Art of Fencing, Art of Life

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Passing Time During Long Fencing Tournaments with Intention

Passing Time During Long Fencing Tournaments with Intention

Fencing matches are fast-paced, quick to go forward, and exciting. We focus our minds and our bodies to become this tight little ball of explosive power when we are on the strip, a power that only has a few minutes to make an impact on the opponent. 

That compressed length of time is highly exciting, but when competitive fencers get into the thick of it, they often find themselves spending hours upon end without fencing. There is a huge amount of downtime during fencing competitions for competitive fencers. It’s in stark contrast to the intensity of competition.

This isn’t a thing that we think too much about for the most part. After all, we’ve all got plenty of other matches to watch, not to mention smart devices to scroll through. It’s an issue that we should think about, however. Not just because we want to be frugal with and conscious of our resources, but also because changing how we think about this can represent a happier and more fulfilling experience all the way around. 

Three Simple Grounding Techniques You Can Do Before Every Fencing Match

Three Simple Grounding Techniques You Can Do Before Every Fencing Match

Have you ever picked up your fencing weapon at the start of a bout and heard your heart pounding in your ears? Your thoughts start racing and your breathing starts to quicken. That hand holding your sword can get sweaty inside the fencing glove, perhaps even beginning to shake a little bit. 

Even if your experience hasn’t gotten this far, maybe you’ve struggled to clear your mind and be present in the moment during a match. You might be in the pool round but thinking about your possible opponents in the direct elimination round instead of focusing on what’s in front of you. As a result, you give up more points than you’d like to and lose the bout. 

When you’re traveling for a fencing competition or if you have a lot of other things going on in your life, those thoughts can become obtrusive, weaseling their way into your brain when you’re trying to put your attention on the opponent. You might be thinking about the bad weather outside that could delay your flight home or the pile of chores or work that’s waiting for you at home. 

Every fencer gets nervous

Nerves are a reality for fencers who are competing at any level. Those first few fencing competitions are nerve-wracking because it’s all so new, then there’s a pressure that ratchets up as fencers continue to progress higher. The stakes can feel overwhelming, but in reality, it’s just another match, even when it’s not. 

The most experienced fencers at the highest level get nerves. Olympic fencers and World Champions learn how to overcome those nervous feelings to help them compete with less anxiety. In fact, overcoming anxiety about the process is incredibly important because we cannot perform at our best level when we’re unsure of ourselves. That mind chatter and frantic energy is fundamentally detrimental to a good fencing performance. 

Driving in the rain and trusting your instincts

Driving in the rain and trusting your instincts

Let’s use an analogy that we all have experience with. Imagine you’re driving in the rain. The windshield wipers are fanning across the windshield furiously, with large drops plopping in your view so fast that the blades can barely keep up. Traffic is heavy and you’re having to watch out for cars that keep pulling past you. There’s that wiggly feeling under the steering wheel that tells you that the tires are barely gripping onto the asphalt. The glass in front of you oscillates between being clear and fogging up, so you have to keep turning the vent at the top of the dashboard on and off. 

This situation requires all of your focus and concentration. The people are driving fast past you, and you’re having to watch out for cars constantly. You know that you must point your attention to driving to keep the people in the car safe. 

Anyone who has been a driver for any amount of time will tell you that it all becomes automatic after a while. When you’re first driving, you worry about everything and overthink every turn of the steering wheel. With time, you don’t even think about it. You are just present in the moment and trusting your body and brain to react correctly. 

You learned to drive automatically by doing it again and again for many hours and in countless different situations – heavy, slow, or completely stalled traffic, different times of the day, from night moonless hours to bright days, you had been driving in the rain, snow or in many other weather and road conditions, you been in different cities or even countries, on 5-lanes highways to a poorly maintained country-side road, you had been driving different types of cars with different types of passengers, you had been driving being tired, sleepy, or angry, and many more variations.

In fencing, you have to learn to do that same thing. In the context of a fencing match, your brain is that person in the car. You have to learn to trust your body and brain to take over without you overthinking it. There is a constant talk in sports about “finding flow”. Dropping into the moment and being fully present during a match is a skill that’s developed over time and with a lot of training in different situations. It’s an important skill to develop because it allows us to maximize our mental agility without distraction and to bring our skills to the surface exactly when we need them.

Just a Fencer in a White Jacket

A fencer in a white jacket

For the most part, the things in our lives only have as much power as we choose to give to them. When you face an opponent, you have options about how much weight you give to that opponent. 

What you bring to the match is not just about your skill and technique, it’s also very much about how you perceive your opponent. If you think that it’s impossible to win against an opponent because they are bigger, stronger, faster, and more experienced than you are, then you’re probably going to lose. Even if they are all of those things, you’re not going to fare any better against them because you focus on those dimensions.

On the other hand, if you can disentangle your perception of the opponent from the actions that you’re taking, you have a much better chance of winning against them. Even if you don’t win, you’ll have a much better bout that shows your skills and in which you level up. 

The physical component to fencing and athletics in general is certainly important, but the mental component is a driving factor of the physical reality. One goal that we must have in fencing is to control the automatic response that our body and brain has to the outside stimulation. In this case, we’re thinking of a much better opponent as that outside stimulation. 

Letting Go of the Pressure that Comes with a New Fencing Rating

New Fencing Pressure

The moment when a fencer gets a new rating is an exciting one. After working hard and continuing to grow, they finally push past their old rating and up to the next level. 

Like anything in sport, or anything in life, a rating captures a single moment in time. It’s a marker of where someone was on the day that the rating was granted. Because that rating follows fencers, being put next to their name and being used to seed them for competition, it can feel like it’s part of their identity.

Clubs congratulate fencers on their ratings in newsletters and social media posts, celebrating this achievement. It can seem like a rating is graduation from one level to another, like moving from the novice class to the advanced class. 

There are two sides to every coin, though. Intertwined with that joy and excitement about this accomplishment, there is also a great deal of pressure.

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