The Long Road

Since this blog is more to collect my thoughts, random musings and to record class outlines than to actually present any useful information, it’s fitting that I use it to do so here.

Last week, in preparation for our annual pas d’armes (okay – second annual, but still!), we did some freeplay using what we call “a plaisance” rules.  Basically, the only valid targets are the head and torso.  This is meant as a friendly bout in the interest of showing one’s prowess, since it’s exceedingly difficult to hit those targets against someone actively defending them.  It also levels the playing field between more experienced fencers and newbies, or so the thought went.  Oh, and thrusts were disallowed, making the whole thing a rather difficult exercise.

A few things came to light.  One, we don’t do much sparring.  It shows.  Mea culpa.  Of course, this is by design, and I want to limit sparring for students until I feel they’ve got control, for safety’s sake, and to make sure they have the proper form in the interest of limiting that spastic flailing so common to freeplay bouts all over the place.  The latter is a limited success, if I might say so myself.  Technique seems to go out the window when faced with someone intent on hitting you, and the focus turns from defending to hitting the other person (which *is* half the battle, after all, pun intended).

Two, there were some people sparring who shouldn’t have been.  WTF?  I’m the instructor, after all!  How did this slip by?!  Because I’m a dumbass, is why…  Ok, maybe I’m being a bit hard on myself.  Well, ok, not really, but still.  Anyhow, one of our newbies stepped up to spar, and he lacked so much control I thought he was going to brain someone as he swung that thing like a baseball bat.  Damn.  Nobody got hurt, but someone could have, and it would have been entirely my fault.  My brain was in low gear, and it just didn’t click until I saw him go for it.

There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is I’m once again lax in my disciplinary measures.  Things were going well, and then I slack off, and things go to hell.  I could use a little more support from my senior students, and I need to get them involved more.  That’s one option.

Secondly, in the interest of getting people involved and letting them have some fun, I backed off somewhat on my usual hard-ass nature (despite my laughing exterior, I do try to get shit done.)  Bad idea.

Another reason this occurred is that I simply need a break.  My day job is teaching, my night job is teaching, and then there’s life and family.  It’s a good thing we’re taking the summer off from classes, because I can use the vacation.

Lastly, it’s the biggest group we’ve ever had, and I’m experiencing some growing pains.  Success is nice, but I need to adjust my methods, and again – get the senior students more involved.

So what are the solutions?  There are several.  First, no more freeplay for newbies.  Period.  Sorry kids.  I like you and all, but you ain’t ready.

Second, I need to bridge the gap better between drilling and freeplay.  Make it more progressive.  I also need to introduce more solo drills.  Or rather, perform both parts of a paired drill solo, slowly, building up speed, then put them together, slowly, then build up speed, then introduce variants to the drills, etc.  These are things we already do, I just need to do it more effectively.

Third, go back to being a hard ass, especially about safety equipment.  People keep borrowing my fucking gauntlets, and they are getting used and abused.  Buy your fucking own, or don’t play.  “Tough titty said the kitty, but the milk’s still good.”

Anyhow, all this segues nicely into a reflection on myself.  Yeah, I’ve been in a funk.  My passion turned into a job, and it needs to go back to being a passion.  This is no secret, but I have obligations to the people I train, so I keep it up despite my lack of motivation.  The summer off should cure this, at least that’s the plan.

A very astute student gave me her impressions of my fencing the other day, and since I’ve not much ego, I’ll share them with you.  In short, her words were “when you show techniques, it’s beautiful and you move so well, but when you spar, you just use brute force without technique.”  Ouch.  Harsh.  In retrospect, I suppose she’s right.  Analysing my own play, I distinctly recall forgoing the use of measure and just barreling in.  In the absence of thrusting and grappling, I was somewhat at a loss as to how to overcome my foe.  Damn her when she’s right.  Why is this?  The reasons aren’t as simple as she may think, but are generally of the “I don’t train anymore” variety.

My funk and workload keep me from training much, and while that is no excuse, it’s at least a reason.  Injuries over the past years have made me leery as well, but again, no excuse.  Solutions?  Well, duh – train.  But it’s also about mindset.  Instead of using all the tools at my disposal and the panoply of techniques and principles of measure and voiding etc., I just went gung-ho and tried to batter my partner into submission.  Lesson learned.  I will be more mindful and both attack and defend with forethought.  And train.

I should have called this blog “the random musings of a chronic procrastinator.”  Ah well, it bodes well for my good friend Todd Sullivan this summer.  He can wipe the floor with me, and I’ll have to keep him in beer all weekend.  Wait… that’s not all bad…

Anyhow, not looking for sympathy or a shoulder to cry on – I just need to lay things out for myself.  It helps me organise my thoughts and sound out ideas.  Apologies to those who actually read this!  I should be back to my normal self by summer’s end, and at least I can sit back and enjoy the tourney next weekend.  I’ll post pics next week.


P.S.: After reading this, I figure I sound like some whiney little girl-man, constantly griping, if not about his writer’s block, it’s about how tired or unmotivated he is.    Sorry.  I suppose, like most, it’s just easier to write and gripe and bitch about the bad things than the good.  In all, it ain’t that bad.  For real and for true.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. KOB

    Hi Jason,

    you're being WAAY too hard on yourself! Lighten up a bit. It's perfectly ok to get in a funk and have a moan occasionally. You're human after all. Your students are not expecting superman and as you've said, this is a hobby, not a job.

    Guy Windsor has said to me on more than one occasion that hobbies are there to enhance your life, take you away from the shitty day to day stuff we all have to face and maybe improve yourself along the way. Or not. What do you want to get out of your training? You cannot be all things to all people so as the head instructor, you have to suit yourself first and everybody else needs to fit in with that. As mere human being, you have limits too.

    Try "tank-track" training, if you've not already. Here, people line up in two lines and pair off face to face. If you have an even number, then one of the end players stays put while the others move clockwise/anticlockwise around them. If you have an uneven number, the odd one out stands out of the particular thing you are training and can do some other drill for that time. When it's time to train partners again, everyone moves one step forward.

    Even: 1 3 5
    2 4 6 Player 5 always stays put, 3 goes to 6, 6 goes to 4, etc. As the instructor, you can be No.5.

    Odd: 1 3 5 7
    2 4 6 Player 7 stands out alone and can be assigned a different task. when you call change, every player moves once to their left.

    Advanced get to train with less advanced, you get to train with everybody. Different skill levels are not a problem. If player 1 and player 2 are advanced and beginner, then the beginner only goes to the step in the drill he/she knows. The advanced may or may not complete all steps. You decide. Everyone gets loads of reps at their own skill level and a feel for the next steps from higher level students/instructor and advanced students learn to deal with students who don't necessarily move in a "Fiore" way.

    Just some food for thought. Chin up and never apologise for feeling down about the training. It's normal to get like this occasionally. I know exactly how you feel. I thought I was in a similar position in my own group. Turns out the only person who thought they were doing a crap job was ME! Once I took the pressure off myself, I realised people were pretty happy with the way I did things.

    About your advanced students: definitely get them to step up to the plate and help out. Take 2 steps back and let them lead classes and take more responsibility. Once people realise that there's nothing mystical about doing this, they're often pretty enthusiastic about it. It definitely makes people think more about the techniques and puts a new slant on learning things rather than just blithely training and doing whatever they're told to do. Encourage them a bit and your whole group including yourself will enjoy the benefits.

    Train more and enjoy it! 🙂

  2. Jason Smith


    I agree with everything you said. Really, I do. It's funny, since your words echo those of some of my students who are also friends, to whom I've spoken about this. In short, their advice is to stop being so hard on myself, since nobody is complaining and everyone is having a good time and progressing.

    I do put alot of pressure on myself, that's true. I want to be the best school I can be, and I want my students to get the most out of their training. I want them to progress. Hell, I even want them to be *good*. 🙂 I can't help but look at other groups and methods and say "wow, they're awesome" or "man, why didn't I think of that!?" Nature of the beast. But yes, I did take it easy there for awhile, and I intend to take some time away for a bit, so I can come back better and stronger.

    Actually, if you read my next post, it pretty much echoes your above advice. Oh, and before i forget, thanks for always having a kind word and some helpful input. And Guy is a sage man indeed. 🙂

    So, in short, there are solutions to my boo-boos, and I pretty much know where to go with it, it just takes some motivation I'm sadly lacking at this point in the game. But, it will improve – I'm sure of it.

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