Fencing has gained more popularity than ever before in Mongolia as young fencers start to build up a reputation on the world platform. The Fencing Association of Mongolia (FAM) has been working to promote the sport and train new and aspiring athletes since its establishment in 2009.
The following is an interview with the head coach of FAM, D.Ganbaatar, who earned an international coach title earlier this month by completing a special training at the Semmelweis University in Budapest, Hungary through a scholarship from the Mongolian National Olympic Committee.
Can you tell us about the recent training you underwent in Budapest city and why you decided to attend it?
This is the second time a Mongolian coach participated in this training. The training started last year on March 22 at the prestigious Semmelweis University located in the capital of Hungary, Budapest, and finished on June 9. The Mongolian National Olympic Committee decided to concentrate on advancing fencing from among 10 different sports in need of further development, so they sent me to Budapest for the training.
I underwent training with coaches from 16 other countries. The USA, Scotland and the UK had sent fencing coaches just as Mongolia did, and the rest sent football, badminton, and other sports coaches. The training covers over 300 hours of lectures in theories and practices related to fencing. Since I passed the final examination with flying scores, I have officially become an international coach.
Why did the Mongolian National Olympic Committee decide to further advance fencing in Mongolia instead of the other nine sports? Would you say that they took the rapid development of fencing in the country into account?
I guess we could say that. Fencing is an Olympic sport, as well as one of the four sports that have been growing since the first Olympic Games. Fencing has been developing in Mongolia at an astounding rate since we founded our federation. I’m sure the Mongolian National Olympic Committee considered this when selecting a coach for the training. I’m very grateful to the committee for giving me this opportunity.
You said that you attended the training with American, Scottish and English coaches. As fencing is already a well-developed sport in these countries, did you have a lot to learn from them?
That’s right, but I didn’t fall short in terms of general coaching because I’ve been working with famous Russian coach Alexander Rovnyagin for two years now. He came to Mongolia to advance the development of fencing in the country to a new level. A lot of people get surprised when they hear that FAM works with coach Rovnyagin and ask us how we were able to scout him.
Rovnyagin was born in 1952 and has coached national fencing teams of Russia, China, Hong Kong, Iran, Jordan, and Uzbekistan. He managed the Russian national team during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. He’s a very famous coach who helped his team win the Olympics four times.
I’ve learned many new things from him and I dare say that I’m a pretty good coach who wouldn’t lack in any way compared to the finest coaches in the world. In any case, FAM has an exceptional personnel helping young athletes become the best in the world. I noticed that despite the fact that fencing is highly advanced in the said three countries, their coaches seemed to be around the same level in terms of skill.
Apparently, you earned a degree in sports journalism. Why did you choose to become a coach?
I played with swords ever since I was a kid. I enjoyed watching fencing competitions and shows broadcasted on Russian channels too. B.Khosbayar, the president of FAM, imported gears and uniforms used for fencing and established FAM in 2009. He’s also a good friend of mine who opened my eyes to the world of fencing.
In the beginning, we used to train athletes in small halls and even corridors. After training them for a few months, we organized the first State Championship. We started sending our athletes to compete in international tournaments against foreign athletes in the same year FAM was founded. There were so many things we didn’t know and couldn’t do. We failed and made mistakes but I believe that we set the foundation for this sport very well.
I first joined FAM as an athlete – an aspiring fencer. I worked my way up, and now, I’ve become a coach and a mentor for other young aspiring fencers.
…I dare say that I’m a pretty good coach who wouldn’t lack in any way compared to the finest coaches in the world…
How challenging was it to introduce fencing, which was hardly known to Mongolians at the time?
It was indeed very challenging. We put in a great deal of effort in introducing and raising awareness about this sport. Our members emphasized the need to set the right foundation for fencing as we’re still at our starting point. This is the key to a good and healthy development. Our first coach was sent to train in China in 2010. Our main goal at the time was to promote fencing to the public. We worked under this principle until 2013 and started training athletes after our coaches completed training abroad.
Last year, one of our athletes, Gerelmaa, came in seventh place at the Asia and Oceania Zonal Qualifier, the qualifying phase for the 2016 Summer Olympics. She, unfortunately, lost in the medal round. Another Mongolian fencer ranked in 16th place at the Junior World Fencing Championships. Although our athletes haven’t made a significant achievement at a high-level tournament yet, I see a bright future ahead of them and in the development of fencing in Mongolia.
Tell us about a time when it was difficult being a fencing coach.
FAM President B.Khosbayar and former FAM President J.Otgontsagaan did many things for the association to help it stand on its own feet. I played a very tiny part in this. The support we received from parents who came to us with their children interested in becoming fencers was very important to us. There were times when I felt really disappointed and upset when I saw our athletes lose and see the winning team celebrate. Now, all of that is behind us. We’ve gained experience and skill to some extent now. We will not back down and keep moving forward no matter what happens.
What are the benefits of practicing fencing? What draws people to this sport?
It’s a combat sport that involves long and sharp swords. Fencers need to concentrate hard to be able to read their opponent’s movement or they’ll get hurt. The key objective is to bring your opponent down with your sword. According to experts, fencing requires people to use both sides of their brain so they will be able to maintain neuron pathways to healthy intelligence. Children gain confidence as soon as they start training in this sport and it enhances their creativity as well.
People’s activity/movement and brain are directly linked. It’s said that lack of movement could slow down your brain performance. Fencing is internationally recognized as the “physical chess” of the Olympics. Many middle and high schools in developed countries have included fencing in their curriculum.
Isn’t fencing known as a sport of the elite?
Yes, that’s right. Sports are divided into three classes. Fencing fits in the highest-ranking class. Some people even determine the development of a country through this sport. It’s said that fencing originated in Western Europe, specifically in France and Italy. Apparently, a country steadily develops as it advances these so-called high-class sports. Based on this assumption, Hong Kong and Singapore are developing very quickly.
Some people say that fencing is a rich man’s sport but it’s a huge misunderstanding. The full fencing uniform and gear set costs around the same price as a pair of good-quality basketball sneakers.
…Fencing requires people to use both sides of their brain so they will be able to maintain neuron pathways to healthy intelligence. Children gain confidence as soon as they start training in this sport and it enhances their creativity as well…
You used to train in epee, in which fencers use the largest and heaviest swords. Can you tell us how it is different from the other two disciplines of fencing?
In epee, both fencers can earn a point at the same time. The rules are simple. They can attack any part of their opponent’s body with the tip of their sword. Most Mongolian fencers use the epee type of sword.
In April, FAM re-elected its president, vice president, and board members. Our association has an internal rule that specifies that we must remain a federation that follows all relevant ethics and principles. Our new heads are all young people. We’re aiming to enhance the skills of our athletes to make them eligible for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics.
This interview was originally published in Mongolian on Zasgiin Gazriin Medee