Who are your best teachers? We tend to put teachers in a box in a schoolhouse, with a blackboard and rows of desks. That’s a bit of a narrow definition if you think about it, because teachers are much more than that. Teachers come in all shapes and sizes, from our parents as our first teachers to our children as our teachers later on in life. If you’re a fencer, then your fencing teachers have a great influence on your development, one that we appreciate far beyond our time on the strip.
Behind every exceptional person
I recently finished reading Stephen Hawking’s book “Brief Answers to The Big Questions”, and in the last chapter he wrote:
“If you look behind every exceptional person there is an exceptional teacher. When each of us thinks about what we can do in life, chances are we can do it because of a teacher” (p.201)
Teaching someone is more than just telling someone how to do something. It’s a connection, a human bond that brings richness to the lives of both the student and the teacher. Teachers are transformative for the lives of their students.
If you look to the greatest athletes, they all cite their coaches as imperative to their success. Not even just athletes though, we see this powerful role that coaches hold in fencers who don’t progress to the top of athletics, but also those who go on to success in their career. Fencing coaches knit into their fencers the tools for success across. That exceptionality is transferrable! The dedication and resilience that comes with fencing is a set of skills that carry through to academics and even to life.
At times kids spend more time with their outside mentors than with anyone else. While parents are of course key in the early shaping of their children, once kids branch out in school and beyond, it’s teachers and coaches who step in to this vital role in shaping their outlook and their outcome. It’s easy as a parent to forget this key aspect of the connection for kids – long term development. There are hours upon hours spent with the fencing coach, either in practice or at competitions. Fencers connect with their coaches during long days traveling and competing, and that outside, non-parental adult influence is so critical. What is so wonderful about fencing coaches is that they are a positive force.
Coaches are right there to shape things like endurance, mental agility, responsiveness, and self belief. These are skills that coaches teach to their students in many ways, from encouragement to boundary management. The bond between a coach and their fencer is a special one, one that, in the best of times, is equal parts sports and life learning. Many of these relationships go on year after year, long after many young fencers move on from such a close focus on their fencing.
Push and pull
The art of teaching fencing is the fine art of pushing and pulling.
A fencer needs to be pushed from behind at times by their coach. This is where they’re not getting that training done, on days that are too much either emotionally or physically. Coaches see where our true limits are, rather than letting us sit back and stay comfortable. It’s this pushing that makes a fencer see all that they can be. Which is truly the magic of a good teacher isn’t it? The marvelous ability to see what it is that we cannot. We have areas of growth that we cannot see from inside ourselves, and it’s our teachers who push us to that full potential. No one can grow all the way there without some kind of help. Even those athletes who are naturally insightful and seem to know well how good their can be with hard work gain a great deal of benefit from teachers who can get that extra leap forward with a push.
On the other side, fencing coaches pull their students forward as well. This happens with the incredible know how and experience that our fencing teachers bring to our lives. A fencing coach has been to those places that we have not been, whether it be in competition themselves or with other students as coaches. They have a beautiful understanding of what the art of fencing is that has been honed through the hard work of time and training. Without this pull of knowledge and understanding from a fencing teacher, a fencer would only be able to see progress that came from their own limited scope of experience. What we want as fencers is to widen our view of possibility. That’s where innovation and success come from, and through a fencing mentor it comes much more easily.
The push and pull of a consummate fencing teacher is essential to the success of a student. It’s not something that just anyone can do though, it’s a honed skill that fencing teachers learn themselves through a long and sometimes arduous process of apprenticing with other great fencing teachers as well as through their natural talent. We sometimes think that fencing coaches just fall into the profession, but that’s not how it goes! Each and every fencing coach has spent many years getting to where they are. It’s worthy of appreciation and respect.
Think about how your fencing coaches have balanced the push and pull of your training, a dance which probably taught you a lot about how to push and pull yourself.
Teaching us the why
A long underrated aspect of fencing coaches that doesn’t often go noticed is how much they teach us the “why” of fencing. Inspirational coaches don’t just give us instructions about how to perform footwork or hold our swords, they light that fire in our belly that makes us want to go for the big accomplishments. How do they do this? Through showing us not only that we can have dreams, but that we can achieve them.
The heart of all of this, indeed the heart of pushing our lives to become better, is self belief. The real reason that any of us are doing fencing is because we feel that it betters us in some way, whether it be the physical changes that support us or the mental honing that comes with the sport.
What is it that our fencing teachers are showing us is the “why”? Well it’s our growth that is the why. The feeling of pride and self respect that comes with achieving our goals in fencing, no matter how small they may be, that’s why we’re doing this. All of the other good that comes stems from that.
A fencing coach ignites the passion within their students in ways that propels them not just to want to win, but to want to feed the fire. It’s in the way that they look at us approvingly when we correctly execute a movement in competiition that we have practiced a thousand times with them, and it’s there in the look of disappointment when we don’t follow through with our promises of practice and hard work. Everyone makes mistakes, and our dear fencing coaches are able to hold us accountable without tearing us down or dampening our spirits. You make us want to be better.
It seems like a small thing to say “thank you” to a fencing teacher who shaped you, because of course they know that you are appreciative right? On the off chance that any of our fencing teachers may not know it yet, thank you for everything that you do. This small offering of analysis about all of the things that we see in your seemingly simple actions of pushing and pulling, accountability and expertise, well we hope it makes you fee seen and appreciated.
Thank you to all of the fencing teachers reading this! And if you haven’t thanked your fencing teacher today, why not go do it!