Now it’s time to get better. For better or for worse, today, you are the fighter you have made yourself into. It’s time to get better. Or else maybe consider taking up cello, or calligraphy or something.

To improve, you need to understand precisely where you are now. The most common flaw in fighters is the flaw of assuming what you are doing is just fine, and that your development is great. When I say assume, what I mean is that there is a tendency to evaluate yourself based only on your feelings and perceptions.

If I have two fighters spar for a few moments, and then individually ask them how they did, it’s not uncommon that their impression of their own performance will be wildly out of line with the touches that I took note of. Winners think they lost, and losers think they only ceded a few touches. These are honest mistakes in their own way. Our impressions of things are often imprecise.

To understand your current ability, you need metrics to track. They should be as accurate and universal as possible. If I say that someone rates a “9” on their squeedly-spooch sticking, someone from another school with completely different training should also be able to judge that person as a 9 on that skill. That’s an ideal that can be difficult to achieve in some aspects, but as long as the metric scales you are doing okay. People may disagree on what makes a 4, but that’s less important overall that agreeing on what makes a 4 jump to a 5 or 6.

As I wrote last week, this is our assessment process.

Once we know where we are, we have to move forward.

Performance Chart - Rapier - RP-SampleSo, this is me. I will add the usual excuses. I was in a bad physical and mental space, and my score reflects that. This is a 92/120 score, 77% or a C or maybe C+. My previous assessment was 108/120, which is 90% and might squeak me an A+, depending on who was grading me… Whining aside, I’ll let these results stand as my high and low scores are in the same areas, although there is a more noticeable gap between them. On bad days I am less consistent. Go figure.

Let’s see how we make this fighter better.

Starting with swordwork, we see an excellent 9/10, which tells us that this fighter has good blade position, accuracy, etc. It’s almost like he’s been working on his swordplay for a decade and half! Engagement is good, but weaker than structure. This is a telling point, and in this case and after video review, it’s apparent that there is a tendency to make bad decisions. It’s tempting to mark this up as a mindset issue, but it can also be addressed by prescribing some specific drills to the fighter that gives them tools to use that limit their ability to make bad decisions.

In movement, we again see better structure than engagement. Hallmark of an experience fighter, good body alignment holds you up on a bad day. Engagement…well, there is a handwritten note on the assessment form that just says “Lazy.” That was apparently very accurate, as the previous assessment showed a higher ability with engagement than structure, which is what you expect from someone with experience and a knack for being crafty. Generally speaking, higher structure shows good training, and higher engagement shows more natural ability. Improvements here are mostly mindset, as well as more footwork and mobility drills. The fighter is aging and needs to develop an ability to break out of ingrained habits, so this will be an ongoing project. Mindset wise, he needs to be reminded to work for his kills, not just try to take advantage of other people’s mistakes.

Tactics. Another flip-flop from the previous assessment, which showed a clear 10 on engagement. Fighter is not as clever as he thinks he is, and following the trend from swordwork and movement, we see that he is likely thinking he’s got it together to do the clever things, but is not able to follow through on his intentions. Classic errors of tempo. This closely relates to measure in this specific instance, as the fighter understands measure but when he tries to apply his knowledge his ability to capitalize on measure during movement fades. Ie., he makes errors in his extensions and changes of engagement, either missing the control of the opponents blade or fouling his own blade on the opponents line. So many drills for this guy. So many.

Cuts. 9 for 9 in the last test, we see none of that skill in this exam. The slightly higher engagement score makes us question the previous high structure assessment and wonder if this fighter has enough natural talent that he has been fooling us all along! However, we remember the literal 1200 cuts per night, 5 nights a week drills he did, so that is unlikely. Discussing it with the student, we find that it was purely a mindset problem. Fighter felt he was being lazy throwing cuts against people who had shown little ability to defend against some combinations, or had complained about excess impact, so he was faltering on his intentions all night. Will work on fighters confidence.

Thrusts. Extremely poor performance for a fighter of this caliber and experience. It had been previously discussed with fighter that they had been getting very lazy about point attacks, and were coasting on the success of their cut work. This result just further highlights the need for extended rehabilitation of the fighters style. Proscriptive drills have already been assigned, they just need to be followed up on.

Counters. Fights like a cagey old man full of tricks. Well, more like a lazy old man full of tricks. Generally speaking an excellent counter-fighter, scored 10’s here previously, this is a clear sign of a fighter just not performing up to par. Failing on one’s strongest skillset tells us we need to go and have a one-on-one talk with the fighter and find out what was going on, and possibly re-evaluate at a future date or adjust some of the grading depend on what we discover. Look for signs of overtraining, or possible personal issues or other things that may directly impact training. In this case it was a simple issue already noted by the fighter, and the overall assessment will be taken in light of the previous results.

I won’t share all this with the fighter, of course. I want them to improve on all points, but we have three months before the next assessment and no planned tournaments between now and then. Most of the points I want this fighter to work on can be explained within the context of a progressive series of lunging drills that we’ve already begun working on. The fighter will be shown his chart, and I will highlight the areas I want improvement on, and then explain how we will work on this through the context of the drill. I will take notes for myself about what kinds of feedback I want to give the student during class to get the improvements I want.