After action debriefing for fencers.

Often overheard after a match, “ I almost had that bout” or “if I had just” . I even hear myself saying “you almost had that bout” and “if you had just ….…”

I confess you saying these things, often with little thought, as a coach I should know better. It is not always just a matter of what is being said, it is when it’s being said, that is often the issue. My observation is that for an hour or so after a competition, most fencers are far to emotional to deal effectively with any comments on their performance. Fencers are often, after all, rather temperamental (I’m being kind). If you are a coach or concerned “other” it is best to refrain, even if asked, from offering observations and suggestions until the fencer has let the emotional drama pass. I am a fan of the “I’m hungry, lets eat first” school of purposeful procrastination.

I suggest starting with the question, what was working. Focus on the positive aspects in detail. If dealing with another person ask, what did you see. Repeat this question several times, and you will eventually get to a truthful answer! Dig deep my friends.

Now is the time for problem solving. It again should be done in a positive light, with emphasis being on how to improve for the next time. This can include issues such as:
Was my warm up effective?
Was I focused?
Were my actions decisive?
Was my strategy effective and did I implement is effectively?
Did I implement my chosen actions correctly from a technical perspective?
How was my timing?
Did I use distance, tempo effectively?
Was I able to set up my actions and read my opponents intentions?

Learning from our mistakes is the ideal antidote for a poor performance.
Learning our lessons is the first step, but implementing those needed changes, is the final and vital step. Developing solutions and incorporating these specific issues into our training program, in a methodical way will allow for the best outcomes. Do not fail to give proper attention to even the simplest problems, it is often simple problems, that are dismissed as unworthy of attention, that bring use down. You ability to adapt and learn faster then your opponent, is required if you’re to make progress. Better start now my friends.

coach Geoff

Groundhog day, the film


Groundhog Day, the 1993 film about a guy stuck in a time loop, where February 2 (Groundhog day) keeps repeating itself.

Bill Murray, the star, is doomed to relive that day, until such time as he learns his lessons,
making the most of the day he has been given, to finally allowed to move on with his life.

Fencing is often played out like this. We get to try to do the same thing, over and over, until such time as we get it right. One thing the movie teaches, is that simply doing the same thing, relying on old habits, failure to improve, will not let us “move on”. As much of our sport relies on muscle memory, and the ability to recognize patterns, this makes changing problematic. Still, we can utilize our
learned actions in new ways, with more thoughtful intent. This applies to coaches (me) and fencers alike, move forward, embrace positive change, eschew complacency
coach Geoff

(*yes, your right, the fencing Barbies has nothing to do with the topic, but hey, it’s a cool pic!)

Fitness and athleticism suggestions for fencing


The sport of fencing sees a wide divergence of fitness levels, sometimes to my surprise.

I see some fencers that exceed expectations despite rather average fitness. Perhaps these fencers are more skilled and have a smarter game. I suggest however, not to fall into the mindset that fitness and athleticism are not important regardless of how clever you may be. Having a good fitness base will allow for more options in your fencing. It allows you to take advantage of more opportunities as well as create opportunities. It is vital in long competitions, to be able to sustain our ability for explosive actions. Being fit can also reduce injury. Did I mention it makes you look good!

We have all done line drills with all the accompanying footwork. Is that enough? As tough as those workouts may or may not be, they are usually very fencing specific. This is good on one level, but can still leave the athlete needing further development. Some truth is found in the statement that “the best training for fencing is fencing” but is this optimal training? Each student is different of course, depending on physical traits, age and prior conditioning, as well as lifestyle. We need to develop, in my opinion, conditioning and coordination programs outside of the traditional fencing regimes.

The most common shortcomings I see in my students is cardiovascular, specifically anaerobic conditioning, core strength, balance, and lacking development of fast twitch muscles. Lets talk about the last observation first. From the laymen’s point of view, muscle cells can be referred to in two ways, fast and slow twitch. Fast twitch can be regarded as fast explosive power, slow twitch is endurance. Think sprinter vs marathon runner, anaerobic vs aerobic. Most of us have a balance between the two muscle types. The ratio of these muscle types is part of you genetic makeup, but you can develop those fast twitch muscles you do have (those most useful in fencing) with a thoughtful training program.

Plyometrics, interval training, and resistance training are all useful. Interval training can also addresses the issue of cardiovascular conditioning very effectively.
Core training is often neglected by fencers despite the known fact that is helps with power, speed and balance. I am a big fan of Pilates both for general strength training and stretching and is particularly effective in developing core strength. While some of this training can be incorporated into regular fencing classes, it can more effectively be targeted outside of class. Agility drills, and some cardio are usually addressed in class, but can be expanded beyond class time as well.

The ability to execute those actions you feel necessary, in a time frame needed to be effective, without the burden of physical limitations, is a wonderful and powerful thing

Keep your options open my friends.

coach Geoff

Fencing, recovery and reset

Fencing in Skirts Members of the fencing team cross foils, 1900
“My epee’s need repair, my body cords too. Most of all, I’m tired, I need repair” Have you heard that? Have you said that?

This time of year, for many, is the time when fatigue sets in. You have trained hard and competed harder. Competitions are farther apart, but more important. One aspect of training often neglected by fencers, is recovery. The term “recovery” is used in sports often, it is the time we rest and rebuild from both mental and physical strains resulting from hard training and competition. I also used the term “reset”, to define a similar time were we reevaluate our goals, strategy, training program, our agenda for the future.

Truth is, this can all be a distraction from our immediate goal of winning the next bout. At this time of year however, it is important to check were we stand and adjust to the current realities. In the physical sense, we should, at this point of the season, be fit. We now have two goals, to maintain fitness and keep our fencing skills sharp. To this end, I suggest training for shorter amounts of time but at greater intensity. Focused and specific skill work with fewer repetitions. This allows us to maintain form yet still allow for recovery time. It is important that we approach competitions well rested, to this end we should taper our training the week before an important competition. Again, we do this by reducing physical stress and training, just enough to keep our competitive edge.

Mentally, we may also be tired, being focused on only one thing, it takes its toll. Spend some time doing things you like, things that are fun. Spend some time with friends. Clear your plate of any unintended business to relieve the associated stress. Sleep, pay attention to your diet and any lingering health issues or injuries.

Mental training and visualization are important tools, in both skills accusation and recovery from injury . You can use visualization as one of your tools to minimize the effects of overtraining.

I hope you take the time to consider your current situation, and evaluate it with an eye on being in the best possible condition for the remaining season.

Keep the faith,

coach Geoff