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Four Years with HSS: 2018 in review

Another year has come and gone, and now we are celebrating the fourth birthday of Houston Sword Sports. It’s been a busy year with a lot of growth, and we are so proud of the work the club has accomplished. Take a look back with us at 2018, as we look forward to even more great stuff in 2019!

A quick overview

This year we added four new after-school programs: Saint Mary of the Purification Catholic School, Saint Cecilia Catholic School, The Post Oak School, and Mark Twain Elementary. We had four coaches go on to bigger and better things: Lauren Baker, Evan Register, Michael Dudey, and Caroline Dikibo. We also hired four new coaches: Brian Toffelmire, Julia Fowler, Hayley Gillen, and Nick Negron. We hosted six tournaments – twice as many as we hosted in 2017. Our fencers also attended more tournaments and traveled farther than they had before. Our classes and membership numbers are growing. Here are just some of our adventures from 2018.

January 27: Fencing with the Girl Scouts

Coach Liz and Coach Caroline brought fencing to the Girl Scouts at Camp Agnes Arnold. Be prepared to lunge!

February 17: Third Annual Brash Brewery Bash

Brash foilists

The third Houston Sword Sports Brash Invitational was a blast. Raise your hand if you had fun!

March 17-18: St. Patrick’s Day Tournament

The St. Patrick’s Day tournament was the first sanctioned tournament that Houston Sword Sports has ever run. Coach Liz 3d printed the medals.

April 13: Coach Caroline’s Last Day

Coach Caroline was our first hire. She was an invaluable member of our team, working in several schools and also maintaining our website. We were sad to see her go, but glad that she landed somewhere great.

April 28: Oscar Woolnough at the Wheelchair World Cup

Watching Oscar

HSS fencer Oscar Woolnough is also a member of the British National Wheelchair Fencing team. In April, he competed in a world cup in Canada. We got his bout to play on one of the scoring machine tablets and gathered round to cheer him on.

May 12: Spring School Championships

Fencers at the School Championship

We close each semester with our School Championship tournament. Kids from all over Houston competed to win individual medals and the Golden Mask for their school.

June 18: EnPointe Wireless Strip

In June we received one of the first wireless strips produced by EnPointe. This little device replaces reels and costs about as much as traditional reels.

Summer 2018: Summer Camps

Our summer camps continue to grow. This year we offered full-and half-day camps. In the mornings, we did foil; in the afternoons we did stage combat. At the end of the week, the kids put on a show for their parents.

August 18: Fete de Lune

The Fete de Lune is a long-running tradition in the Gulf Coast section. This popular veterans tournament is known for its fantastic medals and friendly atmosphere, plus a banquet after the tournament. We took over running the tournament from Clear Lake Fencing Club and had a great time. This was our largest and most ambitious tournament to date.

September 14: First Nerd Night

Not everything we do is so serious! In September we kicked off a monthly Nerd Night, a gathering of like-minded nerds to play tabletop games of various types. For our first Nerd Night we played Dungeons and Dragons. About a quarter of the 20-some participants had never played before. Asgard Games sponsored the evening and provided game materials and HSS-themed dice.

September 5: Demo at HCC Stafford

This was our second demo at Houston Community College. This time, the college’s TV station sent a crew to cover it!

September 29: South Texas Challenge

Our fencers traveled to more tournaments this year, and we started sending coaches to more tournaments. Here’s Coach Dan giving advice to Audrey Toffelmire.

October 11: Diana Caitlin Mayerich born

The newest member of the Houston Sword Sports family joined us a little earlier than expected. Coach Liz’s new daughter Diana is already being groomed for a great future in our sport.

October 20-21: The Swiss Open

In October we experimented with the Swiss format, which is popular in chess and Magic: The Gathering tournaments. We kept with the Swiss theme by offering fondue, and the prizes were Swiss cheese and chocolate.

December 1: Fall School Championships

The Fall School Championship was our biggest yet! Lycee International de Houston took the overall prize, the Golden Mask, for the third time in a row.

December 16: Eureka Heights Invitational

We closed the year with a new brewery tournament, this one at Eureka Heights. Our long-term goal is to have a brewery circuit of four to six tournaments in different breweries. Eureka Heights was a great venue, and a great step in that direction!

On to 2019!

This Spring we’ve added two more schools for a total of 12, and we’re planning to add even more in the Fall. We’re also adding more summer camps in more locations. We hope you’ll make Houston Sword Sports a big part of your 2019, too.

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Houston Sword Sports: Year Three

We held our first classes in January of 2015, which makes this month our third anniversary. Happy birthday to us! Check out our 2017 Year in Review.

January 31: Benoit Signs On

On January 31, Benoit Bouysset joined Dan and Liz and became an owner of Houston Sword Sports. Since then, he’s been at the helm of our epee program, our competitive fencing program, and our coach development program.

February 11: The Second Brash

Brash 2017

On February 11, we hosted the second annual Brash Invitational. We’d hoped to find cooler weather in February but were thwarted by record highs. Fingers crossed that, with this winter being colder in general, Brash 2018 will have nice cool temperatures.

March 3: Lease Signed

The batting cages shortly before they became a fencing club

On March 3, we signed a lease for our own space inside The Zone, a facility where we’d been having Saturday classes for about a year. We took over the back two pitching tunnels and the last batting cage.

March 7: Buildout Begins

Buildout for a fencing club means you haul both gear and lumber

A few days later, we got started turning batting cages into a fencing club. Here’s our first load of lumber. Since we were still running classes, we had to haul a lot of fencing gear too. Good thing we had a bunch of extra cargo room.

April 15: First Classes in the New Space

Fencing in our new location for the first time

On April 17, while we weren’t totally done with the buildout, we were ready to start having classes in the new space. I can’t actually find a date where we declared ourselves “done” with the buildout, because we are still adding and changing things little by little.

May 5: School Championships

May 2017 School championship fencing

Our first big event in the new space was our School Championship tournament. Fencers from our afterschool and evening classes came to see the new space and try their hand at competitive fencing. It was a great debut for the new space!

May 12: Grand Opening

Adult beginners prepare to fence

Our next big event was our Grand Opening. We celebrated the new space the only way we know how – with a fencing party!

June/July/August: Summer Camps

Campers at Bellaire salute

Our camps grew this year, and we met a lot of new people! We offered full-day camps for the first time, to make things more convenient for busy working parents.

August 24-28: Hurricane Harvey

The week after Harvey, we had free open fencing

The end of August was not kind to anyone in the Houston area. Once the storm passed, while the city was still starting to get back to normal, we had free open fencing a couple times to let everyone get their frustrations out.

September 15: Wieck Memorial

Over the summer, Stewart Wieck passed away. Stewart was one of our founding club members and a close friend of many years. In September we had a memorial with open fencing and a memory book.

October 7: Armory Clinic

Armory Clinic

We’re very fortunate to have a world-class armorer in our club. In October, Michael gave a clinic to help us better troubleshoot and repair our weapons.

December 2: School Championship

Y8 Fencers at School Championship

In December we hosted our Fall School Championship. Attendance was much higher: in Y8 alone, we had 23 kids! We also introduced a traveling trophy, the Golden Mask, for the school with the best overall result. Lycee International de Houston won the Golden Mask; who will win in May?

December 9: Light Saber Class

To celebrate the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, we did a light saber stage combat class of our own. Participants learned the fundamentals of stage combat and then created their own fight scenes.

(Sad you missed it? We’re doing another on Feb. 9!)

December 29-30: Winter Camps

Winter Camp fun

We wrapped up the year with winter camps. Our youth camp was a full day, with fencing in the morning and stage combat in the evening. The adult camp was an afternoon full of tactics and techniques for competitive fencers.

And on to 2018!

It’s been a very full, and generally good year. We’ve added new classes and a lot of new fencers. We’ve added afterschool programs in two new schools and started working more closely with our college programs. There’s still a lot of room to grow, and that’s what we’re looking forward to in 2018. We hope you’ll be part of making 2018 bigger and better than 2017!

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Introducing Benoit Bouysset

Coach Benoit holds up his new, official polo shirt.

Last night Houston Sword Sports welcomed a new member to our coaching staff and our ownership team. Benoit Bouysset, French Master (Maitre) and former coach of the US National Men’s Epee team, is now leading classes and giving lessons at Houston Sword Sports!

Benoit’s official title is Chief Development Officer, but his informal title is Chief Epee Officer (which Liz gladly ceded to him). Benoit will be working with us to develop our coach development program, our class curriculum, and our competitive fencing team.

Coach Development: We have always placed a strong emphasis on coach development, and with Benoit on the team we’ll be able to do an even better job. Our goal at Houston Sword Sports is to have a collaborative staff of qualified, knowledgeable coaches working together to build our fencers. We have been holding semi-regular coach training sessions where we discuss our club’s philosophy and approach to coaching. Benoit will take the helm on these sessions now. He’s especially qualified to do this because his Second Level Master of Arms degree emphasized coach development and training. In the next six months, we hope to offer coaching clinics to those outside our club.

Kids at the Kipling School practice squaring off on their first day of classes as Coach Benoit and Coach Caroline look on.

Class Curriculum: We already offer a lot of different programs to a lot of different types of fencers. Some of the afterschool programs are ten weeks and some are eighteen. In some schools, many of the kids have been fencing for over a year; in others, every single student is brand new to fencing. The evening and weekend classes are ongoing, and no two kids have the same level of experience. Coach Benoit will work with the coaching staff to ensure that each class has a curriculum that works for each setting and situation.

Competitive Fencing: This season, we have seen a number of our fencers enter the competitive scene for the first time, and others dedicate themselves to fencing in competitions more. Benoit will help support these fencers in their development. He will also provide more intensive private lessons to those who want to hone their skills one-on-one.

About Coach Benoit

Coach Benoit has an impressive resume. He earned his Master of Arms Degree in 1997 and was the valedictorian of his class; in 1999 he earned his Second Level Master of Arms Degree. He is a three-time world champion fencing master for individual and team epee. From 2011 to 2015 he was a resident coach at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO, and from 2012-2015 he was the US National Coach for Men’s Epee. He also coached Seth Kelsey, the fourth place finisher, at the 2012 London Olympics. His energy and skill make him popular with fencers of all levels and he’s a great addition to our team.

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Tournament Stories by Coach Liz

Getting some coaching from my then-boyfriend, now-husband David.

Getting some coaching from my then-boyfriend, now-husband David. I think this was the Crescent City, it would have been 2003 or so.

 

Coach Liz here. The 2016-2017 season is starting and it’s got me thinking about some of my favorite tournament stories. Here they are, for your enjoyment.

Non-Combativity in Women’s Epee – Tale as Old as 2003 or so

When I first got started I wasn’t good enough to be worthy of a rivalry with anybody, but I did come up against the same people a lot. There was one really great epeeist, we’ll call her Margaret (not her name), who was very tall, very strong, and fairly passive… until you tried to attack or something, and then she’d mow you down with this fleche that I couldn’t do anything about. At one tournament I realized that if I just didn’t attack, she wouldn’t fleche, so I could lose the bout with a shred of dignity and no bruises (give me a break, I was new). The joke was on me because they’d just introduced (reintroduced? decided to enforce?) non-combativity, so when we went a minute without doing anything we both got carded. Margaret thought it was on me to try to score so she shouldn’t have gotten penalized, but apparently not.

I lost that bout, are you surprised?

My First Rating

At another tournament, I fenced a DE bout against a fencer I’d never beaten before, but I was having a great day and won. I was very excited because I’d gotten into the top four, and earned my first rating, an E2005 (I think that was the year). I’d been fencing for three years at that point and had come close to earning a rating several times but never succeeded.[1] Just before my next bout, a semifinal, someone told me that the tournament was better than I’d thought and I’d actually just earned a D (which is better than an E). I was so shocked I forgot how to fence and lost the next bout. Oops.

Let the Ref Check your Stuff

A few years later, my first DE in the women’s event got pretty interesting. My opponent’s blade failed to register a touch pretty early in the bout. When she realized it wasn’t working, she began testing it herself to try to figure out where the problem was. This is a good idea during practice but a terrible idea during a tournament – if something is wrong with your weapon, you need to ask the referee to check it so that the ref knows you didn’t just deliberately sabotage your equipment. If the ref checks your equipment and finds that it’s broken, they will often annul your opponent’s last touch since clearly you couldn’t have scored. But if you check your own stuff, they will not annul the touch.

Well, the trick here is that it wasn’t her fault that her weapon had stopped working – the floor cord had come unplugged, all the way at the end of the strip, where she couldn’t have manipulated it. The ref decided not to annul my last touch because she had tested her own stuff, and the bout committee backed him. I have asked a lot of refs about this call in the years since, and most of them say my touch should have been annulled since she couldn’t have caused the issue. Whatever the correct call was, the ref made the call they made, and my opponent got furious.

She spent the rest of the bout getting increasingly frustrated with her inability to hit me. At the break my husband overheard her saying to her coach “I have never seen someone get so many lucky touches in my LIFE.” I wasn’t getting lucky touches, though. She was so mad that she was trying to hit me hard, whether consciously or subconsciously. Every time she attacked she’d pull her arm back and I’d neatly, lightly counterattack her arm. Then she’d slam into me with the force of a thousand suns (or a 110-lb teenage epee fencer) a split second after I’d already gotten the point. I began to get a little worried for my safety after one particularly savage blow to my knee (epee fencing tip: when you are mad and getting counterattacked, do not aim low, you only make their job easier). I walked away from that bout with about 12 bruises and a victory.

Time to Go!

Later in the same tournament, I ended up in priority. This means that the score was tied and we had run out of time. Priority in fencing means the referee tosses a coin and then you fence for one minute. If somebody gets a point, they win and the bout is over. If nobody gets a point, the winner of the coin toss wins the bout. I lost the coin toss, so my only path to victory was to hit this girl. We were fencing on a strip that had the clock displayed, and my opponent smartly maneuvered me to the point that I couldn’t see it. I wasn’t too concerned because I thought I had a pretty good idea of how long a minute lasts, so I was biding my time and waiting for the perfect moment. Well, I waited a bit longer than I meant to. I heard a few people start to yell “Go! Go!” and my husband said “Uh… Liz?” in the same tone he uses when I’ve forgotten something important like my keys on the way out the door. I realized this meant it was time to attack. So I lunged, and hit her, and turned around and there was one second left on the clock. Thanks for the coaching, honey!

Bad News, Good News

I won the next bout, too, and went to the final. I was fencing better that day than I ever had in my life, but that also means more fencing than I’d ever done in my life, and the fatigue was setting in, and I could barely hold my epee anymore. Sometime between the semifinal and the final I lost my glove. That was the bad news. The only glove we could find at that point was an old, stiff leather glove in size large. The good news was that because it was big and stiff, it actually helped me hold the epee. It felt like I had a little scaffold around my hand. With the help of that glove I won the final bout and earned my first individual gold medal.

A few months later I found out that one of my teammates had taken the glove home thinking it was his even though it had “Liz M” written on the cuff.

Want some stories of your own? Sign up for tournaments! The Cougar Call to Arms is coming up September 17-18 right here in Houston. Also, buy a 2017 calendar and then circle February 11, because that’s the second ever Brash Brewery Bash.

 

[1] You earn ratings by placing highly in a tournament of a certain size; the rating A-E depends on your placement and the size of the tournament, and the year you earned it in follows the letter.