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Posts Tagged ‘Fencing’

A level playing field matters

In behavior, culture, immigration, life, news, politics, sports, world on August 8, 2016 at 12:59 am

By Caitlin Kelly

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The United States Capitol. Policies and laws enacted here affect everyone, rarely equally.

There’s an expression I hear a lot in the U.S. — to put your thumb on the scale — i.e. to tilt a result in your favor.

I  live near New York City, in a county rife with stunning wealth, (and the not-so-wealthy!) so we have a front-row seat to this constant jockeying for power.

I believe in its opposite — the level playing field.

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If you own, and can afford to use and maintain a vehicle, you’ve got a huge advantage over those who can’t, certainly in places with little to no public transit

As some of us watch the Olympics this week, fair competition is front and center.

The Muslim-American fencer Ibithaj Muhammad I just blogged about got to Rio thanks to a playing field, (in this case, piste!), leveled by the Peter Westbrook Foundation, a 15-year-old non-profit in New York City founded by a former bronze medalist who is African-American. The program has worked with 4,000 lower-income children, offering them opportunities to learn this elegant, historic and fantastic sport, and one all too often seen as impossibly elitist.

Then there’s this. From an explainer in The Economist:

A World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report into Russian doping by a Canadian lawyer, Richard McLaren, was published only on July 18th—18 days before the opening ceremony. Furthermore, the contents of Mr McLaren’s report were appalling. Beginning in 2011 the Russian ministry of sport set up a comprehensive programme to circumvent anti-doping laws. It reported false negatives to WADA, created a steroid cocktail to boost performance (the name it was given, “Duchess”, is worthy of Ian Fleming), worked with the FSB, the state security service, to evade independent testing, and tampered with drugs tests while hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The world is, for many of us, a highly competitive place. The more ambitious you are — socially, financially, professionally — the greasier the pole.

Then there’s this moat-building drawbridge-lifting bullshit that, seriously, sets my hair on fire, reported in The New York Times most recent edition of Education Life, an occasional special section that looks at American higher education.

Harvard, already hell to get into, also has private on-campus clubs so exclusive that people weep on their doorsteps when refused admission.

 

Because what’s the point of privilege — unless you guard it ferociously?

 

The Fly is one of six remaining all-male final clubs. They are, if not the hub, the apex of social life at Harvard — upscale surrogates for those classic centers of college merriment, sororities and fraternities…

Entree can feel like belonging, rejection like a scarlet F…

But to many students on the outside, the clubs are laden with a legacy of upper-crust snobbishness. As the writer Kenneth Auchincloss referred to them in a 1958 dispatch in The Harvard Crimson: Final clubs are gathering places of the “St. Grottlesex crop,” an amalgamation of the names of several elite East Coast boarding schools, who “look to the Clubs as centers for privacy and ‘good-fellowship,’ cut off from the hectic University by their locked front doors, their aura of secrecy, and a generally shared feeling of superiority.”

…The elaborate courtship of the desirable can begin with an engraved invitation slipped under a dorm room door to “punch” — a selection process that continues with a series of outings and culminates in a black-tie dinner feting the few who make it through.

My husband Jose works part-time as a photo editor at abcnews.com, owned by Disney; this week they handed out brand-new backpacks, asking employees to fill them with donated school supplies.

We don’t have kids, so the whole back-to-school routine is something we don’t do. We had a blast running around Staples, and discovered that it cost $50 to buy everything on the list.

That’s still a significant sum in our family — and an impossibly high one for a family with a lower income and/or multiple children to shop for.

We hope the recipient enjoys it!

Here’s a sobering piece from The Atlantic:

In dealing with the persistence of intergenerational wealth, the changes that would be most effective are also the most sweeping: Taking private money out of political campaigns would give more of a voice to people who’d benefit from stronger social policies. Bolstering housing-voucher programs would let poorer families move into better neighborhoods. Increasing taxes at the uppermost end of the income spectrum would redistribute perpetuated wealth. Finding ways to get lower- and middle-income workers to put more money into savings would help them improve their lots.

So, the lesson from this report: Take whatever extreme, politically unfeasible changes everyone thought were necessary to increase economic mobility and make them more extreme and more unfeasible—that might be enough.

For refugees, fleeing Syria, it’s a hunger for basic dignity, as Mohammed Ali, 26, told Cnet:

“I just want beginning,” he says. “I just want to be at level zero, because here we are before level zero…I feel nothing change. Like, I was in Syria a number and here I am still a number. I have to be a person.”

At Rio Olympics, a U.S. fencer in a hijab — go Ibithaj!

In History, life, sports, U.S., women on August 6, 2016 at 11:29 am

By Caitlin Kelly

A Muslim woman named Ibithaj Muhammad, 30, is in Rio now, competing as a saber fencer for the United States. She will the first female fencer to compete while wearing a hijab.

Here’s an NPR interview with her.

For those less familiar with fencing, there are three weapons: foil, epee and saber, each with a different style, in which different body parts are target and, as a result, tend to attract different personalities. Saber is for the hard-core!

In saber, the entire body above the hips, including the head, is fair game, based on the amount of body surface most available when fighting on horseback. Aggression is rewarded.

However unlikely — but true! — her presence in Rio this month is in part due to the first American women to fence saber in national competition, back in the 1990s, back when (yes, really) the governing body for fencing (old European men of course) said, “Noooooo, women can’t fence saber in the Olympics. Too dangerous!”

I was one of them.

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Thanks to us breaking ground by fencing at nationals, U.S. women saber fencers have since gone on to win multiple Olympic medals. So damn cool!

When I arrived in New York, with no job, no family, no friends, I needed a place to go to connect with my new home. I’d long wanted to try fencing, as it combined many of my favorite things: French (many terms are French), a long and distinguished history, lots of terrific NYC competition, intellectual and physical challenge.

They say fencing is chess at the speed of boxing. It’s a fantastic sport, and I was lucky enough to find classes at New York University and a two-time Olympian coach, Steve Mormando.

He introduced a small group of women to saber and we soon began training twice a week (two hours each time), taking individual lessons and competing regularly at the local and regional level.

I loved it.

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I went to nationals four times, each time getting eliminated just before making the final eight.

I’m thinking of taking it up again. I miss it.

 

I hope some of you will make time to check out the fencing and keep an eye on Ibithaj — Monday August 8 at 8:00 a.m EDT.

 

Here’s the NBC Olympic television schedule.

Here’s a profile of her from the Associated Press.

 

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.

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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.