Understanding Theory

While I was studying with Czajkowski, an American coach I knew emailed me asking for a list of some of his exercises. In fact, coaches constantly ask me for fencing exercises–either ZC’s or my own. There is definite value to be gained from sharing ideas, but many coaches overlook the most important thing they need to understand before they can successfully use any exercise: theory.

My reply to the American coach was that while all of ZC’s exercises are great, without understanding the theory behind them first, they would not be very useful. I know of coaches who attempt to blindly copy what others do but, because they don’t understand theory, they have very little success.

When a coach understands theory, not only will he understand why an exercise is or isn’t valuable, he will understand how to improve it, when it should or shouldn’t be used, and how to best combine it with other exercises. Maybe most importantly, a coach who understands theory is able to create his own unique exercises.

Unfortunately english-speakers have very few opportunities to familiarize themselves with fencing theory, although the market and demand is large enough that more and more options continue to appear.

Here is something you can do to organize your own understanding and further your abilities as a coach:

Make a list of the elements of fencing you believe to be most important to competitive success. Be specific (“Footwork” isnot specific). Keep the list small initially. Figure out why those elements are most important. Construct exercises that can teach those elements to someone who doesn’t know any fencing. Make the exercises progressive; they should build on each other. Here’s a very important detail: don’t assume anything. Just because your coach did something a certain way or some famous coach says something, don’t assume it to be true. Consider the ideas, but don’t assume they are true.

I, for example, would include controlling distance on that list*. Here is some of my thinking on it from a few months ago.

Keep your list to a few basic things. From there you should see a structure develop that will allow you to logically progress and give all of your exercises context. (As a competitor, you can gain a lot from this list as well. It can help you understand better what to focus on in your training.)

Having a conceptual structure to your teaching is the beginning to understanding theory.

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* You may disagree. While it’s true that I am never wrong, you should not assume that my list is definitive–or even necessarily accurate–in any way.