Fencing Drills – Tutorial Drills

How do you increase learning in drills in a large fencing class at the beginner or intermediate level? There are too many students for a single coach, or even several coaches, to instruct on a one-on-one basis. How do you multiply your teaching staff? One approach is through the use of tutorial drills.

Tutorial drills are designed to provide the student an opportunity to practice multiple repetitions to develop a skill taught in the preparatory group drill. The process is:

(1) the class is separated into two groups, students and tutors.

(2) fencers are paired in tutor/student pairs. The tutor dons a protective plastron.

(3) the coach explains the drill and emphasizes the specific actions the tutor will execute.

(4) the tutor presents the conditions and the cues for the student’s actions at a slow to medium speed.

(5) the student executes the fencing action being taught.

(6) the tutor provides no feedback or instruction.

(7) after a set number of repetitions, the two fencers switch roles. Bradford suggests a switch after 10 repetitions. A longer number may be more appropriate, such as 15 touches or four sets of 5 with a very short rest between each set, simply because of the equipment change required.

The fencer acting as tutor acts in much the same way as a qualified coach would act in presenting the drill. He or she uses a more upright body position with the arm at a level that correctly simulates the blade presentation in combat. The attack is carried forward with a step rather than a lunge. For beginners the chest can be turned more to the front to provide a larger target. And the actions are purely mechanical cues: open the line and get hit by a straight thrust, press on the blade and get hit by a disengage, move forward with the attack and get hit by the riposte after a successful parry, etc. These cues should be large and obvious.

The tutors require supervision. Inevitably one or more tutors will get the action and the cues wrong, leading their students into a series of incorrect actions. The coach cannot relax, but must circulate and correct tutor performance as needed.

The tutor should be equipped with a coaching plastron (a number of vendors offer a simple bib type plastron that will meet this need) and, in epee or sabre, with a sleeve to prevent discomfort or injury (vendors offer inexpensive cloth sleeves). At epee, a protective leg is advisable if hits will be delivered to the thigh or foot. Although the number of hits the tutor will receive is fewer than a working coach would, hard hits or hits delivered from too short a distance have the potential to cause the tutor to flinch, introducing an unrealistic element into the drill.

At one level the tutor’s role allows the fencer to rest while still performing fencing actions. The pupil does the hard work with repeated actions. However, the tutor does automate certain hand actions and gains useful experience in creating invitations, and the coach should highlight that experience so that tutors realize that their role in providing cues is actually developing a useful fencing skill.

The use of tutors increases the effectiveness of the early stages of learning correct execution of a fencing skill. There is a secondary benefit, especially to the intermediate level program. Individuals who do a good job as a tutor are logical candidates to enroll in training to become Assistant Moniteurs (a preprofessional certification offered by the United States Fencing Coaches Association), providing a cadre of certified assistants to work under the coach’s direction. Explore this type of drill, improve your fencers’ skills, and start training your next generation of assistants.