Sunday, March 30, 2008

Fencing Numbers

Lately, I have been concerned about the decline of fencing. By that I mean the number of people fencing. I have been concerned about this in our club; in our state and in our country.

I realize that the economy is bad and people are staying home now that gas prices are high.  Every time I drive to UNC for a lesson and fencing I whence a bit at the cost.

I have talked to people in other local sporting programs and they see similar declines. Though it may not be related in the same way. For example Little League has been in decline for years, but much of that is attributed to kids switching to soccer.

I found that there has been a drop in the sales of sporting equipment over all. I wonder if the graying of America and the demographics of age are playing into these declines?

It is difficult to find information to figure this out.

For example, I believe that I read that this season there was a 2% drop in USFA membership.It was the first decline ever. However, as I think about that, those numbers may reflect a change BEFORE the economy hit the skids. So what will it be next season? Will the Olympics help pull membership back up or will the that be no match for the cost of gas?

I remember reading someplace reliable that in the future sports we consider mainstream in America will decline in favor of more esoteric sports. What could be more so than fencing? Perhaps this prediction was wrong or perhaps not enough time has passed.

I have made predictions before and missed the mark. I studied martial arts for a very long time when I was young. I always thought that as Baby Boomer's aged that the new fitness craze would be Tai Chi. I missed it, it was yoga, ( Though Tai Chi has gained in popularity.) I also thought that with American's constant need for new fitness crazes that some thing like Tai Bo fencing aerobics might develop. I thought the good lower body workout might  appeal to women. ( Note: I don't consider that a sexist statement. I base it on watching women in the gym over a number of years .( Which I might have done in a sexist manner...but that is a whole different ball game and I just can't help it.) I noticed that a majority of women that come to the gym, focus on aerobic training and lower body work outs through machines and free weights.)

I have tried to figure things out concerning what I perceive as a drop in the number of people fencing by looking at statistics. For example, below you will find a chart I pulled off of the Discussion Boards. It is info from the USFA. It is hard to make out what is useful because you don't really know what it means. I am assuming that this reflects information on where fencers are located/based and not Divisional info. I base that on New Jersey figures. I know that New Jersey is not one big Division, but has been broken down into smaller more manageable Divisions. See below:

New Jersey 1769
New England 1300
Southern Calif. 759
Northern Calif. 619
Metropolitan, Nyc 600
Illinois 589
Long Island 573
Virginia 563
Gulf Coast Texas 493
Connecticut 461
Georgia 458
North Carolina 454
Colorado 419
Central Calif. 412
Michigan 402
Northeast 402
Western Washington 388
Oregon 385
Philadelphia 337
North Texas 331
South Texas 326
Hudson-Berkshire 315
Indiana 293
San Diego, Calif. 281
Nevada 266
Maryland 262
Northern Ohio 260
Western Pennsylvania 259
Gold Coast Florida 251
Westchester-Rockland 241
Capitol 239
Central Florida 237
Arizona 229
Columbus, Ohio 193
Gateway Florida 189
Utah - South Idaho 189
South Carolina 179
Minnesota 172
Mountain Valley, Ca 171
Kansas 168
Tennessee 163
Western New York 156
Kentucky 147
Ark-la-miss 145
St. Louis, Missouri 139
Orange Coast, Calif. 137
Green Mountain 123
Alabama 121
South Jersey 119
Wisconsin 117
New Mexico 110
Central Penn 107
Louisiana 95
Oklahoma 94
Southwest Ohio 93
San Bernardino, Ca 91
Plains, Texas 90
Inland Empire 87
Iowa 85
Hawaii 79
Harrisburg 72
Northeast Pennsylvania 69
Alaska 64
Nebraska-S. Dakota 62
Border Texas 55
North Coast, Ca 41
Wyoming 33
National 32
Mexico 10
Puerto Rico 4
France 1
Norway 1
Poland 1
Republic Of Georgia 1
Ukraine 1

I am still pondering why more people don't fence and I guess I will be the rest of my life.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think I have any real desire to see it become TO mainstream. I think that it not being main stream is part of the charm.

Every time I worry about not enough people being interested in fencing of late, I see this face I saw about two weeks ago. I was in Chapel Hill and walking from my parking space. I was carrying a goodly load of fencing equipment and one of my French grip epees would not fit in a two weapon bag so I was carrying it and my mask out of the bag.There is no place to park in Chapel Hill and sometimes on these long walks to the gym, I think about making a base camp and going for the summit in the morning. But...I digress.
As I walked I passed a car parked on the side of street. A boy around eight or nine pressed his face against the passenger side window and his eyes got big as saucers he focused on " Mr. Pointy". I could feel it. I could hear it in my mind as I walked past. I could hear him thinking....."COOL!!!!...I want one!.. Can I hold it?...Pleeeease!!!!!".

There are kids of all ages out there that would love to be introduced to fencing. How do we arrange for them to meet?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

NC Division Youth Tournament

Today was the NC Division Youth and Junior Team Qualifiers. Our friend Cam is a Division officer. She had almost no help from the other Division officers, so we (the DFC and a RFC armorer) helped. We take care of our own. We had not one kid competing in the event this year, but we took care of set up and tear down. Cam made great food for the refs lunch after we set up Friday night. Henri and I took care of breakfast for all the people. We did it out of our own pockets. We did everything but ref. If it had not been for Cam, the kids would not have had this event, Not many people seemed to get that. I was proud of her and the people that helped. She has one more event to go. After that she will no longer be on the board. She plans to have a party to celebrate. When she is done, WE are done. I am looking forward to that as well.

The tournament went well I thought. Sadly,there were not many kids so it went fast. Nobody was a real ass, though I had to be stern with one father and if I had known what was going on, I would have done so with another. Still, in the scheme of things, it was not a big deal.

I enjoyed watching the people at the tournament. I thought about the times when I first went to tournaments. I did not have a clue. I would look at all these people and think of them as " the real fencers". In my mind it was something I was aspiring to be and they were god-like. Their knowledge was infinite and I was still having a hard time hooking up and testing bells. These days there are still many people whose knowledge is vastly superior to my own, but  the gap between what the gods know and what I know has narrowed a little. I will never know as much as some of these folks, but I find it comforting that on my path to becoming what I consider to be a fencer, I can tell I have traveled a little way down the path.

I also thought about how it felt to go to tournaments and not know anyone. As time went by, I would know a few people or who they were......though they would have no idea who I was. Now a days, I fence all over the state and I feel welcome were ever I go.  Things have changed a great deal in just a couple of years.

I watched some young guys fence epee and I wondered if in time, would I fence them in tournaments. If I can hold together, I am sure I will. I wish there were more of them. The holding together thing is becoming a problem. I swear I have something wrong with a new body part every frickin' week. Now it is my knee. Vet is not for wussies.

Gray Epee....over and out.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


Friday night I fenced Tommy. We fenced for about a half an hour. I think we fenced for about 20 minutes straight. I was ready for a rest, but he kept me going for another ten. I finally had to show him the white flag.

I will not live long enough to see Tommy hit the double nickel, but I hope he is still fencing.

I also kind of hope some eighteen year old works his butt off.

I can imagine him fencing at 55. I wonder if he ever imagined what it would be like to fence me if I was 18.

Tommy was going to work with me on a couple of things. We worked on distance and second intention , as well as setting the touch up. We talked a bit about the French grip. We talked about not changing my game , but adding to it.

Tommy is maturing. ( Yeah...I know you are reading this. Don't get the big head!) The maturing Tommy had thoughtful and insightful suggestions. I will think about them and work on them. I will make them mine.

I gave Tommy a French grip tip. I told him that if he uses a French grip with the intention of pommeling, that he should not do that until touch 2 or 3. The reason being is that your opponent finds his distance and then you change it. It is a big advantage. I don't think Tommy heard me. Tommy is the superior fencer by far. However, when he learns to listen to other people, he will not be maturing...he will be mature. It may be worthless garbage, my brother. If it is, toss it out. But listen first, then toss it out.

You will never meet anyone with more energy and love of fencing than Tommy. He has a enormous  positive attitude concerning himself and fencing. We give him a hard time about that sometimes, but I understand it. It is one of his greatest strengths in fencing.  He sees himself a certain way and he becomes what he sees. Huge strength! Annoying sometimes, but a huge strength.

I worked on my angulated cuff shots with Tommy, but they were not anywhere near as successful as they were the last time we fenced. I knew they would not be. He adapts quickly.

For me it was a good night. I got to fence with one of my favorite people to bout. Tommy is family.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Couple of Days

Tuesday night I went to UNC. I thought I would try a day other than Thursday.

I did not do so well in my private lesson, but I got in a lot of strip time. I was not pretty and I did not keep moving as much as I should have, but my blade work was pretty damn good. Not only that, I used my pistol grip the whole time. I felt good about the night.

Wednesday I had lessons with Coach Miller. I felt kind of clumsy that night, but I learned a few things.

I read today that the club may not teach the UNCG continuing education fencing program this Spring. This is were I started and were some of our students have come from in the past. There are ( at the time of this writing ) not enough people signed up or showing interest to make it worth anyones while. I wonder if it is the recession and uncertain economic times or if there are other factors.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


I fenced in Wilmington this weekend.

I am up from total crap to only slightly below mediocre. That does not sound all that good, but I am taking it as a positive sign. ( More importantly, I had a revelation. I will get to that later.)

In a pool of five I won two and lost two. One loss was 5-4 and one to a "C" fencer at 5-3. I had fenced that "C" fencer before and this was a step up in results. The guy I lost to 5-4 was one of the strangest fencers I fenced lately. I mean that in the sense that he fenced well and that he had good tactics and point control, but he was very wild ( like a "newbie") and his weapon arm was tense as a board. It just seemed strange.

I did not make my goal. I was seeded 10th out of 19 fencers before DE's.

I fenced a "D" fencer in my only DE. I lead most of the bout and he rallied at the end ( 15-13...I think. The results are not out yet.) It was a good bout.

It was a full day. I worked at the beach house for a couple of hours and then walked around downtown Wilmington. It was beautiful warm day and they were having a St. Patrick's Day Festival. People in the pubs were getting an early start. There was a bag pipe band and lots of different music. Ships were on the water and  three fighter planes flew over head in formation. They were LOW! I love port towns, particularly the ones with  old buildings and charm. You often wonder if Blackbeard walked were you are walking. I could live in Wilmington. In fact, I would like to do so.

Okay...back to fencing.

The Cape Fear Fencing Club had a good tournament. It was laid back and it was friendly. That is important to me. No loudmouths questioning every refs call, unless THEY got the touch. No fencers being rude to their host. It was the way it should be.

Now to my realization. I practice tons of different drills with various techniques. In club, when I get to fence, I will practice all kinds of things. However, when I get to a tournament, I stick with my basic game. I stick with what makes me comfortable. I stick with my " French grip " though I never use them in lessons. I am afraid to take a blade for some reason in tournaments. My game will work well on a certain type of fencer, but not many.

So......Jim....What is your point? What is the realization?

The realization is not a new one, it is just a new one for fencing. The realization is that doing the same thing over and overand expecting different results is a definition of insanity. I must change my game. I have not figured out exactly all that I must do, but for starters , when I fence at club, I will no longer use my French grips. I will figure out a plan beyond this as I go forward.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Spring Break and Jim Grabs the Saddle Horn

There was not much fencing for me this week. UNC is off for spring break, so no Coach Miller in Greensboro or Chapel Hill.

I helped a little bit with the 10 to 12 year old class on Wednesday night.  ( By that I mean I set up a strip and  helped drag mats and closed up.) This is the largest age group in our club. I fenced in pools with a group of these kids. I alternated on being a cooperative target and working on wrist attacks around the bell guard. It was sort of fun. They are a good and really cute bunch of kids. We seem to have always attracted intelligent and cute kids.

After that five of us bigger kids hung around and fenced for a while. It was fun. Sharon ( Nicole's Mom ) reffed for a while. I thought that was cool.

I am planing on heading to Topsail Island and check on the beach house Friday night. There is a tournament in Wilmington ( a near by town ) on Saturday. If I finish in the upper half of the tournament, I will not feel ashamed. As my Dad use to say, " When you get thrown off a horse, you need to get right back into the saddle."

I always hated it when Dad said that.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Pressing On

    It was a surprisingly good week in fencing for me. I don't mean...."WOW! This is great!!!!".....I mean " This is pretty good.". After my fiasco last weekend, pretty good is......well.....pretty good?

Editors Note:  You may ask yourself, why in the heck does he add those little dots and pauses when he is entering things in his journal. The answer is that he writing things the way he would talk, including the pauses. Which, oddly enough, is the mental conversation he is having when he is writing. I know it is not very professional, but I never ever thought anyone would ever read this other than my friend Dave. Now I can't stop myself.

Wednesday night we had a good group lesson with Coach Miller. He rewarded our small group with a more advance lesson. These are Emil Beck lessons 111 in progression.

It is very important to Coach that you have a working vocabulary in fencing. ( Rightfully so.) He is also very much into briefly explaining the history of the lesson you are about to take. I find this very interesting. I am often tempted to post on and see if I can find other people that base their lessons on " 6 Wall " and other drills.  Perhaps someday I will do this. However, I am often disappointed with the answers to post on the forum, so I will just sit on this for a while.

Thursday night I went to UNC for the first time in a month for a private lesson. This night the campus was in morning for the brutal murder of their student body president. She was a beautiful and intelligent young woman from Georgia. You could actually feel the sadness in the air that night. That is not an exaggeration.

My lesson was very good and I received a good natured threat and some praise. It is complex to verbalize, but my main focus at the moment is returning my weapon arm and shoulder to a relaxed position after a touch. I have known to do this for sometime, but have not worked on it like I should. Much the way I have known that I need a "safety" after the touch, but I don't work on that like I should.

Friday night I went to the beginner class at the "Y". Some people actually showed up for free fencing and I got in some bouting time. Tommy was there, as he was home for spring break. We fenced a couple of times and I did well. He is one of my favorite people to fence and no matter where he is, he is a part of our DFC family. I test myself against Tommy. He is one of my benchmarks. 

On the negative side, I do not feel like I my foot work was as crisp as it should be when we are fencing and my endurance was not very good either. On the positive side, I made good and constant attacks to near target ( cuff ) and they paid off. I also I found that I could on occasion get my tip just past his bell guard and hold it, which caused him to move into my tip. On the other hand, Tommy changes up pretty often and what worked this week against him will have no value two weeks from now.

It was a good night for fencing and hanging with friends. What more could a person ask for?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Jim is Incredibly Crap

Jim is Incredibly Crap. Catchy

Today I fenced in a tournament and did about as bad as I have ever done. I may have come in dead last out of a field of 33. I am not sure, but it will be close.

I lost every pool and my only DE.

I have not had one of those "loooooonnnng" rides home in  some time, but I did today.

After the slaughter, I was having serious thoughts about hanging up fencing. It is still not out of the picture, but I decided not to base it on this one tournament. The one before this I had a low mediocre showing. And then there was this embarrassing one.

I have always told myself that I would quit fencing, when I felt like I cannot give a good account of myself. Today was the certainly a day were I did not.

I don't have a ready excuse. My elbow felt all right. I have not lost my job or had someone close to me die.

So.....What is the deal Jim?

A couple of things come to mind. One is I am just getting to old and fat. ( Note: I know I am not to write things like that Tink....but sometimes we need to look at things outside of Neverland.) Yeah...yeah...yeah...I know ( insert old fencers name here ) is doing great and still kicking butt and taking names. But folks, these guys are the exceptions...they are not the rules. We all age differently. So maybe I am hitting an "old spurt" ( old spurt is kind of like a growth spurt for kids...only for people with gray hair) I am carrying a lot of weight that refuses to come off. That to is age related. So maybe it is age.

Maybe it is not enough bouting time. I get good lessons but, Nicole, Henri and I , mostly fence..."Nicole, Henri and I"...and even when we do that...we have to work to find time to do it. There are not many people to fence in Greensboro any more, above the age of 12. I have not made it to UNC this month, but it is hard to find some one who will fence you. Part of that is my I am shy about asking.  Part of it is the people who fence there. Though I see that they will fence with Henri when I am not there. Maybe I just look mean.

Maybe it is some combination of these two things or perhaps there is something else I am not thinking of. All I know is that I feel like I have hit a low point...a low turning my fencing.

I don't know if I have the strength to find a way to rally. I just don't know.

Footnote to a crappy day:

Saturday night I did spend the night with my son, Sam at UNCC. He and his cute little girlfriend  ( Kayla) and I went out to eat. We went to the building where he has class and is a TA. Then we went back to his apartment and played some cards. Kayla made us some cup cakes. Once Kayla left we played " Tour of Duty 4", which was a lot of fun. I get to keep his X Box during Spring there was some good this weekend.