What does it take to become a great fencer? Picture of USA men's foil squad winning Rio BronzeWhat kinds of people are great fencers?

What does it take to become good at fencing?

These are two questions that we hear again and again at AFM. Everyone wants to know what they need to do in order to become the best, what qualities they need to possess in order to be good in this amazing sport. There are some basics that lend themselves to great fencing. Let’s explore them.

1.    Great fencers are dedicated to fitness

Balance, muscle strength, and coordination can all be grown through fitness training. There is so, so much movement in fencing that requires fencers to be precise. The best fencers are able to control their muscles exactly, to take on their opponents effectively by moving their bodies quickly and in the exact right placement.

There’s a component here that comes from conditioning. The best fencers don’t just fence to get better, they do cardio training and strength training. The stronger and more balanced the body is, the less likelihood there is for injury as well. Just a bit more speed or strength often means the difference between the person who wins the bout and the person who loses the bout. Since fencing competition is separated based on age and gender, there’s a fairly level playing field for fencers in terms of fitness. That means that working out can offer a real edge for fencers who are willing to put in hours in the gym to improve their fencing skills.

2.    Great fencers have great instincts, and trust them

Great fencers learn to anticipate the movements of their opponents. They can actually see what’s coming in terms of the next attack. In many ways, fencing is the art of observing human behavior, psychological even. For some people this kind of instinct on the strip is innate, but it’s mostly a skill that’s honed through extensive experience. A great fencing coach can help you to learn more about instinct and how to sharpen your ability to anticipate the movements of an opponent.

Fencing bouts go quickly, so the best way for a fencer to win is to move quickly and without thinking. Something else take over during a masterful bout, something beyond the thinking mind. Learning to trust those instincts, to be open to the reflexes that you’ve trained into your body, is a major aspect of becoming a top level fencer.

3.    Great fencers are intellectual

Fencing is physical chess, and the mental game is equally important to the physical one. Intellectual individuals tend to do well in fencing. Fencers are working to outsmart their opponents, to win them over through mental toughness and quickness. Figuring out which moves to employ in a bout and learning to read the opponent on the strip requires quick thinking and intellectual acuity.

The complexity of the sport lends itself to people who are highly cerebral. That’s not to say that having a super-high IQ is the key to being the best fencer ever, but enjoying and being good at the mental aspect of fencing is a requirement for success.

4.    Great fencers adapt

Every bout is going to be different. Every. Single. One. Even when you’re facing the same opponent multiple times, they’re going to fence slightly differently each time. Great fencing requires adaptability. You cannot just learn one set of moves and rely on it over and over again, there must be constant growth. Fencing is a wonderful sport in part because it offers an equalized playing field. Good strategy can make up for a massive difference in reach, in height, or in speed.

Constant growth and learning is a requirement for becoming great at this sport. Fencers must work hard to learn what changes they need to make and what improvements apply to them. There is no “one way” to win in fencing. There are a thousand ways to approach an opponent, and every bout is winnable with the right adaptations.

5.    Great fencers have experience

Primary among the traits that are necessary for becoming an amazing fencer is experience. How can you get experience? Practice, practice, and more practice. This is really just a time in kind of thing, it’s not something you’re born with. That’s a surprising thing to many people, who think that sports are mostly a matter of natural talent or athletic ability.

In truth, the best fencers are not those fencers who are either the most naturally talented or the most incredibly athletic, they’re the people who put the most time in working to get better. Time in the club on the strip, time in competition, time in private lessons, and time at home working on forms add up to experienced fencers who win.

6.    Great fencers have passion

Great fencers don’t have to be pushed to practice, they do it on their own. If someone is constantly having to goad a fencer to go to competitions, to workout at the club, or to schedule those private lessons, then that person is unlikely to become a great fencer. The more passionate someone is about the sport, the more naturally drawn they are to become enthralled with it, the more likely they are to get more experience and therefore to find success.

No great fencer ever got there because they were anything less than extraordinarily passionate about this sport. High level competition requires a great deal of sacrifice and hard work. Without a passion for it, fencers fizzle out and give up before they have the chance to be great, even if they possess all of the other qualities necessary to be marvelous. It takes toughness and grit to become great.

What qualities do you think it takes to make a great fencer? Which of these qualities do you find to be the most important? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!