Don’t Give Your Lead Too Much Importance in Fencing. Illustration - Usain Bolt at 100m final at Beijing Olympic Games 2008

Recently, we wrote that fencers need to fight till the end. That’s important, but the flip side is that you cannot let your lead make you quit fighting either. Fighting till the end when you are behind is important, but so is fighting till the end when you’re in a lead.

This happens all of the time to young fencers. They start off with a lead of three or four touches and then they suddenly relax, they stop fighting, and they assume that it’s just going to keep going their way. A few minutes later, they discover that their opponent hasn’t given up and has succeeded in catching up, turning the bout around. What was a gracious lead turns in an instant to a bout that is not so easy. 

It’s understandable to get to a place of comfort when you’re doing well, it’s something that everyone does. We all do this! You have an advantage and you assume that it will last, just like we often are living with a disadvantage and feel like that will go on forever. It’s a human habit. 

With experience, you learn that there nothing is permanent.  It’s a beautiful part of life, one that we have to embrace. Being adaptable and staying on alert is how we can continue to do well. It’s how master fencers approach their sport. 

Combating hubris in a fencing match

Getting past thinking too highly of yourself in a fencing match is tough. When you get ahead, it feels like you’ve won already. That in and of itself is a form of hubris, though admittedly a small scale one. 

Working against hubris in fencing involves turning your mindset around. No fencer is entitled to a win, no matter how much they might get ahead early in a match. Here are some ways that you can work against this negative emotion, before you get yourself into a tight match.

Turn towards leadership

Fencers need to remember that others are looking up to them. This is a powerful reminder to keep on fighting, because there is pretty much always a less experienced fencer that is looking up to you, even when you are only a 9 years old “experienced fencer”! Oftentimes it’s easier to make that hard commitment when you know that someone is watching.

Focus on time

A fencing match only lasts for three minutes in the pools, then three times three minutes in the DE. These matches go so quickly, and it’s frankly not a long time to stay invested in a match. Yes, physical and mental stamina are required, but when you realize that these matches are shorter than the average song on the radio, suddenly it doesn’t seem like a long time!

Get rid of the “victim” mindset.

Our actions are our actions, full stop. Sometimes when we get ahead in a match, we think that we deserve to win it. It feels almost like being robbed if we then fall behind again. If you lose focus because you feel like you’ve won a match before it’s over, that’s on you. Doesn’t make you a bad person, but it’s still on you. Letting yourself feel like you were robbed of victory is a sure fire way to take your power. You’ve got all of the power! Take hold of it. 

Find your tenacity.

Being tenacious is something that lots of people have naturally, but if you don’t have it then you can cultivate it. A great way to do this is to psych yourself into each match with a pep talk from your coach, motivational music, or motivational things from your fencing journal. Do this before every single match, and you’ll see that tenacity turn into consistency.

The feeling of having it all in hand is a dangerous one. Hubris doesn’t always look like cockiness, though it can. More often it’s a subtle thing, one that creeps in for those who become accustomed to winning. It’s a very dangerous game to play though. Before long, some opponent is going to come along and show you that winning isn’t always going to be that easy. 

Complacency is the real enemy

One of the great things about youth fencing, and even adult fencing, is the evolving nature of it. This is a sport of growth and of growth cycles. There’s this beautiful ebb and flow to the whole thing, one that seasoned fencers are very familiar with.

What this means is that fencers go through periods when they can do no wrong. Maybe it’s come from mastering a technique or a jump in physicality. Whatever it is, fencers find themselves moving past their opponents, consistently scoring those points and getting those wins. They can naturally become complacent, which is always trouble. 

Fencers who have jumped forward in their skill will make short work of opponents . . . for a short while. Then reality is going to come back to get them when those opponents jump forward in skill too. Most of us have seen this kind of thing in a match, when a fencer gets ahead and then just runs down the clock without trying as hard. 

This is definitely a strategy, but it’s the kind of strategy that will get a fencer bumped out pretty quickly. Opponents are unpredictable by nature! What works for you now is not going to work forever. It won’t even work against the same fencer more than once necessarily, as who you are fencing against is also growing and improving. 

Learn when you’re ahead

In an individual match, complacency leads to giving up. If you have a lead on your opponent of three points, two minutes into the pool round match, well that’s great. It’s not enough! Keep going, and push yourself. Now you have the chance to experiment and push during that match. You’ve got a little bit of a lead, so try some techniques that you haven’t tried before. 

If it’s the DE and you’re ten points ahead going into the last three minute round, then it’s a wonderful opportunity to push yourself forward. Try that change in your cadence that you’ve seen other fencers do, or risk a few points using a technique or tactics that are in the works but you aren’t comfortable with them yet. In this way you’re going to stay invested in the match to the end, and you’re also going to improve your fencing while still pushing towards that win. 

Instead of looking at your lead as a time to sit back and relax, see it as an opportunity to keep growing in your fencing. You have a wonderful opportunity right now to take your fencing further. It’s not just about winning the match, it’s about growing as a fencer. No matter what level of fencing you’re at, whether it’s an open fencing night at your local club or Fencing Summer Nationals, you can learn from continuing to push through your match. 

All fencing is about growth. No matter whether you are well ahead or far behind. There is never a point in the fencing match that you should give up. We can always grow as fencers – whether you’re way behind or way ahead. 

Image credit –