Old man game

Bring it, kid.
Bring it, kid.

“I am like Rocky…Rocky 3, Rocky 4, Rocky 5” – Aldo Montano (age 36)

I figure when the overwhelming reaction to our post on the Korean pro sabre training program is WTF, most of you are probably thinking how you’re going to get anywhere near that schedule.

Kim Junghwan does the thing with the eyebrow
“Do you have any idea what I had to do to get this?”

The vast majority of the people who are reading this are recreational fencers. We’re amateurs in the oldest sense of the word. We love sabre, but we also have jobs or school or kids. We definitely have other things we want/have to do in life. None of us are as young as we used to be – and it hits us much earlier than we expect.

Every victory a perfect moment…
Every victory a chance to rest.

So what can we do? In the spirit of this post by a hobbyist Jiu Jitsu practitioner, here are three of my personal observations on the on training as an older sabre fencer.

Your technique will change

There were many ways I could pull things off when I was a cadet – how to lunge, how to cut, how to parry. These days, the number of ways that I can pull off a particular technique has dwindled until I can only pull it off in certain ways, or maybe not at all.

[gfycat data_id=”DismalTerrificGordonsetter”]

A good example is the lunge. I’ve probably been taught a dozen different ways to lunge, and most led to some form of knee/ankle/elbow tendonitis down the track. This is a major reason for the studies we did on the biomechanics of the lunge earlier this year to get some hard science behind eliminating joint pain while maintaining power. Turns out there are a few specific things that need to be aligned to generate maximum power while minimising joint strain, and once these are satisfied, you can lunge however you want to your heart’s content.

wagner parries gu 2
Pretty much what this guy is doing

We’ll be building on this work in the coming weeks. Watch this space, or if you’re in Sydney, come along for the ride.

Reembody high performance workshop simple

Dirty tricks are good

Truth is, even the top sabre fencers with the best technique in the world slow down. And when they do, they stop going for the basic high-probability moves and start working the low-probability trick shots that comes from years of experience.

[gfycat data_id=”KeyNeighboringCat”]

Counter-parries, stop cuts, prime position, timed remises. I’ve learned to love them all – moves that rely on timing rather than raw speed or power, and they can throw an opponent into disarray if executed correctly.

[gfycat data_id=”DirtyWearyHamadryad”]


The body’s ability to recover and learn new physical skills decreases with age. I’ve been forced to focus: build a tight game with a few actions, drill them relentlessly, then build in time to condition/cool down/recover.

Never skip leg day.
Also, never skip leg day.

Probably 90% of my game these days comes down to about 10 moves that I drill every session, six sessions a week, at about 60%-70% max power – a rate that I can maintain without injury. [The other 10% of my game are trick shots that I pull off under pressure, see above]. After a nightmare run a few years ago when I had chronic pain in both knees, ankles, right shoulder/elbow/arm due to lack of condition, I’ve now been pain-free for 18 months. All I did was to work some sport-specific weights and intervals into the mix – and only do them on a strict load/recovery/deload cycle.

Typical mid-30s fencer trying to get back into shape.

Lastly, one of the common things I see around are older fencers who stop wanting to fence the younger guys out of fear that they might no longer measure up. I’ve experienced it myself, especially with students who I’ve trained up since they were practically in diapers. This attitude is incredibly debilitating and has no place on the piste.

Even if the kids these days ain't got no respect.
Even if the kids these days ain’t got no respect.

Fact is, everybody loses at least some of the time. I don’t plan on retiring anytime soon, and the thing I love most about sabre is that there’s always a way to beat even the strongest fencer (or most obnoxious punk) with a combination of bluff, guile, and sheer bloody mindedness.

How'd you like them apples?
How’d you like them apples?

Best sport in the world.

We’ll be having some more in-depth discussions on technique and tactics over the coming weeks.