Fencing is fun - AFM fencers at ocean beach during Summer Nationals Preparations Camp training

Maybe you’re heading into your first year of competitive fencing, or maybe you’ve been at it for a few years now and are taking home medals. Either way, you can always learn some new habits and do a little extra to up your game.

If you’re new to the sport, now’s the time to start thinking about good habits! It’s easier to start off on the right foot from the beginning than it is to make changes later. If you’re an experienced fencer who plans to keep pushing for the next level, use this post as a checklist to see where you’re already on the right track or where you can improve.

Here are 10 things that excellent fencers do:

#1 They are athletes first.

Modern fencing is a very athletic sport. You must have great endurance, explosive speed, and flexibility. An extra inch on your lunge or a quicker start can make all the difference in a fencing bout! You must be aerobically fit for back-to-back bouts when you advance in Direct Elimination. Often what separates the top finishers from those that get knocked out is not fencing skills, but the ability to keep fencing at a high level late in the day.

The best fencing clubs have an entire weekly class dedicated solely to conditioning. Sometimes these classes are optional—the best fencers don’t see them that way. They require themselves to go because they are committed to their sport.

#2 They focus on footwork.

You must have the basics and foundation down solid in order to build on top of that with excellent fencing skills. Exceptional fencers take the time to perfect their footwork. They are willing to drill it over and over again even though it may not be the most exciting part of training.

Good footwork is the only way to be in the right place as quickly as possible, and that’s a huge part of fencing. And the only way to learn good footwork is to practice, practice, practice until it’s second nature. Get this down first, and you’ll be paving the way for yourself to become a talented fencer.

#3 They engage in physical training outside of fencing.

You might think that the best fencers spend all of their time fencing, but it just isn’t so! Other physical activities make great cross training for fencing. Look for successful fencers that swim, run, play badminton, or play tennis.

#4 They respect their opponents.

While the connection may not be as obvious, you will notice that the most accomplished fencers tend to be very respectful of their opponents. Fencing has noble origins and all fencers are expected to display respect for themselves, their opponents, and the officials when competing. The best fencers go above and beyond in this regard. They don’t flaunt their skills, but let their abilities speak for themselves. They also are often the first to offer a tip or a bit of coaching for their fellow fencers.

#5 They ask for advice.

You learn by doing, but also by watching and learning from others. The best fencers are not too proud to ask for help and are constantly seeking out advice and tips from other fencers and coaches. They also take constructive criticism well. You can’t learn or get better if you’re not willing to accept your areas of weakness! Listen to the experts around you and take their advice as a gift.

#6 They watch lots of bouts.

Good fencers watch other good fencers. They watch their teammates and they watch their opponents. They watch bouts in person and also on TV and YouTube. They are always looking to learn from others and try something new to improve their skills.

#7 They take private lessons.

Group training is a great way to get started in the sport of fencing and should be part of continued training throughout a fencer’s career. But the best fencers always graduate to adding private lessons and then keep going to them continually on a weekly basis. Ideally they find a certain coach that is a good fit and stick with that coach for consistency in training and to build a mentoring relationship.

Even Veteran fencers take private lessons!

#8 They attend clinics and intensive specialty camps.

The best fencers go above and beyond weekly training and private lessons to also attend clinics and specialty camps. These events are often in the summer during the off-season and good fencers know that it’s important to keep practicing. Plus, clinics and camps give them the opportunity to train with different people and learn new things from new coaches.

Simply put, nothing can beat a one- or two-week intensive program in which the fencer is training day after day; it can lead to a breakthrough in progress. The most serious fencers will seek out this type of training right before an important competition. 

#9 They eat well and take care of their bodies.

For the serious athlete, your body is your greatest tool. Standout fencers take their physical health seriously. They eat well, get plenty of sleep, and rest when they need it (e.g., injuries or illness). You may see a serious fencer work through an injury or illness when it matters most (like at Nationals or World Championships!), but a smart fencer will sit out a practice if he or she is truly ill or injured to get healthy for the next practice or competition. 

#10 They have FUN!

If you think about most of the great athletes of our time, they all seemed to truly enjoy their sport. You don’t get to the top levels of competition by hating every step along the way or pushing yourself so hard that you lose the excitement and joy.

Make sure to remember that sports are essentially GAMES and are designed for enjoyment and satisfaction. You can take fencing very seriously, we certainly do, but at the end of the day, you will lose some bouts and you will win some bouts, and you have to make sure to keep having fun either way.