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Art of Fencing, Art of Life

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The Sad Reality of How Hard the Pandemic Hit Fencing

The san reality of how hard the pandemic hit fencing

The last year brought us to a wholly new and sad reality, and though we are making it through, it has been a year of survival. Recovery has to come sometime, but when?

One sad reality of this last year is just how hard fencing has been hit. It’s not clear how hard just yet, but the last twelve months are world-changing for our sport. Whatever we think the ramifications are, or whatever our hopes for a quick and smooth return to what we used to have, it is increasingly clear that the path forward is going to be much harder than we would like. It’s clear that our sport will need time to bounce back into shape, and the loss is not going to be easy. 

Survival mode

Part of what keeps us going during hard times is the ability to prioritize what is in front of us. This year, we have put our heads down and looked at only what is directly in front of us, only what is needed for our immediate survival. Looking too far ahead creates a sense of unease and a feeling of being overwhelmed because we don’t know what the future will look like. 

In fencing, there has been a lot of it. We held onto hope for Summer Nationals through April of last year, when qualifying events were canceled during that first harsh lockdown. At the time, no one knew what this would all look like. Then they were postponed till the fall. Then they were finally just outright canceled. Looking back, it’s easy to see that there was never a chance for Fencing Summer Nationals to happen in 2020. At the time, everyone was taking things one step at a time, looking at what we had in front of us to make the best determination possible. That was hope, and it’s a great thing that got us through. 

We are lucky to have had the opportunity to keep going, and we’re lucky that the precautions taken by USA Fencing have meant that there were no large gatherings that created outbreaks among our fencers. It could have been a lot worse. 

One of the good things about the survival mode that we have all been in for the last year is that it allowed us to block out what’s coming. As time rolled on and the stress of just making it continued, many of us learned to let go of fretting over the future. Lots of us have found solace and meaning in our families, which is a good thing. Our worlds got smaller in quarantine, giving us a different focus. Survival mode can’t last forever though, and now as we are seeing vaccines come into our communities and the numbers of cases dip down from their dizzying, terrifying heights, we can start to look forward. 

Looking forward isn’t going to be easy. Keep reading and you’ll see why. 

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How Accessible is Fencing?

How accessible is fencing - Geico ad about Neighbors fencing problem

There is more to fencing than just being passionate about it and wanting to do it – you have to have the means to fence. There are many reasons that someone might not be able to fence, but by far the biggest impediment is the simple fact that it is accessible everywhere, that there are no fencing clubs in every town, or even sometimes in a region. 

If we want to grow our sport, we need to understand where we are right now so that we can see those opportunities. There are so many opportunities! Defining the parameters is an essential part of the process, kind of like evaluating a new opponent on the strip.

We are not alone at least. Many Olympic sports face similar challenges to what fencing faces in terms of reaching into sparsely populated areas. This is a reality for anyone who wants to train for an elite competition of any kind, even when it is not specifically sport related. Think about the arts or academics – the best tutors and the highest universities are generally centered around urban areas, or at the very least aren’t too far from them.  If you want to be the best, then you need to go where the best teachers are, and the best teachers, by definition, have to be rare. 

For fencing, it’s not just that most of the population is far from the best coaches, it’s that most of the population is far from ANY coach. There are irregularities in the training that is available, both in the quality of instructors and in the ability to compete, which is such a big driver for growth in fencers.  These are problems to solve and overcome, but also realities that won’t change too much with time. We have to figure out where we are at so that we can make the most of what we can be as a sport. 

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Ideas and Steps to Encourage Your Child to Stick with Fencing

Ideas and Steps to Encourage Your Child to Stick with Fencing
Rear view of father and son walking in autumn forest

Pandemic-era parenting challenges is completely new territory. Before coronavirus, there were challenges in parenting, but on the whole we felt like we had a handle on what we were doing. There wasn’t a roadmap per se, but there were people who had been there before. We could follow the advice that we knew had been tried and tested by other parents. If your child wanted to make it to Summer Nationals, well there were other parents whose children had done that and could tell you the way. If your child was struggling with self-confidence after a loss, a parent could go to another parent who had experienced that and find a wise ear. 

During the pandemic there is none of that. There are no other fencing parents who can talk us through what it’s like to fence with social distancing outside and no competitions. 

Encouraging your child to keep fencing

The way that we support kids has a lot to do with their eventual success. We start off by doing a lot for them, then we step back bit-by-bit until they are totally on their own. Want your child to stick with fencing? Here are seven ways to help that happen.  

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The Worst Purchase of 2020 was a 2020 Planner

The Worst Purchase of 2020 was a 2020 Planner

It’s a bold statement to say that the worst purchase of mine was my 2020 planner, but then 2020 has been a bold year. 

Twelve months of 2020 have almost come to a close, and as I sit here looking through my planner, I realize that it turned out to be a useless paperweight about a quarter of the way through. By April, whatever plans we had were not going to happen the way that we thought they were going to happen. We had to totally re-evaluate the way that we did things, and for every page that we turned in that calendar things kept on changing and challenging us.

Planning is my business

As a business owner, I spend a lot of time on planning. It’s basically my #1 job.

I need to plan ahead for so many details, too many to count really. Competition schedules, coach assignments and travel, classes and private lesson programs, finances, marketing, meetings, this blog articles, and so much more. To run a successful company, and I believe we are quite a successful organization, requires a lot of detailed planning and then execution on these plans.

And 2020 was no exception from all previous years, until it was.

We had big plans for this year. We had a wonderful and talented group of fencers in our school that were working hard for Fencing Summer Nationals. Our classes were growing at both of our locations and we welcomed students from all over the area to our open fencing times. We were hosting regional competitions and sending our fencers out all over the country to compete. Like the rest of the world, the upcoming Olympic Games offered us the chance to think bigger, to be inspired and to push higher. For us, growth was always an integral part of our model, not just for the sake of business but primarily for the sake of our students and the sport. Fencing is our passion here. 

After that first lockdown, all of those plans changed. We had to turn our focus to maintaining our students however we could and to mitigate the effects of being isolated for them as much as possible. It required adaptation and thinking on our feet. Never before had we been in a position where we had to change our lives so dramatically in one fell swoop.

When I look back to the beginning of the pandemic, I can of course say that there are things that I wish were different. For my family, for our club, for our community and our country and the world. It is not easy to look at any aspect of the planning and overcome the challenges of the reality that we faced. You can only plan so far. I cannot change the way things unfolded, and I cannot allow myself to become consumed with obsession over the unfairness of the world and the way that it crushed all of those well laid plans. 

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The Best Fencing Swords of 2020

Illustration to the Best Fencing Swords 2020 - Olympic Bout in Men's Epee

Where can you find a definitive guide to the best fencing gear ever? You know, a comprehensive, exact list of the best fencing swords that will tell you exactly what you need to purchase for your fencer in a handy dandy blog that you can quickly zip through on your smartphone while you wait for that zoom meeting to start?

Not here. Not anywhere. Such a thing does not exist, because buying the best fencing sword is not that simple. It’s actually simpler than that. 

“Best sellers” can be deceiving

Anyone who has been fencing for a while will tell you that it’s a niche sport. You have to be a fencer in order to understand fencing. Sometimes we’ll run across information online that’s been written by non-fencers who are trying to get some clicks, and that’s frustrating because it’s not reliable and can lead new fencers especially in the wrong direction. 

The gear, the rules, the conventions of fencing, these are specific to our sport and it’s simply not possible to understand them any other way than practicing fencing. 

I recently had the parent of a new fencer come to me after having ventured out into an online shopping spree for her Y10 daughter. She asked me whether she should choose the “best” fencing sword for her daughter, or whether that sword was too advanced for the little girl just yet. The sentiment from the parent was genuine and honest, and it’s important to pause here to appreciate the way that this parent wanted to do the right thing by her child. That’s a great thing. 

I was curious about what she wanted to purchase as I had no clue what she was talking about, so I asked her to send me the URL so that I could check them out and potentially recommend one. She had a few, most from a review site that offers lists of the “best of” everything from toys to mattresses to heart rate monitors to hidden cameras. 

The piece that she’d been reading had some factual looking information. It listed the length of the fencing swords, the type of grip, the material they were made of, their weight, their brand, and a few more seemingly important and legitimate statistics. The write ups about each sword sound professional. 

The first sword she came to me with was a best seller on Amazon in the Fencing Sabre category. It’s called the “Excalibur Color Guard Fencing Saber”, and it’s one of many fencing swords available on Amazon. All of those people who were buying the fencing sabre couldn’t be wrong could they? After all, Amazon is a bastion of modern buying and selling. 

Here’s what the Excalibur Color Guard Fencing Saber looks like on Amazon.

Excalibur Color Guard Fencing Saber - "Best Fencing Sword" 2020

And here’s a picture of it in action from the comments on Amazon.

That’s right, this is not at all a fencing sword – it’s a color guard sword! For those who might not be familiar, color guard (or flag corps) is related to marching band and it’s a form of dance. The dancers spin and twirl flags, imitation rifles, and yes . . . sabres. This was not at all a fencing sword – it was a piece of color guard equipment!

Frankly, when I saw the sword, I didn’t know what my reactions should be. Part of me was blowing up with laughter, and part of me was terrified of what kind of information must be out there. What would happen if some young fencer drew their “best seller sword” in class and charged toward an unsuspecting classmate?

Parents and new fencers, please stay away from “fencing gear review” sites that are not otherwise devoted to fencing gear of fencing sport. 

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