US Fencing Development Status Check

On Labor Day weekend, thirty-four participants, spanning three generations of fencers aged 11 to 84, gathered to explore saber fencing. Our topics included what’s changing, what patterns are being recognized, and what work needs to be done in order to best arm our next generation of fencers. Our leader for this event was US Women’s National Saber Coach, Ed Korfanty.

Our club “won” Korfanty’s visit from an Indiegogo fundraising challenge and helped open the doors for Mid-South Fencers’ Club second location. Mid-South Fencers’ Club was co-founded by one of Ed’s former students, and this personal connection gave our region an opportunity for his personal attention prior to his 2016 Olympics preparation.

The colloquium also brought us together with another important coach in our region’s fencing development, Ron Miller, Head Coach at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Coach Miller has left his mark in US fencing history as the longest serving and winningest Head Fencing Coach in NCAA history with 1421 career wins. It was an opportunity of a lifetime to have these two working side by side. Now in his 49th season as Carolina’s Head Coach, Ron’s experience skewed the self-reported attendee metrics a bit: our participants had 205 years of coaching experience, 228 years of refereeing experience and a combined 428 years of fencing experience.

2015 Saber Colloquium Participants

2015 Saber Colloquium Participants

Ed’s participation as a coach in the United States goes back to the early nineties. In 1997, I met Ed at a program, known as Coaches College, in Colorado Springs. This program was designed to advance fencing coaching development in the United States. In the late 90’s, Ed settled in Oregon after coaching at Notre Dame. Fast forward to 2015: the Coaches College is a defunct program, and coaching development is now led by the United States Fencing Coaches Association (USFCA), which acts as the only US fencing coaching accreditation organization.

Coaches in the United States have no direct USA Fencing board representation, and many United States coaches instruct without formal accreditation. Frankly, these accreditations are not valued among the coaching community, and the history of why and how is long and complex. However, I speculate, as our sport evolves, the role of coaches, coaching ethics and professionalism, and the evaluation of fencing professionals will have to evolve to meet the demands of our clients and fencing’s rapid growth.

Wang Yung, the Certification and Accreditation Chair of the USFCA, came to the colloquium ready to test and examine developing coaches as an USFCA Accreditation Examiner, but this organizational aspect of the colloquium fell flat. Another member of the accreditation committee backed out at the last minute, and a coach, who was ready to be examined, was unable to be tested. Fortunately, Yung’s participation at the colloquium served an additional purpose: Yung’s performance at the colloquium tournament inspired a speech from Ed revealing some of his core values and beliefs in fencing.

Ed Korfanty talks about what enjoys most about watching fencing.

Ed Korfanty talks about “the game” of fencing. Adapting and creating is what he values in a fencer.

Ed used the final bout between Yung, a former Veteran World Champion, and Zhao, a younger, stronger, and more physical fencer, to demonstrate how faster, stronger and harder can win, but is not the way to win. He discussed how Yung made adjustments calling upon his experiences as a Veteran fencer. Ed’s values associated with fencing also transferred to his view on developing referees. He emphasized the importance to not have a bias for speed, but rather, pushing yourself for better interpretation of priority based on understanding and viewing initiative. We ‘named that call’ as a group by viewing video clips of the latest World Cups and then breaking down calls where consensus was unclear. The following are a few more notes from Ed regarding referee development:

  • Refereeing changes at the international level are made by arbitrage.
  • Some countries have more power than others over the influence of these decisions.
  • Coaches have to adapt: the advantage is to teams in countries who know what changes are going to be made on the international level, and this often does not include the United States.

What do you think the call is minute 5:50 with the score 6-5?

It is apparent that referee and coaching relationships are vital to the development of US fencers. If coaches are disseminating information, referees are interpreting arbitrage directives. Referees must understand how the interpretation of fencing priority is being leveraged, and the referee cadre’s best duty is to educate the competitors and coaches. Good coaches and referees collaborate, plan, and have working relationships while maintaining impartiality.

The current international success we are experiencing now is a growth product of decades of work and assimilation of information from around the world. Miller and Korfanty both discovered they were participants at same International Coaches Seminar in Colorado Springs in the late 1980’s organized by US Fencing. Korfanty was participating as a coach, assisting Leslaw J. Stawicki, while Miller also attended as a coach. Ed believes that without national level support for coaching development, fencing may decline in the United States. Who will be the next generation of American coaches developing the fencers we are so proud of now? How are these coaches going to be supported? How are our referees going to be supported? Is it possible the United States can be leaders within the arbitrage and not just reacting to change? These are important questions to ask ourselves now as we experience great international success.

As I challenge our fencing community with difficult questions, I am also asking for help with creating a directive for the future of our sport. I firmly believe the support given by families and coaches at the club level have been the greatest reason for our national success, and supporting clubs is the best way USA Fencing can open the door to a new era of fencing. The path of an American fencer relies heavily on their club community, family and coach support. We, as club communities, must carefully consider the obstacles and support we may place in front of our athletes, referees, and coaches and inform our leaders of what we need. USA Fencing serves the clubs, and the clubs and coaches serve the fencers. Fencers serve USA Fencing by giving their best when they represent themselves, their families, their clubs and our country. We are all connected.

I hope this value of supporting the next generation continues to be perpetuated by our greater fencing community. Competition is tough, and fear of being exploited feels real to even the most seasoned club and coaches, not just newer clubs and coaches. Fear can perpetuate actions that undermine fencers and their fencing development, stifling growth. Leaders of coaches, referees and athletes must facilitate the greater vision for American Fencing, to build an American legacy that remembers its past, but holds firm to clear goals and directives we have yet to establish. We can now say that fencing globalization has occurred in the United States. Next our American federation and leadership need to come together again to plan and set standards for the next era of American fencing, with confidence and encouragement.

I am mindful of how understated Ed’s way of communicating the really important stuff is. Many thanks to you, Ed and Ron, and the many peer coaches with whom I’ve started developing consultative and mentoring relationships. These are some words from Ed that have recently impacted my own coaching development:

“Have confidence or you cannot do this.”

“Encourage, and give conditions for success.”

“Coaches must have heart.”

Coaches Ron Miller, Jen Oldham and Ed Korfanty

Colloquium Reviews:

“Few athletes in any sport ever have the opportunity to interact with Olympic-level athletes or coaches. It was a such a treat to see our young athletes tuned into our U.S. National Women’s saber coach and Veterans Saber World Champion, Ed Korfanty. Not only did the kids genuinely enjoy his camp, but this was a memorable event few will forget, and fencers left with an increased level of confidence as a result of this event.”   

Dan Tamburro, Fencing Parent

“Thank you for hosting such a great event. It was truly a wonderful experience on several levels. Great training on fundamentals, drills, tactics… very interesting to observe the various coaches and the tournament was fun!”

Joe McLaughlin, Fencer, Cape Fear Fencing Association

“[Ed] is an amazing coach with incredible energy and focus on fencing and fencers. What was even more amazing, and surprising, is that he was so humble; being a coach with such accomplished fencers, he spent practically no time on anecdotal stories etc., though he definitely has all the bragging rights.”

Kriszti Hovanyi, Coach,  Apex Fencing Academy, NC

Most valuable for me about having Ed speak is hearing, and seeing examples, of the fundamental role that timing has in sabre. Naturally, I’ve heard this emphasized before, and am aware of it, but it ended up clicking really well with Ed. I also liked he reinforced teaching timing through the various drills he uses. Importantly, that timing does not equal speed! Timing equals often going slower so that you are able to react faster WHEN needed.

Back at Infinity, some of the drills we learned about at the clinic we have been using with younger kids, generally ages 8 to 10, emphasizing timing more than technique. Because timing is more fundamental than technique, teaching kids to get a feel for timing early on during their first exposure to fencing, grounds timing all the more. Technique then builds on timing more naturally.

Finally, the clinic did help me to pass the Moniteur exam by hearing about the coaching and refereeing aspects that I was not as exposed to before hand.

László M. Szabó, Infinity Fencing Alliance, South Jersey  

Jennifer Oldham is accredited as a 3 weapon Fencing Master by the US Fencing Coaches Association and the Academie D’Armes Internationale. She was awarded a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology from Lewis and Clark College in 2004 and her undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1996, where her fencing career began for the UNC Varsity Women’s Foil Squad. After competing as an NCAA fencer under Head Coach Ron Miller, Jennifer coached briefly at UNC Charlotte before moving to train and compete internationally under the guidance and mentorship of National and Olympic coach Ed Korfanty at the Oregon Fencing Alliance from 1998 to 2004. Since 2004 Jennifer has lead the Mid-South Fencers’ Club, which has resided in Durham, NC since 2008. Mid-South is currently home to approximately 100 recreational and competitive fencers in all three weapons. Click here for Mid-South Fencers’ results and awards and for full information about the coaches and staff at Mid-South Fencers’ Club.



2 thoughts on “US Fencing Development Status Check

  1. I understand that this post was geared toward the serious fencer with coaching or possible referee aspirations, but it got me thinking about what to and not to let perspective fencing students see before they hit the floor.

    I’m always perplexed at the appeal of watching, vs doing fencing… The video included here, of the American and Italian young lady sabering away, reminded me… They, as well a most bouts I’ve watched at this level, seem such poor T.V. material, for this video nation we live in.

    Soccer vs football, a bit… soccer being a continuous movement game and football, at least to 95% of the worlds population, initially explosive, but broken up with gaps every few moments as the play is called ‘over’ and the new down begins.

    Now, doing fencing, sabering i mean… that never feels that way from inside the helmet… as the energy between touches shows in these young ladies’ actions… they are fine with the pacing…

    But watching… particularly for the first time, for a non-fencer, a young, potential fencer wanna-be… That’s another matter.

    To that new viewer, this level of competition must seem repetitious and inscrutable, with no way to discern a touch, a winner and a sense that the almost instantly over and done touches are simply an excuse for the fencer to turn as quickly as possible to the referee to validate their “win”; simultaneously needy and highly episodic with no continuum of flow.

    Not to say that occasionally, there will be a rare extended back and forth that resembles an actual street fight, with winning pushes an losing retreats and potential last-ditch pull-outs. These are feelings that non-fencer observers bring to fencing meets of this caliber, and seeing one of these extended Pas de deux’s being the highlight of their viewing experiencing, feeling like finally, “aha… Now I get it… this is a sword fight!”

    • I look forward to the evolution of our sport! A soon to be millionaire will find this way. Thank you for posting.


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