Competition Nerves: the Final Battle

Epee competitionby Victoria Pritchard:

It’s your first competition. There are lots of fencers milling around, warming up or having practice fights, and you feel like the new kid on the block. Was that toast you had for breakfast or butterflies?

Nerves can help us win fights by releasing adrenalin, but all too often they ruin our concentration and lose us hits. The guilty culprits: our minds. If you find negative thoughts overwhelm you, or start wondering why you ever thought you were good at fencing, try the techniques below to build up your mental fitness, beat the nerves and get into the competition ‘zone’.

1. Keep Your Concentration

a) Come up with a fixed routine to follow when you arrive. This might include a set warm up, followed by a lesson from your coach and/or a practice bout with a fellow competitor (make sure you spot their favourite moves in case you have to fence them!). This will relax any muscle tension, and get you into fencing mode.

b) Do you get distracted during a bout? Maybe your entire family has turned up to watch, or people are cheering your opponent? If so, you can use ‘trigger words’ to stop the nerves and keep focused. For example, if you usually rush in to attack, think ‘distance’. If you’re prone to London-eye-sized circular parries, think ‘small’. By concentrating on how to achieve the hits, you’ll be half way to winning them.

2. Stay Confident

a) Arrive at the competition with a plan of attacks to use against your opponent. If you’re really dedicated, you can think up attacks your opponent might make, and how you would combat them. Just knowing that you have a few fencing aces up your sleeve will increase your self-esteem, reduce nerves, and turn you from a target dummy into a prize fighter.

b) Don’t put yourself down. If you find your mind brimming with negative thoughts while you’re waiting to fence (‘He’s better than me’; ‘I’m useless’), imagine a red stop sign. Then replace the sign and negative thought with a positive one (‘I can beat this one’ , ‘I’m going to prove just how good I am’).

Having confidence in your ability means you’re more likely to win hits.

3. Keep Your Emotional Control

a) If you tense up when you’re nervous, try some breathing exercises to make you relax. Inhale slowly, counting to eight (slow) seconds, hold for four, and then exhale, again for eight seconds. Repeat this as often as you need to. Beware of overdoing it – you need to be geared up for the fight of your life, not half-asleep!

Most fencers spend hours practising their technique and building up physical fitness, but they forget that mental fitness is just as important. Learning to deal with nerves can make the vital difference between losing a bout and winning it. So take a few minutes after every training session to get your mind into shape. A tough mind means a tough fencer. Your opponents want to intimidate you; resist them and the battle is half-won.

Oh, yes: don’t look at the box!

The Secret Thrust…

Le Bossu 1997 Film PosterThe fact and fiction of the attack that never fails

by Robin Catling:

Duelling became the pre­occupation of many swordsmen in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Fencing masters of the many academies published complex manuals of fencing technique, most hinting vaguely at the master’s knowledge of a “botte secrète”, or secret thrust a special attack which could not be parried, guaranteed of absolute success every time.

In the 1997 movie Le Bossu (“the Hunchback”), the secret thrust becomes a central plot device. In the movie, Danielle Auteuil plays an ambitious chancer and man­ servant to an arrogant nobleman – the Duke of Nevers. The Duke’s skill with a sword saves him from ongoing assassination attempts by his villainous half­-brother. After one such attempt, the Duke teaches Auteuil the secret thrust. It is a complex disarming move which relies on the element of surprise and on the opponent being completely predictable.

When the Duke is killed, Auteuil rescues his baby daughter and goes into hiding for sixteen years.

Attacked by brigands, Auteuil teaches the girl the Nevers secret thrust, which exposes her identity when she kills a corrupt nobleman. The hunt resumes, Auteuil strikes back, disguised as the hunchback of the title, despatching each of the assassins using the Nevers secret thrust.

As a signature move it is bold, complex and outrageous. Against a straight thrust:

  • parry in seventh (expect a riposte from seventh)
  • envelope in quarte
  • beat to forearm (which forces the opponent to withdraw their bent arm)
  • take the blade as you change guard
  • close in with a passing step
  • disarm the opponent
  • thrust to the forehead

In real life, however, things are rarely so predictable. The physical style of fencing, the technique of a particular school and the conditions of the fight – each can dramatically alter the reactions of  the opponent so as to render the secret thrust a dangerous liability.

Michael York almost gets himself  killed using the D’Artangnan family’s secret thrust in the 1974 Three Musketeers. This is why a keen beginner can score hits against an international ranking  fencer and why actual duels could quickly degenerate into brawls when each fencer’s carefully drilled tactical plan fell apart at the first exchange.

Of course, no secret thrust ever stayed secret for long as fencing masters devised counter­measures.

As   always, there is no substitute for hard work, sound technique and practice!

What we offer – fencing

Fencing at Ampfield ( photo: Janet Turner)

Sports fencing as seen in the Olympics remains a popular draw outside of mainstream ball-and-ball sports.

West Devon Swords is fully insured with British Fencing and has two qualified coaches in the three sporting weapons – foil, epee and sabre.

We can provide safety kit in metal and plastic fencing for both adults and children.

Dartington Comunity Day May 2014Our offer for sports fencing includes:

  • beginners’ courses – single weapon and tasters, 4, 5 and six week blocks
  • taster sessions
  • demonstrations and displays
  • taster sessions
  • fund-raisers
  • corporate events
  • safe ‘Go-fence’ sessions with the plastic mini-fence equipment.


Epée – the spirit of the duel

Baz epee shoulder flick - wikimedia commons_400_225by Robin Catling:

The epée (pronounced “ep-pay” – literally meaning “sword” in French) is the descendant of the duelling weapons such as rapier, side-sword and court sword. Heavier than the foil, weighing approximately 27 ounces, the epée has a stiffer, thicker blade with a triangular cross-section, and a larger guard. What gives epée fencing it’s character is the unrestricted target and the absence of ‘priority’ rules. …

Physical Conditioning for Fencing by Matt Kearns

Childrens' fitnessNotes from the conditioning session given by Matt Kearns of Solent University at Lymington Walhampton Fencing Club in April.

Muscular tightness restricts your body’s ability to move. Identify where you may be tight!

If you find muscles that are tight then consider performing specific static stretches to lengthen them. These can be done multiple times daily. …

Why fencing?

Baz epee shoulder flick - wikimedia commons_400_225If team sports, bat, ball and racquet are not your thing, the antidote is fencing. Modern-day duelling in a competitive sport:

  • a physical game of chess
  • a science
  • an art where nerve and mental agility count more than strength…

Hear a brief radio interview describing the sport and our previous club:




A modern sport at all levels, participation will develop:

  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Balance
  • Agility
  • Respiration
  • Mental agility and tactical thinking

Fencing provides good physical exercise, employing practically every muscle and totally absorbing the mind.

The need for coordination, concentration, self-discipline and control of the emotions makes fencing especially beneficial to young people as an education for life.

The social aspects of the sport should never be disregarded; it is equally appealing to men and women and to all ages and abilities.

Technique over brute force

From the duelling age where skill and finesse counted as highly as deadly intent, the modern sport is about technique rather than sheer strength. There is no need to hack off your opponent’s limbs, and with proper training anyone can learn to fence without causing injury. It makes fencing one of the few sports where men and women can compete on equal terms!

Find out about the rules of sports fencing: how bouts are fenced.

Safety first!

Modern fencing has an impressive record, with far fewer injuries than most other sports, attributable to:

  • Mandatory safety equipment
  • Strong regulation and governing bodies
    (in Britain it is British Fencing, part of the FIE – Fédération Internationale d’Escrime)
  • A high standard of qualified coaches.

In defence of the sport’s excellent safety record, there is a set of standards for fencing equipment, in both make and materials.

Any authorised fencing club should be able to lend beginners the full set of protective gear; namely, a jacket, glove and mask.

• See our approach to safety

Ancient art – modern sport

Weapons - foil, epee, sabreThree weapons are used in today’s fencing, each derived from its more lethal ancestor.

  • The foil – a light, flexible weapon, based on the smallsword. Only hits with the point can be scored. The target area is the trunk of the body.
  • The épée – a stiffer, heavier blade – a direct descendant of the duelling rapier. Again, only point hits are valid, but the whole body is the target.
  • The sabre – a lighter, flexible version of the cavalry sword. Hits may be scored using edge cuts or point thrusts. The valid target for sabre is everything above the waist.

From ‘steam’ to electric!

In training and in practice bouts, fencers are relied upon to concede the hits they have against them. In competition, where more impartial judgement is required, additional equipment is needed.
In competition, fencers wear bodywires which enable hits to register automatically on an electronic box. This shows a coloured light and sounds a buzzer indicating which fencer has taken the hit.

• Find our more about the history of fencing