160904 Between Halt and Fence

What do you do between “Halt” and “Fence”?  Observation at a number of North American Cups shows that you have on average something in the range of 5 to 8 seconds between the command to stop fencing and the one to start.  Will you spend it wisely?  Or not so much?

The tendency is for fencers to scream, to “use your voice” to attempt to convince the referee that you should get the touch.  Or to celebrate in your opponent’s face (good sportsmanship that).  Or to relax the stress and vent the emotion.  Let’s look at that option for a second.  Fencing is an anerobic sport, meaning that the energy system used to power your fencing does not require breathing to function in the same way distance running, as an example, does.  A typical fencing action is executed inside of the normal resting respiration rate of 12 to 20 breaths per minute.  That lets some fencers complete an action without breathing.  However, even if you do practice breath control, an action such as an advance-lunge attack is typically a one breath proposition.   When the attack ends, and the referee calls halt, a priority is restoring normal oxygenation.  So we are going to expel even more air screaming, rather than getting a deep full breath to move air deep down into the lungs?  Maybe that makes physiological sense (I don’t see how), but screaming also increases stress, including your stress (which raises pulse rate, potentially reducing the fine motor control needed for accurate blade control), and the referee’s stress (just what you want, a stressed referee more likely to make mistakes unpredictably).  And it is difficult to think when you are screaming (try reading a line of a score sheet and totaling the indicators while screaming as a test).  So feel free to spend as much time as possible putting on a screaming show … or …

Use the time to tactical advantage.  Something happened during the phrase.  Figure out what it was.  Use the information the referee’s hand signals provide and your own understanding of the action.  Something happened – if you are going to get the next touch, you need to have a clear mind and figure out what that was.  Once you have that, your next problem is what you are going to do next – what is your plan for the next touch?  Every time the referee says “fence” and you don’t have a plan you become vulnerable, reactive, opportunistic, all of which give the opponent an advantage.   Then you need to get a full breath in and sit down ready to fence, because the referee will be ready to say “fence.”  Finally use your standard positive mantra for success in the next phrase.  Something happened in the last one … be prepared to either build on it or to take change the equation so that you will be successful this touch.  Practice this routine in every practice bout you fence, every ideomotoric bout you fence, and every competition bout you fence.  It takes time, but with time it will pay dividends.

By the way, there is nothing sillier than (1) screaming to influence the referee to give you the touch when there is one light, the other fencer’s one light, or (2) screaming to influence one light-one hit or two lights-two hits in epee.

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