Taking a break during a fight at an important competition is a common practice, particularly after losing several hits in a row. Fencers use several methods of pausing play, the most commonly used one is to untie and then immediately re-tie their shoe laces. When I have been coaching Britain’s top Cadet and Junior women foilists, I often see them take their mask off, untie their hair and then retie their hair exactly as it was! The reason for the break is to buy some time to calm down and to think of how best to execute the next hit while also hoping that our opponent will lose concentration.
The effectiveness of taking a break lies in the simple fact that only the fencer who takes the break knows when to return to the fight while the fencer who is waiting does not. The waiting fencer might get impatient. When you get impatient, you tend to rush. When you rush you make physical and mental mistakes. Make mistakes and you lose points. See how it works? Your tempo is rearranged. Your concentration drifts. It can destroy your game if you don’t know how to respond.
My coach educator, Ziemek Wojciechowski, once told me how his pupil Richard Kruse used this idea. Richard was fencing the French foilist Jérémy Cadot. Not doing particularly well, the French fencer decided to take a break. Richard knew that the break was part of Cadot’s gamesmanship and so to maintain momentum, after Cadot returned to the fight, Richard almost immediately took another break. It was completely unexpected by Cadot and it meant that his own break had practically no effect on the result of the fight which Richard won.
I am not in any way saying that taking a break should be the main way of improving your skills and performance which we all know is through smart training and hard work. However, try taking a small break when receiving say three hits in a row and see if it helps you to find a better way of scoring the next hit.