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Posts Tagged ‘Fencing’

How waving a sword changed my life

In aging, behavior, business, children, culture, life, sports, women, work on January 3, 2013 at 1:42 am
English: Marines with Special Marine Ground Ta...

English: Marines with Special Marine Ground Task Force demonstrated the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program as well as displayed weaponry in support of Fleet Week 2010. More than 3,000 Marines, Sailors and Coast Guardsmen will be in the area participating in community outreach events and equipment demonstrations. This is the 26th year New York City has hosted the sea services for Fleet Week. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I moved to New York in June 1989, I arrived just in time for the worst, (of two since!), recession in my industry, journalism. I knew not a soul, had no job and had not attended university in the U.S., which, I belatedly realized, makes a huge difference in getting ahead here.

I wanted a fresh, fun challenge unrelated to work, and decided to take up fencing, through night classes offered at New York University. They’d supply the equipment. I just needed to bring energy, commitment and a pair of sneakers.

I’d taken ballet for years, and loved its grace, French terminology and history. But I wanted something ferocious and competitive, not endless plies and tendues going nowhere. Classes were taught by the NYU coach, Steve Mormando, a former Navy guy and two-time Olympian.

It was deeply, quickly humbling, as new muscles announced themselves with aches and pains. I was too slow and clumsy for foil and didn’t like epee. So Steve decided to make a small group of 30-something women into saber fencers, an unheard-of ambition in the early 1990s, when women had yet to compete nationally in that weapon.

I and my team-mates would make history by doing so.

The lessons I learned in the salle have stayed with me, helping me in work and private life. (NB: An epee, foil or saber is actually called a weapon, not a sword. But using the word “weapon” in my headline seemed unwise!)

Here is some of what fencing taught me:

Tenacity

Fencing bouts have only five touches. I was once down 4-0 and once would have simply thought “Fuck it” but Steve taught us that every point is a new bout. I won that bout, which changed how I see life’s possibilities. If I assume I’m defeated, I will be.

Fearlessness

In sabre, the weapon’s style is based on cavalry fighting, with only the body above the hips as target, including the head. Getting hit on the head is always a bit of a shock, even wearing a metal helmet, and I always came home with bruises on my arms and legs. No biggie. If you’re scared to get into the game, how can you compete effectively?

Anticipation

Fencing has been called “chess at the speed of boxing.” Like chess, the sport is very much a mental one, a matching of wits and temperament and the ability to look multiple moves ahead in order to win. This skill is essential to any sort of professional success.

Observation

The only way to win in fencing is to observe each opponent carefully, before and during the bout, in order to pinpoint and penetrate their weaknesses. Everyone has one, and likely several; I once had to fence a much larger man but used my smaller size and greater speed to my advantage.

Persistence

Fencing often hurts and, like many athletes competing in a sport they take seriously, pain becomes a mere distraction. The end goal is to stay focused and win. 

Detachment

Of all the lessons fencing taught me, this was by far the most valuable. I learned to stand back, to wait for an opening, to pull distance, to not react. Becoming emotional  — often a default female choice — is self-indulgent and useless, as anger and frustration simply impede the ability to fight (and win) with a clear head.

Here’s a fun story from The Globe and Mail about a Toronto businessman who fences extremely well with all three weapons.

American designer Vera Wang, best known for her wedding dress business, was a former competitive figure skater and ballet student, both of which shaped her drive as well. She told Allure magazine:

It was my life. I think the training and the discipline, the loneliness — you have to develop a core of strength — helped me in my career. And I danced at the American School of Ballet. That is is intense, intense shit. You know, feet bleeding, Black Swan.

Ralph Dopping, a Toronto designer, blogged about how his sport, martial arts, has shaped his perspective as well.

What does it take to get to the black belt level?

Training.

What else?

Those are just words.

But they convey a mindset toward learning. The martial arts are centered in lifelong learning whether you practice consistently or not. The principles that are taught behind the study of the art is what stays with you.

For life.

What sport or physical activity has shaped you?

What female jocks learn — and Olympic athletes know

In behavior, life, news, sports, women, work on July 28, 2012 at 12:02 am

As millions of us tune into the Olympics today in London, Mariel Zagunis, a saber fencer from Beaverton, Oregon, who won the U.S.’s first gold medal in fencing since 1904 in 2004 was chosen to lead the 529 American athletes into the opening ceremonies. Her parents, Kathy and Robert, were rowers, who met when they competed in the Montreal Olympics in 1976.

FedZag6

FedZag6 (Photo credit: Kashmera)

When I moved to New York, and was eager for a new athletic challenge, I trained with a two-time Olympian, saber fencer Steve Mormando, and was nationally ranked in the mid 1990s in that sport for four years.

Fencing rocks!

Competing in sports, especially when you’re aiming for the top, teaches many powerful lessons, some of them of special value to women, in whom unshakable confidence and physical aggression can be seen as ugly, “unfeminine” or worse.

Some of the lessons saber fencing competition taught me:

– Saber (one of three weapons used in the sport), requires aggression and a sort of boldness that’s totally unfamiliar to many girls and women in real life. If you hesitate or pause, you can easily lose to the opponent prepared to start the attack. Go!

– In saber, you “pull distance” and create space between you and your opponent by withdrawing backwards down the strip and extending your blade. This buys you time, and safe space, in which to make a smarter or more strategic move. I’ve often slowed down in life when it looked like I should speed up or jump in quick. Fencing taught me the value of doing the opposite.

– Anger is wasted energy. I hate losing! But stressing out when I did lose, which is inevitable in sports, as in life, only messed with my focus and concentration. Move on.

– Pain will happen. Keep going. I was once hit, hard, early in a day-long regional competition and my elbow really hurt. But I had many more opponents to face and didn’t want to just drop out. Life often throws us sudden and unexpected pain — financial, emotional, physical. Having the ability to power through it will separate you from the weaker pack.

When I fenced at nationals, the first group of American women to do so, there was no option to compete in saber at the Olympic level, let alone world competition. It was frustrating indeed to work and train so hard, traveling often and far, competing regionally and locally, but never have the chance to go for the ultimate challenge, trying for an Olympic team position.

The sport was dominated by European men, and its organizing body, The Federation International d’Escrime, decreed that saber was (of course) too dangerous for women.

Now the U.S. has Zagunis, a young woman of 27, who dominates the sport.

This year, a new sport (which I truthfully find horrifying, but that feels hypocritical, doesn’t it?) — women’s boxing — has been added to the Olympics.

As we watch and cheer and cry and shout over the next few weeks, remember all the women along the way, their efforts often initially dismissed or derided, whose hard work and tenacity break down these barriers.

En Garde! World Cup Fencing Today, Tomorrow In Brooklyn

In sports on June 18, 2010 at 4:17 pm
Pictograms of Olympic sports - Fencing. This i...

Image via Wikipedia

Hasten to the Brookyn Marriott if you want to see the coolest sport. Forget soccer!

Yes, I’m biased, having been a nationally ranked saber fencer for four years. Fencing is fast, exhausting, demanding both intellectually and physically — it’s called chess at the speed of boxing.

I took it up when I moved to New York and didn’t know anyone and didn’t have a job. Stabbing strangers with a sword seemed like a good way to settle into this most competitive of cities.

I had no idea that Manhattan is filled with some of the U.S.’s very best fencers, from bronze medalist Peter Westbrook (who once judged one of my matches) to my former coach, who teaches at NYU, former Olympian Steve Mormando. I haven’t touched my equipment in more than a decade, but I miss this amazing sport and hope to come back to it at some point. Like skiing and sailing, you can do it as long as your body holds up, and the accumulated wisdom you bring as an older fencer can defeat younger, more impatient competitors.

Here’s the website with all the details.

Fencing Blind — A Boston Coach Achieves A First

In sports on April 19, 2010 at 10:41 pm
BEIJING - AUGUST 13:  Benjamin Philipp Kleibri...

Image by Bongarts/Getty Images via Daylife

As a former nationally ranked saber fencer, I loved this story, about two schools for the blind holding a first — a fencing competition. Fencing is the best sport!

A Cuban-born coach is teaching blind students how to fence, reports the Boston Globe:

NEWTON — In the final moments of the fencing match, the young men in white sat in folding chairs and shouted, “Ty-ler, Ty-ler.’’ The object of their cheers, Tyler Terrasi, looked nervous as he pulled on his black mask and picked up his weapon, a slender metal foil. His opponent, Collier Sims, stood tall and perfectly still, ready to duel.

“A lot of the fencing actions that we do, we can apply them to everyday life,’’ Morales said. “When they are going to cross the street, the goal is to get to the other side. When they fence, the goal is to advance and to hit the other person.’’

The cheers quieted and once the referee signaled the match could begin, the air filled with the sound of metal sliding against metal. Twice, Sims’ foil made contact with the white protective jacket covering Terrasi’s torso. And then a third time, the slender blade arched as it hit Terrasi’s chest. “Halt,’’ shouted the referee, fencing coach Cesar Morales. “Attack for Collier is good!’’

And with that, the first known fencing competition among blind students ended yesterday with Sims, 24, from The Carroll Center for the Blind in Newton, the champion. Terrasi, a 20-year-old student at the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, won the second-place trophy.

From the Boston Herald:

The match was the brainchild of Perkins fencing instructor Cesar Morales, founder of the International Fencing Club in suburban Boston and also a teacher at the Newton school. Morales said the students got bored fencing against the same people week after week and needed outside challenges.

Fencing teaches the balance, agility, mobility, timing, listening and navigational skills that the blind need to make their way in the sight-oriented world, said Peggy Balmaseda, a physical education teacher at Perkins for 25 years.

“This helps with orientation,” said Kadlik, who lives on his own in an apartment on the Perkins Watertown campus. “When you’re walking along, and you come to a crosswalk, you need to stay in a straight line to cross the street, and learning to stay straight in fencing reinforces that feeling.”

The Carroll Center has been teaching fencing to its students for exactly those reasons since 1954, said vice president Arthur O’Neill. But to his knowledge, this is the first time there has been a fencing match with another school.

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