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Diary of a Quarantined Fencer

#3 – Learning Through Teaching

My friend Matthew Lee was running a youth class, and when he asked me to join him, I jumped at the chance. However, although I had been coached and had taken many lessons, I didn’t know the first thing about teaching others. Simply introducing myself for the first time, I felt awkward and uncertain. I started co-running classes with Matthew.  It was really difficult in the beginning, but a few months in, I was getting a better sense of how to run the classes with him. During quarantine, all fencing classes went virtual like all my school classes, and it gave me an opportunity to run my own class.

Creating a lesson plan turned out to be the first and most important step. I had to focus on what drills matched each fencer’s skill level. I had to go back to my beginnings and relearn the basics I hadn’t studied in years. The basics of fencing became so ingrained in me that trying to explain them to novice fencers was nearly impossible. It’s like asking someone to explain how to walk. They wouldn’t be able to explain how to walk, they would rather show you how to walk.  However, conducting a virtual class, I found it also challenging to demonstrate drills – camera angle, lighting, etc. This process of intentionally explaining was a great experience and allowed me to fully understand the reasoning behind all my actions. Something as simple as a disengage which I perform without thinking became a complex building block that I had to dissect and rebuild for my fencers. It’s instinctive for someone to disengage when the opponent is trying to take the blade, but it can lead to so many subsequent actions, such as threats, second intention, etc. Although I’ve always taken these subsequent actions, what came naturally to me wasn’t clear to them. Teaching these beginning fencers unexpectedly allowed me to progress as well by relearning the basics more intentionally.

 Teaching my fencers was also a fun activity overall. Although classes were all on Zoom, their young, energetic, and goofy personalities shined through. Some were tired but forced to join the classes in the evening, whereas others were begging to do plank contests. Even through the computer screen, we were all able to bond (and it helped in my case since the enthusiastic kids always convinced the tired and bored ones to join the exercise). Before switching to teaching advanced footwork, I taught fencing-focused conditioning. Perhaps it was the nature of these conditional exercises, but all the kids would always make me laugh. Two twins in the class reminded me of the relationship I used to have with my twin sister, always bickering at each other over the smallest things. I would typically end the class with 20 push-ups, and all the kids would complain that it was tiring and boring.  However, they would, then, merrily proceed to doing the push-ups while talking just about anything that popped into their heads. I was able to learn a lot about them during these virtual classes.  I think I even earned their respect although I am only a few years older than them. I promised to meet and fence them in person once the club reopens. I hope I can keep my promise.

Gus is a Junior at Le Lycée Français de Los Angeles and a C-rated fencer at BHFC. He has been fencing since 2nd grade. On his downtime, he likes to play drums and improve his e-commerce website oeil-brillant.com which he created over the summer.

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