Practice bouts are a critical part of a complete and well-balanced training program, but just like footwork, bladework, lessons, and drills, bouting requires an intentional and diversified approach to yield maximal results.

The first big thing to mention is that trying to win every bout at practice and caring too much about practice bout results is a major reason why a lot of people get stuck at a certain level. Winning bouts should not be the only thing you try to do at practice.

Now, I’m not saying you should NEVER try to win practice bouts. You definitely should, and making those bouts as competition-authentic as you can is critical, but this is only one type of bouting out of many that should be a regular part of your training.

#1 PRACTICE BOUTS TO WIN

This is the most obvious type of bouting, one I’m sure you’re all doing at practice! But are you doing it right?  When you are bouting to win, make sure to put forth your maximum effort to mimic the competition environment of an actual tournament.

When I started fencing at the NY Fencers Club, the practice bouts were always extremely intense. Sometimes new people at practice would get upset and say “Hey its practice!” Those were usually the guys or gals who couldn’t take the intensity at tournaments. Bouting to win effectively requires getting to the intensity and focus of the situations you’ll have at tournaments so you’re more comfortable under that level of energy, intensity and competitiveness.

#2 FREE FENCING

This is bouting done without a score and for a specific amount of time. You generally want to keep free fencing to between 1-3minutes per opponent and then rotate if you have other training partners. You can utilize free fencing to work on moves, warm-up, and get in a lot of points without the pressure of winning/losing. Please note, you may want to have someone keep time and you should also keep an eye on your motivation. Free fencing for too long can sometimes lead to sloppy fencing and it is usually better to stop at that point then train in bad habits.

#3BOUTING AGAINST PARTICULAR TYPES OF OPPONENTS

In this type of bout, you’ve agreed with your partner that they are going to fence in a certain way to allow you time to practice against a certain style. It is up to you to figure out how to “solve” this opponent’s style. The key thing to remember here is that there is more than one approach to conquering an opponent. For an added layer of complexity, your opponent can agree to emphasize a certain aspect but you need to try to identify what they are doing as quickly as possible.

Here are some starting points for this type of bout:

  • Have your training partner attack aggressively the majority or all of the time so you can practice how you want to deal with this type of opponent.
  • Have your training partner not attack and favor defense most or all of time and practice how you want to deal with this type of strategy. (Please note: The defender can either use the whole strip or just do actions in the center and not use the strip or mix the two)
  • Have your opponent take a lot of risks or do the opposite where your opponent just tries to detect and score on your mistakes.

#4 BOUTING WITH A PARTICULAR EMPHASIS ON PARTS OF YOUR GAME

Bouting during practice is the right time to try out strategies you might not normally feel comfortable doing (yet) at a competition. You can focus on just attacking or just defending, on being very aggressive and/or being more passive and letting the game come to you.

Starting each bout by declaring a focus, even if it is just to yourself, can be very helpful to give each bout more intention.

#5EXPERIMENTATION BOUTING/TRYING NEW MOVES

If you’ve read our article on Designing Winning Fencing Moves then you know that at some point putting your moves to the test in a practice bouting situation is essential before giving it the ultimate test in competition.

In a bout where you try new moves, you shouldn’t do the same move over and over again. Rather, you should mix them in with your established moves. Ask yourself, does this new move make my other moves more effective? Less Effective? Etc. You should also try your move against a variety of opponents at different levels to see how it does. See if you can find trends for the type of opponent/level it works against.

#6 SITUATIONAL BOUTING

This is the type of fencing where you put yourself into particular bout scenarios.

Here are some examples:

  • Fencing with a big/small lead that you have to hold. i.e. You are up 13-10.
  • You are down by a certain score.
  • You fence a bout but you are at the end of the strip.
  • For Epee, you fence with priority or without priority in an overtime minute
  • There are A LOT of options here. Practicing scenarios you’ll find yourself in during competitions will help you get more familiar with what to do during each and will help you to have more of a plan and feel more comfortable when you end up in them!

#7 “NEXT POINT WINS” BOUTING

This could fall under the situation bouting category, but I think it bears special mention. Often times the difference between winning and losing comes down to 1 point. The score is 4-4 or 14-14 and you’ve got to pull it out. There are some people who have mastered the art of scoring that last point and like anything, you need to get comfortable in that situation.

See Columbia Coach Michael Aufrichtig’s TEDx talk on the topic:

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