Foot work… Are you competitive?

The fencer may become frustrated by the fact that success that they find on the strip is not as great as what they had hoped for. For a coach that cares, we offer cheer leading and words of wisdom. Cheer leading is of the moment. The words of wisdom should be the take away value that can last a life time…

Foot work is a highly under rated skill for most of today’s fencers. There are as many skills in foot work as there are in blade work. In fact, the better your foot work skills are, the simpler and more consistent your blade work can become. When you can execute the basic mechanical of foot work, there are many foot work skills that can be learned and introduced into your game,  Understand that foot work is the simple mechanics of the actions, managing the distance between you and your opponent are the true goal of learning foot work.

Without foot work, how could you ever control the bout? Are you simply going to wait until an opportunity (read a fencer steps in close enough to hit) presents itself? Or do you want to create the opportunity? Hopefully your answer is “both!”. The former is more likely than the later. Creating an opportunity with foot work takes as much skill as creating the opportunity with the blade.

For now, lets look at simple foot work basics… Controlling your speed in managing distance is a key factor. Any speed from a dead stop, to an explosive, very long lunge. Forward acceleration comes from the back leg. Backward acceleration comes from the front leg. Falling forward or backward can involve the both legs,  But it is falling, and everyone falls at the same speed (per Issac Newton). Therefore, if we agree to the assumption that a single leg controls and propels us at varying speeds towards or from the opponent, we must realize that leg strength is key to increasing explosive speed

I can teach the simple mechanics of a lunge, and the student can learn the mechanical actions of the lunge. Simple mechanics are just the beginning. Speed, acceleration, distance and timing are all aspects of skills required for excellent distance management.

The ability to have explosive foot work with sustained acceleration has direct value in improving the results of the game. We must acknowledge that we need to maximize our distance management skills. In order to increase your capacity to explode, you need to be more than fit.

Being fit is just a starting point. Being fit is NOT being athletic! 

I wrote earlier that it is really one leg that gives you explosive acceleration. If you agree with the statement, then you must realize that one leg needs to move your entire body weight. Although everyone is different, my basic rule of thumb is that that each leg should be able to leg press 1.5 times YOUR body weight (12 reps). You CAN NOT get to this leg strength without going to the gym and weight training. If you get to this goal, you have no excuses for sitting down for the bout, and demonstrating explosive lunges on the strip. It also means that I can now successfully introduce you to the next level of footwork skills…

Foot work boot camp starts this week… I’ll cover more there!

Fence Better and Still Have Fun

How to Fence Better and Still Have Fun
October 2005

Written by Douglas Cairns, Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist

The following is an outline for discussion related to topics on the mental aspects of fencing. Additional information on this topic may be found in:

Heil, J. & Zealand, C. (2001). Psychological Skills Training Manual. United States Fencing Association Technical Report (No. 2001-10). Colorado Springs, CO: United States Olympic Training Center.
1. Who You Are Influences How You Fence

Complete the following sentence, then see page 7 for discussion: When I have an important decision to make I usually _______________________.

Aldo Nadi, reportedly the greatest fencer of the 20th century, said that after five minutes on the fencing strip he knew all there was to know about a person. Who you are as a person tends to show through during fencing more so during the early stages of ones fencing career. People who are thoughtful and considerate will fence in a thoughtful and considerate manner. People who are aggressive by nature will fence in an aggressive manner. Passive thinkers will fence passively and analyze every action. Impulsive people tend to rush their fencing. Whatever your style you will need to adapt to the demands of the fencing strip. Passive people need to learn to attack. Impulsive people need to learn patience and plan their actions.

No matter how successful you are in adapting your personality style to the demands of the strip, with mismanaged stress your natural tendencies will snap you back like a rubber band. Skilled opponents know this and will push you to the limits. As frustration increases so does adrenaline. Fine motor actions needed for point control disappear. Fluid motion is not possible. Fencing actions become wider and faster. Psychological meltdown is imminent.
2. Eliminate Fear of Failure

What do you think about the fencer who has temper tantrums when they loose a touch or bout? Are they having fun? Are they successful overall?

For these fencers, frustration and anger take over. What fuels their feelings? They have expectations that are not being met. Their heads are filled with “shoulds” about their performance and when expectations are not met they become frustrated and angry about fear of failure. They tell themselves to “try harder” and as a result feel they should then succeed. If they try harder without a plan or tool to manage frustration they most likely will not succeed. So begins the downward spiral.

How you handle failure and defeat during first three years of your fencing career will determine your fencing future. By placing unrealistic expectations on yourself and having a “winning is everything” approach you will not be happy. Developing a successful fencing game takes years (some estimate it to be three to five years). Not many people can sustain efforts in the face of “failure” year after year.
3. Moderate Your Emotional Arousal Levels




Finding the balance between feeling overly-energized and overly-relaxed is the key to mental training. Your optimum level of arousal may shift from right to left depending on your personality and coping style. This is further influenced by your level of training and physical fitness. The well trained (physically and mentally) athlete who is faced with critical performance situations is better able to tolerate increasing arousal levels and may even draw extra energy from the pressure of competition.

One way to view arousal is to think in terms of tire pressure. Many people approach a performance situation with over inflated tires. You must relieve some of the tire pressure by activities such as relaxation, self-talk, imagery, calm diaphragmatic breathing, or easy stretching. If your tires are under inflated you must increase the pressure by running in place, fast breathing to increase heart rate, imagery to view yourself in the heat of competition, or listen to energizing music. One technique is to rapidly squeeze the grip of your weapon between the thumb and forefinger as if pumping up a tire. Stop when you feel the optimum level of pressure (arousal) has been achieved. Use your middle finger to press on the grip to relieve pressure if to much has been added. Use this technique during a bout to add or relieve pressure as necessary.
3. Establish Your Goals

The quickest way to become frustrated with fencing is to not set goals. If you have no goals for your fencing game you will not progress.

Fencers often fall into the “I must win to be successful” way of setting goals. The problem with this thinking is that you might fence the best bout of your life and still lose. Goals need to be linked to performance, but the performance must be within your control. The outcome of a bout is determined by not only your fencing but that of your opponent also. You have no control over how your opponent fences. You do have control over your game provided you understand the necessary components.

Fencing is made up of four skill sets:

Physical condition
Mental preparation
Technical skills
Tactical sense

How do you set goals?

Progress must be made in each of these skill sets for fencing to improve. Therefore, each skill set needs its own goal program. Recognize that these skill sets are inextricably bound to one another. It is no good to set goals for improved lunging ability if you have poor leg strength. If your tactical thinking is far in advance of your technical skill “your brain will be writing checks that your body can’t possibly honor”. Goals for each area must be challenging but not unrealistic.

Goals must have a language that relates to measurable progress. For example, let’s say you set a goal to achieve a national ranking. The first question must be; “How do I measure my progress?” You either have a national ranking or you don’t. It would probably be better to view this as an achievement outcome and not as a measurable goal. On the other hand, you might have a goal of winning the next bout. How would you measure progress toward that goal? Goals need to be easily linked to performance. Long-term goals must be broken down into measurable steps. To achieve a national ranking you must first qualify for the Nationals by finishing in the top 25% at a division qualifying tournament. To achieve that goal you must outscore the majority of your opponents. To do this you must win bouts which means you must give more touches than you receive. An appropriate interim goal then might be to improve your indicators over the course of a competitive season and be successful in DE bouts. To do this you must track your indicators for each pool and DE bout you fence. To further break down the goal setting process you might say that for your indicators to improve you need to improve your ability to carry out successful attacks, parry riposte, develop a better sense of distance, be able to get that elusive final touch when the bout goes 4-4, etc.

Goal setting means record keeping. You must have a written record of your performance if you are to see progress. There is an axiom in performance improvement that says, “If you don’t measure it, it won’t change”. Therefore, keeping a small notebook in your fencing bag and recording the outcome of all of your tournament bouts is the only way to see change.
4. Develop a Tool Box of Stress Management Skills


The pyramid of escalating anxiety provides a model for understanding the need to master mental skills training in order to progress up the performance pyramid. The example below shows that anxiety tends to increase as you move up the pyramid. The level labels are used as examples. You should decide on your own labels to identify progressively increasing Each level needs to be mastered before moving on. For example, if you cannot control anxiety during friendly practice bouting you are not likely to perform well when bouting in a club tournament. This is not to say that you should strive to eliminate anxiety. Recalling the arousal model above, you need to find your optimum level of arousal for peak performance.

Typically, the skills applied to manage the mental game involve: Relaxation/Activation; Concentration; Self-Talk; Imagery; Performance Routines.

Relaxation is designed to slow the heart rate and reduce the effects of adrenaline. Simple breathing techniques can reduce tension enough to allow for further muscle relaxation. Taking slow and deliberate breaths using the diaphragm instead of chest and shoulder muscles promotes relaxation. Listening to quiet music or thinking about some non- competitive event can focus you attention away from anxiety provoking images related to the competition. One fencer I have witnessed did crossword puzzles between his pool bouts.

Concentration issues are one of the most difficult and essential skills to master in mental skills training. No matter how well thought out your game plan, during the stress of competition the most common reaction is to experience “vapor lock” in your thinking. All of a sudden, your mind goes blank. Concentration training requires practice if you are going to be able to implement you game plan based on what your opponent is doing. Concentration does not mean looking at some minute aspect of your opponents actions (e.g., watching the blade movements). Concentration allows you to develop a more comprehensive picture of your opponent. Exercise practice involves focusing on internal sensations and external stimuli while at the same time being able to avoid distractions of noise and unwanted visual cues. Concentration skills allow you to have better peripheral vision which makes you better able to respond to your opponent’s style and recognize patterns in their game.

Self-Talk is something that people engage in thousands of times a day. Statements range from harsh and unforgiving to non-judgmental and supportive. There is little question that performance is adversely effected by harsh and unforgiving self-talk (e.g., “I never get it right”, “I always lose to this opponent”, “I can never figure out how to win”). Negative self statements seem to be a natural reaction to mistakes (“Oh, that was stupid”) and performance below our expectations (I’ll never get this right”). The concept of the “self fulfilling prophecy” is related to negative self-talk where your belief that you will not succeed actually leads you to failure. At the first sign of negative statements you should take control by saying “STOP” and begin to reframe your thinking. Instead of thinking “How will I ever beat this opponent”, change the self-talk to “OK, if I just stay calm and be patient, I will see an opportunity for a touch. If I can get one touch then I can get another”. One of the best Larsen cartoons shows two elderly ladies cowering inside at their front door, while through the window can be seen a huge monstrous bug on the front porch. One lady says to the other, “Yes dear I realize that it is a huge incredibly monstrous and hideously ugly bug, but perhaps it is a huge incredibly monstrous and hideously ugly bug that needs help”. Changing and reframing negative statements into positive self-talk can often produce a dialogue to work through problems.

Imagery involves visualization of positive outcomes. To see in your minds eye successful performance can influence the outcome. Jack Nicklaus, for example, has said that he always tried to imagine the shot before he actually hit it. He not only imagined the feel of the shot, but actually pictured the flight of the ball. Gustav Weder, the great Swiss bobsled driver, used visualization to help him win the gold medal in the two-man event at Lillehammer. A year before the games he took more than 40 pictures of the race course showing every curve and straight. He laid out the entire course, photo by photo, on his living room floor. Each day, he sat on the floor in front of the photos for an hour and mentally rehearsed every turn. A sense of mastery over performance skills can be developed by using this “inner theater” in your mind. Imagine yourself facing a known opponent and watch their attacks unfold in slow motion. See your response and rehearse it over and over until it becomes automatic. Another way to develop imagery is to watch fencing DVD’s. Analyze the actions as you watch in slow motion. Develop a theater in your mind to display these images over and over as you see the touch land.

Performance Routines involve preparation for competition. Careful planning allows your mind to relax and avoid having to deal with the minutia associated with preparation. Check all equipment the day before a tournament. Review your goals and establish positive self-talk for improving confidence. Be familiar with your equipment bag and make sure you can find everything, even in the dark. Do not add new equipment routines (new bag, new gear storage system) for at least two weeks before a tournament. Establish your plan for nutrition during the tournament. Use food that you are familiar with and have used before. You may need to plan for breakfast and start fencing at 8am, or plan for lunch and start fencing at noon. Establish sameness in your equipment. All weapons should be exactly the same. Many people have favorites in their weapon inventory (I know one fencer who actually names them). What happens if your favorite breaks during competition? Now you must use a weapon with less confidence.

Plan for periods of inactivity between bouts, and between pools and DE’s. Keeping muscles warm for periods of up to two hours may be necessary. Pace yourself so that you will be at peak performance levels throughout the day. Be mindful of the need to increase arousal or decrease anxiety between bouts.

Those who are successful with mental skills training recognize that fencing is a learning process. Just as one does not become angry with children who make mistakes when learning to read, successful beginning fencers do not punish themselves with critical self statements when they lose a bout. They do not view an opponent as someone who is going to “beat” them with unfamiliar moves and make them appear foolish. Instead, they view the bout as a series of obstacles to overcome. Each touch is a puzzle to be solved. Instead of saying to themselves “I can beat this person”, they say things like; “this opponent is an obstacle for me to overcome”, and “the only touch that matters is the next one, so I need to solve the puzzle and make the next touch”.

Fencing is a game that requires commitment. You will find that progress will be in direct proportion to the time invested. This investment must include physical as well as mental training. Remember, it was Yogi Berra who said “fencing is 50% physical and 90% mental”.
Sentence Completion from page 1:

The sentence completion on page 1 can reflect a style of decision making that often influences fencing. Typically, there are two categories of response. One category suggests a cautious approach to making decisions where the sentence is completed with: When I have an important decision to make I usually “think about it”, or “consider all aspects”, or “weigh the possibilities”, etc. The other category tends to reflect a more action oriented style where the sentence is completed with: When I have an important decision to make I usually “make it”. One style is not better than the other. They simply reflect different approaches to the same problem. Taken to their extremes, one would reflect a style where the individual is crippled by indecision as the result of obsessive rumination over every conceivable outcome. The other would reflect the haphazard impulsivity of acting on every whim and irrelevant stimuli.

The Competitive Pyramid – Workshop Overview


by Coach Chuck Alexander


Training Methodology – how you go about it, and the mind set.
Competitive training requirements – what level you want to be at, differing commitments at different levels.
Overview of physical fitness, footwork, blade work, tactics, and strategy and how they relate to being on the strip and getting the job done.

The goal of the workshop is primarily for you to gain ideas of what you can do and what you shouldn’t do on the strip, in terms of critical thinking. How many of you have gone on strip and said the coach told me to do this, and I’m thinking so much about what the coach said to do, that I get hit? There is a balance here; when competing, you must keep it simple, but when training you have to push the level of your capabilities.

I’m going to be talking about competitive fencing in standard pools and direct elimination. There are different goals between a five-touch bout and a 15-touch bout. Be aware of that because it is very important in terms of finishes. In actual competition, If you are in the top 32 you get national points, if you are 17th you get a lot more points. What does that have to do with the first round of pools? It is very important, because that is where your seeding comes from. If you are number one coming out of the pools and you are knocked out in the round of 32, you will be 17th. If you are the bottom of the list and are knocked out in the 32 round, you will be 32nd and your points will be much lower. It is important for your finish, and you should be concerned for that. From a competitive perspective, there is only one winner, and everyone else is a loser. You have to think like that if you want to win. There is only one winner. We are not talking about recreational fencing here, beating up on Chris, or having Hal beat up on me. We are talking about what you have to do to achieve competitive goals. My approach is competitive and not recreational.

Three things need to be worked on:

1) Hunger, Passion, Heart and Desire. That is your fuel, that is what drives you to do all this work. Fencing to be number one is a full time job, a four letter word, it is work. You can’t get there unless you have passion and desire. Your coach can’t kick you all the way to first place in the Olympics. You have to want that. You want to take from your coach as much as possible. You want to take from other fencers as much as possible. By the way, most breakthroughs are done by fencers. Coaches just notice it and use it.

2) Physical fitness, strength, speed, and coordination. That is a big piece of it too. If you aren’t physically fit, tactics and strategy become very narrow and very limited. As one gets older, one has to think smarter, and use the tools in one’s kit. If I were 25 and knew what I know now, I’d be fencing instead of giving lessons.

3) Mental discipline and training to control emotion and body. Mental discipline controls the bout, not the heart. Passion fuels and motivates you.

For every touch, every bout, every round, every meet, there is only one objective – to win the meet. We will talk about setting goals. At the end of the day you go into a meet to give it everything you’ve got, to win. You won’t have that if you don’t prepare at the club.

My competitive pyramid. At the bottom is physical fitness. If you are not physically fit it absolutely limits your tactics and strategy on the strip. It will give you endurance, strength, and the ability to get in and out, to sustain yourself for the full day. How many hours is a normal meet? Six to eight hours. What is the most important bout in the meet? The gold-medal bout. It happens at the end of the meet when you are tired. Physical fitness allows you to fence your best game at the end of the day when you need it the most. If you are going to fence to win, there are no prisoners. If you get to the final eight, you have to be ready to fence for first.

Footwork. Your ability to maintain and go to the distances you need. Fencing is a sport of centimeters. If you are off by a centimeter, too short or too long, you are not going to hit, or you will be hit because you are too close. If you have perfect distance control, you will have perfect blade work. It makes everything so much easier. How many times have you found yourself leaning deeply to make a touch? The lean should have been an advance.

Blade work and point control. If you have really good footwork and distance control you can be a world champion. You’ll be where they can’t hit you and you’ll be where you can hit them.

Tactics. Defined as having a plan (strategy) and tactics is how to execute the plan. An simple example is fencing someone fencing who is posting with a French handle, and may have three inches more reach than you have. You wouldn’t attack (the plan), but would make the opponent come to you, by pushing and getting away. There could be four or five ways to execute the tactics to support the strategy and you may use all. It could be a boring bout. You want to stay away from his longer reach and he may roll off your take. You want to be the counter attacker. Others may use different tactics if they are faster.

The competitive pyramid is divided into physical areas (physical fitness, footwork and blade work) and mental areas (tactics and strategy). When you are practicing, your coach will give you mechanical moves that will work. They have many elements. What distance are you at? Will you be fencing a French- or German-style opponent? One may want to beat the blade of a French-style opponent, then beat it again because it will come right back. You practice these things in the club, but you don’t want to think too much when competing. You won’t want to get far out of your comfort zone of what you can do. Use a trainer to help your physical fitness focus. Physical fitness starts at the finger tips and goes back. If you don’t have a strong hand, then the thumb and index finger aren’t going to work for you. You can work on building your hand and forearm up in terms of muscle.

Flexibility, speed, strength, coordination. We will be working on these. You can’t get to tactics and strategy unless you understand the underlying concepts. What is physically fit? It doesn’t mean you are in athletic shape. It means that you meet some standards. Like the President’s Council has a standard, and if you aren’t there, you are in no way an athlete. That is the starting point. You can do other than just weight train. You can weight train and cross train, which helps your coordination.

Physical Fitness Options

Running, weight training, cross training

Soccer, basketball, ultimate Frisbee

Speed drills (lines)

Sometimes you can’t get there with what you have. What do you do?

Seek your coach’s advice

What do you do to stay fit?

Plyometrics will not only increase strength and speed, it will increase your coordination. It will help you change when you need it. In a bout, you have to change your mechanical actions just slightly, or you lose control. You are limiting the tactics that you can apply to your strategy.

Your coach is there to support your goals, which you must have. If you don’t have goals, why are you working so hard on the strip? Why are you taking lessons? Goals also give you an end point to some project which allows you to take some down time so you don’t get burned out, too.

If you have a trainer and a coach and discipline, you have to figure out what you need in terms of being physically fit and to work on all the deficits you may have. A trainer will build you up symmetrically. Fencing is an asymmetrical sport. You don’t want all your physical conditioning to be on the strip. You need to go outside the club, and build yourself up equally across the board. It will also help you prevent injuries.


Setting Goals for Success

In today’s hectic world we tend to overextend ourselves and over commit. Rather than assume that a fencer is committed, and understands that commitment to himself, his coach and his family, I believe that making the fencer aware of what it really means to achieve their goal is imperative. A serious competitive fencer must commit to goals, must commit his time, effort, sweat and understand that good enough is not good enough. There is only one winner per event, and getting the gold is why they train. For many fencers this is their first sport, and although these concepts are consistent with most sports, this is the first opportunity for them to learn about what it takes to be a winner.

When I have an athlete that wants to attain a specific goal, I have a favorite metaphor that I call the “competitive pyramid”. It is a simple multifaceted look at competitive requirements providing a holistic view of training needs. The pyramid is a overarching metaphor that provides a grouping of skills and abilities, and applies prioritization. Although this approach can be used to address a group class, a more effective use is in the definition of a specific athletes custom training regimen. Thus taking into consideration physical, mental and psychological aspects of training as it applies to a specific athlete. Setting goals and executing against specific metrics is critical in attaining a successful competitive outcome.

At the end of my workshops the fencers will understand why setting goals is imperative, what elements are important, creating contracts with their coach to assure success in attaining their goals, and a basic understanding of a framework that they can rely on as they continue their competitive career.

With these fencers, my main thrust was the physical/tactical side of the pyramid. I only touch on the mental and the psychological aspects of the game with them as necessary to support the tactical discussion.

Setting Goals, making contracts:

This activity permeates all aspects of the pyramid. And in this case we need to be even more precise and specify competitive goals. Goals must be measurable. They must also be reasonable. The fencer has 5 years of fencing experience, he has had a B rating for two seasons and continues to improve in skill and results. As his coach, he comes to me and states that he has a goal for the season… “I want to earn my A”. Although this is a worthy goal, it is a reasonable goal, and it can be measured, I believe a better goal would be “I want to win the Citrus Epee Open”. This is a better goal because we know that the Citrus Open is historically an A1 event, and has a specific date. Given this goal, winning the meet will earn the fencer his A and meet the original desired goal. In addition to meeting the original goal, given a specific date the coach can establish a training program that will optimize the athlete’s training to achieve the goal. As the date of the meet approaches, the coach will focus more and more on high energy, high performance training lessons. And they will also modify physical training to allow the athlete to hit peak potential physical performance on the day of the meet.

Once the goal is set, a plan needs to be established to achieve the stated goal. Working with the coach, the fencer needs to understand and commit to the coaches plan. Its a good idea to document the plan, especially to enable the coach and the athlete to agree and allow for increased commitments in time and effort. Although the documentation of the plan (and I’m talking about less than a page) is extra work, it helps everyone stay focused on the goal. The agreement and commitment to the plan by both parties, is the contract. And the contract needs to be executed by both parties.

Setting up the contract binds the coach and the athlete to a common goal that both parties work toward in harmony. Failure to execute against the plan by either party breaks the deal….

In summary, goals need to be:


Whats your goal?

Selecting A Competition Coach

The purpose of this article is to provide guidance in the selection of a competitive coach for all levels of competitive fencers. I will be providing specific guidance for the beginner, the local, and the regionally competitive fencer.

I have made some observations over the last couple of decades that reflect on the current state of our coaching and our competitive fencing culture. The mission and priorities of our clubs has, in many cases, moved towards “fencing or related activities for the masses”. Some programs might even be characterized as fencing day care. As beneficial as this can be by bringing more visibility and increasing the numbers in our sport, I am concerned that many of these clubs are doing a disservice to a large number of beginners who could be destined for competitive excellence, but will never find their way to the podium. I attribute this in many cases to their initial choices for instruction.

Fencing clubs in the distant past were less focused on revenue generation then they are today. In the past, the clubs took major pride in competing against other clubs, and although that is still the core of what happens today, the driving force is revenue generation. Its a service industry. Many of today’s clubs have fixed facilities and cost overheads to take into consideration. And these businesses need to maintain larger memberships to pay for their monthly expenses. To keep themselves in the black, many of them come up with some incredibly entertaining and amusing classes/programs that draw a greater segment of the population into their membership then conventional fencing would ever provide. These clubs may or may not have competitive coaches providing lessons, or a head coach that supervises the training of the beginners. The basic research that you can do is the same for every level of competitive fencer. DO NOT BELIEVE THE CLUB MARKETING OR THE HYPE. Investigate the club and its coaches.

The club provides the opportunity, the individual coach provides the knowledge. And although this article is focused on coach selection, we acknowledge and appreciate the major role of the competitive club environment in providing the opportunity for training excellence.

How is this level pertinent to competitive fencing? It all starts here. Most beginners choose to get their taste of the sport by finding the closest opportunity that will avail itself. Although proximity is convenient, its really not the best metric for coaching selection. However, since the 10-18 year old demographic does not have a car, and the parents will be providing the transportation, this is usually how the choice is made. Due diligence in researching a club and its coaching staff at the very beginning is critical to competitive success. If not done, it could be years before recognizing a bad choice, putting the student behind in every aspect of training. Bad habits can be learned that must be replaced, and that all takes time. Even if you are just testing the waters of the sport for the first time, investigate the coaching staff and who will be providing the lessons. The social trap is that once you start with a club and their coaches, you will build up a loyalty to that coaching staff, for good or bad, and will find it increasingly difficult, and emotional, to find and move to a more appropriate coach. Keep in mind that it will take four or more years to really get good results at the local level. Do you want to invest that much time with a club and a coach that won’t provide you with the training to get local results?

Whether you are about to try fencing for the first time, or have been fencing for a decade, when you seek competitive guidance from a competent coach, the following questions should be asked of both club and coaching staff.

Is the club a USFA member club? Don’t take their word for it, require them to provide supporting documentation.
Because most beginners start in group classes, its important to ask how large the class will be. I believe that a class to instructor ratio of 10 to 1 to be reasonable.
Is the coaching staff certified to teach fencing? Many fencing coaches are what I call feral coaches. They may or may not have formal training as coaches, and may or may not understand modern coaching theory.  All US Fencing coach certification and testing is done through the United States Fencing Coaches Association ( Foreign certifications can be suspect, check the document that the certification is actually in fencing.
How long has the coach been actively coaching?
How long has the coach been in the local community?
How long has the coach been with the club? If this is a short while, then how long was he with the last club? Remember you or your child are going to be working with this coach for the next few years.
Find out how many rated fencers (especially As and national point holders) the coaches have made.
Find out how many A rated fencers are currently in the club. To be competitive, you need a competitive training environment.
Interview the coaches. How good are their verbal communication skills (Many coaches have the local language as a second language, this really is an issue if the coach can not communicate well with the student)
Go to a local competition and interview the finalists. (Browse to find the next competition) Ask who their coach is, and who they recommend for a coach.

A fencing coach is a professional and should be able to provide you with a complete resume or curriculum vitae. If coach or the club can’t provide the documentation, consider them suspect. How important is the choice of a quality coach in the beginning? It is extremely important. It is my experience that bad habits with basic actions, is a direct result of the first experience, and the first class, a fencer participates in. And the fencer can spend a life time trying to recover from this.

After reviewing all of the data, please choose your coach/club wisely.