In a previous blog post, I described an instance of two fencers quickly learning from each other because their skill sets meshed together just so. That happened the last evening again, and this blog post is a description of that session.
Both fencers are quite green, and roughly equally matched. However, their strengths and weaknesses do not match up so that they are near-clones of each other, and that is the situation that allows for the fast learning experience, as I pointed out in that previous blog post.
The fencer on the left is bigger, stronger, has greater reach, and a more even temperament. The fencer on the right has a few competition´s worth of competitive experience, and is decidedly better at getting the single light when both weapon tips are close to their respective targets. In this lesson, I was coaching both fencers, so there was no specific student and opponent. I will therefore use the old standby shorthands FoTL and FoTR, respectively.
The tempo in the two first bouts was tentative at best. Most phrases would look like this: both fencers start out slow moving against each other. FoTL took control over where they fenced, by using his superious reach and strength to force a hit. If he did not reach total dominance over the blade of FoTR, the latter would often manage to score something through scrappy infighting, preceded by a ceding parry. They were quite evenly matched when they did this, so both of the two first bouts ended 5-4 in favor of FoTL.
Note that both fencers showed a bit of strategic understanding by choosing actions that matched their abilities and limitations – FoTL got a lot out of using his superior physicality, and FoTR through using ceding parries, worked past his limitations in raw muscular power in the best possible way.
I then told both fencers to increase the tempo from the Allez command to time when they crossed blades. This worked very well for FoTL. With a higher tempo, he was able to take control over the interaction to a degree so that FoTR was stuck in a purely reactive mode, and often did not get time to get his ceding parries into play. The points scored in the 3rd bout really nailed the point home – FoTL got to a 4-2 lead, and all of his 4 points were scored after moving quickly, while the two points scored against him happened when he moved just a tad bit slower. The last point – 5-2 – was a bit different (failed attack by FoTR followed immediately by a successful counterattack by FoTL), but the overall take-home lesson was plainly visible.
I hammered the point home after the 3rd bout, and FoTL took it to heart. In the fourth bout, he did not revert to any sloppy slow-speed attacks, but instead focused on doing the high-speed attacks each and every time. It worked like a charm – 5-0.
I now had to help FoTR, after four consecutive losses on his part. I took him aside, and pointed out that he knew that FoTL would be coming at him, guns blazing, from the get-go and that nothing could be done at that in the short term. I then pointed out how he could use that to his advantage. Since FoTL is bigger and heavier compared to FoTR who has a smaller and wirier frame, it should be possible to control the game in the lateral directions. Since FoTR is smaller and has the better ceding parries of the two, then FoTR should let FoTL collapse the distance, take the blade of FoTL with a ceding parry, and then simultaneously do three things: push the tip coming against him in one lateral direction, move his body in the other lateral direction, and do a crossover step that got his tip close to FoTL while at the same time put the tip of FoTL beside and behind the body of FoTR, a position in which it was of no concern.
The whole thing is based on the idea of using the greater momentum of FoTL against him – if FoTR managed to redirect that momentum just enough so that the tip passed beside him, then it should be possible for the smaller FoTR to do quicker changes in movement direction and speed so that he could get within striking distance.
FoTR seemed sceptical at first, but then they started bouting again. As soon as FoTR got the hang of the principle, he struck payoff. When he slacked off and started letting FoTL controlling the position of his own tip so that it would be in front of FoTR, then FoTL would usually score. FoTR was however the one who was best at sticking to his game plan, so bouts #5 and 6 both ended 3-5 in favor of FotR. Vindication!
We were running low on time, so there was only time for one more bout. By then, FoTL had started to wise up to all this lateral movement, and tried his best to not let FoTR impose his gameplan upon him. They were more or less equal until 4-4 – and then FoTR managed to score the last point of the training session with yet another lateral transport. Three straight wins once he got the key to how to do it!
So, what are the lessons to be drawn from this training session? In my opinion, there are four big ones:
- When fencers fulfill the criteria for zigzag learning, one can have an especially fruitful session. Coaches should try to pair up fencers so as to maximise the instances of this happening.
- If you fix the single weakest part of your game, it can have dramatic effects for the better. FoTL did not change anything really between games #1 and #4 apart from speed, and that single change took him from a 5-4 nailbiter to a 5-0 overwhelming win.
- If you are shorter and/or weaker than your opponent, it really pays off to learn how to transport their blade quickly and laterally.
- Figure out how to use your opponent’s momentum against himself.
After two training sessions like this, I will make it a priority to try to pair off students in such a manner so that I get more of them. For the coaches out there: try it out, and report your experiences!