Category: Fencing

Using Ender’s Game in Fencing

I stumbled across an article recently entitled “‘Ender’s Game’ and Maneuver Warfare“. Of course, I’ve spent the past six months making up for lost time where I didn’t devour the Ender’s Game universe, so I read this article too. Who wouldn’t be curious how a book for kids became a military classic?

And after reading it? Well, it talks about something I’ve come to appreciate recently: manoeuvre warfare. Sure, it sounds weird and unapplicable: I’m not going to war anytime soon, nor engage in combat. But the thing is, that’s simply the voice of someone blinkered to applications. Once you start to ask questions and try to find where it might be useful, you start to see strange but useful applications.

I’ve used it for fencing epee in Japan. Huh?!

First off, Japanese fencers (at least, those I train with in the Waseda University Fencing Team) are good. Technically, they’re far better than I am. I can’t beat anyone here on technique nor fitness nor skill, simply because they’ve been training longer hard faster than I have and with far more dedication than I have.

So it’s quite clear I’m the underdog, and I’m outgunned in terms of capabilities and skill. But that just means that I have to resort to trying to gain a tactical advantage. As a fencing friend told me recently, the crux is to look for their mistakes and their weaknesses, and to exploit them.

So I do that. “I can’t beat her with bladework, she’s accurate with her wrist hits and uses a French grip. Time to try messing with distance and surprising her with a sudden dangerous attack.” Maybe I score a point there, or a few more if they don’t realise what I’m doing. “He’s got a very strong foil background and almost always manages to parry successfully, but tends to reserve his riposte for a hit he’s sure about. Maybe I’ll go fence him with a very absent blade and draw as many parries as I can with feints before giving a real one by closing the distance suddenly.” And I get the win, though very narrowly at 5-4.

I play to my strengths and try to beat my opponents strategically. It doesn’t always work, sometimes I really am too far below their level to manage to pull it off. But sometimes, on a good day, when they let their guard down, I get lucky. A mistake here, another mistake there, and I can squeak a small win out before they realise what mistakes I’m exploiting. And so it goes, after they either figure it out or I tell them (because they will ask, and they’re my teammates after all; you don’t hold back what you know), and then that tactic is useless for the next time because they’re now highly aware of what I’m doing.

Will I ever get to the level where I don’t need this? I don’t think so. I had a rocky start to fencing, especially epee. I didn’t get the right foundation, nor the right amount of training to be technically skilled. So this is my only hope of winning: to be tactically better than my opponents by learning to observe carefully, and then to outthink them. I can’t win everything, but hopefully this will help me do better as a fencer. This game has been called physical chess. If I can’t win at the physical bit, I’ll try winning at the chess bit.

It might just be the only way I can do it.