Fencing Drills – Command Drills

Although drills occupy an important place in the training of fencers, both recreationally and as competitive athletes, the choice of the correct type of drill for a specific need is important .Not all drills are appropriate or effective at all stages of training .One example of this is the command drill.

As the name suggests, a command drill is one in which the actions of the fencers are controlled by commands by the coach .A typical command drill is used to teach a new skill during a group lesson .The process requires that the coach plan a logical progression of assembling a skill as the basis of the drill:

(1) The coach breaks down the skill to be taught into each part that requires a different action by the fencer.

(2) The coach demonstrates the skill, pointing out each of the parts.

(3) The coach then gives commands to have each fencer execute the parts in sequential order .This may be by numbers (“one,” “two,” “three,” etc.) or by the name of the action (“partly extend,” lower the point,” raise the point on the other side of the blade,” complete the extension,” etc.).

(4) As the fencers develop acceptable proficiency in the most detailed sequence, the coach assembles several parts of the skill together, increasingly reducing the number of commands . Eventually the progression is fully assembled into a minimum number of commands.

For example, the progression of commands in teaching a feint of straight thrust-disengage might be:

First sequence:

… partly extend in a feint

… lower the point

… raise the point on the other side of the blade

… complete the extension

… lunge

… recover

Second sequence:

… feint

… disengage

… lunge

… recover

Third sequence:

… attack

… recover

Fourth sequence:

… attack

Although this example is one-sided, with only the initiator having specific commands, both the initiating fencer and responding fencer can be given tasks .At each stage in the process, as the sequences shrink in length, the coach must provide an explanation of the commands, and watch carefully for students who are not executing the correct sequence .All of this makes for a drill that is supervision intensive.

There are advantages to the command drill .It mirrors exactly the components the fencers have been shown when the skill is demonstrated, and helps eliminate confusion in executing the skill .Especially for students who are beginners, it builds the skill in small chunks that the fencer can easily understand .For the coach it provides a very structured lesson with an increased probability that students will be able to mechanically execute the skill.

However, there are disadvantages . Complicated actions with both fencers engaged simply end up with too many commands to be easily used .Although rotation at the end of each sequence works, if both fencers are expected to play active roles, rotation should be restricted to within the same side of the drill .Asking a fencer to shift to a new set of commands or meanings for commands invites confusion .Finally, because this is a very structured drill it does not build student autonomy, mobility, timing, or tactical judgment . This means that the command drill is probably most effective in teaching good technical execution of a skill for beginners or new intermediates.

The command drill was a staple of instruction for classical fencers, and for those who teach in a classical context or primarily teach beginners, it remains a useful tool .For those who coach modern competitive fencers, its use is more restricted, probably only to the introduction or correction of skills, and then only briefly.