Practice makes perfect is a cliche for a reason. The more a fencer practices, the better they will become. It’s a simple truth. If you work on your fencing for two hours per week in class, then you’re going to get better at a rate consummate to those two hours and not a bit more than that.
In order to become a much better fencer, you’ll have to do more than the bare minimum and have more training. All of that training can’t necessarily happen at the club, for reasons of time or finances or club offerings. A great solution is to practice at home.
Both young and more senior fencers can benefit from hearty home target drills. You’ll find that there are plenty of options to help you improve your hand eye coordination and to sharpen your focus without leaving the comfort of home. In the past we’ve written about target practice at home, but it’s a topic that’s worth revisiting.
Oftentimes target practices, like any other type of routine practice, get very boring and are especially difficult to keep up with without the discipline of group practice or the strict eye of an observing coach. So we thought it would be a good idea to spice up these target drills a little for the sake of fun and most of all to encourage more home practice! There are a myriad of other drills out there for home fencing practice, but these are a great start.
As always, it’s important that you talk over any training regimen with your coach BEFORE you begin. These home target drills can offer you a great place to get going, but every fencer is unique. Make sure that your technique is spot on before you reinforce it, as it’s much harder to unlearn something than it is to learn it.
Important information for fencing practice at home
When you’re ready to start practicing your fencing at home, you want to use a weapon that is as much like your real working weapon as possible. Standardizing your weapon is an important part of improving your training and finding success! Consider purchasing an additional weapon for home use that’s not necessarily fully wired but is otherwise exactly like the one you fence with in competition. It’s an expense that’s well worth the cost for these 2 main reasons:
- Prevents wear on your electric weapon
- Convenient for home practice (ie you don’t have to dig it out of your fencing bag).
If a weapon just for home practice is too expensive, at least use the one that you use in the club.
For most of these drills, you’ll want to establish a place to do them that won’t hurt your home furnishings. It’s easy to knock over and break things with a fencing sword! We’re talking at least 10 feet by 10 feet at minimum with nothing that you could hurt, including dangling light fixtures. This amount of area will give you room to lunge and step, which are integral parts of practice.
You can always practice outside, which will give you lots of fresh air and invigorate your home practice. Otherwise you might consider a garage or an exercise room if you have one. Many fencers successfully practice in large bedrooms and living areas though. It’s all about making it work for you.
ALWAYS make sure that you’re good enough at this not to hurt your technique by acquiring bad habits. Fencing home drills like these should be done for 10-15 minutes at a time and regularly, every day or a few times a week at minimum. Mix it up, doing different drills constantly. Also, these drills are just a start. Make up your own and talk to your coach about their suggestions.
When you’re working in the fencing club, there are people around to ensure that you’re practicing in a way that’s safe and reasonable. The fencing club is specifically designed for fencing, with space and equipment to make sure that it’s safe. That’s not the case at home, where you’re making it work in a space that’s not meant for fencing and where you’re most likely practicing on your own.
Here are a few safety considerations to think about for your at home fencing practice.
- Shoes – While it might be tempting to just grab the sword in your bare feet at home, don’t. Wear tennis shoes at the very least to give you proper traction for fall prevention as well as to mimic your competitive fencing.
- Floor – Concrete is tough on feet and joints, so consider laying down exercise mats if you’re in a garage. This will also prevent slipping. Hardwood works well for home fencing practice. The ground outside is often uneven, so try to avoid regular practice in the grass (though it’s fun and spices things up occasionally!).
- “Civilians” – It’s not just your safety that matters, it’s also the safety of others! Always let people in your house know that you’re practicing fencing. You need to be able to focus on your fencing as much as possible. A sign on the door is never a bad idea to remind everyone!
Don’t just assume that you’re safe – take the time to think through fencing safety before practicing at home!
Now let’s get to it! Here are nine home target point control drills for fencers.
Tennis ball drills
This one is pretty classic for fencers. These were common drills for fencing for decades, but have fallen out of fashion in some circles. There’s a bit of debate as to how effective these drills are, but there’s little doubt that you’ll improve your hand eye coordination by practicing them.
You simply poke a hole in a tennis ball and hang it from above with a piece if thick string or yarn, whatever you’ve got. You can adjust the height to give you practice for different levels of attack. Hang it from a hook in the ceiling, a tree, whatever. You won’t be swinging from it, so it’s not important that it be anchored in extremely tight.
What’s good about tennis balls is that they move, and of course real opponents move.
1. Tennis ball fencing drill #1 – Static
Just hit the ball with the tip of your blade. Stand with your arm outstretched and feet still, the tip of your blade touching the fencing ball again and again. If you’ve never tried it before, we promise it’s more challenging than it sounds! Stop the ball every time it bounces and return it to its static position.
2. Tennis ball fencing drill #2 – Lunging
Once you have very good accuracy at hitting a static tennis ball, it’s time to move to lunging. Start with static lunges, then move to your advanced lunging techniques (like step lunge, step step lunge, etc.). Again, you can move the tennis ball up and down in height to improve your skill. As above, the purpose is to stop the ball.
3. Tennis ball fencing drill #3 – Wait it out
Set the ball swinging slightly, then stand with your sword at the ready and wait for it to come to you. When it comes close, that’s when you hit it. This is good practice to flex your mind, changing up how you interact. It’s also more like a human target, who you often want to allow to come to you.
4. Tennis ball fencing drill #4 – Juggling
Don’t let the ball stop moving. Keep hitting the ball again and again, essentially juggling it while it’s in motion. You want to hit the ball, while it’s moving, each time to aim for it.
5. Tennis ball fencing drill #5 – Relax
One thing that the frenetic movements of a tennis ball can do is to mimic that rush of stress that you get in a fencing match. You can feel your grip tighten and your muscles tense when you’re trying to hit the ball. For this drill, repeat any of the previous tennis ball fencing drills, but this time consciously relax your hand, arm and shoulder.
6. Tennis ball fencing drill #6 – Blind
This one once again repeats any of the drills 1-4, but this time with your eyes closed. What you’re working for here is to develop your intuition about where the target is. The tennis ball will be unpredictable to a certain extent, but you’ll still know when you hit it. You’re looking to eliminate your reliance on sight and to instead feel where your body is.
Furry Fencing Friend Drills
This one is great for young kids who fence. It’s a great option if you’re not ready to invest in a fencing dummy.
Get yourself a nice big stuffed animal, the bigger the better – four foot tall stuffed bears aren’t hard to come by! Look for one that’s stiffer rather than cuddly, and less fuzzy is also better. Check second hand stores. This is a variation on the old “pillow on a wall” technique, but it’s loads more fun and a teeny bit more like a fencing dummy. You can now attach your furry fencing dummy to a wall, or even sit her in a chair inside or outside.
All of these are static drills, meaning that your target isn’t moving. For that reason, they’re much better for beginner fencers than they are for more advanced fencers.
7. Furry Friend fencing drill #1 – X marks the spot
Grab some tape and plant a big X right in the middle of your friend. Put several layers of the tape to prolong the lifespan of the toy. Start off by simply lunging forward to hit the X. This is of course a very simple drill, but simple is good! As with the tennis ball drill, start with static feet, then lunges, then advanced lunges. Move your furry fencing friend around, higher and lower, or move yourself to come at your friend from different angles while you move towards the target.
8. Furry Friend fencing drill #2 – Stickers
Cut the same tape you used before in a form of small round stickers and put these stickers on your furry fencing friend as targets (again – put several layers).
Number your stickers 1-5, then place them across your furry fencing friend. Practice stepping forward and hitting various targets. At first you might go in order 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Then mix it up, 4, 2, 1, 5, 3. You can go on and on in this way. Next, move the stickers around your furry friend and do it all again. The possibilities here are fairly endless.
9. Furry Friend fencing drill #3 – Distance
Change up your distance from your furry friend. This is best done if you put marks on your floor at different distances so that you can practice consistently. Masking tape or painters tape is a perfect tool for that.
Repeat the previous drills, but now come at your target from further away, then closer. Covering distance adequately is so important for fencers. Think about what footwork you’ll have to use to get there, then practice different techniques while still hitting the various targets on your friend.
Again, we must emphasize that any fencing drill that you practice at home is something you should talk about with your coach. Your particular needs in fencing are best known by the people who know you best – namely your coach! However some home practice is a good thing for any fencer. These target drills for epee and foil fencers can be one piece in the puzzle to help you improve your technique and control.