Fencing is like any relationship: it must be properly nourished in order to thrive and improve. It also never remains constant: it’s a roller coaster of emotions with periodic highs and lows. Your fencing ability always comes squarely back on your shoulders: if it’s not so great right now, what could you be doing to improve it? Identifying the cause of lackluster performance will help you get out of your current slump and move on to a period of fencing bliss. Read on for seven reasons your fencing might not be so hot right now.
As Yoda put it: “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
Fear keeps us from fencing our best, whether it is the fear of looking bad on strip or the fear of winning. Yes, winning. That actually happens too. Fear keeps us from trying new techniques or taking risks on strip.
High-achieving kids and most adults fall into the trap of wanting to do every action perfectly. They get upset when their opponents don’t “fence right” or if a referee doesn’t “see it right”. Perfect, beautiful technique often lacks a vital element: passion. When you take the emotion out of fencing and reduce it to a series of executed actions, your fencing becomes stale and flat. It’s fun at first but you quickly burn out when you your fencing progresses past the “predictable actions” part to the more difficult (but also way more fun) “Let’s see what I can get my opponent to do” part.
3. Lack of commitment (to the attack)
You’ve put in the time to condition. You’ve practiced your footwork. You’ve developed the know-how. So why aren’t you scoring touches? You’re too tentative and haven’t fully committed to your attack. “But”, you say, “my opponent will just parry me or I will fall short anyway, so why even try to attack? I’ll set up a defensive move instead.” And that, young Skywalker, is why you fail. You must believe that your attack will land. Will you always be successful? Of course not. But fencing cannot be a one-sided game. You must develop both an offensive AND a defensive game or you will only progress to a certain point. Commit to all-out, no-holds-barred attacking or never experience the sweet taste of victory.
Note: this does NOT mean to fence brutally and hit your opponent hard so it makes them fearful of you. This means to perform your attacks with aggressiveness, confidence, and appropriate strength.
4. Lack of practice
For whatever reason, you just aren’t putting the time in right now. School, work, personal issues, financial issues…these can all impede your progress. We all experience them at some point. But you don’t have to let those things get in the way. If you are currently experiencing a lot of stress due to outside factors, fencing is the perfect solution. It’s the kind of activity that forces you to narrow your focus to what’s happening on strip at the present moment. If your attention wanders…BAM! You get hit.
Remember that you can practice fencing almost anywhere. There are a multitude of ways to practice fencing that don’t require a partner or gear. You can visualize your fencing almost anywhere and “see” yourself doing actions. YouTube has countless fencing videos that serve as both instruction and inspiration. Check out Cyrus of Chaos https://www.youtube.com/user/CyrusofChaos and the Sydney Sabre Centre https://www.youtube.com/user/sydneysabrecentre for great sabre videos. All you need for footwork is a fairly flat surface. In my early days of fencing, I practiced in my classroom by lunging to pick up the students’ homework off their desks. Weird? Yes. But it was a way to put in some time thinking about fencing. Practice your en garde stance while doing dishes in the kitchen…you get the idea. The only limit is YOU.
5. Lack of skill
Sometimes it just boils down to the simple fact that you don’t have the skill set the other fencers around you do. Most of the time it’s because they’ve either been fencing longer than you or because they’re in better shape than you. Both of those can be worked on but it will take time. Don’t expect to develop at the same rate as the other fencers; be patient with yourself as you grow in both stamina and technique.
6. Choosing the wrong training partners
Some people use fencing as a social outlet. That’s great. Fencers are a neat group of people and fun to hang out with. But if you spend your time at the fencing club chatting up your teammates rather than practicing, don’t be angry when you don’t do well at a competition. If all you do is bout with fencers you know you can beat because you hate losing even in practice, don’t be surprised when you’re near the bottom of the pile at a tournament. You have to practice beyond your level in order to do well at your level. Find people at your club that have common goals and work with them. Go further afield and practice at other clubs from time to time.
7. Setting the wrong goals
It’s vital to set goals so that you know the direction in which you’re headed. Showing up to practice with no plan in mind or a goal to work toward will be wasted time. There must be a balance: goals that are too easy to achieve will bore you; aim too high and you’ll get frustrated. Collaborate with your coach to set up appropriate goals for you and your skill set.
Goals must be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. An example of a SMART goal would be: I will complete 50 strips of footwork every week for the next three months. A poor example would be: I will get my “A” rating by the end of the season. The first encompasses all of the SMART characteristics; the second is not specific enough and may not be attainable, depending on the level you’re at and the types of tournaments available to you.
Which of these speaks to you most RIGHT NOW? Have you experienced any reasons I didn’t mention?