How many times have you seen competitors get to the last few Direct Elimination (DE) rounds where they're hardly able to hold a weapon due to extreme fatigue? Not pretty is it?
I remember a ChicagoLand Open back in the seventies at which one of my good friends made it through all the pools (we didn't often do DEs back then) to the final pool of six. After many hours of fencing and some three dozen or more bouts, he just couldn't hold up his epee for more than a couple of seconds; he could hardly move on his feet; and his brain just wouldn't focus on the task at hand. Result: he finished sixth out of six in the pool, and just about collapsed after the fencing was over--unfortunate for a fencer who, under other circumstances, could probably have won more than half of those final pool bouts, if not all of them.
Since then, I've--all too often--watched my students and other fencers find themselves in similar situations after making it through several rounds of DEs.
WHAT FACTORS CONTRIBUTE TO BAD ENERGY MANAGEMENT?
Clearly, one of the more important aspects of fencing in competitions is how you manage your physical/mental energies. What factors contribute to "bad" energy management?
Obviously, poor physical conditioning is one factor. Another is inadequate hydration and "fueling" during long competitions. A third is incorrectly pacing yourself. Inevitably it's this latter factor that fencers don't think about. But it's no different for fencers than it is for runners. Pacing is critical.
WHAT CONTRIBUTES TO POOR PACING?
Two "compulsive" behaviors contribute to poor "pacing" and ultimately to bad energy management:
- The compulsion to push until the fifth point in a pool bout or the fifteenth point in a DE bout is scored.
- The compulsion to be aggressive right from the start of a competition and get each bout over as quickly as possible.
HOW TO BETTER PACE YOURSELF
First, realize that there's no reason to push the score until five or fifteen points is achieved. To win a bout, you only need to score more touches than your opponent.
Second, realize that consistently overly-aggressive fencing uses energy up fast--even if your conditioning is excellent, you can't expect to fence eight or more hours and still perform at your peak against the better opponents in the later DEs. Take a lesson from the cross-country runner, save something for the finish by pacing yourself.
Okay, if you buy what I've said up until now, the fundamental rule of good pacing is simply:
So, when you're up by one or more touches on an opponent, run the clock. Stall. Do "distance drills" to keep your opponent busy.
If you've been scoring mostly via "defensive counter-offense," make him come to you. Be patient and strike if he makes a mistake. If you've been scoring mostly via offense or "offensive counter-offense," push your opponent via the distance drill so that he thinks you're going to "attack"; but stay out of distance just enough so that he can't touch you easily. And, again, be patient, wait for him to make a mistake, then strike.
Only press aggressively if you're down; but only press until you're up by a point or more. Then go back to defensive or offensive counter-offense.
By doing just what's necessary to win each bout and by not pressing unless you have to, you'll conserve your energy better for use in later DE bouts where you'll need it most.
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