We recently published a piece on how to fence a taller fencer, but now we’re back to give you some tips on how to fence someone who is much shorter than you are!
Many people think that taller fencers have a distinct advantage on the strip thanks to their longer reach and ability to cover distance quickly, but then many relatively new fencers find out that being taller doesn’t mean that winning is always easy. Shorter fencers have some distinct advantages in their own right, and these tips will help you to not just lean on your height advantage when you’re fencing against a smaller opponent.
Incidentally, these techniques are especially important for children to learn, as their heights are constantly changing, as are those of their opponents. While a child might be the tallest in their division this year, that advantage might not be there next year! Growth spurts affect young fencers in tremendous ways, which is why it’s so important for kids to constantly learn solid skills rather than relying on any physical attributes, which are unlikely to last for long.
Most of the tips below apply to fencing in general, but for the sake of this post the focus here on fencing a shorter fencer.
1. Don’t get crowded
A fencer who knows that they have a height disadvantage is most likely to come in close to prevent you from using your reach advantage. That’s going to make it nearly impossible for you to get a clear point in. Controlling the distance between you and your opponent is a major part of the process of winning your match. If you see your shorter foe coming close in, retreat! Then you can reset and come back in for your attack.
This one might sound counter-intuitive, but it’s very effective for taller fencers. Your advantage when fencing is that you’ve got a bigger reach than your opponent, but when you’re in the thick of engagement, it can be a major challenge to keep that advantage and the two of you naturally move closer to one another through the battle. Taller fencers benefit from thoughtfully disengaging, allowing them to come back with more control over distance.
3. Practice extension
Just because you’ve got a natural reach advantage doesn’t mean you should just rely on it. Working on your arm extension before you move your feet will allow you to get even closer to your opponent and extend that reach advantage! Tall people in general tend to slouch and stoop to make themselves smaller, outside of fencing, in order to be more on the level with other people. If you’re tall, don’t waste a bit of that length! Work with your coach to practice arm extension and good posture in order to get the most out of your reach. It’s a method that works fantastically for tall fencers!
4. Don’t telegraph
The bigger you are, the harder it is to hide. Tall fencers need to be very aware of telegraphing their movements to opponents. When you’re bigger, it takes you just a hair bit longer to move, and that can give smaller and quicker opponents an advantage. The only way to stop telegraphing is to practice! This is one of those skills that requires a great deal of time in the club to master, learning to get those attacks in with as little extra movement as possible.
5. Work your en guarde
Starting off with the proper en guarde is critical for tall fencers. You have the chance to make quick work of a match if you structure your stance well at the beginning of the match, but that’s just not going to work if you don’t start off well. Focus on the proper en guarde stance to allow yourself to get the most out of your reach right from the start.
6. Stay towards the middle of the strip
Once again, fencing is very much about controlling the space. You don’t want to allow your shorter opponent to have the chance to push you off of the strip. They’re going to try to get in close! Don’t let them, because once they’re close you’re at a disadvantage. Tall fencers have a tendency to back away toward the end of the strip, thinking that they have full control of the situation. However this allows your opponent to close in on you with a quick forward motion and trap you in a close in position, leaving you nowhere to go. Keep your positioning in mind and never leave yourself without options.
7. Foot recovery before arm recovery
Tall fencers can cover a great deal of distance in a short amount of time thanks to their long legs. Take advantage of that! Worry first about getting your feet moving, before you worry about getting your arms moving. You can control the distance more effectively if you’ve got your feet where you want them. That’s not to say that you don’t worry about your arms at all, it’s just to say that you want to make footwork a priority as it will give you a better chance of controlling the space.
Fencing is all about personal growth. Even if you’re doing well in fencing due to a height advantage, you still want to constantly learn more and make yourself better against all kinds of opponents. It’s important that you as a fencer not get comfortable with that height advantage. You need to keep pushing yourself to do better! That’s what fencing is all about. Besides, even if you are finding it easy to beat other fencers due to your height, you’re going to find someone who those techniques don’t work against sooner or later. To stay competitive, you need to keep adapting!
No matter how good you are, there will always be someone who has found out how to get the better of you. Work hard on these techniques and you’ll not only be a good fencer, you’ll be a great fencer! Fill your tool chest with lots of options and then take your shorter opponents by storm.