Julia Richey is the head coach and owner of the Royal Arts Fencing Academy in Columbus, Ohio. She also expanded youth fencing in the United States by putting together the Arnold (as in “Schwarzenegger”) Fencing Classic. The next to be held March 2-4, 2012 (click here for more details). Recently, Richey was featured in a short film by partner and fellow fencing coach, Tim Mills called “American Fencer” about Richey’s life as a young fencer and later, a successful teacher and promoter. Watch the video here (click).
Now… It is our privilege to give you the next in a long line of amazing interviews… Fencer/Teacher extraordinaire, Julia Richey.
Fencing should be an easy sport to promote. What is the best way (in you and Tim’s opinion) to “turn on” kids to the sport of fencing?
Julia: Each club has to make a huge effort to promote itself using every opportunity to connect to the public like shows, shopping centers, big events, etc. More than that, the opportunity has to be there to try it not watch it. Watching experienced fencers fence at a demo is great, but picking up the sword yourself will make you want to do it.
We need to celebrate our stars. Students have to be raised with knowledge and respect of the fencing stars. We don’t have a future without a past.
Tim: And our stars have to promote and be visible.
It all relates to visibility. Every kid has made something become a sword and fought in the backyard. They imitate Star Wars, Captain Jack Sparrow or the Princess Bride. When we do events people walk by all the time getting into an en garde and pretending with their friends. We are blessed with the fact that Hollywood still loves a sword fight and new movies come out every year with them. This year alone we’ve had Pirates 4 and the upcoming Three Musketeers and Puss in Boots. They just need to know it is available.
There is a lot of discussion about how to change fencing to make it more TV friendly or understandable by the public. There are certainly some things we have to do in this regard, but we put too much emphasis there. That won’t fix it. There are a great many sports that have complicated rules. If it is exciting and engaging the audience will learn the rules.
At the Arnold ( and all of our events ) we set up an area to “Try Fencing At the Arnold.” The kids are watching the fencers on 25 strips and think it looks cool, but just outside those rooms is an area where they can put on gear with their family or friends and try it out. This is a hugely successful thing that helps to get people fencing. In the case of the Arnold, they travel from around the world, so it benefits other clubs more than ours.
Really, you should come to the Arnold next March and see all the little things we’re doing to try and engage the public and get fencing in the minds of the world.
Who are some of the athletes competing today that you admire and what is it about them that sets them apart?
Mariel Zagunis, she is the first and only american fencer that one all Olympic games that existed in her weapon.
Stanislav Podzniakov ( recently retired ), did the same for russia, won it all and was a model fencer for many even here. He will continue that role in his current position.
Tim Morehouse, besides being the best male sabrist in the country and Olympic silver medalist, he is the best promoter of our sport. He is one of a handful of people in this country that have made great efforts at bringing fencing to the public attention.
There is a longer list of competitors that I admire their fencing in all weapons.
What weapon appeals to you the most and why?
Foil, sabre then epee in that order. It’s like watching three different movies. They’re all exciting but each brings different feelings to you. The structure of the foil fencing allows you to set up and have resolution in the most powerful way. Sabre feels like playing cat and mouse with me being the cat. Epee is like dancing: structured with only three rules that, if you follow them, you can win the Olympics. Of course when I was young in the Soviet Union, girls only had the choice of foil.
Who were your mentors in fencing? And what was something important that you learned from them?
I had a lot of them, actually. My first coach Victor Knyazev who brought me into the art of fencing and gave me more than he had to get me to the national level at the time. Through my fencing career since 1984 till now I have met and met had great experience from learning from many amazing, worldwide personalities that fenced, taught fencing or just wrote about it.
Fencing is a great sport that provides great coaches and athletes that are accessible to all of us. I just read a great article from one of our parents that Tim is about to post to our newsletter website about how awesome our sport is that his kids have trained with, fenced with and met Olympians and elite fencers from several generations. There aren’t many sports that provide opportunities like that.
In your movie, American Fencer, it showed that you suffered from a severe back problem. How did you back problems come about?… and how did you renew yourself?
My back problems started with an injury that did not occur because of fencing, but because of my fanaticism about fencing I was told by my doctors not to fence. But that was not acceptable. I just kept working at it and fought through constant pain. It reached the point that it snapped shown in in the movie. Thankfully with my knowledge and trinaing in reformer pilates and personal training, I was able to recover myself to the best back condition I’ve ever had in no time. Now, most of my pilates clients come to me to recover their backs, knees, hips after accident or surgery. Or to improve their golf swing.
Has Katya decided to fence like her mom?
She did when she was younger. She was also helping with classes and traveled a lot with me. When she became a teenager she wanted to go her own way. She fell in love with rowing. Then she shifted to artistic routes and never came back to sports ( yet ). Certainly, the fact that her mom is very competitive with almost everything surrounding fencing contributed to her needing to find her own way outside my sport.
What are the biggest obstacles in running a fencing academy?
Do you want the short list or long one?
It’s a delicate balancing act to keep clubs open that don’t have many decades of stability and a city where fencing is recognized and know. For us it is always an issue of balancing the need to get out to various locations and expand our offerings against the available resources.
We consider our fencing club our family. We do a lot to support each other. We offer opportunities outside the norm like lock-ins and making our short films, which the kids love to do. That, too is a balancing act. We have to grow in size in order to survive, but at the same time we can’t grow so big that the personal touch and connection isn’t there from us. Fencing is all about relationships, whether it is our opponent on the strip, the referee or your coaches. Like any relationship, they require a lot of work and fine tuning. The hectic “real” world often challenges what we would like to do.
Continuing our theme, visibility is the hardest thing to do. There are still a lot of misconceptions about fencing. Breaking those barriers and getting the media to see fencing as a viable story is often difficult. We’re fortunate that we have a huge event with Arnold Schwarzenegger to help us. But again, that may help other clubs more than us. It is difficult to take the limited resources a club generates and get advertising and visibility on almost no budget.
We do anything and everything to get in front of people. And then we let them try it. The nice thing about fencing is that even if someone comes through and doesn’t like it or thinks it’s more work than they thought it would be, they’re still going to tell their friends they got to fence. So it works in our favor. We could actually write an endless list of things about running clubs.
(Combative Corner… I wish you would)
What are you future goals, for this year or for the next 5?
Like in preparation for Olympic games I have big goals and small ones that serve the big ones. TIm and I working every day on creating different tools, structures and doing research on ways to reach the public to make fencing more popular. My personal crazy goal as a citizen of Columbus, Ohio ( OSU Buckeyes ) I want to make fencing more popular than football in this country. It is very hard to raise champions in the middle of the country when they don’t have competitions to overcome to become the best. We need a strong base to build off of.
Have you come to a point where you’ve decided that the saber is your favorite weapon, or are you still a foilist?
I’m always a foilist. But, as I said, they all relate. I just found ways to use my foil ability to make sabre fun, exciting and useful for me. If I had a choice when I was starting fencing, I probably would have chosen sabre.
When Julia is not fencing or teaching or helping run a fencing academy, what does she enjoy to do in her free time?
Free time? The parents of our fencers encourage Tim and I not to take vacations because any time we have down time we come back with more ideas and thus more work.
Sculpture. Art. That’s how I ended up running the Arnold Fencing classic. I love music. I taught myself guitar when 16. I love to dance, which relates to next movie we’re editing now. Equestrian. I love jumping horses. I like to drive fast. Books and movies. Good food. And my main favorite I love people and like to have experience of meeting and discovering different personalities.
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