Art of Fencing, Art of Life

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Philosophy of Sparring by Charles Selberg

Philosophy of sparring by Charles Selberg

Sparring is more the key to developing fencing strength or fencing proficiency than any other thing you can do. You can focus on individual lessons, group lessons, line drills, good advice, books you read, and competitive experience, but all is for not, if you don’t know how to spar.  

I was a boxer for many years before I ever heard of fencing. The one thing that separated boxers from people who ended up not boxing was sparring technique. You think in boxing you have an option. Perhaps you decide to work on your development. If you think that boxing and competition are the same thing, they’re going to get out there and try to knock each other out and there can be no learning. Boxers soon learn that there has to be a way to train without making it all out warfare.  Sparring means we don’t hit hard, it means we hit for touches. When boxers learn to hit for touches, they are really learning power, because they learn to control the quality of the punch, which develops tremendous sensitivity. With the control it takes to hit lightly, you automatically learn to release your energy so that you can go as hard as you want to and there is no limit to how hard that can be given the right timing and distance. People who go on slugging all the time and cannot slow down and control the quality of their actions never learn to hit hard.  The same is true in fencing, but it is more difficult to see because in fencing you can hit someone really hard and not hurt them. You can go for touches and there is nothing that reminds you that that might not be the way to go. If you start slugging in boxing, someone gets hurt pretty fast and those two boxers quit boxing each other, so they have nobody to train with. In fencing, you have an alternative. You can fence for touches, which means competition or you can fence for sparring, which means the learning process in light competitive practice. The learning process is the focal point and the action of scoring touches is the secondary factor.

Fencers sparring - Picasso style

Sparring offers the fencer the same as it offers the boxer–a place where you can go try things out. If it does not work, that’s fine. It has not cost anything. On failing an action, you learn what you should not be doing, which is more important than what you should be doing.  Fencing is a subtractive process rather than an additive one. In the process of fencing and in sparring, you are learning what you should discontinue in your game. You shed the over-reaction, you shed too much attack-oriented fencing, you shed this and that and pretty soon you end up with the stuff that works. 

Jumping Rope: How Fencers can Use this Old School Method to Improve their Game

Jumping Rope: How Fencers can Use this Old School Method to Improve their Game

There are high-tech ways to get in shape as a fencer, and there are low-tech ways to get in shape as a fencer. Though we tend to think that jumping rope is something for children to do on the playground, in reality, it’s a great way to train inexpensively and anywhere you are.

Why is jumping rope good for fencers?

When you jump rope, you’re bouncing up and down on the balls of your feet (or, as it is often said, on your toes), which is not dissimilar from how we want to put our weight towards the balls of our feet on the strip. The movement that you’re practicing when you jump rope is complementary to the movement that you want to improve on the strip. The whole notion of “being light on your feet” is exactly what we want to foster as fencers, and jumping rope does this beautifully. Overall, jumping rope is one of the most popular exercise tools for millions of athletes in any sport and one of my favorite suggestions to fencers.

Overall, this is a fantastic tool for fencers. Jump ropes are great for:

  • Improved coordination
  • Footwork agility
  • Cardiovascular endurance
  • Better balance
  • Posture, core, and leg strength
  • Improved speed
  • Developing focus

These are all aspects of physical fitness that are good for fencers, and as such it’s a good idea to leverage this tool as a way to get better in our sport. As a bonus, jumping rope can be done just about anywhere with obviously very little equipment. Even the more advanced jump ropes are inexpensive and tend to last users a long time. It’s a fantastic thing to pack for competition, as a jump rope doesn’t take up much room and can be used just about anywhere, including in a tightly packed competition venue when all you have is a few square feet for your pre-competition warmup.

An Open Letter to the USA Fencing Board of Directors Regarding Y10 & Y12 National Events

Dear USA Fencing Board of Directors,

The push and pull of the responsibilities of USA Fencing is significant, particularly as our sport has grown and of course through the massive challenges of the pandemic. 

It’s critical that we look out for the future of our sport, and that means looking out for our youngest competitors. Youth fencers who compete early get a head start, making the road to the highest levels more attainable and, importantly, less stressful along the way. 

A few days ago, I wrote a post about the current motion to cancel Y10 and Y12 national fencing competitions that was placed before the board back in October. In it, I encouraged our readers to reach out to their board members and to sign the petition urging the Task Force to recommend that these competitions remain in USA Fencing. 

The Magic Ratio: How the Right Amount of Positivity can Transform Fencing Training

The Magic Ratio: How the Right Amount of Positivity can Transform Fencing Training

In anything that we do, we want to maximize the amount of value that we get out of it. That’s not about forcing anyone to fit into some sort of box that will make things work out right. It’s about helping people figure out what’s working and what doesn’t, and how to fix it. 

This also applies to fencers – we want to maximize the training that they get, not force them to become better by berating them or focusing exclusively on their faults in form, speed, physicality, etc. The way to long term success is paved with building a positive relationship with yourself so that you can clearly see what you need to work on and how to get there. 

The Magic Ratio is a method of giving positive feedback in a constructive way that supports athletes in improving their performance while also giving them the kind of constructive feedback that takes them to the next level. 

This is a layered concept that comes from relationship psychology and success psychology, but it applies so well to fencing. It’s great not only for fencers at the competitive level but also works for recreational fencers who want to improve. At the highest level of fencing, building up with healthy feedback that supports fencers in the right way is how fencers build longevity and the ability to grow over the long term.

Strip Warm Up Etiquette at Fencing Competitions

Strip Warm Up Etiquette at Fencing Competitions

Fencing competitions can be big and boisterous, loud, and slightly confusing events that can throw new fencers off guard. There’s so much movement and so many things going on – how can you find places to warm up and whether you can even use some spaces is a question for many fencers heading to competitions for the first time

The first rule of warmup space

At a fencing competition, the first and best rule to follow is to follow the lead of other fencers from your club, especially those who are more experienced than you, who are also warming up, or to seek an empty space before you start to warm up. This goes not only for strips but also for unusual spaces. 

Most venues where fencing competitions are held are full of nooks and crannies. Fencers can often find secluded spaces where they can go stretch, meditate, do cardio-like jumping jacks, or where they get out their weapon and do some training. Finding a good space is incredibly important for getting yourself ready to perform at your best level. 

Look out for spaces that are clear and well away from active strips, as you don’t want to get in the way of official tournament goings-on. You’ll always see lots of fencers along the walls of competition venues with their clubs, often with banners hanging up to identify their specific organization.

If you need a more secluded space, for whatever reason, it’s absolutely acceptable to go out into the venue and look for something that works for you. A wide hallway might feel easier for you when you’re stretching or doing other prep work as part of your warmup.

Should you go out into the space and away from the tournament, like some presumably unused room, make sure to ask someone from the venue if you’re permitted to be in the space. This isn’t just because you want to follow the rules – it’s much more selfish than that. Also, you’re unlikely to get into any real trouble for warming up somewhere that you shouldn’t be. The reason to ask and follow the rules is so that you don’t break your concentration and end up hurting yourself later in the competition.

It can be rattling to have someone come and tell you that you’re doing something wrong, then have to adjust your space and start your warmup all over again, only this time with extra stress. That’s never worth it. 

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