Out of My Comfort Zone


In fencing, there are constantly problems you have to solve throughout your career. It is one of the reasons why fencing is an extremely interesting and tough sport. In my last blog entry (August 18), I talked about having trouble with priority. I am still working on solving this problem but I believe addressing another problem first, will help. That is, the problem of bout management.

In international fencing, the format of tournaments has two components.  Initially, the top 16 ranked fencers receive a bye to the second day (or top 64). The rest of the competitors have to slug it out in a pool format (pools of 6 or 7 athletes who fence each other to 5 touches). Once the pools are complete, athletes are ranked from best to worst. Approximately the bottom 20% are eliminated and the top 16 are promoted directly to the second day. The remainder, fence in a direct elimination bracket until there are 32 fencers left.

As you may imagine, the strategies or bout management requirements for a 5-touch and a 15-touch bout are somewhat different. That is, in a 5-touch bout (which lasts only 3 minutes), athletes must quickly figure out their opponent as there is little time to make many adjustments. In a 15-touch bout (which is blocked in 3 x 3 minute periods), there are many opportunities to make strategic changes as the bout progresses.

In fencing, bout management is the ability to change tactics and strategies when needed. In other words, each fencer has to figure out how to match their own strengths against their opponent’s weaknesses and these strengths and weaknesses are revealed as strategies change. Bout management is one of the toughest problems in fencing because you not only have to recognize when to change but you also need to have the ability and technique to change!

34Since my last blog post on the topic, I have successfully (I hope) identified my biggest problem with bout management!  That is, I have trouble knowing when to press for the attack or rely on my defense.  Recently, I have lost several matches due to losing 5 or 6 touches at the beginning of the match because I chose to press for the attack against people who have a better defense than offense. If I rely on my natural (aggressive) tendencies and general personality to determine my strategy, I find myself attacking without trying to focus on my opponent’s weaknesses.  This is easy to do as when you practice at the club with people who you fence all the time; that is, you get comfortable in relying on your “personality” to win.  Since (pardon my modesty), I am a more accomplished fencer than most athletes at the club, my brain has gotten a bit lazy. That is, “comfortable” strategies that work in practice do not work in international competitions!  It is time to get out of my comfort zone and restructure my bout management strategies at world cup events.

In order to fix problems like this, we have to understand the issues and have to constantly refine the strategies to see what works best. Identifying the problem is a strong first step in finding a solution!  With that in mind, I have archived many videos of my bouts to watch the strategies – what worked and didn’t work — against whom and why.  It is no different than a scouting report in baseball or football. I need to know my opponent before I fence them! I believe that once I fix this problem it will help my priority problem as well. More to come! Check back to see what I’m working on!!