By Jeff Spear – International fencing gives a strange picture of the world. We spend weekends in suburbs of major cities and in towns most people have never heard of.

The Romanian countryside

Last week Avery, Ben, Daryl, Geof, James, Tim and I visited Izvorani, Romania, living, eating, and training within an area of a few hundred square meters, leaving only once on our day off.  It may seem like something of a confined existence, but for a week of intensive training it was phenomenal.

The fencing salle at the Bucharest training center

The facilities were basic but comprehensive – hotel and cafeteria, weight room, pool, sauna, internet (usually), and a fencing salle complete with ping-pong tables for a bit of cool down.  The training schedule involved alternating days of two practice and one practice, with Sunday off.  Even on days with two practices, however, we actually did less bouting than at most camps, and less even than a lot of my practice days at home.  But the bouts were intense and focused; and the training cycle, including cross-training, was well-timed so that we stayed strong and felt like we were working very efficiently.

In our down time we played ping-pong, watched episodes of ‘Archer’, and tried to convince the internet to work.  Avery kicked our butts at ping-pong and ran with the Romanians who spend quite a bit of time playing before and after practice, but James definitely has to get the most improved award, from barely hitting the table at the beginning of the week to hitting us with trick shots by the end.

On our day off, the Romanian team took us to a rather intense mall in Bucharest, which featured a skating rink, a playground, laser tag, girls dancing to American music including, which made me laugh, ‘Appalachian Spring,’ and a train that drove through the hallways upstairs.

James Williams chats it up with one of the locals.

After we all got lunch, Yury, James, and I did what we do best and went out to see the ‘sights’ in the local residential neighborhood. All of us have given up on traditional sightseeing when we travel, but, in our own ways, we still like to get out and see the country.  For me, this often takes the form of a walk.  I hit the streets and just spend an hour or two wandering through the local city, a tradition that makes me feel like I have, in some small way, experienced the places to which I travel.  This time, we found an Orthodox church with a beautiful mosaic and some local dogs.

Probably the best part of these camps for me, however, is living with and interacting with the fencers from other countries.  First, it is always interesting to see the kind of system in which they train.  The Romanians spend almost all of their time at the training center, and don’t really train when they do go home.  But, as I mentioned before, their practices felt like part of an overarching plan that falls together nicely, and seems to work for them, since they are currently one of the top teams in the world.

Even better than watching other training systems is interacting with the fencers themselves, and sharing views, feelings, and stories about fencing.  Perhaps the most eye-opening for me on this trip was an expression of confusion from one of the Romanian fencers about why we feel pressure at competitions.

American fencing represents something special that most top countries can never match.

He figured that if we love fencing enough to do it in addition to holding down jobs, paying for most if not all of it ourselves, and putting our lives on hold, rather than fencing for our livelihood, we must love it enough just to lose ourselves in fencing when we get on strip, without any pressure.  He is wrong, of course; I do feel pressure.  But he is right about how much we love the sport.  For that, American fencing represents something special that most top countries can never match.  And that is why, for all of the excitement of our strange vision of the world, I am glad to be home.  Briefly, anyway.


US Men's Saber Fencers in Romania

Jeff Spear is a member of the US Men’s Saber Team and is competing for a spot on the 2012 Olympic Team.  He was part of the Men’s Saber contingent that went to a training camp in Romania prior to the world cup event in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.