American fencing is on a winning streak. You can feel it when you watch our top fencers vie for the top medals at worldwide competitions and win. That’s happening more and more every year, enough to call it more than a fluke, more than a lucky athlete here and there who made it to the top of an international podium. What we’re seeing is a swell of American fencing talent that’s been built over decades, in fits and starts but always with a trend towards a greater goal.
You only have to look at the Olympic medal counts that start at zero for broad decades in the early Twentieth Century, then trickle in with a podium here and there, then flood the stage starting with women’s sabre in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. The changes over the last two decades from zero to quasi-hero are really impossible to miss!
It doesn’t matter if you follow epee, foil, or sabre, you can rest assured that there are American fencers of both genders pushing the boundaries against the fencing powerhouses of Europe, Asia, and the former Soviet bloc. If you’re reading this, then I’m probably not telling you anything new. You know that American fencing has been moving forward at a breakneck pace in the last twenty years. It might seem as though that’s a meteoric rise, however it’s anything but. American fencing has been building this ladder for a long time.
Asking the big and little questions
Nothing happens without a reason. Nothing happens in a vacuum either. American fencing got to where it is through both internal factors like the competition structure in the USA as well as through external factors like the way that fencers and coaches immigrated here from far off places.
I wanted to understand how all of this came together, because you have to know where you’ve been in order to know where you’re going. I wanted to know why American fencing is having this incredible rise, I wanted to know how we got here. It’s interesting because America is completely unlike any other country in fencing. America is unlike any other country at all. It’s not a place of old world foundations or hardline, top down government structures. They call it the land of opportunity, and for fencing the shape of our sport is heavily influenced by the American ideals that are so closely knitted here. For better and for worse.
For me, the whole point was to get past mere speculation and to really document what happened with fencing in America. There have to be real, concrete reasons for the growth!
The mix of American fencing
It’s a complicated story. Much more complicated than I realized when I started digging into it. American fencing is an intriguing mix of the grit and determination that’s traditional to American sports, added to the classical fencing masters of the former Warsaw Bloc countries who came here for a better life after the Cold War, and then stirred around with the club structure and the competitive structure of the USA Fencing. When you put it all together, it became mixed up and mingled in the same way that the United States is.
It’s often said that this country is a melting pot of cultures, and that’s highly reflected in how fencing came to be what it is today here. There was a long time where it didn’t look like American fencing was ever going to come together to make something cohesive. We had champions here and there, scattered across the country and only coming up at times to the top.
It took many decades, but American fencing is at last finding its way. The melting pot is working! We see a great deal of excitement that has been building year over year, with the foundations of that success being built by both the immigrants and the youth of America. When you think about it, the mix of American fencing is fascinating in so many ways!
What I do know for sure is that American Fencing is rising. With the recent World Championship wins across the board in Wuxi, China, with 6 medals total and 2 World Championship titles and world #1 positions, there’s every reason to believe that in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and beyond, American fencing is sure to continue its rise.
Incidentally, I am so interested in and passionate about this subject that I’ve been working hard at a deeper dive into it and wrote a book that summarized my thinking, research and observations. The book is ready and I am working on preparing it for publishing. It’s available for pre-order on Amazon, just click on this link to reserve your copy today.
Stay tuned to the AFM blog for big news on this topic soon!