Samantha Auty proudly sponsored by Fencing Imports Australia

Sunday, 23 February 2014


Hi All,

This analysis is going to be much shorter than my first because I am going to post my conclusions rather than go through my post competition analysis in detail like the first one. My conclusions from this competition are mainly from a mental, rather than technical perspective. This is not because I haven't identified anything wrong with my fencing technically (there is always something to fix!) but because during this competition I had a mini epiphany about my attitude towards these competitions, and how detrimental it was to my performance.

Cut after the poule rounds, with 1 victory and 5 defeats.
First match: 5-0 defeated by AU- Hong Kong
Second Match: 5-0 defeated by Kiryanova- Russia
Third Match: 5-3 defeated by Pundyk- Ukraine
Fourth Match: 5-3 defeated by Gardos-Hungary
Fifth Match: 5-0 defeated by Yu-China
Sixth Match: 5-2 beat Alonso Romero- Mexico

In two and half weeks training between the Grand Prix in Orleans and this competition my focus at training in Rome was on my ability to accelerate backwards when I needed too and on my developing the finish of my attack (at the right time and with a fast hand). I have definitely improved on these technical aspects over the past two weeks, and when it came to focus on a competitive mind set for this competition I found that focusing on breathing to relax, and being ready to move a much as possible worked well in training.

This also worked well in my warm up before the competition.

Everyone would be better at their sport if they competed as well as they trained. For the majority of athletes this is the hard part of competing. The trademark of champions and elite athletes at their peak is not only their technical and physical proficiency but their consistent ability to perform at their best under pressure. Asides from all my technical and physical deficiencies compared to the very best in the world in fencing, my major problem at the World Cup standard is being able to perform well at this level of intensity and pressure. Quite simply the attitude I had towards these competitions wasn't working.

After losing my first two matches 5-0, my mental attitude switched from worrying about 'moving' and trying to 'feel' when to execute my actions to (pardon my French) one of 'F*** it'. At this stage I had not scored a single touch and I had lost to someone I had beat previously at this level. The idea of having nothing to lose and not caring relaxed me and instead of expecting something and trying to respond to it I was simply allowing myself to fence.

Allowing yourself to 'fence' may sound a little bit elementary, but the one thing I actually admitted to myself for the first time at this competition is that I am scared of competing at this level. This fear affects my technical ability as well as my focus and as a result I fail to execute any action correctly. This fight and ability I am known to have at national competitions in Australia are simply lost because I have not admitted to myself that I am scared.

This analysis is a lot less technical than my previous one because my major deficiency during competitions of this intensity is emotional and mental. The first step for me was being able to admit to myself that I am fearful in competition, now I have two days of solid training before my last World Cup of the season to address this.
  • The major factor in my losses has been a fear of failure, to the extent that I fail to execute my actions properly. Over the next week my focus will be on letting myself fence, and to fence as if I have nothing to lose.
  • The technical deficiencies I have identified previously are improving but still need work, particularly to be able to translate to a competition environment. These include: lack of hand speed and control, heavy footwork with no control of acceleration backwards or the fast finish of an attack, and a slower than required change of direction from defence to attack.
Thanks for reading guys!

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Competition Preparation Overseas including Mental Preparation

Hi All,

As my next competition is next weekend in Ghent, Belgium, I thought that I would give you all an insight into preparing for a competition overseas. This post will cover aspects of preparing for competition when travelling as well as specific mental preparation for fencing. This is assuming that you are physically prepared from your training, including tapering your training within the week of the competition. For example, all my training sessions in the week of a competition are just a full competition warm up followed by competitive booting ie fencing to win. Remember the aim of good preparation is to a) reduce pre-competition stress b) increase competition focus and c) relax!

Even when you are travelling in general overseas there are lots of things to consider when preparing for your trip such as travel insurance, accommodation, travel to and from accommodation etc. So when preparing to travel for a competition you have to also prepare for that competition as well as travel. Your preparation should allow for plenty of time to relax before a competition, and to prepare you for anything. Here are some things to consider when travelling to a competition overseas:
  • Timing your travel: If you are competing overseas it is a good idea to travel from Australia with plenty of time to prepare and relax before the competition. For example, for competitions in Europe or America I will always leave a week early, and organise training in the same time zone before the competition. This way my body can get over jet lag and I have time to prepare myself mentally and relax without worrying about a big travel day before the competition. If your competition is closer to home (like a regional Asia on competition) you may only need 2-3 days before the competition to prepare, rather than a whole week.
  • Be informed: Take time to research how you are going to get from the airport to your accommodation in detail. Most fencing competition overseas are not in the main cities, but regional cities that may be a 30min to 2 hour train ride from the city. By knowing how you re going to get there, and what transport times are you can massively reduce the stress of travelling to a competition (particularly if you are arriving the day before). Additionally, being well prepared can also give you an idea of a back up plan, if something goes wrong.
  • Know your accommodation: This sounds a bit simplistic, but if you are certain about whether you have free WiFi, breakfast paid for, and travel from your accommodation to the venue, then you have a lot less to prepare for when you arrive at your accommodation (usually the day before your competition if you have been training elsewhere). It also doesn't hurt to research where the nearest supermarket is before you get there.
  • Useful tools for research: for finding good accommodation at decent prices- Expedia.com or booking.com, for researching the general area (including supermarkets)- Google maps, travel from airports to main cities- the airport website, regional train travel- the country's train operator website.

I mentioned before about researching a supermarket in the area. This is because being prepared for food and drink during a competition is particularly important.
  • Food and drink for competition: Not all venues have a canteen or places to refill water bottles, and in some places you cannot drink tap water. As such it is really important to ensure that you know a place nearby where you can buy water, competition snacks, lunch and dinner. Depending on your accommodation it may also be possible to have meals there (or sneak lunch from the breakfast buffet).
  • Pack your own first aid/ survival kit: This is about being prepared for anything, just as you would bring a weapon fixing kit you should prepare by bringing the basics in the event that anything goes wrong physically. My recommendations for a basic first aid kit for sport travel are: bandaids, alcohol antiseptic wipes (or antiseptic liquid), cotton wool balls, compression bandage, cold spray, anti inflammatory gel, anti inflammatory tablets, any injury specific medications/ straps/ or braces, gastro strop, hydrolyse, tissues. Also include some personal survival items such as any vitamins or medication you are taking on a regular basis and sanitary items.

This part of the post is going to move more into fencing specific mental preparation for competition, including exercises that I use and practice on a regular basis. I still find that I am working out what works best for me, particularly as my major weakness during competition is my lack of ability to relax. Mental preparation is like any other kind of training you need to practice it and find want works for you for you to be able to benefit from it during a competition. Often the difference between the winner and loser of a bout is not the technical ability of the fencers but their mental preparation and ability to focus.
  • Mental activation: mental activation involves being in a comfortable position to begin with (usually with eyes closed) and activating each part of your body with a sensation that works for you. The idea is that you are connecting your mental thought to your physical body. There are various methods and sensations used for this including imagining heat spreading to that area in your body from a central point, or pinpointing a specific area to attach the sensation to.
  • Meditation/ relaxation: How you begin a meditative/ relaxation session really is a matter of experimentation as to what works for you. I usually try and reach a comfortable position and focus on the process of breathing. The action of breathing in and out slowly thereby focusing on one thing and relaxing by banishing all other thoughts.
I tend to use the above methods the night before a competition. If I am particularly nervous then I will focus on relaxation, if I am feeling flat and apathetic then I will focus on mental activation.
  • Visualisation: visualisation is a particularly strong mental tool for athletes. If you are able to visualise a hit working against an opponent then it is much more likely to work in competition. Just the same as if you can visualise feeling confident on the piste then you are much more likely to be so on the day.
  • During competition: on the competition day visualising your matches during your warm up may help you to be confident on the piste. However, I really want to stress that mental preparation is different for everyone and you really need to take these basic tools and practice them to figure out what works for you. Some people find focusing on the physical process of a warm up to be far more relaxing and effective than visualising winning on the piste. You also need to be aware that your mood states may change and that you may need a different mental preparation tool that day than you did last time. For example, I may use visualisation during a warm up if I am really struggling with my confidence, but if I am already confident and need to focus on relaxation I will focus purely on the physical act of breathing during my warm up. During a match in between hits I will focus on my breathing to relax my physical state before the next hit begins.

Preparation is meant to allow you to control everything you can possibly control so that you are more relaxed before a competition. However, remember that you cannot control everything and that is why you need to allow yourself to prepare for absolutely anything to happen, then you don't need to worry about things outside of your control (like delayed flights or trains, getting sick, who you are fencing, even the weather!). Good preparation is the essence of being ready :)

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Training Overseas 2- Costs, Moving About and Planning.

Hi All,

This blog is going to focus on some of the practicalities of training for fencing overseas. Things like the costs involved, tips for reducing costs, moving around cities with equipment and how to plan your trip within a yearly competition and training plan.

Firstly, I would like to address a point asked by a reader about when you know you are ready for a training and competition tour overseas. The answer relates back to my first post about training overseas: you have to organise to train and compete in places that suit your level of fencing. It makes no sense to organise a tour to train with the Hungarian Senior Mens Sabre Team and compete at Senior World Cups if you haven't even made a top 4 in a Senior National Competition. I would even say that you are not ready for that level unless you have won a Senior National Competition. As a rough guide here are a couple of questions to ask yourself before deciding if an overseas tour is right for you:
  1. Can you get more out of training and competing in Australia? Is there any more training or any level of competition you can do in Australia that will allow you to improve? Going overseas is an expensive exercise, look for options at home that can give you benefit before looking overseas.
  2. Is it possible for you to do a training and competition tour overseas that is suited to our level? For example if you are a Junior fencer, not quite ready for A Grade competition but in need of more competition practice the Asian and European Cadet/ Junior/ U23 Circuit is quite well developed. This would allow you to do an easier level of competition (satellite) and you could also look for somewhere to train that will give you benefit without being too hard ie local Asian countries like Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. A big mistake Australians often make is first of all going to big competitions like World Championships over a training tour and regional Asian competitions.
  3. Can you qualify to compete overseas? Do you have enough Australian ranking points to compete in certain competitions? Is the entry to some competitions restricted? ie Commonwealth Championships, Asian Champs, and World Champs. All answers to these can be found on the Policies part of the AFF website -> www.ausfencing.org
Know you have decided whether you are ready to take on an overseas trip or not, you know have to fit it into your schedule! Here there are many things to consider such as the National competition timetable, school terms, University semesters, and work. For some it's easier to do multiple trips a year when work is quieter or during school holidays. I decided to do one trip a year during the big uni summer holidays so that a) it doesn't interfere with my study and work experience b) it is during a quiet time for my work (Fencing Victoria, coaching and retail) and c) it is during the break in the National competition circuit which allows me to get as much competition practice as possible.
Here's some things to consider when trying to plan a trip:
  • What are the aims of your trip? To gain experience, to compete to get international ranking points, or to train to improve?
  • What is the timetable of the international season? For Juniors/ Cadets this season starts earlier (October) than the Senior season (January) and finishes earlier (April compared to July).
  • What is the national circuit timetable? The national season is at odds with the international season. Our break is December-Feb, whilst overseas its during their summer (August-September). This is great for gaining more experience during Australian down time but not so good for planning rest during the season. This is where you need to consider your aims for competitions. For example, I see this trip overseas as the peak of my season (because I'm not fencing Asian or World Champs) and then I rest afterwards. The national circuit competitions are practice and then National Champs in December is my lead up competition to this peak. When you rest and peak are major considerations for a combined training and competition tour.
  • When does School/ Uni have holidays? Education comes before fencing. Ideally, trips need to be outside of term/ semester, or if you have an opportunity to go on exchange in uni use that option.
  • When can I take a break from work? For me this is easy to answer because the State Competition season finishes before national champs and doesn't begin until late February. Additionally, retail work and coaching is very quiet throughout January when everyone is away. For others working full time this may be more restricted as to when you can take annual leave, or time you may be given off.
Ok you have planned a time for your trip, now you have to save the money! Keep in mind that costs are going to vary significantly depending on where you go. Because of this I am going to use my trip to Europe as a fairly detailed example of the break down of costs.
Here is a break down of the cost of a 2 month tour to Europe for 3 World Cup Competitions (Incl. 1 teams comp) and a total of 4 weeks training:
  • Flights (including three internal European return flights): $3,345.37
  • Accommodation (during training): $1,038.14
  • Accommodation (at competitions): $1,428.22
  • Competition Entry Fees: $549.12
  • Food ( per week for training): $22.83
  • Food (4 days for competition): $30.43
  • Travel (train trips from airports to competition venues, taxis, transport during training): $423.02
  • Travel Insurance: $249.68
TOTAL= $7,216.16
As you can see this trip is expensive but cheaper than the cost of going to Asian Championships and World Championships separately, given that within this trip is 3 individual competitions and a teams competition, and 4 weeks of high level training.

Even so it is expensive so here a few tips for reducing the cost of your trip.
  • Flights: Buy flights on sale! I managed to get all my flights at a decent price but with really good airlines such as Emirates and Alitalia, which means I don't need to worry about budget airline baggage restrictions.
  • Accommodation during training: If you know the people and place you are training in well then try and see if you can stay at someone's house. There are heaps of options! An American girl I met over here found a cheap apartment a accommodation for her stay in Italy. I was really lucky and a small and quiet hostel (with a kitchen!) 2 train stops away from where I am training, its cheap, easy, and I can cook for myself!
  • Accommodation at competitions: Most competitions (particularly championships or World Cups) have official hotels. The buses to and from venues leave these hotels and sometimes weapons check can be here as well. That doesn't mean you have to stay there! Find out if there is a cheaper hotel close to the official one, that way you can reduce the cost of your accommodation but still get the benefits such as transport to the competition venue.
  • Food: During training I have been able to find lots of cheap supermarkets and in Rome there are heaps of fruit and veggie markets around so living off $20 a week has been easy (pasta is very cheap carbohydrate!). My main tip for reducing food costs is don't eat out, stay at a place with a kitchen. At competitions this is harder but most hotels have an all you can eat breakfast option, this is a really good one to pay for during competitions because you can eat a good breakfast and sneak a sandwich out for later. Then you are only looking at the cost of buying dinner.
  • Travel: Unfortunately there isn't a lot you can do to reduce the cost of train travel and travel from airports other than using public transport where you an instead of taxis. This is one of those expensive parts of the trip.
  • GRANTS: Chances are if you are good enough to start training and travelling overseas then you are eligible for sporting grants from local governments or private organisations. Local councils always have individual initiative type grants for athletes, and you never know what you can find from your State government, school or University. Here's a list of grants and sponsors I have received for this trip:
    • Fencing Imports Australia (my equipment sponsor)
    • Voyager Victorian Travel Fund $500 grant
Additionally, here's a list of grants I have applied for in the past, and other grantors I know of:
  • Victorian Government Elite Athlete Travel Grant for up to $2,000
  • Local Bayside Council Grant for $500
  • Layne Beachley Aim for the Stars Foundation (girls only)
  • Local Sporting Champions Program
  • Oceania Fencing Federation
  • Monash University Elite Athlete Support Program
Finally, here are some practical tips for travelling with a fencing bag :)
  • Trains: Trains are annoying to get on and off with a fencing bag, but its possible and preferable to the cost of a taxi. Some inter-country trains I have been on Europe have had issues with a fencing bag being on board (trains like the Eurostar) but it was basically a matter of paying a little more money and checking the bag in (still cheaper than flying). The only major tip I have for train travel and fencing bags is AVOID PEAK TIME TRAIN TRAVEL WITH LUGGAGE. Trying to get to the airport on Rome Metro at 8am with a fencing bag and carry on suitcase is not pleasant, and other (already squished) commuters really dislike it.
  • Carry On: This applies to plane travel rather than trains, but always pack your fencing gear that you can't easily replace in your carry on so the airline can't lose it. This means items like: your breeches, lame or plastron (for epee), fencing shoes, and if you can fit it your mask. This is because if you have to compete the next day and the airline looses your bag you only have to replace your weapons, wires, glove, and underplastron. You have to carry your breeches and marked jacket with you because you will not be able to replace the country colours and name within a day.
This was a long post but I hope it answers any questions have about the practical side of organising a training and competition tour overseas. It's a big undertaking but I've found every part worth it. I'm extremely lucky to have the support to be able to combine my hard work with travel, and see the world with fencing :)

Monday, 3 February 2014


Hi All,

My first post competition analysis is going to go into a lot of detail about how I structure my analysis after a competition to gain not only an idea on what I need to do to improve in competition but also what my training before the next competition (for me this is on the 21st and 22nd of Feb in Belgium) should be focusing on. These analyses are going to be summarised as the 'fencing learning' part of my blog after this trip is finished. I hope you guys gain something from seeing how I structure my analysis as well as from what I have actually learnt from competing at an A Grade level.

In short my result was not a result, it gained no ranking points and no useful placing, nothing else other than experience. I did not make the cut for the Direct Elimination rounds after the poules. My poule results were as follows:
First Match vs Hanziklova CZE- Win 5-4
Second Match vs Zhovnir UKR- lose 5-1
Third Match vs Bujdoso GER- lose 5-1
Fourth Match vs Suchet FRA- lose 5-4
Fifth Match vs Navarro ESP- lose 5-4
Sixth Match vs Au Yeung HKG- lose 5-2

1V5D - Final Ranking =108

  • Warm Up: Physically I felt ready, and mentally ready. This indicates that my pre-competition preparation worked well. I have stuck with the same preparation for the past 6 months and 1 and half days rest before a comp, mental activation exercises the night before, and physical warm up with music has worked well. However, I feel that my warm up was lacking in bouting preparation. For the world cup in Gent, Belgium I am going to need more warm up bouts of a high intensity to be able to relax in the competition. This will be particularly difficult in Gent as there usually is 3 flights of poules as it is a small venue.
  • First Match: I have fenced Hanziklova 3 times now and won every time. I felt like I wasn't moving as much as I needed to given the close score.
  • Second Match and Third Match: I am pairing these two matches together because I lost by a big margin for the same reasons. I lost a few hits on my attack off the engarde line, this happened a bit in training in Rome before the competition as well. Another reason I lost hits was because of my focus on preparation and distance parries off the engarde line. I need to focus on moving further away from my comfort zone and fast backwards acceleration.
  • Fourth and Fifth Match: I am pairing these two matches together as well because in both my movement was much better but I lost silly hits in the fourth match due to bad execution (it was messy) and the same attack from engarde in the fifth match. The fifth match was against the top seed in my poule (ranked no 21 in the world) so this match proves I can fence at this level, I just need to translate this into physical results.
  • Sixth Match: This match had very messy handwork like the fourth match and it really seemed like I had run out of steam. I think a little confidence goes a long way at this stage in the poule rounds.

My initial analysis identified 3 main problems: 1) Loss of the attack from the engarde line 2) Little movement from the engarde line comfort zone and no backwards acceleration 3) Messy handwork
  • Loss of the attack from the engarde line: I mentioned before that I had picked up on this in training in Rome before the competition, the feedback I received then was that I am not moving far enough forward for it to look like my attack. This reflects that fact that the speed and acceleration FORWARD of the feet plays a major role in the determination of the attack in sabre. This loss of the attack against technically better fencers means I need to focus on not necessarily FASTER movement forward with the feet but MORE movement forward.
  • Little movement from engarde: This is partly mental and technical. Mentally I did not feel confident to move beyond my favourite game of preparation forward from the engarde line to draw an attack and parry and riposte. As such I need to practice moving more in practice in Rome and apply this game to extended distance situations. In training I need to develop confidence my practicing continuously outside of my comfort zone and not just practicing what I can do to be perfect at it. Secondly, I need to practice long distance attacks and fast acceleration backwards. Feedback from coaches in regards to this suggest that my feet are too far apart and I don't push back far enough and that I am too heavy on my feet in preparation. Consequently, this week is going to have a heavy focus on footwork where I can try and apply these coaches suggestions to aid my technical improvement.
  • Messy handwork: As well as the feet moving forward far in the attack the hand needs to be relaxed and smooth. I find that my hand tends to hold back from the finish of the attack and my technical proficiency in compound attacks in lacking. As a result, this week's focus on top of more footwork is some compound blade work. This is also going to be addressed by me taking lessons with coaches in Rome (which I am super excited about :))

I have added a refereeing analysis because sabre is a priority weapon and therefore the referees play a huge role in determining the winners and losers of a bout. These are my observations from Orleans.
  • The main determining factor for separating attacks from the engarde lines is the feet. Who begins with the feet? And who moves forward well?
  • However, the referees appear to have also been told to not focus only on the feet but on the arm as well. Consequently, there is a very indistinct line between an attack and counterattack and an attack in preparation. The main lesson to take away from this is the attack must move forward far with the feet but the hand CANNOT be left behind and must flow through the attack.

So I have a training plan for the next two and half weeks involving more footwork, handwork and lessons. Bouting practice is now about putting myself outside of my comfort zone and moving around the piste much more. Now to put the hard work in! :)