I recently read some posts that my friend, and fellow NYC fencer, Tim Morehouse, shared online with some of his opinions on how to change the rules of Saber in order to enhance the game for competitors and spectators. I thought I would share a few of my thoughts that could greatly change our sport for the better.
The Idea is to install a best 2-out-of 3, or 3-out-of-5 (15 touch) bouting system.
The idea would be to enhance three aspects of the sport; the athleticism of the competitors, emphasize consistency of results, and increase Spectator enjoyment.
Firstly, I would like to say that yes – this format would greatly increase the time of competition. A competition may take 4-6 days depending on how the competition was set up. A fencer would fence one opponent per day and depending on how dominating his or her performance was, they could fence anywhere from 2 – 5 bouts. Yes, the workload of a fencer would be raised over a period of days, but not per day. If a fencer were ranked Top 16 in the World, he or she would need to fence 6 bouts in a day in order to win the competition. That means that any fencer entering a World Cup event would need to be physically prepared to fence 6 bouts a day. The amount of rest in-between bouts will obviously be less and force some fencers to raise their level of athleticism. I personally believe this would only enhance the sport. Athletes will have to focus on their physicality as much as their technicality.
As any fencer knows, 15 touch bouts are very short in the grand scheme of things – many times these bouts can complete before the first period has expired. In this time period – even simple mistakes can lead to a devastating end. How many times have we seen upsets of a physically, technically, and more consistent athletes by unorthodox lesser athletes? A bout that ends by one or two touches can sometimes come out completely differently if the two fencers were to fence again 5 minutes later. Fencing is, in my opinion, straying away from the age of mastery of the sport and into an age of one or two trick ponies. Fencers are beginning to want to force people to do one thing for a very short amount of time. Think of the big server in tennis. The big server has an advantage and it can take even some of the best players in the world a set to figure out how to return them. Yet, while having a big serve may win you a set or two – at most – after an hour of play it becomes a much different game. Tennis would not be so much fun to watch if every point was scored without any volleys. A longer format competition would truly develop the sport rather than simplify it. Allowing the physical as well as the technical player to shine, all while weeding out the less trained and under prepared. This is what you want at the highest level of the sport.
Now, the other obvious benefit would be consistency. The best of the best in fencing are that way for a reason. That being said, there are always upsets at each competition. Don’t get me wrong, I love upsets. It is one thing that makes sport so enjoyable. Everyone loves a good underdog story – when an underdog raises up defeats the more heralded opponent. Why is this so amazing? Because it is so rare! If the Russian Hockey team had only won 3 out of the 10 competitions before the Olympics in Lake Placid, there would be no “Miracle on Ice”.
Underdog stories are made just as much by the consistency of the champions as by the upset by the underdog. If Michael Jordan had been playing one game series, his team would have lost the 1991 and 1998 finals because they lost the first game. What would you want to see? What brings more attention to the sport. When the two very best players or teams compete against each other – or when two underdogs play each other? Spectators want to see the best. When you go to a fencing competition you are almost guaranteed to see a mixed bag of athletes competing in the final 8 of competition. Who wants to pay for tickets when you are not sure if you will even get to see your favorite fencer, unless of course you get to a cold empty stadium during the first round of competition (very exciting).
Another thing to consider – as an athlete – you face the possibility of fencing one bout and goodbye. An athlete could have spent endless hours training – then they have less than 9 minutes and 15 touches to show what they are made of. Why do you think fencing is slowing down? Fencers are playing it safe, AKA: Simultaneous Off the Line in Saber, bouncing around in Epee going to priority. Well, when you only have 15 touches each mistake becomes more and more important. Not to mention you could be fencing perfectly and suffer technical errors, or Director’s mistakes. A close bout suddenly seems a lot closer. If you give fencers more time – you give them more space to play, to create. You allow the best to show why they are the best because of how they fence 90 percent of the time – not only 2 minutes in the first round.
Now, on the other hand if you have two fencers who are evenly matched and a beautiful match ends with that single touch – that is an amazing thing to see. Something that is almost completely unique to fencing. Why not have that 3-5 times rather than just once. Why not let five bouts worth of fencing come down to one final action. That is worth paying to see.
Which brings me to my final point. Allow the sport to be seen and allow the culture of fencing to grow. People have always cast aside fencing because they say it is too complicated and not good to watch as a spectator. Officials have tried to answer these criticisms by installing lights, changing the target area, and some rules. None-the-less, this does not change the fact that fencing is still complicated to understand. Let me ask a question, if I took you out to a baseball game where there were four pitchers and four batters in a stadium and I asked you to watch and tell me what was going on – could you? No, of course not, because you would try and watch each of the players and they would all look very different. If you were to watch four simultaneous boxing matches and keep a score card on them could you? No. Now, let’s add in the fact that you will only be allowed to see those people box, pitch, or bat for 2-9 minutes – then there will be a break and everyone will change. That would be almost impossible to enjoy.
If the fencing competition format were to be elongated, spectators would be able to watch athletes fence for a much longer period of time. If you decided to put spectators in a room with just two fencers going at it for up to 95-minutes, you would allow the crowd to be engaged and to understand what the heck is going on. From there the crowd would begin to pick their favorite fencers. You would create FANDOM! With fandom you beget merchandise and ticket sales. Allowing people to witness final-like fencing every time, rather than only for the last few bouts, you would also have more air time for each individual athlete, which would allow the athletes to present their potential sponsor with a lot more to offer, days of exposure rather than minuets.
Fencing events over numerous days with single bouts taking place in different rooms would allow spectators to come get a glimpse of their favorite athletes in the best type of fencing environment. Organizers could sell tickets to individual bouts or to full competitions. We could create a world for fencing not by changing they sport but by changing the way it is presented. Fencing is the best sport in the world. A True sport. Allow its athletes to shine and grow and the sport will follow suit.