— Published 26 May 2023

Fencing, a highly academic sport

The International Fencing Federation (FIE) has long understood that the development of fencing, at all levels of the pyramid, depends on coaches. Fencing masters. Traditional fencing countries, notably in Europe, have no shortage of them. Elsewhere, the situation is less clear-cut.

How can they be trained? And, above all, how do you support them as they progress? During the last Olympiad, the FIE provided answers to these questions by creating academies dedicated to the training and development of fencing masters. In Europe, but also on the African continent.

In Europe, the choice fell on Budapest, capital of Hungary. A fencing stronghold, one of its lungs. A bastion of the discipline for several decades. The FIE academy began operations in 2016, the year of the Rio de Janeiro Games. The health crisis forced it to take a two-year break, but it got the ball rolling again last year and immediately found its cruising speed.

The target audience? Trainers from all over the world. The class of 2022 counted 24, from 19 countries in Europe, America and Asia. Nearly a third were women. And, for the vast majority of them – 19 out of 24 – at least five years’ experience as a fencing master at national level.

For each of the three weapons – epee, foil and sabre – training follows the same pattern. A twelve-week cycle, 5 days a week, 6 hours a day. The eight saber students began the year between January and April (photo above). The eight epeeists followed between April and July. The foilists, also eight in number, completed the year between August and November.

On the program: fencing and more fencing. But the Budapest academy has beefed up the training with more theoretical courses in psychology, physiology and biomechanics. These are taught by lecturers from the Hungarian University of Physical Education, an institution associated with the FIE program.

Under the terms of a partnership agreement, the university will also recognize the training provided and award internationally recognized Level 2 diplomas to students who pass the final exam. Note: the 24 students from the Budapest academy trained last year all completed the program with their diplomas in their pockets.

Another example: Johannesburg. The FIE opened an academy in the South African metropolis in 2017. It began operations the following year. Its area of influence: English-speaking Africa.

On a continent where the development of fencing is slowed by a lack of teachers, the FIE’s initiative very quickly filled a gap. The Johannesburg Academy is organized by ETA College. Practical courses are given at the Tyshler Fencing School (TFS), named after fencing master Gennady Tyshler.

Unlike the Budapest academy, training lasts almost a year. Forty weeks, between February and November. All three weapons are brought together. At the helm are two volunteer trainers: Jo Ann Saner and Novak Perovic. The class of 2022, the fifth since the center opened, included seven student masters of arms from five African countries (South Africa, Angola, Botswana, Congo and Kenya).

The Johannesburg academy awards two diplomas: the Advanced Certificate in Coaching Science, and the FIE Coaching Diploma.

Novak Perovic explains: “Most of our graduates are coaches in their own countries, some of them even coach the national team. We hope they will be able to contribute to the development of fencing in Africa, a continent lacking in local coaches. Fencing masters from other parts of the world are sometimes reluctant to come and coach in poor, underdeveloped areas. Development therefore requires local coaches.”