Pressure is something that we all have to deal with in our every day lives. This blog is primarily aimed at the idea of pressure in fencing and more to the point suggestions of how it can be dealt with. In fencing pressure can build up for many different reasons and some of these are self-influenced. The result of this pressure is what happens when it actually begins to affect people. The pressure will affect people in different ways and we need to be aware of this, but more importantly is how to deal with the pressure.
Pressure is exerted on people in fencing for different reasons and each one of these reasons has a particular impact on the individual. Any form of examination, whether it is verbal or physical, exerts pressure on the fencer as they are expected to perform. The success of this examination will allow them to progress further, the failure of which will restrict their progress. It is these thoughts which form a great part of the pressure. In the case of tournaments pressure is exerted because of the drive in the individual to win. Even if it is not to win the expectation of a certain level of performance is present.
Expectations form one of the most pervasive forms of pressure placed on the individual. This pressure can either be an internal thing or an external thing. The pressure exerted from others may be something which is explicit or implicit. A teacher or someone else may come up and tell the individual that they expect them to do well in this particular situation, as much as this is encouragement it is also a form of pressure. The implicit pressure is merely from an expectation that the student has learnt a great deal and should do well because of this. Expectations which come from the self are actually much more pervasive than those from the outside. These exert more pressure because there is an expectation which has become a part of our own thoughts and thus while the expectations of others can be ignored to a point, the internal ones are ever-present and in our thoughts. This is also how the external pressures can become internal.
There are three primary results due to pressure being exerted on the individual. Some people go to absolute pieces, some people focus harder on their task, and others do not seem to be affected at all. Obviously the people who go to pieces seem to be feeling the pressure of the situation the most out of the three, but this is not to say that presssure does not affect the other two, even subtly. The people who go to pieces, the pressure is exerted, hits a particular mark and then they go to pieces, all that they have learnt leaves their brain and sometimes they go catatonic. In this situation the pressure will move on toward panic, and the situation will get worse for them. The people who focus, tend to internalise the pressure and use it as a focus for the task which is at hand. They tend to end up so focussed that other that everything else is forgotten or just pushed to one side. The ones who do not seem to be affected actually are affected, but they have internalised it so far that it is just a normal thing for them and nothing to be thought about. The result of this is usually they end up blase about the situation, and this can lead to a lack of focus. Identifying which type of individual you are is the first step in dealing with it.
Pressure exerted on the fencer can result in some specific things and some general things. For some it would seem that they have a loss of ability. They can't seem to perform the techniques which they have learnt effectively. A further stage of this is what I refer to as the "brain-melt". In this situation they have a complete loss of ability and they have no response to the actions of their opponent. This is usually one of the most catasrophic result of the exertion of pressure on a fencer.
There are also physical effects that the fencer will notice in themselves. There is a large flow of adrenaline to the individual. This gives them more energy, but can result in being "twitchy" or the hands shaking. Another result of the boost of adrenaline is an increase in heart rate. Sometimes the increase in heart-rate will actually happen before the burst of adrenaline. This particular causality is the result of the human being's in-built fight or flight response. The increase blood-flow and adrenaline is so that the individual can either fight or fly. The amusing thing about this is that for a large portion of people the brain is programmed toward the flight response. This is not particularly helpful for the fencer. There are other effects that may be noticed, but these are the most common.
The first step toward dealing with pressure is understanding your natural response to it. There are important elements of this that must be taken into account. Many people will focus on the physical aspects of the increase in pressure, but will forget the psychological ones. It is important that both aspects of the situation must be taken into account. The attempt to deal with either of the sets of symptoms alone is futile. Once your own symptoms have been identified then it is possible to move on to dealing with these symptoms.
When pressure takes hold of the individual and the physical symptoms start manifesting, these are usually a result of the psychological ones being in full swing. The first approach is relaxation. Deep breathing to slow the heart-rate down and in order to conserve energy. This actually works very effectively as the blood gets flushed with oxygen allowing the heart to work more easily thus slowing it down and the rest of the body with it. The next part of the process is examining the thought process and removing all of those things which will not have an impact immediately. In this situation, it is especially negative thoughts that need to be removed. The focus on the individual needs to be on the current situation and not what may or may not happen. For the fencer, it is simply dealing with the problem presented by the other fencer. This allows the mind to be cleared and the focus placed on the present.
The other way to deal with pressure is to harness the energy supplied by the physical effects of the pressure applied. This approach works especially well for those who tend to focus rather than the other ones, but this is not to say that they cannot. The increased heart rate and adrenaline supply the body with more energy. This particular approach harnesses this energy and uses it for the current process. Energy is wasted in such things as shaking hands and other twitches, this energy needs to be directed to the purpose at hand. In order to do this the fencer needs to focus on what they are doing and to use the energy supplied on what they are doing. This may require holding some of it back while waiting. Having a constant flow of energy is much more useful than sharp spikes of energy. Of course, it also requires the fencer to allow themselves some leeway in order to open themselves up to more possibilities in their fencing. The important thing is that the energy needs to be focussed at what they are doing rather than being wasted. This can be a difficult approach especially for big tournaments where there are large breaks, but it is possible.
Pressure is present in fencing, the important thing is to know where and why the pressure is being felt. Once that is known then it is possible to go about dealing with the pressure being exerted. It is important that in any approach to dealing with pressure that both aspects, physical and psychological, must be taken into account in order to get the best answer to the situation. The approaches presented are designed to give some ideas about how pressure can be dealt with by the fencer. It is important in all cases that the energy supplied is used effectively in order that it is not wasted, or the energy of the fencer runs out before they have achieved their end. Look at pressure in fencing as one of the problems to deal with, and a challenge to surrmount. Just remember that like any one opponent, it can be beaten.