A Newbie Guide to Fencing (Part 3 – Practicing on Your Own)

I decided to change up this series of posts a bit since no one is having any fencing tournaments now with the coronavirus outbreak. There are a lot of coaches and clubs providing online fencing classes. If you aren’t up for a full class, read on for my thoughts on what else you can be doing to work on your fencing, even when you can’t attend a normal practice.

You can find Part 1 and Part 2 of this guide here:

One problem with trying to do a class at home is that not everyone has a good place for this. Challenges include unsuitable flooring, obstacles (furniture, pets, ceilings, etc.), unreliable internet, or noise concerns with neighbors. Other factors that may be keeping you from practice could include schedule constraints, low motivation, or illness (wash your hands, everyone!).

Many people are constructing creative fencing dummies to practice attack skills. You can also purchase targets from vendors online. However, if there is any single thing that will be most important to maintaining or improving your fencing during this inadvertent off-season, it will be to practice your footwork. Even if you can’t do anything else, keep those leg muscles active.

Here are some further thoughts on how to do some basic footwork practice and stay in fencing shape while stuck at home:

  • Use the best flooring you have. If you’re worried about a lack of cushioning or a slippery surface, go more slowly with your footwork to avoid injury.
  • Put your fencing socks and shoes on for this practice. I tried without once, and it made my plantar fascia hurt.
  • Even if you only have a small space available, that will be enough to stand on guard, take a couple advances and retreats, and hold a lunge.
  • Start simple. Stand on guard. Bend your knees.
  • Use a mirror if you have one around. Check your form.
  • Do a simple drill of two advances, one retreat. Repeat. Do the opposite – two retreats, one advance. Adjust as necessary to stay in your floor space. Set a timer. Go for 30 seconds and then stand up and relax for 30 seconds. Repeat this 30/30 routine several times. The exact number of times will depend on your current fitness.
  • Now do that same drill but vary the speed of the steps. One slow advance, one fast advance, one quick retreat. Or you could do one fast advance, one longer slow advance, and then a quick retreat. You can vary both the speed and the length of each part.
  • If you want to work on lunges, start by just holding a lunge. Time yourself. See how long it takes until your legs fatigue.
  • Add lunges to the simple footwork drills. Two advances, then lunge, then two retreats. Or one advance, lunge, two retreats, then lunge again! Whatever fits in your space. Don’t work on speed if your flooring isn’t great or you are feeling out of shape. Work on keeping your knees bent, staying balanced, and moving smoothly.
  • You can make any of these exercises a set of 20 or 30 seconds with rest intervals in between.
  • Don’t do too much on your first day or two if you haven’t been doing anything.
  • Stretch afterwards. One of my friends offers some stretching videos on her You Tube channel here.
  • Stay active in general. Go for a walk or a run outside. Do you live in an apartment building with stairs that are rarely used? Go run up and down them.
  • Try some yoga. There are plenty of online videos. I have heard good things about this one.

I hope this is helpful! Please let me know in the comments if you have any questions. And follow my Amazon affiliate links to help support this blog.

Read more of my posts on fencing here.

A Newbie Guide to Fencing Tournaments (Part 2 – The Warm Up)

It seemed like my first post in this series was pretty popular, so I’m going to add to this by talking about how to warm up before fencing in a tournament.

First off, if your coach has given you specific guidelines about how to warm up, then ignore what I say here and listen to your coach.

The main focus of your warm up should be to get your body in a state where you are ready to fence the event without increased risk of injury. I’m going to take some tips from triathlon here, mainly the adage, “Nothing new on race day.” So for fencing, tournament day is not the time to try out a new weapon, new glove, or new warm up routine.*

I’ll do the first part of my warm up in just my fencing socks/shoes, knickers, and a t-shirt. Sometimes I listen to music, but sometimes I don’t. The first part (footwork) generally takes me 10 to 15 minutes.

When I warm up for a tournament, I use the same routine that I would in practice. Here is my specific set of exercises:

  • Light jog until my legs feel loose.
  • Arm circles until my arms feel loose.
  • Footwork:
    • Stand on guard, bend my knees and ankles. If I’m particularly stiff, just do one advance, one retreat and focus on getting some mobility in my joints.
    • Easy footwork: two advances, one retreat halfway down the strip, then two retreats, one advance until I return to my starting point. I do this maybe 3 or 4 times.
    • Start to throw in slow lunges at the end of the previous footwork drill.
    • Easy attacks: advance, advance, lunge down the strip a few times. If I’m feeling particularly ambitious, I’ll do more complicated attacks, throwing in jumps, simulate missing and retreating, etc.
  • Weapon circles: This is for injury prevention. I have had problems with tendonitis in my elbow, so this seems to help keep it at bay. I put my glove on and pick up a sabre at this point and just swing it around. I’m not trying to do anything technical, just rotate my wrist and make big circles.

From this point, I may do more foot work or I may not. It depends on how my legs and back feel. You’re going to have to figure out how much to do for yourself. In general, I fence better with more of a warm up. But there are times (where I’m sore from the previous day, sick, or nursing a borderline injury) that I may stop sooner.

After this part of my warm up, I’ll look to do some warm up bouts. There are generally fencers warming up all around. Find people that are in your event and ask if you can rotate in. Generally, fencers warming up will go to 5 and then whomever refereed rotates in.

When you fence warm up bouts, you’re not trying to win. You need to try different things to get all the parts of your body coordinated. Vary your actions and work on getting your timing up to speed.

This is also a great chance to make sure that your electric equipment is all working. If you show up on the strip for the tournament with something broken, you’ll get a yellow card.

Stop when you feel like you’re ready. I try to time the end of my warm up so that I have a few minutes to sit before pools start. You may need to refill your water bottle, use the bathroom, or have a snack.

*Of course if your equipment breaks or fails checks, you may have to use something new. But try to avoid this.

See the rest of the Newbie Guide to Fencing Tournaments:

Read more about fencing here.

A Newbie Guide to Fencing Tournaments (Part 1 – Basics)

I had been writing fencing tournament reports last year, detailing my experiences of the events where I competed and what I thought of them. I couldn’t keep up with the writing, partly because I was just busy, but also because the reports started to feel too repetitive.

This past weekend I competed in the Capitol Clash for the second time. This event was a regional youth and veteran age-group event just outside of Washington, D.C. I was excited to see some of the area’s newer fencers branching out to compete in this larger event, and I even spoke with two women who were curious about entering the event next year. (Read about the 2019 event here).

I was also having a rough week in general and had been sick (literally had a chest x-ray taken the day before the event), and realized that much of what I do during a tournament is automatic after competing for so many years (from packing, signing in, getting dressed, my warm-up, and other habits through the day). I thought it might be helpful to share some tips to newer fencers to help make the day of the event smoother when you get there.

So here is the first post in a series on A Newbie Guide to Fencing Tournaments!

This post will just touch upon a few basics, with no particular focus. I can go into more detail on topics in later posts (send me suggestions)!

  • The time listed for an event is the close of check in. You need to show up about an hour before that to get yourself ready.
  • There are a few things you need to do first when you arrive at a fencing tournament:
    1. Check in for the event.
    2. Find a place to put your bag.
    3. Get your equipment checked.
    4. Get dressed.
    5. Fill up water bottles.
    6. Get your phone out and find the appropriate page on https://www.fencingtimelive.com/ for the event. (Most events use this now.)
    7. Warm up.
    8. Breathe.
  • Tips on bag placement:
    • If you can find out which strips you will be using ahead of time, that is nice to know. Place your bag convenient to the strips.
    • If not, consider these other factors: bathroom placement, your fellow club members, water placement, crowds.
    • You can always move your bag once you learn where you will fence.
  • Events are fenced in two rounds: pools and then direct elimination.
  • Pools typically take an hour (for sabre).
  • During your pool, pay attention to when you’re up to fence. Know your number in the pool.
  • The referee will call out numbers or names. The first name called goes to the referee’s right on the strip. Unless there’s a left-handed fencer. She always goes on the referee’s left. If there are two lefties fencing, then go back to the original number/name rule.
  • After a bout, check the score sheet to make sure the result was recorded correctly. I find an error every year in one event or another. The best time to correct it is immediately after the bout when everyone clearly remembers what happened.
  • After the pool is over, sign the score sheet and shake the referee’s hand.
  • There is a break after pools where you should make use of the bathroom. You have at least 15 minutes.
  • Refill your water bottle between the pool and direct elimination rounds. Sometimes I also eat a snack like a granola bar.

Here are some specific items that I use on tournament day (paid links):

Don’t be afraid to ask if you aren’t clear on the process or on where you’re supposed to go and when. Most fencers will be very helpful because we all want more people fencing with us!

See the rest of the Newbie Guide to Fencing Tournaments:

Read more of my fencing posts here.

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