A common question from parents in regards to fencing is whether the size of their child matters. This is one question with a quick answer: It doesn’t.
It does not matter if a child, or even an adult, fencer is much shorter or much taller than their opponent. The nature of fencing is such that you can be successful whether you are small in stature or whether you are large in stature. There are advantages and disadvantages to either one, and they are evenly split. No matter your level.
Size doesn’t matter!
Let us be clear that physicality does matter in sports, in any sport. At heart, it is all an expression of physicality. It involves the body. Where it is easy to get mixed up is in thinking that size is the only dimension of physicality, or even the most important dimension.
Being bigger does not mean you are faster. It does not mean you are stronger. There are a multitude of facets that comprise the physical aspect of sport. Agility, intricacy, power, speed, and many more are just as important as size.
One thing that size can do is to intimidate an opponent. We have all seen this in movies in bully scenes or fight scenes. The bigger person comes up to the smaller person and looks down on them. The little guy takes an audible “gulp” right before the bigger guy does some damage. There is a visceral aspect of that, but it’s all mental. What if the little guy, instead of taking a gulp, ducked down and ran between the bully’s legs? What if the little guy distracted the big one and caught them with the first attack? Those are familiar scenes as well. The psychological intimidation of looking up at a larger opponent is all in your head. With good technique, the shorter one can make up for the difference.
This is true in fencing. There is nothing inherent in being larger that makes one more successful. There are other dimensions of physicality that balance it out in fencing. Coaches make a big difference here too. A great fencing coach is going to understand that there is more to develop physically and then know how to do that. Improving speed, strength, or technique is possible no matter how tall or short someone is.
This reality is very important for young fencers, who are constantly growing. The variation from one year to the next with growth spurts both of a fencer and of their opponents can be dramatic. A child can shoot up three or four inches in season without a second thought. Learning to adapt to those changes and even take advantage of them is a challenge, but in fencing it is totally possible. Adaptation is a big task!
Not all sports are equal in size
Other sports besides fencing do not necessarily have the same kind size equity.
For instance, in basketball size plays a huge role. A basketball player will have a really hard time succeeding if they are several inches shorter than their teammates. Being taller is directly tied to both blocking opponents and to pushing through to get the ball into the hoop in basketball. There is no replacement for being tall in basketball, it gives one a certain advantage.
Swimming is another example of a sport where size matters. Longer arms mean pushing forward faster through the water. Larger feet mean moving the water more efficiently and getting to the other side of the pool faster. Longer is better in swimming, and for that there is again no similarly important feature.
Both boxing and wrestling have weight classes for this very reason. There is a specific advantage in each of these sports to being bigger, so their competitors are limited to a narrow spectrum of opponents. If the discrepancy between two boxers or wrestlers is too great, there is potential for real physical injury. Football is this way as well. A small football player is at a disadvantage.
Most sports have some kind of inherent advantage for those who are larger in size. There are exceptions to every rule, but generally speaking these are truths for most sports. In fencing, it is not a truth.
Amplify your other abilities
There is no correlation between size and success in fencing. In fencing, you can be tall or short, slim or muscular. You can create your game in such a way that you overcome your physical limitations and amplify your other abilities. We’ve written in detail about how shorter fencers and taller fencers can leverage their size for an advantage.
For instance, champions can be very tall. Think about Yanick Borrel or Miles Chamley Watson. You can be of an average height like Daniele Garozzo. You could be relatively shorter, like Yuval Freilich or Max Heinzer. This goes all the way up to the top echelons of the fencing world – World and Olympic Champions. All the way up the chain to the most prestigious fencing competitions in the world, you can get all the way there no matter your height.
It is a remarkable thing to watch because we are so accustomed to immediately judging someone for their size. It’s an instantly recognisable aspect of an individual.
It is all about technique, tactic, and spirit in fencing. Developing a good technique for fencers can make a huge difference, overcoming inches of height difference. Tactical skills allow the mind to take over for the lack of reach or speed. Fencing is like physical chess, and in chess size does not matter. When you use your mind to form better technique, you can dramatically increase your ability to win.
Spirit is the main component of champions. Being passionate about training and open to constructive feedback, that will push any fencer towards success. It does not matter how big you are or how small you are. What matters is whether you are committed to fencing and working hard! Winning in fencing is within the reach of anyone who wants it.
This weekend I, a less-tall vet, scored with a flesche against my taller, teen opponent. I told his coach “Not bad for an old guy.” 🙂
Going against teens is by definition commands respect, scoring against them with fleche is a next step in admiration 🙂
Michael Douglas Houst
Heh. Teenagers, and fencers with decades of experience are the banes of my existence on the strip. Fencing both is necessary for improvement. Unfortunately, I’m a slow learner, so I need to fence them both at least twice as often. 😉
Sounds like fun 🙂