First off, congrats on beginning your amazing journey into fencing! It’s truly a wonderful place to be and a wonderful world for you to partake in.
A lot of parents ask me about what their kids should practice at home to become better at fencing. What fencing skills they need to work on at home, how often, etc. Even those who just started their first lesson!
My reply is always the same – nothing!
Why home fencing for beginners is a bad idea
Parents and kids are all ready and going to get started with practice and improvement right from the very beginning, and that’s a fantastic thing. But home practice for beginner fencer isn’t as simple as just picking up a sword – getting those habits right from the very beginning can make all the difference.
There are so many reasons that home fencing practice is a bad idea. Here are my top three:
- Reinforcing bad habits
- Harming fencing equipment
Chief among the issues with beginner fencing is that fencers who fence at home are reinforcing bad form and habits. Fencing isn’t something that you can pick up from watching a movie. Good form is something that we get through intense work with our fencing coaches. It takes time and building up muscle memory so that these things are automatic. The more that you practice the wrong form, the more it gets embedded in that muscle memory, the more of a challenge it’s going to be to undo that muscle memory and retrain it.
Getting rid of bad habits is much harder than learning new ones!
Another serious issue with beginners practicing at home is that they can do some harm to fencing equipment, as well as your home! Beginner fencers don’t know how to handle their swords at the beginning, and epees, sabres, and foils can be very unwieldy. It’s a big challenge to hold onto a fencing sword at the outset of training! They’re long and heavy, and it’s very difficult to make it go where we want it to go. Put that sword in a living room or bedroom and you’re bound to knock something over if you’re just learning how to control it.
Fencing swords are unwieldy for beginners!
Lastly, we want to talk about injury. Beginner fencers are putting themselves at a higher risk for injury if they practice their forms and movements at home without the benefit of a coach for support and without proper warm up and stretching. Though this is a sport that has a very low risk of injury compared to most other sports, that’s in large part due to the supervision that happens at fencing clubs for beginners. Practicing at home before you know what you’re doing is going to increase the risk of a beginner fencer getting some kind of injury.
Home fencing for beginners risks injury.
What you CAN do at home to improve beginner fencing
By now you’re probably thinking – well what’s the point? I want my child to be super successful and that means more than just a couple of hours a week at the fencing club. And you’re right! Working at home can be a big part of becoming more successful as a fencer, even from the very beginning. The trick is that you have to do things that aren’t actually fencing in order to improve your fencing the most.
Fencing is a whole body sport. It requires agility and speed, coordination and strength and stamina. These are all things that you can work on without actually practicing fencing and reinforcing bad habits or damaging your new fencing equipment.
Here are some great ideas for cardio conditioning, which is good for any fencer to do no matter what they’re level.
- Interval training
There are other things that you can do as well to improve fencing. Coordination and strength are huge pieces of the puzzle for fencers. You want to make sure that any of these are safe for your child’s age, but especially older children and teens can benefit from:
- Core training
- Strength training
- Whole body workout routines
The other thing that you can always work on with your kids at home is agility training. Things like agility ladders, obstacle courses, slacklines, etc. are fun for kids but also will help them to improve their balance and agility skills. These are skills that will then transfer over to their fencing training. Your child can improve their fencing without having to hold their sword.
We cannot overstate the importance of cardio and strength training for fencers. The stronger and more agile the body is, the better it will be able to take on fencing opponents. Cardio workouts improve stamina and allow fencers to last longer during matches without getting worn out.
Training at home for beginner fencers is all about making the body better for the strip!
Get excited about fencing!
It’s not just the body that can be trained from the beginning for fencers, it’s the mind and the spirit too! Beginner fencers need to become invested in the sport from the outset, and that means that they need to learn as much about fencing as possible.
We LOVE fencing movies! It might seem silly, but watching fencing movies with your beginner fencer can be an important part of helping them to stay enthusiastic about the sport. Reading fencing books is another great thing for beginner fencers to do!
Beginner fencers benefit greatly from spending time going to fencing competitions to watch the action. There’s nothing like watching other fencers compete on the strip, in person if possible. At the very least you can watch fencing online, as there is a lot of fencing from the Olympics and other major competitions all over the internet. Watching fencing is a valuable part of at home fencing training because it allows fencers to learn about their sport and get excited about it.
Strategy games like chess are also wonderful for fencers to do. They help the mind focus and think in new ways. We want to build those skills in our fencers to help them on the strip.
And while we don’t advocate that fencers practice their forms at home, we absolutely encourage fencing play for the whole family. Grab some foam swords and swordfight in the back yard! You too mom and dad – everyone can participate. It’s not all about form and strictness and training. Fencing is about the joy of this sport! The more you can instill that joy into your children, the more likely they will be to stick with it and succeed.
Fencing at home is not just about the body, but about the mind.
Tips for getting beginner fencers started off right
You want to start out your child’s fencing journey in the right way.
I always tell parents to start out with these two things in mind:
- Don’t push. Require your child to do less and then allow them to ask for more. The more of the impetus for practice that comes from them, the better it will be for their long term success.
- If they like fencing and want to progress and succeed, they will start to do more at home over time
Beginners have no knowledge of what’s right. They can start practicing fencing moves, but then nobody is there to fix them, nobody is there to pay attention to their mistakes. If your child starts developing muscle memory of a bad technique, then they are going to have to spend a very long time undoing it.
Once your child is older and more experienced in fencing, they can then practice at home if they are willing to do it on their own. We cannot overemphasize how important it is for the drive to practice to come from the fencer and not from the parents.
So when your child just begins, do not think yet about “what they should do at home to improve”. Think about how to make their fencing experience the most enjoyable for them. It can be hundreds of things – from watching a movie, to going to an event with Olympian, watching high level tournament or playing in a backyard – whatever it is that makes your child happy. What will not make them happy however if you start worrying about what they need to do to improve right away.
More advanced fencers can definitely benefit from home practice and reinforcement, but only with the blessing of their coaches. Fencers should ALWAYS work in conjunction with the training plan that their fencing coach lays out for them, no matter what level they are. Intermediate and advanced fencers can also benefit from all of the at home practice tips that beginners can benefit from as well. Don’t quit the basics because you move up to the higher classes.
Beginning fencing is fantastic! Getting the whole thing off on the right foot can help your young fencer now and in the future.