Strategies for the Middle-Aged Fencer

My opponent and I circle, just out of measure. We adopt various counter guards based on what we see in each other’s posture and perceived intent. The moment comes, and my opponent launches a thrust to my mask. I was waiting for this, I can see it coming, but my body can’t move as fast as my mind wants it to and my counter is just a split second too late. 

There are a number of factors that contribute to the outcome described above. My opponent is faster, has better form, and has a better feel for measure than I do. All of these things I can work on and improve, perhaps close the gap with practice and drilling. One more thing of relevance; my opponent is 23 and I am 44. Ugh. 

There are plenty of younger fencers out there that I can fence with confidence given my experience and skill level. The problem is when I am fighting someone of similar knowledge and skill where the separation of performance will rely more on other attributes of fencing such as speed and reaction time. As you age, these aspects of your body decline. This is why you don’t see many athletes in their 40s competing against 20 and 30 year olds at the highest levels. 

Historical accounts have many examples of fighters maintaining their mastery into advanced age, Donald McBane and Thomas Monstery come to mind. How did they do it? Is there a level where form, knowledge, and strategy can surpass speed against other skilled swordsmen/swordswomen? 

I don’t have the answers, but will share what I have been doing so far to try and level the playing field with my younger sparring partners:

  • Adopt more defensive guards that make you less vulnerable to speedy Vor attacks. Sit back and let them get frustrated against your defense, then attack when you see an opening.
  • Watch for tells in your opponent to give an edge in reaction time. Ironically, this tends to work better against more knowledgeable fencers as their actions tend to be more predictable. For example, if in Pflug, then a skilled opponent is more likely to throw a Schilhau, the master-cut counter to Pflug. If I you can anticipate when they are about to throw their attack through a twitch in their shoulders or a tensing of their hands, you may be able to guess their action and try and get in front of it. 
  • I use a lighter feder to help me move quicker, in my case the Short Regenyei Feder
  • Feints and pattern manipulation. If you can’t beat their body, use their mind against them. 

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