Wednesday, October 11, 2006

En Garde!

When I first heard that our intern class would be given the opportunity to receive fencing instruction I was rather surprised. Why fencing? What significance does it have?

Before we began our lessons, Mr. Phillips gave us a lecture on the significance of fencing and how it relates to our internship. The article below, written by Mr. Phillips and posted on his blog, entails the points made during our introduction to the idea of fencing.

Perhaps the most unusual element of the Vision Forum training is the requirement that the entire intern class study fencing. Under the delightful and expert instruction of Andrei Samorodov, a former Russian fencing champion and Soviet/Russian military officer, the Vision Forum men are learning the disciplines, execution and proper competitive technique of the Épée. I am so very thankful for Coach Andrei (founder of the Alamo Fencing Academy) who provides the men with excellent private instruction at an exceptional price.

There are five goals to the Vision Forum fencing program:

1. Mental: Train the men to have fertile, quick, analytical minds which think strategically in conflict situations. (Fencing is largely a mental discipline.)

2. Physical: Cultivate the physical component of the Vision Forum internship’s preparation for life and manhood by exposing the interns to intense work-outs, challenging physical disciplines, and actual combat.

3. Historical: For nearly six-thousand years the predominant weapon of choice for self-defense and warfare has been the sword (in its many incarnations). Numerous practical and spiritual applications can be drawn from understanding the history and application of this weapon.

4. Friendship and Teamwork: Provide the interns with an unusual opportunity to grow in friendship and appreciation one for another as a team of men committed to a common goal, thrown into an environment with which they were completely unfamiliar, who must learn to understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

5. Spiritual: Learn to understand the numerous applications and relevant spiritual analogies to be drawn from fencing, (including the biblical teachings regarding the sword and the life of the Christian) such that their knowledge and experience with fencing can be a tool for practical encouragement and instruction of others.

Our instructor, as Mr. Phillips mentioned, has as colorful and exciting history. Mr. Andrei Samorodov, a former Soviet Military Special Forces Officer, was one of the very last immigrants from the Soviet Union to seek political asylum here in the United States. Pressure to murder civilians from the higher ups in his branch of the Army created the circumstances to which he was given two options: commit murder or die; kill or be killed. This deterioration of events motivated the Captain to risk all, pack up his family leave Russia, and head for America.

However, with such short notice he was not able to enter the States with all of the necessary clearance and thus he attempted to enter illegitimately, an action which soon brought about detainment. Below is a section of articles which were posted in the New York Times regarding this part of his story.

After spending six months in an immigration detention center, where he gave U.S. intelligence officers a detailed briefing on the state of Russian battlefield communications and cryptography, Samorodov was granted political asylum in the United States on May 12, 2000…. …Samorodov’s defection emerged last fall when a San Antonio newspaper made an appeal to its readers to pay the air fare to bring the former officer's wife and children to the United States. They arrived three months ago from Stavropol under the same grant of asylum.

Regretfully, this story has been revised by the NY Times with a new article. The reason for this “correction” was explained to be the result of new information being brought to their attention. It just so seems that Russian officials informed the paper that none of the events told by Mr. Samorodov and recounted in the published article ever really happened, and that this officer was just a dismissed, has-been, troublemaker. http://www.freelists.org/archives/news/03-2002/msg00041.html

Once he gained his naturalization into the States, Mr. Samorodov began to support his family by giving fencing lessons and by performing handy man type jobs. Soon his skill as an instructor allowed him to completely devote his working hours to fencing instruction. Because of his skill as a teacher, his best students have taken top awards in State and National competitions, and his 13 year old daughter took the Silver Medal during the Youth Women's Epee Division in the 2004 U.S. Nationals.

As you might assume from the accomplishments related above, Mr. Samorodov is a wealth of information on fencing and is himself quite good at it. His career in the sport started when he learned to fight epée in his early teens. Soon he began to receive attention from many prominent colleges and sponsors as he quickly progressed. Soon he began to win oblast (city), and eventually district competitions, and gained very respectable and high paying sponsors to the point that he became a full time professional fencer.

I’m not sure exactly how VF crossed paths with Captain Samorodov, but one thing is certain, Mr. Phillips picked a good and thorough teacher. Our classes have exposed us to rigorous instruction, muscle burning drills, complete physical workouts, and the thrill of bashing each other with cutlery in a completely unorganized way (when rebuked by, “Guys! You are not gladiators!” we started learning that skill is actually involved in this sport). At the conclusion of each class, all four of us walk, sometime unsteadily, out the door sweating from every (and I mean every) pore in our bodies.

In light of his regard for family values, a strong tradition in Russia, Mr. Samorodov has a deep respect for the goals and focus of Mr. Phillips and The Vision Forum. Though he is not a saved man, he has been greatly encouraged to see an organization which seeks to encourage the development of character, discipline, and family unity.

I’m sure you will hear and see more of our fencing experiences in the coming weeks, but here is a little update from my perspective:
· Tait has assumed the style of a strong charging steed and is a determined, hard fighter.

· Christopher is very technical and thinks about every touch and quickly determines how to fix his weak spots.

· Jason is unpredictable. He studies different styles and tries out new methods with speed.
· I have been described as untraditional and as “one of those crazy lefties”.

· So far we have all fenced each other, several other members of VF, a few of Alamo Fencing’s best 8-12 year olds (skill has little to do with size), a United States Men’s Division National Champion, and a1972 Olympic silver medalist.

In conclusion, we are enjoying this unique opportunity and are trying to do our best to take capture of every aspect of the experience. As the days progress, more pictures will be posted. Thanks for stopping by and stay tuned…

1 comment:

Phillip Bradrick said...

Wow! That is a great story. I heard just a little bit of that when I was studying under him. It is great to hear more. Keep up the great work.

Learn to fence - Fence to win!

Phillip