Several times a year we have a day in practice where the fencers are asked “what would you like to work on today?” The question is usually followed by people looking in every direction except at the trainer, shuffling their feet, and staying resolutely silent until they cannot stand it any more. Then one brave soul ventures “footwork?”
Now that is not a bad response. Footwork is one of the constants that requires work every time you practice. Saying “footwork” is like saying “breathing,” always a good idea. However, it is not a very imaginative response, and, in a sport that requires imagination and vision, an imaginative response is welcome.
So how do you figure out what you need to work on today? We already addressed this topic more globally earlier this year in a post titled “What Do You Need To Fix” on 4 March. But in this post, I am going to focus on identifying what you need to fix today, in this lesson, right now. The steps are:
(1) Pick the scope of problem you want to work on. Do you have a problem of application of a technique you know well – TACTICAL SCOPE. Do you have a technique that is just not working the way it should – TECHNIQUE SCOPE. Does one of your combat drills need work – DRILL SCOPE. Does some part of your response need to be automated – AUTOMATICITY SCOPE.
(2) Identify the problem – what exactly needs to be done? Do you need to improve accuracy, work on timing, correct the sequence of parts of the action, improve your preparation for the action, etc.
(3) Can you do all, or at least a discrete part of the improvement in the time typically allowed for instruction in the practice? If you can make a good start, are you going to commit to working on your own between practices to fix the rest of the problem? If you can fix the whole problem, will you be willing to work between practices to make sure that you move the fix to long term memory and start to automate it? If your answer is no, go sit down, play with your phone, read a book, just don’t waste the Fencing Master’s time and effort. If you have a problem – then own the problem, and that means working to fix it until it is bright and shiny and better than new. And then you have to work to maintain it.
(4) Volunteer your problem: “I want to work on a TECHNIQUE problem I am having with MAKING SURE MY ATTACK IS SYNCHRONIZED SO THAT I GET A FULL EXTENSION AND TORSO ROTATION IN THE LUNGE.”
(5) So fencer Bob suggested a topic that I don’t need to work on. What should I do? First, if you did not already have a problem in mind that you needed to work on, you need to take a hard, honest look at your fencing. There is no fencer in the history of fencing who reached a point that they did not have problems that needed work – not Nadi, not Mangiarotti, not Vessali, not Guadin, not Senac, not Monstery, not Lulla, not d’Oriola, not … Make a honest catalog of things to fix and have one ready for the next practice when we ask for something to work on. And be mentally more alert, quicker, to respond with your choice. Second, work on the specific problem Bob suggested. It may be something that you really do need to work on. It may be something that you need to maintain and automate, and it may be something your teammates need your help with. We all improve when we help one of us improve.
(6) Work on the selected problem. Pay close attention. Do the drills. Ask questions. Ask for how you can work on this at home. Be engaged, not merely present.
When we ask what you would like to work on, it is your day to drive the agenda of practice. If you use the time wisely, you will be a better fencer.