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Who is a Fencing Master?
In the United States, anyone can become a coach in any sport simply by saying they are one. There may be limits on who can be employed as a coach, especially in youth programs, but if you want to be a coach, just say you are one, and presto…you are one. This is especially true in fencing, where not only is the term “coach” used, but also the terms “fencing master” and “maestro” are commonly used by people who want to be seen as experts in teaching fencing. sport and the preparation of athletes.
This confusion makes it important to understand who a fencing master actually is and what qualifications this title requires. At the international level, the governing body of the Olympic sport of fencing is the International Fencing Federation (FIE). The FIE recognizes the Académie d’Armes Internationale (the AAI) as the international organization for professional coaching. In turn, the IAA recognizes national coaching organizations. In the United States, the recognized professional coaching organization is the United States Fencing Coaches Association (USFCA). The USFCA is also recognized by the sport’s national governing body, the United States Fencing Association.
This recognition track is important because the certifying body for fencing masters in the United States is the USFCA. If you hold a degree from the USFCA or one of the other national academies recognized by the AAI, you can legitimately call yourself a master-at-arms (or master-at-arms).
So how does a fencing coach become a fencing master? In the United States, the USFCA certifies four levels of coaches:
Assistant monitor. This is an entry level position that qualifies an individual to help lead group classes in a club environment. The assistant instructor must have completed at least 20 hours of practical instruction and pass a written exam and a practical exam administered by a senior qualified instructor or trainer.
Monitor. The Monitor is the first level of professional coach. The instructors are trained to give group lessons in a club or to give individual lessons for beginners or intermediates. They must pass a written exam on fencing rules, technique and tactics, training methods and safety and risk management, and give a full lesson in a practical exam supervised by two provosts or a master of arms.
Provost. A Provost is a fully qualified coach capable of preparing advanced students for competition through individual instruction and training courses. The provost takes a more demanding written exam that includes fencing tactical and training theory, and a practical exam that includes teaching, training, and warm-up lessons. Prévot exams are supervised by two Fencing Masters.
Master of arms. A fencing master is able to prepare elite level competitors and manage training programs and all activities of a fencing club or hall. They take a more rigorous version of the practical exam and complete a thesis on an element of fencing theory, tactics, technique or training. The master candidate is examined by three fencing masters.
Beginning in 2009, the USFCA began certifying provosts and masters in single arms, an option that had always existed for instructors. Single-weapon provosts and fencing masters are fully qualified to teach a single weapon and pass the same demanding practical exams that typically last nearly two hours. However, provosts and full masters-at-arms must have demonstrated a high level of proficiency in all three arms.
It is a demanding process that requires encyclopedic knowledge, skill with the weapon, endurance and determination to succeed. Any master-at-arms certified by the USFCA or another country’s national academy is justifiably proud of the accomplishment. Ask to see their diploma. I’m proud to show mine to fencing students, and I don’t know of any legitimately certified master who would hesitate to do the same. When looking for a fencing coach, look for a certified professional who is an Instructor, Provost or Fencing Master. You can be sure that their skills have been peer reviewed and judged to be of a level that will help you learn to be a better fencer.
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