Sport Training: Fencing Handwork Exercises

Exercises to improve handwork and point control in sport fencing. Tips on position and footwork.

Work and the office are common sources of stress for most people. Some of the stress factors may be out of your control, but you'll be surprised at how many factors you can actually influence.

Environmental factors:

One of the most common sources of workplace stress is your computer monitor, and some effects are so subtle you won't even realize it's annoying you. Turn your head slightly and look to a space beside your monitor. If you can see your monitor appear to flicker in your peripheral vision, your display is set to refresh too slowly. Many tech support people set monitors' refresh rate to 60 cycles a second; this is fast enough that the flicker is below most people's threshold of perception, but if you can see it out of the corner of your eye, it's perceptible enough to be a source of annoyance and can cause headaches and general irritability. You may be able to reset the refresh rate yourself in the computer's control panels under the 'display' icon; if not, ask your support staff to set it to 72 cycles a second.

Is your monitor positioned so that you can easily view your work without having to raise or lower your head? Have your workstation checked for ergonomics; continually having to crane into an uncomfortable position will make the calmest person cranky. Light glaring off your computer screen from a window or lamp is another source of computer stress; invest in a screen to reduce glare and eyestrain.

Do you work bathed in fluorescent lighting? Fluorescent lights also flicker at 60 cycles a second; if you are in a large bay of cubicles, you probably won't be able to escape the fluorescent glare. If you have your own office, turn off the overhead lights and use two standing floor lamps to illuminate your office, and desk lamps (incandescent bulbs, please) to light up your deskwork. Your coworkers may make sarcastic cracks about your 'cave', but will probably be drawn to sit and chat with you without understanding why they find your office so soothing. Make sure you don't allow them to eat up too much of your time and put you behind on your tasks - you don't want to trade one source of stress for another.

Visual clutter is a source of stress to many people, while others actually find a 'nest' of paperwork soothing. If your walls are cluttered with cartoons and yellow post-its about deadlines and phone calls to return, try clearing the walls and putting up a painting or poster. Greens and blues are soothing, reds and yellows are energizing. Nature scenes of gardens and forests are more soothing than mountains (psychologically cold) or deserts (psychologically dry).

Is your office constantly bombarded with audio clutter, also known as piped-in music? Handwork is essential to good form in fencing. Having good handwork can mean the difference between a scored hit and a parried attack. Below are a few training guidelines to help you to get your handwork and point control in check.

The first thing that you need to keep in mind when trying to improve your point control is that your weapon works basically as an extension of your hand. More importantly, though, it works as a lever, with your hand as the fulcrum. A small motion with your hand, or with simply your forefinger and your thumb can create a large movement with the tip of the blade.

As an example of this, stand with your weapon, facing a wall. Extend, placing the weapon tip on the wall as though you were attacking. Relax your arm, then repeat the extension. This time, however, move your thumb forward about half an inch, while moving your forefinger back about the same distance. The point of your weapon should have struck the wall a bit lower than before... possibly even as much as a foot, depending on exactly how far you moved your finger and thumb. See what a difference a little bit of movement can make?

This incredible transference of motion from your fingers to the weapon tip can cause a lot of problems if not kept in check. After all, every time you have to parry an attack, you're moving your fingers and hand... yet you're not supposed to move the tip away from your opponent.

To help train yourself in this respect, return once again to the wall. Come en guarde, with the point of your weapon touching the wall at around the point where you'd want it facing your opponent. Now, leaning in to it so as to keep pressure on the tip (and keeping it on the wall), move the rest of the blade as though you were parrying an attack to your back shoulder. Ideally, the point of your weapon should stay in about the same place; if it doesn't, you should move a little closer to the wall so as to put a little bit more pressure on it. Return to your ready position, and then repeat the parry several more times.

Once you have around 10 repetitions protecting your off shoulder, begin to practice other parts of your body. Do 10 repetitions for your weapon-arm shoulder, and then 10 for low attacks on both sides. (You may want to lower your arm slightly before placing the tip against the wall for those.)

After you've completed practice for all 4 of those zones, move away from the wall and try a few parries without the wall to aid you. You might already notice a bit more point control after that little bit of practice; keep at it as part of a regular training regimen, and you'll start to notice a lot more. Over time, you'll be able to parry attacks while rarely removing your weapon point from your opponent. But what about attacking? After all, having good hand and point control doesn't do much for you if your weapon misses whenever you attack specific points. Luckily, this is an easy item to tackle.

To work on attacking point control, you'll need 3 small paper plates (around the size used as desert plates, 3" or 4" in diameter) and something to hang them on. Nail or tape the plates to a wall, board, or other object at different heights. Stand back at lunging distance, make your attack, and aim for the highest plate. Keep attacking until you hit it, and then move on to the next plate. Once you've hit all 3 plates, return to the highest one. This time, don't move on until you've hit it twice. (For more practice, you might want to make it twice in a row.) Continue increasing the number of hits over time until you reach the point where you can hit 10 in a row; after that break out a marker and draw smaller and smaller circles on the plates so as to decrease the size of the target that you're aiming for.

With time and practice, these simple exercises can greatly improve your handwork and point control. Once you've mastered them, you might want to consider getting larger plates to lunge at, and drawing several small circles on each one; each circle is a different target. Number each circle, and then hit the circles in order; if you miss one, start over at one.

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