In the United States anyone can become a coach in any sport simply by saying that he or she is one. There may be limitations as to who can be employed as a coach, especially in youth programs, but if you want to be a coach, simply say you are one, and presto… you are one. This is particularly true in fencing, where not only the term “coach” is used, but also the terms “fencing master” and “maestro” are commonly assumed by individuals who want to be seen as experts in teaching the sport and preparing athletes.
This confusion makes it important to understand who actually is a fencing master and what qualifications that title demands. Internationally the governing body for the Olympic sport of fencing is the Federation Internationale d’Escrime (the FIE). The FIE recognizes the Academie d’Armes Internationale (the AAI) as the international professional coaching organization. In turn the AAI recognizes national coaching organizations. In the United States the recognized professional coaching organization is the United States Fencing Coaches Association (the USFCA). The USFCA is also recognized by the sport’s national governing body, the United States Fencing Association.
This trail of recognition is important because the certifying body for fencing masters in the United States is the USFCA. If you hold a diploma from the USFCA or one of the other national academies recognized by the AAI, you can legitimately call yourself a Fencing Master (or Maitre d’Armes).
So how does a fencing coach become a Maitre d’Armes. In the United States the USFCA certifies four levels of coaches:
Assistant Moniteur. This is an entry level position which qualifies an individual to assist in leading group classes in a club environment. The Assistant Moniteur must have completed at least 20 hours of practical teaching, and pass a written and a practical examination administered by a Moniteur or higher qualified coach.
Moniteur. The Moniteur is the first level of professional coach. Moniteurs are trained to teach group lessons in a club environment or to teach beginner or intermediate individual lessons. They must pass a written examination on rules, fencing technique and tactics, training methods and safety and risk management, and teach a complete lesson in a practical examination supervised by two Prevots or a Maitre d’Armes.
Prevot. A Prevot is a fully qualified coach capable of preparing advanced students for competition in individual teaching and training lessons. The Prevot completes a more demanding written examination that includes fencing tactical and training theory, and a practical examination involving teaching, training, and warmup lessons. Prevot examinations are supervised by two Maitres d’Armes.
Maitre d’Armes. A Maitre d’Armes is capable of preparing elite level competitors and of managing training programs and all of the activities of a fencing club or salle. They pass a more rigorous version of the practical examination and complete a thesis on some element of fencing theory, tactics, technique, or training. The candidate Maitre is examined by three Maitre d’Armes.
Starting in 2009 the USFCA started to certify Prevots and Maitre in single weapons, an option that had always existed for Moniteurs. Single weapon Prevots and Maitre are fully qualified to teach a single weapon and go through the same demanding practical examinations that are usually close to two hours in length. However, full Prevots and Maitres d’Armes must have demonstrated a high level of skill in all three weapons
This is a demanding process that requires encyclopedic knowledge, skill with the weapon, stamina, and the determination to succeed. Any Maitre d’Armes certified by the USFCA or by another country’s national academy is deservedly proud of the accomplishment. Ask to see their diploma. I am proud to show fencing students mine, and I don’t know any legitimately certified Master who would hesitate to do the same. When you look for a fencing coach, look for a certified professional who is a Moniteur, or Prevot, or Maitre d’Armes. You can be sure that their skills have been evaluated by their peers and found to be of a standard that will help you learn to be a better fencer.