Mental health is just as important as physical health. Though fencing in particular and sports in general are well known for how they benefit us physically, there are also a huge number of ways that they boost mental health.
Mood happens on a spectrum, from being far down in the dumps to being elated and excited. What we want is to stay in the middle somewhere for the most part. The low lows can help us to learn resilience, and the high highs can of course boost us tremendously.
The trouble with the high highs is that, if we become too attached to them, we can spend too much time chasing them. This keeps us from being able to live in the present, as we’re always thinking about how great it felt to have that big experience. The trouble with the low lows is of course that they bring us down. Both can be disruptive to our mood and throw our life off course.
Being relaxed allows you to be present in the moment, without worrying too much about the future or fretting too much about the past. Physical activity of any kind releases brain chemicals that relax our minds and even our moods.
Regular fencing gives you an additional mood boost because of the constant competitive nature. Point, point, point – sometimes for the opponent and sometimes for yourself. It gives you a consistent sense of being in that middle, even as you are excited and ready to go. This isn’t just about the physical benefits that fuel mood improvement, it’s also how the highly competitive nature of fencing gives us a regular mood boost. The highs and lows aren’t so drastic, but they are still exciting enough to engage us.
Beyond those, there’s also the mood boost from the social nature of the sport. Though this is an individual sport, it’s also in direct competition with an opponent. The camaraderie, even with the person on the other side of the strip, is a great boost for a fencer’s mood.
Sharp thinking, critical decision making, and constant learning are all skills that we develop in fencing. When going against an opponent, a fencer has to keep on adapting. This fosters improved concentration.
We know that the best improvement for focus and concentration comes when you practice a combination of cardio and strength training, which is exactly what fencing provides. The fast movement up and down the strip, which engages the whole body, is perfect for building focus from a physiological perspective.
A central point of mental health revolves around stress. The daily stress of life, for both kids and adults, can negatively impact our mental health. Stress hormones are a physical manifestation of this, and one of the best ways to get rid of those hormones is to engage in physical activities. There’s a mental letdown that you can feel when your body gets moving, and it’s so powerful that sometimes it feels like a physical sensation.
Activity itself can help to free us from that negativity from a brain standpoint, but there’s also the mental engagement. Part of the problem comes with negative thoughts that run away with us. There’s nowhere to you can escape from your thoughts, they’re always with you. That means you have to find ways to bring in other thoughts and reshape what you’re doing.
A fencing club becomes a place of refuge from everything else that goes on in life. When you walk through those doors, the rest of the world is on the other side. All that matters is the training, and then even within the training all that matters is this position or that next point. It’s a reprieve from stress, even as there are different stressors that come back into the equation in fencing.
The other side of the chemical equation is positive. Exercise releases endorphins. This is the runners’ high that people talk about. This happens when a person has a super happy, over-the-moon kind of feeling that almost transcends the world around them. It doesn’t last for long, but it’s intense. It can happen with any kind of hard cardio, including a heavy bout of fencing. Not everyone gets that extreme version of it, but everyone does get a boost of endorphins when they exercise hard.
The quality of our sleep has a huge impact on mental health. When you get good sleep, you are naturally going to be happier and more able to cope with things that life throws in your direction.
Regular fencing, and in fact all regular exercise, helps you to not only fall asleep faster, but also to stay asleep longer. Deep, consistent sleep is an essential part of good mental wellbeing.
Kids and adults alike can really struggle with self-confidence. There are lots of reasons for this, but fencing can make a big difference for this particular mental health metric.
When skills and strength improve through regularly practicing fencing, self esteem also improves. There’s a sense of control over your environment as you learn to master the sword, but there’s also this deep sense of control over yourself. Learning to mold your movements and your focus in a direction that you choose is powerful stuff. Not only that, but the physical transformation of building muscle and improving stamina contribute to a positive sense of self.
The improvements in mental clarity and physical fitness that come from fencing don’t just stay in the fencing club, they continue to add to the life mastery outside of the club too. This bleeds over into academics and social situations.
In particular, the nature of fencing is built for building self confidence. Each point is a win and gives a little boost, even if it’s followed by a point for the opponent. No one loses all of their bouts, so there is always a thread of winning that comes through to give the fencer a good feeling. Competitive fencers get this on an even higher level, because they are pushing out of their comfort zone to go against bigger and better opponents. Going to a NAC or National Championship is an accomplishment, even if the fencer doesn’t get much further than the pools.
There are always going to be downsides in a competitive sport, but the fencing community is warm and welcoming. There is a real sense of community that comes from our niche sport! Though we are all fiercely competitive, we are still here to support one another. That goes a long way to boosting self confidence.
A sense of belonging
There is a real sense of belonging and community within fencing, and this is wonderful for mental health. People don’t usually say “I practice fencing,” they say, “I am a fencer.” That subtle difference isn’t realy subtle at all, it’s a big marker of identity. As fencers, we feel that we are part of a long tradition. It’s not just about us, it’s also about the people who came before us and the responsibility that we carry as part of the tradition.
Leadership and mentorship are extensions of this. Young fencers connect with older fencers often, and that cross-experience combination is a highly impactful way of improving self esteem. We want to foster the next generation of fencers because that’s how we were taught, and it’s very much a part of who we are. The urge to continue that is strong, and it is such an integral part of how we feel that we belong.
Mental health across ages
Fencers don’t start fencing until the age of seven or so at the earliest, but they can keep on fencing for a whole lifetime. Competitive Veteran fencing has a category that goes all the way to 80+!
When someone starts sport young, they are much more likely to keep on going with it when they are adults. Sports like fencing are directly tied to better outcomes in academic settings, as well as better emotional health. Fencers get so much out of this sport, even when they are too young too compete.
Though we talk often about youth sports when we talk about fencing, the truth is that the mental health benefits continue to carry through adulthood. They’re still important! Continuing with competitive fencing as an adult can help keep the mind sharp and also diffuse stress. This helps us to live longer and to be happier. Regular exercise through fencing also helps to reduce the risks of physical health problems, like heart disease and falls, which in turn lowers depression and improves mental health.
One place we don’t talk about so much is midlife. That crunch time when kids are pulling us one way and aging parents are pulling us the other way can be super stressful. Participating in fencing offers a place to stake out as your own, without all of the pressure of the rest of life. Like we mentioned earlier, walking into the club can mean leaving the rest of the world behind. The whole of that stress and responsibility is left at the door for a couple of hours while you’re fencing, and it is so good for our mental health to do this!
It doesn’t matter what age a fencer starts or what age a fencer is competing, there are great mental health benefits for people of every age through fencing.
Fencing is great all around
What’s difficult about mental health is that we often think of it as intangible. There’s a nebulous quality to mental health, as though it’s something that we can’t put our hands on. That’s a fair assumption because we really can’t put our hands on mental health. That doesn’t mean we can’t see the direct benefits that fencing has for mental health.
Though this is a taste of the mental health benefits of fencing, there are so many more ways that grabbing a sword and heading to the strip is good for you.
Understanding how fencing supports mental health wellness can help us to see the progress that we’re making. It’s not just about what fencing does for us right now, it’s also about how fencers grow for the future. Mental health is a big part of that!