can do is to meet each other with compassion and understanding, all while staying true to our own beliefs in freedom and autonomy.