What Fencing is Actually About

What happens on a fencing strip? What is actually going on?

To understand the psychology of a superior fencer–the psychology you need if you are ever to become superior–you have to understand the essence of what all fencing is.

Fencing is about expressing dominance over another human being.

Footwork, bladework and tactics are all tools of expressing that dominance. Human beings are hierarchical creatures. In everything we do with other people, we take dominant or submissive roles. These roles can change depending on the context and the people involved.

One of the things that makes sport–particularly one-on-one sports–wonderful is that it gives people an immediate opportunity to challenge their hierarchical roles (within the context of the sport, of course*). It allows someone to transform himself from beta to alpha.

The ability to dominate another human being is the most important of the traits one needs to be successful in fencing. I know an extremely successful fencing organization where the students, in general, have very poor technique and footwork, but they understand at a very deep level the idea of dominating another person. (Of course, their best students also understand footwork and technique along with dominance–though few, if any, of them have a truly “world-class” understanding of the specifics of fencing. In spite of this, they have qualified fencers to the Olympics and have garnered many national medals.)

When you are fencing an opponent, you want him to feel your dominance. You want the referee to feel your dominance. You want all the coaches and spectators in the room to feel your dominance. Demonstrate it with your body language, your vocalization (don’t be afraid to yell even when the touch is simultaneous), and your actions. Execute your actions with authority. Move, think, and act like you are the most important person in the room–and, unquestionably, the most important person on the strip.

Some people might be offended by that attitude. That is almost always the result of defensiveness due to their own weakness (unless, of course, you’re actually being a serious dick–it’s important to calibrate your behavior; you can be alpha without being a dick). Do not let that alter the way you act or think. To do so would be to submit to someone else’s will. Do not be submissive.

Learn to believe that you are dominant and you will convince others of it.

Even at the highest levels of fencing, you can see bouts where one fencer suddenly cannot get any touches against his opponent. He has come to believe in his opponent’s dominance and his own submissiveness.

A great way to begin the process of learning dominance is to watch top fencers–dominant fencers–at competitions. Watch the way they behave. Model it.

To become a superior fencer, you must believe in–and demonstrate–your superiority.

* Interestingly, the success or failure of these challenges often plays out socially. Any savvy teenage girl can tell you that, generally, the best fencers are higher up the “fencing social ladder” at competitions and the weaker fencers are lower.