In this week’s intermediate level class, our monthly freeplay diagnostic session, the theme was One Thing. We began with the cutting drill, and I gave them one round of it to identify one general movement issue to work on. Then about one minute of basic power drills to identify one technical or tactical weakness to work on. They could then choose either the general movement issue, or the specific technical or tactical issue, to pay attention to while sparring. As the class was quite small I had them spar in the following format: one student stood his ground and fought one pass against all the other students in turn; then the next student in line stood their ground, and so it went on until every student had had a go standing their ground.
I then had them determine from that experience one specific weakness, one action or situation that they had difficulty dealing with. This had to be articulated as clearly as possible. The next step was to return to the sparring format, with each student simply trying to create the problem; this often meant getting hit, but countering was not forbidden. In other words, if a student had difficulty dealing with the feint of mandritto, followed by a roverso strike, they were primarily trying to draw that action out of their opponent; whether they successfully defended against the roverso or not was irrelevant. Out of eight passes the top score was four: one student managed to create the circumstances they wanted in half of their fights. Most had much more difficulty. Getting hit the way you want to be hit is high-level shit.
They then paired off and worked on the solution to their weakness; the technical or tactical counter to the hits they had received. This was done in a variety of formats, from a basic set drill to a coaching session, depending on need, and could focus on predicting the action, or the technical aspects of countering it.
We then went back into the sparring setup, with an unusual scoring ruleset: each student had to identify to me the specific problem they were having, which I wrote down. They would score one point for getting their opponent to make that action; one point for successfully defending against it (i.e. not getting it); and one point for striking the opponent (in any context). This was particularly interesting to watch, as when the opponent figured out what action they would do that would automatically grant their opponent a point regardless of success, they started to avoid doing it. But the purpose of this was to direct the attention of the fencers onto working on one specific thing, rather than just fencing opportunistically.
This of course is an extremely artificial set-up, not to be confused with competitive sparring or a tournament ruleset. It was very effective in getting the students to pay attention to the one skill they were trying to develop, rather than getting sucked into a game of sword tag. We finished off with some normal fencing, i.e. you score for striking, and nothing else. This left us with about 20 minutes to work on the new stretto drills, which we worked out and videoed that evening.