Sunday, February 28, 2016

Teaching at Practice

Recently I was asked to start attending my local practice here in Smoking Rocks to help teach. We have two new fencers in the area, and one of the big reasons I stopped going to the local practice was the lack of bodies. So we got a couple new people, and I was asked to come up and start teaching them. So over the course of the last two Fridays, I have been teaching our two new fencers - Elise and Nuno - the basics of rapier combat.

I forgot just how much I love teaching.

My right shoulder has been in bad shape the last few weeks so I couldn't do much hands-on teaching. Luckily I have two students (so they can learn by working with each other), and I also had Caewlin and Faellan (sp?) to help demonstrate things with me. It has worked out well so far, but I would love to be able to demonstrate things myself sooner rather than later.

So the first practice we covered a proper guard, how to parry, and how to lunge. With parry drills, I had them riposting, so they had the chance to actually hit something. This drill provided a few advantages: parry, point control, calibration, and feeling what it's like to actually get hit. I'm a bit fan of parry drills. I am not a fan of lunging at a wall that is marked with an 'X' in tape. Which is of course what I had them do as well.

The second practice we spoke a little bit more about rules things, including differences between melee and single combat. I also went over first guard through fourth guard (English instead of Italian because I can't bother committing Italian words to memory). I (carefully) demonstrated the guards, and showed a few ways to attack and parry in those guards. I also showed how to do a deep lunge without overextending the knee past 90 degrees. A couple other things I demonstrated included disengages, some offline attacks, and redoubles.

After talking and demonstrating for about a half hour, I started them on parry drills again. This time it was a bit more active. I wanted them to try out the different guards in both offensive and defensive manners. When they made their initial attacks, I wanted them to try and hit their opponent (moving slowly, of course). The opponent was then to parry and riposte. I wanted the riposte to land, so even if they missed they were to make a secondary attack. All the while the original attacker was to try and make that first attack stick if the opportunity was there. Some demonstrations happened during this drill, too. For instance "First seems weird. What is my attack from here?" and "I locked their blade with the quillons, but I have no idea what to do from there."

The last ten minutes of practice I had them actually fight each other. Things . . . broke down a bit and got sloppy. I tried to stay on top of making sure things stayed clean; had them slow down when necessary and things liked that. Mistakes were made, but good things happened as well.

After the bouts, I debriefed with them. I asked them each what was one they thought they did really well. I then asked what they thought was one thing they could improve on. Both of them came up with the same answers I would have given for each of them, which is great. They are tremendous at catching their own mistakes and self-correcting.

I asked them both to do my practice lunges at least three days this week for a few minutes. The lunge drill includes breaking the lunge down into it's different parts: extending the arm, lunging with the body, and then recovering to guard. I asked them to focus on returning to the same guard every time to make the muscle memory stick. I also asked them to use the offhand in this drill, such as pretending to sweep the blade first, or zone blocking with the arm. Doing these drills, they can add in passing steps and offline shots.

Nuno was really comfortable with circling and offline shots. So much so that Faellan and I were discussing that he would be much better suited learning Destreza than Italian. For those unaware, Destreza is a Spanish style of rapier combat which uses a lot of movement of both body and blade to find and create openings. I'm going to continue teaching him beginning rapier since all the skills apply, but I want to get him hooked up with a Destreza instructor sooner rather than later. He may start trying to get up to the Sunday or Thursday Carolingia practice.

My shoulder is starting to feel better, so I'm hoping to be able to get in a little fencing at this week's practice. I haven't fought at all since late December. And if anyone wants to come down to the practice to help teach, to learn, or just to fight with our small group, you are more than welcome to. Our practice is Friday at 730pm in Fall River, MA (20 minutes East of providence, 45 minutes South of Boston).