Welcome to Part 2, this is the second part of my discussion on females and fencing based upon a lesson which I delivered at Swordplay '15 this year. It is designed to highlight the differences between the male and female combatant and bring these into the light so that both the trainer and student may realise that they are differences not problems. The previous part dealt with physical differences this one will start with the psychological ones. I would advise you, dear reader, that if you have not read the first part, that you should as it will give and explanation of my approach to the subjects which follow.
After dealing with the physical differences we need to look deeper and have a look at some more mental differences. This means having a look at the psychological differences between males and females and seeing how this will affect them in training and also in a combative situation. These need to be taken into account as they are deeply embedded in our minds and are not easily dealt with.
To begin the so -called "feminine characteristics" portray the female as passive and shy. I know this not the case for everyone but it is the general outlook and for some it is true. Added on top of this is that from the beginning, for the most part, females are given nurturing roles. This means that they are not supposed to hit people, this idea is, in many cases driven from their make-up.
What is the result of this? It means that the female trainee and combatant will often have difficulty starting and often continuing with training as the idea of striking someone else with an object is foreign to their internal make-up. For the trainer this will take time to encourage them that it is fine for them to do this and it is actually what is expected of them. No trainee should be discouraged, male or female, because this is part of their make-up. More so, it should be emphasised not just by trainers but by other members of the class that it is okay to strike their opponent and partner at the right time and place.
Now we need to discuss the "jitters". That horrible feeling in the pit of your stomach that comes up during training, and especially at tournaments or examinations when the pressure is on. This is the feeling that you do not belong here, that all the training you have done has been a waste of time, that all the other combatants hit harder and are better than you, and that there is nothing you can do about it. First thing that I am going to say is that everyone has had this feeling, and that anyone who denies ever having had this feeling before a tournament or training session is either lying to other people, or lying to themselves which is worse. The question is how to deal with them.
Each person has their own way of dealing with this feeling, and you need to find a way for dealing with your own. I will give some suggestions that may help you, but it is a personal process that you must think through. First we will start with Pre-Tournament, then Tournament, and then Post-Tournament. Each one is slightly different to suit the different situation. In this I will be using the word "tournament" to signify what ever event is being discussed, be it a training session, examination or tournament.
On the way to the location of the tournament I like to listen to music that either puts me in a good mood or music which is appropriate to the tournament. I am a bit of a metal-head but I have found that Iron Maiden's "Flash of the Blade" or "The Duellists" works for me. If you are looking for something a little slower Dire Straits "Brothers in Arms" also works. I have also found that anything classical with some "drive" behind it works, Beethoven, Bach, Tchaikovsky for examples.
Once I have arrived, I make a point of finding someone I know and saying "Hello." This is to realise that I am not there alone. If you are at an event for the first time, be sure that you are not the only one. Go and find someone to say "Hello" to. This is a great way to release some tension. Following this, go and do all the mundane things, signing in and all that business. Go find the Officials of the event and introduce yourself and thank them for being there, they will be happy about it, trust me on this one.
Unpack. Find a comfortable spot. This may be with others, it may not be. It needs to be comfortable for you. Have a good look at each piece of gear as you take it out. Get it all out and have a good look. Then walk away for a little while. Come back and in a relaxed fashion put your armour (safety gear on). Start internal and work external, start from the ground work up. Start from the body and work out to the arms. Gauntlets last, trust me on this one. Once you are in your armour, move about and get used to being in the armour, without your weapon. Next pick up your weapon and go through some simple solo drills, finally go find someone you know to warm-up with. By this time you should be suitably warm and much more comfortable.
Regardless of the result of a round, examine how you fought and what you did in response to the opponent's actions. Have a look at you did well and be happy with this. Breathe. Next examine where you did not do so well, remember this because you can ask your trainer about it at your next training. Breathe. You should always look at crossing blades with an opponent as a chance to learn something about yourself and your opponent. Do not miss this chance. Breathe. Victories fade the lessons live on.
In between rounds, if you have time, make sure that you take off your gauntlets, mask/helm and gorget. This will let a lot of the heat out. Breathe. Drink liquid. People say drink water, I say liquid as you should also be concerned about your sugar levels dropping too low. Go for a little walk if you need to, but not too far. Breathe Watch the other opponents for what they are doing and learn from what they are and are not doing. This is a prime time to learn. Listen to what other combatants are saying. Breathe. Do not think about the next round until it is announced, and even then do not focus on it unless you have seen the opponent and learnt something useful about the way they fight. Did I mention Breathe? You need to stay analytical about the process, this will help you calm yourself. Remember all the things you did right and celebrate them.
Why? The tournament is over, why would this be the case that you get jitters? This would be the case that you still have a lot of adrenaline running through your system and also probably endorphins as well. Once again it is a matter of settling yourself. Breathe. Take your time. Have a drink. Get rid of the mask/helm, gorget and gauntlets as before. Put the weapons down with your gear. Go for a little walk. Breathe. Have a chat to some of the other combatants. Breathe. The most important thing here is to relax. If there is a presentation made after the tournament and you have placed high enough to be a part of this enjoy the experience, you deserve it.
Well, this has turned out to be a lot longer than I expected it to be. I only planned for this to be two posts at most, but I think that keeping them relatively short is important for better absorbing of the information which I have presented. Once again, if the information presented has continued to interest and inform you, be prepared as there is a third, and final, installment of this subject.