Art of Fencing, Art of Life

7 Tips for Improving Accuracy in Fencing

7 tips on improving accuracy in fencing - working on fencing targets

Scoring a point in fencing in most cases requires accuracy, and precision with the blade is critically important for fencers. The point is to get the point where you want it to go. That point gets there through a combination of the lower body and upper body movement. The coordination of the two must be developed thoroughly by fencers in order to get that accuracy that will win them points first, then matches. 

This is a topic that is talked about a lot in fencing. We’ve all read tips and tricks for improving accuracy, and heard a lot of insight from coaches. Hopefully, some of these tips will be things that you haven’t heard before, or will give you some new insight into old ideas! Sometimes what it really takes is looking at things from a new angle. 

How can you improve your accuracy in fencing? Here are seven techniques. 

1. Slow down during the match

Speed is important in fencing, but novice fencers often confuse going faster with fencing better. That’s not the case. In the beginning especially, slowing down is the first step in improving accuracy. Even in competition. Especially in competition. This is incredibly hard! The first instinct when you are not winning is to speed up, but fencers have to fight that. 

Every fencer should work hard on slowing down during their match. If nothing else, it gives you time to think. While yes, we eventually want to allow that instinct to take over our matches and get into “the zone”, that’s something that has to be developed first and then maintained. We develop and maintain accuracy by slowing down. This is true even for experienced fencers. 

Practical practice: Practice intentionally slowing down when you are training. When you’re running drills stop, then see if you can go at half speed. You’ll immediately see an improvement in your accuracy. 

2. Relax

This one sounds counterintuitive too, but it’s also very powerful. Accuracy comes more easily when muscles are relaxed. Tense muscles are much harder to control than loose muscles. This is true across sports, not just in fencing. In fact, it’s true in just about every area of life. Learning to be loose allows the talent and training that you’ve got inside of you to shine forward. 

There is a powerful argument for things like foam rollers and stretching here. Keeping muscles loose through these techniques can help. 

Practical practice: Work on deep breathing techniques that foster relaxation. Breath work is easy to learn and can be done quickly before a match or during a break during a match. It’s more than just something in your head too – deep breathing brings on physical changes across your body, changes that allow your muscles to relax, your nerves to calm down, and your mind to focus. 

3. Prepare for competition

A good performance, including accuracy, comes in many ways from feeling properly prepared. This is where I put emphasis on the holistic nature of fencing. You don’t compete in isolation. If you were running late to the competition because you didn’t book your hotel early and so have to drive a half-hour after having flown in the night before, you’re not going to be able to focus or relax easily in a competition. It is all connected! Your accuracy is affected in competition when you aren’t calm and when your mind is racing. Don’t discount this important aspect. 

Parents can help fencers a great deal by ensuring that they are properly prepared. It doesn’t have to mean that parents do everything, because yes we want to foster independence. However we do want young fencers to be able to focus on competition.

Get to competitions early. Double check the gear. Pack well and go to sleep well the night before. These are all things that we talk about often, but it’s important to emphasize that these things affect something as fundamental and basic as accuracy. 

Practical practice: Notice how accuracy is affected when you are in a rush and feel unprepared versus when you are calm and well prepared. Just noticing this will encourage you and make it easier to do that preparation in the future.  

4. Aim

Yes, this seems like it’s a no-brainer, but it’s not. Aiming doesn’t always happen when fencers are fencing. Many times fencers just jump in and thrust forward without really knowing where they are trying to hit their opponent. It’s sloppy fencing, but it’s an easy habit to get into. You think that you know where the target is going to be, but that doesn’t mean that you always do! Fencers cannot fence on intuition alone. 

Taking a split second to aim is a habit to get into. Fencers have to cultivate this habit! Don’t assume that your weapon knows where it’s going. You should be picking a target every single time, and you should never just think that your body knows. There is no training that will take away the need to find a place that you intend for your weapon to go.

Practical practice: Check in with yourself after a fencing bout or a practice and try to determine if you have aimed the majority of the time. Odds are that you fell into not thinking about it at some point. Then you can work to improve that!

5. Check your distance

Sometimes fencers think that they know how far they are from their opponent when they really don’t. Having to lunge too far forward impedes the ability of fencers to hit their target accurately. In this sense, footwork is directly tied to accuracy. 

If you are struggling with accuracy, it’s a good idea to play with distance to see if that’s the issue. Sometimes this is the driving force behind accuracy struggles! This is especially true for kids who are growing. While you might have had great success with accuracy for a while, if your legs grow an inch or two then that will change your distance and thus your accuracy, and you probably didn’t even realize that it had happened. The same thing can happen with the arms. You might be closer than you need to be all of a sudden because your arms grew! Being too close can be just as devastating to accuracy as being too far away.

Learning to judge distance is difficult, but it’s a skill that comes with time. Controlling how far you are from the opponent in a bout is so important for improving accuracy.

Practical practice: Footwork drills! Every fencer knows these and has been told to practice them a million times by their coach. Look at them through the lens of improving your accuracy and it will give you a renewed reason to work hard on them.

6. Wrist focus

Fencers sometimes move too much from the shoulder, which can cause problems with accuracy. The shoulder and arm muscles are big muscles that create big movements. Those movements are important for getting the weapon in the ballpark of the right place, but they are not going to give you the detailed accuracy that you need to hit the target precisely.

Movement for accuracy comes from the wrist and fingers. This is the nuance of fencing. It’s also much harder to develop than the movement from the shoulder. Wrist action requires development of the muscles through repeated practice. Unlike the big muscles of the arm, which are used in lots of other ways in everyday life, the muscles of the wrist used for fencing are not so commonly in the way that we need to in fencing. The fine motor control that you need here comes with practice and only practice. 

Practical practice:Using whatever target you choose (a tennis ball, a wall target, whatever you are working with), try to hit the target when holding your arm perfectly still. No movement from the shoulder or the elbow, only from the wrist. Practice this way while also practicing your footwork. 

7. Maintain Fencing Stance

Oftentimes inexperienced fencers stand up on their straight legs and miss the target. They did everything correctly in preparation for the final touch: prepared the right distance and controlled their fingers, but in the end, missed the hit.

It turns out that at the last moment they just stood straight, especially in a defense or close distance fighting. Again, this is all connected to the footwork and your coach most probably pointed to this issue many times. Yet, it’s difficult to avoid, because our body unconsciously moves itself to get to higher ground. And so your tip ends in a different place where it was aimed and supposed to go, in most cases missing the target.

Practical practice: Try to freeze your stance after every touch in defense and close quarters in-fighting, no matter whose touch it was, yours or your opponent. Check whether your knees are straight or you succeeded in keeping your knees bent. If the former – know this is your issue and work on keeping your initial position all the time. Practice, practice, practice!

Target time and accuracy

One thing that I have not talked about a whole lot in this post is target practice to improve accuracy. That’s because this is the backbone of accuracy work and every fencer is probably doing this already. They are hopefully doing it already!

There are lots of kinds of targets that are both stationary and that move. Both have their advantages, though it is always better to start with stationary targets of course. Targets can be made from just about anything from old mousepads to foam attached to the wall to targets that you can buy from fencing equipment suppliers. Always make sure that you are in an area where you aren’t going to hit anything that you don’t want to hit, be that a piece of furniture or a person. 

There are some wonderful ways to set up home fencing targets, and you can look at this post to find some ideas.

Target practice is a big part of improving accuracy. Don’t discount it because it’s so obvious – it’s obvious because it’s important!

Accuracy most important tip – Repeat, repeat

There is no substitute for practice. No trick or tip is going to make your accuracy in fencing better unless you do it! Over and over again. 

Fencers who make it to the national and international level of competition do the same things again and again. This can be tedious and it can definitely get boring, for both kids and for adults. However, the benefits of engaging in that repetition are priceless! Commit to doing one movement fifty times or a hundred times. Do it over and over again, until you can’t remember how many times you’ve tried to hit that target. You might lose count, but you’ll gain accuracy!

This goes with both practice in the traditional sense and with the bouting. Try to fence all your bouts with purpose and intention. Implement some of the practice techniques talked about in this post, because any practice is only as good as the amount of thought and presence that you put into it. 

Struggling with accuracy can be tough on fencers. What we’re working so hard for is to hit the target and get the point, so when you miss it can be frustrating. Focusing on accuracy is one of these fencing technique elements that can make a major difference!

I hope these tips have helped to give you some added insight. 

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1 Comment

  1. R

    I saw too many touches missed and bouts lost at the Columbus’ NAC D1ME because of inaccuracy. It’s the key to success.

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