Screaming and shouting are expressions of anger that we may relate with large conflicts or grand battles featuring men charging with swords on horseback, however it might come as a surprise that yelling not only features in the strategic sport of modern day fencing, but that in many cases it is actually encouraged.
While fencing has become more and more refined to become the chivalrous art form we see today, this outward expression still lies deep within each fencer and occasionally shows itself in the middle, or at the end of a fierce bout.
So why do fencers scream in the first place? For such a tactile and methodical sport it may seem unnecessary and potentially rude, after all screaming is commonly used in sports that are more of a spectacle like footballers wailing at the top of their lungs after being brushed on the leg.
The reasons for yelling in fencing are much more strategic and began appearing many years ago in the sports development, however it is still a crucial part of the sport in modern times that any enthusiast or fencer themselves must know the benefits of, and why so many pro fencers decide to do it so often.
Calling For The Referee
The electronic scoring machines we see in the majority of matches today help make referees jobs far easier than before, being able to recognize a part of a body being hit and adding this to a fencer’s score.
Before their implementation from the 1930s through to the 1980s however, referees could often struggle to decide on giving points for exchanges that are too close to call.
Because of the lack of technology, some fencers would yell right after an exchange to persuade the referee it was their point, whether it was or not.
By giving such an outburst of confidence, a fencer could verbally tell the referee that they feel they deserve the point, with this quickly becoming a common strategy used in the earlier stages of the games development.
Nowadays, this method of yelling for the referees attention can be seen as rather unsportsmanlike and rarely works given modern technology and higher level referees being aware of the tactic.
It can and still does happen however from time to time, primarily between ROW (Right of way) weapons that can be very hard to call, and especially at lower levels of fencing.
Letting Out Built Up Tension
A more common reason many modern fencers yell is to release the massive amount of tension they must withhold to remain accurate and disciplined.
Effective and even bouts on average can last anywhere from 3 to 9 minutes with both fencers having to carefully manage their movement, reach, balance and stance to pull off just the right strike with the utmost accuracy for the extensive time.
Balancing all these attributes can be extremely nerve-racking, and is why many fencers will let out this huge amount of built-up energy through yelling, especially after that sought after final touch to end the combat.
This is especially the case with more flashy but hard to pull off techniques such as a wrist flick or toe touch, leaving a fencer with great excitement to the fact they managed to pull such a difficult technique off.
This release of tension can work as a mini pep talk after each success to help a combatant regain focus and reward themselves, without getting too carried away.
Screaming For Strength
At one point we have all watched and been slightly baffled at the constant ‘grunts’ let out by tennis players as if each swing is causing them tremendous amounts of pain, but the science behind it actually makes a lot of sense, and is another reason fencers yell in a similar way.
Neuroscientists have analyzed that shouting possesses a human sonic attribute called ‘roughness’ that partially activates the brain’s fear and danger processing centers and granting physical benefits at that moment.
For example, in extreme cases shouting has been recorded as increasing someone’s grip by 25% with others suggesting it vastly increases our withstanding of pain, two vital attributes that can be extremely beneficial for a well trained fencer.
Yelling and shouting can even make athletes lean into becoming actors, convincing themselves of being in a greater war or conflict that they must win no matter the odds, granting them a great sense of motivation and maintaining their focus right to the end of a bout.
Psychology forms a huge part of fencing, whether it’s predicting your opponents next move or moving in a certain way to fool the other fencer, and knowing this some fencers will yell, shout or grunt purposefully during a bout in an attempt to throw their opponent off guard mentally.
Other sports often use this technique in more brash ways such as American Footballers screaming in the face of the other team, or Monica Seles grunting after every racket swing to disrupt her opponents focus.
With fencing being more slow, quiet and refined, this often takes other forms such as fencers saying a few words to their coach while getting ready in order to fool their opponent, making their opponent think they will strike one way when they may strike another.
While an older technique that is not seen too often anymore, it is still worthwhile the next time you watch a bout keeping a careful ear to what exactly the combatants say, and whether they stay true to their word.
How And When You Should Not Yell
Yelling is an accepted and often promoted part of fencing, but it must not be forgotten that fencing is still a chivalrous Lady’s/Gentleman’s game and should never cross into being rude or distasteful.
The best way to avoid being seen as a rude competitor too excited for their own good is to never shout directly in an opponent’s face, while they are an opponent that you must overcome, they must still be respected and treated fairly, instead a disciplined fencer will always turn away when letting out a yell.
There should also never be any badmouthing or verbal bullying and it is generally seen as disrespectful to continuously yell through a bout, or for much older fencers to yell at younger and less experienced combatants.
So, there you have it! Turns out, there are more than one reason why fencers scream or yell during a match. Next time you’re at a fencing competition, hopefully this will have answered your questions.
If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy our article on ‘How Long Is A Fencing Strip?‘.