The Fencing Lesson – The Silent Lesson

It is possible to deliver a complete fencing lesson silently, without oral cues, instruction, or discussion (beyond, perhaps, a brief statement of the lesson objectives). This removes oral cues from the lesson, forcing the student to focus on visual and tactile information. The silent lesson develops the Fencer’s problem-solving and decision-making capabilities without verbal cues. By removing oral instruction from the lesson, the Master forces the fencer to adapt to the conditions presented by the Master and to read cues that signal opportunities for successful actions, much as the fencer would have to in a bout.

The Master conducts the lesson without oral cues or discussion. All actions are presented as physical cues, by blade movement, footwork, and timing, and the student is expected to select an appropriate offensive or defensive action in response to the cue. The sequence of actions should be selected to be consistent with the tactical system used by the Master. For example, in working on the compound attack of feint of straight thrust, disengage, using the Tactical Wheel, the flow of the actions might be:

… (1st sequence) Master comes on guard with 6th open – student executes straight thrust into 6th and hits

… Finally – Master parries and ripostes

… (2nd sequence) Master closes 6th – then presses students blade – student disengages into 4th and hits

… (3rd sequence) Masters opens 6th – student feints straight thrust into 6th – Master starts to parry – student disengages to hit in 4th.

There is no theoretical limit to the length of the silent lesson. However, because this lesson requires a high degree of concentration on the part of the student to read the cues presented and to determine the appropriate action, to avoid excessive student fatigue, it would seem reasonable to restrict the lesson to less than 15 minutes.

The silent lesson also requires a high degree of concentration on the part of the Master. Because your cues are now blade or footwork cues, you must be careful to ensure that you are selecting the right cues and delivering them in the right way for the action you desire. To an even higher degree than that required for regular lessons, you must ensure that threats are clearly communicated and are realistic.

With this comes the requirement that student actions must receive corrective feedback. Normally feedback involves some level of oral communications. However, in this lesson, your actions become the feedback. A student feint that is wide and non-threatening either does not draw a reaction or draws an immediate counterattack, a parry incorrectly executed earns a hit by your attacking cue, etc. The student must be able to self-correct for this lesson to work well.

The silent lesson can be the whole lesson or part of the main body of the lesson. This approach is best suited to a training, bouting, or warm-up lesson. The requirement for technical perfection of actions, with the resultant demonstrations and corrections, makes this difficult as a lesson format for technical lessons.

The silent lesson can be used with students at any stage of development as long as they have been taught to identify and act on patterns of movement by opponents. With beginning or intermediate students it may be necessary to provide an objective at the beginning of the lesson that will ensure the student understands the focus of the lesson. Not all lessons should be silent lessons. But every fencer can benefit from the incorporation of silent lessons in the training program.