By Michael McTigue Assistant Epee Coach
How do I get good at this? Every student or parent has asked this question.
It’s an obvious question, and the answer isn’t obvious or we wouldn’t be asking it. Learning fencing is like a 3-legged stool, one leg is group instruction and bouting with your friends, another leg is the private lesson, and lastly there is competition. All three are important to the growth of the student and the omission of any one of them will limit their development. Inside each there lies a richness of experiences and opportunities for growth.
Today’s focus is on the private lesson component. First off what is it? At NWFC it is a 30-minute block of time that the student spends one on one with their coach. In the beginning this time is spent teaching the critical technical skills, the building blocks of fencing. This creates the muscle memory to accurately execute actions with little or no thought. One of the biggest and most common mistakes made by families of young students (and older students themselves) is deciding to wait to take private lessons until the student is “good enough” or until they have started to show some results at tournaments. Learning to fence is like learning to play a musical instrument. We wouldn’t buy our student a piano and then forestall giving them lessons until they got good enough to warrant it. I can’t stress the following enough: The time to build these muscle memories and good habits is at the beginning! The only thing harder than learning something new is unlearning a bad habit. It is much more difficult and sometimes demoralizing for the student to have to relearn an action.
After the groundwork is laid, the lessons progress to tactical actions and strategic thinking with an eye towards the student’s inherent strengths. Throughout the process the fencer and coach develop a rapport with one another. The coach learns how the student thinks, what their strategic and physical strengths are and help them develop a successful approach to the sport.
Some will ask, “But they’ve been taking group lessons, doesn’t that teach them these things?” Yes and no, but it’s simple math to realize that with one coach and multiple students no one will get 30-minutes of individually dedicated coach time. The group lesson is best used to explore strategic approaches and work on footwork and bouting scenarios. Take a look at a class or tournament, the students that are excelling are usually the ones engaged in classes, lessons and competitions.
Fencing is a lot like life, it’s an individual sport you can’t do by yourself. That makes it a fabulous platform for learning life lessons. The private lesson fosters the mentor-mentee relationship between coach and student. The private lesson also gives the coach the opportunity to guide the student and help them begin to know themselves.
Successful fencing requires a great deal of self-awareness, a skill that will also pay great benefits in other areas of the student’s life.