Game play comes up a few different ways when I coach. The
most basic concept around game play is that fencing is a sport. Like all
sports, it is a game with rules. Even a "combat weapon" like epee has
rules for game play, those rules are just more naturalistic and reflect what
works and what doesn't rather than reflecting convention. As a result, we don't
see changes to epee game play like we do as rules interpretations shift in foil
and sabre. For all three, you need to think of it as a sport, not as sword
fighting, and learn the rules that build successful strategies.
Recognizing it's a game and knowing how conventions, rules,
and normal reactions to situations play out, is how we make choices. We know
why we were successful or why we weren't. We know why our opponents were
successful, or why they weren't. As a result we can adjust and anticipate their
We can even long play and assume how the shape of play will
evolve based on choices and responses to choices. We can be tactical if we
understand how we approach the game and how our opponent is playing the game.
Another element of thinking about game play is not to try to
play the game with people who don't know it's a game.
Sometimes fencers will come up and do something erratic.
Sometimes they'll make choices that show they don't know what actions have an
advantage, or what choices will likely be successful.
When up against a fencer like that, trying to use complex
tactics or strategies, or setting up actions that require them to respond the
way someone who knows the rules would respond, is going to lead to failure. You
can't fence someone who isn't fencing.
Against a fencer who doesn't know it's a game, don't play the
game. Walk forward and hit them. Be athletic, be fast, be clean, be
unassailable. Which is, still kind of based on playing the game, just the
simplest version of it.
I talked about these things in a class yesterday.
What I didn't talk about regarding game play was what I
You can kind of know how to make some actions, and button
mash those actions, and score against weak opponents, and still not know how to
play the game.
You can also be pretty clean, have some good skills and
techniques and a lot of potential, and lose because you aren't playing the
These two are pretty related. They're both basically the
reverse perspective on our first point. Understanding the rules and the game
play lets you make choices to win. If you don't understand you're just doing
random things and probably not understanding why it isn't working. Maybe you
just assume the other person is just performing actions better than you, or
maybe you are lost as to why the touch isn't yours.
I think we often assume that people who just don't get it are
new. We assume you can recognize it from their bad posture, bad form, clumsy
That isn't always the case. I've run into it a bunch but
hadn't really thought about it. You can drill a bunch of things. You can be
really clean, or maybe even just consistent in an awkward but acceptable
execution. You might be able to do alright against other people doing random
things, being refereed in a context where no one really knows what's going on.
When you get to a context with actual fencers, you'll
probably be confused or lost.
Maybe you're in a context with actual fencers, and they get
the game and you don't. So you assume they just win because they're better.
Then you go somewhere and fence people on your level and still lose and wonder
Learn the game.
Sometimes that component - an understanding of what's
happening, why it's happening, and why that is what wins - is what's missing
rather than the conventional elements we drill on the strip and cover in
lessons. A good lesson, a good teaching program, will incorporate those
elements. Sometimes they'll be explicit, sometimes they'll be naturally woven
in. It's easy to miss realizing you need to teach them if you've never thought
of it though, or if you had to learn it naturally by competing. It's also easy
for people to miss it when they train in recreational contexts with no one who
gets the game, or no one who knows how to teach it.
So it's no wonder it's a component that might be the gap
between someone who can make some attacks and some parries, versus someone who can
make some attacks and some parries and win against other beginners.