When my club was founded two year ago an important tenet was that we would focus on the basics before even touching the manuals. For what good is it to know all of master strikes and dozens of complicated plays if you still can’t properly defend against a simple attack?
That lasted quite a while, but eventually we lost our way and started getting too involved in reading and interpreting the manuals. So as our knowledge increased, our core skills atrophied. A situation that, once recognized, is easily correctable with a return to the basics.
Basic Attack and Parry Drills
The most important drill in our club is the basic attack and parry drill. This is pretty simple: you stand in a guard and defend against attacks along each of the eight lines in turn. Then repeat for the four thrusts.
The idea behind this drill is that you should be able to easily defend yourself against any simple attack at wide measure. If you can’t do that, then you haven’t yet mastered the guard and aren’t ready to move on to studying the plays.
I do want to stress the term “simple attack”. The manuals will cover combinations, feints, and other provocations designed to upset your guard and expose you to an earnest attack. But you can’t honestly expect to fully understand those until you can defend yourself against someone just throwing one swing and then backing away.
Building on the Drill
This drill is quite flexible in terms of the skill level of the fencers. Once they have mastered the basic exercise, you can allow the agent to cut along any line rather than just the one the patient has asked for.
Or the agent can be permitted to use a combination or device of his choosing. This allows him to put the lessons from the manual into practice outside of a scripted drill or free sparring environment.