I find fencing beautiful and intriguing for so many reasons. One of which is the variety of skills and knowledge fencing offers. The possibilities are limitless! The struggle then is keeping track of all the things to learn, think about, or develop. I like to think I have a good memory, but that’s not enough. I have to write down what I learn somewhere or else I risk losing it. That’s where a fencing journal comes in.
A fencing journal is a really powerful way to improve your fencing and its usefulness is really hard for me to overestimate. Here are some of the major benefits I’ve been able to see as I’ve used a fencing journal over the years:
- I’ve been able to celebrate/recognize my progress
- I’ve been able to take an analytical look at my fencing skills so I can improve
- I’ve been able to track my fellow fencers
- I’ve been able to track my overall performance
- I’ve been able to set goals and make plans to achieve them
- I’ve been able to reflect on my fencing journey
All of that has really helped me over the years, but it wasn’t easy when I first started using a fencing journal. Thinking about those first blank pages staring up at me was intimidating and made me want to just close the book again and keep on going as I had been. I’m glad I pushed through it, but if I ever want to hope others will benefit from a fencing journal like I have, I thought I should share my experience on how to start a fencing journal and why it will help.
How to Start a Fencing Journal
Remember that the following steps are flexible – the most important part of this process is for you to personalize it. If something doesn’t work for you, then don’t hesitate to try it another way. Always realize that the way that you start off doesn’t have to be the way that you do it forever – be flexible enough to make changes in journaling so that you can adapt this tool to fit your needs and style.
Choosing the right journal
The first step in the process is getting the right journal for you. Today’s tech can offer you a great deal of opportunities to have access to your journal from anywhere, in addition to the traditional pen and paper version. I love technology and am pretty tech-savvy, but I still use a combination of traditional and non-traditional methods.
If you’ve got a tablet or phone, you might try Trello, OneNote or Evernote. These apps allow you to take notes in a variety of different ways to fit your style. You can then organize them, title them, and upload relevant files and even photos. These are fantastic tools as you can access them from literally anywhere – the web on a computer, phone or tablet. I, personally, lean towards Trello because it’s free and available offline, which means you don’t have to use data or Wi-Fi.
Pro: Can go anywhere & it’s easy to get things organized.
Con: If you’re not used to a mobile device, it can be a big learning curve at first.
The great thing about a binder is that you can print off pages to fill in for various items – ie scenarios, goals, manuals, etc. It’s like having your own personal Tome of Fencing Knowledge. It’s also great for organizing your notes into sections using tabbed dividers and you can always insert more paper when you run out.
Pro: Lots of structure to let you just fill in your journal info.
Con: Can be bulky.
This is my go to format for my fencing journal, and there’s a reason. It’s portable, simple, and super customizable. It’s a great way to get started with a fencing journal and there’s no learning curve. If you know how to write, doodle, and understand your own gibberish than a notebook can work for you. Add stick on tabs if you want to separate the journal into sections, or just start today and go chronologically if that makes more sense. Use colored pens, stickers or add in doodles/diagrams to liven it up.
Pro: Easy to get started, simple and elegant.
Con: Somewhat limited and can offer too little structure.
Commit to writing regularly
No matter what format you choose, remember that a journal is only worth what you put into it. Keep it with your fencing gear and commit to writing weekly at the very least, or more often if you’re serious about tracking your progress. Don’t get out of the habit when the season is over. There is always something worth jotting down especially if you want to remember it for next season. After a while, writing will become a habit and you won’t have to work so hard to get the words out.
Organize your entries
This is a BIG deal when it comes to using a fencing journal. You need to be able to find your writings in the future if they’re going to be of any use. You can always organize it in strictly chronological order, but I’ve found that can be a little overwhelming over time as specific information can be lost in the shuffle. Keep in mind that you don’t have to stick with anyone organizational method forever, so if you start with something then you can always change things up!
Here are some basic sections that are good to start with:
- Goals: Short term, mid range and long term, plus action steps to get you there.
- Training notes: Progress, teacher’s instructions, things you’re struggling with. Update this at least once per week.
- Workout notes: Especially if you do additional workouts. Include here length, number of reps, body measurements, etc.
- Equipment: List things like vendors that you liked, fixes that worked for broken equipment, maintenance how-to’s, etc.
- Inspiration: Quotes, fencers you admire, etc. This is a great spot to keep track of memorable moments that made you happy to be a fencer and to record your experiences of events or things that just made you feel great. Then you’ll be able to look back on these highlights when you’re feeling discouraged.
- Practice notes: This is where you note what happened at a given practice, from opponents to scenarios to quirks of the battlefield. You’ll find these tremendously helpful in the future! Be sure to make notes quickly after practice so that you don’t forget important details.
Don’t give up on it
This is the MOST important part! Spotty journaling isn’t so helpful because you don’t know what happened between entries. Make yourself write just a bit to keep in the habit if you’re struggling to keep it going. This is where I’ve struggled the most. Life happens. I know that. You know that. It just does and it gets in the way of being consistent. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but at least add something to your journal. Consistency is what really matters.
Reflect back as you move forward
The final piece of advice is to look back on old journals. Whether they’re from a few months ago or years ago, you’ll find that old journal entries are a treasure trove of incredibly powerful information that will help you to improve your fencing today. Whenever I look back on some of my old notes I’ll either be proud of how far I’ve come, inspire myself with some nugget of information that I’d completely forgotten about, or remember something I wanted to work on. What’s the point of keeping one if you’re never going to take the time to look back on them?
Why Keeping a Fencing Journal Will Make You a Better Fencer
I hope that made sense and anyone who is thinking about starting a fencing journal will have an easier time than I did. That leaves us with the why. Why keeping a fencing journal will make you a better fencer?
I think the most important reason is to celebrate your progress. When we get better at something over time, it’s easy to forget where we started. If you’re having a tough practice or feel like you’re falling into a rut, go back a few weeks or months in your journal and remember how far you’ve come.
A second reason is that it forces you to take an analytical look at your fencing skills and actively seek improvement. Just writing these things down will cause them to leak into your practices and you will find that a weakness you write down today becomes a strength by next season!
Lastly, you can track your opponents. You’re going to face the same opponents multiple times every practice. If you face someone you’ve been struggling with, you can quickly review any notes you have from previous experiences and learn from your mistakes. Advanced fencers focus not only on their skills in the bout, but also on their opponent’s weaknesses and ways to beat that particular fencer.
For me, I know it has helped me because I’ve seen the difference of when I kept one and when I didn’t. I also know that the only way to improve is to recognize and be actively engaged in that effort. The only person who can make me become a better fencer is myself. Damian can’t do it for me. Being Captain doesn’t magically make me a better fencer. It’s my personal effort that matters and my fencing journal has helped me focus and dedicate my efforts to meet my goals.
For you, I know that it will help you be a better fencer because it makes you an active participant in fencing. You’ll notice that fencing will make more sense, that lessons are easier to learn, and that you won’t see your skills plateau as often. You’ll consistently improve without petering out.
I hope I’ve inspired you to keep your own fencing journal. Each fencer who can record their unique perspective will not only improve themselves but will be better able to share their insights with others. As a final thought, I want to give you a simple first step if you’re not sure what to do when you grab a notebook and look at those first intimidating blank pages. On the first page, ask yourself the following questions and record your answers:
- What is my favorite part of fencing?
- What is my biggest strength?
- What is my biggest weakness?
- What was the last piece of feedback I received from another fencer?
- What other fencers inspire you?
- What goal do I want to achieve next?
- What piece of equipment do I want to get next?
- What does Honor mean to me?
- What do I want to be known for as a fencer?
- Why do I fence?
Once you’ve answered those ten questions, date the page and check back in 3-6 months where you’ll answer the same ten questions again. I know you’ll see a difference.