Todays training session started out with ordinary 5-point bouts, and with the fencers attending this evening, most of those got quite lopsided. That is something that I want to avoid as a coach – the better fencer is not challenged, and the weaker fencer is liable to be demoralized.

To counteract this, I switched to another exercise, that I call 4-3-10. It works like this: the score is set to 4-3 with the weaker fencer leading, with 10 seconds left to fence. The stronger fencer is placed so that his front foot is on his back line. If the score is equal 4-4 after full time, a final minute with priority then ensues. The weaker fencer now holds all the aces, and his job simply is to not falter under pressure. The stronger fencer, on the other hand, has to dig himself out of a hole, and fast.

This exercise then trains psychological abilities, albeit different ones for the two fencers in different roles. The stronger fencer has only one viable strategy – attack as fast he can create a reasonable opportunity. The weaker fencer has exactly two viable strategies: stall for 10 seconds, or go for the decisive kill. (Should stalling for 7 seconds and then wait for a desperate attack that leaves a huge counterattacking option a third strategic option, or should it be classified as a hybrid of the two distinct cases? Debate in the comments.) Anyway, the weaker fencer has plenty of time to decide upon a strategy before the Allez. Both fencers get several tactical choices in the short and quick weapon phrases that follow. The short duration of the exercise ensures that a fencer who has less cardiovascular ability than his clubmates still can get something out of the exercise, so that that one weakness does not make him lose all his exercises, which is good for morale.

In short: this is an exercise with a tactical and psychological focus, less so on strategy and cardiovascular ability.

So, how did it go? I made these observations:

  1. One fencer stepped back behind his back line and lost several exercises due to that – I think that the experience will give him a better feeling for where on the piste he is.
  2. The weaker fencer in each pair tended to lose a few exercises in the beginning of each pair-up, but the quick cycle time made for for a quick improvement ramp. In short order, the weaker ones started winning most of their pair-ups.
  3. There was a lot of infighting. This can be an exercise that is useful to get fencers who need to train infighting, but avoid it unless pushed into it, to get enough training.
  4. The weaker fencers chose the “finish this off now” strategy almost all the time, which too often put them in the position that they lost both the positional and points advantage. Once that happened, the weaker fencer never won. It is probably not something to be surprised about that the weaker fencers did not have more advanced strategic thinking.
  5. Too many opportunities were lost when perfectly sufficient parries were not followed up by immediate ripostes.
  6. None of the fencers have yet been taught ceding parries. It seemed to me that those particular types of parries, would have been especially useful in this exercise.
  7. 10 seconds sounds like a really short time, but once one starts fencing it seems longer.

If the fencers are particularly mismatched in ability, this exercise can be fine-tuned fairly easily – just change the time limit from 10 seconds to something else. Once the weaker fencer starts to catch up with someone better, one simply extends the time to make it competitive again if the weaker fencer has mastered the really short time frames.

Next time we do this exercise, I must tell the weaker fencer in each pair-up to decide their strategy before the Allez, so that they can focus on the execution and not waste brainpower on figuring out the general outline of what to do. Quite a thought: sabre thinking informing how to fence epee in a specific scenario!