Ute Scholl is a fencing coach who works in both the UK and Germany as a Sport and Exercise Physician. With no Fencing club close to her home in Germany, Ute also coaches the sword form of Tai Chi when possible.
Having been inspired and taught by her first coach?Master Eggert at the?University of Sport at Cologne, Ute went on to?teach actors and opera singers in the art of fencing, some of her most noble work being in Romeo & Juliet and?Don Giovani
We wanted to learn more about Ute’s experience and her thoughts on the lack of female coaches within Fencing.
You are currently qualified as a Level 2 epee, Sabre and foil coach with British Fencing. For those of us who are unfamiliar with fencing, can you briefly explain what each of these are?
There are the three weapons used to fence in modern fencing: The foil, the epee and the sabre. The differences are in the part of the sword with which points can be scored and the target area in which points can be won. For the foil the target area is the torso only with points to be scored only with the tip of the weapon. In epee the target area is the whole body with points to be scored with the tip of the blade. In sabre the whole upper body from the waist upwards is target area with points to be scored with the blade and tip of the weapon. The three weapons have different shapes and weights with sabre being the lightest weapon and the epee being the heaviest.
How and when did you begin fencing and what inspired you to become a coach?
I always wanted to learn to fence, but as I was growing up in the countryside there were no fencing clubs anywhere near and fencing was not taught at school. I just played a lot with sticks which were easily available. The first opportunity to fence came when I went to University in Cologne. The Fencing Master then happened to be the National Sabre Coach and it was not only fabulous being trained by him, but also opened up an opportunity to get involved in coaching at an early stage in my fencing career. It was a very special time as Master Eggert was teaching at the German University of Sport at Cologne which gave me access to the institution and the available resources there. Master Eggert was an inspiration in that he was using leading edge coaching methods at the time and his passion for fencing was second to none. Master Eggert introduced me to scenic fencing which led me to teach actors and opera singers in the art of fencing. My best fight choreographies were for the production of Romeo and Juliet and Don Giovani.
It is still hard to find a coach now who will match him in passion and know how. I regularly participate in continuous professional development and found a second truly inspiring coach in David Kirby from Shakespeares Swords in Stratford upon Avon. He is also able to combine his passion for the sport with first class coaching.
Apart from modern fencing I practice sword form tai chi, ancient sword fight and am looking forward to start using the Katana (samurai sword). I think and believe there is something magic about swords.
You have been a great supporter and contributor of our weekly discussion forum on social media called ?#womenswednesday? and many a time have spoken about the lack of female coaches in fencing. Why do you think this is and what are the biggest challenges for female fencers and female fencing coaches?
Coaching in the UK is still very male dominated and part of an old boys network who unfortunately do not take female coaches serious. The British Fencing Association is currently undergoing a major restructuring and hopefully things will change.
As a female coach in fencing you have a great time commitment which includes traveling a lot on weekends and many late evenings. With a family at home that can be very difficult. It is also hard physical work as it involves lots of heavy lifting especially if you work at schools and have to carry all the equipment to the lessons. Another reason might be that you get bruised a lot which can be quite disfiguring. And a lot of younger female coaches probably drop out because they suddenly graduate and start a career.
As well as being a fencing coach, you are also a Physician working between the UK and Germany. How do you juggle your commitments in fencing alongside your profession, which must be very time consuming!
It is no problem when I am in England as I work only part time as a physician and have lots of time left for coaching fencing and tai chi. In Germany I am working full time as a Physician and there is no fencing club close by. There it was easier for me to set up tai chi classes in the evening as I can do this locally and it is not so much time consuming. I am still getting my fencing and fencing coaching fixes when I am back in England as I offer Master classes at the locations I used to teach and coach. For me it is always a great joy to come back to England and see my students and to see how they have progressed. It is also a new challenge for me as I have to think about something really special every time I come over to England instead of building continuously.
Are you involved in fencing in Germany as well? How do the sporting cultures differ between the UK and Germany with regards to women in sport and women coaches?
No, I am not involved in fencing in Germany as I do not have the time. I am not able to comment on female coaches in Germany. But in my job I work with German athletes and I do not perceive major differences between the two countries with regards to women in sport generally. A major difference in regard to fencing is that in Germany women receive the same support and funding as man. In England there is still a great disparity in that the majority of funding and support goes to male foil fencers (weapons get discriminated against as well).
You were involved with setting up beginners classes in Devon in the UK, funded by the National Lottery; can you tell us a bit more about this project and what was your inspiration for setting this up?
I was delighted to find a fencing club locally when I moved to Devon. Unfortunately there were not many people attending the sessions (on average 4-5). Because I love the sport and like to see other people enjoying it as well I thought about a way to boost membership. The equipment you need for fencing is not cheap. In order to attract people to take up the sport you need equipment new members can borrow till they make their mind up whether fencing is a sport for them and buy their own. Together with the club committee I put in a funding application to The National Lottery to get money for equipment and for advertising the club and sport. This enabled us to run taster sessions and to advertise the club nights. As a result of this we were able to grow the club to an average attendance of 14-15/session.
And going back to my childhood when I had not being able to learn fencing because there were no opportunities. To expose a rural community to fencing, I secured some funding as part of Active Villages and set up classes in local schools and the local village hall. It was very rewarding to see that the older generation of villagers enjoyed fencing as much as children at the local primary and secondary school.
You were a volunteer at the London 2012 Olympics – can you tell us about your experience and what your role was?
Just experiencing the energy of the games was very special. I have worked at other major sport events but the Olympics was in a league of its own.
Prior to the competition period I was involved in fine tune the lighting in the venue, working with the camera crews, the lighting contractor and officials from the FIE. During the competition period I worked in the call room making sure the athletes got through the required security check and were ready to compete on time. A special treat was to lead the fencers to the field of play and then have a ring side seat to watch the action. It was a mixture of stress, delight and joy. The teamwork was just phenomenal. And I was able to learn a lot about the organizational side of a major event.
What advice would you give to other female fencers who may be finding it difficult to progress in their fencing career?
My advice would be to persevere and have fun! I think a major factor in adherence to any activity is fun. Apart from advice I would try to find out why the fencer is finding it difficult to progress. There might be so many different factors involved starting from environmental to personal and all in between. If I can find out what the problem or difficulty is I can start to work it out with the athlete.