VFA Bulletin
January 2, 2022

1. Happy new year!
Welcome to the new club members signed up for winter Level 1 classes (thus far, 5 in Middlebury and 8 in Charlotte, with room for a few more). You are now on the VFA Bulletin email list, which I will use to keep you updated on all things fencing, including weather or covid-related cancellations. Before Level 1 classes start on January 11 and 12, I will send you a more comprehensive guide on what to expect, what to bring, etc.

For returning fencers, Level 2/3 classes are still on track to start on Thurs Jan 6 in Charlotte and Wed Jan 12 in Middlebury. That could change if our host school policies change as they go back to school, or I get covid, or so many of you are absent that it is not worth meeting, or there is a winter storm.... We are all going to have to be flexible and roll with the times.

Do you have a friend or family member who would like to take fencing this winter? I still have some space in Level 1 classes and some equipment (depending on size) available. Tell your friend to get in touch ASAP for more info.

2. Winter schedule
Very much subject to disruptions! But to the extent we can, here is the schedule we will follow this winter:

Charlotte:
Tuesdays, January 11 to March 15. Charlotte Central School (MPR, the smaller gym/auditorium where we have been in the past)
7:30-8:45 p.m Level 1 (beginner) foil class (plus open fencing for Competitive Squad)
8:45-9:30 p.m Competitive Squad practice (with coach)

Thursdays, January 6 to March 10, Charlotte Central School (GYM, the larger gym across the hall)
7:30-8:45 p.m Level 2/3 foil and epee class
8:45-9:30 p.m Open fencing

Note: Town rec basketball has reserved the CCS gyms until 7:30 through mid February. As soon as their programs end, our practice times will revert to 7-9 p.m for the rest of the season (including all of the spring session). Some years, town rec reserves time but does not use all of it - if we find that is the case, we may be able to go to the earlier practice time sooner. However, for planning purposes, count on starting with the later practice times.

Middlebury:
Wednesdays, January 12 to March 16, Bridge School
6-7:15 pm Level 1 (beginner) foil class
7:15-7:45 pm Open fencing/bouting time (for everyone)
7:45-9 p.m. Level 2/3 foil and epee class

March 17, 22, and 23 may be used for cancellation make ups.

This is quite a different schedule than in the Before Times, as I experiment with what works best in the pandemic environment. Instead of grouping Level 2 with Level 1 (and thus having a crowded gym on Tuesday nights, with everyone present), I am grouping Level 2 with Level 3. The Level 2/3 class is intended to allow you to come and go - unlike the sequential Level 1, you should be able to treat these classes as stand-alones, and if you miss some, it's no big deal, the skills will cycle around again at some point. In Middlebury, the two classes are on the same night, but the group is smaller (and the Bridge School is not available on Mondays anyway). The new schedule also allows me to teach solo (although I am always grateful for advanced students who step in and help out - and all of you will do plenty of mentoring of newer L2 students - I don't want to obligate anyone else to show up if they might be sick or just not comfortable being there). As we go along, I am interested in your feedback on what is and isn't working, and your suggestions - this is new for me too!

Do you want to fence more than once a week? As long as crowding does not become an issue, I encourage it! You may wish to join the Competitive Squad (more info below), or come to Level 1 classes as a refresher (especially good for newer L2 students), and/or fence in both the Middlebury and Charlotte groups. The good news is, if you come to more than one practice in a particular week, you only need to punch your class card once! It's my way of saying "I want you to fence more".

3. Rental equipment still available
If you want to keep fencing but are not yet ready to invest in your own equipment, I do still have somef rental equipment that is not spoken for. New L1 students have had their chance to get first dibs, now I am happy to rent to anyone who wants it. Same deal as in the fall: $20 rental fee plus $100 refundable deposit, all equipment due back by March 25. If you would like to rent equipment for the winter, please contact me as soon as possible. I will assign it first come first served based on size for as long as it is still available.

4. Competitive Squad
I really enjoyed working with the Squaddies this fall, with the luxury of a full evening of practice. Now, with the new schedule, my coaching time is more limited, but the whole idea of the Competitive Squad is to build a core group of athletes who are capable of taking charge of their own training (and I will still spend the last part of each Tuesday evening with CS). Now is a good time for a whole bunch of new fencers to become Squaddies! Therefore, I would like to invite all interested and motivated fencers age 15 through adult to join, even if you just started fencing this fall. In addition, fencers age 12-14 who think they are ready should ask me about joining.

Competitive Squad could be for you, if:
-You are motivated to improve your fencing, and to compete regularly when tournament opportunities return.
-You enjoy hard work and breaking a good sweat, and you love bouting with a variety of opponents.
-You have the maturity to practice with intention and focus, without needing a coach to structure the entire practice session for you.
-You can commit to practicing 2 (or 3!) times a week, for the full length of the practice. Obviously not when you are sick, and the occasional work or school conflict is inevitable, but you should plan to make most of the practices on a regular basis. Showing up is important - not just for you to meet your own goals, but to create a community of athletes who know they can depend on each other as training partners.

What will happen on Tuesday evenings?
I will ask the more experienced Squaddies to take turns in the team captain role, to lead warm ups and facilitate bouting while I am teaching Level 1. I will provide the captain with some bouting game ideas to keep things interesting and give you a focus. In the last 45 minutes, I'll come join you with a game, exercise or challenge to cap off the evening. CS practice is focussed on real fencing, not just doing drills (those are important too, but you'll be doing them on Wednesdays or Thursdays). I especially encourage electric fencing, as that is what we do at tournaments, it gives you real time feedback on whether you are hitting, and it's just plain fun. But you don't have to run out and buy electric equipment before you join, you can start practicing without it and get some when you are ready.

Interested? Let me know!

5. The Omicron elephant in the room
Who knows what will happen with the pandemic in the coming weeks and months? It looks like the month of January will be particularly hard. Anything I say now may be outdated by next week, but as of now, I am planning to hold fencing practices, with all the precautions we can reasonably take. We all have different levels of risk tolerance. I respect whatever decision you make. For Level 2/3 students, you may rejoin the club at any time (so if you want to wait and see for a few weeks and then return, that is okay, just check in with me regarding equipment if you plan to rent). For Level 1 students, skills are taught sequentially and you will be very confused if you miss the first few classes, so you may need to decide whether to go for it this winter or wait for a new class series to cycle around (next cycle tentatively planned for April-June).

All club members age 12+ must be fully vaccinated before the first winter class. I will check your vax card the first time you attend (a photo or photocopy is fine, you don't need to present the original). Please, if you are eligible for a booster, get one. All club members age 9-11 must be fully vaccinated by the end of January (in other words, you should have already had or have an appointment soon for your first shot)

Everyone must wear a mask over mouth and nose for the entire practice, except for brief, physically distanced water breaks. While N95 masks are the gold standard, they are hard to exercise in (tested that recently with a 15-minute sprint across the Phoenix airport!) and don't fit well under the fencing mask. I recommend a sports-specific mask (I like my Underarmor one) rather than cotton ones (which tend to get soggy fast). Many fencers use surgical masks. Whatever you choose: a. bring more than one in case it gets wet or the straps break, b. make sure it fits well and won't slide down (it's a huge pain to keep adjusting it when you have your fencing mask on), c. no masks with exhalation valves, no flimsy cloth masks you can easily see light through, no bandannas or neck gaiters except those designed specifically as covid masks (i.e. Absolute Fencing's mask goes over the neck, but also has earloops and the properties of a real mask, so it's fine).

Sign in upon arrival at practice (this is something our host schools have asked us to do). That will give me a record of who was at each practice. Please notify me if you test positive for covid shortly after attending a practice, so I can notify those who fenced with you that night of a possible exposure.

And of course: stay home when sick, get tested, and follow CDC guidelines for when it's okay to return. The same if a close contact tests positive, or if you engage in a high risk activity (i.e. large unmasked indoor gathering). For Level 1 students who have to miss a class or two, I will try to meet with you before class when you return for a quick catch up so you don't feel totally lost. Level 2/3 students do not need to schedule a make up, just come back when you are ready.

A reminder if you choose to participate this winter, our first fully indoor session since winter 2020: there are no guarantees, and no refunds (although punch cards never expire, and if you drop out after 4 or fewer classes I will credit your rental fee and club dues for the following session). You will need to be okay with uncertainty. I would rather have you back out or postpone your involvement now, than to have you feel I have let you down.

6. A psychologist on the importance of fun
I've been feeling pretty unessential since March 2020. As a fencing coach and a musician (and not a lot of either of those thanks to covid) my contributions to society feel pretty trivial, compared to all the people working overtime to keep us alive and to tackle society's huge and pressing problems. But I recently came across an article that made me feel a little better, about the importance of fun to our mental health. Here is the introduction to the article, which defines "fun" in a way that really resonated with me as a life-long athlete and a pandemic-minted craftsperson:

"Why We All Need to Have More Fun
By Catherine Price
New York Times, Dec. 23, 2021

As we enter yet another phase of Covid cancellations and uncertainty, here’s a simple prescription for your pandemic blues: Have more fun. Yes, fun.

I know that might sound impossible or even irresponsible right now, but hear me out. For my new book, “The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again,” I’ve spent nearly five years researching the question of what, precisely, makes us feel the most engaged and alive. Many people radically underestimate how important fun is to their resilience, happiness, and mental and physical health.

People often use the word “fun” to describe anything they do with leisure time, even when those things, upon reflection, aren’t actually enjoyable. My research has shown me that true fun, as I call it, materializes when we experience the confluence of three psychological states: playfulness, connection and flow.

Playfulness isn’t about playing games. It’s a quality of lightheartedness that allows you to do things in everyday life just for the pleasure of it. Studies show that playfulness can be stimulated by simply looking for ways to be more playful, and that playful people are better at managing stress.

Connection refers to the feeling of having a special, shared experience with another person. When we develop stronger social ties, we’re more resilient during stressful times.

And “flow” describes the state of being fully engaged and focused, often to the point that you lose track of time. It’s important to note that flow is an active state. The hypnotized daze we fall into when we binge-watch Netflix doesn’t count. Think of an athlete in the midst of a game, or a moment in which you were absorbed in a craft or a conversation. A study of people in Wuhan, China, during periods of lockdown found that those who participated in flow-inducing activities had better overall well-being.

Playfulness, connection and flow each have been shown to improve people’s moods and mental health when experienced on their own. But when people experience these three states at once — in other words, when they have true fun — the effects that they report are almost magical. When people are having actual fun, they report feeling focused and present, free from anxiety and self-criticism. They laugh and feel connected, both to other people and to their authentic selves."

The author goes on to suggest ways to integrate more fun into your life - and fencing certainly ticks all the boxes! Here is a link to the entire article:
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/23/well/mind/having-fun-suceeding-coronavirus-pandemic.html