Sometimes the best way to learn is to shut up and listen. Some times it’s the best way to teach, too. Ditch the ego, and just do the work with the students. Class is about learning, and that applies to me as much as it does to my students. We were short on students last night, as expected. It worked out well, having the people with the most detailed technical training being absent. Coming in to class, I was excited to work on more basic things without worrying about splitting the class up by skill level. I had planned a simple series of basic drills to cover our fundamentals. It didn’t work out that way, as is so often the case.

We wrapped up the workout portion with some boxing skills, working on power and accuracy. On a whim, I finished up that portion with slow work sparring.  We were a little early, so we had time to play a little with the schedule. And it gave me a chance to see where people were in their boxing skills. I saw good things. Everyone had some problems, but they were all moving quite well. They were tired, but the spirit was good. Most importantly for me, I could see tactical thinking happening. Students were working slow work as slow work, not as a win/lose game.

Moving into the second half of the class, I stepped in. Slow work had gone well, so I thought we might warm up for the rapier portion with some slow work as well. I thought I could grab the chance to do some work with the students, and get a better sense of how we would need to fine-tune the drills. And I got caught up in the work. I dropped the drills in order to grab a little individual time with each student. I tried to give everyone a single piece of advice for them to work on.

Mostly, though…I enjoyed myself. I opened myself up to what the students where bringing, each of their individual approaches to fighting. Instead of imposing my game on them, I tried to embrace what they were giving me. I listened to what they were saying, and tried to have a conversation instead of just giving a speech. I found enjoyable things in each of their fighting styles. When needed, I demonstrated obvious holes or flaws, but mostly it was about finding what they were strong at.

Sometimes when you fight a newer fighter, you find yourself stepping down your game. You hold back from the instant pez, and try to give them something they can deal with. Do it enough, and you start to find yourself getting bored fighting beginners. You dread having to work with new students. I’ve heard that complaint from lots of other fighters. They like to bitch about not having people good enough to challenge them anymore, and becoming bored with the game.

It’s different when you just try to fence the game from the point of the view of the beginner. Lacking experience, they don’t see the same holes or solutions to problems. You can try to mold them into a more acceptable form…but if you really know what you are doing, why can’t you make their form work? Instead of forcing the student to conform to “best” attacks and defenses, why not take the time to see what’s happening from their point of view, and see what their solution is. It can be surprising to see what merit might be there. I don’t know how often I’ve had to hear a frustrated senior student bitch about a newb who does everything wrong but still manages to hit them. The senior’s solution is always to “fix” the student so they do things “correctly.” They never seem to care that much that the newly fixed student is no longer landing touches. They assure themselves that now that they are on the right path, time will get them winning again.

But, again…open your eyes and see things from the beginners point of view. Adopt their game and approach for a bit. It becomes easier to give them relevant advice. Lead with the carrot, guide with the stick. The best part of this approach is for the teacher. Adopting a new fighting method, even just for one bout, makes fighting new fighters an enjoyable and challenging game. It improves your ability to analyze top caliber fighters, and forces you to vastly improve your own mechanics. Bereft of your own habits and tendencies, your winning tics, you are forced to develop your most basic skills at a rudimentary level. Guard, line, measure, and tempo can become unpolished works in need of love and development, instead of aging pieces slowly gathering rust in anticipation of retirement.