Humans tend to need to breathe even when it would be very nice not to. Of course it doesn't help that some people need to wash their fencing jackets, as the smell could kill several small animals. Though, truth be told, fencing equipment is much easier to clean than Kendo equipment that is dyed with indigo that tends to run. Needless to say the smell in Kendo can be overwhelming. It is very necessary to air out or wash equipment in Hawaii, as anything left in a pile will soon become colorful. And don't even get me started on rust and weapons, or that Hawaii eats everything, maybe I will write a list of materials and how they don't hold up to Hawaii some other day.
On the serious side, breathing during fencing almost needs to be well practiced. Breathing in certain loud ways before an attack or other action can become a tell-tale, so be careful. But the need for release when doing an action, such as a lunge, is very true. Holding your breath while doing any action may harm you, but it is most likely going to slow you down, meaning they will stab you. Smooth breathing is one of the keys to smooth movement. There is a release after the point where a competitor screams and pumps their fist.
Watching the Olympics this past August, I noticed quite a bit of screaming and yelling after a point. I really don't like it, and it gets really annoying on the other side of the strip, I call them screamers. It is used to sway the director so that the confidence in a point is seen and it can be a release although it is not very good.Kendo has a kiai, or a shout that identifies the target and the intention. The kiai is before and during the action whereas the scream in fencing is usually at the end. In Kendo the shout can demoralize the opponent, and also it is a release while the "killing" movement is made. But in fencing the blades are much thinner and an important part of calling the action is listening to the beats and parries. So if a scream was during then a fencer may be warned or possibly carded for anything before the halt.
There is a school of thought that uses "Hey-la!" It can be common, and used as a feint. The "hey" is the bladework and can be drawn out as more parries and attacks are necessary with "La!" being the perfect point. This of course is a form of release, or not being tense when attacking. I think this is from the French school but I am not sure. The big question to most people who aren't just afraid to vocalize, is will it help? I think the answer is yes, but be careful of overuse, or it becoming a tell-tale. But back to just breathing.
On just the breathing side, you should be in good enough shape that a bout with 9 minutes of total fencing won't make you die on the strip. Many people don't think of fencing as to intense, but unless you can stand still with perfect technique, or stunning stationary stabbing, you need to move. If your opponent realizes that you are easily winded, then they can run you up and down the strip, taking advantage of your tiredness to win the bout. The cross training does not need to be intense for those who just want to enjoy the sport, I walk, hike and swim. I also lift weights, do push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, squats, calf-raises, run hills, but I need to do that because I work in a chair most of the day. I am doing better at maintaining an exercise program, but I need to keep my motivation. With all of that, one of the most important exercises seems really easy, but shouldn't be overlooked.
Breathing well can be its own exercise. Taking into consideration breathing when a person with a sword approaches can seem crazy, but it is essential. The fight or flight principle drops a bunch of adrenaline into the body causing increased heart-rate and faster breathing. Hopefully you won't run from the strip, but not having control while fencing, even if your body is fighting, will be worse for the damage given and taken. You need to be in control, adrenaline is okay, but you need to relax so that your movements are less jerky and you can put the point in line before tying to get a touch. Breathe with the diaphragm as this will greatly reduce how much your arms move when you breathe as well many other benefits suggested by breathing gurus such as singers and swimmers. The better you breathe the better fencing you will do, even if you don't beat more people.
Lastly, dealing with a surprise or a hard hit can cause a fencer to lose too much focus. If you need a second after a hard hit, or someone running into you, ask for it and recover your breathing. If it is just a surprise people still often stop breathing. If they had splashed water on you or thrown you into a river, this might be a good reaction, however, not breathing on the strip will soon slow you down.
When you have thought about breathing and trained, then you can focus more on the technique and allow the under-workings continue to function appropriately when there is stress. So if you have stopped breathing in protest about how much I wrote about it, I can say that I will stop, for now.
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