My favourite part of teaching has to be those nights when the students figure something out on their own.

We’ve been hitting movement a lot lately, discussing tempo in fencing. Exploring up from invitations and parries, developing the riposte, and graduating up to the remise and reprise. I’ve been explaining these as essential parts of the usual rapier single-time attack. By understanding the mechanics of these double-time actions, you can start to see the underlying structure of how an opponent actually reacts in combat. The subtle openings for single-time attacks and counters can then been seen in the void spots between the opponents actions.

Around this, in our boxing we’ve been working through tempo actions as well, working from the techniques of Ernesto Hoost and Joe Louis. Through their teachings, we see how to set up tempos through footwork, creating angulations and openings by stepping and predicting opponent reactions.

Take any one or two of these classes, and you get very little. It looks like a mess, a hodgepodge of material without connection. Take enough to make the connections and things can become very clear.

We started working through drills from Maija Soderholms‘s excellent “The Liar The Cheat and The Thief: Deception and the Art of Sword Play” in January. We approached them uniquely, by incorporating them into our German Longsword and La Canne special focus classes. The drills we chose to trial dealt with learning to express and recognize an opponent’s intentions, and to move freely in reaction to those intentions.

There have a been a lot of small payoffs, but last night was particularly good.

At the beginning of the night and for the first few drills everyone was stiff and awkward. Parry and riposte drills looked mechanical. I wasn’t seeing the flow I was hoping for. We added in the drills for dodges, and then spinning attacks. Things still looked rough.

We moved onto a open series of exchanges, trading blows and responses, and it clicked. Students were spinning, ducking, dodging…being creative in attack and defense. I saw what I had been waiting for. Each student had come to their own understanding of tempo. They were able to express that understanding through feints and dodges, using positioning and movement to force each other to reconsider plans.

It’s a teachers best privilege to watch such things happen. Taking a few moments to just sit on the sidelines and watch your students make a breakthrough and then play with it is a deep pleasure. Makes all the hardwork seem like play.