Fencing is a game which is yet to gain popularity in India. Whilst its importance in European countries, Indian people are still deprived of knowledge about this game.
Ajinkya Dudhare, a fencer from Maharashtra has created his own identity in this game. He got fascinated by this game at a very young age and now is aiming for 2020 Olympics spot.
This is the interview Ajinkya Dudhare gave to Sportsbeatsindia. Do read how he dealt with the difficulties and overcame the problems.
How was your childhood and how did you get attracted towards Fencing?
When I was in 2nd Std, my father used to go to a ground for fencing. So I used to accompany them there. The games I used to play at that time were softball and baseball. I also used to practise Fencing. The real opportunity I received in the field of fencing was in the State level competition where I was selected. I won a medal in that tournament and thus I shifted my focus towards fencing completely.
It’s been almost 20 years that I am into fencing and I love this journey.
Normal people in India hardly have any knowledge about fencing. If you had to explain this word to a common man, how would you explain it?
The word I use to explain people what my profession is, is तलवारबाजी. When I utter this word, then people generally relate to what I am saying. Then I clarify their doubt about the sword we use. They ask if the sword is a real one or not, how the game is played and so on and so forth.
How were your initial stages of practise and where would you practise?
Bhosla Military School was the place where I used to practise. This is located in Nashik. I was provided a school hall and I used to practise there in the evening.
In 2004 I was selected in the National Camp. Under a foreign coach named Martin, I practised at Bangalore. Since then I have been in the national camp.
Maharashtra didn’t have quality coaches to train with at that time, so National Camp proved to be important for me. Around 2008 I trained under a proper coach.
Along with your father, who was the prime source of motivation for you and why?
When I used to play at the National level, there was a fencer named Jayanta who used to win 3-4 Gold Medals in the same tournament. So I looked upon him as an inspiration. Later I was lucky enough that we both were in the same camp for 3-4 years.
Gaza Imbre is a Hungarian fencer which I admire a lot. Even at the age of 43, he represented his nation in the Olympics and won Silver Medal. He is a left handed person and I am also lefty, so somehow following him has helped me a lot in my game.
How do you keep yourself motivated and determined?
The main source of motivation for me is the Olympics. No fencer from India has made it to the Olympics till now. So I want to become the 1st Indian to do so. My parents have always supported me in my career and never forced me to do a job and earn a fix income. They always made sure that my full concentration is towards fencing and nothing else.
See how fortunes work! Till the age of 27 I was completely into fencing and during that time Maharashtra Government gave me a job through the direct appointment. That also kept me motivated that yes, even the government is supporting me right now so I should make the full out of it.
Fencing is more of an adventure rather than a sport. It requires a lot of determination, daring and grit. How do you manage to have all the skills?
Observation is extremely important in fencing. I have learnt a lot of things through observation. Videos have helped me a lot in improving my skills and developing those which I already have. I go through various videos of my coaches, international players and I try to learn from them.
Reacting to the opponents move, defending it and then making the necessary attacking moves, this requires reflex actions to the next level. What are things you practise to develop these skills?
Our training basically involves drills which will make sure that reflex actions are polished. Shuttle runs are the ones we practise daily. The recreational games we play are also the ones which help us a lot. “Bone in the middle” is one of them. Red Rose is another game we play to increase reflex actions.
This sport involves a lot of risk factor. What are the risks and injuries you have faced in your career?
Touch wood, I haven’t faced any injury until now and I hope I don’t face any.
Talking about the risks, we take all the care needed.
The game is extremely safe, the clothing we use if of 800 newton, so the sword can no longer enter our body or go past the clothing.
The equipment needed is to be bought by each player and no federation or government takes the responsibility of that.
If you are under the SAI (Sports Authority of India) scheme, then the equipment is sponsored by the authority. In my case, I have managed all the expenses by myself.
How has the government helped you? What is the overall role the government plays in fencing?
I am involved in the Maharashtra Government scheme for 2020 Olympics. So I get funding from the government for training.
Talking about overall scenario, Madhya Pradesh government is functioning very well and they have created training centres for players where they just have to stay and practise. The food and the accommodation expenses are all bared by the government.
There are hardly any places where Fencing is actually practised. Recently in Aurangabad, there is a centre which was started and is completely used for fencing. Around 13-15 fencers practise there and the results are also positive.
Abhay Shinde is the one who recently won a medal in the Junior International Circuit.
What are the different ways where you are working towards the betterment or popularity of the sport?
I have been offered a government job as the coach for fencing. So in the 1st year after my appointment, I organised a residential camp for fencers in Dhule. Around 40 young kids participated in that event and this was definitely a promising number for me. I also used to train fencers in Nashik when some event was organised.
On the similar lines of IPL, different leagues should be started and broadcasted on Television. People will start respecting this game only when they will come to know about this.
What are the things that the government or the federation needs to do in order to make sure that fencing improves in all aspects?
My father is the treasurer of the Fencing Federation of India. So he has started a scheme called Mission Olympic 2024. The main motive of this scheme is to attract young school going students towards fencing. So they arrange various competitions at the school level so that maximum children can participate and win medals.
What are the difficulties you have faced in your career?
The main problem I faced was about the equipment. Maharashtra didn’t produce fencing equipment at that time. There is a sports shop called Asian Sports in Patiala, Punjab.
He started production of the swords which were only suitable to right handed fencers. As I started in 1998, I first held the left handed equipment in 2002. I used sticks as equipment and even held the right handed equipment in a different way.
I also rented the sword at times.
At a tournament, I rented a sword but the sword was suitable for right handers. Even though I managed to reach the quarter-finals and lost with just a point.
Any memorable face off or any particular tournament which you can never forget?
In 2016, there were Senior Nationals held in Pune. My event is EPEE. When the lamp lights the player gets the point. The match was against Punjab.
Punjab was on the score of 40 and Maharashtra was on 30. Punjab needed just 5 points to victory while we needed 15. I played in such a way that I didn’t give any chance to the opponent and won the match. Punjab could score only one while I scored 15. The final score was 45-41 in favour of Maharashtra.
What is your next aim in life? Any achievement you missed out till now?
In 2015, I and my friend went to Hungary for training for the senior nationals which were scheduled in December. I came back to the country accordingly. But somehow the nationals got delayed and finally it took place in March 2016. My plan was to return to Hungary after the Nationals in January and practise for the Olympic Qualification Rounds which were going to take place in April.
Those 3 months affected my Qualification. I couldn’t perform to my level best. If I could have travelled back to Hungary, I could have defeated my opponent.
What is your main aim?
My main aim is to qualify for the 2020 Olympics. No one had done that before in fencing and I definitely have the 2016 thought in my mind. So I am giving my 100% to make sure that at least I qualify for Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Where do you see Indian Fencing in next few years?
According to me, it will take atleast 10-15 years for fencing to be as popular as other games. I hope India reaches a level of Asian Championship Medals in the next 5 years.
What message will you give to the youth?
I will tell them that don’t give up any sport. Not only studies but sports also can take you ahead in your life.
Consider my case, I was offered a government job because of my sporting career and not because of my education. So keep playing and don’t give up.