When we think about different kinds of fencing, the first thing that jumps into our minds are the words epee, foil, and sabre. But within fencing there are far more subtleties than just what kind of weapon you use.

Getting down to it, there are essentially two ways to approach fencing, either from a tactile standpoint or a tactical standpoint. While all fencers are a mix of the two at some level, each fencer will also have one dominant world view. It’s important that fencers reflect on their propensities and style so that they can learn balance on the strip. The more you enhance your weaknesses, the more success you’ll find! Tactically minded fencers can benefit greatly from shifting their focus to the tactile side of the sport, and vice versa.

Let’s dig through the different qualities of technical fencing and tactical fencing. But before you read further, answer this question:

When you close your eyes and think about fencing, do you feel the shape of the grip in your hand and the strip under your feet, or does your mind spark with the thought of how you can counter your opponent?

Keep your answer in mind as you keep reading, and you’ll gain insight into your style of fencing.

Tactile fencers

Tactile fencers live in their bodies.

These fencers naturally tend to focus on the physical aspects of the sport. They gravitate towards improving their bodies as they work to improve their performance on the strip. These are the fencers who want to do more, who chase the dream of being just a little faster or just a bit stronger. They believe that it’s primarily their physical abilities that hold them back from reaching their fencing goals, and that in general if they just practice harder that they’ll get there.

The other aspect that makes a fencer a tactile fencer is their WHY for loving the sport:

  • Do you fencing because of mastery that you feel over your body when you fence?
  • Is it the feeling of your blood pumping and your muscles moving that pulls you toward practice?
  • Do you love doing jumping jacks and push-ups?
  • Do drills that challenge your hand-eye coordination sound like lots of fun?
  • Before fencing, did you participate in other physically focused sports?

If these are the things that drive you to fencing, then you lean towards tactile fencing.

Tactile oriented fencers work very hard on their conditioning and improving their physical ability, and it’s a method that works. We see fencers all the time who are driven to practice more and harder, to push their bodies to greatness. It’s a good thing, and it can offer a solid foundation to reach those fencing goals.

Tactical fencers

Tactical fencers live in their minds.

These fencers naturally tend to focus on the mental aspects of the sport. They are constantly talking about strategy, about how the mental chess match works. We see tactical fencers pouring over fencing manuals and analyzing their matches in agonizing detail with their coaches. Tactical fencers stay rooted in the belief that if they have quicker minds and a better understanding of the tactics of their opponent that they’ll be able to reach their fencing goals.  

The WHY of fencing is important for understanding your fencing style.

  • Do you enjoy fencing because it challenges you to think differently?
  • Is the feeling of executing a move that you read about incredibly satisfying?
  • Do you daydream about how you will use your fencing technique?
  • Before fencing, did you focus on thinking activities like chess or puzzles?
  • Do you love to talk about fencing strategy as much as fencing itself?
  • Is replaying and analyzing your matches something that you do naturally?

If these are the kinds of things that you enjoy most about fencing, then odds are that you are a tactical fencer.

Tactical oriented fencers are always analyzing what they do. They think and rethink their movements, and even advanced fencers who come at the sport from a tactical point of view have a thirst for tweaking and improving their performance by honing their mental skills. That kind of mental clarity and focus take these fencers to the next level.

How tactile fencers can become more tactical

Mental preparation is all about developing reasoning skills like strategy, logic, focus, and self-control. Many people say that a fencer’s tactical preparation is the central pillar of success in the development of their competitive edge. Naturally tactile fencers arguably have an advantage because the physical aspect is already present for them, and that physicality is critical to success.

Tactile fencers can improve their mental performance by consciously expanding their techniques. Versatility is as important as execution, and working with a coach to increase the repertoire in your fencing skillset will activate your tactical reasoning skills. Adding techniques will engage the mental side of a fencer while also allowing them to live out that physicality.

Incorporate tactical fencing support activities into your training if you’re a tactile fencer!

  • Look over video of performance or practice and analyze it
  • Keep a fencing journal to encourage analysis
  • Play chess or other logic focused games (mental cross training)
  • Pause during drills to think about applications during bouts
  • Go to open fencing events to challenge yourself with varied opponents
  • Talk to other fencers about tactical aspect of the fencing

Tactical fencing centers on applying those physical fencing techniques to maximize performance during a bout. Technique isn’t just about mastery through drills, it’s about correctly applying those blade actions and footwork during the bout!

How tactical fencers can become more tactile

If you’re primarily a tactical fencer, you can balance your style to take advantage of the tactile aspects of the sport. The biggest way that you can bridge the gap is to use that tactical mind of yours to redirect your body. That means doing focus exercises that bring you into your body. Breath work is one powerful focus exercise that connects your body to your mind more efficiently.

Another way to improve your tactile fencing prowess is to increase the amount of cross training that you do. That can mean running, swimming, or weight training. Yoga and Pilates are two wonderful ways for mentally minded fencers to get out of their heads and into their bodies because these exercise methods specifically focus on helping you connect the two. It’s not all cross-training though. It can also mean simple activities that are focused on hand-eye coordination. Practicing with a fencing target or dummy is a time-tested method.

Incorporate tactile fencing support activities into your training if you’re a tactical fencer!

  • Add hand-eye coordination drills to your regular practice
  • Cross train – swimming, yoga, pilates, etc.
  • Keep a fencing journal to encourage motivation
  • Incorporate breath work into fencing training
  • Try practicing without thinking – rely on your instincts instead
  • Use meditation to clear your mind and feel your body more

By improving your physical conditioning, you can dramatically improve your game. Tactical fencers tend to think that the mental acuity portion of the sport is easy, so they roll along with that. It’s true that quick thinking can get you far on the strip. But think about how much further you can get if you take advantage of the physicality that you’re not focusing on!

What makes a well-rounded fencer

Becoming a well-rounded fencer is what everyone is after. How to get there is a whole nother ball of wax!

The first step in improving is always going to be understanding where you are. Many times, athletes just go about doing what they’re doing without ever stopping to think about why they fence the way that they fence. Self-reflection and understanding oneself are fundamental characteristics of great fencers. The more you know about yourself as a fencer, the more opportunities you have to improve.

Dedicated training that’s built specifically for your strengths and weaknesses is the way to achieve greatness. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all fencing training method. Determining whether you’re a tactile or tactical fencer is one way to uncover powerful ways that you can get better on the strip.

This kind of self-analysis is worth more than just a cursory look. Delve into your fencing style! Learn about your style, then look around to the other fencers that you encounter. When you understand yourself as a fencer, you’ll be better able to understand your opponent and therefore be able to get that win that you’re looking for.

A well-balanced fencer is able to leverage their self-understanding to motivate them to practice and improve in the ways that aren’t so easy. Getting out of your comfort zone is key to reaching your potential as a fencer. Nothing happens without hard work and practice. Wherever you fall on the scale of fencing style, to take it to the next level you’ll have to work hard at your training. If you understand your fencing style, be it tactical or tactile, you’ll get to that place of balance and success that you are looking for!