We’ve discussed in previous posts that fencing is not nearly as dangerous as some might believe. In fact, if you follow that link you will see a great chart that shows how fencing was in the bottom six sports for number of injuries in the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Nonetheless, fencers can be injured during a bout, even if most injuries are not serious or long-lasting. What may turn out to be a mild sprain or nothing more than an irritating bruise can still be distracting in the middle of a bout, and can negatively affect your performance if you ignore it.
We recently had a fencer who was leading by five touches against a much less experienced fencer quickly lose his lead and the bout—why? Because he received a blow to the wrist of his fencing hand and failed to ask for a break. He kept fencing with tears under his mask, lost his momentum, and before he knew it, the less experienced fencer overtook his lead and stole his win. Why did he let the bout continue?
For one, he didn’t know he could ask for a break. The rules state that you can request a break of up to 10 minutes to recover from an injury or a cramp. Be sure to understand the full rules from USFA (t.33 on page 16), which state that medical personnel must assess the injury, that the ten minutes can only be used to assess or treat the injury or cramp, and that the medical personnel may determine the fencer is too injured to continue. You also can’t request a break for the same injury twice. So, only use this rule when you truly need it, but when you are injured or in enough pain that it hinders your fencing, ask for the break.
Also, our fencer was hesitant to show weakness. Yes, being hit with a weapon is part of fencing. At the same time, if a blow hits you the wrong way or hits you somewhere you’ve been injured before, and the pain is intolerable, it’s not a sign of weakness to take a moment to assess the impact. It’s a sign of intelligence and care for your body to check on the injury. Plus, if taking a few minutes to recover is the difference between you winning or losing a bout, doesn’t it seem silly not to take advantage of the rule?
If you want to fence your best, you need to be careful not to be unnecessarily distracted by pain when you could instead take a moment to ice your injury or let the worst of the pain pass.
The medical timeout rule exists specifically to give enough time to check what’s going on. If the injury is truly serious, the medical personnel (if present at the venue) will let you know and keep you from fencing more and further injuring yourself. If it’s like most injuries and not that serious, the break will give you peace of mind that you are okay and a moment to refocus on the competition.
Winning bouts should be about strategy, focus, and determination—not being able to grit your teeth through an injury. You will run into situations where you have to grin and bear it, but unless it’s absolutely necessary, don’t let your pride get the best of you. The next time you take a blow that slows you down, ask for a timeout.