Guest Blogger – Robert Hurley (aka Coach Papa Hurley) – Part 2 of 3.

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Courtney (12) and Kelley (14)

As I discussed last week, speed, athleticism, and conditioning were the focus of Kelley & Courtney’s fencing workouts. A nice homemade plywood fencing strip (built on top of pallets) provided a convenient way to get the workouts done with minimal fuss.  By the time Kelley was 14 and Courtney was 12, they had just about given up fencing foil and we were all fencing at the U.S. Modern Pentathlon club. As you can imagine, there was a lot of fresh meat for practicing. For those of you who don’t know much about Modern Pentathlon, it contains 5 sports and one of them is fencing. Typically, these athletes come to Pentathlon as swimmers or runners. Few come to the sport as fencers.  That is actually how I started fencing – as a Pentathlete (I was a runner). Typically, when we went to the club, there were plenty of older boys and young men for the girls (as well as Tracy and I) to fence.  These guys were great swimmers and runners but for the most part, were fairly clueless about fencing. Although they didn’t know much about fencing, they were fast and strong and this is exactly what Kelley & Courtney needed.

We were very careful about suggesting an overall strategy for them to use against the boys.  That is, they were not supposed to rely on retreating back to their 2-meter line and countering. This is a typical strategy most girls will take against boys. While the girls will build up their knowledge and technique about countering and it might help them beat other boys, it most definitely would not help them beat other girls. Why? Because the girls will retreat back to their 2 meter line and jump forward with a counter at any offensive action! Typically, girls become pretty good at this strategy but it doesn’t help them beat other girls! Ultimately, what you will have is two girls being forced to fence games they hadn’t practiced much because their natural tendency is to retreat and counter.

So, Kelley & Courtney learned to beat the stronger, faster, and older boys by attacking or strategically countering or parry-reposting in the middle of the strip. As I mentioned in last week’s post, our thought was that if they could beat the boys with this strategy, the other girls wouldn’t stand a chance!  The strategy was successful!!

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Bob, Tracy, Courtney (13) & Kelley (16)

Since there weren’t too many girls fencing at the club, what Kelley and Courtney needed most was to fence other accomplished girls!  That simply wasn’t going to happen in San Antonio or too many other places in the US during that time. We always focused on having them fence in their age group. While they might fence in an older age group also, it was never at the expense of competing in their own age group. At the time, some parents would regularly register their kids to fence in older age groups and not bother with the correct age group events.  We felt that was the wrong strategy. In fact, what we wanted Kelley & Courtney to do is to get used to winning, get used to the stress, the feeling, and the celebration. Often, that is not so easy if you’re fencing in an older age group.  It is an extremely important factor for developing a ‘winning’ skill set and building confidence!

At 14 years old, Kelley won the Women’s senior epee National Championships (she also won the Youth 14 event)! This was in 2002 and she became the youngest athlete to win the national title. It was time to move on to the international circuit for cadets (Under-17), juniors (Under-20), and seniors. Courtney was still too young to compete in FIE-sanctioned tournaments (the rules require fencers to be 13).

Kelley and I traveled to Europe to test the waters while Courtney stayed home with Tracy.  Since we decided what Kelley needed most at the time was more bouting with girls, we traveled to the world cups and would stay and train at local clubs between the events. Tracy would rent us apartments (this was before AirBnB), buy plane and train tickets. We called her command central! At the time, there was usually a couple weeks between the events and with 3 age groups to choose from, it wasn’t hard to find events to compete in. We would often be gone from home for a month to 6 weeks – compete in 3 tournaments and train at 3 or 4 local epee clubs. Bouting, bouting, bouting.  This was definitely the most intensive training that Kelley had done at this point. It developed her skills and confidence and we got to see her competitors!  In order to get Courtney in on the game, Tracy and I rented an RV in Munich in May and we traveled to Switzerland, Italy, Spain, France, Luxembourg, and Germany for 6 weeks with world cups for Kelley and a couple youth events for Courtney. And now, Courtney was getting the bouting exposure at the local clubs, too! This trip opened everyone’s eyes, gave us insight into international fencing, and what the rest of the world was doing.  This trip launched the Hurleygurrl’s international success!

Stay Tuned for next week’s post!

Guest Blogger – Robert Hurley (aka Coach Papa Hurley) – Part 1 of 3.

Since our family has been a great source of our success, we asked our dad, Robert Hurley, to provide some insight into his thinking in terms of what makes a successful fencer.  As a point of reference, he also provides some historical context at various points in our career (i.e., as youth, junior, and senior fencers). His insights are below and will continue in three parts over the next three weeks. We hope you enjoy!

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bob-kelAs many of you may know, I met Tracy (my wife and Kelley & Courtney’s mother) at a fencing club many years ago.  It was the love and respect of each other and the sport that has bonded our relationship not only to each other but also as a family.  Kelley was 9 and Courtney was 7 years old when they started fencing. The story of their success consists of many phases and these phases are probably fairly typical for young fencers so I thought I would hit the highlights that we focused on as they grew.

Kelley & Courtney attended their first tournament at a National Championships held in Austin, Texas. They were 10 and 7 years old, respectively.  We initially entered them in the tournament because it was relatively close to home and we wanted to see what a Youth 10 tournament looked like.  The youth circuit was not nearly as advanced as it is now and there were only a few youth tournaments around. What we found out at that tournament completely changed our lives!  I still remember being amazed at all of the little “professional” looking youth 10 fencers out there with their expensive uniforms and equipment.  Kelley & Courtney were wearing hand-me-downs that were too big and zipped up the back (for you non-fencers that is a tell-tale sign of a beginner). Well, they were soundly whipped by most of the fencers and we left the event with two crying children who vowed they would never fence again!  Such a short career!!

Well, a month or so later, they were bugging us to start fencing again!  We knew at that point, they were hooked. What happened over the next 20 years has been a focused attack on figuring out the sport of fencing!

As young female fencers, we felt it was most important to focus on athleticism. That is they were too young to train exclusively for fencing and really needed a good grounding in sports. They spent a lot of time swimming, running, playing softball and basketball, and of course, fencing.  Somewhere around the time that Kelley turned 13, she begin to primarily focus on fencing as her main sport while complementing with other sports for aerobic conditioning. Courtney, who is 2.5 years younger, was still primarily bouncing basketballs and throwing softballs around although she definitely wanted to do the same workouts that big sis was doing! That happened, soon enough…

Our biggest focus was to emphasize footwork: aerobic and anaerobic footwork. We coupled their footwork with technique-focused lessons and regular tournaments. By this time, the Southwest Section of U.S. Fencing, had initiated a very successful Regional Youth Circuit for youth fencers and the Hurleygurrls attended every event! In the early days, these events were mixed (i.e., both boys and girls competed together).

Interestingly enough, the fact they were mixed events provided an excellent opportunity for Kelley & Courtney to compete against the boys – which, in general, are much more aggressive and athletic, than girls. We figured, if they could beat the boys….the girls wouldn’t stand a chance (this information will be important, later).

The focus of these years was footwork and conditioning and while the girls split their time between foil and epee, the footwork was similar enough to not cause any issue. In order to make the workouts as convenient as possible (fewer opportunities for distraction), I built a plywood fencing strip in the backyard that allowed us to just step outside and take care of business. A thirty minute fencing workout was sufficient at this point in time. The focus of the footwork was bouncing with advancing and retreating at different speeds. During their younger years, typically, they did 10 x 1 minute footwork drills (with 30 seconds of rest between) which included speed intensity during the last 10 seconds. Tracy would also give them a 15 minute lesson which concluded the 30 minute workout. Typically, we would do these workouts 3 times a week and go to the fencing club twice a week where they would bout.

During this time, Kelley & Courtney began to dominate both the Regional and National youth events in both foil and epee.  At one national championships, they had the fortune of winning the Youth 14 foil and epee (Kelley) and the Youth 12 foil and epee (Courtney) events. Btw, they no longer had back-zip jackets!

This routine continued for about 2 years until Kelley started to travel to international cadet (Under-17) events at the age of 14. This put a whole new slant on the project!

Stay Tuned for next week’s post as we enter the world of international fencing!

Guest Blogger: Matthew Porter – Armorer Extraordinaire

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Our Guest Blogger (Interview) this month is Matthew Porter.  For those of you who are fencers, you probably know him from his dedicated service fixing fencing equipment at national and international tournaments. For those of you who are not fencers, an armorer is the person who fixes the broken fencing equipment, fine tunes your favorite weapon, and solders together wires that have become inconveniently disconnected. We have even seen Matthew sew up holes in fencing uniforms so they pass inspection. The armorer is the person behind the fencing scenes that may be the most important element in team success!

The interview below provides some insight into the life and times of one of Team USA’s greatest armorers!


Q: Can you give our readers a brief personal history and how you got involved in fencing, were you a fencer, and more specifically, how you got involved in being an armorer for USA Fencing and the various world and Olympic teams you have been the armorer for?

Matthew: No-one starts out trying to be an armorer.  I started fencing in college at the University of California Santa Cruz under Maestro Charles Selberg, and fenced for a few years there until I graduated in 1979.  After that I competed at a local level in the San Francisco area for about 20 years.  I was never very good, won a few local events, but enjoyed it tremendously. During my time in San Francisco I worked a American Fencers Supply, so I became familiar with how fencing equipment worked.  I was at that time fencing at the Letterman Fencing club, and one of the other members there was a gentleman named Ed Purdy, who was among the best armorers of the day.  When I wasn’t competing I would help Ed at local and regional competitions, and he taught me quite a lot.

In the early 1980’s a couple of NACs and a Nationals came to San Francisco, and as a local volunteer I was exposed to National level armorering. I guess I didn’t embarrass myself as I started to be asked to help at NACs, and in 1989 the World Championship came to Denver, CO.  I was excited to be asked to be on the staff of the Equipment Control there.

After working with the legendary Dan Dechaine for some years, he thought I might have the skills and temperament to be a team armorer, and I was asked to come along as Dan’s assistant the the Junior/Cadet World Championship in Valencia, Venezuela, in 1998.  Since then I have been armorer for the US team 27 times, including Jr/Cadet World championships, Senior World Championships, Pan Am zonal Championships, Pan Am Games, and 3 Olympic Games.

Q: From being on a total of 4 Olympic teams and a couple dozen various world championships teams (cadet, junior, & senior), we can say that the armorer is one of the most invaluable team members for athlete success.  Can you give us an idea of what’s involved in a typical day for a team armorer at one of these big competitions?

Matthew: During an early day of competition there is still equipment check going on. You get up early to meet the other cadre and that morning’s competitors at breakfast and get to the venue, along with the 1 or 2 teams worth of equipment for check that day and all the tools you will need at the venue. At the venue you turn in the equipment for check, and get back to the fencers where they are warming up. Check to see if anyone wants to have any gear checked or tuned before they go on. When several are competing at once, try to be centrally located to be available for any checks, tune-ups, or repairs. As the day goes on, even with everyone staying in, this becomes easier as the event gets smaller. If a second event starts the same day you are divided that much more. As you are required to be there as long as a US fencer is still in the competition you hope for a long day at the venue, as that means US fencers are doing well.  After the US fencers are done, you get back to the venue and finish any equipment that has to be turned in the next day, maybe get it from a fencer so that you can check it, fix it if necessary, and organize it with the rest of that squad’s gear.  If you can, get a start on checking some of the gear that will need to be turned in two days later.  When you finish, and the equipment submission bags are packed and inventoried and your venue tools are ready to go, get some rest. In the early days of a championship 0 to 3 hours of sleep is typical.

Q: After traveling around the world to a variety of events, what country/event has presented you with the biggest challenges in terms of accomplishing your work? Can you elaborate a little on what these challenges were, how you dealt with them, and how impactful they ended up being?

Matthew: Access to the competitors is always key to being able to do an effective job. Countries are restricted in the number of credentials for cadre that they can get, and sometimes USAFencing decides I can do my job from the public/audience part of the venue space. If this is combined with effective security that can actually keep me out, my performance will suffer and the team might suffer. This was the case in Rio at the last Olympic Games. The Team Captain had to carry my tools in as I could not get them past the public security I had to go through. I also had to pretty much sneak through from the public part of the arena past armed security into the restricted areas in back where the athletes were. I was able to do so, and the team ended up not impacted.

Q: What has been your favorite or most memorable event/country that you have been to and why?

Matthew: My first Olympic Games was in Sydney in 2000. At that time there was no live-in USOC Training facility, so all the Cadre were in the Olympic Village.  Staying in the Village was amazing, and we were allowed to stay for the entire run of the Games, so after fencing was finished I was in Sydney as a tourist with credentials and staying in the Village.  Many other places have been great, Nimes, France, Linz Austria, Lisbon, Portugal, but Sydney stands out.

Q: Since you must deal with many armorers and officials from countries all over the world, do you speak any foreign languages that facilitates communication with them? Do most of them speak English? How else do you communicate with them when you need to?

Matthew: Many speak English. I do not speak any foreign languages, but I speak fencing, and so have many French names and fencing phrases in common with any fencer. For exact rule wordings, I have the English translation of the FIE (International Fencing Federation) rules, and can refer to a specific rule number which anyone can look up in the French version or their own translation.

Q: For anyone who has an interest in being an armorer, what advice can you give them and what is the most important personality characteristic needed to be successful?

Matthew: I have often stressed to other Armorers thinking of trying for the team position that the role you must play in the team is as important as your technical skills. We probably have dozens of Armorers in the U.S. with the technical skills and physical stamina for the position. More important is realizing that you are part of a team with the common goal of allowing our fencers to compete at their best with as few distractions as possible. The Team Manager is dealing with logistics, the Trainer is helping with aches, pains, injuries, the Captain is interacting with the tournament officials, the Armorer is getting gear through control and dealing with repairs and checks, all so the coach and competitor can give the competition their complete attention and best effort.

Q: Anything else you would like to tell our readers?

Matthew: Being the team Armorer is some of the hardest work I have done in my life, draining physically and mentally. And being a part of the US Team has allowed me to not only meet, but to be in a position to help, some of the world’s most amazing athletes. To be sure, one doesn’t unnecessarily disturb someone as they are focusing on an upcoming competition, and putting your all into sport cannot help but to be emotional, nevertheless I have been treated with warmth and appreciation. And I have been privileged to be doing this over a span that has taken USA Fencing from being pretty much a non contender to being one of the big threats in the fencing world.  Go Team!

Guest Blogger: An Interview with Andrey Geva – U.S. National Coach

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About once-a-month (starting this month), we invite a guest blogger, who has been influential in the sport of fencing, to share their insight and perspective on our favorite sport of fencing.  This month, as the start of the fencing season is only a week away, we asked Andrey Geva, the U.S. National Coach for women’s epee (and 2016 Olympic coach and head coach and owner of Alliance Fencing Academy in Houston), to answer a few questions  about the upcoming season and insight that other fencing fans might have an interest in.  Below is the interview.


Q: Can you provide us with a little information about your background as an athlete and as a coach?

Andrey: I started fencing back in the 70’s and was developed into a high level competitive athlete in St. Petersburg, Russia during the Soviet Union. I was a “Master of Sport of the USSR” as well as a member of several national junior and senior squads.

In 1989 I immigrated to Israel where I became a four-time national champion. I have represented Team Israel in numerous World Cups, World Championships, and World University Games. I started my active coaching career at Hebrew University of Jerusalem where I developed 6 national champions, a Cadet World Championships bronze medalist, and several Junior World Cup medalists.

In 1999 I was invited to coach in Houston, TX at local fencing club, and 4 years later, I opened Alliance Fencing Academy. As of today, Alliance Fencing has produced over 30 U.S. National Champions, NCAA champions and medalists, won over a dozen national team titles, 2 Cadet World Champions, and we have over 20 winners and medalists at top international competitions.

I have served as the Team USA national coach for women’s epee since 2013, and in 2016 I served as the head women’s epee coach for the Rio Olympics.  

Q: If a young fencer was interested in making the Olympic team, what would be your advice to them?

Andrey: Love the sport, all aspects of it. Train with passion, come to practice 15 minutes earlier and leave 15 minutes later than everyone else. If your coach asks you to do 10 lunges, do 15, if you are asked to fence 15 bouts, fence 20. Watch Olympic videos, read books and articles about Olympians, talk to Olympians and ask them questions. Have ambition to be the best by setting goals to win Olympic medals at the beginning of your fencing career.

Q: What do you see as your top strengths as a U.S. National Coach for women’s epee?

Andrey:

  • Successful coaching experience. I have coached for almost 30 years producing national and international champions and medalists
  • International exposure and experience. As an athlete and coach I have participated in fencing camps in Soviet Union, Hungary, France, Israel, and Germany. I’ve been in over 20 cadet, junior, and senior World Championships, over 50 World Cups, and one Olympics
  • My demeanor is patient, friendly yet demanding, and I bring a structured approach to the training process and strip coaching. I develop an individual approach that varies from one fencer to the other.

Q: What are the biggest challenges for you in coaching a team at the international level?

Andrey: I am used to working with fencers from the very beginning of their career and developing them into high-level mature international athletes. Now, as a national team coach going to international events, I have to deal with fencers who come from different coaching philosophies and I have to create a positive team dynamic so that the entire team is on the same page.

Q: Heading into the 2017-18 season and the 2020 Olympics on the horizon, what are your goals for the U.S. women’s epee team?

Andrey: My goal is to medal in both the individual and team event.

Q: What are your strategies for reaching these goals? (2017-18) and (2020 Olympics) if they are different.

Andrey: For the team event my strategy is to develop “shooting”, “stopping”, and “sniping” skills for my fencers.  I also plan to develop an individual strategy for each top team by watching and analyzing their strengths and weaknesses and testing these different strategies during the 2017-18 season in order to determine which one works the best.

For the individual event, my strategy is to analyze the top potential opponents and find what techniques work the best against each of them, as well as develop a general rich fencing arsenal with the Olympians and fencers with whom I work. Finally, I want to fine tune the psychological preparation for my athletes so that when they arrive at the games, they are at the very top of both their physical and mental game.

 

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