Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Calibration and the Correct Execution of the Thrust


Everyone has been struck a too hard by their opponent before, and indeed the same could be said of ourselves in the same situation. This blog, as noted by the title will focus on calibration in the execution of the thrust. The thrust is the primary attack in many forms of fencing and knowing the correct calibration so that we do not injure our opponents is important and is something that needs to be discussed. This blog will address various details with regard to the execution of the thrust and examine how we can minimise the chances of over calibrating our thrust, or in more simple terms hitting too hard.

The two root causes of over calibration in the thrust comes from a problem with knowledge of distance or from the technical execution of the thrust. Each one of these will be addressed with some pointers about how these can be improved and why there may be problems. The last part of the blog will address some problem solving suggestions as to how we ourselves can prevent over calibration and how we can fix the same problem in our students. Time and distance are the two root principles of fencing and any flaw in them will be expressed when we come up against an opponent. In this particular case it is distance which needs to be addressed.

Knowing your distance is about situational awareness. Knowing your own distance with a thrust, and also the distance to the opponent. This particular element will be affected by other things going on during the bout such as movement and each one of these elements needs to be addressed in some form. The lunge is equally important in this equation but at the moment it is the thrust that will be the focus as the lunge is simply a thrust with a forward step added to it. The same elements which will be raised apply equally to the lunge as they do to the thrust.

The first element is your own distance. You need to know how far your point will be away from your body at the full extension of your thrust. If your opponent is within the distance of your thrust it is important that you realise this and do not extend to your full length, otherwise you will strike your opponent too hard. This is the first element, and is forms some of the basis of the others. Once you know your own distance you can move on to the examination of the opponent. You need to be aware of the distance to your opponent in comparison to your own thrusting distance, as stated if they are too close you will over calibrate if you fully extend your thrust. Thus both elements need to be taken into account at the time that the thrust is made. The final element of distance that needs to be taken into account is movement. Both combatants will be moving, during the bout and this will change the distance between you and your opponent. This is most easily seen in the use of the retreat in response to a thrust. You need to be aware of your own movement during the execution of the thrust, but also the movement of the opponent, especially if they close distance as you are thrusting.

The elements described above; your distance, the distance to the opponent and movement, all form a part of situational awareness and it is a lot of information that you need to assimilate in a short amount of time. Situational awareness is also important in order to be aware of the environment. For the classical and sport fencers, this means being aware of your position on the piste. For the Renaissance fencers it is being aware of any boundaries or obstructions that may be present on the field which you are using. These elements also need to be taken into account, but for different reasons. Situational awareness is something which is important as you need to know the distance elements in a very short amount of time, in fact when the thrust is delivered, and even a little before it is delivered. With the awareness of distance discovered, the next element that needs to be addressed is technique.

The correct performance of the thrust, and indeed all skills in fencing is vital. For the current discussion, the correct technical execution of the thrust is vital to correct calibration. Technique is vital to the correct execution of the thrust and it is something that needs to be examined in some detail. It seems like a simple action, but there is a level of skill in it. The thrust must be examined in some detail in order to see how it works and how this may affect our end result.

Accuracy is an element which extends from proper technical performance of the thrust, and while it is not the focus of this discussion it does have elements which are important. An accurate, but slow thrust is substantially more important that a fast but inaccurate one. The accuracy allows us to hit the target that we are aiming for and this can be important in calibration in order that we hit the target at the correct distance rather than some closer one by accident. Thus it can be seen that accuracy in the thrust can be of great importance in its execution and calibration of the thrust. In order to investigate this the technical detail must be addressed.

The thrust is not merely shoving the point of the weapon at the opponent and this must be realised at its most base level. There are various elements which come into play in the execution of the thrust and only if all of these elements are combined together properly will the thrust be executed properly. Each one of these elements can affect the calibration of the thrust, some will more than others. Each part of the thrust needs to be examined in order to understand the action properly and be able to do it properly.

In the execution of the thrust the point should move in a straight line from its starting position to its target with very little deviation. This will ensure that the point has travelled the shortest distance to its target. This is important for accuracy and also speed. A change in direction of the thrust can also affect calibration as the point may gain more velocity, or it may change the distance. Thus it is important that the point travels in the shortest line to its target.

The thrust must be performed as a simple extension of the arm toward the target. This keeps things simple and efficient and leaves the least amount of room for errors in its performance. In some ways it is better not to think about hitting a target merely extending the arm and thus the point into a position into space which happens to be occupied by the opponent. In this way your mind does not think about hitting a target and focuses more upon the correct execution of the action, and this will help you a great deal. The primary muscles that should be used in the performance of the thrust is the shoulder muscles. The arm should be lifted by these muscles in order to push the point toward its target. The wrist and elbow should be merely used to direct the point toward the target. Thus it can be seen that the correct execution of the thrust involves the movement of the shoulder more than any other part of the arm. This keeps the action simple in its performance. Problems in the execution of the thrust will be discussed further on.

Speed is an element which gets too much focus made of it. A fast thrust is useful, but only if it is accurate, and thus we should aim for accuracy more than speed in the performance of the thrust. A slow thrust is easier to control, whereas a fast thrust is harder to control because the mind starts to focus more upon the speed of the thrust rather than its execution. This can be one of the causes of over calibration. At slower speeds you are able to focus more on the performance of the thrust and making sure that the target is struck and with the correct calibration. Going too fast is one place which will have some discussion in the problem areas which arise and can cause you to hit too hard.

There are many problem areas in the execution of the thrust and as teachers and students we should be aware of them in ourselves as well as our students. Some of the problem areas will be highlighted here, with some solutions to these problems discussed in a later part of the discussion. The first problem that will become present is what is called chambering the thrust. This involves one of two actions. The first form involves the bending of the elbow before the thrust is performed. The thrust is then pushed toward the opponent using both the shoulder and the elbow. This form of thrust will tend to be very hard in its performance due to the extra muscles put into play. The other form of chambering involves swinging the arm backward a little before the thrust is made, once again this can lead to over calibration due to the extra velocity added to the thrust. Swinging is another problem which will surface both on its own and also with chambering the thrust. Simply swinging the arm is no good, this often comes from practicing the thrust without executing each on singularly. Simply swinging the arm releases a great deal of control and as with chambering it can lead to hitting too hard.

Attempting to deliver the thrust from the elbow by its simple extension, or driving the wrist forward, are both problems that can lead to inaccuracy and over calibration. The first results in a snapping action which creates a great deal of velocity and very little control. This performance method can also lead to the fencer developing "tennis elbow" and similar problems with the joint. Driving the wrist forward is related to throwing the thrust. This is very much simply attempting to throw the point at the opponent. Due to all of the force being at the front, the over-balancing and over-extension in the action will lead to a high velocity and also hitting too hard. These problems often result from the fencer attempting to thrust faster than their technical skill at their current level will allow them to safely. This is a problem where because the speed is the aim of the thrust, technique gets left behind and the fencer will attempt to muscle the thrust through to its target. The overt use of muscle is what leads to the over calibration in the thrust. Use of the wrist in this method can also lead to "scooping" the point, where the point of the weapon dips downward or is pushed upward before the thrust is made. This leads to an inaccurate thrust and the creation of velocity which can lead to over calibration in the thrust.

Various problems have been highlighted in the delivery of the thrust. Each one of these problems has a solution to it in order to correct the problem which is present in the fencer, but the first thing that needs to be done is being aware of the problem. The opponents of the individual will realise the problem as they are being struck too hard, but the fencer themselves may not realise what this is or think it is their problem. Where the fencer does not realise, they should be approached in a friendly manner and be made aware of the problem. Once the awareness of the problem has been made the next step is to see what the problem is exactly. This involves close observation of the fencer. It is possible to see the problems in a bout, but it is much easier to do in a drilling situation. The fencer should make some thrusts against a stationary target in order to examine the thrust and see if it is a technical problem, and then against moving targets to see if it is a distance issue. Once the root cause has been found it is then possible to look at problem solving. As with any other technical skill in fencing the best way in order to improve the skill is to use drills.

Distance drills are very easy to set up. The fencer should stand at a distance away from a stationary target and then approach it. Once they think that they are at the correct distance a thrust should be made. This should be done slowly at first, and then speed up. A further drill involves the use of two combatants who move toward one another and the fencer who is the focus will say "Stop." when they think they are at the correct distance. A situational awareness drill involves the fencer closing their eyes and several people moving about them once they stop the fencer should open their eyes and say who is at the correct distance, too close or too far away.

Technique drills involve focusing on the thrust itself and how it is performed. In these drills a stationary target should be used in order that the distance does not change. Depending on what the problem is will depend on what should be the focus of the drill. Where it is one of the other joints leading the thrust, in extreme instances these joints can be immobilised so that the fencer does not use them. The teacher should be watching the fencer perform the thrust and giving corrections as they are being performed. This should be done until the fencer can perform the thrust without the problem surfacing in the thrust. The thrust should be performed at very slow speed at first so that the fencer can focus on what they are doing. As they get more comfortable and are able to perform it properly, the speed of the action should be increased. The increase in speed should stop once the fencer is focusing too much on the speed rather than the technique as this is the limit of their technical skill, at this point in time the speed should be then reduced until the fencer is able to perform the action properly again. In all cases, the focus should be on technique rather than speed.

In most forms of fencing, the thrust is the primary attack and thus it is important that it is able to be performed without the opponent being struck too hard. This involves the thrust being performed at the correct distance and using the correct technique. Distance and technique are the two root causes of over calibration in the thrust and need to be examined in some detail if we are all to improve as fencers. As we progress, consideration of the thrust is often left behind, but it is of great importance that we come back to this most basic skill on a regular basis in order that we can refine our skill and ensure that we are performing the action properly. If problems arise in the performance of the thrust, go back and see how it is being performed and fix the problems. These problems need to be fixed as early as possible in order that they are not allowed to become habits. It is never good to strike the opponent in a bout too hard, this is a consideration that should be made by all fencers no matter what weapon that they are using.



Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ego: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly


Your personality will have an effect on how you fence and how you approach it. This is an important point that must be considered with regards to all aspects in your fencing. This blog is an examination of the effects of personality on fencing, and more to the point an examination of the effects of ego on fencing. The information below will address various aspects of personality and ego and its impact on training and competition. It is something that we should all consider as to how our own personality and ego will affect the way that we train and the way that we fence. The blog will address both the positive and negative effects of personality and ego upon the fencing process including training and competition.

Your personality will have an impact on your training it will affect the way that you approach your fencing and how you perform on the field and this is an important point that we must all realise. There are good aspects that will promote the best in us and there will be negative effects that will detract from what we do and how we are percieved in our fencing. Both of these aspects need to be taken into account and the positive enhanced and the negative reduced as much as possible.

"You must keep egotism out of your fencing. Egotism has no place in your training, ... or your fencing persona. It is an ugly, misleading companion." (Evangelista, 2000:219)
Your personality will affect your approach to fencing. This is more focussed on our personal philosopy that grounds the reasons for fencing. The reasons for fencing are many and it is these reasons that will drive us to succeed or not. If our aim is simply to beat every opponent that we encounter on the field, this will have a different effect than if our goal is to further our search for the truths in swordplay. A person whose simple goal is to beat every opponent on the field may reject certain approaches in their fencing in order to enhance their ability to win. In most cases once this person has found what will work best for them on the field they will stop learning and just attempt to enhance these skills. A person who is seeking the truth in swordplay, however, will seek more than the simple win, and will search out better technique and train this. This will lead this individual to learn more and more and thus enhance their knowledge of the art that they have chosen to pursue. Thus it can be seen that the overall approach is affected by our personality and approach.

Personality will affect your conduct on the field, where it is purely driven by ego, any hit against us will feel like an assault on our ego. On the other hand if this is approached as a learning experience any hit against us will be seen as a chance to learn something from the experience. Thus in this approach every encounter with an opponent is a learning experience and benefits the fencer regardless of the result. The person who seeks to enhance their experience in fencing will take every chance to learn and this will benefit them in the long run. This will also affect the way the person trains, seeking to learn from every encounter and every lesson in order that they can become a more complete swordsman. We must examine how our personality affects or performance and approach to every encounter.

"I’m not sure if I can stress enough how important having confidence is to your success at fencing (or life in general). What I’m talking about is not brash, loud, empty bravado or egotism, but the quiet assuredness you can feel emanating from people who are secure in themselves and their abilities."
(Kellner, 2009)
Ego is a necessary thing in fencing. It is what drives our aspirations in fencing, it is what enables us to succeed, and also to accept successes. In this way having the effect of ego is a necessary and good thing for the fencer, but this must be tempered by the fencer's approach to what they are doing and learning. The ego must be balanced with the knowledge that fencing is a learning experience, thus the ego must realise that there will be elements where you will not succeed the first time. These times must be taken as a chance to learn rather than a personal affront. In this way, with the ego kept in check and used to drive a person to succeed through the best methods, ego can actually be a good thing. Of course, as with everything there is a negative side which must be taken into account.

"there is a point when ego takes a step beyond the normal scheme of things, when feeling good about yourself and having aspirations become self-inflating conceits. When this happens, you will most certainly get in the way of your own progress." (Evangelista, 2000:219)
Egotism and ego to excess is a bad thing for the fencer. This will lead the fencer to be conceited and arrogant, this is not good for fencing and not good for the fencer. This must be realised and rejected. Conceit on its own will prevent learning as the fencer will feel that they have learnt everything that there is need to be learnt. This may be promoted by a long stretch of wins against their opponents. At this point in time where conceit has taken firm root in the fencer they will stop learning and stop progressing because they feel that they have learnt all that they need. Conceit will also be expressed in the fencer's attitude to other fencers and this will not be favourable at all. Arrogance is closely related to conceit in its effect upon the fencer. This is an aspect that the fencer should avoid as much as possible. These two aspects will result in the fencer thinking that they are the measure of all their opponents. This will lead them to stop learning. Egotism in the fencer is a detriment to them and will prevent successes that they would have otherwise had access to.

"You stop measuring when you think you are the ruler by which all things are measured. And when you stop measuring, you stop thinking." (Evangelista, 2000:219)
Ego has an effect on training, both what the fencer will learn and also how the fencer will learn it, or not. A fencer who has a lack of confidence or ego at all will mean that they do not have the will to succeed and will stop at the first problem. On the other hand a fencer who has too much ego will deride the learning process and will find it difficult to learn anymore. In this way too much ego and too little will be a detriment to fencing. The fencer needs to have enough ego that they will continue trying and learning, but not so much that they become arrogant nor so little that they stumble at the first problem that they encounter in their training. In this way the ego needs to be balanced in training with other factors such as the want to learn and the acceptance that they have not learnt everything possible. In order to progress we must learn, and learning is a process in which the fencer needs to be a full participant and thus needs the will to go further and the self-check in order to keep on learning. This ego issue is also reflected in the encounters between the fencer and their opponents.

"If you allow egotism to take over, you will underestimate every opponent you meet. You will overestimate yourself. ... Don't ever believe you can fall back on your reputation to create victories." (Evangelista, 2000:220)
As with training ego has a place in tournament and bouting. The same effects of too much and too little can be seen in bouting and in tournaments. Too much and the fencer will underestimate the opponent, too little and the fencer will give up before the bout has started. Arrogance as an expression of an over-abundance of ego will be expressed by the fencer both on and off the field. Off the field it will be seen as disdain toward other fencers and a complete lack of consideration for them at all. On the field it will be seen in the way the fencer approaches the opponent and how they deal with the opponent. Arguments about hits, especially against them where a discussion is not warranted will surface. There will be complaints about how the judges dealt with a hit where they are used, there will be complaints about how the opponent fences, and various other aspects such as this. A prime place where this can be seen is especially in sport fencing at the highest levels. There are arguments about the hits and the conduct of the bout. Large outbursts by the fencers is a perfect example, whether this is due to a victory or about a defeat. Classical fencing rejects these ideas about the ego and attempts to focus on the form of the fencing rather than the result.

"While a Classical Fencer places honour above all, even when it might cost him/her a touch, or bout or a tournament title, it is equally vital that fencing students come to appreciate the difference between "ego" and "honour." Ego says "Whatever I do is right." Honour says "Whatever is right, I will do." (You may recognize in this, as I do, the distinction between nationalism and patriotism.)" (Crown, 2006)
Crown (2006) expresses the difference between ego and honour in a succinct way, and it is a point that we should all consider in our fencing regardless of the form that takes. The points he raises are equally relevant to the Renaissance fencer and also the sport fencer. We all know when we have been struck by the opponent, whether that hit is acknowledged or not. This is something that we need to consider in our approach to fencing, is our ego driving our fencing or is it something?

There has been much said in this blog about personality and ego and they are important aspects which we must all consider as fencers. Does your ego drive your fencing or is it the search for the truths about swordplay? We should all at the highest and most expressed levels present ourselves as searching for the truths about swordplay, but we must also acknowledge the effect that our egos have upon ourselves and others as well. Approach your fencing as a learning experience in all accounts and a long road is opened ahead of you. Approach your fencing as the pure desire to deafeat all opponents and the road is shortened considerably. We must keep our egos under control at all times, use them in order to progress in fencing, but not so much that they are all that drive us. We all need to consider the effect that our fencing has on our fencing and also the fencing of those around us.



Crown, A. A. (2006) Why Study Classical Fencing, http://www.classicalfencing.com/whystudy.php
Evangelista, N. (2000) The Inner Game of Fencing: Excellence in Form, Technique, Strategy, and Spirit, Masters Press, Illinois, USA
Kellner, D. (2009) Building Confidence in Your Fencing, http://www.sofaemployed.com/?p=1507

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Conduct of Training


Training is an aspect of all sports and martial arts. It is something that we all need to do. It is important that the teacher in the lesson is able to construct a training session that has all the elements necessary for the students to learn what they need to learn in their lesson. This blog will focus on the conduct of training, from the planning to the execution and dealing with some of the problems that will arise in training. Hopefully this will be of interest to students and teachers alike so that you can examine your own training sessions and see how they compare to what is written here.

For the teacher the training session needs to start before they turn up for training. Planning needs to be the first stage of any training session. This is a necessary process especially in order to remain in control of the training session and to ensure that you are able to teach all of what the students need to learn. The first thing you need to look at in the planning stage is the overall plan for training. You need to look at how the students will progress from the beginning stages to the end where they are able to fence with a level of competence and then further to include more advanced techniques. You don't need to plan out the entirety of the student's career at this point in time, more you need to give them the skills in order to progress in that direction. This is the first stage of the planning process.

Once you have an overall plan for the training sessions on the whole you need to have a look at the individual lessons. The lessons should build upon one another like building blocks. This means that the first lessons establish the foundation for the student's fencing and then the others build on top of this. What this means is that the first lessons are some of the most important as if the basic skills are not established to begin with it will be difficult to build upon these in order to get to more advanced techniques. Each one of the lessons should be connected to the others in some way. Obviously they are all connected due to what is being learnt, but the connections need to be on a more specific level as well. Basic techniques should lead to more advanced ones as the basics are the foundation of the more advanced techniques. This needs to be established in the planning process for the training program. The next part of the process is to look at the individual lesson or lessons that will be taught on a particular night.

The decision of how much to teach in a single training session is an important one and needs to be considered. There is a sliding scale from teaching not enough in the session all the way up to teaching too much. In general it is best to focus on one particular area in a lesson, though in some instances this can be branched out into more. This is highly dependent on the lessons being taught. For example, lessons on footwork all link together and may be taught as a single block as they are all related to how the feet move, but trying to link a lesson on footwork to some aspect of the use of the hands is probably not a good idea to start with. In general you should teach a maximum of three lessons per training session otherwise you will give the students problems in remembering all of the information that you have presented. This is, of course, highly dependent on the lessons themselves and also the students being taught. It is important to look at how the lesson relates to others as has been noted before. This will allow you to decide whether the lesson is best taught alone or in conjunction with another lesson. Some lessons will tend to lead to other ones and this should be noted as it will give some directions as to how the lessons should be taught. Remember though, that each lesson should have a particular area of focus and this should be what is being aimed at for the lesson. If this is not clear then the students will get confused as to what they are supposed to be learning and this is not good.

The next part of the process is examining the content of the lesson and what will be taught in the training session. This can be approached in one of two ways really. You can have a lesson planned out as to what will be taught or you can see what the students want to learn and then focus on that for the session. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages. The second gives the students what they want, but if the entire program is based in this method then the program tends to be very disjointed and aspects can be missed in the process. This is a very spontaneous form of lessons and should really only be used for more advanced students and the more experienced teachers as it does not allow much time for planning. The first is good as there is a structure which is followed lesson by lesson, this method does, however lack spontaneity. This means if a particular problem comes up it is somewhat difficult to deal with that problem instantly without deviating from the program. It does, however have the advantage of being able to plan what will be taught in a particular training session. The most important part is regardless of what method you use, you should focus on one aspect of the training per lesson and ensure the students understand which aspect is the focus of the lesson in order that some structure is maintained.

The lessons need to have content which is interesting to the students. This means that in most cases the lessons will be dominantly practical in nature. Lessons with a great deal of theory and very little practical aspect to them tend to be seen to be rather boring by students. You should try to include some aspect of a practical nature in the lesson in order to keep the students interested in what is going on. The only way to keep the students' attention is to make the lesson interesting to them. The lesson may be very important to their progress, but if it is not interesting to them their attention will waver and they may miss important parts of the lesson. The theory lessons should be directly related to practical aspects. In this way the theory is demonstrated to be something that has great benefit in what is going on in actual fencing. Keeping the students interested in what is going on is important and should be considered carefully when planning a lesson and also teaching it.

The organisation of the training session is important. You need to structure it in such a way that each element leads on to another one. This structure is important so that the students can see what is going on and then be able to follow this. You need to consider what should be the start of the session and how you will engage the students and keep their attention. Warming up is an important part of the training session. Not only does it prepare the body for the practical aspects in the lesson it also increases blood flow and thus improves the thinking capacity and attention span of the students. Training sessions are usually held at night or on weekends. In both these instances people will have just relaxed after working and will need some motivation in order to get them moving in order that they can fully participate in the lesson. The warm-up is a good way to get people enthusiastic and get them moving again. The next part of the training session should be the theory, the information about what is being taught in the lesson. Some believe that this should be before the warm-up as the body will cool while doing the theory. The warm-up gets the student excited and willing to learn, thus it will improve the retention of the theory that is taught. As long as the theory aspect does not go too long the students should not cool down too much. Once the theory is done you should move on to the practical aspects.

The practical aspects of the lesson will keep the students interested in what is going on but this needs to be done in a way that the information is retained by the student. An action being learnt should be demonstrated at full-speed by the teacher, and then again at slower speed so that the students can see what is going on. The students should be then shown how the action is done in parts. This is how the action should be taught, in parts. Once they can do the parts slowly you should then speed things up. Once the students are able to do the action at speed, you should move on to drills which use the particular skill which has been learnt. The construction of the drills was discussed in the previous blog. These drills should reflect a situation in fencing in a controlled manner. Once the drills have been done and the students can perform the technique, you should move them on to controlled or coached bouting. This bouting focuses on the use of the new technique. In a bouting situation the technique the student learns when the appropriate time for the use of the skill is. In some ways this bouting should be controlled so that the skill is used, but also let go so that it reflects normal fencing better. Free bouting should always come at the end of the lesson as it is a way for the students to practice their skills and also have some fun. This should be included in the training sessions as many times as possible in order to keep their enthusiasm up. Free bouting is a great way to release tension, but this should come at the end of the training session.

In everything that is attempted there will be problems and training sessions are no different. Some of the problems will be easy to deal with and some will not be so easy. Some of these problems are generated by the students and some by the teacher. Both need to take responsibility for their impact upon the training session. Trouble-makers are abound and they should be dealt with promptly in order that they do not disrupt the entire session. The method use depends on what the person is doing and what the teacher is permitted to do within their structure. Some will be easily dealt with and others won't. A lack of interest in the lesson can be dealt with in one of two ways. You either abandon the lesson and move on to something else, or you continue on with the lesson and attempt to generate interest in the lesson through demonstrating its importance to the process. The choice of which depends on the particular lesson. The other end of this is the student attempting to move on to fast. The initiative of the student should be praised, but it should also be explained as to what the lesson is trying to achieve and that what they are doing comes later and they should wait for this. This leads to problems in the session.

If it seems that you are giving the students too much to learn at once, you should stop and evaluate the situation. It would be better to stop the lesson and try again at a different session than to continue and have the lesson not properly learnt. On the other end of the scale is not giving the students enough to learn. This usually results in them getting more bouting at the end of the session which is not necessarily a bad thing, but for the next session more should be included. The content of the lesson may be too advanced for some students so they will not understand what is going on. Attempt to describe the technique a different way to the student so that they may be able to understand what is going on. If this does not work a physical demonstration of the skill can be helpful. Correction of technique is part and parcel of the process, this needs to be done with encouragement, but not too much. If the technique is too difficult for the student to master at that point in time, you should come back to it later on.

Training sessions are important as is their conduct. The best conducted sessions are those in which the teacher has the most control over what is going on. This means that the teacher needs to plan what is going to happen before-hand in most instances. Experienced teachers will be able to teach lessons from their experience, but until this skill is attained it is better to plan the session out, and in some detail. Training sessions give a chance for the students to learn what they need to learn and for the teacher to also learn, in a lot of instances. This is important in the process of learning fencing for both students and teachers. Only through the learning process will both become better at what they are doing and expand their knowledge. Yous should consider your impact on the training session and see whether this is a positive or negative influence. Consider your training session carefully and see what you can do to improve it.



Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Drill Design and Construction


Drills are an important part of the learning process for students and it is important that teachers know what they are for, how they are constructed and their inner workings in order to get the greatest potential from them. This blog is about drills, sometimes called conventionals in sport fencing. It will address some of the issues associated with the construction and use of drills in a training situation. Whether you are a teacher or student of fencing, the information provided will hopefully provide you with some thinking points with regard to this most useful tool in fencing.

Before we can look at drills in any sort of detailed way it is important to examine the purpose of drills as a training tool. Drills are most useful for the practicing of skills which have been learnt in a lesson. By using this method the theory present and the isolated form of the skill or skills that have been taught can be seen together working both with and against other skills. This is essentially seeing the skill in a practical situation or in another way of thinking, seeing the technique in action against the movements of an opponent. Through the use of drills and their repetitive fashion muscle memory is also built designed to instill the skills in the muscles and subconscious of the student. In this way the student will know how to respond to the stimulus presented by the opponent by use of the skill learnt in the drill. This is important as it then frees the fencer's mind up in order to be thinking about what he will do against his opponent once the action has been completed.

Next it is important to look at drills specifically. In order to do this without detailing all examples of skills and their drills, more general terms will be used in the address of their purpose. In all cases a drill should highlight the importance of the skill being drilled, and it should also highlight the importance of the correct performance of that skill against an opponent. There needs to be a reason for the drill being performed, it needs to be more than just a mere repetition of a particular skill for no seen purpose. Purpose must be injected into the drill so that the student will understand what both the skill and the drill are designed to achieve. This purpose must be specific to the skill and also the drill rather than the general terms which have already been discussed in the previous paragraph. The next part of this is the actual design of the drill itself. This must relate directly to the skill being taught and must place the skill in a situation where it is the best option available. This design phase of the drill is important and must be thought about carefully in order for the drill to achieve its purpose.

In designing a drill the focus of the drill must be upon the specific drill being trained or learnt by the student. Without this focus the student will become confused about the purpose of both the drill and also the purpose of the skill. While in many cases the drill will involve the use of other skills, the focus must be on a specific skill. For a drill to be effective the other skills being used in the drill must be skills that the student already has in order that the drill is not sidetracked on to the attached skills rather than the particular focus skill of the drill. This is an element which is of great importance in the design and development of a drill. For example, if the drill involves the use of a particular footwork step along with a blade action, which is the focus of the drill, the footwork needs to be already known to the student in order for the drill to work. In many ways the drills will stack upon one another in a similar way that the skills will. With this in mind design the drill so that the focus is upon the new skill being learnt, and in a way that this is possible. The drill should actually end with the skill being learnt so that it is the last thing that the student does in the drill and thus it will become the most significant action in the drill. Use simple steps in the construction of the drill in order that there is little confusion with regard to the drill.

Speed is always a factor with regard to fencing and choosing the speed at which a drill should be performed is of great importance. The drill should always start by being performed slowly so that the skill is developed and examined in a very specific way. This will enable the student to focus on the technique of the skill rather than the result of the skill. The student should understand that the goal of the drill is the correct performance of the skill rather than whether or not they are able to hit their opponent. If the student is able to perform the skill and the drill correctly striking the opponent should come about as a result of the correct performance, if that is appropriate to the skill being learnt.

Drills, in most cases, should result with a full speed version of the drill being performed. This will enable the student to see the action in practice. This should only be done once they are able to perform the technique properly at slower speeds. Full speed drills are necessary for those drills where the skill will be use in a full combat situation. Without these drills the student will be able to perform the action slowly but will not be able to do the same at full speed, thus it can be seen that drills at full speed are necessary. There are times where the slow drill actually achieves its goal, this is most evidently seen in the physical demonstration of time. It is much easier to see tempos at slow speed than it is to see them at full speed. This form of drill is more aimed at the student understanding the concept behind what is happening more than the skills being used.

For drills to work properly and achieve their goals various things are required. First of all the students must have been taught the skills involved in the drill, and most importantly the skill being drilled. Next is that the participants in the drills must participate completely in the drill. This means following the drill according to what has been directed by the teacher. This means that the participants need to stick with the drill as it has been directed and sticking with the purpose of the drill. There should be very little deviation in the action of the drill, save those points where the participant is having trouble and needs help.

Deviations from the drill detract from the purpose and focus of the drill and make it less useful to the participants in the drill. Deviation in the drill should not be tolerated by the teacher and this is why the drills should be observed closely by the teacher of the class. Deviation such as countering the final action by one participant does not allow the skill being taught to be successfully completed and therefore learnt properly, this should be discouraged. This is especially the case where a counter is taught against the action in a later drill.

Changes in footwork should be avoided as well in order that the positions and distance are not changed for the drill. These elements can be added in later on, if it is appropriate to the skill being taught. Each participant must know their purpose in the drill in order for it to be able to be used successfully. In a parry and riposte drill the attacker should simply thrust and wait for the response. Their purpose in the drill is to thrust and be struck and nothing more. Only where the two participants in a drill are completing their participation in the drill completely will the drill be effective. With regards to this drills must be done at the correct distance and all actions must be completed with purpose. This enables the responding participant to also perform their actions properly against it.

Drills are a good accompaniment to bouting. There are really two forms of bouting, free bouting and structured bouting. Free bouting involves the two combatants engaging with no restriction on technique or target. Structured bouting applies specific restrictions to the bout in order that particular skill-sets may be the focus of the bout. These are most useful when accompanied by the drills which use the appropriate skills. Bouting should be used in order for the students to use the skills that they have learnt against an opponent. This is the prime time for the students to figure out where any problems in their use of the skill may be, and also different ways and times in which the skill may be applied. It is important that drills are accompanied by bouting in order that the students have the chance to test out their new skills against different opponents.

Drills are a most useful tool for teachers, if they are utilised properly. In order that this can happen it is also important that the drills are formed properly as well. This requires that the drills be designed with a purpose in mind. They need to be focusing on a single skill or skill-set in order to be effective and the participants need to fulfil their role in the drill and nothing more. Deviation from drills is a distraction which will detract from the drill and its purpose. In this each participant has a responsibility in their participation in the drill and this is of great importance. Think when you design or participate in drills exactly what your purpose is. You need to be considering what the drill is designed to teach and how this relates to the whole picture of fencing that you are learning.