Art of Fencing, Art of Life

Category: For Parents Page 2 of 60

Learning 10,000 Chinese Characters

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.

Forward faster?

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.

The Rule of Three – How to Make Fencing a Part of Your Child’s Life without Sacrificing their Education

The Rule of Three - How to Make Fencing a Part of Your Child's Life without Sacrificing their Education

As a parent, you want your child to have the best of both worlds – a great education and the opportunity to excel in their chosen sport of fencing.

One of the things that participating in a sport like fencing gives (or should give) kids is a sense of equilibrium. Life shouldn’t be all about school and family responsibilities, just as it shouldn’t be all about work and family responsibilities for parents. (FYI – fencing for adults has the same benefits as fencing for kids.)

Unfortunately, life can devolve into our just checking things off of endless to-do lists that don’t hold much meaning anymore. This happens to kids and teenagers, too. Go to school. Go to fencing practice. Go to bed. Eat breakfast. Compete in a fencing tournament. 

The problem here is that we lose all perspective. What’s it all for if you’re just checking off boxes? How can young fencers find more meaning in both their fencing and their academic work? One way that has worked for a lot of people is to use the rule of three to create a synergy in their lives that helps them stay connected.

Do Youth Fencers Need an FIE Blade?

Do Youth Fencers Need an FIE Blade?

Because fencing is a niche sport, there aren’t always easily available guidelines for youth fencers especially on what to do in the case of things like training and equipment. For the most part, there is a wide variety of wisdom out there on things like choosing the right blade, and sometimes it can be conflicting. 

Today, I want to offer some clear advice to parents who are trying to choose the right blade for their youth fencers. This is an area that people are often confused about because fencing blades are so specific – it’s not quite the same as choosing a basketball or a soccer ball. Choosing the right one is more important than choosing the right ball. 

Parents naturally want their children to have the best equipment, both because it will save them money down the road in having to replace equipment that gets battered through use, and because they want their kids to have every advantage. 

In fencing, where the sport is intense and the costs can add up, parents often come to us to ask about what the best thing for their child is. This brings us to FIE blades.

What are FIE blades?

FIE is the International Fencing Federation (Fédération Internationale d’Escrime), and it’s the governing body of international competition. 

There are two kinds of fencing gear – FIE and non FIE. 

The FIE requirements for equipment are more rigorous than the requirements for USA Fencing. The fabric has to be tougher and have more layers, the combat gear has to withstand more hits, and the conductive gear has to be more durable. This is in large part due to the elite level of international fencing, where bouts are more intense and hits are harder. Once fencers hit a certain level, this kind of equipment is essential. 

That being said, most countries outside of the U.S. follow FIE protocols for their gear in competition. The United States is fairly unique in the world for having a different set of standards for its gear in competitions. In other places, the lower level of gear is only used when fencers are training at the club. 

FIE fencing blades must meet specific requirements in strength and durability. They’re usually made of maraging steel, a formula of steel that holds together for longer when cracked. When a fencing blade breaks, it usually starts with a tiny knick, which then cascades into a crack, which eventually leads to a break. The treatment required for blades for FIE does keep the blades from breaking as often as they do in swords that don’t have FIE strength blades.

Non-FIE blades are made of a different grade of steel that doesn’t require the same kind of treatment. They are less dense and don’t do as good a job of resisting cracking, though by no means does that make them fragile. Some of the difference is also in the regulation. FIE blades are manufactured in facilities that are more heavily regulated than non-FIE blades. This extends to the treatment of the blades in terms of heat etc. 

The mechanics of steel are complicated, but the takeaway is that FIE blades will last longer and deform less under heavy use, and are heavier than non-FIE blades. There are slightly different requirements for each kind of weapon, and FIE is constantly evaluating and tweaking what it requires for each of its pieces of equipment to make things safer and longer lasting. The end product is that FIE level equipment can cost significantly more than non-FIE equipment.  

Is My Child Too Short to Succeed in Fencing?

My Child Too Short - Illustration to argue this point - Division 1 final at December NAC - Samuel Imrek against Yeisser Ramirez

Are shorter fencers at a disadvantage? Isn’t my child too short to succeed in fencing?

This question is much more common than some might think and is one that parents of prospective fencers ask all the time. For many aspiring fencers, height is a determining factor for beginning or even continuing their career in the sport. Many people think that it is super important to be very tall with the epee but okay to be short in foil. That’s only a myth!

Being short is not a disadvantage at all in fencing. 

There is a whole world of anecdotal evidence from fencing competitions both domestic and international that shows how shorter fencers are able to take on much taller opponents across disciplines. 

One of the best and most recent examples of a beautiful display of the art of fencing is Samuel Imrek, the 2022 Cadet World Champion. Sam, in the last December NAC in the Division 1 event, beat two Olympians, 15:6 each, much taller and much more senior than him.

Overall, fencers on the Olympic level tend to be on the shorter side, in fact. There’s a great analysis of the anthropometry of fencers in the 2012 London Olympics on Topend Sports. Here, you’ll see that male fencers tend to be right at 6 feet and female fencers average 5.5 feet. While that might make it seem like fencers have to be on the taller side to win, it’s not so stark when you look at the greats.

Here’s a quick list of fencers who are on the shorter side, in all weapons and across both genders.

  • Aladár Gerevich, legendary men’s foilist, 5’10” (177 cm)
  • Ruben Limardo Gascon, men’s epee, Olympic Champion London 2012, 5’9” (175 cm)
  • Daryl Homer, men’s sabre, Olympic Silver Medalist Rio 2016, 5’7” (171 cm)
  • Max Heinzer, men’s epee, World Team Champion, 5’10” (177 cm)
  • Yuki Ota, men’s foil, World Champion, 5’7” (171 cm)
  • Áron Szilágyi, men’s sabre, 3 times Olympic Champion 2012-2016-2020, 5’11” (180 cm)
  • Lee Kiefer, women’s foil, Olympic Champion Tokyo 2020, 5′4″ (162 cm) 
  • Sera Song, ranked #2 in the world in women’s epee, 5’4” (162 cm) 
  • Koki Kano, men’s epee, Olympic Team Champion, Tokyo 2020, 5’8” (175 cm) 

For both men and women in all fencing disciplines, there are plenty of examples of athletes who are on the shorter side who make it all the way to the top of the sport. In many tournaments, we see again and again that short fencers beat their tall opponents. Just like tall athletes, short ones use size to their advantage too. 

Let’s go through some more detailed examples.

How Long Should I Make My Child Stick with Fencing?

How Long Should I Make My Child Stick with Fencing?

How long to push a child into staying in a sport is an important question. It gets right to the balancing act that parents walk as they work to scaffold their children’s development while also giving kids the right amount of autonomy to grow into independent individuals. 

This is an age-old parenting conundrum, and it’s one that we get over and over again. Knowing when to give up on something is a difficult decision, and it’s one that parents are often torn over because they want what’s best for their child. What’s best for a child is not always what they want, and that’s why we’re here to guide them. 

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