The Decatur School of Arms will be hosting our third annual Rapier and Saber Pedagogy (RASP) retreat February 14-17, 2020. In our first year, one of our main focuses was on Italian Rapier as a system, and we explored the breadth and depth of Italian rapier. In our second year, we spent a lot of time on specific elements of teaching, such as how how to give cues in lessons and introduce choice actions. This year, our goal is to focus on designing and giving individual lessons. In addition to our morning group sessions, we will have scheduled time for instructors to practice giving (and for students to take) individual lessons. We also plan to include discussions and sessions discussing how to take interpretations from historical sources and build lessons around them.
With that in mind, this post will outline some of the guidelines that we at Decatur School of Arms use for designing lessons and how they can be applied to a specific example: a German fencing student’s lesson notes on his work with a maestro trained by Fabris (for more details, see Reinier van Noortâ€™s article, â€œSome Fencing Rulesâ€).
Just as there are many different contexts for fencing, there are many different contexts for lessons, based on the student’s needs. Some lessons are focused primarily on introducing new concepts to a student, some are warm-up lessons in preparation for a tournament, some are focused on solving a specific problem, etc. Of particular interest for many practitioners of historical fencing is a lesson intended to guide a student through an interpretation from a specific historical text. Our goal for this style of lesson is to explore a specific technique or sequence from a manual, helping a student to understand the context and logic of an action so they can implement it as part of their own fencing.
Our main principles for designing this style of lesson are:
Start with simple actions and build up to more complex actions.
Follow a logical progression. For instance, have your student practice an action before you teach them how to counter it.
For actions that require choice, practice each element in isolation so the student can execute each technique before having to add in choice.
Given a sequence, we can use the following steps to identify elements that should be included in our lesson:
Describe the action and all of the variants that are described in the text.
Identify implicit actions in the text – these are actions that may not be directly shown in the text, but that a fencer needs to be aware of to understand the logic of a lesson. For instance, if a text describes a feint by disengagement, the following actions would be implicit:
A simple attack by disengagement. The logic of the feint is predicated on the opponent giving an opportunity to attack with a disengagement.
A parry and riposte – a feint is used against an opponent who attempts to defeat a simple attack with a parry.
Identify specific elements from the above actions that can be practiced in isolation. For instance, if each attack ends to the outside high line, we could practice a straight thrust to the outside high line early in the lesson to establish the pattern that will be used in the rest of the lesson.
Organize the actions into the final lesson, focusing on logical and tactical progression. Dropping or adding actions to maintain consistency and the flow of the lesson.
To demonstrate the approach, we can apply it to the first action described by the fencing student mentioned earlier:
When you have been engaged on the inside make a feint on the outside. And if he reaches after it thrust Quarte on the inside. But if he does not reach, thrust Tertie on the outside over the arm. But if he parries the former Quarte, pass with Secund at the blade, do this likewise on the inside. When you have engaged the opponent on the outside, and if he parries the thrusted Tertie high, pass below in Secund.
Step 1 – Describe the action and its variants:
From the opponentâ€™s engagement in fourth, feint by disengagement and disengagement.
From the opponentâ€™s engagement in fourth, feint by disengagement, then finish with a direct attack.
From the opponentâ€™s engagement in fourth, feint by disengagement and disengagement, then pass in second with a disengagement to the outside.
From the opponentâ€™s engagement in fourth, feint by disengagement and disengagement, then pass in second while yielding around the parry and hitting on the inside.
From the studentâ€™s engagement in third, glide to the outside high line, then pass below in second with a disengagement.
Step 2 – Identify the implicit actions
From the opponentâ€™s engagement in fourth, disengagement (The opponent must believe that the initial feint is an attack by disengagement)
From the studentâ€™s engagement in fourth, parry third and riposte. (The opponent is attempting to respond to the disengagement with a parry and riposte)
From the studentâ€™s engagement in fourth, parry third, parry fourth, and riposte (In action 3, the opponent defeats the feint with a second parry.)
From the studentâ€™s engagement in third, glide to the outside high line. (In action 5, the student initiates with an engagement and an attack along the blade)
From the instructorâ€™s engagement in third, simple parry in third and riposte by glide (In action 5, the instructor response to the attack with a parry in third)
Step 3 – Identify specific elements and concepts
Attacking to the outside high line with opposition.
Attacking to the inside high line with opposition.
From the opponentâ€™s engagement in 4th, passing in second with a disengagement.
From the opponentâ€™s engagement in 4th, passing in second while yielding around the blade.
From the opponentâ€™s engagement in a high 3rd, passing in second below.
Attacking with a renewed attack on a pass following an opponentâ€™s parry.
Step 4 – Arrange into a lesson.
From the instructorâ€™s invitation in 4th, straight thrust to the outside high line.
From the instructorâ€™s engagement in 4th, disengagement to the outside high line.
From the studentâ€™s engagement in 3rd, glide to the outside high line.
From the studentâ€™s engagement in 4th, simple parry of third and riposte by glide.
From the studentâ€™s engagement in 4th, simple parry of third, simple parry of fourth, riposte by glide.
From the instructorâ€™s engagement in 4th, feint by disengagement and disengagement.
From the instructorâ€™s engagement in 4th, feint by disengagement. If the instructor parries, finish with a disengagement to the inside line. If not, finish with a straight thrust to the outside high line.
From the studentâ€™s engagement in 3rd, glide. Instructor parries high 3rd. Student makes a renewed attack with a pass in second below the weapon.
From the studentâ€™s engagement in 4th, feint by disengagement and disengagement. Instructor parries 4th. Student renews the attack with a pass in second while disengaging to the outside high line.
Same as 9, but the student renews the attack while yielding around the blade in second and hitting in the inside line.
Instructor chooses whether to parry 3rd or not (7), or to parry the final action in fourth, which the student can respond to as in 9 or 10.