Art of Fencing, Art of Life

Don’t Cruise the Pools in Fencing Competitions: A Fencing Life Lesson

Don’t Cruise the Pools in Fencing Competitions: A Fencing Life LessonAt what point is it ok to just get by? You know, do the least amount of effort to get the biggest reward. It’s a strategy that we offer our fencers quite often on the strip. Conserve your energy, get that point with the least expenditure of movement as possible. That’s effective in the context of a match, but taken out of context it’s a recipe for overconfidence and eventual decline.

Taking the easy way

Sometimes we see fencers, particularly relatively new fencers, try to make it through a fencing competition with the least amount of effort. They figure out that they are the best fencer in their pool, so they don’t try their best. “The idea is to make it through to the Direct Elimination (DE) round anyway right? It doesn’t matter how you get there, just that you get there, and it’s better to be seeded high” they think.

To do this, these fencers will use the same advance again and again. They’ll score the same type of touches over and over, phoning in scores and cruising their way to the DE’s. It’s an easy ego boost, a puffed up way to progress through the rounds of fencing competition.

It’s the same thing that we see sometimes in very smart children, which to be fair our fencers are often very bright students in school. They go to class and get through the work without being challenged. Rather than ask their teacher for harder work that pushes them to grow, they just do the work that comes easily to them and get those grades.

In fact you can go through your whole life like this right? Do the easy thing, get the easy praise, never push yourself to your full potential. It doesn’t matter anyway as long as you are better than someone else, even if that someone else is much less developed than you are. Better to be a confident big fish in a little pond. Or in this case a little “pool”.

Redefine the goal of the pools

Winning over others who are not pushing your skill to get better is an empty win, and it’s an empty win that will eventually catch up with you. It’ll eventually catch up to your kids too! You might look back and see that you advanced consistently at competition, only to realize after a while that those other fencers were improving all the time and now they’re better than you. It won’t stay easy forever!

This is a hard lesson for anyone to face. It’s a hard one for kids to learn. Geez, it’s a really hard one for adults to learn too if we fall into these kinds of habits. Redefining how kids approach something as simple as the pools in fencing competition will help them to set a growth mindset in fencing that can carry over to other areas of life.

What has to happen is that you redefine the goal of the pool rounds. The yardstick isn’t so much making it through to the DE as fast as possible (though getting through is of course a goal), but to improve in skill while that happens. Fencers need to train during local and regional competition to improve their technique. The result is a secondary goal. The primary goal is to fence well and holistically, learning along the way.

Do note here that this is more specific to local and regional competitions. Going to national and international competition is totally different. In those instances the goal is to get the title, as these are one off competitions. In the wider scheme of competitive fencing, those are rare. In a well planned season, local and regional competitions don’t strictly affect qualification or titles. They have an impact, but there are many chances to win those points or get to that qualification. The goals are fundamentally different for the big competitions than they are from the small or the medium competitions.

Back to the local and regional competitions. Don’t take the easy route by scoring an easy and trivial touch! Sacrifice a few points to create a nice phrase or to execute a challenging combination. Fencers can push this outside of the pools as well. When it’s 10:3 in the initial round of DE and things are going easily, now is a good time to implement those new things you’ve been working on. You cannot continue to do the same things over and over again, you cannot continue to just slide by!

Competition is practice

Nothing will prepare you to compete more effectively than pushing yourself during competition. It’s not the same as practice. It’s not the same when you’re there in competition as it is when you’re practicing at the club. To develop comfort with new techniques, you have to put them into practice in context. This is truly the only way to develop as a fencer.

Your body is conditioned to do what you train it to do. If all you do during the pools is to get some easy touches, only half checked into the process, then when you move onto the DE you’ll be only half into the process and you’ll go for the easy touches. That’s a recipe for trouble!  Particularly as you advance through fencing to harder opponents. Switching fencing gears is not something you want to be trying to do without practice!

Phoning in a fencing performance, whether it’s in practice or in the pools, is not improving your fencing. Though it might be easy enough to do it, this is one instance where the easy way is not the right way. Competition is practice! Competition is an opportunity to grow! There are precious few minutes on the strip during fencing tournaments, especially compared with the hours upon hours of time spent in preparation. Seizing every moment of that competition time will help your fencing to grow.


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1 Comment

  1. FP

    Strip coaching should account for the above as goal. In virtually all cases, strip coaching during local and regional competitions focus on winning as well (pools or DEs). And when a fencer has a significant lead, strip coaches will leave the fencer for some other fencer who needs help to win, or simply just watch (also good time to get a break). Nice article but surely something that clubs and coaches need to teach (and practice) with their students.

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