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The Benefits of Fencing — Body and Mind

People Fencing

Missag Hagop Parseghian

Fourteen meters is all you get. When facing your opponent, sword in hand, your combat area is only the length of a semi-trailer truck with no castle walls, theater balconies, or chandeliers for you to swing from. Perhaps a bit cramped compared to a football pitch or tennis court, an Englishman and Scot at Stirling Bridge or Persian and Armenian at Avarayr would have relished 14 meters between themselves at the height of the battle to wield unencumbered swords.

When teaching, I have often likened the continuous action between two fencers of parry, riposte, counter-parry, and riposte as a conversation in steel: what matters is who gets the last word. Fencers can develop strong mental skills like concentration, focus, determination, analytical thinking, goal-setting, and the ability to remain calm and composed under pressure. Physically, fencing is a very well-rounded sport that develops quickness, flexibility, coordination, strength, and cardiovascular conditioning. Because the sport requires a fair amount of physical exertion, fencing is a great way to improve general fitness.

Fencers often refer to their sport as physical chess. As a fencer, you need to continually plan moves and counter-moves, anticipate your opponents' moves, induce them to make the moves you want them to, and adjust to changing circumstances at a fast pace — just like chess. Simply stated, you observe your opponent and develop a strategy to use their habits and quirks against them.

But chess is only part of the analogy. Really, fencing is one-part chess and one-part poker. Fencing is just as much about the element of surprise as it is strategy. The "battlefield" is where you combine physical and psychological warfare in much the same way your ancestors did when facing each other in combat. In fencing, the goal is to get into your opponent's head: make your opponent do what you want them to do.

There's a benefit of being on the receiving end of those head games too. A unique aspect of fencing is learning ‘grace under pressure.' To execute your actions you have to tame your adrenaline and organize your thoughts to think clearly. One of the biggest benefits of fencing is that it teaches resilience, which is very important for kids to learn today. You can face hits mentally and physically. You can be utterly devastated by a loss, and sooner or later you'll have to fence that person again.

Kids who stick with the sport gain the ability to read others' body language. They also learn how to remain calm under stressful situations and to continue to strategize even if they are outmatched or made mistakes. They are able to grow from the loss and only get better. The thought that goes into each bout and the athleticism that goes into putting a plan into action creates a unique balance of mind and body.

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