Fencing Lessons – The Warm Up Lesson

The Warm Up Lesson brings the student to the peak of readiness for combat at either the start of competition or at successive points within a competition when an extended break in  fencing  activity has occurred (for example, between the pool and direct elimination rounds). The warm up lesson is tailored to the individual needs of the fencer and may address physical, technical, psychological, or tactical readiness or any combination of these factors.

Generally the optimum length for a warm up lesson is 10-15 minutes, delivered before the start of the pool round and direct elimination bouts. However, this may be adjusted based on the flow of the competition. Well managed large competitions normally have only a minimal delay between the pool and direct elimination rounds, and very little delay between individual direct elimination bouts.

In general, the warm up lesson should focus on preparing actions the fencer knows well and can use effectively in competition. This is not the time to try to teach the fencer new techniques. However, it also may be important to use the warm up to prepare tactics and techniques for a specific known opponent or to regain confidence in an action with which the fencer has had difficulty in a previous bout.

Because warm up lessons address a variety of factors, the content of the lesson must address the specific need, but at the same time it cannot inhibit those components of readiness which it does not address. The warm up lesson has to address:

(1) Confidence building – the warm up should build the fencer’s confidence in his or her ability to win. The Master should do nothing to cause the fencer to lose confidence in the ability to execute actions on the piste. Actions presented should be ones the fencer knows and is likely to be able to execute under combat conditions. Imperfect performance should be guided to better performance, not chastised. The Master must focus on pulling the best performance out of the student. This requires movement from simple to complex, slow to fast, easy to difficult. If a student makes a mistake or is unable to perform a movement quickly enough, the Master must immediately adjust to a level at which the student can perform. Success by the fencer is critical to confidence in techniques and tactics.

(2) Management of excitation – some fencers become overly excited, whether physically or psychologically, in preparation for competition. The highly excited fencer may have difficulty concentrating on the tactical problem of the bout. The physically overly excited student may actually lose fine motor control and have difficulties such as locking up the arm, over-lunging, or being unable to recover to guard. These fencers pose a difficult problem because the lesson must simultaneously reduce stress and increase performance. In this case it may help to do the warm up at a slower than normal pace, with an emphasis on relaxed, controlled movement. On the other hand, some fencers may be too calm and may require a warm-up that increases the level of excitation.

(3) No new material – a warm up lesson is not a teaching lesson. The Master should be preparing the fencer to execute actions which the fencer has already mastered, not introducing new actions in which the fencer will not have sufficient time to gain proficiency.

(4) Endurance – the warm up should not reduce the overall energy reserves of the fencer so that he or she will fade in the midst of the competition. Fencers who are in relatively poor physical condition should not be challenged at a level that will expend their capability before the  fencing  starts. On the other hand, highly conditioned fencers should be worked to activate that level of conditioning in the context of their best game.

(5) Phase of competition – warm up lessons at a competition are not single events, but rather a continuum of lessons delivered prior to the pool round and subsequently during breaks and delays. Each warm up lesson expends some energy, and therefore they must be managed so as to not expend energy needed for combat in the bouts. The initial warm up prepares the fencer to the level needed to gain the desired placing from the pool round. Subsequent warm ups may have to deal with the excitation and crash cycle inherent in pool to direct elimination transitions, especially in poorly managed competitions or those with long delays because of inadequate numbers of strips and officials.

Although the technical and training lessons typically receive more attention, the warm up lesson may actually be the most difficult lesson to give. The Master must balance the state of the competition, the fencer’s physical and psychological readiness, and the need for immediate result to send the fencer out on the strip with the right level of fighting spirit to gain victories. The warm up lesson becomes the culmination of all the lessons taught, and the Master must make that culmination a success.