In the world of fencing, a strong, visionary leadership at the helm is vital to the sport’s growth and development. Last year, I ran for the USFA Board of Directors, and while I did not secure a seat, my conviction to make a difference has only grown stronger. I firmly believe that now, more than ever, the board needs individuals deeply entrenched in the fencing world—people who understand the diverse perspectives of coaches, clubs, parents, fencers, and referees. People who have their feet on the ground, know the ins and outs of the sport, and are committed to growing it from the grassroots level. Together with Andrey Geva, owner and head coach of Alliance Fencing Academy, former Head Coach of Women’s Epee, and USA Fencing Hall of Famer, we are committed to steering the USFA towards a brighter, more organized future.
A Vision of Transformation
Our decision to re-run for the USFA Board of Directors isn’t driven by personal ambition but rather by a profound vision for the future of fencing in the United States. Our goal is to lead the USFA toward better organization, inclusivity, and efficiency.
As leaders with our feet firmly on the ground, we have worn many hats within the sport. From coaching on the national and International stage to experiencing fencing as parents ourselves, we possess a comprehensive understanding of the intricacies of the sport. This firsthand experience has equipped us with unique insights into what our fencing community needs.
As USA Fencing recently published on their USA Fencing 101 social media post, the organization maintains a comprehensive points system, encompassing various categories and divisions, that play a pivotal role in the competitive landscape of the sport. Understanding these points systems is essential for fencers and their families, as they provide a roadmap for participation, qualification, and recognition within the fencing community. In this installment of our “USA Fencing 101” series, we will delve into the intricacies of USA Fencing points, breaking down the five major points lists and shedding light on how fencers can earn and utilize these points to further their fencing journeys in the hope that all these different post systems will make sense to aspiring fencers and their parents.
In particular, there are 5 major points lists that fencers should be aware:
Regional Points Standing (Youth, Cadet, Junior)
Regional Open Circuit Standing (Div1A, Div2)
National Rolling Points Standing (Youth, Cadet, Junior, Senior, Veteran)
National Team Point Standing (Cadet, Junior, Senior, Veteran)
Do coaches who have guided their fencers to international championships need to be taught how to coach?
What about coaches who are former Olympians or National Team members?
What about coaches who have graduate degrees in coaching from universities?
What about coaches that constantly produce top level fencers, that feed NCAA teams, whose students reach high levels regionally, domestically and internationally.
This list can go on and on and on and on.
With the new rules that were just announced by USA Fencing, even the most accomplished coaches will be required to spend their valuable time taking courses that are well below their skill and experience level and in most parts are incorrect and unprofessional. This centralization of certification is a requirement that has been long opposed by clubs and is opposed by a great many coaches. Its passage came out of nowhere – completely unexpected as it has been hotly debated.
Why is this such a big deal? Why are we crying out so loud against this requirement? Let’s dive into the reasons.
Forcing highly accomplished coaches to certify is a problem
Fencing is not a monolithic sport.
The sport of fencing in the USA is club-centric. Our model has always been driven by the clubs.
We are a decentralized sport. In fact, all Olympic sports in the United States are decentralized. There are many varied groups who have different methods and different priorities, even though they feed through the national organization into the World Championships and the Olympics. There is a huge strength in that diversity of viewpoints. It’s also what makes American sports unique and successful.
Other countries, like Hungary or France for example, do have rigorous requirements of everyone in their sport. In those places, there is a central group that has a huge amount of control over the way that athletes train and the way that their coaches are trained to coach them. There is also government funding to make it all work.
We are not that way! In America, things come from the ground up as clubs build their base through bringing in accomplished coaches that already have training from other sources, or else they are athletes who have a passion for the sport and develop as coaches through mentorship. There are of course ways that we should be supporting developing coaches, but we’ll come back to that later.
We also have a very unique way to develop our athletes for international competitions, totally different from any other country. Many of our top athletes are developed through the NCAA, and the university model is a wholly different path than centralized anything through USA Fencing or the USFCA. These are different paths, and this current attempt to force coaches to come under one banner is counterproductive.
Most of the clubs in America are built on the expertise of extraordinary coaches from abroad. These are the people who created American fencing as we know it. Yes, we have a few fantastic coaches, both now and historically, who were born in the U.S. – people like legendary Bucky Leach, Sean McLain and Greg Massialas who did a tremendous job in foil. For the most part, the best international results we’ve gotten have come from fencing masters who came to this country from the outside.
Who creates this certification?
Let’s start here – no other major group has any kind of coaching requirement. Not gymnastics or tennis, not soccer and not even football. What some of them do offer are training, but it’s always optional.
With all respect to the USFA, what is it about this organization that makes them a high authority in coaching education? Even beyond that, what made them an authority here at all?
Unless we’re missing something here, there was never a forum of the most accomplished coaches convened to judge whether this course is even qualified to train coaches at any level. And now, after the course is out – this course is far beyond a reasonable level of critique.
It would be easy to gather the top dozen coaches in each discipline, as measured by who has produced the best results in the last decade on both the domestic and international level, then have them review and analyze this course and define its place in the sport.
Does this course authors meet the criteria for fencing mastery?
What are their credentials to dictate the course as mandatory?
And most important, why this course should be mandatory?
Who gave the USFA right and authority to dictate the coaching education?
What was the process of buying this in among the fencing coaches community?
How mandating this course fits our bylaws?
Are the people who created this course even qualify as the best fencing coaches?
You can add dozens of additional questions to this list because by no means this list is even close to be encompassing all the aspects
Why during the last 100+ years the USA Fencing was ok with its current decentralized model of coaching, which in the last two decades has brought unprecedented results at every level of International competitions, including raising Olympic and World Champions, and all of sudden the USFA must mandate this education?
And most importantly – what’s next, as it is clearly the first step?
It’s important here to note that this has all gone very fast, with a proposed start date of finishing this requirement just around the corner. Add to this that all this was announced and became mandatory after the annual coaching fees were paid by all coaches, putting the entire coaching community on an uneasy path of antagonism with the organization. We don’t have time to process important questions like:
What are the certificates for exactly?
Will coaches be allowed to strip coach without these?
What about having them coach in the club setting? Will the USFA revoke club membership/insurance if they don’t make their coaches take these courses? Or if one coach refuses? And if yes, then on what basis?
If a coach disagrees with the curriculum, will they be exempted? Punished? Will their students be able to write their coach’s name during the medal ceremony? Or put a coach medal around their coach’s neck?
Will coaches be required to teach what these courses say if they disagree? Who will monitor or enforce this? How and why?
There are a huge number of unanswered questions here that are materially essential for our understanding of how it will work.
The danger of bureaucracy
Why do this now? What is the urgency?
Why not give the new board to review all this?
This move adds power to the bureaucracy. The coaches who will need to be certified are some of the best ones in the country, they built the sport in the United States. We’re talking about people who are at the top of fencing expertise in the United States.
Doing this whole thing adds time, money, nerves, and energy. The time and energy could be put to much better use for professional development of coaches in different ways. Do we need more qualified coaches? Absolutely we do if we want to grow the sport, and we definitely do. Is making our highly accomplished coaches spend time (and thus money) on something that they don’t need the way to accomplish that? Obviously not.
The mental and emotional energy required for these coaches to go through this is completely unnecessary. It taxes them when they could better be pouring that into developing the next generation of champion fencers, who incidentally will at times go on to be the very coaches that we need to have.
Why do it then? If it’s clearly not to develop the fencing coaches, then what purpose does it serve? Plain and simple – it’s a power play.
By forcing coaches to become certified through this narrow path, the power becomes increasingly centralized. Our once decentralized sport becomes more and more beholden to the national organization, eroding autonomy in services of uplifting a central organization that does not have the same history of achievement.
We do not need a more heavy handed approach – we need to recognize the talent and mastery that our coaches bring, then help to build new coaches as we support clubs and parents. Forcing an additional layer of bureaucracy does not serve the sport.
Alternatives to coach certification
There are plenty of other ways to go about this, and we know that there are because other sports do this!
We definitely need to create a coaching education program, but we need to do it in the right way, and that’s not through a mandate like this. Things that we should include are:
Required basic licensing in safesport
Required background checks for coaches
Required training in sport safety
Only a very slim bit of this should ever be mandatory from the national level. Only the base line, most basic things should be required to ensure the level playing field. There is a huge difference in that and the kinds of requirements we might be looking at. Forcing accomplished coaches to certify in something that they have vast experience in is honestly insulting and mostly serves to break our community down.
We need to educate coaches, we need to provide resources for them, we need to create resources for those athletes who want to become coaches, we need to help facilitate mentorship from experienced coaches to new coaches if such access doesn’t exist for new coaches. But instead of helping the clubs, moves like this generate more problems and create more barriers.
Part of what makes fencing in America strong is the diversity of coaching methods and styles. Well, that diversity characterizes the It’s the opposite of a centralized coaching program. Many of our best coaches left places with centralized systems precisely because of the freedom they have here to teach the sport in the ways that they know work. In fact, models like this have proven to fail in other countries. It’s one our amazing coaches are here, and now we’re repeating it.
What I ask of you now is to sign the petition linked here that former National Epee Head Coach and one of the most prominent epee coaches in the country, the USA Fencing Hall of Famer and owner of one of the best epee clubs in the country, Andrey Geva put online, to show your support for putting a pause on this measure and revoke this mandatory and useless training. We don’t have to just stand back and let things happen that are not in the best interest of our sport.
If you read this and you are not a coach, you might think why should I care? And the answer is simple – you should care because when the power becomes centralized and monopolizes your access to your most trusted resource – your coaches, at the end of the day the heaviest price will be paid by you. And not only in increased fees (which you already see) but also in quality of service you receive and the opportunities you have.
We’re excited to announce that we’re hosting the coming AFM Super Regional Tournament!
This will be the second year that AFM has been the organizer for this major fencing competition. After the great success of last year’s tournament, we can’t wait to see how this year’s will come along.
The Mega Tournament
Last year, we aptly called this competition a “Mega Tournament,” and that’s exactly what it felt like when it actually happened. It’s a colossal regional competition that brings together three circuits into one exciting event. Over the course of a single weekend and under one roof, the tournament combines a Super Youth Circuit (SYC), a Regional Junior and Cadet Circuit (RJCC), and a Regional Open Circuit (ROC).
Because of the tournament’s wide-ranging nature, the vast majority of the participants can compete in at least two events. This is an excellent opportunity for fencers to get in a lot of tournament competition early in the season, gaining both experience and points for the upcoming season.
We are proudly hosting this all-encompassing competition from October 6-8th, 2023 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, California. You can register online by clicking here. Register early to secure your place!
As the biggest event on the West Coast for the 2023-2024 season, a large number of fencers from all over the country, particularly the West and Southwest, are expected to participate in this competition.
This remarkable tournament will feature 60 metal strips and scoring apparatus provided by Absolute Fencing Gear. Additionally, there will be an Olympic-sized fencing strip exclusively reserved for the finals. The tournament setup will resemble that of prestigious events like NACs and Fencing Summer Nationals, complete with national-level referees and officials. Our Head Referee is Mark Stasinos, with Charles Astudillo as Assistant Head Referee, Brandon Rochelle as Bout Committee Chair, and Dwight Chew as Head Armorer. Absolute Fencing will be on hand as an equipment vendor, and the convention center is a major venue with lots of amenities. This tournament offers fencers a thrilling opportunity to compete in an electrifying format.
By consolidating all these elements under one roof, this tournament supports fencers who desire a larger and more diverse competitive experience. Although nothing compares to Fencing Summer Nationals, a mega competition like this brings a semblance of a national tournament right here in the heart of Silicon Valley. Similar to an NAC (North American Cup), this competition offers fencers a taste of competing alongside a multitude of participants from various levels. That kind of cross-level competition helps fencers to see what’s possible and get that fire for their own progress.
Sending out a huge congratulations to the newest USA Board of Fencing members – Ivan Lee, Damien Lehfeldt, and Abdel Salem!
The expectations for this particular board are high. We are at an inflection point in fencing, and where things go from here has everything to do with what steps the leadership takes. I take heart in knowing that the three individuals elected are from the field, and I am confident from my interactions with Abdel, Ivan, and Damien that they will listen to the people who put them in this position.
Where we go from here has everything to do with how much we advocate. There is so much potential to make fencing in the United States stronger, more inclusive, and for it to be even better than it is right now. Growing our sport and improving our profile both domestically and internationally will help not just those at the top, but it will also support the athletes who are currently in the pipeline.
The board has a huge impact on the policies, structures, and direction that make up fencing. These decisions are important, and they will have long lasting effects on how fencing functions for years to come. Keep in mind that these At-large seats are only one fraction of the board but that they are an integral part of the direction of fencing. Their votes will guide decisions from which ages are included to where competitions take place to how coaches and referees are structured within the national body.
Working together for the future of fencing
In the same spirit that we say to our fencers in our club and on this blog – defeat doesn’t always have to have a bitter taste. I am thankful for the wonderful support that people gave me in the campaign, and it was wonderful to have the chance to listen to your concerns and learn more about the needs of fencers all over the country.
Losing this election doesn’t sting because the community is so strong, and also because I do truly believe that the three men elected are going to be a positive force. While I don’t agree with them on everything, what I do know from my interactions with them is that they are compassionate and willing to put the needs of others on the table at the national level.
This board is a step in the right direction, without question. We’ll continue to move forward, and it’s important that we reach out to the board members in general when we have strong opinions. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your place in the fencing community is – parent, fencer, referee, coach, staff, etc. Your opinion matters. Your voice matters.
The three new at-large members are all experienced in the fencing world, and that kind of field understanding is essential to guiding the direction of fencing. These men love the sport, and that shows in how they ran their campaigns and in their backgrounds. It’s exciting to have people representing us who know what’s happening in competitions and clubs across the country.
We as a community need to lend them a hand.
No one can do this alone. Being on the board is a major undertaking, and it comes with its own set of pressures and responsibilities on top of everything that these people are already doing. This is not a paid position, and it’s not one that goes with a lot of glory. There’s hard work and thankless hours of meetings and correspondence that are essential for the functioning of the board. We must be there for them.
These new At-large board members have all shown that they are here to represent the people in fencing, and it should not be incumbent on them to do it all themselves. If something isn’t working – let them know! If you have concerns about how things are being carried out, say something! Especially if you have ideas about how to solve problems, lend your intellect and problem solving skills to USA Fencing.
We are all in this together. This sport is full of highly intelligent, hardworking, wonderful people who have the ability to get things done. No one knows better than the fencers, their families, the coaches, and the people in clubs all across the country. It’s up to the community to push things in the right direction.
Thank you for your participation!
Increasing participation in USA Fencing is how we make a difference! Many of you put your views out there, and I especially want to thank Andrey Geva and Ann Marsh-Senic for campaigning alongside me for change.
The last six months of campaigning has brought up a great deal of conversation that will help to define what fencing looks like moving forward, and it’s exciting to see how many people are engaged, though there’s still lots of room for more voices! There was only a 26% participation in this round of voting. We have a fantastic electoral process that makes a huge difference on the ground for fencing, and your vote makes a difference!!
This election showed so much awesome activity from the people of fencing, with lots of issues coming to the fore in passionate ways. Whatever level you participated at, remember that there are more opportunities out there for you. The board will have open seats again next year, and we’ll all be called upon once again to make our voices heard. There’s always an opportunity for us to make a difference.
As for me, stay tuned. There’s still plenty to be done and I’m looking forward to continuing to be a voice for positive change. Next year’s election will be here before you know it, and look for me out there!
This board is a positive move for fencing in the United States, and again I want to congratulate Damien, Abdel, and Ivan. Thank you for your positive campaigning and I look forward to having you represent the community!