Most American sports, such as football, basketball, soccer, and volleyball are experienced in a group session. It’s rare to see a student participate in one-on-one coaching. Unless they are going to a very competitive level, the need for private lessons is mostly unnecessary.
However, in more individualized sports, such as tennis, ice skating, or golf, the need for a private instruction is essential, especially when a sport becomes more of the focus. Because of this private coaching can make the difference between a good athlete, and a top rated one.
As an individualized sport, fencing is no different. The importance of knowing the precise technique can mean the difference between progressing or not, and of course between placing highly in competition, or not placing at all. And with kids especially, progress means more joy from the sport, a desire to continue and a personal commitment to improve.
Aren’t Group Lessons Good Enough?
Group lessons are essential to your child’s ability to practice moves. To fence against peers, build up a camaraderie and learn some basic movements and strategy.
However, while your fencing coach is always teaching to the highest level, it is mostly conducted in an ‘average’ way. The ‘common’ way to parry. The ‘common’ way to attack or defend. And each student will learn and react differently to each different situation.
Everyone’s technique is unique. In a private lesson, your coach will tailor the lesson to be specific to your child, to their current level and mastery, and to their strengths and weaknesses.
For example, if a student is unusually short in their attack, a coach will address this specifically in a private session and will develop a precise technique that can work with this style of attack. For example, how to hide it, how to increase the length, how to add flash attack elements, or how to create a style that will put more emphasis on a defensive side to minimize the effort.
Building a Baseline
While every child has at one point presumably played with a sword and perhaps “knows” how to poke, even the most basic elements of fencing technique, such as making a single direct touch, is difficult. The act of taking a sword in your hand, extending your arm, and hitting something that is right in front of you such as a wall. It is the most straightforward collection of movements, but rarely a beginner can do this correctly. In fact, it may take several lessons and adjustments for them to do it close to what their coach wants.
Each small muscle and joint has to work in tandem to make the movement work. The angle of the wrist, shoulder, elbow, how far you recover, where your hand and body will be in alignment, every element needs to be positioned exactly. Even down to the precise angle of the fingers and how it affects the positioning of the fist.
Your fencing coach will help you build a correct, solid baseline of movements that are performed repeatedly. This baseline of movements will allow you to move into more complicated actions. And will let your muscles build up their memory of how to move correctly without even having to think about it.
But unfortunately, many fencers wait way too long to invest in private fencing lessons. With this, the potential of bad habits created from practicing without the watchful eye of your instructor may need to be undone.
Improper motion in fencing will create a chain reaction. If you turn the blade incorrectly, you then must twist your arm to compensate, which will lead you to twist your body to adjust to the arm being twisted incorrectly, which will then affect your balance, your footwork, and ability to shift between your legs.
One small mistake can lead to a chain reaction of bigger, more costly mistakes. It’s critical that you have the right stance, right grip, and right position every time. Here are some basic areas that your fencing coach will be able to help you perfect during your private lessons:
- Your grip on the blade
- Wrist position
- Shoulder position
- Chin and head position
- Weight distribution
- Distance between the legs and proper footwork
- Synchronization between the arms, legs, and hand
Once you become fluent in a basic set of fencing moves, and you learn how to properly make simple actions of offense or defence, your coach will be able to add more complex actions, and then expand on all of these with combinations that will help to add speed and complexity.
A Good Fencing Technique Starts With a A Knowledgeable Simulation
One of the most beneficial ways that your fencing coach will be able to teach you is from simulating different actions in a precise way. Your coach will simulate many different actions, such as attacks, and parries initially in small steps and with a slow approach, that may otherwise confuse and disable you.
They will do this by simulating with exact precise speed and distance what is appropriate to your level and skill, adding to your baseline repertoire of skills to practice.
For an instructor in a group session to take the time to make adjustments and corrections for all of these tiny details, would make the group session intolerable, annoying, meaningless, and impossible to conduct. It’s impossible for them to spot and correct every incorrect position or movement. And this is why it’s essential to get the perspective of your private instructor.
Theoretical Practice vs. Practical Practice
While it’s true that private lessons are essential to the overall improvement of your fencing performance, they should never come in place of a group session. These lessons must work in tandem. With the baseline of movements instilled through multiple repetitions, your child should try to implement as much as they can during the group exercises and bouting.
This is an opportunity to practice what they’ve learned to see whether it will work. It’s also an opportunity for your coach to see how well you take instruction from the private lesson, use it in the group lesson, and perhaps tailor or change anything based on what they observe.
In tandem with group and private lessons, the next step for your child is to put these moves into a competition. Each competition can provide a different environment to further perfect the skills they have learned.
Make Your Muscles Remember
In reality there is one universal truth. However much you know about fencing, whatever your skill level, or however many years you’ve been practicing, during a competition you will only be able to access small subset of what you know.
This works exponentially. For a person who has been studying fencing for ten years, who takes both private and group lessons, they will have built up the muscle memory for many different techniques and situations during a bout. A beginner who is competing for the first time will have much less to access.
To put it simple, this limited ability to access your toolbox instantly is due to the speed of the bout, maybe only 10%. Each move happens within seconds. You must react. And the reaction is developed through perfecting form during private lessons and multiple repetition in group sessions. You can only react quickly enough when your muscle can remember what you don’t have time to think about. The more repetitions you perform, the more it becomes part of your muscle memory, and the more you’ll be able to access it without even thinking about it.
Build Your 10%
The question becomes, how do you build up your muscle memory to get to a bigger 10%. During your private lesson, you may learn many different actions. But in competition, with the speed of the bout and its complexity, with an opponent trying to deliberately destroy your game, with nerves and stress, you can really access only a subset. So the more you learn and perfect to start with, the bigger your accessible arsenal will be during the competition.
It all begins with the private lesson though. Without a private lesson, the skills with which you can access are far more limited. Your 10% may only encompass a few movements, whereas a teammate of yours or your opponent who has been taking private lessons, may have double or triple that amount.
It is essential that if your child wants to build up a repertoire of movements, reactions, and attacks, worthy of a successful fencing experience, they must take private fencing lessons. It is the only way to ensure that they will be able to perform these moves with the exact right precision, helping them to constantly improve and because of that enjoy their game and their sport more and more.