Fencing Lessons – The Bouting Lesson

The Bouting Lesson challenges the student to perform tactically correct offensive and defensive techniques at a high level of technical performance, speed, rhythm, and timing under conditions as close to those of the bout as possible in a lesson. It should develop the fencer’s confidence in his or her ability to apply the tactic under combat conditions.

The duration of the Bouting Lesson depends on the approach taken to the lesson. For bouting lessons taught as one continuous period of activity, a duration of 10-15 minutes would seem appropriate. Longer periods of activity than this may well result in loss of concentration and no increase in training value. However, if the intent is to actually simulate the stresses and timing in a bout, the length and pacing of the lesson should be similar to that of a bout, arguing for a 3-5 or 10 minute length, and a rhythm that includes time for the fencer to quickly analyze what happened and make mental corrections.

Bouting Lessons represent a high level of training and should be used with students who are competitive fencers at a period in the training cycle when participation in competition is near.

The Bouting Lesson moves from simple to complex, introduces changes of tempo, moves from relatively low speed to high speed with accelerating actions, and introduces an increasing numbers of actions. Throughout the Master should use footwork to set up tactical problems for the student and require the student to control the distance.

Lowest Level: initially the set of actions to be used by the student should be restricted to one attack, and one parry and riposte. The Master will specify the action to be used and the conditions under which it will be executed.

Intermediate Levels: the number of actions can be increased to two attacks, two parries, and one counterattack. The maximum number of actions should be limited, possibly not exceeding three to four.

Choice Reaction: the level of difficulty can be increased by introducing choice-reaction.

Advanced Level: now the fencer can execute any attack and any defense or counteroffense.

The lesson should be keyed to the use of the tactical system taught by the Master, and the actions and counteractions of the student should be consistent with the system. The Master may either use his preferred system or simulate actions to be expected by a fencer using a different tactical approach (this would be more appropriate at advanced levels of this lesson).

Corrections of mechanical technique should be minimized or avoided altogether. When corrections are made they should focus on:

(1) Maintaining the correct distance in the bout,

(2) Getting to the distance at which the fencer can successfully launch an attack, or

(3) The moment at which to launch an attack.

In many cases the Master’s actions provide the correction. For example, an attack launched at too great a distance and the wrong moment is either avoided by a step back or receives a parry and riposte to hit. Failure to maintain correct distance is indicated by a swift attack by the Master. A poorly timed counterattack is frustrated either by countertime or by swift completion of the attack.

The alert fencer will recognize the failures and self-correct. The fencer who is not alert, has difficulty recognizing opponent actions, or who is not applying a reasonable tactical system will continue to execute incorrectly. This then requires intervention after the second or third incorrect execution. Such correction should focus on helping the fencer recognize the situation that creates the error. For example, the Master might ask the student what action the student is performing and what action the Master is taking in response. This is followed by a question as to how to correct the situation. Often an intermediate or unfocused student will simply not recognize what the Master is doing, leading to the inability to correct and to frustration. Depending upon the intent of the lesson, proper response to this correction should either be (1) correct execution of the action, or (2) exploitation of the Master’s response to score the hit by compound action, second intention, countertime, etc. on the next repetition.

Bouting lessons represent a significant challenge for the Master. Now you must relinquish control to the student in the dimensions of technique, distance and timing, and tactical choice. At the same time you must maintain sufficient control to be able to create situations in which the student will correct his or her errors without normal feedback, and you must keep the lesson on track toward its objectives. A bouting lesson is not just fencing touches with the student; it is your best opportunity to teach under realistic conditions.