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.
There’s a range of what is difficult sport and what is not, with lots of places to start and lots of places to go. In the world of sports, this range is broad and always changing.
No, fencing is not a difficult sport. We should start off by saying that. Is it difficult to become an Olympic fencer? Of course, it is. But it is not difficult to enter into fencing or to even become a competitive fencer. This is true no matter your age.
As with anything, how hard fencing is has everything to do with the amount of practice that someone puts into it. If you practice often and smart and train with good coaches in a supportive environment, you can fence well by any measure. It is not hard to get started in fencing and it’s not hard to make positive progress.
There is a widely held misconception that training is preparation for becoming a master in fencing. We come into lessons every week and we work with our coaches in an attempt to learn and grow so that we can perform well in competition because the competition is the really important thing. Or is it? Is competition the most important factor in pushing forward towards mastery for a fencer, or is there something else that drives us?
Exploring this idea of what it means to practice and what it means to perform is central to understanding what is behind fencing as a discipline. There is no professional version of our sport as such, but we do have something akin in our international competitors. In terms of drive, skill, and dedication, those individuals would be our goal. However, imitation is not really what we’re looking for either. You can’t become a master of any sport by simply chasing the shadow of someone else. There are other factors because every fencer has to find their own way.
Training is mastery.
That’s not the expected answer is it? (though it’s the title of this blog!) We generally think of mastery as being when you win an Olympic Gold or when you are the coach of high ranking fencers. We think of mastery as being that old maestro who saw glory days in competition decades ago and now pushes young fencers to move faster and strike with more precision. We might think of mastery as getting that A rating.
Mastery has nothing to do with what you have done in the past. It has nothing to do with the rank that you got or the number of podium finishes you’ve made it to.
It’s the seventh anniversary of the AFM blog! We launched this online resource on February 3rd, 2014, and it’s been a joy every step of the way, even as it’s been a lot of hard work. In that way, it’s a whole lot like fencing itself. From that time, we set out to be a resource for parents, fencers, coaches, fans, and those who were just starting to dip their toes into this wonderful world. We never could have imagined how much we would grow or how far our words would reach, but for every reader and contributor, we are immensely grateful.
The number seven has been a significant number for thousands of years. There are the Seven Wonders of the World, seven days in a week, seven continents, seven seas, on and on. Lucky seven is a trope in Las Vegas casinos because six and one are on opposite sides of a dice and because it wins big. It’s a prime number. It’s even the most popular number! No really – there was a poll done about the number seven in 2014 that showed that it was favorited! It’s a quantity that is considered lucky by cultures through time and around the world, and I personally find that it’s a magical number.
Here, we cannot help but use this magical number to look back at where we came from, because really that is a great way to help us look forward. We’ll start here with our very first blog, published on February 3, 2014.
This is a perspective that still holds wonderfully true today, and it sets the tone for everything that we see in our blog today. Fencing is, at its heart, a whole body and whole mind venture. Today we might say that fencing can give both young and not-so-young extra advantages! It expands our social circle, engages our physical selves, and it pushes us to continue to grow.
To celebrate this major milestone in the life of our blog, we’re sharing seven categories of blogs that have been especially fantastic in the last seven years, plus seven blogs within each category that are among our most viewed or that we find to be particularly resonant. Seven times seven – that makes this super lucky right? Here you’ll find highlights of some of our most popular pieces, many of which you’ve probably seen, but some of which might be new to you!
Thanks to pandemic lockdowns, we have been forced to think differently about the way that we approach our training. Though fencing is an individual sport, it’s long been one that we practice in group settings, with coaches, classmates, training partners, and mentors on the strip to give us active feedback while we are learning to fence. Rarely was a fencer off training alone in their sport.
That is no longer an option, with pandemic lockdowns pushing our fencing at best to socially distanced lessons with masks and small groups, at worst to virtual classes over zoom. We are still part of a community, but that community is physically disconnected.
We get lost in the rush of classes and competition. There is a busy-ness to being a competitive fencer. As the fencing season rose and fell, we were always following the hectic schedule of competition and training. There were so many things to do, and we chased them with gusto. When everything stopped, it challenged us deeply. We could no longer just think about where we were going next, we had to think about why we were going anywhere at all.
One of the hardest parts of training throughout this whole time of lockdown has been that we are training alone.