Updated: Jul 19, 2020
Everybody wears a mask.
From a very young age we are all taught how to cover our feelings and desires in order to conform to societal norms. Frowns must be “turned upside down”. Clothing aligns with work or school dress codes. Our parents instill beliefs and rituals that often remain with us for a lifetime and we are expected in turn to pass them on to younger generations. This is how society is created and maintained, but sometimes that makes it hard to know who we truly are.
Isn’t it ironic then that a sport that requires the use of a mask helps us remove the symbolic, societal one and eventually reveal our real selves? And, even more ironically that it occurs only AFTER we allow ourselves to hide behind the mask until we feel safe enough to show ourselves?
It doesn’t happen overnight. Peeling off years of built-up protective walls and past attitudes takes time. Deciding who you want to become is difficult too. You try out different approaches as you delve deeper into our sport. You move from an uncertain, timid approach to one that is more confident. You look to others for cues at first, then transition to becoming one of the leaders. You decide to try a small yell or fist pump after a touch one day and revel in the sheer audacity of your confidence.
The relative anonymity of the mask makes all of this possible. Just like a method actor that immerses himself so completely in his role that he “becomes” that character, complete with different accent, posture, and attitude, you too can create a fencing persona for yourself. It is so freeing to be able to put on that mask and become anyone you want to be.
Think about that for a moment.
You can be whoever you want to be on the fencing strip.
The beauty of this individual sport is that you can invent a personality for yourself. It doesn’t affect anyone else’s performance but your own. If you are normally shy, you can choose to be an ultra-competitive, raging-internal-fire-win-at-all-costs kind of athlete. If you are a hot-headed person who often says the “wrong thing”, you can become a calmer, more patient version of yourself. If you lack direction in some areas of your life, you can become decisive on the fencing strip. Procrastinators can become impulsive. You get the idea.
And now for the reveal.
That “made up” personality isn’t made up at all. It’s who you really are.
Let me say that again.
The truest form of yourself is the person that you choose to be behind your fencing mask.
In the heat of battle, your real nature is revealed. Putting on a fencing mask allows you to become the person you were originally intended to be. There is no more pretense, only truth as you face your opponent. Our sport requires such split-second decision-making that it forces us to reveal little splinters of our personality, sometimes in spite of ourselves.
Think of your last tournament: Were you ferocious on strip? Timid? Belligerant? Were you gracious in defeat or unkind? Were you respectful to those around you? Were you rushing and scatterbrained or methodical in your bouts? That all says a lot about you.
Your fencing mask is helping you tell your story.
What do you want to say?