What does respecting your opponent in a fencing bout really mean
“I fear no one, but respect everyone”
— ROGER FEDERER
A parent once said to me that you can't give your opponent too much respect, otherwise you'll give away the game. Respecting your opponent in fencing, and in any sport for that matter does not mean giving way to your opponent, or subjecting your best interests to that of your opponent's.
Respecting your opponent is a mindset that keeps you focused on what matters, and performing to your goals. It means that you must be confident, but not arrogant.
We have seen numerous instances (too many to keep track of) where the supposed "better" fencer loses a bout because they failed to respect their opponent. When a fencer fails to respect their opponent, they typically assume that they are the better fencer in the bout, and that their win is going to be a sure thing. Believing in their own hubris, they are not focused going into the bout, making themselves vulnerable to losing points to the opponent early on. When the opponent scores a few points early in the bout, the "better" fencer loses their mental balance, and starts freaking out because their opponent wasn't supposed to score points on them. Some fencers are able to recover, but we've seen too many lose their balance and give up enough valuable points to the opponent that they lose a bout they could have/should have won.
Respecting your opponent is good practice because it keeps you focused on the bout, and it is a display of true sportsmanship. A swaggering fencer who fools around on strip while fencing a weaker opponent displays poor sportsmanship, and very bad manners.
Respecting your opponent in a bout means that a fencer acknowledges the following before the bout;
your opponent is there to fence his/her best that day, no matter what their skill or experience
you may have once been like your opponent, not so skilled or experienced
your opponent wants to win as much as you do
your opponent will bring all of his/her training to the strip to fence you
your opponent may have studied your strengths and weaknesses
your opponent is entitled to be treated with dignity, just as you are
that you are not too good for the event if you are there competing in it
And practice the following:
stay focused on your objectives and goals in the bout
never trash talk your opponent to anyone or to yourself
not assume that you are going to beat your opponent because.....(you beat your opponent in pools, your opponent is lower rated than you, you are ranked higher on the national points list, your friend said your opponent sucks, your opponent's fencing club sucks and so on)
fence with dignity, and do not indulge in antics that demonstrate your disdain for your opponent
refrain from excessive (and loud) yelling when you score a point (especially when your opponent is weaker)
refrain from negative body language when your opponent scores a point on you
refrain from throwing your mask at the end of the bout, win or lose (you can get a black card for this)
shake hands willingly with everyone including your opponent's coach (and parents, when appropriate)
Respecting your opponent is an important part of any fencer's mental game. We should make sure our fencers respect their opponents always.