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Why do Olympic fencers scream? To intimidate, to release, to signal, to celebrate

Bruno Cooke July 26, 2021
Why do Olympic fencers scream? To intimidate, to release, to signal, to celebrate
Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

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Olympic fencing has been shaken up several times already at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, with fencers from Hong Kong, the US, India and Hungary making history for their respective nations. All the flurry is also causing audiences to wonder, why do fencers scream so loudly? Is it painful – or is it a tactical?

Why do fencers scream?

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics have catapulted fencing into the public eye. 

While audiences may be accustomed to hearing verbal exclamations from the likes of tennis players, basketball players and rugby players (especially from New Zealand), the mores of competitive fencers may be less familiar.

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The Wall Street Journal put together a video in 2016, for the Rio Olympics, about why fencers scream so often and so loudly. It features interview snippets from US Olympians Daryl Homer, Dagmara Wozniak and Monica Aksamit. 

They identify three reasons that competitive fencers scream: to intimidate, to signal to the referee that you’ve just won a point, and to release pressure.

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Let’s break those down in a bit more detail

So, reason one, why fencers might scream at their opponent: to intimidate them.

In the words of Polish-American saber fencer Dagmara Wozniak, “you want to intimidate your opponent by yelling and showing ‘I’m confident, I’m here, and I’m going to take this home’”.

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Reason two: to convince the referee that you’ve won the point. 31-year-old Olympic bronze medallist Monica Aksamit says her coach, Yury Gelman, encourages her “yell for every touch”. That way, a “weak” referee is less likely to miss something.

Reason three: to release pressure. Gelman says a player releasing pressure via verbal exclamations is less likely to be tense. Wozniak says she screams when she wins a point as it punctuates it. It helps her to bask in the moment.

Are there any other reasons why fencers scream during a bout?

The top answer on Quora concurs with the first in the WSJ’s list. Its second point, “Adrenaline Rush”, is similar to the way athletes might scream in order to release pressure. 

Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

And the third point, “Making a statement”, is not dissimilar from the WSJ’S second, although it is broader. 

The author, a Rutgers competitive fencer, writes, “in order to reduce the chances of going in cold, fencers can scream loudly before the match, to psyche themselves up and have their adrenaline running”. 

“This way, they can mentally prepare themselves. See the Hakka dances New Zealand Sports Teams do.”

Seven reasons from the Academy of Fencing Masters

Meanwhile, a post on the Academy of Fencing Masters Blog lists seven reasons why fencers yell before, during or after a bout. 

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Some are repeats from above, but others are standalone reasons.

Altogether, these are: to release tension, to regain confidence, to combat nerves, to celebrate, to reinstall their presence on the strip, to play “mind games”, and to influence the referee. 

However, they also make it clear that fencers should yell only when appropriate. Yelling is “an important part of fencing”, but “if you have secured a significant lead, continuing to yell becomes unsportsmanlike”.

As such, fencers should “yell respectfully”.

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Bruno is a novelist, amateur screenwriter and journalist with interests in digital media, storytelling, film and politics. He’s lived in France, China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, but returned to the UK for a degree (and because of the pandemic) in 2020. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Forge Press and The Friday Poem, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com.