Why Should I Fence?

Why Your Kid (or You) Should Fence

By Richard Cherry

As a junior fencing coach, I’ve often questioned by parents who not only are confused about the specifics of the sport but are oblivious to the reasons why their normally sane and intelligent pre-adolescent would want to participate in such an obscure recreation. These parents are all too familiar with some elements of the sport that it is expensive, not as popular as table tennis, and doesn’t reward its elite athletes with student body stardom like football and basketball. Less obvious and far more meaningful are the real reasons why kids should fence.

Fencing is a skill sport. It requires a special kind of athlete who can satisfy the physical and psychological challenges of head to head combat.

Fencing is one of the few sports where boys and girls compete against each other on equal terms, no special concessions granted, no point-shaving given. If you’re looking for an environment that fosters gender equity, it’s on the strip.

Fencing demands self-discipline. Win or lose, the fencer alone is ultimately responsible. If a Referee misinterprets a fencer’s beat as the opponent’s parry, the attacker must change tactics, not change the thinking of the Referee. This is a difficult concept for kids to accept; it is so much easier to blame failure on the environment, the rules, or the instructors. But, every athlete who stays in the sport of fencing learns to accept responsibility for their actions and to understand that improvement only comes with work.

Fencers learn to forge friendships with their opponents off the strip. After all, they frequently train together and see each other at tournaments.

Fencers learn to accept authority. Referees are always correct even when a bad call eliminates an athlete from a tournament. Not all fencers accept this unfairness gracefully; the great ones do. At the same time, fencers learn to respectfully question authority.

Along the same lines, the fencer is encouraged to accept the challenges of officiating for his or her peers. There are many societal pressures brought to bear on the young Referee. Participants (frequently friends) can disagree with decisions and that disagreement can become unpleasant. The young Referee learns to make decisions with confidence, explain these decisions intelligently and control the action on and off the strip, all the while under the critical eye of their peers and an audience.

Fencers learn to share. They share equipment, which you would expect, but they also share knowledge. A winning fencer will often share what went wrong with the losing fencer’s game. More experienced fencers will share previous successful strategies against specific fencers, even though this knowledge may lessen their chances for victory.

Fencers develop the ability to establish long-term goals. In fencing, an athlete doesn’t always have to win to be successful. Many young fencers know they don’t have the knowledge or the experience to beat a particular opponent or win a tournament. But, they learn to set personal goals for themselves, i.e., one touch against each opponent in a meet, for example. Fencers can, and do, learn to be winners before they ever get a gold medal at a tournament.

Richard Cherry has served as the Junior Olympic Chair for the Oregon Division in addition to coaching young fencers. This article appeared in the 1995 issue of American Fencing magazine.