I have been stuck in bed with some ghastly ailment for the last week or so, and am still not recovered yet (don’t tell my wife I’m working!), so I’ll be brief.
The question on many fencers’ minds is how to win more matches. The solution is pretty simple: be a better fencer. Good fencers win more matches.
Problems arise when we get this the wrong way round; you don’t become a good fencer by winning matches. You win matches when you’re a better fencer.
Today’s post is inspired by a teaching opportunity that raised its head after rapier class a couple of weeks ago. Three senior students were fencing each other, and getting frustrated by lack of progress. In short, they were trying to win each point, and as a result being too cautious, snipy and generally not very swordsmanlike. So I stepped in to help, with a couple of simple rule hacks.
Firstly, we created a rule that if your opponent disengages, you must attack. This directly led to some obviously foolish attacking, yes, but also bumped them out of their excessive caution.
Then they fenced between two lines on the ground, far enough apart that with their back foot on the line, they were one step out of measure. The winning conditions were now strike, or get your opponent to step over the line. This reduced the tendency to run away! At this stage I had each fencer identify one thing they should be working on. One needed to be bolder, one wanted to work on their attack by disengage, and the third was working on keeping their parries neat under pressure (if I recall correctly).
Then I had them fence normally, but explicitly working on the one specific aspect they were trying to improve. Unsurprisingly, they were fencing much, much better. This is because they were not trying to win points, they were trying to fence better, let the points fall where they may.
So your goal in every match should not be to win it; it should be to improve one specific aspect of your fencing. This might be boldness, speed, maintaining technique under pressure, getting one specific action to work, whatever. If you pursue this consistently, you will inevitably improve, and, as a result, win more matches.
Yes, you caught me. This is just another way of prioritising process over outcome. But it can be very hard to let go of the point-scoring mentality, which is why little rule hacks can really help. Play with them, and let me know how you get on!