Five minute fencing lessons are a modification of the concept of the famous Tauberbischofheim fencing lesson designed to provide high intensity work within a short time period. The fencer is able to maintain focus on the lesson and perform maximum repetitions for their training value. But how do we, as coaches, integrate this short lesson into our normal practice?
The five minute lesson is a training lesson, a lesson designed to build speed and regularity of execution, not a lesson to teach new technique. Because this is a training lesson, it works for students who have a reasonable ability to perform the skill being trained. In addition, students will benefit most from this if they are competition oriented and are motivated to work at high intensity. Therefore, five minute lessons should be introduced after students have a repertoire of techniques that will benefit from high repetition work. During the season, five minute lessons should be planned like any other activity as part of the training macro-, meso-, and microcycles.
Five minute lessons are the easiest to plan and integrate if they have standard content. The lesson has three key elements: a technique, one line, and footwork. For example, last week’s five minute lesson in my Salle was straight thrust in 6th (or direct head cut for sabre) from static, advance, retreat, advance-lunge, retreat-lunge, and balestra-lunge for 100 repetitions. Every member of the coaching staff teaches the same lesson, from Assistant-Moniteur to Maitre d’Armes, in the case of my Salle in our two open fencing sessions.
You should plan for each five minute lesson to remain in use for a reasonable period. This depends on how often you see your fencers. If your average fencer comes to one group lesson and one open fencing session a week, this week’s five minute lesson may be good for two weeks to get in enough repetitions for training value and enough exposures to ensure learning. However, for the fencer who takes multiple lessons a day (for example, one before work, one at lunch time, one immediately after work, and two in the evening), a new lesson every day is probably appropriate.
The five minute lesson can be taught in both structured group lessons, depending on the design of the session, and in open fencing. The key is that you must have sufficient coaching staff on duty, and fencers who are not otherwise fencing. It is obviously inefficient to have one coach and one fencer working while other fencers wait their turn for the lesson. But if you have an odd number of fencers and one coach, the odd fencer can work productively with the coach while the others are bouting.
There are some specific requirements for coach performance in the five minute lesson. First, every coach in the club must have the same understanding of the technique, know how to cue it realistically, and be willing to work to that standard. If you teach advance-lunge by stepping back to cue the student’s advance and then standing still for them to lunge, you are working in a past era, and your student’s will have no idea of how to execute the skill in competition. Your training will have actually placed them at a disadvantage. This requires external continuing education at clinics, study of high level fencing, and regular internal, club-level training for your coaches.
Second, coaches must be able and willing to do disciplined work in a high repetition environment. Corrections are at most one word, a gesture, or a touch with the blade. The coach who likes to hypercorrect on every repetition is not ready for this type of work and should not be allowed to teach five minute lessons. Coaches must remain focused on the specific content of the lesson, and resist the temptation to say “let me show you this neat trick that will let you use this to do that.”
Finally, willingness to play as part of the team is critical. Everyone must do the same lesson in the same way. If two of my epee coaches teach the straight thrust in 6th lesson, one teaches change parry 4 with a disengage riposte, and the fourth teaches croises, my students get three different lessons (and in my Salle, two of those lessons are not in this year’s macrocycles for what our fencers should be able to do on the strip). The result is chaos and poorer athlete performance.
The five minute lesson actually energizes athletes with its high repetition, high speed characteristics. It is demanding for the coach, who must maintain his or her focus, and keep pushing the student. The end result is better performance by athletes and more proficient coaches, all of whom are working on the same pathway to excellence.