A true swordplay bout might be as binary as survivor and vanquished. However, in our modern times no bout is final and all provide an opportunity for practice and growth. Though winning can be thrilling, I recommend setting your sites on different targets for the best long-term success in becoming a master of these arts.
I encourage my students to not become winning-focused, especially early on in their practice. In the pursuit of a winning game it’s easy to discover mediocre techniques that will beat mediocre fencers. However these same techniques are often easily defeated by an experienced fencer and in many cases require un-learning before you can advance to a higher level of technique.
If you want to master your art you need to bring that into mind when you approach all of your training encounters. View each sparring match as an opportunity to challenge yourself to implement higher level technique and not just simply win.
“How you play the game” is significantly more vital at the foundational stages of your development than winning.
Create Environments for Success
Going into every fencing match and having your ass handed to you can be demoralizing, even if you’re focusing on your greater goals. Frustration and failure are essential to learning.
However, if you’re going to be experiencing them make sure the environment is the absolute most conducive environment for you to learn in. Going out into a match where you simply get hit in the head over and over again and have no idea what’s happening is not going to help you get better and there is no requirement to experience and endure it.
Use competitive exercises, tactical drills, and scaling speed sparring to create an environment that allows you to develop as a fighter but within a confine that helps you maintain a curious and joyful mind. If you’re fencing someone who is really good, then ask them to play with a subset of techniques or at a lower speed. It will be significantly more valuable for both of you.
Define Your Own Success Criteria
What you call a “win” is totally up to you. Come into every practice, competition and sparring session with your own goals.
Then, keep in mind that achieving a goal is not essential to long-term success. Simply having a goal helps you focus your training and take your mind away from winning and toward improvement. So set goals, aim for them, but don’t worry if you only get 50% of the way. Remember that 50% is infinitely more than 0%.
Mastery requires that you take personal ownership of your education. Learning how to do this will be the most valuable win you can have.