Fencing is about more than just medals – it’s about personal development and community.
Running the AFM blog has given me a huge appreciation for the broad range of people who participate in fencing across the United States. I have learned so much about this sport by articulating it through this online platform. That’s in addition to all that I’ve learned through the work that I do traveling to competitions across the country with AFM and supporting our fencers and coaches at our home base in California.
As an outgrowth of the work that I’ve done both online and in person, I’ve decided that it’s time for me to help give a voice on the Board of Directors at USA Fencing. I am currently a candidate for the BoD’s 2023 election cycle, with voting taking place by June 5th.
Joining the board will allow me to advocate more effectively for the people across the country who are committed to fencing, who put in the hard work day in and day out. My passionate support of fencing over many years is what has led me to seek this role, and I view my place as being one of giving voice to clubs and individual fencers.
Who is Igor Chirashnya?
If you’re here on the AFM blog, then you probably already know who I am, but in case you don’t, here’s a quick overview of me.
For more than a decade, I’ve been a passionate advocate for fencing. Along with my wife Irina, I’m the co-founder of the Academy of Fencing Masters, one of the largest fencing clubs in the United States. We started AFM ten years ago with the mission of bringing the joy of fencing to people in the San Francisco Bay area through a personal development, family-oriented club atmosphere. From the small beginnings with a tight-knit group of competitors, we have been so fortunate to grow and expand – all thanks to the dedicated work of our coaches, staff, and incredible fencing families.
AFM has seen our fencers rise to the highest level on the national and international stage, has hosted Regional and Super Regional tournaments, has been named a Club of Excellence by USA Fencing three times, and has been the recipient of Congressional Recognition for its promotion of youth sports. Though I am fortunate to be a part of this success, I always look back to the people in our club who really make it happen.
Shortly after we began the club, we started the Academy of Fencing Masters Blog, which is where you find yourself right now. Through many hours of writing and a lot of openness from the online community, we’ve risen to be one of the top online resources for fencing. The core belief of this blog is that fencing should be accessible to everyone, and that everyone can benefit from participating in the sport. The privilege of writing here is that I have gotten to connect with fencers all over the country and all over the world, and I cannot say enough about how much I love working with our extraordinary community.
In 2019, I published From Cool Runnings to World Superpower: The Rise of American Fencing, a book that analyzes the meteoric rise of USA Fencing and its tremendous achievements on the international scene. This book was a passion project for me, as I am constantly fascinated by the history of fencing and how that history impacts our sport today. There is so much to be learned about where we are going when you look at where we’ve come from.
Before AFM, I worked in the technology industry on large, interdisciplinary projects that spanned multiple countries. Within big tech, I was in senior management in places like SanDisk, IBM, and CSR. In 2008, I founded and led my own tech company, eMazeU, which was acquired by a public firm two years later. I still work as a strategic advisor in technology, but I am lucky to be able to put my focus on fencing.
It’s not just about running the business – I have a personal stake in fencing. My four children (two sets of twins!) have all been fencing since they were six or seven years old. Though they are each unique, they have all found a place in the wonderful world of this sport, and it brings us together as a family. All four of my kids have gone on to compete, including on the national level, but more importantly, they have all grown through the sport. A big part of why I want to help support fencing by being on the Board of Directors of USA Fencing is so that I can help young fencers all over the country have the kinds of benefits that my kids have had.
At the heart of all of his ventures, in business and in sport, is a belief that trust, hard work, innovation, and community building are the keys to success.
Building on the positives
The first step in moving forward is acknowledging where we are, and we are in a great place right now in American fencing. USA Fencing has done wonderful work for the sport of fencing, and moving into the next phase necessarily involves building on the firm foundation that we already have.
We have the opportunity to grow fencing into a primary amateur youth sport in America. In the last decade, even with COVID’s hard hits, we’ve seen wonderful expansion of our sport that has brought more people onto the strip and into both competitive and recreational programs. This has pushed us towards heartening achievements on the international stage as well as giving us a fantastic playing field domestically.
There is a real need to increase the accessibility of fencing to children of all backgrounds. This is currently a deficit in fencing, but I believe that it has the potential to be a huge strength for our sport. Fencing has a truly wonderful and unique combination of mental and physical structure coupled with an excitement factor that kids can really get into. The mechanics, the history, and the spirit of fencing make this a sport for everyone, but we have a lot of work to do to get there.
We need leaders on the Board of Directors who have direct knowledge of fencing, who have been on the ground in competition and working with families. I am putting myself up as one of those voices, but we need more. For myself, I believe that I can help USA Fencing grow by knowing which questions to ask and giving a multifaceted perspective. There are real issues that face both clubs and members, and by giving that critically important point of view, all of the stakeholders in our sport can have their voices heard.
We must put politics away
People in fencing come at the sport from a wide variety of backgrounds with a wide variety of viewpoints. The variation among our members is part of what makes us strong, and it’s essential to value each of those points of view.
Putting politics aside is an essential part of creating a way forward that we can all be excited about.
Every organization has groups of people who come together because they have various viewpoints, and that’s perfectly normal. What we don’t want to see is factions get in the way of doing the real work. It’s easy to get caught up in gathering people who agree with you, and of course we all want to forward the motions that we think are most beneficial. The problem comes when we get so far into our own point of view that we stop looking at the broad picture and stop being responsive to the needs of people outside of our own sphere.
Central to my view of being on the board is the deeply held belief that politics must be put on the backburner. Fencers and fencing families have to come first, with everything flowing out of that. This is why it’s so important that we have people on the board, not just me – a broad range of voices, who are on the ground with fencers. The decisions that are made for political reasons in any organization take away from the members who are so far removed from all of that at the top.
None of this is to say anything derogatory about anyone – the point here is that we can have a positive, people-centered approach from the board. It’s time to make a change that will give fencers the voice that they need, because as much as the leadership matters, the people matter most.
Simon Sinek said it beautifully when he spoke about what it means to be in front of an organization – “Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.”
It is important to me to take care of the constituents of USA Fencing – the fencers, the parents, the coaches, the club owners, and the referees. These are the people who matter, not the leadership of the organization. My fundamental understanding of leadership is that it is not about the person who is on top, but rather about how they can support the people they are called to be in front of. As Sinek says, it’s about taking care of people.
This style of leadership helps everyone to succeed. Truly remarkable things start to happen when you get out of the way and allow the good people in a group to guide you. Leaders don’t have to have all the answers! Believing that the person in the front of an organization is somehow above everyone else is detrimental to the future of any organization. Instead, those leaders are there to listen and advocate, to take everyone’s opinions into account, and try to help them find common ground so that the organization can move in a direction that is positive for everyone.
Fundamentally, leaders are there to serve the people they lead. This has been my philosophy as an entrepreneur, as a leader, and as a club co-owner. I’ve been fortunate enough to see this lead to great success, and I believe that I can bring that same kind of supportive servant leadership to the USA Fencing Board of Directors.
It can only happen with your support! Nothing can be done in isolation, and with a wonderful body of fencers, coaches, referees, club owners, and families, why would you want to ever do it alone? When we work together, we are stronger.
At AFM, we’ve seen thousands of kids come through our programs over the years. They’ve grown and changed, and each of them has gotten something special and valuable from fencing. It is so much hard work to compete in fencing, both for the fencers themselves and for the coaches, parents, staff, and referees.
As a potential member of the Board of Directors, my highest goal is to help others gain access to the potential they have inside of them through fencing. It is my greatest passion, and I believe that I can make a major positive impact if given the opportunity to step into this role. If I am elected for a position on the USA Fencing Board of Directors, I will continue to work hard as an advocate for the people who matter most – the fencing community.
Please reach out to me if you have any questions or would like to know more about my candidacy. One of the most important things to me is being accessible to the community so that I can be a voice for you on the board – and that starts now.