Fencing With Two Clubs: Kosher or Not?

I used to have a morbidly obese three-legged dachshund named Frankie and a poodle named Batman. When I’d take them out for a walk, the two would often take turns peeing on different objects throughout the neighborhood. It was a game of territorialism. Frankie would pee first. Batman would then pee on top of the object Frankie peed on. Frankie couldn’t accept that he didn’t get the final pee in, and he would pee on top of the pee on top of the pee. Eventually, you just had to allow one to pee and then move on.

Fencing coaches can be a lot like Frankie and Batman: we get a little territorial sometimes, and as petty as the expectation for club loyalty may appear on the surface, there are a number of reasons I can articulate as to why a Coach might expect single club allegiance—and why you as a Fencer might want to think twice yourself.

Pros and Cons: The Fencer’s Perspective

Let’s start off with the Fencer: the first question you’ll want to ask yourself is: “what am I going to get out of a secondary club that my primary doesn’t provide?” Perhaps it’s the desire to bout with different types of Fencers and be exposed to different styles of Fencing. Perhaps your primary club has limited space, multiple weapons, and doesn’t offer open pistes on nights where the other weapons are practicing. Or maybe you just have friends in other clubs you want to socialize with and be around.

The reasons I list here are good reasons to look into a secondary club, especially with the desire to be exposed to different styles and attend that club as a bouting body.

Where you want to be careful (especially for younger budding fencers) is where you begin to take lessons and/or classes from multiple clubs. Every coach has a different style, unmixable ways of teaching actions, and varying distance they might show actions from.

This can create confusion and even frustration for the developing fencer. Maybe Coach A teaches a high line parry with circle 6 while the other teaches it with a circle 3. Perhaps a counterattack is taught in tandem with a retreat while another Coach insists holding one’s ground. One coach might teach heavy on the blade preparation, while another might emphasize feints/absence of blade.

Neither style is “right,” neither style is “wrong,” but in a sport that relies so heavily on trained instincts and reaction, these concepts can be contradictory, and a newer fencer might be overwhelmed with different schema to the point they become frozen in their tracks on the piste. (Of course, if an Epee coach is still prioritizing two-tempo fencing, divorce them, because one-tempo is best tempo).

But the most important part of exploring different clubs, and I cannot emphasize this enough: be transparent about it with both coaches! The Head Coach of a club I used to work with got rightfully mad when she showed up to coach a regional event and was surprised to see a rival coach in the area strip coaching her own student. She was never extended the courtesy conversation by this Fencer’s parents, and for good reason, she was livid.

That conversation is a must before you explore a secondary club so that the Coach can provide his/her pros and cons of doing so, and articulate expectations to the student, which may vary club by club.

Two Clubs: From my Perspective as a Coach

I can only speak for how I personally feel here, and every coach may have a different answer. But when a student asks me the question—“can I fence for your club and another club?” The answer isn’t always a simple one. For me, my expectations selfishly boil down to this: If I invest my time and emotional energy into your development, then I want the credit for your success. That said, you are a customer, this isn’t a professional league where I own the rights to your contract and you’re free to do as you please. My expectations are all over the board, and a lot of those expectations have to do with our sport’s relationship dynamics.

The Recreational Fencer: I personally don’t care if you’re floating club to club, not competing, and just doing Fencing as a fun exercise. We need people like that in our sport and should encourage and foster their love of the game. Enjoy.

The Local Competitor: By this point, the student has probably done a number of group classes, they might be taking private lessons, and I’ve started to invest a non-insignificant amount of time in you. I’m taking a good look at your Fencing development here, and if you’re at multiple clubs, and I’m seeing confusion generated from being exposed to conflicting schema, I’m probably going to have a conversation with the parents and gently give them the pros and cons of continuing to learn in multiple environments.

The National Competitor: This is where I’ve gone close to Frankie and Batman, with some exceptions. If you begin to compete nationally, you’ve invested your time and money in me, and I’ve devoted a substantial amount of energy into your development. I want the credit for it. For me, I have no issue with you continuing to have a primary and secondary club, but if I’m there strip coaching you and I’ve given you lessons, my club will be your primary. Otherwise, you’re welcome to continue training with my club, but I’m probably not going to give you lessons.

The Subjective Petty Component: In his book Schools and Masters of Fencing, Edgerton Castle said “It is well known, and a sad fact, that no profession is jealousy displayed with more business than among fencing masters[1].” That was written in 1885 by the way, and nothing has changed in the hundreds of years since. Let’s be honest for a moment: there are allegiances and cliques across our sport. Some coaches get along with one another, others do not.

Joining a fencing club isn’t like joining a gym. It’s a transformational relationship, not a transactional one. So plain and simple: if you’re going to an additional club to take lessons and/or train where I have the tattoo of that club on my arm, I’m all for it. If you’re going to go to one of my friends’ clubs, great. If you’re going to go take lessons from someone I don’t care for, then my thin-skinned Fencing Coach pettiness shakes his head in disapproval at the prospect of you doing so. All the more reason we need to have a transparent conversation about these things before you go off and train in multiple places.

In a perfect world, you as a customer shouldn’t have to worry about the interpersonal dynamics of Fencing coaches, but that’s just not how the reality of our sport has been for its entire history.

Weigh the pros and cons of multiple clubs. Ask yourself what you want out of each one. Make sure you’re transparent with the coaches of both clubs before exploring. If you’re developing, it’s best to learn from one while training at multiple, whereas the experienced Fencer might be able to parse what they can apply from different coaches in different contexts. And be wary of how damn petty us coaching types can be.

[1] Castle, E., & Castle, E. (2003). Schools and masters of Fencing. Dover.

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