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Why Most Fencing Coaches Start Students with the French Grip

Why most fencing coaches start students with the French grip

The point at which the fencer and the sword connect is the grip, and it is an important starting point for fencers. 

In fencing, the French grip is the simplest. It is a straight or slightly curved piece of metal, wrapped in some kind of cushioning material, with an enlarged piece at the end called a pommel. It’s old, but it’s been around for centuries for a reason – it’s effective. 

Other kinds of grips, like the pistol grip, are molded in various ways to fit into the hand, but the French grip offers no special finger support. It is up to the fencer to create the structure of the hand. Because of this, the French grip is the most malleable and gives the fencer the most latitude in use. 

Epee fencers use the characteristic adaptability of the french grip to create a very distinctive fencing style. An epee fencer can hold close to the handguard or further down at the pommel. How the fingers wrap around the grip is also variable, with fencers able to hold the grip any number of ways. With this grip, a fencer can “post”, or hold at the bottom of the grip in order to extend their reach, which can give a slight advantage if used in the right way during a bout. 

That flexibility is the hallmark of the French grip, and it’s why it’s been consistently a favorite one of many epee fencers. Those are the basics of the French grip, but why is it so popular at the beginning of fencing training for both foil and epee fencers?

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Fencing in Rural America

Fencing in Rural America

Traditionally, fencing is a sport that has been niche for many reasons, not the least of which is that fencing clubs are not easy to come by. For people who live in rural America, fencing is often totally inaccessible because they don’t live close enough to a place to learn it. 

For our sport, this is an incredibly important subject. We want more fencers so that we can have more competitors, and also because we love the sport and want to share it. It’s a shame that distance is such a barrier, but for those who live outside of urban areas, especially in rural America, it’s a huge issue. How many potentially amazing fencers are there out there who will never make it to the strip because there is not a club nearby?

For many fencers, this isn’t something that they even consider. They think about their own sport, what their ranking is, where their next competition will be, and in the times of the pandemic they are understandably concerned about their own training. However, this is still a subject that is worth considering. We want our sport to thrive, and so that means thinking globally. Sometimes the biggest opportunities are in the most unlikely places. 

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How to Fence Unchallenging Training Bouts

How to Fence Unchallenging Training Bouts

Training bouts are fundamentally different from competitive bouts in fencing, and we know that both are important for improving performance. All training bouts are not the same, with some challenging our thinking skills, some challenging our physical skills, and some challenging our. . .  well, what happens when a training bout isn’t challenging at all?

Right now, a lot of fencers aren’t training in group lessons or in open fencing because of restrictions due to the pandemic. This often is pushing some fencers to be paired with opponents in training that are not on their level, either very far above or very far below. It’s a reality of what we are working with, and it is a problem that we are likely to see continue for the long haul as the pandemic progresses through the next few months or longer. Even in normal times, fencers can find themselves in training bouts that are not challenging, depending on their level and what kinds of fencers live nearby and can train with them regularly.

Training partners are important, especially as we progress in fencing. For many elite athletes it is often a norm to go back to their native clubs and train there. They aren’t always training in national camps or with their teams. Most of the time they go back home, where they don’t have the same level of training partners and are with younger fencers. Nick Itkin told us about this experience and also Mara Navarria shared her experience, and it was eye opening. There are ways to learn to do this effectively! 

It is always important to challenge ourselves to grow, no matter the situation. How can we maximize our ability to train effectively with partners of different levels?

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Guide to In-Person, Social Distanced Fencing Training

Guide to In-Person, Social Distanced Fencing Training

Things are starting to open back up from the long shutdown to in-person activities, but only a little bit and very cautiously. Make no mistake – the coronavirus is not gone. It is very much still here. In fact, the numbers are not great for anyone who is looking at them. 

What has changed is that we have a better understanding of how to prevent the spread of the disease. There are things that we know we can and should be doing, steps that make it safe enough to reopen some fencing schools in a limited capacity. Training does not look anything like it did. The swords are the same. The coaches are the same. The clubs themselves are the same. What’s different is how we are acting.

In-person fencing training has to be different now. It’s necessary. This is not just wearing a mask (though that’s part of it), it’s also changing the methods that we use to teach fencing. The core of what we’re doing will stay the same, but the trappings will be different. Necessarily so. 

COVID-19 in-person fencing training regimen

We’ve outlined here a fencing regimen to help guide clubs and coaches, as well as to inform fencers about what to expect for in-person training during this time. Please keep in mind that we are not experts in coronavirus. These are based on our own experience, thinking and on the guidelines set out by healthcare authorities

What we are being told again and again is that this is a respiratory virus that is spread through droplets that come from the mouth and the nose. Everything that we are doing is targeted to minimize those droplets and their spread from one person to another. 

This regimen is broken down into eight parts. Notice the consistent themes and adapt these ideas to your own needs and per guidelines from your local health authorities!

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Refreshing Olympic Parenting Insight with Cathy Zagunis

Ed Korfanty, Mariel Zagunis and Cathy Zagunis in the Oregon Fencing Alliance
Ed Korfanty, Mariel Zagunis and Cathy Zagunis

The dream of the Olympics is something that every fencer and every fencing parent thinks of at some point. It is a big dream, maybe a romantic dream, and definitely a far away dream for most fencers and their parents. 

Cathy Zagunis is the mother of the most decorated American fencer in the history of our sport, sabre fencer Mariel Zagunis. Mariel is a four-time Olympian, with individual gold in both Athens and Beijing, and team bronze in Beijing and Rio. She was the Olympic flag bearer at the Opening Ceremonies in London, though she just missed the podium with a fourth place finish. At the World Championships, Mariel has won four gold, five silver, and four bronze medals in the last twenty years. Recently, she was inducted into the FIE Hall of Fame. She is a fencer with longevity and vision, and when you talk to her mom you can see where she gets it from.

Since 1998, Cathy has been the Director of Programs at the Oregon Fencing Alliance in Portland. She herself is an Olympian, having competed in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal as a rower. She’s also a National Champion in rowing.

What we learned from powerhouse fencing mom Cathy Zagunis in this interview is that these things are not as far away as they feel. Cathy is a parent who is grounded in the support of her children and the unconditional love she has for them. We found her to be the opposite of a tiger mom. In this interview, you’ll get some refreshing parenting insight that might change the way you think about what it means to parent a champion. (Hint: the secret isn’t pushing your child harder).

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