I recently received a letter from an adult who is fairly new to fencing. In it, this person described how they are struggling with the upset feelings provoked by our sport and how they feel they should be doing better than they are. In case a few of you might have had similar struggles in the past, are currently feeling this way, or are simply “asking for a friend”, this reply is for you.
Hello X, I have been pondering how to respond to you, most especially because I have had similar thoughts and feelings. When I first started fencing, I had never taken the risk of trying something that I wasn’t automatically good at before. As you know, there is a lot more failure in fencing than success. That was an extremely difficult concept for me to embrace.
I think as adults we have the special challenge of letting go all of our past insecurities and simply letting ourselves be beginners in something. By the time we reach our 40s and 50s we have seen and done and accomplished a lot and we’re not used to not knowing how to handle a situation.
Because fencing is an individual sport it holds a particularly harsh mirror up to our face and we don’t always like what we see. It reveals all of the little insecurities and walls that we have built up over the years. It’s hard to realize that we are not necessarily the people we thought we were. I was taught to always be happy and pleasant; fencing brought out the very emotions I had learned to suppress. That was extremely uncomfortable and I didn’t know how to deal with those “negative” emotions. For about five years I too was always angry and disappointed after a competition. I blamed the referees for bad calls, the lack of sleep I had had the night before, the fact I had no teammates to warm up with…
Then one day I realized how hard I was being on myself and how that was taking away the joy and the fun in our sport. My job was difficult enough and I sure as hell didn’t need to spend my nights and weekends totally stressed out. It wasn’t ever a question of quitting fencing so that I could go back to being the fake-happy me. Deep down I really loved it and what it was doing for me personally.
Eventually I learned to simply be kind to myself, to let myself make mistakes and learn from them, and to have fun, dammit.
And I stopped blaming other people, the hotel bed, the lack of good coffee, the travel. I accepted that my body wasn’t ready yet to do the things I wanted to do. In my mind I knew exactly the right moves. But I wasn’t physically able to perform them.
So I focused instead on the things I could control. I went to the gym. I began to run and ride my bike. I quit my stressful job.
Slowly, eventually, things got better.
Please keep in mind how much you love fencing as you work through all these feelings. Be kind to yourself and talk to yourself the way you would talk to a friend. Recognize that you are still a beginner and will be for a while because this sport takes a long time to master. Take small steps to improve. Control what you can and let the other stuff go.
Let yourself feel the “negative” emotions too and learn to deal with them. Keeping them bottled up will make you angrier because you’ll be locking up a part of the truth you’re trying to share with yourself. Fencing can be therapeutic but not always in the kindest sense as it literally hits us upside the head with our failures and mistakes.
Hang in there. You’re doing something really good for yourself. The process will take a while but it’ll be worth it.
Yours in fencing,