Everything in fencing takes longer than you think it will. Just as we have to practice footwork and hand position until we get it, we also have to practice patience.
One virtue that you need more than almost any other in fencing is patience.
The first big jump
There is the initial feeling of mastery that comes from just picking up the sword. You go from never having held a fencing sword, just a normal person walking around, to the next moment when you are suddenly a fencer. The contrast is so drastic that it can make us feel like we have made a big leap, which we have.
Then there’s the steep learning curve for all of the things surrounding fencing. You have to learn about all of the ins and outs of fencing, from the gear to the rules. There’s a new environment to become acclimated to. Fencing has a lot of gear, what with the masks and the electronic scoring equipment. It’s absolutely transformative in the beginning. That whole feeling of starting something new, what with the connections we’re making in our mind and the way that we feel physically. It’s so much to process, but it’s also such an exciting thing to process!
Fencing in the beginning is all about acclimating to the new experience, and there’s zero patience required. In fact, in the beginning we don’t need much patience because we’re scrambling so much just to get our feet under us. Literally, trying to get our feet under us because we’re working on our footwork.
This isn’t to say that it’s all roses when it comes to learning fencing. Those first few months might be exciting, but they’re also intimidating and can be overwhelming at times. There’s no doubt that there’s a lot of growth happening though.
The learning curve
Understanding the learning curve can help us to understand why it can be so frustrating at points in our fencing, particularly after that initial wondrous bump. The illustration below is a great explanation of how the learning curve works, and it’s a bit of a doozy.
Image credit: Vidya Hattangadi
What’s great about this is how it really shows the dip that we experience after that initial steep curve. It’s exactly what we see in fencing. You start off totally clueless, then you have a steep rise as you gain that initial knowledge. Even if you’ve watched fencing at the Olympics a lot before you come into your first class, you still don’t have much of any idea about the nuances of it.
After the sharp ascent, suddenly you start to understand that you don’t know all that much about fencing after all. Where you thought you had an idea of what you were looking at other fencers do, and where it looked easy, now you know how hard it really is. Sure, that parry-riposte seems straightforward enough, but then when you try to do it, it seems rather hard.
This next down curve is where we see a lot of problems for fencers. They realize just how much they don’t understand, and that can be very deflating. The amount of work that it’s going to take to get to the level of proficiency is now very clear, and it’s incredibly intimidating at moments.
Here’s where patience starts to kick in. You have to measure your expectations now that you know what you don’t know, and with that measured expectation, you have to give yourself time to progress. You can’t climb up to the top and mastery if you don’t.
Here’s the other trick to know here – this curve doesn’t just happen once. This learning curve happens over and over again, each time you reach another level of mastery in fencing. When you get to your E and then your C and then your A rating, and all the ratings in between, each time you will find yourself in this same spot again. That’s why it takes a lot of time to get a new rating, and often it takes a lot of time just to renew your rating in a new year. You’ll have a blast off of learning, then an understanding of what you don’t know, then you’ll be faced with going up towards mastery again.
When you embrace this learning curve, then you can learn to ride it out! That simple thing of understanding where you are makes it all so much easier.
The long game
Though fencing is a fast sport with quick movements and lighting fast decision-making, it’s a constant long game for fencers to grow and become better. Some of this is because we don’t see the incremental changes that are happening in our fencing. Some of this is because it just takes a while to learn a skill like this.
You must learn patience in order to get to mastery.
- You think it will take a three months to earn your next rating, and it takes six.
- You think you will make it to Fencing Summer Nationals your second season, but you just miss and it takes until your third.
- You think you’ll be a master fencer in five years, but then you realize you’ll be learning for your whole life.
If you expect that your fencing skills and your fencing rank will go up at the speed of a jet plane, you are in for a rough ride. No matter what skills or experience you bring to the table, mastering fencing is going to take time and discipline. You might be a fast learner, but even prodigies in sports don’t learn things overnight.
Patience is going to help you make it through the long game of fencing. Learning to bide your time and measure your progress in seasons and months, rather than in weeks and days, will be an incredible boost for your fencing skills. What’s more, it’ll be a huge boost to your mental health as you navigate fencing.
One of the worst things you can do as a fencer is to underestimate how much time it will take for you to progress. If you try to speed this up, even a little bit, you invite frustration and tension that will only hold you back.
Tactics to improve patience
It’s one thing to say that you should be patient in your fencing practice, but how do you go about doing that thing? You have to find ways that really work for you, otherwise you’ll fall into bad habits that aren’t so easy to break.
Here are some strategies for learning patience for your fencing.
Read books on patience.
Yes, fencers, there are lots of books out there on the practice of patience. They can really be helpful as well, much more than just this blog that’s getting you started. These kinds of books will help you not only find patience for your fencing practice, but they’ll also help you find patience in all parts of your life.
Just as you have to practice your fencing, you can practice you patience through meditation. The reason this works is because it allows your mind to find space and to slow down. So often, we are going so fast in life that we don’t know which way is which. We are pushing ourselves constantly.
Meditation opens up space in your brain to let you see connections. Daily meditation is best, and you only need ten minutes or so for it to be effective. Like the books mentioned above, this will help you in a wide range of areas of your life.
Practice deep breathing
Breathing exercises are a great way to instantly calm your nervous system and put a stop to that frustration. A short breath in, followed by a long breath out, will pull your energy level back down to a reasonable level.
When you are ramped up because you aren’t getting a technique or you are pushing yourself too hard, this will help you to calm back down and even out. This particular patience technique is for when you’re in the moment, but it’ll also help you let go of the high expectations that you have for progress. It’s similar to meditation, but more like a bandaid.
The incremental progress can be difficult to see. When we think of those first fencing days, we tend to project our current skills backwards into them. You are most certainly miles ahead of where you started as a fencer, and that’s a remarkable thing!
If you haven’t kept a fencing journal through your fencing time, that’s ok. You can still go back and look at pictures or videos of your early fencing days to see where you’ve come from. Talk to your coach and your teammates about the progress you’ve made. You can also go watch an intro to fencing class, or better yet volunteer to teach one. This will give you some great perspective.
Learning and understanding the importance of patience will serve you not just here in fencing, but in the broad range of your life. We are so tied up in the current moment that we’re in and the frustrations that we have about where we are that we can easily forget the bigger picture.
There is no overnight solution for becoming a master fencer. You’ll always have a long road ahead of you to reach your goals, but that’s also because we are constantly changing our goals as we progress. The needle is always moving, and that’s how it’s supposed to be! In fencing it’s this way, and in life it is definitely this way.
One of the virtues you’ll acquire is the ability to realize there are no shortcuts in life. This is not a bad thing! In fact, when you embrace just how far you have to go, that makes the road seem a lot less arduous. You can absolutely find whatever success you’re looking for, just give yourself a little grace while you work to get there.