Maximizing Online Fencing Sessions Part 2 - A Guide for Fencers and Fencing Parents

Screen time has become fencing time in the bold new world of coronavirus with online fencing training. It’s a time that is unusual and challenging, but it’s one that we know we can get through if we work together and stay positive. Fencing is a sport that is remarkable in all of its adaptability, and today we are pushing the boundaries of that adaptability. 

That all sounds well and good, but how do fencing families take the most advantage of online fencing classes during the time of COVID-19? Many schools are offering online classes, and for those fencers who don’t have access to online classes from their own school, some fencing clubs have opened online classes to fencers who still want instruction even when their clubs are not offering socially distanced options. 

When you do participate in online fencing training , things are a bit different than when you participate in in-person fencing classes. The platform is different, and so there are different ways to maximize the benefit. Here are our tips for making online fencing training work out for fencers at home. 

1. Safety is a must

When you are at the fencing club, there are lists and lists of safety protocols that your fencing club is committed to that help to keep fencers safe. Things that you know about and things that you likely do not realize are happening. 

With fencing at home, it is so very important that you ensure the safety of everyone, not just the fencer. Remember, this is a weapon that you have in your hands. Though it is not sharp at the point, it is still dangerous if not used with the right amount of caution.

When you are fencing at home, here are three top points to keep in mind:

  1. Keep plenty of room around you, away from walls and furniture and objects. 
  2. Everyone in the house should know that a fencing lesson is happening and be completely out of the fencing area – siblings, parents and grandparents. This goes to putting pets in a separate room away from the lesson.
  3. Adult supervision is the best practice for at home fencing. It does not have to be super close supervision, but it needs to be something. 

The fencing coach is of course watching through the online classroom, but they can only see a limited view, which is not what they see in the club. That leaves it to parents to make sure that kids are safe, which we know is tough with all of the obligations that everyone has, but it is necessary. 

2. Pick the right location

Choose as big of an area as you reasonably can choose, but also consider what is under your feet. Sometimes it is worth not having such a big area if you have somewhere that is better for fencing in terms of the flooring. 

There are 4 main areas in your house you can train:

  • Room with hardwood flooring
  • Room with carpet flooring  
  • Outside (front or back yard, patio)
  • Garage with concrete flooring

Below are my recommendations of preferable surface to train. But in reality everybody’s circumstances are different and not necessary you will have in your home exactly what I recommend. With that train on whatever you have but pay attention to the negative elements of that surface described below and try to workaround them as much as you can.

I would say I don’t like the usually carpeted surfaces in U.S. houses, a hardwood surface I believe is much better for fencing footwork. In most houses the hardwood floors are even better than the floors in many fencing clubs. If you can organize your room in your house to do this, it doesn’t have to be a really big space. That would be the first option.

I don’t like personally to do it outside, unless you have a nice even surface on the outside (like a deck). If it is not even, be careful. I do not recommend an uneven area because you might hurt yourself or injure yourself. A wrong step on an uneven surface is a sure way that you can twist your ankle or something.

Grass is not terrible, but pay attention that you do not hurt yourself with this and do not slip.

In general, the garage floor surface is not as good as a living room hardwood floor because it is usually concrete and that is rough on your joints for very prolonged exercises. Any time you can put something like a yoga mat or a rag or something in the garage, that is helpful for the joints.

Make sure that you pay attention to what kind of exercise you are doing if you are on a surface that is not conducive to the work. Maybe it’s better to reduce the number of lunges which you do in the garage and do more static exercises, or target exercises where you are not moving your legs as much and put much less pressure on your knees. 

If you have any doubts about it, whether it is good or not, your fencing coach is always your best advocate to ask. In general, everything that I say from a fencer’s perspective is to always consult with the coaches. None of us is an expert in fencing online training, but your fencing coach is definitely more knowledgeable about what would work and what wouldn’t work for you based on their online fencing training program. 

3. Positioning the camera

Now let’s talk about what would be the best position for the camera. 

For fencers it’s so important to have video. Oftentimes people connect without video for many different reasons, but you need to have video because the coach needs to see you. I would say if you sit in a Zoom math class maybe you don’t need to show yourself to the teacher, please forgive me math teachers for the bit of bias here! When you do a sport activity, it doesn’t matter what it is but definitely in fencing where technique and form play a huge and important role, then you do want to demonstrate this form and technique to the coach. 

You want to position the camera so that your entire body can be seen. The coach wants to see your face of course, but they really need to be able to see your legs and feet as well. This can be a little tricky, but once you get it right then it is easy to do every time. Your fencing coach may want some specific thing from you, so ask them what angles they like. It is, after all, their class! Everyone is a little different here and we are all learning by doing during this time.

4. Make the most of the screen

In a traditional class, fencers are in a group of many fencers with one coach who is in front of all of them. Sometimes a fencer might be a little closer or a little further from the coach in an in-person class. That is not the case with online fencing classes. Every student gets a really good view of the coach.

Make sure that fencers are taking advantage of this advantage! If you can, put the fencing class up on a TV so that you can see it on a bigger screen. No matter the platform, there are ways to cast to the television or to plug a laptop into a TV. It is well worth ordering a cable to be delivered if you need one, or to look up a tutorial. Your kids might know better than you how to make it work! It’s almost an in-person experience when your coach is with you in that large format – it’s great.

Another point that is related is to maximize the screen. Most all online platforms have the option to hide the participants who are not talking. You want the coach to be as big and prominent as possible. The biggest thing to focus on is your coach. A lot of kids try to see all of their classmates through the multi person view. It is nice for the interactivity, but I would recommend it for the later time when you have water breaks or for when the coach leaves you chat time. Then of course it’s nice to have the big view of everybody, but when you are in a training session, your objective is to train! So put your zoom conference in a speaker view to focus on your coach.

5. Look for better quality

Close all other applications on your computer. This may seem like a thing that we all know to do by now, but it’s something that people sometimes forget. Make sure that all programs are closed before your class. In fact, if you are using a laptop it is sometimes worth it to restart the device to clear out the programs that might have been used.

Before any online fencing training, being it class or private lesson, it is a good idea to make sure that other people on your wifi network aren’t using a lot of data at the time of your class. If at all possible, have the fencing class device be the only thing using wifi when you do it. This is not always easy if you have lots of people at home! Bandwidth is at a premium right now though, so try to make sure you are getting the most out of it to prevent lag. 

6. Courtesy makes things run smoother

Being courteous is not just about being nice to others, though of course we want to be nice to other people. Being courteous also makes classes run smoother and gives everyone more instructional time. 

What do we mean by being courteous? If you are a student, you basically also need to be very courteous and thoughtful towards other class members. Don’t interrupt, especially if for some reason the coach forgot to mute you. The reason is that in zoom, anybody who starts talking will get the active view. So my assumptions would be that most of the students would put the coach in a big view, like a solo view in the window so that they can see them all the time on the whole screen, and only a few others would be viewed. That means that whenever a speaker speaks, the view will be amplified to the one who is the extra speaker. If your coach forgot to mute you and you start talking, the entire class will see this person. It’s extremely disruptive.

When you want talk and the coach permits and the rules of engagement permit, you can always unmute yourself. Every other time you want to mute yourself unless your coach explicitely asked not to. Not when you are in a private session, but when you are with others you will want to mute yourself unless you are the one who has permission to talk. It’s a very very important rule. 

7. Stay positive!

It is hard right now. We get that. We miss the club, we miss the people, we miss competing. We miss so many things! 

Fencing training from home is most important because it gives us something familiar and physical to hold onto. Fencing is our passion, and doing this at home gives us the good feelings to keep moving forward. It is a break from the time that we have to think about the chaos that it feels is going on in our world. This is what we are hearing from our students and our coaches about online fencing training, every single day. I know that it is giving us the drive to keep going. 

Please know that we are all in this together. What social distancing has done is to mean that everyone is just as close to us, no matter where they may be physically. The interface is challenging and the lack of personal contact is so hard, but fencing can give us the fuel and the escape that we need.