Art of Fencing, Art of Life

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The First Gift Fencers Get From their Parents

Raising kids is not for the faint of heart, and one of the most difficult things that parents do is learn to let go of control of their kids and allow them to spread their wings in the real world.  We agonize over whether they will be ok. Will they get hurt? Will someone bully them? Will they achieve the things they want to achieve? Will they be happy?

The truth is that we only get our kids for a few years before they are out there on their own. The hours that we spend with them are precious few and always precious. The natural inclination that we have is to hold onto those years tightly, keeping them as close as we can for as long as we can. This is both because we want to protect them and also because we just want to be with them. 

There comes a time that we have to let them go, but luckily for us it doesn’t happen all at once. There’s the first time we leave them with a babysitter when they’re babies. The first day of school. The first sleepover. The first time we let them go head to head with another child with a sword. 

Giving kids a sword

Fencing is unlike other sports. Though there are fewer injuries with fencing than there are with things like soccer or track and field, there is also the reality that it’s a sword that we put into the hands of children and the psychological reality that goes with that. It’s important to note here that fencing is the safest of combat sports. Karate, Ju-jitsu, Taekwondo, boxing, etc., are have far more potential for injury than fencing does. It is still considered a combat sport, even as it is much safer than most non-combat sports. 

Our swords are engineered for safety, but they are nonetheless still the descendants of deadly weapons. In our minds, swords are deadly weapons that are used on the battlefield. They are striking both in the visual beauty and power that they possess and in the way that they are used to strike other people. The point is to poke or strike another child with that weapon and to have that other child poke and strike our own child with one. It’s an astonishing thing! The intentional giving of an epee, sabre, or foil to a kid is an extraordinary choice for a parent to make. 

It is brave to give a child a weapon, no matter how much we might have worked with that weapon to make it safe. (It’s also very, very cool to give a child a sword.)

Kids who first start fencing often have visions of lightsabers and pirates rolling through their minds. They imagine that they are learning the lightning fast skills that would protect them should they ever find themselves in a dark alley with a bad guy. As long as they have their trusty sword and their fencing training, they are well protected. While it’s no good to put much stock into a fencer being able to use their sport fencing skills for self defense, there is very much something to be said about the empowerment that kids feel through the power of fencing.  

Independence is gift

The first gift that a fencing parent gives to their fencer is a trust in their independence. 

To put a sword in the hand of your child and say “Hey, I trust you to use this weapon properly and to not hurt your opponent or to get hurt yourself.” That’s huge! You are communicating to them in a big way that you believe in their ability to handle themselves in a situation that is not only new and unfamiliar to both of you, but also that is potentially dangerous.

The only word to describe most new kid fencers when they first pick up a sword is reverent. There is power in the blade – the kind of power that elicits movies and books and songs to be written about swords all over the world. The magic in this piece of metal is palpable, and almost no one who holds a sword doesn’t feel it in some way.  To hold a sword is to feel an extension of yourself and to become stronger. It’s almost impossible to capture that feeling into words. 

In this sport, we put a heavy emphasis on taking care of our equipment to help keep everyone safe. That care comes from coaches, but it is the responsibility of fencers to take it on and make it happen. Every time we step onto the strip, we are trusting our opponent to follow the rules and keep us safe. We believe in their self-discipline and their training. Though we trust the coaches and the referees to make sure everything goes as planned, it is the fencers who carry the weight of responsibility to not go too hard or to neglect the rules and injure someone. This is not lost on kids who are fencing. 

This is a big reason that fencing is such a wonderful tool for building confidence in kids. They know the power that they’re being entrusted with, and parents of fencers are doing the right thing by giving them that opportunity. There is a pride in being able to do this sport safely, to walk that line of responsibility that has just a hint of danger. We are not jumping around a castle fighting a foe, but we still have that sense of being a hero in our own story when we are on the fencing strip. This kind of pride can propel a kid forward towards independence. From the very first time a parent watches their child pick up that sword with awe and excitement, they are fostering empowerment. 

Though allowing our kids to stand on their own two feet can be difficult at times, fencing parents give their kids an incredible treasure just by allowing them the chance to participate in swordplay. 

How to Find Fencing Bouts to Watch Online

How to find Fencing Bouts to Watch Online

The sport of fencing continues to grow, and the good news is that means there are more and more ways to watch fencing bouts online. 

In the last few years, there has been an increase in high quality videos of competitions especially on both stand alone websites and social media platforms. In the last several years, these channels have uploaded thousands of bout recordings and other fencing videos that have become a huge resource for athletes looking to study film and hone their craft. 

It should be noted that the best way for fencers to learn about the sport is through in-person training with respected coaches and accredited organizations. Nothing replaces the personal touch of having a coach give you instructions on what to do and how to do it. While watching footage of bouts is no substitute for participating in them, studying film from these events is an opportunity to learn from and about opponents, Olympic athletes, and even yourself.

The Four Pillars of Success for Fencers

Four pillars of success for fencers

Of all of the questions that I get from parents about their children in fencing, the one that I get the most is:

“Will my child be a successful fencer?”

This question comes up early and often from fencing parents, and it’s understandable that they would want to know whether their child will make it as a fencer. From my point of view, it’s better to pivot the question instead to: 

“What are the necessary ingredients for your child to succeed in fencing?”

There is, unfortunately, no way to tell the future. Not only that, “success” is not something that is so easily defined. For some fencers, that could mean that they compete regionally or nationally, for others it could mean that they get a college fencing scholarship, and yet for others, it means they won a World Cup. Every child (and adult) can and should make fencing goals that are attainable. Technically, there is no such thing as a fencer who is incapable of achieving success if you understand where you start and where you want to go. 

Why is the First Place Winner Presented with a Cup in Sports?

USA Team #1 - Wonners of Cadet World Cup in Women's Epee in European Cadet Circuit in Belgrade, Serbia, October 22, 2022

Often in sports, the first place winner is presented with a big, shiny trophy in the shape of a hollowed out bowl that is stamped with various words and symbols. Medals are prevalent too, most notably at the Olympic Games, but cups are easily the second most recognizable kind of award for sporting achievement.

At the top of professional sports, we see the huge Stanley Cup in hockey (which is over three feet tall), the men’s Wimbledon Championship Trophy (the women get an ornamental plate), and the FIFA World Cup (this cup has a globe inside it and the design is based on the original traditional version of the cup). In most cases with cups, the winner of the tournament doesn’t get to keep it. That includes all three of those listed above, which all engrave the name of the team on the cup. Instead, sometimes the team or winner will get a replica, which is what happens with FIFA.

In American fencing, we have the North America Cup (NAC) competitions, which in its current setup does not offer any trophy, maybe there was one many years ago. There’s also the Fencing World Cup, which offers a trophy shaped like a cup and is one of the top international fencing competitions. 

It’s an interesting phenomenon in the world of sports when you think about it. What are these cups for? Is anyone actually drinking out of them? How did this tradition get started in the first place?

What are USA Fencing Divisions 1, 1A, 2 and 3

What are USA Fencing Divisions 1, 1A, 2 and 3

For the most part, fencing categories are easily identifiable and distinguishable. It’s clear from the name what they are and what groups comprise their ranks. 

Youth categories are labeled with age-specific titles – Y8 through Y14 are clearly moving up through specific ages. It’s right there in the title. Veterans are mature fencers, which again makes sense because a veteran indicates someone who has been around for a long time. Cadet, Junior, and Senior all sound like military ranks as well, and they all give the idea of someone who is training or coming of age in the sport. 

Where it’s easy to get confused when we move to the divisional categories. This is all the more confusing because there are also divisional competitions within the structure of qualification for the Junior Olympics and Fencing Summer Nationals. Those competitions aren’t related to Divisions 1, 1A, 2, and 3, but rather they just share a name. There are many, many divisional competitions that cover a specific region or even down to a specific city. These hyper regionally focused tournaments cover a wide range of qualifying event classes, which are often tailored to the kind of fencing that is popular in that particular area.

For Divisions 1, 1A, 2 and 3, participation is actually fairly straightforward. These four categories have their own set of parameters, and they carry a specific weight in the fencing competition circuit. Like other fencing categories, they are separated by age, but there are other extraordinary things about the divisional level of competition. It’s not just another place that fencers progress to when they have a birthday!

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