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Art of Fencing, Art of Life

Should Fencers Go to Competitions Right Now?

Should Fencers Go to Competitions Right Now?

October is here, and with it is coming the start of regional fencing competitions for the first time since the pandemic swept across the country more than a half a year ago. 

You can only compete in your specific region right now, not as before when fencers could travel to different regions to earn points or ratings in different ways.  Each region is its own situation, with a status that is different. It’s also true that each of us has an obligation to the people around us. Who is in your circle, who you are bubbling with. This makes a big difference for what you are comfortable with and what you are willing to do. 

People ask us what we would suggest. It’s a difficult decision for many, many people. What is my perspective on it? I think that the time is not right for traveling to competitions.

I can only vouch for my very personal perspective. You must apply your own judgement to competition. What follows are what I feel comfortable with for my family and what I suggest to the fencers in our club, but know that your personal decisions on this issue are respected. 

Goals and growth

Competition is a force for building yourself and setting yourself apart. It is a major way that fencers grow, and we all know this. You are setting your opponent against you, but also pushing yourself. It’s huge for us. There are two sides to our sport – individual and competitive. To be on the strip against another fencer, that is on one side the development of a fencer. To practice at home or in the club, form and movements in isolation, that is the other side of the development of a fencer. Both are important. 

In a normal year, we are pushing our fencers to compete as much as they can within reasonable boundaries of their skills, age, and goals. Competition does allow us to grow as fencers more than we would without them. The further afield you can compete, the better the growth opportunity. We are a niche sport, and traveling to competitions allow fencers to compete with fencers that are on their level at the higher ranks. Variety of opponents drives growth. It is not all that we need to grow in fencing, but it is part of the equation. 

However, this year, this year is different.

This year, we are in a global pandemic. This year, people have to balance ambition and drive with safety and responsibility. 

Juniors and seniors in high school who are looking towards college admission have specific goals for fencing that can feel time sensitive. How can you ensure your prospects for college fencing if you aren’t competing in regional and national events? You have to realize that this year is so completely different. From my perspective, I don’t see that going to a tiny regional cadet or junior event will make or break your prospects. Colleges are going to have different metrics for the coming years for a wide variety of reasons, and fencers should not feel overly pressured to attend these competitions if they don’t feel comfortable. I can’t imagine college coaches will look at you more favorably because you went over someone who did not feel comfortable traveling during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Bubbles and bursting

The rate of the spread of the virus has not slowed down significantly in most places. The protocols are different everywhere you go, and while going to regional competition within your region is still staying somewhat close to home, it is still likely venturing out of the area that you’ve been in for the past few months. There will be different protocols, different rates of spread, and new opportunities for exposure to you or exposing others from you. 

Any event is going to carry a risk of becoming a spreader event. If you travel to a competition, you would need to guarantee that you are not bringing anything back from that travel. You might need to quarantine yourself for two weeks. Is a small regional competition worth that?  

The prevention of the spread of the coronavirus is still our best tactic. That is where I stand. 

The self contained bubbles that we have formed are doing that. We are doing distance education at home and limiting our activities. Every kid that I know is ready to get back with their friends, and every parent I know is ready for school to go back in person. Along the way, we have developed what we have found to be so far safe protocols for fencing training at our club. It is a very controlled environment, one that we are comfortable with. Many fencing clubs around the country have also found ways to control environments safely and to reopen with strict protocols. In our club, anyone who travels outside of the area or has reason to feel they might be exposed is asked to isolate and move to online training for two weeks. These precautions are what keep our fencers and their families safe. 

There is a big difference in going to a local, small group lesson and going to a large event that is out of your city. Even with lots of protocols in place, we cannot discount the risk. This is an unknown situation. We saw it with colleges reopening – some did well and have been able to continue classes while others had to shut down almost immediately due to significant outbreaks. It is impossible to know which was which until it happened. With fencing competitions, we are bursting the bubble.

Into the unknown

Travel is risky. That’s just that. Most people have not traveled since before the pandemic. The safety of state mandated protocols varies so widely, and compliance with those protocols varies even more widely. It is an unknown.

That it is an unknown is not debatable.We spend most of our time in a carefully contained bubble or online. The interaction that we get is so structured and limited that we are comfortable with it.  The government’s response is constantly changing, and we cannot know how that will look in January. The variables are almost unbelievable. Will schools reopen in person? We have fires here in California. Who knows what other challenges are on our horizon. This is 2020 after all. 

With flu season starting in October, there is a confluence that means we should be even more cautious with starting back. Top health experts are telling us to brace for a new wave. We don’t know precisely what will happen, but we do know that we need to be ready for anything. 

Qualification paths are not set. This is not a normal year, so whatever you thought would be your path to getting to Summer Nationals (fingers crossed that there will be Summer Nationals in July), that path is not clear. It is yet another unknown in a sea of unknowns. We are under the assumption that things will go on, but we cannot know. 

Starting small

Not going to regional competitions until things are clear doesn’t mean that we are taking a break. Not at all. 

Incremental steps are the best way to handle this. See how small competitions fair. We’ve all been out of competitions for more than a half a year. The rush to jump into big competitions is certainly there, but it’s good to grow from where we are. This is the same as we experience in fencing training! Simple. Straightforward.

Reopening is a touchy subject. Looking at the rest of the country, I cannot feel safe about going to places. Whether or not I know and trust the organizers of a particular event is not the point, because they cannot control every variable. Their effort and diligence is appreciated of course, but they are not the only factor. 

Losing competitions for the next few months is a blow. We are missing them, we are missing our extended fencing family and the camaraderie that we feel. We are missing all of it. One of the many things that has been taken from us during this time, but it is a treasured part of our lives. We know that we are not alone in this.

My advice is to err on the side of caution and hold off on competition. Continue to train as you are, look at local competitions that are under the same regulations that you are already in, think long and hard about it. Don’t be afraid to stay small. Instead of chasing the competitions, take your time to focus on what really makes your fencing grow – your technique, tactics, your physical conditioning, your strength, and your psychological and mental acuity. This is a perfect time to work on these. Those who stay out of competition will not be alone in this, so there is no need to worry about being left behind as long as you are still progressing in your training. 

We are staying in these small bubbles for a reason and it’s working! It is not about living in fear or being overly cautious, it is about being pragmatic in an unknown situation. Our opponent right now must be COVID, and we are working to understand all of its movements so that we can counter its attacks effectively.  

This is our opinion and our club guidelines. However, your family might decide differently. Here, we wanted to share our reasoning so that it might be helpful to others. 

Stay safe and keep fencing!

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2 Comments

  1. Alan Buchwald

    Dear Igor: I think you have given sound advice. The key for now is to maintain and/or ramp up our training in preparation for when going to a competition will make sense. Cheers, Alan. Vet 70 Foil, Big Sur

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