Monday, July 13, 2015

How Many Times This Week? A Question of Practice


Practice is something which has been mentioned time and again to us all in many different activities. I have no doubt that if you were to go back through the posts that I have made on this blog that I will have mentioned it many times. For the most part these articles have been focused more upon how a persons should practice and what they should practice. This post will focus on a different point of view on the same subject, frequency.

The first thing that must be said about the frequency of practice is that regular practice is great. It gets your body and mind into a pattern that it can work with and work to. This enables the body and the mind to prepare for the practice and thus be prepared to learn and enhance skills which have already been attained. However regularity is not the only key, there is the question of frequency.

Regularity of practice is only the first step, frequency is also important. Some will decide that only one session a week is all that they can do. This will result in a truly slow rate of progression unless they are doing some substantial work at home. In reality three sessions are required to really improve, more sessions after that are only improving on that. For the most part, many schools run two sessions a week which students are expected to attend. One of these will focus on the learning aspects while the other will focus on the more practical aspects. The third session, the students are expected to make up in solo drills on their own at home.

What you will find is that if you attend one session a week and do no work at home, you will often have to do repeats of skills to truly learn them. If you do one session a week and then go home and do some sort of solo practice on the new skill this will establish this new skill in a rudimentary form in your skill-set. To really establish a skill you will need three sessions and one of these being drills with a responsive partner to find action and reaction. If your school does not have the sessions in the week to do this then it is up to you do make the time.

We all get homework from school and other learning institutions, this is to encourage us to practice what we have learnt so that it will make connections in our brains. Fencing is no different. You need to do work at home between practices to establish skills for yourself. There are some very simple things that you can do to practice fencing at home.

1. Sitting in Stance - Sit on a chair in your usual on guard stance and do whatever that you were normally going to do with the upper part of your body. I have found this usually works best on an office chair in front of a computer.

2. Footwork in the House - Use your fencing footwork to move around the house. This will make the movements natural to you so that you do not have to think about them.

3. Hand and Foot - Move your hand before your foot. This adds on to the previous one, always remember to move your hand before your foot in your actions. Approach the fridge, extend your hand, step closer to it. Approach a bookshelf, extend your hand, step closer to it. Do this consciously.

4. Hanging on a String - Hang a piece of string, attach a tennis ball to it, have a stick the same length as your sword next to it. Every time you pass the stick, pick it up and strike the ball 5 times from proper distance on guard. Once you are striking it more times than not, change it to a lunge. Then shrink the target and repeat.

5. Stationary Target - Cardboard box flattened approximately the same size as your torso. Hang it on a wall. Divide it into quadrants. To start, simply thrust at the box from on guard. Once you can hit the box without missing aim for each individual quadrant. Add footwork once you can strike each quadrant and strike each quadrant on the move, including on a lunge.

These are five simple physical practice elements that you can do so that you can practice solo at home. If you do not have a sword, the weapon can be swapped for a stick of the same length that you would normally use. These drills are simple and apply to all fencers regardless of their level. While the footwork drills are less applicable, we can all use a brush-up now and then.

Exercise the Mind
"Accidents happen", an unfortunate but true fact of life. Regardless of how we protect ourselves injury and illness are only a step around the corner. The result of these is often time off where we cannot do the physical practice which the art of the sword requires, however, there is not an end to it. There is always the mind to exercise.

Studies have shown that individuals who exercise their minds as well as their bodies do much better than those who just exercise their bodies. Reading about the actions of fencing and practicing them in our minds actually goes some distance to assisting us in our training. It familiarises us with the ideas of fencing and the theoretical aspects and these explain the physical. If you cannot go out and actual do fencing your should be at least reading or thinking about it.