Afterschool Programs are Rolling

What a great first week of fencing for the children at Community Park Elementary and for the first time at Littlebrook Elementary.

I do have homework, though it’s the easiest homework in the universe. I would like the kids to watch some sport fencing videos. Since fencing is not a widely televised sport my favorite place to watch is on YouTube. My favorite channel is called Fencing Vision (YouTube link). I fully respect that you apply your own rules and conditions to having your children consume online content. All in all fencing is pretty wholesome, not much in the way of surprise ads or anything else. I do encourage you to watch different videos from each of the disciplines (Foil Epee and Saber with both women and men) but if you were to watch just one, the 2016 Gold Medal match between Team USA and Team France (link) is quite good.

I hope that we can transition to using the “real” foils for class soon. I have impressed on the children to have good blade discipline (not whacking each other the moment swords are handed out). I hope you can reinforce that attitude with your children so we can have a safe and productive class. I understand that this is elementary school and these are swords and the impulses to whack each other is seemingly irresistible.  Your children are all fantastic and I have complete faith that they will compose themselves quickly. Having a little parental backup just gives me a boost getting there.

If you have further questions, or want to know more about opportunities to continue studying this amazing sport after the class is over, feel free to email me. If there are siblings or others that were not able to register for the PTO classes I will be offering another introductory class on Saturdays, starting May 1.

Community Park: Class 1

Our First Class (Tuesday Sept 25)

Our first class is going to cover a couple basic concepts:

  • What fencing is and what it isnt
  • The basic stance, movement and attack
  • Homework
  • Our next class (Tuesday Oct 16)

What Fencing IS:

Fencing is a sport that has featured in every Olympics since the international Olympic Games has been founded. Both men and women compete in separate competitions in all three weapons.

Fencing is a varsity sport at Princeton High School and the NJ Interscholastic Fencing Association (NJIFA) has over 60 public high schools participating in fencing programs.

Fencing doesn’t favor one singular body type or ability, world champion fencers for both women and men come in all shapes and sizes, ages and styles. World Championships have been won by fencers as young as 17 and as old as 41. It’s not uncommon for Olympic level athletes to compete at that level through three or four Olympic cycles.

Olympic Fencing Explained

What Fencing ISN’T:

Swords are cool, from samurai movies, to swashbuckling adventures, elves and hobbits in high adventure, to lightsaber duels we have preconceptions of what swordplay will be. The sport of fencing doesn’t reflect this.

Fencing is a martial art in the sense that it was originally developed as an way to train in swordplay and prepare for the duel. Fencing is not a martial art in the sense that anything you learn will be particularly useful in a battle against zombies, orcs or pirates (it’s usefulness against vampires is still up for debate)

Let’s Start Fencing (detailed descriptions below)

  • The En Garde stance which is the foundation of all fencing actions
  • Advance and Retreat
  • Lunge and Recover
  • Glove catch
  • Questions and Answers (what is fencing, what do I fence, all other questions)
  • Homework: watching some real fencing

Our next class:

I am out of town for the next two weeks so we have a long break between lessons. We will meet again October 16th. In the meantime I would like students to watch some fencing videos. Below are links to the latest World Championship team gold medal bouts for Men and Women in all three weapons.

I would like to spend a little time discussing the differences in what we saw in the videos.

En Garde (to keep up at home):

  • Feet perpendicular (90 degrees, heels aligned about 1-1/2 foot lengths apart, dominant foot facing straight ahead (at your opponent)
  • Hips at an angle between your feet (45 degrees) with your knees bent over your toes
  • Shoulders directly above the hips at the same angle (not leaning forward or back), head turned slightly to face straight ahead
  • Dominant hand held palm up (supinated – there’s a vocab word) with the elbow away fro the body
  • Non-dominant hand held net to the hip in a relaxed position

There’s a lot going on here just standing in place. Fencing has many complicated motions that have been optimized to make the fencer as effective as possible. None of these positions are particularly natural.

Advance and Retreat

When moving you want to think about moving your center forward rather than just stepping forward.

  • Pushing forward with the back foot and reaching across a small step with the front foot you advance. Immediately close your stance back to guard stance
  • Pushing back with the front foot and reaching back to catch your momentum with the back foot you retreat. Immediately close back to guard stance

What you don’t want to do is throw your weight forward first and catch it with your leading foot. This seems natural since this is how we walk but we want to push our mass backwards and forward rather than fall.

Lunge and Recover

The lunge is much like a really really big advance.

  • Point where you want to go with the dominant hand (holding an imaginary foil)
  • Push forward explosively with your back foot
  • Reach the non-dominant (back) hand back behind the body to balance your action
  • Reach forward with your front foot across the distance (the knee should be directly above the ankle NOT PAST IT)
  • The body should be in an upright position (not leaning forward)
  • Recover by pushing through your front heel and pulling your back leg back simultaneously to move back to your your guard stance.
  • Use your back hand to help balance the body while moving
  • The body shouldn’t drop much during this action (start with the body low)
  • Your legs should be like springs

Class 1: Mon April 9

  • Introductions to coach and sutdents
  • Description of the class and goals
  • Introduction to Fencing
  • Rules of the Class
  • Warmup Game
  • Learn En Garde
  • Assignment: Watch Some Fencing

Introduction to Fencing:

Fencing is the practice of sword play using “fenced” or blunted weapons. Although it can generally describe any kind of swordplay practice, modern sport fencing has it’s roots in European rapier and cavalry saber. Schools of fencing became popular in the European Renaissance where young lords could learn the art of the sword in a safe environment from a master of the sword. This swordplay would have been much like what you would read about in fantasy novel or see in movies like The Princess Bride.

Fencing contests became popular among the schools in towns and the sport of fencing was born.

Modern Fencing: Modern fencing came about in the late 10th century leading up to the first Olympic games held in Athens Greece in 1896 with foil and saber. Epee was added in 1900. Women’s foil fencing events were added in 1924. It would be electrically scored starting in 1930. Fencing has been featured in every Olympic Games since.

Electrical scoring changed the game considerably allowing fencers to move and execute actions faster and more athletically. Leading to what we see in current sport.

Class Rules:

Fencing is a sport that reinforces fair play and sportsmanship. The fencing rulebook (t.87) describes the fencing exchange as:

All bouts must preserve the character of a courteous and frank encounter.

  • I expect all exercises and games to preserve this character
  • All games will begin and end with a salute to our opponents
  • All games will end by shaking hands after a salute

En Garde:

The basic En Garde position in fencing is the fundamental stance every action in fencing starts from and returns to.

  1. Stand sideways with your dominant hand facing coach
  2. Rotate you front (dominant) foot 90 degrees to point at coach
  3. Look where your toe is… look closely.
  4. Take a small step forward with your front foot so that it is about half a foot length in front of where your toe was.
  5. Sit down a little into that position, bending your knees so they are over your toes
  6. Keep your back straight and your head up with your weight evenly distributed lightly on the balls of your feet

Watch some fencing

It is an amazing resource we have today with thousands of world cup level fencing bouts available to us on the internet. These are archived by the fencing organizations like the Fédération Internationale d’Escrime (FIE), the United States Fencing Association (USFA), schools like the Sydney Sabre School or enthusiastic individuals and coaches.

FIE Fencing on YouTube

Take a look at this modern sport with your parents. Let me know your thoughts in the comments or when we meet again at our next class.