Touche! What I Learned about Transforming Self-Limiting Beliefs through Fencing


I am 5’3″ and weighed 110 lbs until around 30. I was a rather shy, skinny, short and nerdy sort of kid and I thought of myself accordingly; until, one day at high school in 11th grade, my friend Lawrence opened a conversation that would forever change my life:

“Say, ‘Yes’!”

“Okay! …What are we doing?”

Fencing! There’s a fencing class that starts this week at the Arts Center, and you and I will be there!”

Fencing. Who knew? I would learn more about life and about myself and others that next several years than I could ever have anticipated with that simple agreement with Fate in the form of my friend, Larry. I would come to revise my notions of what is possible in this world, a Life Lesson I would come to apply regularly, not only to my own choices and actions but also by imparting these lessons to those I would ultimately teach, and coach, later in life.

After the 10-week class in fencing I took with an exceptional fencing teacher who became a lifelong friend, I went on to fence on an intercollegiate team at SUNY College at Buffalo that placed in the top ten in the nation in 1975, a nearly unheard of result for our small college team. So, here are some lessons in transforming self-limiting beliefs or postulates that I learned through the art of fencing:

1) Focus. The “peak experience bout”, as I used to think of it philosophically, is one in which both fencers wholly incorporate their opponent’s ‘field’ within their own. That is, they are intuitively in tune with every action and intention of their opponent. This results often in “La Belle,” a very close match in which both fencers are so deeply immersed in the swordplay that they are not even thinking but they are acting and responding unconsciously, in the Moment. Both are winners, here!

2) I learned when to advance, when to retreat; when to initiate, feint, parry-riposte, or revise an attack. I learned how to stand my guard and not be intimidated by bluster or a nasty look. Being in the Moment and trusting your well-trained instincts and intuition leads more often to success than to failure.

3) I can do it!  Put all negative self-talk behind you and “go forth, brightly!” Be mindful, centered, aware, and ACT accordingly. Or as a fencing coach who was a former Olympian would put it, “”Suck it up!” Pull yourself together if you lose one point; focus on the present point only; exhale as you lunge! “Et, la!”

4) Whatever your personal characteristics are, you can use them to your advantage. Being short and lightweight,I was fast. I learned to maintain greater distance than normal from a taller fencer until ready to launch an attack; then I would use moves like a running attack (fleche) or a double-to-triple ballestra (short hops before a lunge) that would close the distance too rapidly for a taller opponent to counter. (An attack is made with the extended arm in foil; the tall opponent would not have room to attack with such a maneuver.)

5) Fencing is life. For my entire life, I am a Fencer. It doesn’t matter that now, at 59, I am out of shape and overweight. Fencing became and remains a way of thinking, a way of being in the world. I find myself applying the logic and wisdom of fencing daily, in all kinds of life situations.

Fencing–like any sport, musical instrument, art or skill that you hone with ardour and diligent practice (think, Karate Kid, for a more popular example)–can instill a healthy, positive self-concept and a balanced or “centered” point of view, a positive attitude of response-ability to life events. Of course, I often have to remember these lessons, hopefully more inthe mindful Moment; if not, then in retrospect, remise!

13 thoughts on “Touche! What I Learned about Transforming Self-Limiting Beliefs through Fencing

  1. This was exactly what I needed to hear.
    I am in the process of rewriting a book about a 15-year-old girl who becomes a warrior mage. Her weapon is a katana-like sword.
    Like you, she is small (5’4″, 115 pounds).
    My editor says there needs to be more character transformation on the page. (Unfortunately, she is correct.)
    Much of my character’s transformation occurs, of course, during her training. Your article is a great outline of the points I need to bring out.
    Thank you.


    • Hi Clavielle, It sounds like an interesting project! If I can help in any way further I would be glad to. It sounds like you are on track. I probably transformed more at tournaments, partly in response to the coaching. Our coach became too aggressive the year after we did so well, pushing the newer fencers too far, so I quit that team and walked away. To me it was not about defeating an opponent but about the fluidity and expert delivery, the beauty, personal liberation through empowerment, pure love of the sport, and art. In that last year I routed for any fencer who scored a good point, whether against another or me, or whether it was my point. Somehow all of this led me to begin a spiritual quest, too. Who knew?


      • The emphasis on excellence of technique rather than actually defeating an opponent is, I think, a feminine trait. Women are not quite so focused on winning. My two sons were Aries high school athletes and believe me, when they lost there was absolutely no joy in Mudville. They got over it quickly tho.
        This is another point I need to figure out how to weave into my story.


      • That’s a good observation. My male coach was telling us that last year to ‘shove the foil down their throats!” That’s when I turned away from that kind of competitive ‘thrust’. I remain very competitive, but am mainly competing with myself…to be the best I can, and to help others reach that too.


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