Teaching Historical Fencing – The Teaching Lesson


The teaching lesson is the first lesson your students will encounter, and to some degree will be a lesson type they will continue to encounter throughout their historical fencing career. It focuses on transmitting skills that are best taught by presentation by an instructor, as opposed to discovery or sustained practice by the student. As such it places a premium on instructor’s ability to present technically and historically correct skills to the student.

I have already covered key considerations in teaching a single skill. In this article I will focus on how to put skills, warm-up, and conclusion together to form an engaging lesson.

The teaching lesson starts with a short statement of what, why, and how: what are you going to teach, why is it important, and how does it relate to what the students already know. This is no more than 2 to 5 sentences, and should be brief. It helps students focus and put the lesson in the context of your overall program.

Physical activity starts with a warm-up to increase both physical and psychological readiness to learn. To the greatest degree possible warm-up activities should be fencing specific with a focus on movement patterns that will be used in a historical lesson. You may choose to use modern exercises or activities that are more oriented toward historical fencing technique, but any activity selected should relate specifically to the class and should be evaluated for safety. In general a warm-up should be no more than 10-15 minutes in length.

The main body of the teaching lesson is devoted to teaching skills, and occupies the most time at 20-30 minutes. There are a number of guidelines in planning the lesson to make certain that it is effective in communications skills to your students.

First, always work from known techniques to new, related, unknown techniques, even if only as part of the lesson. Work from simple skills to more complex ones. Work from slow to fast. These are rules that apply to teaching physical skills in any type of activity, and they have been used by Fencing Masters for at least 700 years.

Second, make lessons progressive. Skills taught should build on each other to increase the student’s combat ability. How you do this will depend on the tradition, school, or master you are studying, and requires that you understand and follow the doctrine revealed in the appropriate historical texts. For example, many sources describe fencing skills in the same order the master logically would have taught the skills. Others provide a hierarchy of what is most important. If we think about fencing in the context of possibly having to fight for your life on your way home after taking today’s lesson, the most important thing is what you learn first.

Third, consider linking techniques that logically are related together in one lesson. If you teach an offense, it makes sense to teach the defense against that offense in the same lesson. Or if you teach an initial attack, it makes sense to teach how to renew that attack in pursuit or at closer distance.

Following the main body of new skill teaching, consider including 10 to 15 minutes of bouting or solo practice time, depending on student knowledge level. People come to fencing to hit with swords, and bouting provides engagement with the sword and an opportunity to try to apply what has been learned in class. Ten minutes may not seem like a long time, but if you fence typical one hit bouts using period rules, this actually allows a lot of fencing.

Finally, conclude the lesson. This should include a simple, easy to perform drill done at slow speed or other type of cool-down activity, followed by a restatement of key learning points, student questions, and a statement of what will be taught in the next lesson as motivation to attend.

This format makes a well-organized lesson with constant student activity. It focuses on the instructor being the person in charge and on instructor to student transmission of knowledge. The teaching lesson is particularly suited to beginners’ classes and to the introduction of new lines of study in an intermediate class.

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