VFA-in-Exile Update #6
June 8, 2020

In a normal year, this would have been the last week of practice for the season, which would mean Mayhem Night (outdoor fun and crazy fencing games, plus ice cream, a club tradition that will come back when we can do it again). I will be thinking of all of you the next couple of nights.

We will not be holding our annual summer clinic in Middlebury this year. Too many uncertainties regarding safety, out of state fencers and coaches, and whether the school building would even be open. Instead, Coach Geoff and I are considering hosting an outdoor workshop for Vermont fencers only, 2 hr foil class and 2 hr epee class. This would probably be in the Mary Hogan schoolyard or adjoining rec fields, on July 25 (raindate July 26). I'm still thinking over the logistics of that (including the lack of public restrooms!). More information on that soon, but in the meantime, if you are interested, please let me know. Note: this activity would be only for fencers age 12 and older, and you must have your own equipment.

No-one knows what the situation will look like in the fall - will the schools re-open? will they allow sports and extracurriculars? will there be group size limits? I wish I could tell you more, or re-assure you that fencing next season will be the same as before the pandemic, but I, like everyone else, am going to be playing things by ear. A few things look likely as we try to resume fencing in September:
-Masks under masks are going to be a thing. Internet memes aside, it is impossible to fence a bout (even an epee bout) without having your face sometimes within 6 feet of your opponent's face (never mind the 10 ft distance recommended when exercising). Fortunately, the sporting goods companies are starting to come out with masks for athletes, made of technical (i.e. wicking) fabrics. Radical Fencing is already taking orders for one design, I received an ad from point3basketball.com with another design, and I have heard of a few more coming on the market. In the meantime, I bought a summer weight neck gaiter to experiment with. Cotton masks seem like they would quickly get sweat soaked. It is going to be a process of adjustment for all of us - I haven't tried exercising in a face mask yet (let alone under a fencing mask) but from what I have heard, you can expect to work harder and tire faster.
-Shared equipment will no longer be possible. The best thing you can do before this fall to help me and help the club? Buy your own equipment if you have not already done so. I will be going to a lending-library system for beginners (if we have beginners...) where I check out a limited amount of club equipment for newbies to take home and use exclusively. The more of you who have your own equipment, the easier this system will be for me to manage. There is a page on our website full of advice on buying equipment (http://www.vtfencingalliance.org/old_posts/EquipmentBuyGuide.htm). Don't hesitate to ask if you have questions about what to get.
-The VFA's business model since time immemorial has been to offer large group classes in order to keep the cost affordable for more people. We may or may not be allowed to do that this fall. We may be looking at a smaller club, with more strictly assigned practice times for different groups of fencers, and possibly a sliding scale for class fees. First dibs will go to returning club members (i.e. if we have to limit group sizes, we will do it by not accepting new members, rather than by turning returning club members away). But really, who knows right now?
-Schools may open and close again unpredictably. Rather than have people pre-pay by the term, I am thinking about having some kind of punch card system for everyone, so that if we have to suspend practices, I don't have to return payments (you just hold on to your punch card until we resume).

Normally, I treat the summer as an off season (and I believe off seasons are really important!). But we have been having a prolonged off season, so I would like to offer a way to ease back in to fencing for those who are interested. I would like to offer outdoor private lessons at my house this summer. Studies are showing that transmission of the coronavirus is much less outdoors, with the better ventilation and fewer high-touch surfaces. There is a level patch of lawn behind my house that gets good shade in the afternoon, and has room for one fencing strip. Since outdoor lessons are weather dependent and my schedule is fairly flexible, I am not going to use Visibook for online scheduling. You may schedule a lesson with me by email (preferred) or phone (802-759-2268 for calls only, 802-779-6530 for texts only). If there is a threat of rain, or it is too hot, we will just reschedule at our mutual convenience. All private lesson students must have their own equipment (or buy a 5-lesson punch card and sign out a set). Cost for a half hour lesson is $25, or 5 for $100 (this will be a punch card that can be shared by immediate family members). I am located at on Mountain Rd in Addison. All students must be US Fencing members (noncompetitive is fine). Any of you who fenced this season are all set (you are already members), but if you have a friend or family member who wants to start via private lessons, they would need to join (noncompetitive membership is $10 and will be good all of next season). Please do not take a lesson if you or anyone in your household has been sick in the last 14 days or if you suspect you might have been exposed to covid-19. There will be no penalty for canceling a lesson, so please do it if you have any doubts.

Want to do a little more than just a half hour lesson? I suggest a paired lesson with a favorite training partner (someone you enjoy fencing with). It works like this: Fencer A has a lesson the first half hour (B arrives sometime during the lesson and warms up). Fencers A and B do a half hour of supervised bouting, and then Fencer A leaves and B stays for a lesson. There is no extra charge for the half hour of supervised bouting, and we can even set up an electric strip if both fencers have their own electric equipment. Level 3 students: I may be up for bouting with you (no extra charge) after a solo lesson, if we have time and both want to (gives me a chance to have a little fencing fun!).

Masks will be required (including for me) for a large part of the lesson (any time our faces might come closer than 6 feet) and for all bouting. As we adjust to this, we will take breaks as needed, and also try to do part of the lesson (such as footwork, or hitting a dummy) unmasked.

Just want to fence, but not take lessons? Consider scheduling a "playdate" with a favorite bouting partner. Ground rules: fence outdoors (in a backyard, driveway, or a park, tennis court, etc) and wear masks. Youth fencers under age 13 should be supervised by a parent. Touch only your own equipment, meet one-on-one or in very small groups, bring your own water and snacks (no sharing), observe social distancing when not fencing (i.e when reffing or socializing). If you want to fence electric, you and your playdate partner could make an appointment to come to my house and set up my backyard strip. Ray has custody of a machine, as does Karen. If there is any other responsible adult Level 3 fencer who would like to take custody of a machine and reels for the purpose of outdoor fencing this summer, please contact me, it may be possible (they might as well be used, rather than sit in my garage).

I am interested in everyone's thoughts, concerns and suggestions as we look forward to resuming fencing. A great place for that discussion is on the VFA Discord channel (our virtual fencing club). There are 45 of us currently in the Discord group, and the more the merrier. I will once again re-iterate my invitation to join (contact me for link, current club members only please)