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In the beginning was the (s)word, part 8

This is not the end. It is not the beginning of the end. And frankly, while the course itself may be concluded, it is not even the end of the beginning. But the last class of the current beginners’ course is now over, and while it was not as well attended as I’d have liked (only 17 of the beginners could come, though some of the missing 7 have been seen since), those that did come did a pretty good job of remembering the course content so far, and then building on it.

The class began with the warm-up, of course (remind me to post about warm-ups- practically nobody gets what they are for). Then we ran through the basic footwork elements using Fiore’s terms (accrescere, discrescere, passare, tornare; volta stabile, meza volta, tutta volta). Only the turns needed revision. Then I threw in the stick exercise, and the four guards drill.

We then ran through the first seven plays of the first master of dagger, before segueing to the dagger disarm flowdrill. That allowed the students to see a lot of material in a short time, and pick the worst bits to practise. The key is to pick something you can recall, but can’t do well yet. We then went over the 3rd and 4th plays of the 1st master (again!), picking up some extra detail, and referring to THE BOOK. I also made the point that while in the previous exercise they had practised what they needed personally, I had then chosen what was best for the class as a whole. The distinction between what one individual needs and what the group needs can be pretty stark; a further encouragement (I hope) for students to stick around for free training, or book private lessons.

We switched to swords at 6.45, and walked through part 1 of the cutting drill. Posta longa was the clear group weak point, so I pointed it out and had them emphasise it in the next round of part one. We then walked through first drill, step by step, making the point that Fiore talks about remedy masters (step 2) counter-remedy masters (step 3) and counter-counter-remedy masters (step 4). We the  repeated the cutting drill, as a mnemonic aid to first drill, giving them leave to act out the steps of the drill when the reached the appropriate point in the cutting drill.

I then taught them steps 1 and 2 of second drill, then added the third, then the fourth, pointing out the mechanical similarity with the 3rd and 4th plays of the first master of the dagger. In other words, after only two months, this group could as a whole pick up a new four-step longsword drill, without too much difficulty, and well enough that those that came along for the syllabus day seminar last Saturday could remember the drills having been shown them once.

I will leave a detailed summary of the content and structure of this course for a later post, but for now just notice that the whole thing, within each class and from week to week, has been intervalling up from super-basic solo actions to quite complex pair drills.

I look forward to seeing how many of this crop of beginners are still training a year from now: 50% is very healthy, less than 25% and I’ll have to reconsider my approach…

I'm sure you have an opinion: do share!

2 Responses

  1. 50% seems like a very high retention rate after one year. We’ve considered 25% retention to be pretty good. What have you found that helps student retention?

    1. Big question. If I had a silver bullet for it, I’d share. I think it boils down to whether the student’s training and social needs are met. This means a safe and welcoming training environment, a feeling of constant progress, and some kind of social connection outside of practice.

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