I was thinking about how fencers could repurpose items of equipment to make any face covering mask fit better and be easy to take on and off one handed. I came up with this great hack, check out the video below:
Basically, you can take the Contour-fit plus strap off your existing fencing mask and attach it to your face mask. It can then be adjusted to reduce pressure on your ears and make it fit better especially under your chin.
As the clasp is magnetic, it is easy to do up behind your head and you can the mask one handed, which is useful if you want to hold open a bag to place it in before washing.
Seven months on from the start of my nine-month placement at Leon Paul and I can honestly say I have learnt so much. The degree I’m studying at Nottingham Trent University is Sport Engineering, so being part of the Product Development Team here has been the perfect application of my studies. A lot of what I had been learning in my first two years at university were the fundamentals, the science behind why things happen, this included some applied practice but typically not sport specific. So being here and seeing what I have learnt being applied to existing products, using the techniques and equipment myself to create my own designs, has been exciting and rewarding. In addition, the work environment has allowed me to develop my communication skills, through research and sourcing, I have built relationships with suppliers. Working within a close team has also enabled me to get a holistic feel for the whole business and is another reason why this placement has been so valuable to my degree and my personal development.
It’s always hard putting yourself in a completely new environment. So, leading up to my move to London, on my own, living the furthest I have from home, for my first full-time job, it’s fair to say I was genuinely nervous. This move was a big step for me, but my personal growth has been huge; the support and opportunities I have received have made the whole experience a lot less daunting. I finally have a much clearer idea of the career path I would like to pursue after university, with a great network of colleagues who have supported and advised me over my time working here.
I am now looking forward to going back to university with a deeper understanding of the content, and with new ideas, for my final year project. Before I leave my placement here, I hope to write another blog post on what I plan to base my final year project on and the concepts around it. Ben Paul has been really forthcoming with ideas and advice; I will just need a solid plan for the assignment, ensuring I can meet the criteria, then I can acquire confirmation from my lecturers and start the project.
Unfortunately, due to the current unprecedented events, everything has been thrown a bit in the air, creating constant speculation of what the rest of the year brings. One certainty is that I have had an amazing opportunity to learn and create, which I will continue to do, developing the skills that I can, from wherever I am. If not this year, then maybe in 2021, there could be some products being sold that I worked on as part of a placement project. Perhaps a bag, a chest protector or glove, I’ll say no more.
I don’t have many photos of me working here at Leon Paul, but here is a short time-lapse of some reverse engineering I completed earlier in my placement, and yes that just means taking a product apart, there is a logical reason I promise.
As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I was due to run the London Marathon at the end of the month (April 2020). Due to the COVID19 Pandemic, all major sporting events have been cancelled in the UK and around the world. This blog was going to give you an update on my progress with a view to my race in just under four weeks time, however it’s more an update on what my plans are now.
I started the training process by selecting the Asics 3hr, 16-week program and kicked off the day after my 39th birthday. I was in fairly good shape after some tough races over the holiday period and the first 6 weeks went really well including a new personal best at the Headcorn Half Marathon in Kent. It took place in the worst conditions I’ve ever experienced. It was raining sideways at the start and the course was flooded in places. My wife, Emily, won the women’s race in a new course record as we crossed the line together looking like a pair of drown rats. The prize for setting a new women’s course record was a free breakfast which she kindly donated to me. Nothing says ‘I love you’ like a bacon, egg and sausage sandwich!
Being a former athlete, I like to have structure in my life. I still keep a training diary and have the training plan pined above my desk at work. I overwrite in red the sessions as a general record and a tool to keep motivated. After all, no athlete likes a blank page in their training dairy. My 12 day trip to Poreč, Croatia, to be part of the DT at the European Cadet and Junior Fencing Championships didn’t cause any disruption to the program as feared. As I’ve written about in another blog, the DT team were all very accommodating and we had a rota so I was able to carry on and complete long runs along the picturesque Croatian coastline.
In summary, everything was going very well into month 3. There were rumours with the escalating virus issues and major events had started to be postponed or cancelled but, as athletes all over the world have to do, until the official line came, you carry on as normal. I completed a 20 mile race in week 9 and then a slightly easier week 10 saw it end with another Half Marathon race. The London Marathon was officially postponed on Friday 13th March and the Hampton Court Palace Half Marathon likely to be the last race taking place for a while. I decided to run this one out with a full effort and see where I was at fitness wise. I lined up at the start with 2,886 other hardy soles and set off at 9am on the dot.
I completed the course is another personal best of 1:20:25 finishing 15th overall. This was very pleasing as it was well inside my target of 82 minutes and the time is well under what a sub 3 hr marathon runner should expect.
I was a little unsure what to do with my training now. I needn’t have worried, 4 days letter I was out on what should have been a 9 mile progress run when I felt my hamstring tighten up 3 miles in. I jogged slowly home and took a few days off. With no marathon to train for and increasingly tightening controls on being able to leave the house I was upset at this set back but saved from the worry and hassle of having to train through an injury in an attempt to keep my mileage up.
A graph produced from my Garmin running app shows the increase in volume from just over 100 miles per month to well over 200 miles per month, that mixed with the half marathon done at 6:09 minute mile pace was probably too much for my old legs! Have noted this for next time.
As a side note, how did runners ever train without Garmin watches, the Strava app and iPods? I love to listen to a podcast or audiobook on a long run, it’s like my little treat when I’m not running with a group. If you want to connect with me via Strava, please feel free to add me, I’m the Jon Willis in London with a photo of me as a fencer. I tend to be a little mean with my kudos but if I give you some it’s because I think you really deserve it.
As I nurse my hamstring back to health, I’ve dropped the mileage and intensity of the running and discovered the world of virtual cycling on a program called ‘Zwift’. I’ve hooked my bike up to a turbo and in turn to my computer. I can now ride in a very realistic virtual world with my friends and complete strangers alike! It’s obviously not as good as the real thing but it’s infinitely better than sitting on an exercise bike in the gym. So far I’ve ridden around London, New York and the made up world of Watopia on virtual group rides with members of my running club. It’s a great way to exercise from home and the ideal way to keep fit in the current climate.
Finally, back to the subject of this blog. I won’t be running the London Marathon this year. In all likely hood I’ll be busy during October when hopefully the fencing world has return to normal. I will therefore defer my entry to April 2021 and keep my fundraising page open for another year.
With all things being well and with another year of running under my belt I’m going to change my target time. For this year I had a target of sub 3:15, I’m going to change that and go for a target of sub 3hrs in 2021. The directors of Leon Paul want me to run the marathon in full fencing kit… I’m not to sure about that one personally but if anyone wants to make a ridiculously large donation to my sponsorship page I could be persuaded…
Leon Paul are generously donating a Three Weapon Wireless set and a £100 Leon Paul Voucher as prizes for a draw to help raise money. Anyone who sponsors me via my ‘gofundme’ page and types the word FENCING! in the comment after donating will be entered into the draw which will be done on Wednesday 28th April 2021. You get 1 ticket for every multiple of £5 donated, so if you sponsor me £20 that’s 4 tickets! Anyone who has already sponsored me, thank you very much and don’t worry, your entries will be carried forward to the draw next year.
The 2020 European Cadet & Junior Fencing Championships took place in Poreč, Croatia, during the backend of February and start of March this year. I was selected as one of the 5 DT members for the 10 days of competition. It felt like a nice follow up to being part of the DT for the European U23 Championships in Plovdiv last year.
Andras Szetey from Hungary was President of the DT. It’s his job to create the timetable and is ultimately he is the guy in charge of the competition. It was decided that Lena Tallroth-Kock from Finland and myself would be in charge of one weapon per day while Julius Kralik of the Czech Republic helped with operations in DT. The local DT member, Mirna Borosak, was officially the liaison between the DT and the local organising committee but she got her hands dirty running the competition with us on top of her other duties.
Every DT functions in a slightly different way. There is no exact formula to follow with every DT President having his or her own way of doing things. Everyone who has worked with me at any point over the last 7 years know exactly how I like to run my ship. My regular referees and now increasingly the fencers, parents & coaches know where to be at what time and there is very little margin for error on my timetables. There certainly isn’t time to go Starbucks between the poules and DE’s rounds!
Andras is a man after my own heart who sets very challenging timetables. For example he scheduled the men’s foil poules to start at 9am and the first flight of incomplete L128 to start at 11am. That’s 2 hours to get a foil poule of 7 done, the results in, checked and then the first flight of DE out and stated. I’ll admit now that I didn’t think it would be possible, however being the new guy on the team, it’s not my place to question the boss, my job was to make it happen.
Once the referee delegate had handed out the scoresheets to the referees my job was to walk the floor and make sure the fencers got to their piste in time to have their control marks checked by the referees and be ready to fence 5mins before the scheduled start time. At this level, most the athletes know the set up and we managed to start bang on time. I spent the rest of the poules walking around the field of play on hand to sort out any issues. One nice little trick was to photograph a the last finished poule sheet and ‘WhatsApp’ it back to DT so they could get the result into the computer quicker. Every second counts with a demanding timetable.
Amazingly we did it! The incomplete round of L128 started at 11am. The competition ran ahead of schedule and because there was no live TV for the finals we could bring the start time of the finals forward. This is better for all concerned including the fencers competing the following day and especially the officials who have to work the ten days straight.
Ten days in a row is tough, especially when you have to be there from first thing in the morning to last thing at night, you are pretty much looking at 12hour days for DT members. I was thrilled when I received my invitation to the championships but was worried that fell right in the middle of my marathon training program. I was chasing a fast time at London Marathon, somewhere around or ideally below, the 3 hour mark. Ten to twelve days of little or no running was going to make that a much tougher challenge than it already is. I apricate at the time of writing this that events have overtaken us so marathon training is no longer an issue with the cancellation of all major sporting events due to COVID19 but I wasn’t to know that at the time.
I needn’t have worried. The DT team where very accommodating and we actually took turns to have some mornings or afternoons off. The days when I was in charge of Men’s Sabre, I managed to do my long run on the morning with the poules not starting until 12 O’clock. I completed a total of 9 training runs and cover just over 94miles (150km) whilst in Poreč. I have written in a previous blog how much I enjoy running because I can switch off from thinking about work and just enjoy the podcast or audiobook I’m listening to at the time. Despite it being physically demanding, I think the running helped keep me mentally fresh.
The whole experience was very positive, it was the biggest Cadet and Junior European Championships yet and with the very positive DT President, we manged to finish ahead of schedule every day. My favourite complement came from the French delegation who said the whole event had a ‘favourable ambiance’, high praise indeed from the French! The DT team would like to take all the credit for this, but a competition is only as good as its referees and volunteers. I don’t think I’ve worked with a better group, everyone was fantastic from the referees to the small children carrying the bags to the pistes. It was great to catch up with some old friends as well as make many new ones as well.
The biggest perk of the job, apart from getting to cut the lunch queue, was that I could go anywhere on the field of play. I got to pretty much stand piste side and watch some of the best young fencers in the world doing what they do best. I was also asked to present Carolina Stutchbury of Great Britain her bronze medal in the Cadet Women’s Foil. It’s always nice when your home nation wins a medal and you get to share in a tiny part of the celebrations.
In summary, I learnt a lot from the experience with the big
takeaway being that you can achieve the same result, running an efficient
competition, in different ways. I have a
few new ideas of how to improve fencing events in the UK and hopefully, if I’m
asked to take part in more International events, can use my experience to help
run major championships better as well.
Fencing and fashion have often gone together in the past, for instance, just a few years ago Dior made a whole collection based on fencing kit. So, when one of our own James Honeybone was asked not only to walk in London Fashion Week but also to supply fencing kit for the sustainable brand VIN + OMI, we knew that this was different than the rest. VIN + OMI don’t just make clothes, they create fashion made from anything recycled in order to show the world that we don’t have to create unnecessary waste. In the past they have made clothes from old paint tubes to nettles from HRH Prince Charles estate, and here at Leon Paul we are always looking for new ways we can be more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
James being a fencer and Olympian himself, he already had a lot of old fencing kit lying around that was just gathering dust, and so adding that to some kit here at Leon Paul that was unable to be sold (factory seconds or incorrectly named) the designers got to work creating their masterpiece. A month of hard work from the team at VIN + OMI and it was time for the show, and we finally got to see what had become of our kit.
As you can see the fencing kit has been completely transformed into something new and incredibly striking, proving that old can become new once again. As for what has been done with the old fencing kit, just to give some examples:
Broken blades have been heated with blowtorches, then contorted to arc around the shoulders whilst being attached to a metal plate on the back of a Foil lame
The Foil lame became an inner waistcoat to a Sabre lame, which was then pierced through the back and shoulders by the broken blades
Epee guards were modified and then attached down the front of the Sabre lame to be a shocking centrepiece
Two masks had their bibs, inner padding and fittings removed and were then carefully tailored and fixed to the Sabre lame to become fitted shoulder pads
Multiple pairs of breeches and jackets were tailored, dyed and customised using many different methods
Two chest plates have been combined with frilled bits of lame material to create a shoulder pad and side panel incorporated to a plastron
We love how the clothing turned out, it’s a truly unique and new way of looking at fencing kit, and a great way of promoting sustainability within fashion.
Thank you to James who donated his fencing kit and Team GB clothes, and a huge thank you to VIN + OMI, we are so proud to have been able to collaborate with such an influential brand.
would like to see more of VIN + OMI’s work then you can find it here:
Here are a few updates on our drive to become plastic free and to have all packaging either made from fully recycled material or be fully recyclable.
We were very proud of our updated packing in 2012, we came up with a nice design that was a matt black with a white Leon Paul logo. They looked great and were the same price as our old packaging. However, it turns out that by adding the black not only does your packaging become non-recyclable in 80% of facilities but also, it uses dyes that detrimentally effect the environment. Therefore, no more black boxes! We have moved to a new box made from 100% recycled cardboard and we found a clever design that means we now don’t need any plastic straps to hold the box shut or any plastic tape. Tape is terrible for recycling and uses glue and plastic in all the worst ways. The new clever interlocking design means the box uses no tape and no plastic, even when fully closed and secure.
We have now moved all our mask packaging to a compostable material, so clothing and mask packaging are now all fully compostable or recyclable.
Our bags for our retail outlets are now made of recycled paper, these can be recycled or reused for shopping. If you can use a paper bag 4 times it becomes one of the more environmentally friendly ways of transporting new purchases.
Our new bags for transporting blades and weapons from our retail outlets are made from sugar cane – a recyclable and carbon neutral product. It would be nice if we could carry our fencing weapons openly on the London underground, but unfortunately people might call the police, so we have to wrap all the weapons we sell face to face in something. These new bags seem the most responsible way we can find currently.
NEXT – To come in next following months
Compostable small packaging for weapons parts
Air brush customisation – This will allow us to change to a non-toxic paint and to reduce the number of paint cans used
If you are a regular reader of our blog you may have noticed that we have a small team of very dedicated people at Leon Paul and some excellent outside contributors. We are always looking for ways and means of creating new and interesting content and we thought, for the curios amongst you, this would be a good time for a little behind the scenes look at a small part of our content creation process.
In a recent meeting in our London office, one of our Directors, Alex Paul, produced a copy of World Sports (Volume 33 No. 10) dated October 1967. This was the official magazine of the British Olympic Association. It was in astoundingly good condition for its age and contained two pictures on fencing, one of which was this image on page 32.
The fencer in the image is Graham Paul, the Uncle of Alex and Ben the current directors or Leon Paul.
The extract of the method from the magazine. “These pictures of 20-year-old Graham Paul, British foil champion in 1966 and a commonwealth Games gold medallist, were taken by World Sports cameraman Peter Abbey using a high speed Ektachrome film in a pre-focused Bronica 2 1/4 sq. camera. A two second exposure was made in complete darkness as the foil, with a four-volt bulb attached to the tip, was moved. After two seconds a single electronic flash was fired from the side of the subject and the shutter closed. To obtain the best exposure the shot was repeated at apertures carrying from f2.8 to f8”
We have seen quite a few different versions of this technique over the many years that Leon Paul has been in business, but we thought that it could make for great content for a number of reasons, not least the fact an original version involved a Paul family member. Adding the recreation to our creative schedule was a no brainer, we have the skills, equipment and people to make it happen with a modern, digital, LED take.
Director Alex Paul (in Art director mode, unseen here) and our in-house photographer Ian, got to work with one of our LED sabres, a darkened studio and a volunteer fencer, for some long exposure image shooting.
Here are some of the results of the shoot, and I’m sure you’ll agree that they look great! Keep an eye out for these images on our online stores, email campaigns and social media accounts soon.
Cannon EOS 1d MKIV, flash light, long exposure set up. 1 – 2 second shutter speed, aperture F/11 and a great fencer.
What does an international fencer do when they retire?
I stopped fencing in June 2012 with the European Championships in Italy being my final event. Barring a few little fun outings at small UK domestic events, I have not picked up an epee in anger for over 7 years. I’ve not completely stopped playing with swords, as I do a small amount of coaching in the club but no great volume.
As many people know, I started work for Leon Paul, my former equipment sponsors, as their Fencing Centre Manager in the summer of 2013. This kept me out of trouble during the day but I still had free time in the evenings. I tried several activities to fill my newfound freedom including playing 5-a-side football with LP Director, Ben Paul and his team. Ben is a surprisingly good goal scorer, a fox-in-the-box if you will. The lack of structure and no training sessions made it hard for me to buy into the activity though I did enjoy going to the pub after a game for a couple of beers.
I even got into online chess as a pass time. As a novice, it was fun playing low-rated online tournaments. Problems with online cheating and having a cat that makes a habit of walking over my keyboard when I’m trying to play, caused both annoyance and erratic play. This added to the complete lack of physicality left me feeling as though I was missing something in my new non-fencing life.
My then girlfriend, now wife, had started running and signed up for a marathon. As crazy as this sounded to me, she was really enjoying it and went on to join Trent Park Running Club. After about a year of watching and listening to her talking about it, I decided to give this running lark a go as well. Being a former athlete, I wasn’t a complete newbie to running but after struggling on my own for a bit I took the plunge and joined the club as well in November 2018.
Alongside starting fencing, taking the Leon Paul job and marrying Emily, giving running a go was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. It suits me down to the ground with the physical elements and training structure. However, even more is being part of a club again. The jokes and banter between the runners in my training group is so similar to being in a fencing squad it’s unreal. They never miss a chance to point out how much better at running my wife is than me.
I have been introduced to a whole new world from local Saturday morning Parkrun to Marathons all over the world. I have lost 5kg in weight since I started running whilst actually eating more! The feeling of being outside and doing physical activity again with a group of friends has been great for my physical and mental wellbeing. With mental health being a more acceptable topic of conversation in today’s world, I would recommend to anyone who can, go out and walk, jog or run at their local 5km Parkrun on a Saturday morning. It’s total free and the volunteering side is very rewarding also.
This brings me to my final point. I will be running the London Marathon on Sunday 26th April 2020 and in doing so, raising money for the Welbodi Partnership. It is a very worthwhile charity that works to build the capacity of the health systems in Sierra Leone, West Africa. It is a cause very close to Leon Paul Director Alex Paul’s heart, as he and his wife spent a year out in Sierra Leone volunteering with the Charity.
Leon Paul is generously donating a Three Weapon Wireless set and a £100 Leon Paul Voucher as prizes for a draw to help raise money. Anyone who sponsors me via my ‘gofundme’ page and types the word FENCING! in the comment after donating will be entered into the draw which will be done on Monday 27th April, the day after the marathon. You get 1 ticket for every multiple of £5 donated, so if you sponsor me £20 that’s 4 tickets!
I know what you might be thinking, I’m not ‘sponsoring him to do something he wants to do’ but don’t worry, I promise not to ‘dial-this-one-in’ and plan to complete the Marathon is sub 3:15. You can rest assured in the knowledge that I will be suffering lots during the 750 planned training miles and then the 26.2 miles of the race itself.
When I was first invited to the Belt and Road Master event, I had no idea what to expect. There wasn’t a lot of information other than that it was going to be held in Xi’an (formerly known as Chang’an) and that it was going to be held sometime after the World Championships. Even on my flight over to Xi’an, I was a bit unsure of how to competition was going to be run and what exactly we were supposed to do. Turns out my worries would be unfounded as the event not only exceeded my expectations, but was a true spectacle through and through.
Xi’an is a very important city in Chinese history for not only was the beginning of the Silk Road (an ancient trading route that brought Chinese influences to Middle Eastern and Western countries and vice versa), it was also the ancient Chinese capital and burial place of the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. When I first told my mom that I was invited to compete in a competition in Xi’an, she was ecstatic because this was an opportunity for me to see the Terracotta Warriors. The Terracotta Warriors are not only world famous, but are extremely culturally significant to the Chinese people because they were built to protect the first Chinese Emperor in the afterlife. Qin Shi Huang was the first person to fully unify China as a country and though he did fight war after war to unify China, he is also credited with standardizing everything in China. Before Qin Shi Huang, each province had their own dialect, their own measuring system, and their own currency. Qin Shi Huang was able to standardize everything so that it would be the same in all of China, including a written language which made communication much easier amongst all of the provinces. His influence can still be seen today because even though all the different provinces in China still have their own provincial dialects, the written language is still the same. Growing up with a Chinese mother and attending a Chinese bilingual school for 11 years, I was really excited to see the city that I had only previously studied or heard stories of.
The competition in Xi’an featured four men’s foilists and women’s saberists from the world and four each from China. In the men’s foil competition I was joined by Peter Joppich, Erwann LePechoux, and Alessio Foconi whereas the women’s saberists were Mariel Zagunis, Olga Kharlan, Irene Vecchi, and Manon Brunet. Though I was familiar with all these fencers, this was an opportunity to get to bond and get to know everyone a little more.
The first night we arrived to Xi’an, after dinner, I decided to go explore the city a bit with some of the other fencers. Erwann had mentioned a night market that was within walking distance from the hotel, so we decided to go there. Though I am familiar with Chinese night
markets, the night market in Xi’an was different than any I had gone to before. You could tell right away the influence the Silk Road had on the city of Xi’an because the second you walked into the night market you could smell a plethora of different middle eastern spices. Not only that, the night market is located around an old mosque that was built for the first Muslim settlers in Xi’an so you can see Islamic architecture and writing on the buildings and walls surrounding the night market. Erwann, Manon, and Olga were fascinated by some of the exotic foods that were being sold at the various stands. There were deep fried crabs on a stick, pigs feet (these were sold by non-Islamic stands) on a stick, grilled squid on a stick, and much much more. We went through the night just soaking it all in and regretting that we had eaten so much food at dinner but even though we were full, we decided we had to try something. It being a staple at almost every night market across China, I bought some candied strawberries and candied shan-zha (a Chinese fruit, almost like a mini apple) for the group to share.
The next day was the competition. The format for the competition was direct elimination from a table of eight with each “world team” fencer matched against a Chinese national team fencer. My first match was against Wu Bin, the current anchor for the Chinese team. Though I have fenced him before and had success, I knew I had to be focused because I hadn’t trained too much yet after World Championships and also the Chinese fencers would have the benefit of the hometown crowd. The preliminary bouts all took place in a mall across from the main gates of the old city of Xi’an. Although it was just the prelims, there was quite a decent crowd spectating the matches so I knew I needed to fence hard. Starting off the bout, I could tell that my opponent was ready and motivated to fence. It was a back and forth affair, trading touches throughout the bout, but I was able to secure my spot in the semi finals, 15-13. My next match was against another Chinese fencer who had beaten Le Pechoux the bout before. Huang Meng Kai is a strong fencer and I’ve actually known him since my last junior world championships. Again, right from the beginning of the match, he was motivated and fencing hard. With the crowd cheering for him, the last Chinese fencer standing, he was able to take me down 15-14 to face Foconi in the finals. Though I lost the bout, I was really honored to partake in the individual event and have so many fans show up to watch the competition. I even won over some new fans when the organizer (knowing I speak Mandarin) asked me to say a few words to the crowd. Even though I had such a good experience during the prelims, nothing would prepare me for what I was going to experience in the finals.
Before the finals began we were taken to the front gates of the old city of Xi’an. These city walls were originally built in the 14th century to protect the old city and the end of the Silk Road. Though we had seen the city walls during the daytime, seeing them lit up during sunset and the night time was quite spectacular. The opening ceremonies began with a presentation and
performance of some old Chinese folk songs, all while we were busy signing autographs for the many children in the audience. Though we thought that had the opening ceremonies concluded right there it would’ve already been a great opening ceremonies, we were all blown out of the water with what came next. Once the singing finished and the sun began to set, we began to hear music blaring from the speakers all around the front of the city gates and a light show began right in front of us. The opening ceremony involved over a hundred performers dressed in traditional Chinese garb, not only putting on a performance, but leading us into through the old city walls and to the finals arena. They even brought the drawbridge down for us to ceremonially walk across and into the old city of Xi’an. All the fencers already were in awe of the opening ceremony, but when we came to the finals arena, everyone’s jaws dropped.
The finals were held outdoors, in between two palaces, with a massive jumbotron behind the fencing strip. Even with the wealth of experience shared between Joppich, Le Pechoux, Foconi, and myself, all of us agreed that we had never fenced in a venue like this ever before. Just knowing you are going to fence in a venue like this makes you want to perform as well as possible, no matter the circumstances. Although I didn’t have a chance to finish my individual
competition in the finals venue, we had the friendly “China vs. the World” team event to come. Unlike the normal team event that involves three fencers fencing the other three fencers on the opposing team to a total score of 45, because this was just a friendly match, each fencer was only to fence one bout against a single fencer on the opposing team. As members of the “World Team” we drew straws to determine the order in which we would fence. The final order, from first to last was: Joppich, Foconi, me, Le Pechoux. Getting on the strip in such a grand fencing venue was truly surreal, but luckily my team gave me a bit of a lead going into my bout. It was really an honor to fence in such a spectacular venue, and I tried to savor the brief moment I was on stage competing up there. I was able to win my bout against Chen Hai Wei and Le Pechoux closed out his bout to bring home the victory for the World Team.
The next day was organized for just sightseeing and relaxation. We started our morning by touring one of the local elementary schools in Xi’an. We were all greeted extremely warmly and it was a good opportunity for us to interact directly with the students and fencers who were
watching the competition the day before. Not only did we get to watch some fencing between the athletes of the school, we were able to spend our time signing autographs and speaking directly with the kids. Being able to interact with the kids on a personal level, and not just taking photos and signing autographs, is what is truly rewarding to me because I want to be able to inspire the next generation and be a role model for the athletes that come after me. Being able to do it in China, where the kids are less exposed to international fencers, is also particularly rewarding because you can tell how excited the kids are to meet, not only me, but all of the athletes who were there.
After we left the school, we finally were headed to where I was most excited to see this trip: the Terracotta Warriors. As I mentioned before, the Terracotta Warriors are extremely culturally significant to the Chinese people and even my mom has always wanted to go see them herself. When she heard I was invited to compete in a competition in Xi’an she told me I had to
do it, if only to see the Terracotta Warriors. They did not disappoint. The sheer number of warriors was already an amazing sight but, if you look closely, you can notice that the details on each of the several thousands of warriors are completely unique. Whether it be the facial hair carved on the head, the weapons they were carrying, or the colors that they were painted, no two soldiers are the same. Unfortunately the color has faded from most of the soldiers that are open to the public, but there are photos from when the excavation first started that shows how differently each warrior was painted. Not only that, but each warrior carries a different rank based on their height, hairstyle, and uniform. Whether they were a soldier, archer, general, crossbowman, or cavalryman, you can identify their rank or position just by looking at them. All of us were truly blown away by the craftsmanship demonstrated in these ancient warriors, especially because without this trip, many of us would have never seen the Terracotta Warriors in person. Seeing such an integral part of China’s history was absolutely amazing and it was an experience I will never forget.
Once we finished our tour of the Terracotta Warriors, our last dinner was to be held at the Xi’an Fencing and Golf Club where some of the fencing official would help host a traditional Chinese dinner. Exhausted from such an exciting day (and trip), it was the perfect way to spend the last night of the trip. These are some of the moments that I will always look back fondly on once I retire from fencing. Outside of the athletic world, how often do people have an opportunity to sit down with friends and competitors from all over the world, just to share a meal and some laughs? A big part of fencing is just enjoying the process. Make new friends from all different places and backgrounds, experience what the world has to offer, be adventurous and do things you have never done before. As we finished that last dinner and thought about heading home, we all agreed on one thing: we were enjoying the process.
Here at Leon Paul, we have always been obsessed with removing weight from our equipment. Science tells us that the lighter the object the less force required to move it. A lighter object can be accelerated and moved faster, and stopped and controlled with less force. However, balance is also key in a sport where point control is essential. To remove weight from an object like a sword that is made from a series of parts is relatively easy, you take it to bits and study every piece, removing grams wherever possible. But to maintain the original balance and control or feeling of the object is much harder.
At Leon Paul we split a weapon into three categories in a similar way as racket sports and golf does. We have ‘Point Heavy’, ‘Guard Heavy’ and ‘Evenly Balanced’. I won’t talk about blade stiffness in this post as that is a whole other subject, but this also greatly affects the point control.
‘Point Heavy’ is where the balance of the blade is higher up the weapon. This balance would be more suited to people that like to flick in Foil or Epee.
Guard Heavy’ is where the weight of the blade is further back and the balance point is as close the hand as possible. This balance would give better stability in parries and a tip that is easier to control.
‘Evenly Balanced’ is when the weapon is balanced on a single point, the distance of this point is about 10 cm or 4″ from the hand.
think about each component in a sword:
Each component effects the overall weight of the blade and the balance point
If you add a very light tip made of titanium, the balance of the weapon will move closer to the hand, if you use a heavy tip made of tungsten the balance moves forward to the tip.
By producing a range of parts in a range of weights you can then create different weapons that can be tailored to an individual’s preference and style of fencing.
By reducing the weight of each part, it allows you to make an ‘even balanced’ weapon that has a much lower weight, allowing you greater speed and control. This is what we wanted to achieve with Project Zer0. A series of products needed to be redesigned and created to achieve our goals.
Foil and Epee
Tip: A Titanium Tip based on a German design and tested with the top international foil fencers. 40% lighter. We have taken the best and made it better.
Handle: The Mag Tec handle made an exponential leap in our ability to reduce weight in a pistol grip. Now we have taken that idea to the next level. Working on the design with Alex Massialas and Enzo Lefort to make something so lightweight, whilst maintaining structural integrity and being incredibly comfortable in the hand.
The Mag Tec Zer0 Pistol Grip is the lightest medium sized pistol grip ever mass produced, whilst still conforming to all FIE rules. At 46g it is 50% lighter than a traditional aluminium grip. Each hole is milled out at 6mm wide to ensure that tips cannot be trapped in the weapon.
Nuts: If you read our blog about nuts here: ALEX BLOG then you would know we are absolutely nuts about nuts. When watching some Formula 1 Racing recently, I heard them talking about how the nuts used to hold the tires on had been specially made to reduce the weight, but maintain the same strength. After some research we now produce our Hex Zer0 Nut. Made from Anodised Aluminium the new nuts weigh a crazily low 1.5 grams! A staggering 80% lighter than the traditional nut used.
For Sabre we have completed the first and the hardest change – redesigning our Sabre guard, whilst two more products are under way and will be completed in time for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Redesigning our lightweight sabre guard was a far harder task than envisaged and has taken around 1 year in development. The shape of a traditional sabre guard was quite front heavy and the weight was not distributed evenly or cleanly. Our new sabre guard was designed and created by James Honeybone, Team GB Olympian & Sabre fencer who works here at Leon Paul in our Marketing and Product Development Teams.
A prototype Sabre is now under testing and is shown below. This will be released along with a new Maraging Sabre blade which should be in time for the FIE rule update for Sabre blades after Tokyo 2020.