Epee lessons, quantify your progress

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Fencing is part art, part science.

Often fencers base progress based on results alone. As you should be aware, results may only tell how you fenced on a particular day against a fencer or group of fencers that happened to show up. Granted, over time repeated favorable result show progress, yet still lack specifics regarding what actions you doing well and those that you’re not improving upon. Quantifying, comparing numbers over time can be useful in motivating ourselves as well as insuring our fencing instruction is well balanced between those skills that are deemed vital.

Quantifying
fitness, is rather straight forward. How fast can you run, jump? Monitoring heart rate, is also useful in seeing our aerobic capacity, how quickly we recover from elevated heart rate is a very important indicator of our fitness (stress test anyone). Reaction times can be easily measured as well. Electric scoring targets or even a simple stop watch will do the trick. Point control against fixed and moving targets base on hits alone, or how many hits, in say 30 seconds can be achieved. This stuff is easy, but can we expand our search for data to fencing actions?

Lately I’ve been thinking on this subject. This alone is scary, right? If our fencing actions are reduced to the components that they are built from, meaning the foot work, distance, blade work and timing, could these to be awarded point values based on proper execution? Somewhat as we see in judging Ice dancing? Technology may have come to the rescue here. Recording our execution of an action, be it in a lesson or bout, can be reviewed in slow motion, even frame by frame. Yes, there is even an app for that, I’ve started using an app on my Iphone called
Coaches Eye. It allows you to review video frame by frame, draw on the image and record commentary and share this analysis with others. Reaction from students and parents has been overwhelmingly positive. This technology has been available for some time, however having it this accessible to us luddites, in a convenient form, is exciting. While I have yet to develop a proper scoring system, I am working on it and will see how the details pan out. This video review and analysis has already proven helpful, in analyzing both my students skills and tactics. A word of warning, stop action, looking at things one frame at a time, can present a picture without context to the situation. Still this is an excellent way to quantify improvement, set specific goals and facilitate communication.

For those that live by numbers, this is all good. Just remember it’s supposed to be
fun too.

Enjoy,
coach Geoff

What does my opponent do well?

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Ever ask yourself what your opponent is doing well? I think most fencers dwell on what they are doing wrong when things aren’t going their way.

By keeping the focus on what your opponent is doing right, first and foremost, you’re directing your attention in a more holistic and positive way. Even when you’re doing everything “correctly”, if you’re not doing it in relation to your opponents actions, your response may not be appropriate to the situation! So figuring out what your opponent does well will allow you to fence better. The reason to focus on what the opposition does well, as opposed to what my opponent may do poorly, is that what is done well will be of more immediate concern! Save what your opponent does poorly for later exploitation.

Accurate and timely observation is a skill. It can be practiced, nurtured and allowed to flourish. At it’s most basic, we look for pattens of behavior and visual clues. I like to start with the obvious, physical attributes. Does my opponent primarily use offense, defense, or both equally? Is my opponent moving well? What is my danger area or, better said, what is my opponents distance? At this stage, we look for the visual clues of our opponents intentions. By asking what my opponent does well, I can determine what prerequisites he or she needs to set up his or her preferred actions. A basic example could be; he needs my blade extended to use his actions against my blade. Knowing this, I could then deny my opponent these actions, or use this knowledge to set up my own second intention. Often it is necessary to test our adversary with our own actions to determine what our opponents real reactions will be.

That’s a lot to think about isn’t it? Well, yes, and using such a laundry list will surely distract you from the task at hand. This is why these skills must be practiced. Practiced to the point that they become automatic, these observations should require little thought. It is the art of seeing. I have discussed this before*. I suspect I will again.
(*the Art of Seeing)

As a coach, teaching students new actions, or combinations of actions, is very rewarding. I feel it is very important when teaching these actions, to not only teach the action, but to
show the student what it looks like from their opponents perspective. I do it to them! This does two things. It keeps me in form, and more importantly, it teaches the student what visual cues to look for when an opponent does this action to them. I also ask my more advanced students to observe others fencing from a coaches perspective. Most often, they are surprised at how their competition looks when viewed this way. During free fencing, to improve this skill set, I may ask a student to focus on reading visual clues, temporarily, above other considerations. Important information can also be found by reflecting on where you are being hit. If you’re getting hit in the same place repeatedly, or at the same distance, becoming aware of this will be a useful tool in figuring out whats is going on and what to do about it.

In an effort to learn to read your opponents, I also suggest taking notes after your bouts, reflecting on what you have seen. Another aid in learning our opponents intentions is to have your sparing partner use specific planned actions against you, and after each touch, tell him or her what you think he was trying to do. I would also suggest slow motion fencing with a partner, say at half speed. This allows for a great opportunity to see how actions flow into each other.

Knowing what your opponent is doing, or not doing, is vital in knowing what you should do! This hopefully should assist you, in treating each fencing opportunity as an individual event, a puzzle to solve.
I hope this will be of some assistance.
coach Geoff


Training aids for fencing

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Nothing replaces the one on one time with your coach, or the time spent with a sparing partner that is willing to work with you in a focused manner
.

Still, such resources are not always available when the urge to train, arrises like a fire in your belly, with the burn of half a dozen jalapeño poppers, consumed for breakfast. Training aids can be of great assistance at these times, provided they are used intelligently. As in all things, practicing stupid will make you stupid. So be mindful of your form and the purpose of each drill! I will try my best to show you some of my favorite training aids and give a brief description of possible uses for these devilish devices.

A stop watch can transform your training and can be used in almost any training scenario. Timing how many repetitions you can perform, in say, 30 seconds.

Buzz boxes can verify proper point placement technique on acute angled targets such as the forearm.

Your scoring machine is useful developing timing in epee. Remember that 1/25th of a second is all you need to score.

Practice dummies with arms are helpful for practicing actions against the blade and basic distance to close, middle and long distance targets.

Stationary targets of all sorts are useful for point control. Electronic targets can improve reaction times, and even dry targets can be used with a stop watch.

Moving targets, such as golf or tennis balls hanging on a string help with learning to “lead” your target.

Agility ladders are great for footwork and over all coordination. Changing patterns regularly is vital.

Bean bags are a great help in improving hand eye coordination and reaction time. Differently colored bags requiring a different respones tossed by a friend can help you to make quick judgments .

A mirror is vital for checking form and improving muscle memory. Priceless in working on feints!

Jump ropes are helpful for conditioning and coordination.

Reaction balls are useful for improving hand eye coordination, reaction time and maneuverability, as these things bounce in unpredictable ways.

Resistance bands
are great for speed and power. For example, I have a waist band with a strong bungie attached, which allows lunging and footwork to be done with resistance.

None of this is meant as a substitution for actual fencing, but these aids can be used for quality instruction and can be a fun as well. Cross training in other sports could also be seen as a training aid for your fencing. I am even inclined to admit that playing with the cat helps as an aid to my fencing. (epee coaches are odd by design)

So anyway, I will go into detail on some of the drills and techniques that could be useful with these training aids in later posts. The variations are endless. Feel free to contact me with your favorite training aid.

thanks,
coach Geoff