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.