Academy of Fencing Masters Blog

Art of Fencing, Art of Life

Why Fencers Should Hate Luck

Why fencers should hate luck

“He got lucky with that referee’s call.”

“You sure were lucky to get that point!”

“The matches pools are the luck of the draw.”

“I wish I had her luck in getting a good coach.”

Oftentimes in fencing it can seem like we don’t have control over everything. That’s not just the way that it seems, the truth is that we don’t have control over everything in fencing. There are plenty of aspects of this sport that do come down to chance, like the draw of opponents in competition or even the chance encounter that brought someone to fencing in the first place. 

It’s ok, even good, to get a firm understanding of how you as a fencer do have a lack of control in some situations in fencing. The problem comes for fencers, whether they are young fencers or seasoned fencers, who start to think that they don’t have control over anything in the bout. They get into this dangerous mindset that they are no longer in charge of how their fencing goes, and that leads to everything from poor performance to stagnation.  

Lucky fool

Sometimes a fencer will try a new technique or tweak their movements and find out that it works. If this happens in the thick of competition, it can fee like they have really made a breakthrough, that they’ve really figured out something that is meaningful. If it’s not something that has been trained into the fencing, then often it’s a simple matter that they were lucky. The fencer will go on to try and try to recapture that magic point, only to reinforce bad habits. This ends up holding the fencer back from growth in positive ways!

It’s not just things that happen in competition. Young fencers are really feeling their way through in those first few months and even years of practicing the sport. They don’t quite know what they’re doing enough to do it well, but they know enough to get themselves into trouble. When in practice they get a point, they’ll often think that “Aha! I’ve figured out fencing! This is it!”

That’s not how learning a sport works! You have to try to wrap you mind around the concept that not every point is equal. Sometimes an opponent’s arm with slide open for point or a foot will stumble, letting that point happen. You can’t replicate that though. If you can’t do it again to get a point with another opponent in another match, then it’s not what we’re training for.

You know what you can replicate? Good technique. You can replicate footwork and hand position. There are innovations in fencing certainly, and they can come at first in the heat of a moment, but a lucky point isn’t the goal. Reliable, replicateable points are the goal.

If you rely on luck then you reinforce bad habits. You’re a lucky fool who can get lucky points here and there, but success in fencing cannot be created on lucky points. 

Beginner’s luck

Sometimes parents come to me and they wonder why their child performed so well a few months ago when they were less experienced, but now they’re struggling. It happens more often than you might think!

Oftentimes the explanation is counter intuitive – it was luck.

It happens too often to relatively beginners when they have no idea what to do and especially in epee they can score a lot of lucky touches. Epee as a weapon is very sensitive to mistakes and sometimes beginners have just that – luck.

But when they started to learn more and more then they start trying the “real” action. And of course at the beginning this does not work, so they miss and get scored against. 

But every fencing coach for the long term development would value you trying to do right things, correct actions, actions that you tried to set up and execute versus blind lucky touches.

So while you are not in the competition which decides your destiny (and probably if you read this blog you are not heading to such competition just yet), try to avoid luck. Try to fence based on things you learned, based on actions you practiced in class and private lessons. Make you luck instead of purely relying on it. If you score what you think is not a good touch, dismiss it from your count. Don’t focus on how good it feels but focus on how to turn this luck into intentional execution.

Luck can be important

Well, I don’t say that luck is unimportant. Of course it is and even highest level athletes oftentimes enjoy the luck. I remember a bit ago Renal Ganeev (Russian Olympic Bronze foil team medalist from Athens Games) led our foil camp. After the session we had a round table discussion and one of the kids asked Renal about the most memorable touch he made. We all thought about a touch that won him a medal in one of his big competitions.

Yet, he said that it was a bout in his preliminary rounds against Italian fencer and they were tied and went to the priority minute. And then the Italian fencer took charge and Renal said he was panicking and had no idea what to do against his opponent’s attack. So he said “I just closed my eyes and lunged”. When he opened his eyes everyone was applauding and he had no idea why, until he looked at the scoring machine and saw one light – his.

So sometimes you do have luck and take it. But remember, the nature of the luck is that it happens once in a while. It is an experience that causes you to make it on purpose. So make your training and experience be your luck.

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1 Comment

  1. DJ

    Well said.
    As is often the case, what applies to fencing applies to life in-general. In other words, it’s good at some point in one’s life to realize, we do not control everything!
    A few clever quotes about luck come to mind- some wise, some merely humorous..

    In Barfly, starring Mickey Rourke, his character has just won a fight when his opponent falls on his own weapon. The defeated man groans, “Nothing but dumb luck,” to which Rourke’s character replies: “That counts too!”

    In (the original) Star Wars, Han Solo dismisses a demonstration of the Force saying “I call it luck.” Obi Wan responds: “In my experience, there’s no such thing as luck.”

    Perhaps the most useful quote however is the one with a deeper lesson behind it.

    “I am a strong believer in luck and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.”
    – Benjamin Franklin

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