Fencing bouts is part of any program to teach fencing or to prepare athletes for competition. Fencing a variety of partners of varying levels of ability provides opportunities to develop and carry out tactical plans, use time wisely, and apply specific techniques under realistic conditions. In many clubs bouts are fenced using electrical scoring systems. However, if your club fences a significant percentage of practice bouts dry (without electrical scoring), there are specific ways in which you can improve bouting as a training tool.
The biggest step is for fencers to realize that training bouts in the club are not their personal Olympics. Unlike competition, where winning each point is critical, practice bouts are fenced to improve performance. This requires a different mindset. Yes, you want to beat your opponent and maximize your training value, but you also want the opponent, your teammate, to maximize his training.
First, any hit should be immediately acknowledged. A dry hit that you feel may not cause the scoring machine to register a hit in competition. And a hit that feels like a slap may result in a hit. Although experienced fencers can tell most of the time, it is not an exact science. Either one means that a potential hit got through the defense. Let the fencer whose point arrived decline the hit if she feels it was too light, a slap, etc.
Second, don’t argue about right of way in foil or sabre. Have a team member referee. Even if all the referee does is call who makes the attack, your fencing now has to convince a third party, just like it does in the competitive bout. This steps up the speed of the bout and moves its rhythm closer to that of competition. Now you have to practice your drill for your use of the period between “halt” and “fence.”
You will find that steps 1 and 2 take you from 15 minutes to fight a bout down to 3 to 5, so you can fence more bouts during your practice time.
There are two important side benefits. Developing the ability to interpret the action from the referee’s position will help you understand what the opponent is doing when you are fencing. And some of those who serve as practice referees will develop as competent referees for competitions.
Third, if you are the stronger fencer, fencing weaker fencers is not a waste of time. You are serving as a training partner, so fence at a level that will stretch, but not overwhelm, your opponent. Use the bout to perform your actions more slowly with a greater concentration on perfect technique. Another alternative is to use the bout to practice a certain combination of technique, distance, and timing, making all of your attacks with a specific movement. If you are the weaker fencer, fencing against a stronger fencer will result in a loss, but it will also force you to speed up and focus your game to come as close as you can to the challenge presented by a more experienced fencer.
Fourth, fence, don’t socialize or rest or… The average pool of 6 fencers takes somewhere around 90 minutes to fence in foil or epee (shorter in sabre). During that pool you fence 5 bouts. If you work you can fence 12 to 20 dry bouts in the same time period (in one 2 hour period in my salle’s annual Fence ‘Til You Drop New Year’s Day event, the winner fenced 42 bouts). More repetitions and increased physical training are the result.
We fence in competition exactly the way we train in the lesson. So be a good training partner – maximize your training and your partner’s training by eliminating quibbling about who hit whom, using the bout to stretch your skills and those of your opponent, and fencing, fencing as much as you can. In the heyday of German international success their fencers were reported to be fighting 200 bouts a week. For the average fencer that is an impossible goal. But the more you fence, and the better you use the experience, the better fencer you will be.