A wise fencer lamented that fencing is nothing like a horse race. “You can’t put a donkey in horse race and reasonably believe it can win because it runs funny.”
But that’s the reality of fencing.
Then why do so many intermediate and advanced level fencers put in hours and hours trying to perfect the way they perform a specific action. Many people watch other successful fencers and say, “Wow that guy has a great 6 parry. If only I could do a six parry like that, I would be so much better…” Some of these people actually become obsessed with this process of perfecting “technique.”
[Note: Beginner fencers are in a different situation. They still need to do many repetitions of the same muscle movements to learn the basics. I’m talking about fencers who are trying to take the next step competitively in most of my posts.]
What most of these people don’t understand is why they should be doing actions this specific way in the first place. They just accept that a 6 parry should be done this way because someone told them that’s how you do it in the past. Why isn’t everyone stopping to answer this why question for themselves?!
Take some time to be introspective, or better yet start talking to your coach. Get them to explain to you why you are doing what you are doing. What is the strategy you are trying to accomplish? And why does moving my body in this way help you follow through with that strategy? The answer, “because this is technically correct,” is a load of crap. You and your coach need to be on the same page and have the same understanding of what the underlying game-plan is. Once you accomplish this, you can both work to optimize how you execute your actions to make that strategy work.
The underlying purpose of taking lessons and drilling specific actions should be about optimally applying the strategy you are trying to implement. If a “technically” correct action does not accomplish this, why not execute the action differently in a way that does?
You don’t get extra points for doing something pretty in a bout. An “ugly” action gives you the same number of points. What really matters is that the idea driving your fencing strategy is sound. Maybe this explains how fencers who don’t look very “technical” are often so successful. Far too often fencers who are successful using their own, unorthodox technique are dismissed as bad fencers for thinking outside the box in building their fencing technique. There is probably something valuable you could learn by respecting this type of fencer because there is usually a pretty well thought out strategy behind what they are doing. And heck it’s working for them. Maybe you should try understanding why it’s working for them on a deeper level instead of just getting frustrated feeling like you just lost to an inferior fencer.
Too many fencers waste their time trying to force a poorly thought out ideal of perfection in fencing and don’t take the time to process more important variables in fencing like building a tactical strategy, how to create the ideal situation to implement that strategy and how to adapt to the other fencer.
My coach gave provided a particularly illustrative nugget about fencing to me recently. “You are never going to be able to do the same touch twice.” Due to the ridiculous number of variables that exist in a fencing bout, you are never going to execute the exact same action because all of those other variables have to be exactly the same for it to work exactly the same way.
Your fencing technique should be flexible and trying to force yourself to be perfect at one specific muscle movement by an arbitrary standard of what fencing is “supposed to look like” will make you less able to that. I’ve seen so many fencers get so very frustrated by the futility of trying to do the same “perfect” action in bout after bout. I’m sorry but fencing doesn’t work like that. You can’t just pour in more repetitions and expect to be able to control all of the strategic variables in fencing the same way that you can for sports like running or swimming. This key difference is part of why a lot of pentathletes who get into the sport after being excellent runners or swimmers struggle more with fencing and horseback riding.