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Fencing and History Nut Extraordinaire. While I am tending toward 16th century at the moment, I am and have been interested in history for a long time. Hence the fencing focuses more on the Renaissance period than the modern. This explains two out of three of my blogs. The third is a more personal one focusing on fibromyalgia. What I write in these blogs, I hope will be of use to people.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Disability Aspects in Fencing


Disability is a subject which comes up with regard to fencing on a semi-infrequent basis. This is mainly due to the highly physical nature of fencing that it is often assumed that the participants are in a high degree of health. However, it is an important aspect which must be considered. This blog will address various aspects with regard to fencing and disability and some of how the less able fencer is able to compete in fencing and also enjoy the experience of fencing itself despite a physical infirmity.

One of the most trying things for a fencer is becoming somehow less able than before. This can occur due to a great deal of reasons, injury, sickness and operations being the most common reasons. What can happen here is that a fencer may be reduced in capacity to operate. The most important thing is that this is not the end. In a lot of cases it is possible to get back to where you were.

The first question that will be asked by the reader of this blog is what sort of authority is the author speaking from and how would they know what is going on in this situation. From my own point of view, I have a medical condition called Fibromyalgia (FM), which is closely related to both arthritis and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). I suffer from joint pain and immobility as part of my condition and I would be lying if I said that this does not affect my fencing. From this point of view it is of interest to me to give people some ideas about how I deal with a lack of mobility. What is also important about this article is that I am not a qualified Occupational Therapist or other heath care professional, though some of the ideas that I will present do come from people with such qualifications. Hopefully this may give you some ideas about how you can get back to fencing or in some cases start fencing in the first place.

With regards to fencing literature which has been published and the great advances made towards the various aspects of disability with regard to fencing, there has been a great deal of focus on the lack of mobility on the part of some fencers and how they can still compete. To this end wheelchair fencing was developed for use in sport fencing and this appears in the Paralympics (http://www.paralympic.org/release/Summer_Sports/Wheelchair_Fencing/). There has been, however somewhat of a lack of any sort of address with regard to other aspects which may affect fencers, or potential fencers. These particular aspects need to be taken into account as there are many different ways to assist an individual with a physical infirmity of various kinds in order to get them fencing. In all cases, this will work on the same sorts of principles. It is important to realise that there are many disability aspects that can be worked around with the right approach.

The first part of the process of getting back to fencing, or starting fencing, is deciding to do it in the first place. This needs to be a firm decision on the part of the person as it will require effort on their part, in much the same way as the first, and following lessons, took effort, or will take effort. What you must understand, is that it is not necessary to have a sword in your hand from the start, there are much more gentle ways to start. One of the easiest ways is to watch others fence and see what you can see. This establishes the mind-game of fencing in its initial phase. See what comes back to you as you are watching. You may be surprised what you can see and actually remember. This is especially the case for those who have not fenced in a while.

The next part of the process is to actually think about fencing. From the movement of the sword, to the movement of the feet, all are important. This is all about reading the opponent, something that all fencers should do anyway. The actual thought processes of going through this are just as important as doing the actions. Find a notebook and write your thoughts down. Think of ways to practice and improve without requiring actual practice. It is the next part of the process, which takes the real effort.

The most important part of the physical part of fencing is looking at it from an Occupational Therapy point of view. It is important to focus on those things that you can do with regard to fencing rather than focusing on those things that you cannont do. This requires you to focus on the positive aspects with regard to the process. This mental aspect of the process is of a great deal of importance as it is this sort of motivation that will assist you to get past hurdles that will be placed in your path. Examine the physical parts of fencing and see what you can and cannot do, and also ways that you can assist yourself to attempt those things that you may not be able to do. Find out about how you can help yourself through the use of various aids and also exercises. One example of an aid for those with problems with weak wrists is the wrist strap, or martingale (http://fencing.net/about/rules/using-the-wrist-strap-or-martingale.html). All of these things will help you increase your capacity to fence.

The first part of the physical element of fencing and returning to it is to understand your own limits. It is important that you are able to start within these limits, but also to stay active within your own capacity. You must increase this capacity to do things steadily but slowly. Rushing the process will only hurt more and get you less. In the beginning it is best to rest frequently and to stop before you are too tired and/or sore. This sounds like a bit of a cop out but this is not the case. If you keep going until you are unable to move you will have a harder time getting back into it later.

With regard to work and rest, both are important. Work increases your capacity, but rest is essential to give your body time to recover to be able to do more. This is especially the case during the times of activity. You must rest before becoming exhausted, short breaks are important during activity. Short breaks during the activity will actually enable you to do more than attempting to push through.

With regard to your capacity it is important to be able to both test your limits and also increase them, but not at the expense of doing damage to yourself. Pain is the best indicator in the world about when you should stop. Ignoring this cue will lead to your detriment, but having a fear of pain will also limit you. In this you need to have a balance in your regard for pain. Somewhere between fear and disregard, there is respect and this is where the balance is found. If you become afraid of pain you will stagnate and will not improve, but also if you disregard pain you will cause yourself damage.

Fear -> Respect <- Disregard

It is important that you exercise to fatigue but before pain occurs. This is how the occupational therapists say it. You must consider the overall effect of what you are doing. Only by attempting more is it possible to increase your fitness, but this must be done through exercise and not pain. In my case I would say that you should be aiming to increase your capacity by a factor of about 5% and no more. Once the 5% has been achieved, stop. You should only push yourself to this point and not further. This way you will increase your ability bit by bit without the threat of doing damage to yourself.

Stress is important. Some things are more stressful than others and some things will stress your joints and other affect portions more than others. Do those, which exercise but do not stress your joints or other affected parts of the body. If something becomes too stressful stop, here it is important to know your own limits. It is necessary to stress the joint or other part of your body a little but not too much. Relaxation is also an important part of the process. This is vital for removing stress. What is also important is that you take as much time as you need to. There is no need to rush, it is better that you proceed slowly and steadily.

You need to consider what you can do that is within your capacity that will gradually increase your ability to fence. In the case of a person with a mobility issue this could include fencing from a chair. For a fencer with a problem with the ability to hold a weapon due to weight, it could be the use of a lighter weapon or using a wrist strap in order to reduce the stress and weight of the weapon. For a fencer with cardio-vascular issues this may be to slowly increase their ability to fence by increasing fitness over a period of time through an increase in fitness. These are just some suggestions that the fencer can think about. There are many others that can be used to deal with different problems. For those fencers with joint issues, you should do exercises that will build muscle around the affected joint. This increase in muscle will help to support the joint and enable you to do more. This is best achieved through the use of low impact exercises so that the muscles are being worked, but the joint is not being stressed

It is important that the fencer also discuss with their health care professional about their decision to go back to fencing. They ask about what things they can do in order to increase their capacity to fence. The fencer should heed this advice in order that they do not cause themselves more issues by going back and fencing too early. It is important that the fencer consider that their health to be the highest priority in all considerations. You should also discuss your decision to go back to fencing, or start fencing with your trainer. Talk with them and see what they can do to help you. They may be able to find some stretches or exercises that will assist you, or may be able to find some sort of aid for you that may assist your progression.

For trainers, if you have a student with a physical infirmity it is important that you examine what the problem is and see if you can figure out ways to get around it. You should sit down and have a long chat with the student about what they can and cannot do in order that you are able to tailor their training program around what they are and are not able to do. You need to be positive in this approach as your support will be vital in order to assist the student to continue or begin fencing. Focus on what the student can do and assist them in their capacity to do things that they cannot. You need to be open-minded in this approach.

The focus of this particular blog has been the increase in ability for those fencers with disability issues. Remember to start slowly and work on increasing your capacity, do not try to rush in and do too much at once. This whole process also applies to those who have been away from fencing for any longer period of time for any reason. Ease yourself back into the motions of fencing. It is better that you take time, than rush the process and do yourself an injury. No one can be expected to be back at their full form after months of “down-time” at their first practice back.

If you are having issues with joint pain or other forms of disability, I advise you to speak to a health care professional before it gets any worse. They can help you devise a program that will improve your quality of life and will also, in the long run, improve your fencing at a base level. Take their advice to heart. If you have a specific condition, especially with your joints, it is more than likely that some fencer has had similar issues. Share your concerns and ideas about dealing with the issues.

It is my hope that this article will help some, give some ideas to some, and increase everybody’s awareness of the importance of their joints. If you are having some sort of issue with your body, there is no doubt a trainer or another fencer who will be able to help you around it. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Remember, you only have one set of joints – look after them.

On a final note I must say that fencing is actually great for mobility, especially for those with joint and/or muscle issues. I have been fencing now for more than a decade and it has been remarked by several health care professionals that it is one of the things that has kept me so mobile. The most important thing to remember with regard to disability and fencing is that there are things that you can do, and you can fence. You need the courage and determination to strive through the obstacles placed in your path, and you need the willpower and motivation in order to do this. You need to want to fence. Have a look at your situation if you are interested in fencing, give it a go, you never know until you try.