Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Crumbling of Fencing in the West

Considering: “Seven Ways to Fail Big” by Paul Carroll and Chunka Mui

Fencing is one of the least heard of sports in U.S culture. Known as “physical chess,” one would might think the sport for literal sword fighting might easily enrapture the imagination of people in any culture, yet it hasn’t.

I have fenced for the past 10 years of my life. In those ten years I’ve learned and taught the different sword techniques, participated in tournaments in multiple states, and even held the position of Vice Chair of SWIFA, an organization that manages intercollegiate fencing in Texas. I love the sport, but it is clearly a faltering one, teetering on the edge of failures which may wipe it out.

The organization I was a part of, SWIFA, is a nonprofit which has been struggling to manage fencing tournaments for Texan colleges since 2006. Of the “seven ways to fail big”, some of them have had minimal effect on the organization. They have not had to worry about merging with other organizations, risked overt financial practices, nor consolidating any capacity for financial gains. However, the organization has followed dangerously close to other failures. Mainly, they risk nearly contrary expectations: to maintain old organization methods while requesting adaptations to new fencing and tournament management technologies.

Within the US, fencing is most commonly found in small clubs and at colleges. Each organization provides its members with a certain amount of provisionary gear and instructors- yet request people bring their own gear. For a nonprofit such as SWIFA, tournaments allocate a collection of resources from its participates. SWIFA includes colleges with teams of 20+ members and clubs with as few as 3 participants and as such the resources from participants differs greatly. Some colleges have the most up to date materials (swords, fencing mats, sensors) while some have decades old gear. As such, the organization has kept minimal standards to allow full participation. In response, referees and fencers who are used to modern sensors have been discouraged to come. Worse, new fencers see fencing as an old and obsolete sport.

The fencing scene has changed, both in technologies and in management schemes. The strategy to keep requirements low to keep a broad customer base is simply outdated and deters new and old members. I encourage the theme of consolidation between fencing clubs of different economies, but new methods need to be sought out. The organization could, for example, invest in its own equipment to be used solely for tournaments.

On the opposite end, fencing organizations have sought new rising software to manage tournaments. The goal is to utilize software so that tournaments can be more efficiently run. People are not trained to use these new software though. Such organizations cycle through management and need simple methods that can be easily handed to new management, yet the technology being pursued often requires hours to study and requires multiple participants; options which are never consistently available.

In order for fencing to survive in the US, where it is not commonly known about, it needs to promote the new technologies used in the sport itself yet maintain simple and translatable organization for the management of competitions.

Daniel Johnson
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