Teaching Parries

For the last two years, my club has been teaching basic parries using what I feel is a somewhat novel approach. For most of our classes, beginning students don’t start with prescribed parries from the manuals. Instead they are encouraged to find their “natural parries” through a structured exercise.

The exercise is actually rather simple. It begins with the patient fencer in a specific guard. The agent then throws a #1 cut (Zornhau or Mandritto Squalembrato) with a passing step. The patient counters the blow as he see’s fit, using a parry, counter-attack, or void. Safely avoiding the attack is paramount, but the patient is encourage to use a single or double-time counter attack if an opening is presented.

While this is occurring, the instructor offers advice for both the agent and patient fencer on their technique. Novices are offered simple instructions such as “step into the parry” while more advanced fencers are asked to fine-tune their actions. 

Once the patient is satisfied with his parry, he asks the agent to throw the next cut or thrust in the sequence. This repeats until the patient can parry every simple attack while resting in a guard.

After the exercise, the fencers are instructed to record their favorite parry. This is used as both a reference and a way to see how their preferences change over time. Below is an example from one of our workbooks.

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Refining the Exercise

Just as techniques can be refined, so can the exercises and drills themselves. A recent refinement to our practice is to turn this into a group exercise.

It begins with the instructor taking on the role of the patient fencer. He devices a parry, which he must then execute correctly three times.

The rest of the class then votes on whether or not they like the parry. If the majority agree, then they break into pairs and attempt the parry. Modifications are allowed at this time.

Once everyone has had a chance to work through the parry, the group reconvenes and discusses the parry and any changes they made to it. Then each student records the parry in their workbook, noting their preferred way of using it. (If after all this a given student still doesn’t like the parry, he should omit it from his personal log.)

The instructor then taps someone to devise the next parry. This person becomes the instructor, with the former instructor being demoted to the role of a student. The exercise is then repeated for each cut and/or thrust.

Why We Do This

Our club is small and the amount of material we want to cover is large. So it is vital to us that all members learn how to teach. Exercises like this allow them to practice teaching without the burden of trying to research and interpret a specific technique.

It also helps to keep the whole class engaged. Rather than passively learning, each student is forced to actively contribute to the conversation.

This also helps us find techniques that aren’t in the manuals. Time and space constraints mean that most manuals don’t even attempt to cover all of the basic parries, especially the advanced manuals such as MS I.33 and the Liechtenauer glosses.

Next Steps

From the beginning our club was meant to be academic in nature. And part of the academic life is sharing what you find with other schools and institutions. To that effect, I am going to start posting my interpretation of the techniques my students have derived.

I am also encouraging my students to start their own blogs, public or private. I strongly feel that explaining how something works in ones own words is an essential part of the learning process.

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