One of the reasons we love fencing is because of the emotional payoff that comes with it. But is the rollercoaster of emotion that comes with training and competing something that we should embrace as fencers or something that we should try to stifle? Are emotions in fencing an ally or the enemy?
Grand emotions in our grand sport
Stop and think about the incredibly grand emotions that are part of the grand sport that we participate in. The things that we feel in fencing are big!
First off, let’s talk about what emotions we do have in fencing. Let’s be incredibly specific about what those grand emotions are that we feel along the rollercoaster of fencing. Language is a powerful way to help us understand precisely what’s happening with our emotions. Giving language to those feelings then allows us to determine how they’re impacting our performance for better or worse.
Positive emotions in fencing:
Negative emotions in fencing:
These grand emotions in fencing, both the positive and the negative, bring us up and down that rollercoaster. Is it a useful exercise to detail the emotional realities surrounding our fencing, it gives us insight into what those emotions mean for our performance in the short term and the long term. It allows us to decompress from these emotions and to make some smart decisions about how to incorporate them.
Using emotion to make fencing better
In the heat of the moment, when emotions are running high, we tend to make hasty decisions based on how we’re feeling, whether it’s the smart decision or not. Fencing is life-sized chess, and we as the players have to learn how to understand the ways that emotions affect our time on the strip.
When emotions are something that we use to help us grow as fencers, they are our ally. When they overrun our reasoning, they become our enemy.
What we want to do is to stay in the middle – between our emotional mind and our rational mind. This space in the middle is something that’s widely known as the “wise mind”.
In the heat of the emotional moment, we want to let our rational mind continue to guide our fencing. Not completely ignore the emotion, but find a place in-between where both the rational mind and the emotional mind take equal share in the work.
When that rush of emotion comes from a defeat or a disappointment, it can escalate into a crisis for some fencers, driving them to quit the sport and step back from all of the hard work that they’ve put into their fencing. What we’re working on is finding a balance between feeling those incredible emotions and letting them control us.
Dealing with positive emotions in fencing
Dealing with positive emotions during fencing is something that we think should be easier than dealing with negative emotions, but it’s not quite that simple. What’s important there is to balance and control those emotions so that we can continue to focus. Balancing the rational mind with the emotional mind after a point is scored helps us to pull our focus down into reality. Without focus during those moments of elation or glee, we can’t keep going.
The technicality of fencing is incredibly important. Young fencers in particular have a tough job ahead of them because they have a harder time controlling their emotions thanks to their age.
Challenges when dealing with positive emotions during fencing:
- Loss of focus
- Inability to listen to instructions
- Loss of training
Positive emotions are in general a very good thing for people. Google “positive emotions” and you’re going to find plenty of science to back up why they’re so important for mental health, of both adults and children.
However positive emotions can overrun us. They’re powerful! Pride comes before the downfall. In our fencing, we must learn to continue to focus and move forward even when we’ve got positive emotions pushing us along. It’s critically important for fencers to recognize the importance of balance when those positive emotions hit us.
In that moment, in that glorious touch when the point shows up on the scoreboard during a tough bout, keeping positive emotions balanced with our rationality is what allows good fencers to become great.
But it’s not just the high of the moment. Positive emotions can quickly lead to hubris. When a fencer is having a fantastic season, he or she can start to think that they’re so great that they don’t need their coach or their training. Training and coaches are what keep our fencing growing. Without a solid training regimen, it’s not possible for fencers to continue to get better. No matter how great you feel, no matter how confident you are after that win, your fencing coach has to remain your guide.
Humility is at risk when our positive emotions start to take over. We want to feel confident in ourselves, but overconfidence is a real danger for athletes. Not to be down on feeling good on the strip! The point isn’t to get rid of those good feelings at all, but rather to recognize the importance of keeping that rational mind in the equation.
Dealing with negative emotions in fencing
The other thing that fencers have to work on is dealing with negative emotions. This is of course much more challenging, but at the same time it offers the best chance for growth. Just as we learn best from our mistakes rather than from our victories, so too do we learn better from our negative emotions than we do from our positive emotions.
Mindlessness spurs creativity
Have you ever blanked on the strip? Just totally forgotten what you were doing or why? Those moments are frustrating, but they also fuel a great deal of creativity. “Aha” moments tend to come when our minds are empty. Think of it as a blank canvas on which things can be written. Mindless moments in fencing force us to be creative, assuming we allow them to. Can’t remember what you should do with your weapon in this moment? Let go and allow your body and your creativity to take over!
A bonus is that these times can also teach us to trust our training. Letting go of our control during a match and working on muscle memory and instinct can draw us into that long sought after ideal called “the zone”. A blank brain can be a very good thing!
Jealousy calls us to work harder
Did you lose a match to someone who was better than you? What do you do with that emotion? There are two options to dealing with jealousy. One is to let it consume us and turn our attention away from fencing as we run from those emotions. The other is to allow jealousy to push us to greatness. If someone else can win a national championship, then so can you! Training harder and smarter can both be positive outcomes of the negative emotion of jealousy, but only if we allow them to be.
Guilt checks our hubris
We talked a bit about hubris in the section on positive emotion. No fencer should be wracked with guilt over a missed critical point or a lost match, but once again we find that this negative emotion can be used as an ally in calming our hubris. Guilt pulls back our feelings of overconfidence, but only if we allow it to stay in that moment. Guilt can be a tool for fencers to pull themselves back and keep working on that footwork, those forms, etc.
Anxiety helps solve problems
Have you ever heard of “fight or flight”? That sensation is anxiety. It’s one that fencers feel acutely, because this is a combat sport. Embracing the anxiety that comes naturally with stepping on the strip is one of the best things that a fencer can do to improve their performance. This is the big one! That racing heartbeat is sending more blood to your brain and muscles during the match. Anxiety is a problem solver, one that’s hardwired into our brains. Balanced anxiety can help fencers to sharpen their focus and make smart decisions about actions on the strip.
Pessimism calls us to preparation
When we expect the worst, we prepare for everything. This doesn’t mean that we should always be working from a place of darkness, but rather it means that we need to be working from a place of realism that’s not full of hubris. Channeling our feelings of pessimism into focused, holistic fencing training can be transformative.
Sadness can lead us to see richer detail
When we are sad about a loss, be it a lost point or a lost match, it sharpens our awareness. It can actually lead us to making more accurate and rational decisions. Sadness calls us to turn out, to pull ourselves into focusing on details that we would otherwise miss. Allowing that hypervigilance to wash over us during moments of sadness on the strip can lead to great results!
Emotions are not the ally or the enemy – balance is the goal
This is a thing that we want to think about both in the short term and in the long term. On the strip and as the season goes and as the years go by, balance between the rational mind and the emotional mind will be the thing that allows fencers to gain mastery. Finding balance means keeping our wise mind mindset with consistency, over the course of the fencing season and beyond.
Fencing can exaggerate our emotion. It engages our physical body in a way that allows our emotions to rise to the top. The time that we put into our fencing, the hours on the strip, connects us to fencing from our heart out. The sword becomes our trusted companion. Our teammates become our friends. Our coaches become our mentors. Our foes become our inspiration. There is more to fencing than just the technical prowess of the fight, the footwork and the grip.
Making emotional decisions is never a smart thing, in fencing or in life. Making entirely thinking based decisions isn’t a smart thing either, in fencing or in life. The art of fencing is the art of living, and so learning to harness our emotions positively during our fencing allows us to then extrapolate that ability off of the strip and out into life.