In my previous post, I wrote a whole lot on what to do when you do not have evenly matched fencers, but still want to create challenging and instructive bouts in a club training setting. If you have not read that blogpost I recommend that you do so, since the first 8 paragraphs in that post set up the conceptual framework for this one.
In the first part of the 9th paragraph, I wrote: The second version is to give the weaker fencer a points handicap, and leave it at that. This has the advantages of simplicity, and it gives the weaker fencer more of a chance of winning. However, there are still limitations. If the better fencer has some tactical ability – and he most likely has, otherwise he would not be better – he can sport the offensive actions that the weaker opponent has the least ability to score against, and repeat that action until he wins. Even if the weaker fencer is given a 4-0 handicap, the better fencer still only has to score 5 points in 180 seconds, by no means a difficult task against a weaker opponent.
So, is there any better way of doing this – apart from Killer Move? My experience shows that indeed there is. Note the time aspect written about in the cited text above. Given sufficient time, a much better fencer can overcome even a large points handicap, and in doing so creates a bout which teaches all the wrong lessons, from a tactical point of view.
Solution: take away a lot of time, so that the better fencer does not feel feel that he has enough of it.
Let the training bout start with some predefined score in which the weaker fencer has the lead, and set the bout time to some time shorter than 180 seconds. The thus handicapped bouts can be called out according to this format: A/B/t where:
A: score of the weaker fencer when the bout starts
B: score of the stronger fencer when the bout starts
t: Maximum duration of the bout, in seconds.
A bout denoted 0/0/180 would then be a normal competition-style bout. A bout formatted 4/0/10 would be a bout in which even a complete beginner would stand some chance – his opponent must score once every 2.5 seconds, without getting any double points against him.
For each pair of fencers in a club one can set up a table with all these possible formats. Once the weaker fencer has managed to win one handicapped bout of a given format, that format is struck off the table and the weaker fencer is then tasked with somewhat more challenging formats. This gives the weaker fencer lots of intermediate goals, which are a lot more easy to reach than the faraway goal of beating the club champion that has fenced years more than he himself has. Tangible, quantifiable goals that are both challenging but not insurmountable (in the medium timeframe) are in my opinion a great boost to beginner retention. As all of us coaches know. large attrition of beginner fencers is a problem typical of fencing, a problem that really limits club growth.
Compared with Killer Move, this type of training bout has the advantage that it does not require coaching input to select the appropriate Killer Move, and the running of such a bout can therefore be left to less experienced people. Also, it models the end of many bouts fairly well. If you are used to fencing the last 10 seconds of a bout in which the score is 3-4 against you in a club training session, you will in all probability be better equipped to deal with them during competition. The drawback, on the other hand, is that time-restricted handicapped bouts do not present the same tactical learning experiences as Killer Move bouts.
A table as the one described above is included below as an Excel file. Please copy it and report in the comments on your experiences!