Sometimes I feel bad for what I put my students through. I throw the new students in the deep end and give them a moment or two before throwing them some water wings…but it’s gotta be worse for the “new” experienced students. My particular brand of madness is to make sure the basics are sound before doing anything else, and in the case of an experienced fencer, that often means breaking them of years of habits so they can start fresh. It makes better fighters out of them, but the process can suck. You lose a lot of fights against people you know you are better than. It pays off with a vengeance down the road, but it’s a long road.

Currently I’ve got the whole class working on the same thing, developing a strong parry skill-set. It’s not too bad for new fencers, but for the everyone else it can be a bit of a nightmare. Why develop a lesser skill you were taught was inferior? Why not just work on the best thing first? We have scads of manuals, teachings, and logic that shows us the superiority of opposition actions in line…single-time responses…being vastly superior to double-time parry-riposte actions. So why am I teaching my students to avoid the single time and work on the double time?

I’m teaching a martial art, not a sport. I’m teaching my students to survive, not to win a bout. Like it or not, parries happen. No matter how good you are, there are times when your point comes off line, and you have to flat-out block a shot. You can recover from that to safety and start over again…but why give up the game? Why not explore the nuances of what is tactically available? What works for you in that situation? What things do you have to look for?

Since I’m a student as well in this case, I find it frustrating but fascinating. Working a simple compound-measure attack drill last night, I worked my parries in different guards. At some measure, a parry worked well, but failed at another measure. I was free, within the context of the drill, to abandon that parry and try another one on the next iteration, but why? What would I learn from that? I kept working the failing parry, over and over, using the listening skills I talked about in an earlier post. Eventually I figured out a body mechanic that not only made the parry work, but would let me flow into a solid follow-up. Ran out of time to develop that, though. Two hour classes are not long enough…

It was a truly great class, though. Solid work is really starting to show in all the students. They have a core, a solid base of fitness and ability. They worked hard to gain it, and moving forward we are going to take advantage of that base. Everyone in our class, no matter their experience, is a beginner now. We’ve earned the right to try to stand up, and it doesn’t matter that we used to be runners, because now we are working on learning to fly.

Or dance, I suppose. Same thing.