Defining a Win

As parents we try to encourage our kids to go to competition because we want them to win. It is a source of not inconsiderable pride to have your child stand on the podium, smile beaming, as he or she receives a medal. We have our children go into competition and we push them to excel because deep down we imagine ourselves in their place winning that medal that escaped us in our own youth. In the end though we are not the one on the piste and sometimes we have to take a look at what really is a win for our child.

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Not everyone is a champion. After all there can only be one number one in sports (fencing though sometimes has two number threes) and as hard as it may be for us as parents to accept this, it does not mean that our child has a very slim chance of winning. The weekend before I had the honour to watch a young girl make a big win at her first tournament.

Emily is thirteen. She’s been coming to the club not quite regularly once a week for about ten months now. In this time she has not said ten words to me. Of the ten I think five were “okay.” She is possibly the shyest person I have ever met. Emily is sometimes the only girl in her class so she really doesn’t have anyone to talk to or any close friends present, yet she shows up and struggles through the two-and-a-half hour class. I sometimes wondered what she was doing in the class as she seemed to have a little trouble with wanting to hit her opponent and during the final parts of our strengthening drills you could see her start to tear up with the effort. Still she finished each class and kept coming back.

 

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So I was a little surprised when her mother told me that she decided to go to a tournament. A first tournament is a big step for kids as it is and a bigger step for kids who aren’t that outgoing or whose natures are not competitive. Yet she decided to go on her own. In a way this inspired 4 other kids to go and make this their first tournament.

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I would like to say that this has a story book ending and Emily won a medal but that would not be true. Emily lost just about every bout. Still, after receiving a drubbing at the hands of a way more skilled opponent on her first direct elimination bout, the smile on Emily’s face said it all. She may not have won the tournament or even a bout, but in choosing to step out of her shell she won a little bit of something that we dearly want our children to have. Confidence.
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Persevering Through Disappointments and Losses

This is one of the reasons why I advocate sports for kids, any sport, in fact! It just so happens that it’s fencing for us too. Great views from a fencing athlete. Read on.

The Fencing Athlete

Women's Epeeist, Shin Lam of Korea, after her controversial defeat in the 2012 Olympics. Photo from TheGaurdian.com Women’s Epeeist, Shin Lam of Korea, after her controversial defeat in the 2012 Olympics. Photo from TheGaurdian.com

 

The very nature of Fencing means that we have all experienced losses, frustration, and

disappointments. Looking back, throughout my career there are a few such moments that

still register strongly, and to this day I can feel the resulting sting of self doubt and immense

disappointment. Whether we are just starting out or multiple time World Champions, we all

encounter such events. They can stem from a bad lesson or day at practice, or in two time

World Champion and multiple time number one in World ranking Nikolai Novosjolov’s case,

two back to back under-performances this season (eliminated in the pool round at European

Championships and a first round loss at World Championships). While it is not possible to avoid

such losses (trust me, I’ve spend over a decade trying), it is…

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Why fencing? – A fencing dad’s point of view

Why would any sane individual  give up his or her free time for the opportunity to be hit by and try to hit another individual with a slightly-longer-than three foot piece of steel? This is asked time and time again.

The answers are simple for me. It’s fun and cathartic. After a frustrating day of work I get to stab someone. Legally. Other people do have the opportunity to do the same to me, true, that just raises the stakes.

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Fencing is living a dream to me. Having been raised on a steady diet of King Arthur, Musashi, The Three Musketeers and a plethora of fantasy novels, this was the closest I was going to get to a real swordfight. Growing up in the Philippines I had no larping, no Society for Creative Anachronism, though I did have a lot of dice and a few friends for Dungeons and Dragons.  Not quite the same thing.

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It’s fair to say my imagination led me to it. Once in, I found that it was a lot harder than it looked. Was D’Artagnan ever so clumsy? This hooked me more than anything. I guess if it was easy then we would all be fencing. Despite my years of Karate I discovered that I had two left feet and none of my body parts were connected, or they were connected when they weren’t supposed to be.

A bigger question perhaps is why would I let my child take up this wonderfully frustrating sport?

Well, my daughter is six. She has been coming to the club with me since she was three and a half. It’s a second home and one that I am grateful she gets to live in. Fun and friends aside, fencing gives us several lessons that as a parent I would like her to learn.

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Fencing is a sport that requires immense amounts of physical capability, mental adroitness, and emotional strength; just what I wanted for my little girl.  Very much like the Karate I took as a kid. However, I don’t get punched in the face and kicked in the ribs as much (this can be fun too, I took 14 years of this fun.) To get all of this you need discipline.

This is a sport which teaches responsibility and self-reliance. Victory or defeat is determined by the fencer’s actions. Don’t get me wrong, the coach and the club have a lot to do with it as well, but no matter how good the instruction and environment can be, the fencer stands alone on the piste and is responsible for his or her actions. This can be difficult for children to accept but it is, I believe, a lesson of importance. Children often choose to blame something else for their lack of performance. How often is it that we hear “he’s cheating,” or “the rules are stupid” when they encounter difficulty? Having been around a few children I can say I hear it a lot.  Any person who stays in the sport of fencing learns that it is achievement is only gained through hard work and perseverance.

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The fencing club is a community that promotes the spirit of friendly competition. The children train together, often becoming close friends. It is these same friends who they often come up against in competition. I have seen this spirit many times as they cheer each other on in tournaments knowing that one of them may have to eliminate the other at some point. It is amazing to see one kid lend his equipment to another to keep them from forfeiting a bout due to faulty equipment.

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Fencing also teaches children how to deal with failure. It does this in spades. Coming into the sport, all new and shiny, the budding fencer, perhaps the best of his beginner class, will step on the piste to face an older more experienced fencer. What follows is usually a defeat of epic proportions for the novice. This is then followed by defeat after defeat against better fencers sometimes for quite a while. While there are those who are naturally talented and start winning early, for most of us, it is a long climb to the top of the mountain… With large rocks tumbling down the slope… And burning pitch… And blowing snow. Epic mountain climbs are not complete without blowing snow.

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In addition to the regular losses, one of the most difficult situations for the child to overcome is a loss due to a bad call by the referee. In a tournament this can mean losing the bout, elimination from the tournament, or the loss of a medal. The hard part is; the referee is always right, even when he is wrong. This can be very disheartening; particularly when it is your friend or colleague who makes that call. The fencers who throw tantrums at this get penalized. If they continue they can get kicked out of the tournament. The child learns to politely ask why the call was made and accept the answer in a rational manner even if it is not what they want to hear. They learn control.

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This can be emotionally difficult for the fencer. The best fencers learn not to let this hold them back. They learn to accept that mistakes are made by everyone and then move past them.

Now, I won’t say that everyone learns these lessons. There are a lot of fencers there with poor attitudes. Some of them do get far in the sport. However, no one gets far without the discipline and courage to dedicate themselves, body and soul, into improving.

Excellence in this life is not easy to come by. This is why I want my daughter to fence. I believe that in this sport she can learn the skills necessary to achieve excellence as a person. I also dream of a future conversation:

Teenage boy who will never get my approval – “So would you like to go on a date with me?”

My totally awesome teenage daughter – “So would you like three feet of steel in your gut?”

I can dream can’t I?

– Chris

 

Raising a Fencer

IMG_2183They say it takes a village to raise a child. I’ve migrated from a small island province in the Pacific, to a big North American city. I have very few relatives around me so, in a sense, I’ve taken my kid out of that equation and I wasn’t so happy about that. What to do about it? Find a community! Or village, so to speak. It just so happens that it’s a community that likes to play with swords!

My name is Cathy and I’m a mom and a fencing coach, and I’m finding that I enjoy teaching young kids this unique sport. It is one steeped in history and tradition, and has taught me many values, and much about how to deal with many different challenges everyday. I started fencing at the ripe old age of 18, which truly is a ripe old age if you’re considering seriously competing in the sport! I have a 6 year old that has just started to learn the basics, and although I hope that she will take it up and compete (Wahoo!! future Olympian!), I know that it will ultimately be her decision. It doesn’t matter what the sport, I just believe that growing up learning a sport in conjunction with all other learning has taught me to become more resilient, more adaptable to change, and more open to learning new things. Skills that I hope to pass on to her, along with the other wonderful values that growing up with a sport entails.

This is my journey into finding out more about what is possible, and sharing what information and resources are out there to other parents on this search. I also hope to get some input from other resource persons in this blog to create a supportive community. One that I have been searching hard to find.

What aspects of your community do you find beneficial for your kids?