What is an opponent? When a fencer is battling another fencer for points, what is the emotional level that they should be at? How much of the “enemy” is a fencing opponent?
Stop and think back to the last fencing match that you saw. Of the two fencers – which one was the bad guy? Was it the one that you were cheering against? Of course not! There aren’t good guys and bad guys in fencing.
Everyone is here to work and get better, to enjoy the sport and grow through it, and most importantly to have fun. Though we are fighting tooth and nail against our opponent on the strip, we aren’t battling them to the death. We certainly want to win, but assigning negative emotions to that desire for a win doesn’t help anyone.
Instead of building a big rivalry with our fellow fencers, what we actually want to do is to build camaraderie with them. The opponent in fencing is a real person with real feelings and desires. Just like every other person that we meet in life, a fencing opponent is something who we want to engage with in a respectful way.
Fencing is a small circle
Though our sport is growing by leaps and bounds, it’s still a very small group of competitors. No matter what level you go to in the fencing world – local, regional, national, or international – you’re going to encounter the same core group of people. Over the course of an entire fencing career, a fencer will meet the same 100-200 boys and girls of their age/gender/weapon to battle for medals.
Stop and think about that. One hundred or two hundred opponents over the course of a lifetime. Two hundred people is less than a movie theatre full. Every fencing opponent that you child will ever meet on the strip could fit into a single theatre to watch Star Wars together. With room to spare.
Being a good opponent
To build camaraderie with your opponent, you first need to be a good opponent.
This is especially for novice fencers, and it’s all about how to be a good opponent. Add to this that the circle of fencing is extremely small. Bottom line – you are opponents for the short 3 or 9 minutes, the rest of the time be friends.
In today’s world of competitive sports, there can be a lot of trash talk. Think about soccer or basketball – the hurtful language and the sometimes disdainful accusations that fly back and forth between rival teams is a negative example. Words may not be sticks and stones, but they definitely hurt. Trash talk isn’t something we see often in fencing, but it’s a habit that does sometimes rear its ugly head.
Things can get heated on the strip, particularly if there’s a lot at stake like a podium finish, a rating or qualification prospects. It’s easy for fencers, especially novice fencers, to think that their opponents are out to get them. They are out to get points, but they aren’t out to get you in a malicious way! Being a good fencing opponent is good for everyone – both you and your opponent.
Here are ten ways to be a good fencing opponent.
- Thank your opponent – At the end of a match, say thank you! This is so super important. Not matter whether you won the match or lost the match, it’s a great thing that it happened.
- Thank your opponent’s coach – If you opponent has a coach, you can nod or smile to them and say thank you after a match. This shows that you respect their athlete.
- Shake hands in the stands – Camaraderie doesn’t just happen on the strip – it happens in the audience as well! If you’re sitting next to someone who is cheering on a fencer fencing the opponent of your fencer, shake their hand at the end of the match!
- Refuse trash talk – This is an absolute rule. Fighting words, insults, ribbing, teasing, challenging, or any kind of hard words or gestures just have to go.
- Be positive – when you’re cheering in the stands, cheer FOR your team, not AGAINST the opposing team.
- Channel your energy – put your frustration to good use, channeling it to focus on your goal instead of allowing it to transform into anger.
- Love everything that happens – accept what is out of your control and face it with cheerfulness. It’s either a win or a learning experience. No need for hard feelings!
- What works is right – Don’t hold on to how a match should or shouldn’t go. Instead, go with whatever works and know that it’s the right thing.
- Just go – Don’t think about the opponent so much! Just go with the fencing match and let it flow. Your opponent is a real person, but when you’re in a fencing bout just focus on your knowledge and techniques, not your emotion.
- Smile! – your face towards your opponent
The conditions in which you’re fencing won’t always be exactly what you want them to be. You’re not always going to be able to control your emotions exactly they way you’d like to control them.
The main thing for you to do as a fencer is not to vilify your opponent. They aren’t the enemy!
Camaraderie is not weakness
People can sometimes get under the false impression that building camaraderie with an opponent is the same as being weak. That’s not true! Kindness is not weakness.
Honoring strong opponents is important. When we come across a fencer who is much better than we are on the strip, that can be demoralizing. There’s a temptation to try to cut them down in other ways since we can’t cut them down in the touches. That’s an understandable temptation, and it’s something that everyone feels when they have that threat of losing. When we are challenged by a strong opponent, we have to face where we are, and that can be daunting.
Your opponents are good for you. They help you to grow and to improve. Without your opponent, there is no fencing match at all! That in and of itself is something to get excited about. The better your fencing opponent, the better you’ll have to be to rise to the challenge that they present to you. The more that you lean in to that challenge, the more you’ll grow as a fencer. Building camaraderie with your opponents is exactly the opposite of weakness – it’s a sign of strength. It’s far easier to allow emotion to run away with you than it is to bring it down and use it to power our actions.
When the frustration comes around, push it into the power and form of your fencing. Those feelings that are so troublesome don’t get pushed onto the individual when you do this, instead then go forward towards the real goal – being the best fencer that you can be. Giving in to negative emotions and lashing out at your opponent doesn’t get you one step closer to your goals.
The real question here is one of value. Do you value the humanity within your opponent? Respect for your opponent is about integrity, about fencing teaching us to be not only better fencers, but also being better people. If you can respect a rival on the strip, that will translate to better relationships in life off the strip.
The relationship you develop now, the way you treat and approach your opponents now will be reflected in your life later on. These are people who you will spend a great deal of time with. These aren’t just opponents, these are relationships.
Some of those fencers will even be from you child’s own fencing club. When you come from the same fencing club, obviously you spend a great deal of time together working on your craft together. You know each other very closely!
When it comes to opponents who don’t live so close by, you’re still spending time with one another at competition – of which only a few short minutes is actually spent fencing while the rest is spent waiting for a fight, waiting for results, getting ready, and watching other fencers fight. In that time, there’s always space for fencers to get to know one another, and we find that fencers develop lifelong friendships with people that they meet at competition. That’s especially true today, when social media and communication make it easy to stay in touch and connect.
If you are on a team, either from your club or on the national fencing team, there’s even more closeness there for fencers. You’ll travel together for long hours in cars and on airplanes. You’ll meet in hotels and airports. You’ll eat together and train together. Then you’ll likely get up on the strip and fence one another.
This doesn’t stop with fencers when they go to college. College fencing teams are close knit groups who spend a great deal of time together.
The same people will come back into your life again and again as you fence. There is almost no such thing as fencing another person once and then never seeing them again. With that being the case, you have two choices – you can either choose to go solo and be the outsider who no one talks to and who is on the outside of everything, or you can choose to make friends and allow your fencing opponents to enrich your fencing experience.
The bottom line is that some of the best friends you will ever have can be your fencing opponents! These are people who understand you and who you can connect with in this thing that you are both so passionate about.