Fencing may be one of the oldest sports in recorded history created out of the duel: A way for two disagreeing parties to settle their dispute by battling it out to see who would be the worthy victor. Entire wars were often fought as an expansion of a duel. Duels began to go out of favor as early as the mid-1400’s but it wasn’t until much later that duels were completely forbidden.
Once duels were banned, it became a widespread practice to have amicable battles without the intention of injuring your opponent that included regulated rules, referee’s and yes, even the requirement of sportsmanship which later turned into a common tradition. Which is modern fencing today.
Today all fencing battles are fought under the watchful eyes of referees, and both begin and end by saluting the opponent, referee, and spectators, and a friendly handshake with one’s opponent. a sign of respect and camaraderie.
Respecting Your Opponent: Both Friend and Foe
Fencing, in general, is a remarkably inclusive sport. I believe it may be more inclusive than many other more mainstream sports because of its nature. You can be any size or shape, train for your ability and your athleticism, and still be able to compete at a national level. Many local and regional competitions are often co-ed, which presents a constant challenge to position yourself against someone who could be very physically different than you, yet still incredibly competitive.
To be able to build camaraderie amongst other fencers who look different and have different athletic abilities, can inherently create mutual respect amongst you with your peers. If you’ve never battled against a particular opponent before, it’s also common to feel uneasy at what to expect. Will you be better than them? Will they beat you? Can you win?
At the same time the anticipation of fighting someone who you know very well, mainly if they could be better than you can be unnerving, but if you consider them to be a friend, that intimidation almost instantly disappears.
However, when you start to make friends with your opponents, many great things can happen. Friendships develop into something that can be both beautiful and encouraging to your fencing goals.
I recently spoke to one of the parents of a highly ranked cadet fencer, who shared with me that this year her son travels alone to fencing competitions. He coordinates all of his travel with his fencing friends from other clubs, and they all go together. They share a hotel room, they eat meals together, yet when they get on the strip, they are significant competitors against one another, often meeting each other at final rounds. Off the strip, they are the best of friends!
If it weren’t for a natural respect for the sport, this kind of relationship might not be otherwise possible. And perhaps because of this respect, they can push each other to be better, to want to fight each other in those final rounds.
Winning Isn’t Everything
Fencing was built on a strong tradition of true chivalry. It was always a sport of gentlemen, and as such respect was an inherent part of it. Yes, it feels good to win, but learning how to deal with the grief and disappointment of a loss, is essential to your growth as a fencer, and to maintaining your respect for the sport.
Not everyone can handle a loss in the same way. However, being able to control your emotions, can be as important as your skill with the sword. Thankfully fencing is set up so that even the most upset player will be forced to find a way to calm down, or risk being black carded. Coaches and peers alike understand the rules, both known and implied about what behavior is acceptable and what is not. Keeping yourself in check is essential.
Regardless of a win or a loss, coaches will always shake hands with their fencer’s opponent, as well as the opponent’s coach showing further respect of the sportsmanship and admiration of the game as well as an acknowledgment of the act of fencing that they all just participated in or watched. While no coach wishes for their fencer to be eliminated, they will always wish their opponent good luck in further rounds and congratulate them on the win.
By leading this example, they show to their fencers the importance of good sportsmanship as both a sign of respect for the sport, as well as for themselves.
How Respect On the Strip Can Translate To Respect for Schoolwork
While building a tradition of good and respectful sportsmanship on the strip and at a competition is important, this can translate into a fencer’s life and academia off the strip as well.
Most of our parents tell us that their children begin to show an improvement in their grades once they move into the competitive level. Usually, this is due to a combination of self-discipline and commitment. For example, they know that they will need to go to a competition on the weekend for three days, so they plan for this, and work on a project without delay, often completing it well in advance of its due date.
They also know that at 6 PM they will need to leave to go to training, so they don’t procrastinate on their homework either. This sport teaches them to achieve and overachieve, and when it comes to school work, this thinking is the same.
How Respecting Your Opponent Can Help you Respect Others In Your Life
As your child continues their journey as a fencer, you may be surprised to notice how they interact with various family members, colleagues, teachers, and administrators. We have many parents who report that they’ve witnessed their child being less irritated by a request or expectation from an adult, when before being a fencer, they may have given a lot of attitudes or challenged the request.
I believe this is because they have had a physical, emotional, and mental boost to their self-confidence through fencing. After all, respect for yourself, and what you can accomplish can often be an accurate and more authentic way of respecting others. When you respect yourself, your ability, and your accomplishments, you also learn to respect the authority of officials such as your coaches and referees, and the varied skillship of your opponents. As a result, you are more likely to be patient and a bit kinder to others.
Conflict Resolution Skills
For a sport originating in violence, which has evolved in the latest century to be one of the most graceful and chivalry activities, it’s not surprising that it can be such an essential and useful teacher when it comes to conflict resolution. I’m not saying that your child should grab their sword, and challenge a would be conflicting situation to anything like a duel! What I’m saying is that while you may not always agree with what your opponent is saying, or even the call that the referee has made, you must and will respect the outcome, even if it costs you a bout, a medal, or a qualification.
You may not like to go up against a particular technique or style of fighting, but you may be able to respect your opponent’s training or their athleticism, and perhaps also even learn from it. In real life, you will always face competition whether intended or not. And often someone will use a technique that is better than yours or so different that you had no way of anticipating it.
This happens all the time in fencing, so learning how to deal with that, adopt it, grow as a fencer, and most importantly, respect it is all part of the journey of building respect for yourself and your opponent.
Fencing is as graceful as it is athletic. It’s famed for being a mental game of chess, but it is also a surefire way to build a sense of respect for one’s self, as well as one’s opponent while setting and achieving goals that are, themselves worthy of much respect. Over time this respect builds and can infiltrate a fencer’s perspective on so many things on and off the fencing strip.