One of the most common injuries that fencers get is commonly called “fencer’s elbow”, or tendinitis if we’re being technical.
A tender, painful spike of sensation that hangs in the dull curve of the elbow joint is how people usually experience it. Like a pinch that can progress into a fiery, throbbing ache. Without the right kind of support and precautions, it’ll only get worse.
It’s the same thing as tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow, except of course that those come from holding a tennis racket or a golf club. In fact, any repetitive motion or long-term action that uses the arm can cause the same thing. It could happen to hairdressers or plumbers, to carpenters or artists – anyone who uses their arm over and over again in the same motion. The medical term for it is lateral epicondylitis.
The goal of fencing is to stab someone else with a sharp metal object. Our sport grew out of war and actual duels to the death, so it’s natural to assume that there is some danger involved and one of the opponents would die. How could there not be?
In the movies, sword fights often end with one person thrusting their opponent through the chest with a blade, a red trickle running from beneath the metal while the unlucky loser crumples to the ground and whispers a few words in hushed tones. It’s all incredibly dramatic when it plays out onscreen, and the tableau of that tragic death is so familiar that it’s almost comforting. The movies are not the real world, thankfully.
We do all enjoy the thrill of the sport that is inherent in holding a weapon towards another human being with a weapon and seeing who can best the other person. That adrenaline rush is a big draw for everyone, and there is a bracing sense of excitement.
Fencing can be infuriating. The frustration of things not going your way, even when you are working hard to do everything the right way, can be overwhelming for fencers at times. It’s the reason you see fencers get angry and throw their sword or yell at the referee. It’s the reason you see fencers clench their fists and it can be the reason fencers yell on the strip. All that balled-up emotion that gets pushed down deep.
One of the unfortunate realities of fencing is that you can do everything right and STILL get hit. That is, you can select a good action and execute it with the right distance and timing, but if your opponent guesses correctly, you can still lose the touch!
How can a fencer possibly combat this reality?
The metaphor of a beast in the case of frustration is a fitting one. But what if it didn’t have to be a beast? What if you could work with frustration to help your fencing get better? If this can happen, then frustration can transform from a beast to an ally.
It can feel like the last year has been nothing more than one long and impossible series of choices that are gut wrenching for us to make, yet they have to be made. Gratitude is not an easy sentiment to come by as the months drag on and on, especially when we realize that pandemic lockdowns are only going to get worse in the coming months.
I miss fencing competitions.
I miss the sound of swords clashing.
I miss hugging my family.
I miss the feel of getting on an airplane.
I miss my opponents.
I miss movie theaters.
I miss handshakes from my coach.
I miss sitting over dinner with my friends.
I miss yells on the piste.
I miss not having to think about coronavirus all the time.
I miss feeling confident in the future.
Before this pandemic lockdown, we knew what was what. We planned for fencing competitions years in advance at times. We knew that Fencing Summer Nationals would happen every summer and that every four years we could count on the Olympics to give us a fresh infusion of inspiration and determination. High school seniors knew that they would go off to live in a dorm in the fall. Middle school fencers knew they would come to the club after school and practice. You could count on these things, just the same as the seasons turning or the sun rising in the morning.
It is very much as though the sun isn’t rising the way it’s supposed to.
There’s no reason to deny the struggle that this time is. We can put a shine over it, try to dig harder to make it through, but that wears on us. It is wearing on us. The well of sunshine that we project is not endless, and it does no good to try to pretend it is. We are worried about our future, and also about our present. That makes our light dimmer, though it doesn’t put it out.
Sometimes, I think we should allow it to be dim. It’s recharging, and most of all it’s honest. The toll that this long lockdown has taken on small businesses, including fencing clubs, is real and it is wearying. Will fencing still be here when everything reopens? Once the vaccine does come, and it will come, what will be left? Once lockdown is not our everyday life, can our everyday life be what it was before? The truth is that life will not be the same as it was before.
These months have been demoralizing in many ways, for many different people and for a whole lot of different reasons. It activated a part of our brains that is focused on survival, something that most of us have not had to think about before. We are pushed to give more than we ever have before, and sometimes we don’t even know how to give it.
Sleep is not just about spending time in bed under the covers. Sleep restores the body, and the mind too. Without enough sleep, athletes can’t function at their best. It’s as critical as eating well or exercising for a healthy body, yet sleep doesn’t often get the importance that it deserves in our understanding of performance.
It’s often thought that we can cut sleep short. If there’s a big school assignment, a late night practice, or even just a restless evening, sleep is the first thing to go for many of us. We can do without that extra hour right? Especially in the age of electronics, sleep can get cut short in favor of a myriad of things.
For athletes, this is a big factor. Top performers know how much sleep they need, and they make sure to balance it. Whether you are aiming for the Olympics or simply want to be your best fencing in the club, sleep is a key ingredient.