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What Makes A Fencing Master?

This last February, I had the opportunity to test for my Fencing Master certification in foil. It was the culmination of three years of work towards a goal that I’ve had in the back of my mind for a long time. I am very grateful that for the most part, I have been congratulated. I was actually half expecting to be minimized. Thank you, sincerely, to everyone who was very supportive.

Accomplishing that goal began in 2019, when WFencing was just beginning with a series of meetings organized by Jen Oldham to discuss how women could be more additive and supportive of one another in the Fencing Community. I was dubious then about how we could do anything more effective for ourselves as a gender, other than the long suffering service and abuse that we have been conditioned to believe is just “part of the culture”. It was in one of these meetings, that she encouraged me to consider my interest in becoming a fencing master. At that time, Jen was the CAB chair for the US Fencing Coaches Association, which is the organization responsible for certifications and testing. She got me in touch with fencing legend Vinnie Bradford who was also active (and now Executive Director) with the USFCA. I thought it was a hopeful start.

Then Covid hit.

We were all stopped in our tracks.

I was determined to use the time to do something, anything productive. I called Vinnie up and basically harassed her with email videos of lessons that I was teaching. She was very patient and gracious with her time. In the light of no other options, I worked through the USFCA's coaching courses remotely. This was a long and hugely frustrating process because there was no protocol in place for remote learning or collaboration then. I took a few tests more than once. Heck, we all were just learning to Zoom. The journey was slow and I am impatient, and not great at going slow. There were many moments that I considered abandoning the effort.

Why did I continue?

I have been fencing for 30 years. I have close to 100 national medals as well as international medals in all three weapons. I have been teaching for maybe 25 years and I have medalists in all three weapons, in many divisions and in most age categories. I own my own club. I know how to help students win. I know how to win myself. I know how to teach an engaging class.

I thought I knew fencing.

But, I began to rediscover some things of great value.

So what did I learn? I learned the basics. I thought I knew them. But, I underestimated their worth. The basics included:


When we can label something precisely, we can organize it precisely. Words matter because they move our thoughts from approximations to concise visualization. I learned how to use those words to communicate organized ideas to others of all levels of development. I learned how to be thorough. I learned this primarily from Vinnie Bradford, who's other area of expertise (besides fencing) is education. After working so many years taking fencing lessons from men, it is noteworthy to point out that I truly had an epiphany about fencing from someone who never gave me a fencing lesson. Maybe it took a woman, who approached fencing from a completely different cognitive angle to really teach me the value of verbal organization.

2. BEING EVEN MORE PURPOSEFUL - The other big concept I learned was purpose in every instant. I play the violin. I know that the key to music mastery is practicing scales. Scales can be so boring. But therein lies the secret to perfection. The same concept is everywhere. Being a master means always making purposeful decisions as a habit. A clear action has design, and is executed with precision. I have always valued freedom and creativity over being thorough and objective oriented. But now I see that having discipline in every instant means having the power to organize every action at your command. That’s ultimate freedom and ultimate power.