Fencing equipment is expensive and most of it will last for a long time. On the other hand, if your fencer decides to change weapons, do they need a new mask for their new weapon?
Every fencing weapon is different, from scoring, to some elements of the uniform, to the weapon. Though there are some things that are totally interchangeable, like fencing knickers and the fencing jacket, other things like the mask are not exactly the same for each weapon.
This is a problem we’ve come across recently as we moved from a foil/epee club to an epee-only club. Luckily, we found a simple solution!
Electric vs. Non-Electric Masks
The big difference between foil masks and epee masks is that foil masks are conductive in their bib.
Epee masks are straightforward, simple insulated mesh coverings over the face and a plain white bib. The entire body is the target area in epee.
For the most part, a foil mask is the same as the epee mask – an insulated mesh covering over the face and a bib. The difference is that there is lame material sewn onto the bib at the neck, a potential target area during the match. The mask cord connects to the bib to allow for scoring to register.
One of the worst things that we all do, and we all do it to some extent, is to compare ourselves to others. It’s easy to do, especially in the world of social media and the constant measurement of value that society places on everything.
It doesn’t matter how good you might be as a fencer, there will always be someone who is better on a given day. Life and fencing are too fluid and changing for us to get trapped in the notion of who is the best, even within the competitive fencing environment.
For fencers, it’s especially easy to fall into the habit of comparing ourselves to others because we are based on the comparison of one fencer to another in every bout. Is the best fencer the one who gets the most points? Is there such a thing as the “best” fencer?
I was never the fastest. In fact, I was often the
slowest fencer among my peers; I would move slowly, prepare slowly, and attack
slowly. All my fencing was slow – except for one thing: my reactions. I could
react quickly and correctly even to a very fast attack from my opponent, and
when my attack was parried, I could often disengage or remise in time to get
Why were my reactions fast when nothing else was?
Because I was relaxed.
In this article I am going to outline the what
happens when your muscles are tight, the way it affects your mental state
(hint: it’s not great) and some of the reasons you may be getting too tense.
I’m also going to go over some tips to help you learn how to relax.
But why is it so important to be
relaxed? What difference does it make?
Generally we seem to think being relaxed is a good thing for athletes – but why? What happens when you get too tense? There are a couple things that change when your muscles are tight – both in your body and in your mind.
The most obvious thing that happens when you’re
tense is your movements get jerky and less controlled – more like a beginner’s.
The reason for this is that when you signal your body to perform and action,
like, say, extending your arm, your body activates, or recruits muscles to do that. When you are tense, your body over-recruits, or in other words
activates muscles that it doesn’t need to. It also tends to ‘lock up’ some
muscles, meaning they don’t release and let the body move the way it should.
The result of this extra muscle recruitment and
the locking up is that your movements are slower, stiffer, and not as
controlled. In the example of making a simple extension – if you are tense,
your body might recruit muscles in your back and legs and lock up your wrist, slowing
you down and making it hard to hit the target. Of course you can correct that
if you’re practicing against the wall, but during a bout there’s no time to
stop and correct, and you will just miss.
Another consequence of being tense is that you
get tired more quickly. Of course, if your muscles are staying tight when they
don’t need to, that takes energy, and you’re going to wear them out (and this
may even lead to cramping). Some fencers I have spoken with say they hold their
weapon so tightly that their hand and arm gets too tired to parry – the last
thing you want at a competition!
One more problem with being tense is that it
makes it harder to think clearly. That’s right – if your body is tense, if
affects how well you can think. Your mind, like your body, can get locked up.
When that happens you are more reactive, less creative, and have trouble
adapting to new information. So if you are getting behind and need to change
your plan, that’s gonna be hard if you’re not relaxed.
In summary – when you relax, you can move more
smoothly, use less energy, and think more clearly.
Getting your child started in fencing is exciting and can also be intimidating, depending on your child’s age and personality. Don’t worry! We’ve got all the information you need about what to do and how to make it work. Fall is a perfect time to try the sport out.
1. Gauge your child’s interest in fencing
The first thing you’ll want to do is to determine what your child’s interest level is in fencing. Lots of kids are ultra excited about the sport thanks to having seen swordfighting in movies and read about it in books. Just the mention of learning how to fence is enough to have some kids jumping up and down with excitement. For other kids, the idea of swordfighting is fun, but then they get a little shy and intimidated about it once it comes down to the reality of it.
Often it’s kids that bring the idea to their parents, but it can go both ways. If fencing is something that you think your child might be interested in, start by talking to them about it before you move to the next step.
How much are you aware of what is around you when you are fencing? So often, fencers are pinpointed focused on the preparation that they bring to the strip and on the singular goal of getting the point. Though we do emphasize the importance of both preparation and intense action in this sport, there is also a point at which we lose out on the opportunities that are around us in service of that preparation and intensity.
The mental reality of fencing is incredibly important. In fact, it’s arguably more important than the physical reality. Our sport is not one of strength or agility so much as it is one of focus and control of the mind. How we control that mind power is the real question, and fencers can benefit from challenging their assumptions about what control means and how to direct the control that we have.
Practice and preparation
There is a natural inclination for athletes to prepare for any eventuality. We train for tall opponents and short opponents. We train for quick parries and long lunges. Coaches drill us again and again so that our bodies react without our thoughts having to direct them so intentionally, letting us meet our opponent’s strike with a quickness that is almost inhuman.
Fencers find real value in this. It’s an ongoing part of our training, but as fencers rise to become more and more masterful of their bodies, they have the opportunity to think differently in their minds. The years of hard work in the fencing club are important because they create automaticity and a baseline physicality. This is also why continued cross training can support mental development – the fencer can be less concerned with bodily functionality and more concerned with strategy. It becomes less about whether I can do a movement, but rather it becomes a question of whether this movement is the most appropriate.
With all of this practice and preparation, fencers can become blocked off from the reality of their opponent. The bottom line is that no fencer can totally prepare for an opponent because the opponent is always going to do something surprising. Elite fencers watch video of their upcoming opponents again and again to prepare for what’s coming in a high stakes match, but they can never know what that opponent is going to actually bring to the strip on the day that they meet. It could be in the same pattern that they have seen on the tapes, or it could be something different and new. It’s impossible to know by looking at past performances. Though we can project, no one knows how another person will behave in a given situation.
It’s also worth noting that practice and preparation build on one another over time. We aren’t just talking about the practice that a fencer does in this year or this season, but rather all of the practice and preparation combined that bring them to this point. Drawing the notion of practice and preparation out to have a wider view allows fencers to see just how much depth they bring to each and every match. Just think about that – your fencing is an amalgamation of all of the tournaments, classes, private lessons, and home practice that you’ve ever done! That’s a whole lot of preparation that increases exponentially year over year. All of that comes to bear in a given match, for good and for ill.