Saturday, November 20, 2021

Learn The Game

I refereed an unrated foil tournament today. Sometimes refereeing offers opportunities to think about fencing, things to bring up with students or to talk about more generally - but often, you're too busy to commit your thoughts firmly enough to memory to really address them later. My thoughts today about understanding the game were both simple and impactful enough to stick in my head.


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 adjustments.


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 noticed today.


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 game.


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 actions.


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 why.


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.

 Thanks for reading!

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Friday, August 6, 2021

Alphabet Soup - Your Decoder Ring for Fencing Abbreviations

For a lot of people, when you start a new job, or move to the DMV, you have to acquaint yourself with the local flavor of alphabet soup - or the use of abbreviations to refer to everything. At my previous job we had ROMs, BOMs, ROCs, ABMs, RICs, FCs, RBs, CSRs, NOMAD, RMs, other RMs, ASMs, BSAs and an endless host of other sets of letters to describe things. You had to jump in and learn what everything referred to. All the people, the manuals, the solutions offered to clients, everything was an abbreviation.

          Fencing isn't quite as bad, but there are a ton of terms, equipment, and concepts that will be unfamiliar to the average person. After you start to get a grasp on those coaches will start casually tossing around references to things described by a handful of letters expecting you to know what they mean.

          This is not going to be a comprehensive listing and explanation but it will cover some of the basic ones.


1. Club names


Clubs will usually have a name that has some word or name, and then "fencing club" or "fencing academy" "fencing association" "fencing alliance, or something like that. Some might be "Salle" followed by a name or "Academy" followed by a name. Some clubs people will refer to by their name and some people will refer to by their abbreviation, but on askFRED (itself an abbreviation for Fencing Registration and Event Database) abbreviations will usually show up.


Parents don't really need to learn these, but for athletes it might help you with assessing who is attending events you're looking at. We can't really give a guide to those...but askFRED will also let you click the abbreviation and see the name of the club.


2. Ratings and Rankings


When looking at events you might see "E and Under" or "Open" or "Div 1A." Your athlete might start talking about how they need to get a ranking or a rating. Or they might say "that guy over there is a B so he's really good."


Rankings are a system used in the USA and internationally, in which certain tournaments award points and fencers who place high enough get a "ranking" or a placement on the points lists associated with that event. In the USA we have national and regional points lists. The points lists are then broken down by weapon and gender and by category. The categories are either based on age or rating. So you might have the National Senior Men's Epee list, or the Regional Junior Women's Sabre list. The National Points Lists get their own abbreviation "NRPS" or National Rolling Points System, because they are on a 12 month rolling point cycle. The Regional Points are reset when the season changes.


Ratings give us more letters in the soup. All fencers start out as a U or an Unrated fencer. If a fencer places highly enough in the right tournament they get a rating. The ratings start at E as the lowest, and move up to A as the highest. A fencer might earn an E by coming in first in a tournament with 6 people, or they might earn a D by winning a tournament with 15 people, four of whom have Es.


Events get letters and numbers which tell you how strong the event is expected to be and how many ratings it gives out. For example, an A4 event will have at least 64 people, and 12 As, 12Bs, and 12Cs. It gives out 48 ratings, with the top 8 people earning As, and the next 8 earning Bs. For more examples of how the event ratings work you can look here.


If an event is labeled as Div I then that means all fencers participating must have a rating of C or higher. Div II means they must all be a C or lower, and Div III means they must be a D or lower. Div 1A is the same as an Open which means all ratings may participate. Some events will be labeled as a letter and over, like a "D and Under" which is the same as a Div III or an "E and Under" which means only E rated and Unrated fencers may participate.


3. Event labels


We talked a little about how events have categories based on ratings. At a tournament the sheets will be labeled with an abbreviation telling you which event within the tournament you're looking at.

X - Mixed Gender

M - Men

W - Women

SR - Senior, or 13 and over

VET - Veterans or 40 and over

JR - Junior or over 13 under 20, also represented as U20

CDT - Cadet or over 13 under 17, also represented as U17

F - Foil

S - Sabre

E - Epee


So your athlete might compete in SRXF, or Senior Mixed Foil, or JRME, or Junior Men's Epee, or CDTWS, or Cadet Women's Sabre.


4. Circuit Events


Circuit events refer to events that are part of a series of events which maintain a points list. You can have local circuits which are informal and are coordinated by the clubs/event hosts. Regional Circuits are presented by local clubs or tournament organizers but are approved by USA Fencing. National Circuits are both presented by and approved by USA Fencing.


Regional Circuits include:

RYC - Regional Youth Circuit. These events are for Y10, Y12, and Y14 fencers. Y10 is roughly 8 to 10 year olds, Y12 10 to 12 year olds, and Y14 12 to 14 year olds. Depending on the birth year you might be 7 or 11 fencing Y10, or 9 or 13 and still able to fence Y12, or 11 or 15 and able to fence Y14. The eligibility shifts at the beginning of the new season, so depending upon your date of birth you might be a little below or a little above the normal ages for that category. On the regional level, fencers must compete within their own Region to earn Regional Youth Points in an RYC, but you can compete outside of your region, you just won't earn points.


RJCC - Regional Junior and Cadet Circuit. These events are for U17 and U20 fencers. Like the RYC events you can only earn points in your region, but you can still compete outside of your region. These events also have a little wiggle room based on when your birthday is, but essentially Junior is 13 and over, but under 20 and Cadet is 13 and over but under 17.


ROC - Regional Open Circuit. These events are for senior fencers, so 13 and over. There is no upper age limit. Some ROCs will be Div1A events which means they are open to fencers of all ratings. Some are DivII events meaning fencers C and under may compete. Some have VET events, meaning fencers 40 and over can compete. Unlike the Youth and Teen regional events, the ROC events allow you to earn points at any ROC even if it is hosted outside of your region.


SYC - Super Youth Circuit. These are National Circuit events for Youth fencers. So Y10, Y12, Y14 but they provide points on a National Points List and you don't have to compete in region.


SJCC - Super Junior and Cadet Circuit. These are a newer category. They are National Circuit events for Cadet and Junior fencers. They provide National Points List points and you don't have to compete in region.


NAC - North American Cup. These are National Circuit events. They may include events in Y10, Y12, Y14, Cadet, Junior, Div III, Div II, Div I, and VET. There are generally not Div 1A NACs aside from the Div1A championship. NACs may also have team events in the Junior, Senior, and Vet categories.


JO - Junior Olympics. National Championship event for the "teen" categories, Junior and Cadet. Usually hosted in February.


5. USFA, FOC, Coaches' College


The main one's you'll need to know are the ones we've listed in items 2 - 4.


The one's we've listed in 5 are ones you might run into that don't exist anymore. Below we'll provide what they've been replaced by, as well as some other governing bodies.


USFA - United States Fencing Association. People still say this all the time, but the organization has been USA Fencing for several years. USFA is a different non-fencing organization at this point. Prior to being USFA it was AFLA, Amateur Fencing League of America...but no one still says that one. USA Fencing is the Governing Body for Fencing in the United States.


FOC - Fencing Officials' Commission is the oversight body for referees. Or it was. Now it is the Referee Commission. They organize the testing and rating and development of referees


Coaches' College - not an abbreviation but another thing that no longer exists. It was an educational program for coaches that was run at the Olympic Training Center each summer. Now, USFCA, United States Fencing Coaches' Association is the body that does training and certification for coaches.


USOC - US Olympic Committee. They oversee sports leadership bodies for sports which compete in the Olympics. USA Fencing falls under the oversight of the USOC. It's international counterpart is the IOC or International Olympic Committee.


USCSS - United States Center for Safe Sport. With the USOC, the USCSS oversees Olympic sports in the United States and provides rules and training for adult participants to protect athletes from abuse.


IFA - Intercollegiate Fencing Association. I'm not sure whether this exists or not anymore, it was the conference for Ivy League college competition. The IFA had a pool format for teams that is relatively unique.


NCAA - National Collegiate Athletic Association. Oversees varsity sports in colleges in the United States, including varsity fencing. NCAA Style refers to a team competition format in which teams compete to see who gets the highest number of bout victories out of 9 bouts between two teams in one weapon, or best out of 27 across a match between two schools with all three weapons. Some local collegiate conferences model their meets and rules off of NCAA fencing rules.


USACFC - United States of America Collegiate Fencing Conference. This conference oversees the national championship event for non-varsity collegiate fencing in the United States. They host one tournament per year. Their event combines IFA format and NCAA format competitions.


FIE - Federation Internationale D'Escrime. The International Fencing Federation is the international governing body for the sport of fencing. The rulebook followed by USA Fencing is based on the FIE rules.

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Thursday, August 5, 2021

7 Reasons Why Fencers Should Become Referees


If you are a TriWeapon Fencer, one of the obvious reasons for becoming a referee is because our program requires that you get a certification in something to graduate. The Coaches' Association and the Referee Commission have done the best job at creating straight forward certification processes, so those are the two best options. Refereeing will give you the most opportunities to use your certification and get something out of having it, so it is the most popular one for people to go for. If you're not a TriWeapon fencer, there are still lots of reasons to take a referee clinic or become a referee.

 Since we have a pretty high level referee coming soon for aclinic I figured I would present some reasons why fencers should consider taking a clinic.


1. It will help you understand what is happening in your bouts.

 Fencers acquire a lot of "knowledge" of the "rules" from hanging out in their clubs and talking to other fencers who don't know better. Then they start competing, or going to more serious clubs and are confused when they encounter the actual rules and actual conventional applications of them. Studying for the referee exam and taking a clinic is a good way to disabuse yourself of the accretion of incorrect knowledge.

 Even if you haven't learned a ton of incorrect rules and application, if you don't know the rules or how they're applied, you may be confused in tournaments by how stuff is called. If you're confused you can't do much about it, but if you understand the rules and recognize what you're doing isn't scoring, then you have a better sense of how to adjust to get the touch.


2. It will help you fence better.

 This is kind of similar to the last one, but not quite the same. Knowing wrong rules, or not knowing the rules might leave you confused and unable to understand why you're losing. Knowing the rules can let you make choices to help you win. If you understand what actions are likely to score because of how the rules work, you know what actions to prioritize. If you know what referees look for to recognize an action then you know how to tweak your execution to make sure referees will see what you're trying to do.


3. It gives you something to do when you can't fence an event.

If your rating is too high to fence Div III events or Div II events but your team mates or siblings will be attending them refereeing gives you something to do so you can go along and participate. If your club is hosting events you can't fence in but you still want to support the event, refereeing gives you that opportunity. If you're going to a ROC and fencing the Div1A on Friday afternoon, and can't fence the Div II on Saturday, but you're sticking around because you're fencing the Junior in the concurrent RJCC on Sunday, then referring Saturday gives you something to do.

4. It gives you another way to be involved with the sport of fencing and the fencing community.

If you really love fencing, you love going to practice, you love going to competitions, you love everything about it; refereeing is one option to deepen your exploration and learn more about it from a different perspective. Going out and refereeing will let you look at different elements of how fencing works and different actions people make and the ways they make them. It will let you see a different element of competitions. It will also allow you to make connections with competitors, referees, and tournament organizers outside of your club. Your club and other local clubs also probably need people to referee for them, so this is a great way to give back to the fencing community.  


5. It will give you perspective and an understanding of your rights as a fencer.

 Fencers are frequently salty about how referees call things, especially in the right of way weapons, but also in epee. Sometimes it's fair to be mad about a call, but sometimes you didn't do things the way you thought you did. Refereeing will help you understand the referee's perspective and what it's like to have to observe and interpret the fencers' actions and then communicate them as a call. Having some understanding of the other side can help you with moving past the frustration and focusing on making actions that get the calls you want.

 Sometimes referees make mistakes, and sometimes we think they do when they don't. Fencers don't always understand what things they can question and what things they can't, what the method for questioning is, and how to do it effectively and politely. Learning to referee and working as a referee can help you understand these better so you can navigate the experience better as a competitor.


6. There are monetary incentives.

 If you're an adult fencer with a good job then maybe making extra cash by refereeing is not much of an incentive. Even with a good job, you can always take the extra money and use it as fun money, or money to fund fencing expenses.

 If you're a teenager, or a college student, or an adult who is sorting out what they want to do, refereeing can be a nice extra source of income. You won't make a ton of money refereeing, but even without an especially high rating, you can make enough in a weekend that it's worth it. Especially for high school and college students, refereeing might give you enough extra cash that you don't need to pick up a job to make money to go do things with your friends.

 Refereeing might also cover travel expenses for tournaments you want to attend. If you want to go out of town to a ROC or a NAC and you can get on the radar of the people who hire for it, you might be able to get your travel and or hotel covered by going to referee. That might be the difference between being able to attend the event and not being able to.


7. You might enjoy it.

 Some people really enjoy refereeing, some people make a lot of friends through refereeing and have a fun time seeing them at all the circuit events. So in the end it could be that you end up sticking with being a referee because you enjoy it.


If you think you might be interested in refereeing, there are clinics that happen routinely, it's just a question of when one will be in a place close enough that you're willing to go to. If you're reading this post around the time it's being posted and you're local or local-ish to here, we will be hosting the Vice Chair of the referee commission (former Vice President of USA fencing, and a referee who has national and international experience and has lead the referees at several national circuit and championship events) to run a referee clinic here in Catonsville September 26th 2021. If you're not around here, or you're reading this too late for that clinic, check out the clinic section of askFRED and you'll see when clinics are being offered.

Thanks for reading!

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7 Reasons Parents Should Attend Referee Clinics

 One of the most common things I hear said by both beginner parents and parents who've been around for awhile is "I'm not really sure what's happening when I watch them fence." A lot of parents would like to be able to follow along more and know the rules so they know what's happening. To help with that, I'm hoping to do a sort of "understanding fencing" clinic for parents at some point in the not too distant future. A common way for parents to expand their understanding though is to go to a referee clinic or possibly become a referee. There are some additional reasons why this can be a good idea, and since we have a pretty high level presenter coming to do a referee clinic at our club soon I figured I'd share some reasons why parents might consider it.


1. Helps you understand what you're watching when you watch your child fence


The clinic will talk about the rules and how the referees decide who gets a point or who doesn't get a point. It might not really teach the skill of watching for all those things, but if you're used to watching fencing and just don't really feel you comfortably understand the  rules, this will explain them.  


2. It gives you another way to connect to fencing.


 I've seen parents who became division officers, or who became office managers for clubs, referees and tournament managers because they really liked supporting and being involved with their child's sport. Sometimes I've seen parents who continued these things after their child went off to college or was more or less done with fencing as they entered the adult world because the parents enjoyed the fencing community and being around the sport. Refereeing can be a way to explore connecting to the sport and give an option for involvement.


3. It might give you something to do at tournaments or subsidize the tournament experience.

 Tournaments can be long, and big events might be several days. Some kids like being watched by their parents as they compete and for some   it can be an added source of stress. Whether you're watching your kid fence or not, if its a larger tournament you'll likely be there for a fair amount of time. If your kid referees then it might be even more time without the option of watching them fence. For larger tournaments that involve travel, you'll be stuck there through that. There will also be tournament fees and travel costs.

 If you are a referee then you'll have something to do in those situations if you are hired as a referee at the tournament. Referee income can cover the tournament registration expense, and the tournament will likely reimburse the travel. So refereeing can make    traveling for your fencer to fence larger more important tournaments a lot more tenable.  

4. It may allow you to support your child in a competition better.

 If your athlete isn't getting actions called in their favor either because the referee is making a mistake or because your child is making a mistake in how they do the action it can be frustrating and confusing both for them as the athlete and you as the parent watching. If you have learned more about the rules and gotten some practice refereeing    you may be better equipped to help them understand either what mistake they are making that the referee is seeing or how to adjust to what the referee is calling if the referee is consistently calling in a weird way. This might help your child adjust during the tournament, alleviate some of their confusion and allow them to have a better          event.


5. It may allow you to advocate better for your child in a tough situation where rules aren't being followed.

 Referees are human and make mistakes. There are a lot of rules to remember, and depending on their experience they might misapply or forget a rule. If a referee doesn't make the call you expect because   they see the action differently, or because they don't see an element of it, you can't appeal that. If they apply a rule incorrectly or don't apply  it uniformly then you can appeal that and have it overturned.

Fencers won't usually recognize when this is happening in the moment and won't know when or how to advocate for themselves in that situation. Having a spectator on their side who knows the rules can  help make sure they're receiving fair treatment when little  unintentional mistakes happen. It also helps you as a parent feel empowered to and have the knowledge to advocate for your child in those super rare cases where a referee really steps across the line. When that happens fencers and parents usually feel like there isn't    anything they can do. Knowing the rules will help you know who to approach and how to approach them for assistance if an unusually difficult situation arises.


6. The fencing community needs referees.

You wouldn't usually be able to referee your child in a tournament, but local tournament organizers are always looking for referees. The more quality referees we have in the local community the easier it is for tournament organizers to organize good events that your child can attend.


7. You might like it.


Personally, I became a referee because it used to be required to get certified as a referee before you could get certified as a coach. It's also interesting to me to know the rules and how they are applied, and it's useful for me as a coach to be able to explain those things to my students. I referee routinely because it's helpful to the local fencing community, but it's not the thing I enjoy focusing on because I'm much more naturally suited to coaching.

 I know other people who are very suited to refereeing and some who enjoy it quite a bit. Some people like the experience and like studying and exploring the rules. Some of them like the referee community and make friends there and enjoy hanging out with them at large tournaments. It may be the sort of thing you might have fun with and may be an arena in which you can find new friends with a shared interest.

 If you think refereeing might be for you, the clinic is the first step in checking it out. 


            If you think you might be interested in refereeing, there are clinics that happen routinely, it's just a question of when one will be in a place close enough that you're willing to go to. If you're reading this post around the time it's being posted and you're local or local-ish to here, we will be hosting the Vice Chair of the referee commission (former Vice President of USA fencing, and a referee who has national and international experience and has lead the referees at several national circuit and championship events) to run a referee clinic here in Catonsville September 26th 2021. If you're not around here, or you're reading this too late for that clinic, check out the clinic section of askFRED and you'll see when clinics are being offered.

Thanks for reading!

For more updates like this, and ideas, thoughts, and items of interest for fencers, coaches and parents, follow us on Facebook and please share us with friends and team mates!

You can also support us through Ko-Fi. We appreciate you reading!

Friday, July 2, 2021

NAC's As a Learning Experience

I was working on a blog post on why a fencer might consider going to a NAC or a Regional Circuit event even if they aren’t quite ready. I haven’t gotten through that post, but it seems reasonable to still take some time to talk about first NAC experiences, since our club has several fencers about to go try their first NAC.

It’s fine to be a little nervous before a big event, especially when it’s your first time. That’s one of the reasons to try out an event like this when it’s close by. Traveling across the country, when you’re unsure if you’re ready, when you’re nervous, and when the competition environment is wholly different from anything you’re used to can be a lot of mental pressure to tack onto the pressures that are already there in a big competition when your parents and coaches, and maybe you yourself have expectations regarding your performance. It can also be a pretty expensive commitment when you’re just trying to see how things will go.

So, when a big event is happening near by and you’re eligible to go, sometimes it’s a good idea to take the opportunity. You won’t have as much expense, you won’t have as much stress traveling, and maybe this gives you an opportunity to go before anyone has too much of an expectation about your performance – so, less pressure.

I once had a fairly successful teen athlete advocate to his younger team mates that they always take time for a warm up bout because your first bout of the day will very possibly be your worst. Maybe not the worst result, but very possibly your worst performance. You’re not ready, you’re not loosened up and used to moving, your mind isn’t set to fall into the reflexes and choices it associates with fencing. Using a bout that you need a good result in to get the ball rolling isn’t a great plan when you can grab a few bouts that don’t count for anything as part of your warm up.

The same can be true as we step into new levels of competition. If we have the opportunity to get used to that kind of competition, to learn how to navigate the bigger venue and larger competition environment before we go to an event where we’re looking for a particular result, we have the same sort of “warm up” opportunity.

This might seem like an expensive warm up, and it might seem like your performance at the event will be indicative of how good or ready you are, and therefore how well you’ll do at subsequent events. These things might make it seem less reasonable to do. Considering the first point, more than a warm up you have the overall experience. Competition in that context is very different from competitions in the local context most fencers are used to. The space is larger, there is more to navigate. Strips are divided into pods which are sectioned off. Parents, and fencers not fencing have to wait outside of the space of the strips. Referees have a higher expectation of the fencers being prepared to hook up and follow directions quickly. The fencers with whom you’re competing are often “stronger’ than many of those who only do local competitions. Announcements about where you’re supposed to be are delivered differently (currently primarily through the Fencing Time Live website, but sometimes through large TV screens or postings in central locations.) Regional events have some similar elements – larger more formal check in, using armorers to check weapons. There will be numerous vendors, historical displays from the USA Fencing Hall of Fame, fencers gathering their bags into groups with their teams, people everywhere filling a convention center hall. It’s full immersion into a massive fencing environment, and it’s like a sea you can get lost in your first time out. It can be exciting and fun, but it can also be overwhelming if you’re nervous about competing.

Once you’ve done it though, the experience is different. The environment is familiar and expected. It’s a matter of returning to this cool thing you only get to go to sometimes. You can go in more comfortably the second time. Better than that though, fencers who start to get used to fencing national events begin to find other events easier. The stress of competing in a local event or a regional event fades away because now these are your small and midsized events. They seem easier and simpler than a large scale national competition. That alone is a big benefit.

As for the second point, of whether or not your performance the first time out is indicative of future performances…well, hopefully for any tournament you’ll improve with future events. Hopefully, you’re practicing and training and so future events in general will be easier. Going to a national event has some added elements though. As we said, you’ll probably be more comfortable and familiar with what you’re walking into the second time, so that can help. Another big thing is seeing more of the range of what’s out there and what successful national circuit fencers look like. You might see some ideas to go back to your club with and ask your coach about learning, but the big take away is frequently less about style and more about athleticism. Fencers competing at that level are fast and strong, they are clearly athletes. Competing in that context often works to drive that point home much moreso than local competitions would. Fencers walk away with a better idea of what they need to be in order to be successful. As coaches, we try to communicate the important of strength, speed, agility, balance, and the various traits that comprise “athleticism,” and fencers hear it, but seeing it and experiencing people who have it helps build a clearer deeper understanding.

Speaking from experience, I’ve seen a lot of fencers who have gone to a first NAC and not won any bouts. Some fenced their best, some recognized they weren’t mentally ready and could have fenced better. Some were happy with how they fenced despite results, some felt like they could have done better. In most cases, they’ve done better the next time. I know a B-rated fencer from another club who fenced his first NAC and won no bouts, but then went 3-3 in his pools at his next NAC. I know another fencer who lost all his bouts his first NAC, but then almost earned Junior National Points in his second NAC. I’ve seen a lot of fencers with stories like this. Some low rated fencers, but also several As and Bs who went into their first NACs and won no bouts, or won one bout, and then did much better their second or third outing.

Competition is always part of the training experience. Sometimes we leave competition out. But if we want to be competitive and do competitions, going to them is part of preparing to do well in them. This is true of local competitions, but it’s more true of large competitions. Practices and lessons alone can’t simulate some of the elements of competition. At all levels, early competitive experiences…and even on-going ones…are part of our stepping stones towards success.

There are also fencers who have stand out, great experiences their first NACs. We don’t want to write off that possibility. Even if you’re going in just to try it, or you’re going in nervous, try and stay relaxed and do your best. You might surprise yourself. Sometimes we are more ready for things than we think we are. Sometimes we do well with those pressures in place or in new situations. Reminding ourselves that there is a reason to go give it a try and to feel good about our efforts even if it doesn’t look like there is an immediately apparent result doesn’t mean we shouldn’t go and try and do our best. We still need to be open to the possibility of having a great day and performing well. We just want to remember that if that’s not how the day goes, it’s part of a process and it’s getting us closer to where we want to be.

In the end, what we want is to stay calm and clear, stay focused, make a good effort and walk away having had fun with a new experience that teaches us more about how to become successful competitors and how to meet our long term fencing goals.


- Even if you don't feel ready, have fun and do your best, it may go better than you think

- NACs are a big experience, when you're new to them, feeling nervous is normal, the next one will be more comfortable

- Tournaments are part of training for success in future tournaments

- Warm up bouts are necessary, when moving to a bigger type of tournament, a “warm up outing” might be necessary too

- NACs can be a learning experience, look at the overall traits and athleticism of the people who do well and see what you can learn from that

- A lot of people, even high rated fencers have a bad first NAC and then do much better at subsequent ones

- NACs will make smaller events seem easier and more comfortable

- Have fun, do your best

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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Effective Epee Blade Takes

A student asked me how do you make effective blade takes in epee. I'm also currently working on this with one of my stronger C rated epeeists. 


This is a question which sticks in my mind because I like a blade work focused approach to epee. I also think the specificity of the question is good. Blade takes differ in each of the weapons, so considerations for a blade take in sabre or foil would be a little different than some of the considerations for a blade take in epee.


Many epeeists have also voiced frustration that as much as they practice blade takes it can be hard to effectively get the opponents blade, particularly in an offensive blade take.


So one element of the answer is to get the opponent to extend the blade.


Making feint-beats, or making feints toward a hit at the wrist might draw the opponent's hand upwards and more forward as they position themselves to be more ready for the action they believe you are setting up.


A partially extended blade closer to line with your target is easier to take than a partially absent blade. If taking the approach of drawing the opponent out you have to be ready either for their partial movement or for them to actually counter. It is a sad mistake to feint to draw a response and not be ready for the potential responses.


Mechanically speaking, be mindful of your hand wrist and arm position as these will set the position of your blade and define how your blade moves relative to your opponent's. The more consistent you make these elements the more control you will have and the less attention you will need to the details of the movement. Consistently practicing your blade takes with mindfulness of these elements will help you understand how the blades move and help you more naturally work with the leverage of the blades as they move together.


A mechanical element to consider is the positioning of your blade and bell relative to their blade. A blade take which locks their blade between your blade and bell, such that your weapon creates opposing contact points using your blade and bell will create more friction and more leverage making it harder to immediately disengage off from your blade take.


In practicing and drilling, once you have the basic blade take down and are able to lock the blade in the blade take and control the leverage have your drill partner simulate actual blade motion.


Epeeists frequently make small movements of the blade. These small rotations and small movements side to side make the blade harder to take. In part, the blade is not clearly in one place so the timing of the blade take is more difficult. Further the blade is already moving such to disengage as your contact begins, so a slower blade take may be less effective because they will slip off.


Have your drill partner move the blade simulating the types of movement and preparations you see your opponents making and drill taking the blade against that more realistic scenario.

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