Fencers scream for the same reason competitors in other sports scream - to express frustration, celebrate, influence officials, intimidate and because of pain or injury.
Below we’ll take you through these five common reasons in more detail.
Reasons Why Fencers Shout
Competition fencing can be emotionally, mentally and physically draining. Fencers are pushing themselves to the limit in every bout, and have prepared for months for competition.
So naturally, when they fall below their own standards, fail to meet expectations, are out-fenced by an opponent, or fail an attack, for example, they may express that by shouting.
It’s a primal sign to release the tension and negative feelings about their performance. It can also act as an auditory barrier between the cause of the scream and the next point they’re competing for - a coping mechanism to help improve their performance.
Conversely, along with all the tension and expectation of competition, comes an opportunity to achieve and succeed during a bout.
A fencer may instinctively shout if they score a touch or win a bout. Like all sportspeople, they will celebrate their hard-earned wins and so shouting or screaming when winning a point or overall bout is no surprise.
Aside from shouting as a reaction to a positive or negative performance, a fencer may shout in order to influence the referee and judges.
This is more common in non-electric (dry or steam) competitions, where a fencer, in the event of a double hit, or near double hit, may shout or scream to convince the referee that they believe they won the point.
This can also be the case in electric fencing, particularly in epee, where there are no right of way rules, and where there could be more room for confusion over who deserves to be awarded a point in the event of a near-double hit.
A fencer shouting may also have a psychological effect on the referee, who may perceive the shouting fencer to be more deserving of contested points, or points generally over the course of a bout. This is especially pronounced should the opposing fencer be quiet, with officials subconsciously viewing the louder fencer as trying harder or being more dominant, even if they are not.
This strategy is used by sportspeople more generally to gain a marginal edge over the opponent, where a judgement one way or the other could make all the difference, and where how you are perceived by officials could sway a result in your favour..
Pain or Injury
A more obvious reason why a fencer might scream is due to pain or injury. Fencing requires a fencer to stretch, reach, avoid and volt continually as part of attacking and defensive manoeuvres.
As a result, injuries might occur during a bout, or even temporary pain as a result of overstretching, receiving a hit, or making contact with the opponent.
Fencing is a duel between two opponents, and since the earliest days of human combat, the voice has been used to intimidate opponents, and helping the screamer gain the advantage.
While a fencer may appear to be shouting in response to a touch, or other stimulus, a key reason why a fencer may choose to shout or scream is to unsettle the opponent.
By projecting themselves vocally, they literally take up more space, and appear psychologically more dominant in the eyes of the opponent.
In a bout where it is just two fencers and every touch counts, making your opponent think you are more dominant or aggressive than them, can have huge knock on effects, especially if the opponent is a novice.
Is Screaming in Fencing Unsportsmanlike?
Screaming itself is not unsportsmanlike, but it all depends on context. Screaming as a natural reaction to something that occurs in a bout is fine, and even common.
However, screaming at an opponent, spectator or official, name calling or combining a scream with a physical outburst is completely unacceptable.
Using actual, coherent words as part of your scream might also be frowned upon or make you subject to a caution from the referee.
Additionally, screaming in an uneven bout where you are the dominant fencer, or when you are comfortably beating your opponent would be seen as unsportsmanlike.
Screaming Etiquette in Fencing
Screaming in fencing is generally seen as acceptable providing the stakes are high for the fencer, it is even competition and the screaming appears natural and not forced or overdone.
Screaming in practice, for example, is not acceptable as it is a low-stakes training environment.
In conclusion, fencers scream for a variety of reasons like all sportspeople, with no real unique reasons beyond any other sport. However, while it is accepted, it can be done in the wrong context or in the wrong manner which makes it unwelcome by fencers and fencing fans alike.