Practice Against Everyone
Throughout your fencing career you will encounter many different opponents varying in skill and experience level. One of the most beneficial forms of practice is bouting. The more bouting experience you can get and against as many different fencers as possible the better.
You can start by fencing those at your club. Most clubs have a variety of different levels, and in our case, we have young fencers and experienced fencers alike. So where’s the best place to start? Fence everyone.
Fence Experienced Opponents
One of the best things you can do is bout against fencers who can beat you. However, you need to approach these bouts with the correct mindset. A situation I see occur among newer and inexperienced (and in particularly younger) fencers when they face a more experienced opponent is a form of paralysis. It’s easy to think “wow, this fencer is way better than I am, I can’t win this!.” The problem with this thought process is that it’s focused on the wrong objective: winning. If you’ve been fencing for 6 month to a year, and are going against someone who’s been fencing for 5 plus years, the likelihood of you winning (while possible) is low, and if you base your success rate on winning you’re setting yourself up for failure.
However, if you think instead, “wow, this fencer is really good, I need to work really hard to keep up!” then you can focus on the fencing. When going up against highly experienced fencers, focus on the process. Try to maintain distance with them, make them work for every touch single touch. One of the best ways to approach superior fencers on strip is to make them show their skill. Fence with all you have and make your opponent earn each point.
Fence Equally Skilled Opponents
Let’s say you are a midrange fencer; there are some fencers you can beat, some you typically lose to, and some that go either way. If you are lucky, you’ll move up the ranks of the fencing world along with a teammate close to your same ability. Bouting with someone who has a similar skill and experience level will provide both challenge and motivation. These are the bouts you want to create the most because they will simulate stressful bouting situations that require the same processing skills you’ll need in competition. It’s those close bouts 4-4 bouts that are the most fun, and nerve-racking. Get as many of them as possible.
The top fencers in the world have teammates who challenge them. When I was growing up, there were a group of fencers who would consistently fight for the top positions in senior men’s saber. They were Ivan Lee, Keith Smart, Okhi Spencer-El. They were all teammates. They were great because they pushed each other.
Fence Novice Opponents
At some point in your fencing career, you may become the most experienced fencer in your club or team. If this becomes the case, how can you expect to have any challenging practices? If you are fencing someone you can defeat with relative ease, up the difficulty by placing handicaps on yourself. Limit what skills you can use. Try fencing with no blade contact or score touches using only Attack in Prep actions. Place your focus on execution of the skill rather than simply winning, make the execution perfect.
Better yet, work with your novice opponent. Helping them work on their skills will reinforce your abilities and understanding of what you already know. And helping fencers get better means better competition for you in the future.
The important thing when bouting someone at any given level is having the right mindset. Place the importance of winning aside, and set small, process oriented goals for each bout. Challenge your opponent to show their full skill set and encourage them to challenge you. If you’re the novice fencer, remember that every Olympian started where you are by getting one point at a time. If you are an experienced fencer, fence the novice kid, be humble, and give advice.