One of the things that are most amazing about fencing is the international nature of our sport. We have a rich and diverse group of people who practice fencing, and they are embedded in clubs all over the country.
This is an aspect of fencing that we herald regularly for our youth fencers because connecting with people from varied backgrounds is a wonderful way to enrich their understanding of themselves and of their place in the world. It’s a beautiful aspect of our sport, but it’s not just youth fencers who find insight and inspiration from the wide berth of cultures that we engage with. Not long ago, I found some surprising insight from a parent in our club.
The mother of one of our Y12 fencers came up to me a while back and asked me what technique her son should learn quickly so that he can improve his performance in competition. Her child is diligent and focused in practice and in tournaments, but many of his opponents were getting the better of him at the time.
This is not unusual, especially for fencers who are relatively new to the sport, as her child was. This young man lacked some of the basic skills and techniques that his opponents seemed to have mastered, and it held him back. He and his mom were searching for ways that he could weave those methods into his fencing, allowing him to go further.
I told them to be patient and that these things take time, but then he was developmentally appropriate given how long he’d been fencing. If he kept going with the hard work, then he’d eventually get there. “Growth takes time,” I told them.
The look that I got back showed me that this mother and son were clearly not satisfied with this answer.
I took a different approach. “Your son hasn’t been fencing for very long, and his opponents have more experience, even though they are still Y12 fencers. The variation in opponents will actually help him to grow.”
The mom kept looking at me, and then asked, “But surely there’s something else that we could do to help him? You can see that he works hard and is attentive. He’s always going to be less experienced than someone – isn’t there a technique to catch him up? Otherwise, he’ll be behind forever.”
I realized that it’s really difficult to explain why two fencers that look the same on a piste actually do have a different set of skills. For a moment, I paused and thought about it. And then I saw a label that gave me an idea of an analogy that worked well for me in that conversation and several following ones with other parents. Something that is easier to explain to parents without a fencing background.