Speed is a critical component of the capabilities of the modern competitive fencer. Although experience and tactical skill is still important, the general trend toward youth in sports that has changed the dynamics of other sports is also shaping fencing. This suggests that individuals in the sport must consider how the components of speed interact in the execution of specific techniques in the bout.
Physiologically reaction time and tactically the time spent in the Observe-Orient-Decide-Act loop determine in large measure how rapidly the fencer can act in any tactical situation. You must be able to identify a threat or opportunity, select the correct action, and move your body to score the hit. There are actual physiological limits in milliseconds to how fast these steps can be accomplished. Experience can reduce these times, especially in terms of recognition, but a fencer who wants to maximize speed should consider that speed also results from at least six factors: heredity, technical excellence, available techniques, physical training, relaxation, distance, and intention.
Heredity determines your body structure and the mix of muscle fibers. For fencing, fast twitch fibers are critical. If you are born with a preponderance of fast twitch fibers you will be faster at the explosive, short duration actions. If you have a preponderance of slow twitch fibers, you will be slower, but with better endurance. Regular training helps all of these fibers perform at a higher level.
Technical excellence is an important part of speed. Properly executed techniques are bio-mechanically efficient, move the blade over the shortest distance, and are smooth in execution. The smoother and more controlled your attacks, parries, counterattacks, and footwork are the faster you are.
The set of techniques you have available also influences speed. In general, the more techniques your brain has to search through to find the answer, the slower your transition from identification of opportunity to execution. Obviously you need enough technique options to make your offense and defense work. But spending time developing low payoff actions may impose a speed penalty.
Physical training contributes to speed by increasing core strength and balance and the strength and work capacity of your muscles. Tailored resistance, speed, and agility training programs focused on fencing movement patterns will make you faster.
Although it seems like the opposite would be true, the more relaxed you are the faster you will be. To demonstrate this, try making a fist, and creating as much muscular contraction as you can in the arm. Extend your arm with this resistance. Now shake your arm loose, relax, and extend. Yes, the relaxed extension will be faster.
Ability to control distance is a key part of speed. The shorter the distance your point has to move in the attack, the faster the perceived speed of the attack and the less time an opponent will have to react. Similarly the longer the opponent’s attack must be in movement, the relatively slower it is, and the better the chance to defeat it. This means that the combination of footwork, arm position, and tactical sense is a determinant of speed on the strip.
Finally intention is critical. If you do not have a plan for your next touch, you will spend time trying to figure out when to go. If you do not believe in your action and are not willing to execute it with enthusiasm, it will be hesitant and slow. To be fast, you must know what you want to do and commit wholeheartedly to the action.