From a coaching perspective, there is a big and unsolved problem:
How do I, as a coach, get both fencers to use their time efficiently during pair drills for technique training?
Pair drills are necessary in order to get students to first learn, and the polish, technical elements of fencing. However, they have one big limitation and one big drawback. The limitation first: in many drills, both fencers know exactly what is going to happen, so neither fencer hones his ability to see unexpected things and think on their feet. Then again, the purpose of technical pair drill is not those abilities, so that just means that a coach must make time for other activities. Therefore, I will not dwell further upon this limitation in this blog post.
Now we come to the problem: In many pair drills, the movements are about one fencer honing his technique in order to become better at hitting the opponent, while the other fencer is not much more than a target. The latter fencer may train his ability to stand in a correct guard position, but generally not much more. If the fencers are beginners, the target fencer must be nearly totally inactive, since the beginner who is learning how to hit is not yet capable to handle a target with complex movements and at the same time learn good technique. So, at any given time, 50% of the fencers are learning very little. When the fencer switch roles the non-learning role gets switched around, but the total amount of inefficiency is not decreased due to switching.
What to do about this? There are several ways to partially counteract this problem:
- Private lessons. In this solution, the coach takes the role of the target fencer, and the fencing student can learn 100% of his time. The limitation of this solutions is that it is very personnel-consuming, and the all personnel must be specialists. This solution does not scale unless the fencers or their parents are very well off.
- Fencing mannequins. These take away the need for specialist personnel, but they limit the range of possible drills to those that do not require any movement by the target. They are fairly costly, and take up a lot of storage space, making them a non-scalable alternative for fencing clubs that do not have their own salle.
- Electronic targets. These are not exorbitantly costly, and are easily storable, but they lack in realism. The fencer can train his speed and accuracy, but not much else.
One can see this as a production inefficiency problem. Salles are about producing good fencers, the raw material being fencing students, the personnel being coaches, and every tangible in a fencing salle being the tools. These technical pair drills can then be seen as an important production process in which almost 50% of the raw material is being idle at any one time. Seen from that perspective, it should be obvious that the first producer to solve this problem will have a quite significant competitive margin.
What will this solution look like? Fencing androids that are programmable and can take the role of target fencer in all pair drills? Sounds far off to me, but I do not see a simpler solution that conceivably will reach near 100% time efficiency for the fencing students. This is an open problem, and the first coach to solve it will go down in fencing history.
All this is also linked to the fact that so few people do fencing, compared with other sports. Sports like long distance running, shooting, floorball, and many others do not require nearly as many coaching hours for a individual beginner to reach an intermediate level, which is part of the reasons for why those sports have more players.