Updated: Jul 20, 2020
Photo from the Fencing Coach
There are fencers that yell. And there are fencers that don’t. Both choose their camp for personal reasons and that’s ok. They can also change sides, and that’s ok too.
I started out as a non-yeller and silently made my way through tournaments for about the first five years of my fencing career. Then one day, I decided to give it a try and yell after a few good touches. They were pathetic, sickly yells. More like mews rather than roars. It was embarrassing to call attention to myself, an introvert used to hiding in the middle of the school choir or hanging out with the pets at a party rather than talking to people.
But, as with anything else in fencing, they got better as I practiced. I started having a better “strip presence” as I grew accustomed to voicing my confidence. Now I imagine that I sound like a mighty lioness as I proclaim my belief in having earned a touch. It’s fun. I like it. It’s now part of my game.
Yelling does three things for me: it boosts my confidence, it helps me win the mental game on strip, and it helps with the theatrical aspect of the game. A few well-placed yells can help you demonstrate that a) yes, that WAS your touch and b) you DESERVE to be awarded the point. There are theatrics in fencing–especially sabre–and your yell can help you have the body language that you need to carry you to success.
There is a point, however, when yelling goes too far. Indiscriminate use of it–such as shrieking after every touch in the hopes that the referee will magically award you the touch every time–can be detrimental on strip. You’ll be ignored if you do it too much. Unless you are the person with the really high-pitched yell. We can’t tune that out, unfortunately 😉
Some fencers use their yell to get in their opponent’s face and browbeat them into submission. I’ve seen it happen multiple times, both in person and on video. There are those who say that a long yell is a sign of passion and that the theatrics involved are necessary to maintain mental focus and to perform at the highest level. I disagree. This is, after all, a “gentleman’s sport”, full of rules and traditions that keep it civilized.
So what is excessive yelling? To me, it’s having to take a breath in between yells so that you can continue your celebration. It’s turning toward your opponent as you do it so they can receive the full blast. It’s posturing and puffing out your chest, yelling for so long that a referee needs to call the fencer back to en garde several times. To me, that’s rude behavior and should not be allowed in competition at any level.
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