Fencing is not just a sport that we love, it’s a sport that we live. World Fencing Day is a fantastic moment to celebrate fencing and to join the wider fencing community. This year, it falls on September 10, 2022, and we’re incredibly excited to have a reason to share our sport!
Fencing is for Life
The message this year is “Fencing is for Life”, which is such a heartfelt message, and it’s one that fencing families can relate to. This sport gets into our blood and bodies and enlivens our spirit. Though we might only be at the fencing club or the tournament for a few hours a week, the lessons and fortitude that we gain from fencing spill out into our lives in the most positive ways.
Fencing fills us with a bright hope and a feeling of mastery that allows us to reach higher and be more confident. There’s power in holding a sword, and there’s even more power in pursuing this sport in a supportive environment. We build community, both in our clubs and around the world.
One of the best things about fencing is the international community that it’s a part of. In fact, World Fencing Day is celebrated all over! FIE, the international fencing body, has affiliates on every continent (except Antarctica). We are truly a global sport, with a community that is varied and incredibly diverse.
This is a universal sport, and one that reaches everyone, no matter what age they are. Competitive fencing goes from eight years old all the way to eighty years old and beyond. When we say this sport is for life, we mean your whole life. It’s accessible, and it’s remarkable.
“You cannot fail unless you quit.” – Abraham Lincoln.
“Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit.” – Vince Lombardi.
“Quitters don’t win and winners don’t quit.” – Elliott Gouldi
“Nothing I ever want to accomplish will ever become a reality if I always quit.” – Michelle A. Homme
If you do a quick web search for “quotes about quitting,” you’ll come up with page after page of things just like what’s up there.
There is a deep seeded sentiment in sports culture especially that says that you must continue to keep going no matter what if you want to succeed. It’s what the Rocky movies are all about. It’s what we see constantly in motivational stories at big tournaments – how top athletes stayed the course even when they wanted to give up.
True, there is a whole lot of good that comes from pushing past obstacles. However, there are also times that we need to step back and take a different direction. There are right and wrong times to quit.
A healthy perspective
Fencing is a passionate sport to be involved in. For those of us who have discovered that love of the sport, it can be hard to imagine walking away from it. However, there are lots of reasons that people don’t keep fencing, and pushing them isn’t the way to keep them involved.
We want fencers to stick with it for the right reasons, and those all start and end with taking joy in the sport. Everything flows from there!
I recently had a conversation with a teenage fencer in our club about quitting. She walked into our office and told me that she wanted to give up the sport. In the many years that we’ve been doing this, this kind of conversation has come up plenty of times. From our point of view, it’s important that we stay impartial. Pushing someone to stick with the sport when it’s not working has never turned out to be the best thing for them or for us. We might keep them coming to classes and competing for a little while, but it never lasts.
That doesn’t mean that every teenager who walks into our office is told to hang up their fencing mask. Instead, we engage in an honest conversation about the good and the bad reasons to quit fencing.
The mindset has to be one of a healthy perspective that gives each person the genuine chance to reach their potential. This doesn’t just apply to fencing, but to every area of life.
There’s a little anecdote about mothers that’s been going around the internet for some time, and it pops up in many variations. It goes something like this:
When I was a child, my mother would always run back into the house when we were getting ready to leave for vacation. Everyone else was in the car, but she’d always go back and spend such a long time. I never could figure out what she was doing.
Then, I became a mother and I realized what she was doing.
She was doing everything.
Moms are the keepers of everything. There are a thousand little things that they take care of that kids and other adults even don’t see. They are the invisible hand that makes sure there’s always food in the pantry and the magical beings that poof birthday cakes out of nowhere.
Need a pair of socks? Mom knows where to find them.
A snack in the middle of night when you wake up with a nightmare? Mom will pull one out of a hiding spot.
Dropped a lump of burrito on your fencing jacket while eating between bouts at competition? Mom can get the stain out before the next round.
Knee scraped? Headache? Tummy troubles? Mom will come out with a solution to ease your ailments.
It doesn’t matter where they are or what their child needs, moms always have a way of finding a solution. It’s why we come back to them again and again, not just as children but as adults, too. Though moms can’t fix all of the things in the world that are wrong, they do always offer us hope that there is a solution.
On a recent quiet night, I found myself reading a book by Michael Dell called Play Nice but Win, in which he quoted Theodore Roosevelt. Though I stumbled upon this quote many years ago, for some reason it resonated with me in a different way than before.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
It’s a meaty quote, with a dense mesh of words that are so thick that you can’t understand it in one go. When I came across it, I read it over again several times. Every time, I peeled layers of meaning back, one after the other, like an onion, until I got to the core of it. Or at least to what I thought was the core of it.
I encourage you to read through it again before you go on. I would even go so far as to say that you don’t need to keep reading this blog, because what follows are my thoughts. Perhaps it’s best if you think over Roosevelt’s words and how they impact your life. It might be that you need to peel your own onion before you see how I peeled mine.
Before we get into it, I want you to think about how it feels to do something versus watching something. As an Olympic sport and a combat sport, we are among a small group of sports that people see much more than they do it. Though everyone has picked up a stick and pretended to hold a sword, it is very different to do the actual thing. It’s very different to be a fencer than it is to play pretend with a pool noodle.
Humanity must stand strong in the face of oppression. Humanity must win. Good must prevail over evil.
These are not just words, they are words with meaning and depth. We are sitting at a crisis point in which the world has to stand united against injustice. The fencing community is a global one, even as we are each in our own individual clubs across the world. What’s happening in Ukraine is affecting our global community.
An immoral war calls for us to speak out
Standing strong means publicly supporting those who are facing the unimaginable. This is beyond politics, beyond borders, and beyond our differences. There is no question that the people of Ukraine are brave, and it is up to us to find the bravery to speak for them.
The aggression towards Ukraine is abominable. The blame for the lives lost lies directly at the feet of the Russian government because the overriding sentiment of the people of Russia is the same as the rest of the world’s view: this invasion is unjust.
This is a moment where we have to do something. Over the last few years, the world’s eyes have been opened to layers of injustice. Today, we are urgently pressed to come forward and raise our collective voices for Ukraine. It is a true matter of life or death in an immoral war of aggression.
There is good in the world, and there is evil in the world, and we are truly seeing an epic moment of clear-cut good versus evil. No country deserves to have its humanity violated. This is why the world is united on one side, with brave Ukrainian people who are standing up to this evil.
Our Ukrainian fencing community
We have seen, up close and personal, the resilience and strength of the Ukrainian people.
Look around you, in your club or in your opponent’s club. Chances are there are coaches from Ukraine. Here in our San Francisco Bay Area, most of the fencing clubs have Ukrainian coaches, including AFM. There is a powerful tradition of fencing that has poured out of this nation. The culture and the people are worthy of admiration, and we are fortunate to have them among us.
It’s difficult to imagine the strain that they are under, twenty four hours a day and with no end in sight. They live with the knowledge that their families are under fire, that their friends and colleagues back home are in the worst situation. The images that are coming out of Kyiv, Kherson, and Mariupol are difficult to look at for those of us on the outside – what must it feel like to see them when they are your friends and family?
Schools, hospitals, and everyday people are subject to a war that they did not ask for. In any place in the world, in any war or oppression, human pain and suffering are intolerable. In the case of Ukraine, especially for the fencing community, it’s the suffering of a family of somebody that you know, somebody that is dear to you.
Stop for a moment and take stock of how many friends and fellow fencers you know who have connections to Ukraine. The people who you share your club with and who you fence with and tell jokes with. Right now, their families are being bombarded by the invading army of a totalitarian regime. It is unimaginable.
As a fencing community, we have no influence on what happens with international politics. But as people, as human beings, we all have a huge influence on each other. Public sentiment may not directly stop the tanks from rolling through the wheat fields of Ukraine, but it can make a difference as it pushes politicians to make choices that will stop those tanks.
Together, we have an impact
When we speak out, we plant a seed. If the world unites in global outrage at this brazen violation of sovereignty, the international community can indeed make this war stop soon, fast, and forever.
Many Ukrainians now feel helpless. Those who have emigrated are far away and unable to make a change, and those who are trapped under this siege in Ukraine itself are facing a deep horror at their door.
Speak out with your support! Your voice, when you speak to your Ukrainian colleagues and fellow fencers, makes a huge difference in helping them feel less alone. If you have friends in your club or coaches or families, take a leap and talk to them! Don’t walk around on eggshells with their feelings. They will tell you if it’s overwhelming, but they’ll also feel your support. Sometimes even a listening ear helps make all the difference.
Many people have asked about how they can support the Ukrainian community. The first thing is to be a front line with your coaches and teammates with Ukrainian connections. Show them your empathy and your compassion.
That is the first step, and it’s the best way for you to make an impact. If you want to do something that reaches out beyond your local community, look to this link for more information on how to make a difference on a global scale – how to help Ukraine.
Right now, right here, it is absolutely critical that we stand up for what is right. We can speak out against the cruelty and greed of war, and in doing so we show a small piece of the bravery that the people of Ukraine have shown while they face the worst kind of brutality.