“Bout plan … I don’t need no stinking bout plan” (with apologies to the Bandidos in the classic Western Blazing Saddles). But actually you do. And you need one for competition bouts and one for practice bouts.
The core of any plan, military operations plans, disaster plans, business plans, etc., is an objective. Another way to think of this is what is the outcome you want? If you don’t have a plan, then any outcome is a good outcome. That means that 0-5 is every bit as good as 5-0. But isn’t our objective always to win? After all, aren’t we are supposed to fence bout to the best of our ability in an open and honest way? When direct elimination came in as the second phase of events, the good old days of throwing bouts and combines went away, didn’t it? Mostly, although within the last decade I have seen a fencer throw a bout to a fellow team member so that she could earn a higher classification to impact seeding in an upcoming team competition.
But winning is not the only objective. For example, if you injure your ankle in the final bout of a pool in which you have won all of your bouts so far, your objective may be to complete the bout with no further damage so that you can withdraw between the pools and the direct elimination, preserving your earned placement. Your objective may be not only to win but to maximize your indicators and depress opponent’s indicators, the first to improve your seeding and the second to help other team members in different pools. Your objective may be to conserve energy in a bout that you know you are highly likely to loose so that you will be better positioned to win the next one which you have a chance of winning, etc., etc., etc.
Objectives in practice bouts may be very different. Your objective may be to work on one tactic, creating the conditions for its employment, and achieving the distance, tempo, psychological conditions, and preparation needed for success. Your objective may be to work on specific techniques for a future tournament or that you have not used for some time. Your objective may be to help a less experienced team member achieve readiness and confidence for an upcoming event (translation, to push enough that he works hard without your deliberately defeating actions that are well executed).
An honest assessment is the next step, of your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses and of your own. This analysis will highlight your opportunities and the threats you face. Do not overestimate the opponent’s capabilities, but at the same time do not be overconfident. A lot can happen between tournaments to change the calculus.
Then apply your tactical doctrine to the assessment. Will you be offensive, defensive, or counteroffensive? Where will you fence on the strip? How will you use time and distance? How will you progress and change to take advantage of the opponent’s skills and tactics?
Finally identify how you will try to get your first touch, perhaps even your first three touches. Be specific. You are essentially programming your brain to fight the bout according to your plan.
Remember that unless your opponent is completely outclassed, few plans survive first contact with the opponent. The plan gets you started down the strip for the first touch. After that your drill between halt and fence takes over, constantly refining the plan to meet the situation in the bout to achieve your objectives. This takes practice, lots of it, with just as much work as working on your footwork or on blade technique takes. Your mind is just as much part of your game as what you do with your body is. So practice, practice, practice.