Fencing is about more than just medals – it’s about personal development and community.
Running the AFM blog has given me a huge appreciation for the broad range of people who participate in fencing across the United States. I have learned so much about this sport by articulating it through this online platform. That’s in addition to all that I’ve learned through the work that I do traveling to competitions across the country with AFM and supporting our fencers and coaches at our home base in California.
As an outgrowth of the work that I’ve done both online and in person, I’ve decided that it’s time for me to help give a voice on the Board of Directors at USA Fencing. I am currently a candidate for the BoD’s 2023 election cycle, with voting taking place by June 5th.
Joining the board will allow me to advocate more effectively for the people across the country who are committed to fencing, who put in the hard work day in and day out. My passionate support of fencing over many years is what has led me to seek this role, and I view my place as being one of giving voice to clubs and individual fencers.
Who is Igor Chirashnya?
If you’re here on the AFM blog, then you probably already know who I am, but in case you don’t, here’s a quick overview of me.
For more than a decade, I’ve been a passionate advocate for fencing. Along with my wife Irina, I’m the co-founder of the Academy of Fencing Masters, one of the largest fencing clubs in the United States. We started AFM ten years ago with the mission of bringing the joy of fencing to people in the San Francisco Bay area through a personal development, family-oriented club atmosphere. From the small beginnings with a tight-knit group of competitors, we have been so fortunate to grow and expand – all thanks to the dedicated work of our coaches, staff, and incredible fencing families.
AFM has seen our fencers rise to the highest level on the national and international stage, has hosted Regional and Super Regional tournaments, has been named a Club of Excellence by USA Fencing three times, and has been the recipient of Congressional Recognition for its promotion of youth sports. Though I am fortunate to be a part of this success, I always look back to the people in our club who really make it happen.
Shortly after we began the club, we started the Academy of Fencing Masters Blog, which is where you find yourself right now. Through many hours of writing and a lot of openness from the online community, we’ve risen to be one of the top online resources for fencing. The core belief of this blog is that fencing should be accessible to everyone, and that everyone can benefit from participating in the sport. The privilege of writing here is that I have gotten to connect with fencers all over the country and all over the world, and I cannot say enough about how much I love working with our extraordinary community.
In 2019, I publishedFrom Cool Runnings to World Superpower: The Rise of American Fencing, a book that analyzes the meteoric rise of USA Fencing and its tremendous achievements on the international scene. This book was a passion project for me, as I am constantly fascinated by the history of fencing and how that history impacts our sport today. There is so much to be learned about where we are going when you look at where we’ve come from.
Before AFM, I worked in the technology industry on large, interdisciplinary projects that spanned multiple countries. Within big tech, I was in senior management in places like SanDisk, IBM, and CSR. In 2008, I founded and led my own tech company, eMazeU, which was acquired by a public firm two years later. I still work as a strategic advisor in technology, but I am lucky to be able to put my focus on fencing.
It’s not just about running the business – I have a personal stake in fencing. My four children (two sets of twins!) have all been fencing since they were six or seven years old. Though they are each unique, they have all found a place in the wonderful world of this sport, and it brings us together as a family. All four of my kids have gone on to compete, including on the national level, but more importantly, they have all grown through the sport. A big part of why I want to help support fencing by being on the Board of Directors of USA Fencing is so that I can help young fencers all over the country have the kinds of benefits that my kids have had.
At the heart of all of his ventures, in business and in sport, is a belief that trust, hard work, innovation, and community building are the keys to success.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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