The one thing that all fencers in the United States
have in common
is that they know they are doing something that isn't popular--and they
do it anyway.
Sadly, 95% of America wouldn't be able to deal with that; people generally
do what is popular and accepted, regardless of how interesting the activity
is when viewed objectively--especially in high school, when the majority
of fencers pick up the sport. Thus, you get millions of young Americans
practicing for hours a day trying to be the next Michael Jordan--never
mind the objective silliness of a sport based around putting a ball in
a ten foot high hoop. Half of my high school's varsity basketball
team, one of whom was a good friend of mine, didn't actually like basketball
at all--they just liked being good at a popular sport.
And lets not forget that popular sports are shoved down our throats
from a very early age by the magic of television. How many kids
would want to Be Like Mike if they had never seen him on TV? I've
written countless letters to television stations trying to get them to
air fencing; the response is invariably the same: "Fencing isn't popular,
there's no viewer base for it." Well, that's an interesting Catch-22--fencing
would be more popular it were on TV, but executives afraid of change won't
put it on TV because it isn't popular. The other argument is that
fencing isn't TV-friendly--the action goes too fast and is too hard to
follow. My rebuttals to both of these arguments are one and the same,
and simple to boot: There are millions of Europeans watching fencing
on television on a regular basis--it's actually aired over there--that
find it popular and are able to follow the action.
Even more aggravating is the American Olympic Games coverage.
It seems like every two years, there is a mass uprising of people saying
they're sick of the endless human interest stories and hour-long "special
looks" at the childhoods of certain American Olympic athletes. And,
every two years, right on schedule, whichever network happens to be showing
the Olympics (NBC in the last few years) gives the public a big middle
finger and airs more human interest stories and more retrospective looks.
I tune into the Olympics to watch sports. It is, after all, a
big sports event. When as little as ten minutes of actual event coverage
is being shown per hour, something is seriously wrong. When I realize
that all that fluff is taking away from sports that could really use
the TV exposure--and in some cases desperately need some
TV exposure--it just makes me angry.
It takes a lot of courage to stick with something that not a whole lot
of people understand or can appreciate. It takes alot of courage
to deal with a general public who thinks fencing is all about swinging
from chandeliers and inscribing "Z" on other people's chests. It
takes a lot of courage to don the five layers of protective gear on a regular
basis (which can look pretty damn silly from a non-fencer's point of view).
As a result, most fencers have learned to deal with it all with a healthy
dose of good-naturedness and humor. Approach an average basketball
player and ask for a detailed history of their sport, and most often you'll
get a blank stare. Approach an average fencer and ask the same, and
you'll most likely get the next hour of your life taken up by a very animated
history lesson. They're forced to be knowledgeable because they get
asked so often what it is exactly that they do and why they do it...and
they're usually more than happy to tell you everything they know about
the sport, because they're always looking for new blood.
In my eight years of fencing, I've only met two fencers who I absolutely
couldn't get along with--and one of those two was mentally unstable.
I think most of the reason for such a lack of "bad elements" is that we
just can't afford to have them: We can't risk alienating beginners and
prospective new fencers by bad behavior coming from our club members, and
so the few "bad seeds" in each new crop usually leave quickly when they
realize their attitude and behavior won't long be tolerated.
The rest of us are waiting for the rest of the country to come and join
us on the fencing strip.