Ageism at the Fencing Club

Last weekend I got to compete in two veteran women saber events at the NAC in Richmond, Virginia. *Yay! The slump appears to have abated! Although it appears that my focus has changed. More on that at a later time.* It was so great to see everyone and to get to hang out for a while with my peers in fencing. I chatted with women from all three weapons and from all age groups.

As we were sharing the life events that have occurred since we last saw one another at Summer Nationals back in July, I kept hearing a common theme: lack of respect at clubs toward Veteran fencers.

I heard stories of how the teenagers won’t fence them or, if they do deign to face them on strip, will fence halfheartedly or poorly or disdainfully. I was told the coaches will not coach them, or will push them aside when there are more (perceived) lucrative opportunities with the younger fencers. One Veteran had finally managed to convince a teenager to fence her, only to have the teenaged referee wander off midway through the bout for no apparent reason except that he was “bored”. Time and time again I heard of a feeling of not being respected or appreciated at one’s fencing club. These stories were not solicited; it was pretty obvious these were topics that were weighing heavily on these ladies’ minds.

Here’s my take.

If treated properly, adult fencers can serve as a solid cornerstone for any fencing program. Kids come and go – they will hopefully graduate someday, after all – but the adults are the ones who maintain consistency in a fencing program thanks to their continued attendance over a long period of time. They also help keep the rambunctious and sometimes cruel nature of adolescents in check. Coaches cannot see everything or be everywhere in the club; pairs of adult eyes can find and root out potential problems before they grow into huge issues. And they serve as role models for the younger set: who better to demonstrate ruthless determination than an adult who has to juggle a career, family, house, and hobby? Kids need to be shown early in life that it’s never too late to do something you enjoy and that it’s admirable to strive for success at any age. 

What do you think? How should fencing clubs treat Veteran fencers? Are we really a nuisance, something to be tolerated? Does anyone have a club that values your life experience?

Your comments are, as always, appreciated and requested.

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6 thoughts on “Ageism at the Fencing Club

  1. It’s getting better at my club. Some kids will just make excuses to not fence you. But what I find interesting is if a veteran fencers beats or is with in a point of the kid, they just say I’m not fencing well today. When in fact they just had a great bout and won’t give the veteran fencer any credit for a great bout.

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  2. There is no such problem at my club, a climate of mutual respect and support is always present. But I wonder if there might be a difference in attitude based on which weapon is fenced. As for instance initial speed off the engarde line is so much more important in saber. Not fencing saber myself, I am just throwing that out there.

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  3. Interesting thoughts. I think this is true for not only veteran fencers but some other fencers also- our fencing kid (she’s an older teen) has run into this situation – younger, less fencing experienced kids (grade school aged mostly) won’t fence her because she’s “good” – that’s why Saturday practice at the club is no longer being participated in – why bother when the younger kids won’t fence you or roll their eyes, shy away, not even try – just stand there waiting for her to get the touch, etc (kinda a waste of time in fencing kid’s eyes). I personally think that a lot of kids just like to fence other kids their same age/gender/ability – the group, stick together thing that’s done at school in their circle of friends. It’s a maturational thing – they don’t realize that fencing older and/or better fencers will make them better fencers themselves – hopefully they will learn this as they mature/get older themselves.

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  4. It is all about culture – if you permit a culture of cliques (of age or of any type to grow) you will have a toxic club. And a toxic club eventually drives the good people away from our sport. This starts with club ownership and the coaching staff. It starts with having values that are communicated in writing and in action. It starts with enforcing those values by example, gently, and forcefully if necessary. Anyone who puts on a mask, jacket, and glove and picks up a weapon is a fencer and deserves respect and a fairly fought bout.

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  5. By chance, it’s the second time today I’ve come across this idea of fencers not wanting to fence people who are on a different level/age group/etc. It’s all very new to me (and shocking!). Anyway, my two cents:

    1) I’ve been in three clubs and I’ve never seen it happen. It may be because clubs in this country tend to be small and very mixed-ability: we don’t have any sort of “grading system”. Also, once you hit 20 y.o. even at national competitions you can be expected to fence against teenagers wanting experience, 40-year-olds who’ve just come back to the sport or 60 year-old-masters, to name a few. So… it makes little sense not wanting to fence with as many people as possible!

    2) The discussion on another forum was along the lines of “when time/space is limited, you NEED to be selective in your bouts”. As I said, I’ve never been in that situation but I think it makes sense when someone is at a very competitive level. Shouldn’t make a difference to us, recreational fencers, IMHO.

    That being said… I cannot imagine it being fun for foilists to be using beginners as pincushions all the time, LOL.

    Anyway, let’s all be the best sport we can.

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  6. That’s not ageism, that’s just being a jerk.
    I have to agree with Walter that it’s a club culture thing, and ultimately is the result of the club organisers (be they coaches, managers, or even the members themselves) allowing self-worth to transform into elitism.

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