How to win at fencing

It’s fun to win. That’s what we all strive for in sports. We want to be the best. Winning demonstrates we are literally at the top of our game.

In fencing, however, there is only one winner. It’s one of the hardest things for people to accept about it. No matter how hard you work, no matter how hard you perform on any given day, it’s REALLY hard to win. In most other sports you’ve got a 50% chance of winning. In fencing, at best it’s probably a 17% chance (if there are 6 competitors), but more likely a 4% chance (with 25 fencers in an event) or less.

So how do fencers deal with odds that are so stacked against them? Why do we keep competing if the chances of winning are so slim?

For one thing, when we do win, it’s amazing. It feels so good. It makes us want to try to win again. And again. And again. It’s the “fencer high”. Somewhere deep inside we all believe that this competition can be The One. That we’re going to have such a great day, nothing will be able to stop our rise to the top. We have to believe it, otherwise we would give up competing altogether.

The most important thing fencers can do to keep themselves striving to reach the top is to set incremental goals that allow them to “win” without necessarily earning the Gold medal. Here are some examples:

For Novice fencers (have been fencing for one year or less)

  • Get one touch on everyone in your pool.
  • Arrive at a tournament with all your gear in working order.
  • Keep calm at a tournament and learn to ask the referee questions about actions during the bout.
  • Practice lunging properly with every attack.
  • Use at least five different moves to try to score a touch (change up tempo, change up footwork, parry 3, parry 4, beat attack, point-in-line, etc.)

For Intermediate fencers (have been fencing for 1-3 years)

  • Win at least two pool bouts and/or the first round of direct eliminations.
  • Watch the fencers in your pool and figure out their favorite target area and/or defensive move.
  • Practice the actions you have been learning in class or private lessons in a higher-pressure situation.
  • Get yourself in good enough physical condition so that you don’t lose bouts because you’re tired.
  • Pay attention to your nutrition so that you don’t lose bouts because you have no energy.

For Experienced fencers (have been fencing for more than three years)

  • Make it through several rounds of direct eliminations.
  • Win your pool.
  • Practice scoring with second-intention actions.
  • Set basic goals to accomplish every time you move up a level of competition (like from Y14 to Cadet or Division 2 to Division 1).
  • Use the knowledge you have learned by watching your opponents to defeat them.

Everyone needs different goals depending on how often you are able to practice, how big/active your club is, the kind of training you receive, if you are taking private lessons, and so on. If you don’t have a coach that can help you set goals, find a teammate, athletic friend/family member, or fellow fencer (social media can help you stay in touch with people you meet at tournaments).

Once you have set a goal or two for a tournament, you must allow yourself to feel victorious when you achieve them. It might be something as “simple” as showing up with all your gear if you typically have to scramble around the venue begging other fencers for spare body cords or a plastron. Your placement in the event cannot matter; focus instead on the small victories. Eventually they will add up to the big ones.

Above all, make sure you set goals for EVERY competition. It takes a long time to get good at fencing. You won’t be able to tell if you are improving if you neglect to set incremental goals, except if you start winning more bouts or beating people who usually win against you. Using wins to determine if you are getting better at fencing is short-sighted and will impede your long-term success. Yes, you might be winning but you won’t know WHY. Conversely, if you’re NOT winning and you don’t know “why” you’ll continue to lose. Until you figure out the “why”, the essence of fencing will continue to elude you. And, by the way, the “why” will change. This is what makes our sport so much fun and holds our interest for so many years.

You can find all kinds of goal-setting resources online and can do it on your own as well. Here are some places to start: TechnoriSmart Goals GuideGoal Setting Basics, among many others. You can also find TED Talks on this subject by William BarrCaroline Casey, and  Sarah Lewis.

If you read this article in the hopes that I would reveal the “secret move” that will allow you to defeat anyone you face on the fencing strip, please return to the section about setting goals for novice fencers and get to work 🙂

Also notice I have NOT mentioned earning a rating as a goal. If you do the incremental goal-setting, the rating will eventually come (if that’s important to you). Measuring your worth as a fencer by your rating is a really bad idea.

What goals have you set for your fencing? Have you achieved them? Why or why not? Comment below and share your wisdom!


4 thoughts on “How to win at fencing

  1. Goal: being a “gracious” fencer (for our fencing kid) – No, you won’t win pools 100% of the time – you will have “the pool from hell” and not make the cut – especially at the Div 1 level – how you conduct yourself is important – are you kind and helpful to others? Do you treat others the way you would like to be treated? Do you take defeat in an appropriate manner – crying is fine, throwing tantrums not OK. Do you mind your own business and not compare yourself to others (No, a Y10 gold medal cannot in any way be compared to a Div 1 fencer who didn’t make the cut – the Y10 fencer/parent doesn’t have a clue if they think that). Do you watch your mouth and not spout off words in anger/frustration that once out in the universe, can’t be taken back? Is fencing kid ready to go back to club and work some more even after a “bad” tournament? Can fencing kid have a smile on their face (eventually) even if the tournament result is not what they “wanted”? Are you happy with your results even if no one else knows about them? (no social media “likes”, etc) Has fencing kid achieved all this – no – it’s a lifelong process for anyone to be gracious in life —– fencing mom is still working on that daily too!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have been fencing for 2 years and absolutely love the sport. This is a great article!! I especially like how it gives some examples of winning goals for diffferent level fencers (and I am going to better study the fencers in my pools now that I know what to look for ♡). I am very much a beginner Veteran fencer and therefore don’t set my goals very high (set #of touches depending on the division). For me personally tournaments are a great place to meet others who love the sport and to basically train with people I don’t get to train with at the club. My main goal is to learn something new each time and re-enforce things I knew but forgot. As the article describes, winning is a term with a very broad definition. I feel like I won the last tournament I entered, as I accomplished every goal I set out to accomplish and met a lot of great people. My measurable goals are different per tournament and division. My goals as a veteran are probably a little different than those of a teenager. My main goal is to have fun while I exercise, lead by example by modeling good sportmanship for my daughter who is also a fencer (not just the mandatory salute and handshake but truly have a good time doing it), and make small overal improvements (the perfect touch or one touch on everyone) when attending tournaments. I do think that sometimes a medal or placing you desire can be a reward and an encouragement to continue to work hard but it should never be THE goal. Thank you so much for this article!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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