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Fencing and History Nut Extraordinaire. While I am tending toward 16th century at the moment, I am and have been interested in history for a long time. Hence the fencing focuses more on the Renaissance period than the modern. This explains two out of three of my blogs. The third is a more personal one focusing on fibromyalgia. What I write in these blogs, I hope will be of use to people.
 

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Disability Aspects in Fencing

Greetings,

Disability is a subject which comes up with regard to fencing on a semi-infrequent basis. This is mainly due to the highly physical nature of fencing that it is often assumed that the participants are in a high degree of health. However, it is an important aspect which must be considered. This blog will address various aspects with regard to fencing and disability and some of how the less able fencer is able to compete in fencing and also enjoy the experience of fencing itself despite a physical infirmity.

One of the most trying things for a fencer is becoming somehow less able than before. This can occur due to a great deal of reasons, injury, sickness and operations being the most common reasons. What can happen here is that a fencer may be reduced in capacity to operate. The most important thing is that this is not the end. In a lot of cases it is possible to get back to where you were.

The first question that will be asked by the reader of this blog is what sort of authority is the author speaking from and how would they know what is going on in this situation. From my own point of view, I have a medical condition called Fibromyalgia (FM), which is closely related to both arthritis and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). I suffer from joint pain and immobility as part of my condition and I would be lying if I said that this does not affect my fencing. From this point of view it is of interest to me to give people some ideas about how I deal with a lack of mobility. What is also important about this article is that I am not a qualified Occupational Therapist or other heath care professional, though some of the ideas that I will present do come from people with such qualifications. Hopefully this may give you some ideas about how you can get back to fencing or in some cases start fencing in the first place.

With regards to fencing literature which has been published and the great advances made towards the various aspects of disability with regard to fencing, there has been a great deal of focus on the lack of mobility on the part of some fencers and how they can still compete. To this end wheelchair fencing was developed for use in sport fencing and this appears in the Paralympics (http://www.paralympic.org/release/Summer_Sports/Wheelchair_Fencing/). There has been, however somewhat of a lack of any sort of address with regard to other aspects which may affect fencers, or potential fencers. These particular aspects need to be taken into account as there are many different ways to assist an individual with a physical infirmity of various kinds in order to get them fencing. In all cases, this will work on the same sorts of principles. It is important to realise that there are many disability aspects that can be worked around with the right approach.

The first part of the process of getting back to fencing, or starting fencing, is deciding to do it in the first place. This needs to be a firm decision on the part of the person as it will require effort on their part, in much the same way as the first, and following lessons, took effort, or will take effort. What you must understand, is that it is not necessary to have a sword in your hand from the start, there are much more gentle ways to start. One of the easiest ways is to watch others fence and see what you can see. This establishes the mind-game of fencing in its initial phase. See what comes back to you as you are watching. You may be surprised what you can see and actually remember. This is especially the case for those who have not fenced in a while.

The next part of the process is to actually think about fencing. From the movement of the sword, to the movement of the feet, all are important. This is all about reading the opponent, something that all fencers should do anyway. The actual thought processes of going through this are just as important as doing the actions. Find a notebook and write your thoughts down. Think of ways to practice and improve without requiring actual practice. It is the next part of the process, which takes the real effort.

The most important part of the physical part of fencing is looking at it from an Occupational Therapy point of view. It is important to focus on those things that you can do with regard to fencing rather than focusing on those things that you cannont do. This requires you to focus on the positive aspects with regard to the process. This mental aspect of the process is of a great deal of importance as it is this sort of motivation that will assist you to get past hurdles that will be placed in your path. Examine the physical parts of fencing and see what you can and cannot do, and also ways that you can assist yourself to attempt those things that you may not be able to do. Find out about how you can help yourself through the use of various aids and also exercises. One example of an aid for those with problems with weak wrists is the wrist strap, or martingale (http://fencing.net/about/rules/using-the-wrist-strap-or-martingale.html). All of these things will help you increase your capacity to fence.

The first part of the physical element of fencing and returning to it is to understand your own limits. It is important that you are able to start within these limits, but also to stay active within your own capacity. You must increase this capacity to do things steadily but slowly. Rushing the process will only hurt more and get you less. In the beginning it is best to rest frequently and to stop before you are too tired and/or sore. This sounds like a bit of a cop out but this is not the case. If you keep going until you are unable to move you will have a harder time getting back into it later.

With regard to work and rest, both are important. Work increases your capacity, but rest is essential to give your body time to recover to be able to do more. This is especially the case during the times of activity. You must rest before becoming exhausted, short breaks are important during activity. Short breaks during the activity will actually enable you to do more than attempting to push through.

With regard to your capacity it is important to be able to both test your limits and also increase them, but not at the expense of doing damage to yourself. Pain is the best indicator in the world about when you should stop. Ignoring this cue will lead to your detriment, but having a fear of pain will also limit you. In this you need to have a balance in your regard for pain. Somewhere between fear and disregard, there is respect and this is where the balance is found. If you become afraid of pain you will stagnate and will not improve, but also if you disregard pain you will cause yourself damage.

Fear -> Respect <- Disregard

It is important that you exercise to fatigue but before pain occurs. This is how the occupational therapists say it. You must consider the overall effect of what you are doing. Only by attempting more is it possible to increase your fitness, but this must be done through exercise and not pain. In my case I would say that you should be aiming to increase your capacity by a factor of about 5% and no more. Once the 5% has been achieved, stop. You should only push yourself to this point and not further. This way you will increase your ability bit by bit without the threat of doing damage to yourself.

Stress is important. Some things are more stressful than others and some things will stress your joints and other affect portions more than others. Do those, which exercise but do not stress your joints or other affected parts of the body. If something becomes too stressful stop, here it is important to know your own limits. It is necessary to stress the joint or other part of your body a little but not too much. Relaxation is also an important part of the process. This is vital for removing stress. What is also important is that you take as much time as you need to. There is no need to rush, it is better that you proceed slowly and steadily.

You need to consider what you can do that is within your capacity that will gradually increase your ability to fence. In the case of a person with a mobility issue this could include fencing from a chair. For a fencer with a problem with the ability to hold a weapon due to weight, it could be the use of a lighter weapon or using a wrist strap in order to reduce the stress and weight of the weapon. For a fencer with cardio-vascular issues this may be to slowly increase their ability to fence by increasing fitness over a period of time through an increase in fitness. These are just some suggestions that the fencer can think about. There are many others that can be used to deal with different problems. For those fencers with joint issues, you should do exercises that will build muscle around the affected joint. This increase in muscle will help to support the joint and enable you to do more. This is best achieved through the use of low impact exercises so that the muscles are being worked, but the joint is not being stressed

It is important that the fencer also discuss with their health care professional about their decision to go back to fencing. They ask about what things they can do in order to increase their capacity to fence. The fencer should heed this advice in order that they do not cause themselves more issues by going back and fencing too early. It is important that the fencer consider that their health to be the highest priority in all considerations. You should also discuss your decision to go back to fencing, or start fencing with your trainer. Talk with them and see what they can do to help you. They may be able to find some stretches or exercises that will assist you, or may be able to find some sort of aid for you that may assist your progression.

For trainers, if you have a student with a physical infirmity it is important that you examine what the problem is and see if you can figure out ways to get around it. You should sit down and have a long chat with the student about what they can and cannot do in order that you are able to tailor their training program around what they are and are not able to do. You need to be positive in this approach as your support will be vital in order to assist the student to continue or begin fencing. Focus on what the student can do and assist them in their capacity to do things that they cannot. You need to be open-minded in this approach.

The focus of this particular blog has been the increase in ability for those fencers with disability issues. Remember to start slowly and work on increasing your capacity, do not try to rush in and do too much at once. This whole process also applies to those who have been away from fencing for any longer period of time for any reason. Ease yourself back into the motions of fencing. It is better that you take time, than rush the process and do yourself an injury. No one can be expected to be back at their full form after months of “down-time” at their first practice back.

If you are having issues with joint pain or other forms of disability, I advise you to speak to a health care professional before it gets any worse. They can help you devise a program that will improve your quality of life and will also, in the long run, improve your fencing at a base level. Take their advice to heart. If you have a specific condition, especially with your joints, it is more than likely that some fencer has had similar issues. Share your concerns and ideas about dealing with the issues.

It is my hope that this article will help some, give some ideas to some, and increase everybody’s awareness of the importance of their joints. If you are having some sort of issue with your body, there is no doubt a trainer or another fencer who will be able to help you around it. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Remember, you only have one set of joints – look after them.

On a final note I must say that fencing is actually great for mobility, especially for those with joint and/or muscle issues. I have been fencing now for more than a decade and it has been remarked by several health care professionals that it is one of the things that has kept me so mobile. The most important thing to remember with regard to disability and fencing is that there are things that you can do, and you can fence. You need the courage and determination to strive through the obstacles placed in your path, and you need the willpower and motivation in order to do this. You need to want to fence. Have a look at your situation if you are interested in fencing, give it a go, you never know until you try.

Cheers,

Henry

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Safety and Fencing

Greetings,

Safety is a concern for all fencers. It does not matter which weapons you use or which school you subscribe to, safety is important. This entry in the blog will discuss safety and some aspects with regard to it. This is a subject of great significance for all fencers.

Safety is one of the most serious of considerations with regard to all forms of fencing and one that cannot be ignored except at our peril. It is important to all who participate and not just for those safety officers whose job it is to watch over the proceedings. We all need to be aware of the various aspects which affect our safety and also how this affects the entire fencing community as a whole independent of the weapon choice or style being used.

At this particular time I would like to discuss the subject of armour. In essence this is the protective equipment that we wear in order to be safe in the practice of our particular art. This takes into account such things as masks, helms, jackets, groin protection and footwear. All of these elements are a part of what we would call protective equipment, what I would like to refer to in the future as armour. Next there is the subject of calibration, the question of how hard we hit our opponents. Calibration is a measure of how hard we hit our opponents with our chosen weapons. This is a particular aspect which goes hand in hand with the chosen armour for the particular form of fencing which is being done.

There is a scale of calibration as to armour. If we wish to hit our opponents with a certain level of force then the armour must be up to this task. If the striking is heavy then the armour will have to be heavier than it would have been if the striking was much lighter. This is the first question that we need to ask. Do we increase the armour and increase the calibration or do we reduce the calibration and thus the armour required? This is a question that needs to be answered by the particular organisation doing the fencing and the safety officers within that organisation.

There is a sliding scale which exists which must be paid attention to in the question of establishing an armour standard. If the armour standard increases so too will the calibration and thus the armour will increase and so forth. In order to limit this it is necessary to remain in control of the calibration of the striking being done. In response to this it is fair to say that the level of calibration used takes an element of control and it is better to have this control than to increase the armour. This must be taught to the students of the school in order that they can control their calibration and thus not require an increase in armour.

In all aspects of our teaching of students control should be the focus, and calibration will emerge from this. It is better that we teach all of our students control in all their actions in order that they are able to become better fencers. With regard to engaging an opponent the focus of the training should be on the technique used in order to gain the hit rather than the hit itself. This will promote better fencing overall as it is a technique and therefore skill-focused pursuit rather than a result-focused pursuit. Thus the aim should be for the accurate performance of a skill or technique against an opponent rather than just seeking to hit them. This will enable the students to focus on a successful strike on the opponent as the result of the correct conditions being made rather than force being used to ensure the strike.

Accurate technique should always be the focus above the use of force used in order to ensure a successful hit on the opponent. With regard to this accurate technique is more effective that the pure use of force. Technique requires little strength but great knowledge of technique, distance and timing. This should be the focus of our training of students. Due to its basis in the foundation principles of fencing and also skill, technique will always have the advantage over strength and force when it is used. This relates directly back to calibration and by nature safety. If the technique is performed at the correct distance and time, force and thus calibration should be no issue for the user of the technique. Where the lack of technique is compensated for by force then issues will abound.

We should all be aware of the various safety issues involved in the performance of our art and not leave these to the safety officers who are delegated to oversee them. If you have concerns about safety you should be encouraged to bring these up with your safety officer. We should strive to teach our students control and thus this will increase our safety in a way that no increase in armour can. The safer we can make our art the more appealing it is for all. If one group is lax about safety in any form this can bring the rest of the practitioners of this art into disrepute or even cause a threat to the existence of our art as it is in the current age. Be aware of safety issues and the important part that you have to play in ensuring that our art is as safe as it can be not only for ourselves but for future teachers and students of our art.

Cheers,

Henry.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tactics in Fencing

“Fencing is a competitive sport. The will-power and the intelligence of the opponent have to be reckoned with in it. In such a sport tactics, stratagems have equal weight and an equal role with technique. One without the other is worth nothing. The fencer’s performance cannot be productive, however brilliant the development of his technical skill, if he is utterly lacking in tactical imagination,” (Beke and Polgár, 1963:29)
Greetings,

The title of this blog, as you can see above is tactics in fencing. This is a very important consideration for all fencers. Some of this was discussed in the previous blog about the thinking game. This blog will be a more in-depth discussion of fencing tactics and the details associated with them. The first thing to examine in this discussion is to see exactly what fencing tactics means.

“The process of fencing is your blueprint for producing touches. It is the combining of the mental and physical components of fencing into an effective whole.” (Evangelista, 2000:88)
As stated by Evangelista (2000) above tactics is a part of the process of fencing and provides the blueprint of how you may strike your opponent, of course without being struck yourself. It is tactics which makes fencing a thinker's game as it involves the fencer examining the situation, evaluating what is going on, formulating a solution for the situation, and then acting on it. This involves a level of thought by the fencer in order to perform. Fencint tactics is more than just reaction, they are planned actions and show the difference between the thinking fencer and thos who just react to the actions of the opponent.

“Strategy is how you relate to your opponent ... This is the science of fencing. How successful you are in strategy will underscore your effectiveness as a fencer. A good strategic game adds much depth and variety to your fencing.” (Evangelista, 2000:192)
Tactics demonstrates and shows the relationship between the actions of the fencer and the opponent. This is an important point. Not only do your tactics need to take into account what you want to do, but it also must take into account how your opponent will respond to your actions. In many ways, your tactics are answers to the questions posed by the opponent in the actions that they perform against you. These answers are made on the basis of the evidence supplied by the actions of the opponent.

“Tactics are the brainwork of fencing; they are based upon observation and analysis of the opponent and upon intelligent choices of actions against him." (Palffy-Alpar, 1967:47)
There are tactics in fencing at all levels, from the purely responsive actions of the physical fencer to the complex and detailed actions of the thinking fencer in response to the opponent. The level of thinking behind the actions defines where in this scale the actions of the fencer sits. It is important that we strive for the higher end of this scale in order that we are more successful in fencing, and this reauires thinking, “more than anything a good fencer has brains.” (Barth and Barth, 2003:84). This thought process supplies the prepatory material for compound actions performed by the opponent. Any complex action performed by the fencer requires a level of thought behind it, this means evidence gathered by the fencer and used in order to plan a response to the opponent's actions. There are requirements in order to be able to use fencing tactics and these requirements will be discussed next.

“This [tactical application] requires cool judgement, anticipation, opportunism, bluff and counter-bluff and the ability to think at least on move ahead, combined with courage and controlled reaction of muscles and limbs which enables the fencer to carry out simple or complex movements of his weapon as required by the situation at any given moment.” (De Beaumont, 1960:197)
The first requirement for fencing tactics is the ability to perform the actions required. This means that the fencer needs to learn the fencing skills and gain technical competence in them before he is able to perform them at will, on demand. Without the technical ability firmly in place, the fencer can see what he wants to do, can plan ahead in order to be able to perform it, but if he does not have the technical skills in order to perform the action then the process is a waste of time. This highlights the importance of practing the fencing skills in order that they can be called upon to be used at a moment's notice. Of course this is the first requirement, to add to this, there are others,

“A fencer poor in tactical thinking is like a well-trained army with a poor general, lacking imaginative leadership.” (Beke and Polgár, 1963:30)
What is being spoken about here is simply the ability to think. The use of the fencer's brain. It is necessary for the fencer to be able to use their brain in order to use tactics and fence well. The purely physical fencer can do quite well, but will be defeated most often by the fencer who has progressed past the physical and into the mental side of fencing. The ability to think while fencing enables you to use the information that you gain from your opponent in order to plan how you will deal with him, in other words form tactics. Without the thought process in action tactics can only be used at their most basic, reactive level. In combination with raw intellectual power, there is more. There psychological aspects which are involved in fencing as well and these abilities are also necessary.

“Among the psychological qualities we must also emphasize diligence and will-power. The development of these ensures that the physical and psychological inhibitions arising in a competitive fencer can be overcome.” (Beke and Polgár, 1963:30)
Diligence is being attentive to what is going on. A diligent student can overcome almost any obstacle which is placed in their path. Only the diligent student of fencing will really grasp what fencing is all about and be able to see the importance of the skills that are being learnt. A fencer with diligence can utilise those skills which they are most proficient at and reduce the importance of those skills which they are not so talented at, but they need to be aware of this. Tactically the student needs to be diligent in order to be able to pay attention to all which is going on around them and in order to be aware of these things so that they can act on them. The thinking process is enhanced by willpower as it is what drives us to succeed where we may fail.

“Will-power, with which we can overcome the physical and psychological inhibitions is more important in fencing than physical dexterity and flexibility, because psychological inhibitions play a major role in fencing.” (Beke and Polgár, 1963:31)
Willpower is of great importance to fencing not only for the sake of tactics but in order to drive us to succeed. This is most important in those situations where one fencer is clearly more experienced than the other. Where the less experienced combatant has the willpower he can through striving and using his skill actually overcome the opponent. Willpower in fencing is about having the strength to fight even where the odds are not in our favour and also giving all we can in order to succeed.

“In life, patience is considered a virtue. In fencing, it is a necessity – both in the learning process and on the fencing strip.” (Evangelista, 2000:216)
Patience is important to fencing. It takes time to develop skills and as such this requires patience on our part to take the time to learn and practice the skills in order that they can be used to their full potential. With regard to tactics, patience is necessary so that we take the time to properly read the opponent and gauge their actions. Patience is also about waiting for the correct response from the opponent, or waiting for a good opening or position to act upon. If the process is rushed the tactics may not be formulated properly and this will lead into hasty decisions and bad tactical choices.

“Use your brain. Gauge your actions. See if they are drawing the desired response out of your opponent. If what you are doing produces nothing, stop doing it!” (Evangelista, 2000:97)
In order to use tactics in fencing you must be able to observe, read and predict what the opponent will do. The observation portion of this is the first part of the process, taking in what you can see of the opponent. This is the simplest form of reading the opponent. The next part of the process is examining what is reading the opponent which involves examining not only what you can see but also the responses the opponent gives to your actions and also what you can feel through the use of sentiment du fer. All of these elements are important. Once you are have gained the information about the opponent, this needs to be applied logically in order to be able to predict what the opponent will do. It is from all of these elements that tactics are based, and each element is important to the process.

There are tactics which are of use and there are tactics which are of no use. It is the former that we should be aiming for as fencers and the latter that we should be avoiding at all costs. Each action that is performed must have a purpose. The purpose may be to see the reaction of the opponent or much simpler being a final blow in the tactical approach. It is the purpose behind the action which is important. A lack of purpose means the usage of energy where it is not used fruitfully against the opponent, and also wasted effort, this can lead to downfall and defeat at the hands of the opponent. The action should be thought about before it is performed and its purpose known before it is performed. No action should be performed without a purpose in mind.

The failure of a tactic used against an opponent supplies information, even if this information is as simple as that the approach did not work. The failures should be examined to see where the fault lies in order that a reason for their failure is realised. A failed tactic should not be used against the same opponent again straight after the tactic has failed. It may be used again later in the bout, but only if the evidence serves that the tactic may work the second time. A tactic should not be used a third time, especially if it has failed before.

The idea of fencing is to dominate the opponent and therefore the bout. This should be the aim of the tactics which are created there should be no other reason behind them. If you are able to dominate the opponent this is achieved through the use of effective tactics. How to dominate the opponent is revealed in the information gained from reading the opponent and this can tell us when and how to attack the opponent. The timing and placement of the attack must be based upon the information gained about the opponent in order for it to succeed.

“The tactical approach consists of three parts: prelude or preliminary analysis, preparation, and execution.” (Palffy-Alpar, 1967:47).

The three step approach to fencing tactics needs to happen, and does happen, even if you do not realise it. The simplest tactic, a hole in the opponent's defence is observed, the weapon is brought on-line and the thrust is made. This is a very simple example of the process in action. In more advanced forms of the process there is a great more detail in the process. The detail is what creates the more complex tactical approaches. The three step process is actually missing a step and that is one which comes after the execution and that is evaluation. It is necessary to see whether the tactic worked against the opponent. This is important so that a failed tactic is not repeated if the same evidence is presented. In some ways this can also be added to the analysis part of the approach where the process is used for a second, or further, approach to the opponent.

The first part of the process is analysis where the opponent is observed and information is gained about the opponent. This information is analysed to find where the opponent is weak and what approach would be best against the opponent. This analysis process must be detailed in order that the best planning may be made. The preparation phase of the process is preparing for the approach to the opponent and preparing for using the tactic against the opponent. The last part of this process is getting in the correct position for the first action to be performed. The execution part of the process is putting the tactic into action against the opponent. This must be performed correctly in order for the tactic to be effective. This is the most active part of the process. Finally there is the evaluation to find the final outcome to the use of the tactic against the opponent. This part of the process is important as it tells us what the result of the tactic was and how effective it was against the opponent. This part of the process should lead to the analysis part of the next tactical approach used against the opponent.

While the blog gave no specific ideas about fencing tactics. It is important that this blog focussed on the process and requirements for fencing tactics to be used along with other details of a similar nature. These founding principles are those upon which fencing tactics should be based. There are a different tactics for different approaches for different opponents. This means that if a person was to write about tactics specifically much would have to be taken into account. This would mean that a person could write a great deal on the subject, but it is more important for us to be able to use the process of developing fencing tactics in order that it can be used against all the opponents that we may face.

Cheers,

Henry.

Bibliography:
Barth, Dr. B. and Barth, K. (2003) Learning Fencing, Meyer & Meyer Sport Ltd, Oxford, UK
Beke, Z. and Polgár, J. (1963) The Methodology of Sabre Fencing, Corvina Press, Budapest, Hungary
De Beaumont, C.L. (1960) Fencing: Ancient Art and Modern Sport, Nicholas Kaye, London, UK
Evangelista, N. (2000) The Inner Game of Fencing: Excellence in Form, Technique, Strategy, and Spirit, Masters Press, Illinois, USA
Palffy-Alpar, J. (1967) Sword and Masque, F. A. Davis Company, Philadelphia, USA

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Fencing Mind Game - The Long Path

Greetings,

The fencing mind game is our key to a longer path in fencing. Once all of the physical aspects are put aside, fencing is a battle of minds and of wills, this is where the real battle is fought. In order that we are able to utilise this aspect of fencing various things are necessary and this blog will be addressing some of the important points about this and also examining how it is possible to seek the longer path in order that we are able to enrich our fencing experience. In this discussion I will be making particular reference to one most useful source, Maestro Nick Evangelista's book, The Inner Game of Fencing: Excellence in Form, Technique, Strategy, and Spirit the details of which will be found in a very brief bibliography at the end of the discussion.

With regard to development in fencing it is undeniable that the technical and physical aspects play an important part in the process. It is useless for us to be able to think about actions that we would like to be able to perform without the necessary skill to do so, but in this it is also important to look at the application of these techniques in practice. Fencing requires a degree of finesse and this comes about through the correct application of force in fencing, if we rely on pure force and strength this finesse can be lost. “Whatever you do, keep muscle out of your fencing game. It is the overbalancer, the killer of finesse.” (Evangelista, 2000:147). It is essential therefore that we consider what we are doing and how we are applying force in the use of technique, it is much more important to be able to perform the skill correctly, rather than substituting force for where technical skill is lacking. This is a part of the learning process and cannot be ignored. Only through the correct application of skills is it possible to see how they truly work and develop ourselves towards some sort of mastery of the art.

Mastery is an interesting word in and of itself, in some ways it is compared to perfection, though this is not the same thing. A technique can be performed perfectly but without mastery. Mastery requires us to use the skill at the right time and for the right reason in our encounter with our opponent, the perfection here is seen in the perfect performance whereas the mastery is the application of the skill to the situation. It is important that skills are practiced until they are known well in order that we are able to perform them when they are required in the situation, but this requires more than mere repetition of the skill in drills, it requires a situation in which they need to be performed and one way the sport fencing community achieves this is through the use of what are called conventionals.

Conventionals have a way of illuminating the modus operandi of fencing. … conventionals were designed to provide the fencer with an analytical atmosphere, as opposed to a competitive one.” (Evanglista, 2000:8).

Conventionals provide particular situations that arise in fencing where the skill being learnt or practiced is applied to the situation. These need to be performed where both participants know their roles in the situation in order that the skill can be applied correctly and thus learnt in the fencing context. The use of such simulations allow us to see how the skill functions in a situation in fencing without the opponent directly opposing the skill. A great deal of practice is required for these to be useful, and even more experience is required in order that the same skill can be performed in a more antagonistic scenario, it is in this that mastery lies, but it needs to be not over a single skill but all of the skills learnt in fencing. Such pure technical skill developed in fencing, is of great use but it is the mind that also needs to be harnessed in order that we can seek to achieve mastery of the art.

The skills that are learnt and perfected in practice give us the technical tools that we use in order to defeat our opponent through their application in the encounter with them. This is only one part of the picture and it is important to realise this in order to truly progress and develop in fencing, we must also cultivate the skills of the mind in order that we can apply such skills correctly to the situation.

no matter how good a fencer’s technical skill is, if he doesn’t know how to apply it effectively and efficiently, he’ll never evolve beyond a simple poker. The mind of the fencer is his most important tool,” (Evangelista, 2000:xviii).

It is the cultivation of the mind of the fencer that truly opens the options for research, investigation and development of the fencer. This is beyond the mere physical aspects of the game and delves into the mental side of the game which is how fencing can develop further than just the physical side of the game. While the physical side of fencing is important, it is the mere bare bones of it without the mental side.

The title of this blog implies that the fencing mind game is a long path, and truly it is. The physical side will supply some of what the fencer needs but in order to truly develop and become the best that they can be it is important that the mind is also developed. This is the long path that the true fencer will eventually seek and it exists far beyond the simple application of the skills to a particular situation. Unfortunately it is true that it is a long path that is not easy and will not eventuate with a great deal of work, this is what Evangelista refers to as the inner game.

For those who find the inner game, only death interrupts the connection. Unfortunately the truths of fencing do not come quickly nor without much work.” (Evangelista, 2000:xix).

Development of the physical and technical skills of fencing merely consists of learning and practicing these skills and in some part learning how they are applied to particular situations. The development of the mind is not so simple. The development of the mind takes self-analysis, investigation and an attempt to find out the thought processes that are involved in fencing in order that they are better understood. It is about connecting with the mind of the opponent and using the information which is found there in order not only to defeat them but in some part to understand them in order to achieve this goal. While this is seen in the application of the physical skills, it is the process of fencing rather than the result which is the most fascinating,

"the process is what gives fencing depth, personality, and life. It is what makes fencing more than just racking up points. If you think this is true, you will end up finding a game in fencing that will take you to the end of your days and will never cease to fascinate you.” (Evanglista, 2000:88)

This is a long and slow process that will not come about without a great deal of work. This is the path that a true student of the blade will seek and follow in order not only to improve their skill but also themselves as an entire fencer rather than merely a physical one. The situation in the modern world is that people will seek instant gratification from the effort that they put in and few are willing to seek the longer term goal. This is mostly seen in dedicated intellectuals who spend a lifetime trying to understand particular aspects in their own fields, it is rarely seen in the more physical pursuits. “It is the rare individual who chooses some distant reward over instant results. Instant results are very seductive.” (Evanglista, 2000:109). This is unfortunately the same for most fencers, it is the win that they are after. The result at the end of the bout which is the goal, and not some far flung goal that so often seems so out of reach. There are no real trophies at the end of this path, and no tangible rewards in most instances. The only benefit that is truly gained through this process is a person's own development as a fencer and also as a human being. The long path will not only affect the fencer's fencing, but will reveal itself subtly in other aspects of the person's life. This is the path of the true student of the blade and in order to do this you must open your mind to the possibilities available to you.

It is important that we examine our art not through a single view. You need to open your mind to different possibilites in order to truly grasp what the real truths are in fencing. This means taking yourself out of your comfort zone and going out and challenging yourself and your beliefs. The answers that you will find will not always be what you are looking for and they may not always fit. This does not mean that they should be cast aside. This involves digging deep and researching the more theoretical aspects of the game and finding deeper meaning in the process of fencing.

The teacher or student who hasn’t the time or inclination to delve beneath the surface of his game has robbed himself of something valuable to his fencing and his life.” (Evangelista, 2000:XiX).

As teachers we should encourage our students to investigate and discover for themselves. As students we should also do the same. Only through research and investigation of what we do through the broadest point of view can we see the entire picture. While one school of thought does not approach things the way that you do does not mean that their point of view is useless to you, it gives you a different perspective through which you can see what you do and others do.

The history of fencing thought is a history of thought directed to a single purpose: how to most effectively place a sword into an enemy’s body to produce the most damaging results without being hit at the same time.” (Evangelista, 2000:2).

This means that anything which is written on fencing, be it sport, rapier or kendo can be useful to us if it is viewed correctly. Each piece of information and point of view is valuable and should be embraced for how it can show us different things. One of the places this reveals itself is in the discussion of fencing tactics.

Tactics and their application are part mind and part body. The mind must realise how it can apply the body to the situation and the body must recognise what the mind sees and be able to perform what is required of it. This is not a one-way street, not in the relationship between the body and the mind and not in the relationship between a fencer and the opponent. There must be a level of knowledge on the part of the fencer of not only what they want to do but also of what the opponent may do in response or what they might do.

"A fencer needs to be able to mentally connect to his opponent on the fencing strip; to make contact, to observe, to work in conjunction with, to blend strategy and technique into what he sees in front of him. This is what fencing is really about.” (Evangelista, 2000:xix).

If a technique is developed that relies upon the action of the opponent, it will not work without the action of the opponent, and it also must be the right one. Each technique performed in fencing is connected in some way or another and not only connected to the actions of the fencer who performs them, but also to the actions of the opponent. To each question there is an answer and a counter-point and a counter-point to this, each one is linked in a singluar manner one can lead to the next, and is reliant on the one before-hand. It is this logic that the fencer must see in order to be able to deal effectively and tactically with the opponent. “Everything, offensively and defensively, is connected by a fine web of logic and common sense. Ideas overlap, intermingle, play off of one another.” (Evangelista, 2000:xvi). To break this web is to invite disaster upon the situation.

Fencing has been described as an argument with statement, argument and counter-point. Just as an argument or discussion must follow a logical fashion so must the tactical thinking of the fencer. There is no point in starting with the statement and going to the counter-point without the opponent making the argument. This is where many complex actions and compound attacks will fail. This is where tactics lie in fencing. It is a relationship between the two combatants played out for a result based on the information gained by the fencers and used against the opponent in a logical manner. In order to be truly effective in fencing the idea of strategy and tactics are vital.

Strategy is how you relate to your opponent ... This is the science of fencing. How successful you are in strategy will underscore your effectiveness as a fencer. A good strategic game adds much depth and variety to your fencing.” (Evanglista, 2000:192).

There is a science of fencing and there is an art of fencing. Both are related and both are different. “It is the art that gives us the ability to fight with control. It is science that unlocks the puzzle presented by one’s opponent.” (Evanglista, 2000:60). In this way the science of fencing is more about the purely physical aspects of fencing and the art is the more mental side of it. Another way to look at it is that the science of fencing are the skills that the fencer is given to use against the opponent and the art is how the skills are used against the opponent. In some ways it could also be seen that the science of fencing is how it appears in the manuals and the art of fencing is how it is actually performed, usually with much less scientific accuracy. This sets the paradigm between the art of fencing and the science of fencing, and how they are also intimately related. In order to truly understand fencing it is important to understand both these aspects of the game.

The science of fencing is a science in its truest form with theory and experimentation. This is most easily revealed in the examination of any bout. There is experimentation in the use of actions in order to form a hypothesis and then this hypothesis is tested against the opponent. In this way the science of fencing is not only a physical aspect of fencing but also a mental one and defines how two fencers relate to one another in their bout.

The science of fencing is the mental side of fencing. It is about effectively relating to your opponent ... It is about figuring out the other guy, about manipulation, about the logical and practical strategic implementation of your art.” (Evangelista, 2000:194).

This is where some of the aspects of the tactical approach discussed above are revealed. This aspect of fencing is reliant upon the art of fencing in order to be able to be performed effectively.

The art of fencing is about the mental side of fencing, but more to the point about the mental side of the fencer in relation to themself. This is about the application of the purely physical aspects of the science of fencing on a mental scale. It is also about the discipline within in order to wait for the opportune moment and in order to perform the correct action at the correct moment in the correct manner. In this way it can be seen that it is important to master the science of fencing in order for the art of fencing to flourish.

The art of fencing is about gaining control over your own actions. It is about self-discipline. It is mastery of form and technique, which leads to the effective and efficient maneuverings of body and weapon” (Evangelista, 2000:115).

It is important to realise that these two are related on such a scale and that neither can be ignored if the fencer truly wants to succeed in their art. The highest art of fencing is demonstrated in the application of tactical theory using the skills developed by the fencer in the correct manner in the correct form for the situation. In many ways it is difficult to remove one from the other and they need to be seen as a whole and it is the whole picture of fencing that allows us to develop a philosphy of fencing.

The idea of a philosophy for fencing will seem an alien point of view to some, but what these people do not realise is that they use a philosophy in their fencing without even realising it. The philosophy that you follow may be extremely simple, or it may be extremely complex, but the way that this philosophy is formed and its application to fencing is the important part, even if it is not clearly stated. “A philosophy will color both your approach to the learning process of fencing and your bouting.” (Evanglista, 2000:259). The philosophy applied and used by the fencer will reflect in how they do things and how they approach training. In the case of teachers it will affect how the students learn and what they consider important in the learning process. If the philosophy is about winning at all costs, this will be reflected in the performance of the fencers both on an off their chosen field. Where the focus is on the win, the philosophy may be lax in other areas such as sportsmanship which is vital in order that the fencer can grow as a fencer and as a person.

Sportsmanship is the cleansing agent of fencing. It anchors the spirit, gives depth and meaning to action, and promotes growth. It elevates rather than demeans, supports rather than condemns.” (Evangelista, 2000:63).

We must consider how we reflect the aspects of sportsmanship both in actual fencing and in our relationships with other people, it will reflect a great deal of us. The importance of sportsmanship to the fencer is underpinned by their philosophy and their approach to fencing and learning. If the physical aspects are all that matters to the fencer then much of the mental aspects will be lost to them, and this can stunt their growth. Where the more social aspects of fencing are missing this can also stunt their growth and can lead to a lack of respect from their opponents and others who are observing them. All of these aspects hidden in the philosophy will reveal themselves in the encounter between one fencer and another. “On a fencing strip, the sportsman and the bore become obvious, as well as the master and the poker.” (Evanglista, 2000:268)

The long path has many important aspects and it was the purpose of this blog to highlight some of them and to bring them to light for discussion and thought. We must all consider where our path in fencing is leading us and also why this is so. If we really want to succeed and flourish as fencers who are complete in all senses it is important that we examine what we are doing in order to achieve this. The real way for the fencer to truly flourish is to examine and consider the long path and consider not the end result but the path it presents. This will determine how long our fencing careers are and what sort of fulfilment we are able to gain in the end. It should be noted that the long path is not easy and it is not simple, it asks a great deal of us in order to follow it, and seems like it gives very little back in the short term, but in the long term it demonstrates great benefits that will assist in promoting the best of us and encouraging us to search for what we seek, the mastery of the art, and the fulfilment it presents.

Cheers,

Henry.

Bibliography:
Evangelista, N. (2000) The Inner Game of Fencing: Excellence in Form, Technique, Strategy, and Spirit, Masters Press, Illinois, USA