One of the challenges of developing fencers is building their ability to recognize their opponents’ actions and use that knowledge to gain a tactical advantage. The fencer who has this ability is at a significant advantage in the bout, but it is one that many fencers struggle to develop. The Tactical Analysis Drill may provide a tool you, as a coach, can use to help in that struggle.
The Tactical Analysis Drill develops the fencer’s ability to recognize and act on opponent actions by presenting the fencer with a series of actions and requiring the fencer to predict what the next action will be. This drill can be done as a coach and fencer drill in a queue drill format at any level. It could be done as a paired drill with two fencers, but that format requires higher intermediate or advanced participants.
(1) The coach identifies a set of related actions the fencer is capable of performing well. At the same time the coach identifies three cues that reflect reasonable responses that might be expected of an opponent the fencer will face. In my experience three actions works well as a set – two actions do not provide sufficient variety, and four or more actions make the drill cycle too long.
(2) The coach (or fencer partner) decides whether the skills will be presented randomly or only one skill will be presented. For example, the three actions the student will be expected to perform might be (a) change of engagement, straight thrust if the opponent does not react, (b) change of engagement, disengage against lateral pressure on the blade, and (c) change of engagement, counterdisengage against the attempt to change the engagement to its original line.
(3) The fencer and the coach do three actions. In our example, if the coach wishes the fencer to use all three actions the coach would randomly respond to the change of engagement with no reaction, lateral pressure on the blade, or an attempt to change the engagement. The coach uses all three cues or only one cue three times.
(4) The student has to identify whether this is a series of all the actions the opponent knows (three different random actions) or if the opponent is repeating one favorite action (three of the same one of any of the action set). This identification has to be complete by the end of the second action.
(5) The student reacts appropriately to each cue.
(6) At the end of the first action, if the student is willing to take risks, he or she can assess the probability of the next action and commit fully to the counteraction. This requires significant risk, for the student does not know whether the cycle is three of the same or three different actions, leading to a fairly complicated set of mental mathematics to determine the best course of action. Alternatively, the student can wait for the second action to commit fully.
(7) At the end of the second action, the student should know with certainty what the next action will be and commit fully to the appropriate counter.
The Tactical Analysis Drill does not force the students to make and stay with a choice to the degree required in the Analysis/Commitment Drill. Its strength is in being able to determine the opponent’s scenario and in recognizing a number of different actions and combinations of actions.
This drill forces the student to fence eyes open for the first and second actions, and helps to train the student to recognize specific actions and sequences of actions. It also helps to develop the ability to assess probabilities of specific opponent courses of action. By concentrating on the identification and prediction function in the drill the student starts to develop the skills of observation needed to be a successful competitive athlete.