The Competitive Pyramid – Workshop Overview


by Coach Chuck Alexander


Training Methodology – how you go about it, and the mind set.
Competitive training requirements – what level you want to be at, differing commitments at different levels.
Overview of physical fitness, footwork, blade work, tactics, and strategy and how they relate to being on the strip and getting the job done.

The goal of the workshop is primarily for you to gain ideas of what you can do and what you shouldn’t do on the strip, in terms of critical thinking. How many of you have gone on strip and said the coach told me to do this, and I’m thinking so much about what the coach said to do, that I get hit? There is a balance here; when competing, you must keep it simple, but when training you have to push the level of your capabilities.

I’m going to be talking about competitive fencing in standard pools and direct elimination. There are different goals between a five-touch bout and a 15-touch bout. Be aware of that because it is very important in terms of finishes. In actual competition, If you are in the top 32 you get national points, if you are 17th you get a lot more points. What does that have to do with the first round of pools? It is very important, because that is where your seeding comes from. If you are number one coming out of the pools and you are knocked out in the round of 32, you will be 17th. If you are the bottom of the list and are knocked out in the 32 round, you will be 32nd and your points will be much lower. It is important for your finish, and you should be concerned for that. From a competitive perspective, there is only one winner, and everyone else is a loser. You have to think like that if you want to win. There is only one winner. We are not talking about recreational fencing here, beating up on Chris, or having Hal beat up on me. We are talking about what you have to do to achieve competitive goals. My approach is competitive and not recreational.

Three things need to be worked on:

1) Hunger, Passion, Heart and Desire. That is your fuel, that is what drives you to do all this work. Fencing to be number one is a full time job, a four letter word, it is work. You can’t get there unless you have passion and desire. Your coach can’t kick you all the way to first place in the Olympics. You have to want that. You want to take from your coach as much as possible. You want to take from other fencers as much as possible. By the way, most breakthroughs are done by fencers. Coaches just notice it and use it.

2) Physical fitness, strength, speed, and coordination. That is a big piece of it too. If you aren’t physically fit, tactics and strategy become very narrow and very limited. As one gets older, one has to think smarter, and use the tools in one’s kit. If I were 25 and knew what I know now, I’d be fencing instead of giving lessons.

3) Mental discipline and training to control emotion and body. Mental discipline controls the bout, not the heart. Passion fuels and motivates you.

For every touch, every bout, every round, every meet, there is only one objective – to win the meet. We will talk about setting goals. At the end of the day you go into a meet to give it everything you’ve got, to win. You won’t have that if you don’t prepare at the club.

My competitive pyramid. At the bottom is physical fitness. If you are not physically fit it absolutely limits your tactics and strategy on the strip. It will give you endurance, strength, and the ability to get in and out, to sustain yourself for the full day. How many hours is a normal meet? Six to eight hours. What is the most important bout in the meet? The gold-medal bout. It happens at the end of the meet when you are tired. Physical fitness allows you to fence your best game at the end of the day when you need it the most. If you are going to fence to win, there are no prisoners. If you get to the final eight, you have to be ready to fence for first.

Footwork. Your ability to maintain and go to the distances you need. Fencing is a sport of centimeters. If you are off by a centimeter, too short or too long, you are not going to hit, or you will be hit because you are too close. If you have perfect distance control, you will have perfect blade work. It makes everything so much easier. How many times have you found yourself leaning deeply to make a touch? The lean should have been an advance.

Blade work and point control. If you have really good footwork and distance control you can be a world champion. You’ll be where they can’t hit you and you’ll be where you can hit them.

Tactics. Defined as having a plan (strategy) and tactics is how to execute the plan. An simple example is fencing someone fencing who is posting with a French handle, and may have three inches more reach than you have. You wouldn’t attack (the plan), but would make the opponent come to you, by pushing and getting away. There could be four or five ways to execute the tactics to support the strategy and you may use all. It could be a boring bout. You want to stay away from his longer reach and he may roll off your take. You want to be the counter attacker. Others may use different tactics if they are faster.

The competitive pyramid is divided into physical areas (physical fitness, footwork and blade work) and mental areas (tactics and strategy). When you are practicing, your coach will give you mechanical moves that will work. They have many elements. What distance are you at? Will you be fencing a French- or German-style opponent? One may want to beat the blade of a French-style opponent, then beat it again because it will come right back. You practice these things in the club, but you don’t want to think too much when competing. You won’t want to get far out of your comfort zone of what you can do. Use a trainer to help your physical fitness focus. Physical fitness starts at the finger tips and goes back. If you don’t have a strong hand, then the thumb and index finger aren’t going to work for you. You can work on building your hand and forearm up in terms of muscle.

Flexibility, speed, strength, coordination. We will be working on these. You can’t get to tactics and strategy unless you understand the underlying concepts. What is physically fit? It doesn’t mean you are in athletic shape. It means that you meet some standards. Like the President’s Council has a standard, and if you aren’t there, you are in no way an athlete. That is the starting point. You can do other than just weight train. You can weight train and cross train, which helps your coordination.

Physical Fitness Options

Running, weight training, cross training

Soccer, basketball, ultimate Frisbee

Speed drills (lines)

Sometimes you can’t get there with what you have. What do you do?

Seek your coach’s advice

What do you do to stay fit?

Plyometrics will not only increase strength and speed, it will increase your coordination. It will help you change when you need it. In a bout, you have to change your mechanical actions just slightly, or you lose control. You are limiting the tactics that you can apply to your strategy.

Your coach is there to support your goals, which you must have. If you don’t have goals, why are you working so hard on the strip? Why are you taking lessons? Goals also give you an end point to some project which allows you to take some down time so you don’t get burned out, too.

If you have a trainer and a coach and discipline, you have to figure out what you need in terms of being physically fit and to work on all the deficits you may have. A trainer will build you up symmetrically. Fencing is an asymmetrical sport. You don’t want all your physical conditioning to be on the strip. You need to go outside the club, and build yourself up equally across the board. It will also help you prevent injuries.


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