This week we hold the 2017 Salle Championships. We are devoting one weapon class for each weapon to this event: Monday for Foil, Thursday for Sabre, Epee, One Touch Epee. These events are intended for the regular participants in those classes, and for our competitors who actively fence those weapons. We plan to run our Lancet Epee (open to all comers) and Musketeer Epee on the following Sunday.
So why do we fence a Salle Championships? It isn’t the Division Championships, which is often poorly attended. It isn’t the Sectional Championships, Sections don’t exist anymore. It isn’t the National or Pan American or World Championships. But it is our Championships, with a history stretching back to 2005.
The obvious purpose of competitions, including championships, is to test yourself against other fencers, determine how your technical, tactical, and operational art skills match up against theirs. The less important purpose is to determine who is the best fencer on a given day in a specific place.
But like many other things in fencing, the obvious purpose is not the most important purpose. The Salle runs 6 competitions a year for its members, both our competitive fencers who fence in USA Fencing tournaments and our recreational fencers who do not fence outside the Salle. We do this for three reasons:
(1) Training in how competitions run. If you do not understand how you are seeded out of the pools and the impact that has on who you will fence in the direct elimination and on your final placing, you are at a substantial disadvantage. If you can’t read a score sheet you can’t find errors that will cost you places in seeding. If you don’t know which end of the strip to go to … and the list goes on. This is obviously important for competitors. But recreational fencers in the Salle also go to tournaments, serve a strip coaches, and enjoy the fencing. Knowing how a tournament works is obviously necessary of you at going to strip coach, but it is equally important as an educated consumer of fencing as a spectator.
(2) Training in the application of operational art. If you do not fence pools and entire competitions, it is very difficult to plan how to win the pool, with the direct elimination, and make those two things happen. Fencing is inherently competitive, whether you fence recreationally or as an international elite competitor. To be successful beyond winning the single touch, you have to practice the entire system.
(3) To learn and grow as a fencer. If you fence a bout and learn nothing the score is unimportant – you have lost, been defeated. If you fence a competition, win every bout 5 to 0, and are crowned Champion of the Americas (a very old title from the late 1800s) and learn nothing, you have been a complete failure. Fencing is about learning. To be a good fencer you must learn from every bout. To be a great fencer you must learn from every touch. And you want to learn from opponents who are trying to fence their best game, not just working on specific techniques with you as a practice partner in drills or in practice pools.
That almost sounds like a “everyone gets a trophy” statement. You are a loser, but if you learned something, you are still a loser. And thinking that way is a sign of both colossal stupidity and stupefying immaturity. Fencing is a sport for the long haul. You will lose far more bouts than you win in a competitive career, no matter how good you think you are, if you have the courage to test yourself against better fencers. There is always an opponent who is faster, stronger, longer, with better technique, tactics, operational art, and strategy, and way smarter about the sport than you are. There is always a fencer who is not as good as you are, technically or tactically, who on the day fences a better game. There is always a fencer whose technique is awful, but whose awfulness you can’t solve on the day. Do your job – learn to be better.
So bring your A game to this week’s series of competitions. Plan how to win each bout; after all you know all of the participants, what they do and how they do it. Plan how to win the competition. Fight hard, use the tools you have been taught, and win by learning.