Strategies for answering Jimmy’s question flashed through Coach Dan’s mind, were quickly sorted like a man riffling through a pile of mail. Give him the historical answer? The challenged from Josef, the old college fencing coach? No, that approach required far too much context; Jimmy was looking for a quick answer. New-found love of the sport? No, even if true, it sounded too much like a cliche. Enjoy working with students? No, he was a teacher as well, that couldn’t explain why he’d started a fencing team.
Suddenly, it came to him. Coach Dan looked up, scratched his black beard, smiled at Jimmy.
“We’re creating something new here, my friend. It’s more my students doing than my own — being part of this fencing team has allowed each of them to find out something about themselves that they didn’t know existed.”
“You mean physically? The skills?”
Coach Dan shook his head. “No — well yes, there’s that joy in executing a lunge, or disengage, even parrying an attack, the riposte. They enjoy that, but what they’re discovering goes way beyond the physical.” He paused, asked himself if he really believed in the the thought at the tip of his tongue, but decided that even if he didn’t, he was certain he would like the sound of what he said next.
“They’re learning that it’s OK to be different. That it’s OK to be passionate for a sport that doesn’t get a lot of attention. That it doesn’t matter what others think about what they’re doing, so long as they do what brings them joy.
“Nobody fences for the sake of someone else. All fencers ultimately fence for themsleves. I’m seeing these young men and women figure out who they are. And it’s very, very cool.”