Quick movement is a key to good fencing. So much of this sport is about controlling the distance between you and your competitor, with those fencers who control the space winning the matches. The faster you are able to move and change direction and tempo, the lighter on your feet, the more effectively you’re going to be able to push forward through to strike your opponent.
With these tips, you’ll be able to better control the distance in matches, making you a more effective fencer!
1. Think outside of the strip
Being light on your feet is about more than just practicing those same drills over and over again. In order to really up your game, you need to think outside of the strip, incorporating innovation into your routine to really give yourself those benefits that you need.
2. Isolate your feet
Though we talk a lot about footwork in fencing, it’s important to practice this skill in isolation. Forget about your arms and first focus exclusively on your footwork. Make sure you get that foot position exactly as you want it to be.
3. Kick off your shoes
Try practicing your footwork without your shoes on. This might seem a bit odd, but you’ll uncover a lot about your footwork by taking those shoes off and seeing what’s going on in there. Keep in mind that it’s not what your SHOE is doing that matters, it’s what your FOOT is doing! You don’t need to do lunges, just simple steps for several minutes, but it will help you see your footwork in a slightly different perspective.
4. Work your leg muscles
Your legs do all of work when it comes to your fencing footwork. Talk to your coach about lower body strength training exercises like jump squats, kicks, high knees or stationary bike to build your leg muscles. You’ll find that the more you strengthen these muscles, the better in control you’ll be and the more effortless your footwork will be. Again, your fencing coach’s input is critical to all these exercises.
5. Improve your balance
Balance is a huge part of getting fencing footwork right! Consciously incorporate balance exercises into your routine, whether it’s through cross training, part of your warm up routine, or simply working with a balance board.
6. Try a balance beam
Speaking of balance, working your footwork on a balance beam is an incredible way to get some fast improvement in your agility on the strip. One day I saw my two kids playing fencing on these low wooden fencing beams that were about 1 foot high in a park. It was fascinating to see how different their moves were due to their trying to keep their balance! If you don’t have access to a balance beam, then put a strip of tape on the floor that’s about four inches wide and a few yards long, then just run your footwork up and down. If you are able to use a balance beam then great! Just don’t go for one three feet off the floor, very low to the ground works just as well (here in California we have many such setups in our local parks).
7. Work distance drills
Find a partner and work distance drills with them. Don’t focus on points or scoring – you don’t even have to hold your sword! Partner footwork drills are very important for a fencer’s development. When you do not have a partner, do shadow fencing. There are a lot of footwork drills to do with and without a partner. And if you do not have a real fencing partner, your sibling and even a parent can be one – without even moving in a fencing stance.
8. Loosen up
Sometimes what you need to be lighter is to be more flexible. Tense muscles are absolutely the enemy! Take more and better time with your stretching routine, particularly focusing on the hip flexors and the calves. You have probably heard your coach telling you and others again and again to relax – when it comes to your arm, your shoulders, your legs and your entire body. Relax and you will feel things get better
9. Visualize your footwork
Visualization is as important as practice itself. In this video they tell about an experiment that scientists conducted with 2 groups of basketball players that were of similar level and skills. One group practiced shooting hoops and another only visualized themselves doing it. At the end of the experiment the scientists found that the results of two groups were very similar. Visualizing your footwork will help your brain to build more meaningful connections. The more ways that you expose your mind to the thing that you’re aiming for, the more ingrained that skill will become.
10. Watch elite fencing
There are so many great fencing bouts online these days! Go out and look for world class fencers that are really light on their feet and see what they’re doing, how they’re holding their weight, and the way that they lean forward or back, how they move, what their rhythm is. If you are in a competition, stay till the end to see the best fencers in your age group. Sometimes what we really need is to see our goal, and this is one case where that is often true.