He can fit all of his gear into a narrow blue duffle bag. It’s not very heavy and easily holds his mask, chest armor, gloves and, most importantly, his foil. That’s all Junior Alexander Vassilevsky needs for fencing practice each week.
He doesn’t practice to be the best in the field or win prestige from competitions; he does it out of enjoyment. He focuses on appreciating the short time he devotes to fencing each week and making it worth his effort.
Vassilevsky arrives at Heartland Fencing Academy in Overland Park each Thursday night ready to go. He runs through the usual drills, jumping jacks, running laps and other calisthenics, before putting on his helmet and armor to practice his techniques. When Vassilevsky fences, he focuses his mind on mastering his style and form, in addition to simply enjoying what he’s doing.
Vassilevsky fences recreationally, meaning he doesn’t compete at tournaments, and began his career during his freshman year. When his parents asked him to find a sport to participate in, he turned to an ad he saw in a Johnson County Living Magazine for HFA. On a whim, Vassilevsky decided to head down to HFA and give fencing a try. And it was perfect for him.
Fencing was something that he didn’t have to treat as a competitive obsession. Instead, fencing is a craft for Vassilevsky; something he can improve on and apply to his life, rather than a sport that consumes his life.
“I’m not afraid that I don’t have the skill to move to competitions,” Vassilevsky said. “It’s just that [the competitive tournaments] are kind of a waste of time for me personally.”
It’s not a sport that you have to compete in to take something out of, he explained. Fencing provides valuable lessons and skills to all people at all levels. In Vassilevsky’s case, it provides an easygoing environment that also allows him to sharpen himself mentally and physically.
Fencing in general is considered a mental sport that challenges the two opponents and forces them to work with and against one another. As one opponent thrusts, the other must deflect in unison. It’s this challenge in fluidity of motion and cooperation that appeals to Vassilevsky more than potentially winning different tournaments.
“In this way fencing is a very challenging and very beautiful sport,” said Emilia Ivanova, Vassilevsky’s coach and head coach at HFA. “But it’s meant for kids who think at a very high level.”
Ivanova is a decorated fencing athlete and a seven-time National Foil Champion of Bulgaria. She also coached the Bulgarian National Foil Team and participated in the 1996 Olympic Games. Throughout her years as a fencing instructor, she has worked with kids of ages ranging from 6-60, rookies to Olympians. Each of them is looking to take different aspects from the sport.
She notes that for recreational fencers like Vassilevsky, one draw to the sport is the mentally captivating and stimulating aspect. It’s something that often interests academically successful students, and can easily be applied an intellectual environment.
“The format of their lessons, 1.5 hour long sessions, is very good for Alexander because it allows time for him to switch gears from homework to a fast paced competition,” Lena said.
Vassilevsky’s mother, Lena Vassilevsky, describes how his weekly practices can provide a break to his day that allows him to re-engage himself using a whole new skill set.
And surprisingly Vassilevsky manages to pack academic, mental and physical stimulation into an hour and a half on a padded gym floor. It’s easy for him to do and even easier to see how it can affect his everyday life. Through fencing, Vassilevsky has found a unique passion that has manifested itself in a way that doesn’t require his intense dedication and obsession in competition. Instead, all fencing requires from Vassilevsky is an open mind and a thin blue duffle bag.