The average fencer does not have ready access to a training facility in which he or she can practice fencing skills with a training partner on a daily basis. However, with a little thought and planning and some simple tools, the same fencer can work key technical elements on a daily basis between the regular lessons or club practice sessions. This solo practice is a key part of a solo training program and can be included in the weekly training microcycle.
There are two major types of physical training that can be done alone and that require only minimal space and simple equipment. The first is bladework. The second is footwork. The key to both is execution that starts slowly with detailed attention to technically correct action. This means that the fencer must have learned in lessons how to execute an action, and have a real understanding of how his or her execution approaches the model performance, and where it may need correction. To make training productive the coach needs to provide clear standards and frequent feedback on technical execution.
Bladework practice requires space for a complete extension, and enough vertical and horizontal space to permit the normal range of offensive and defensive blade movement. Bladework practice can be used to work on issues as varied as a smooth extension, closing the line on parries and guard positions (a mirror is helpful for this), fingerplay, and sequencing of actions to include compound attacks and parries and ripostes and counterripostes. Virtually any blade technique can be practiced against the open air, although some level of visualization may be required.
Bladework can be improved by the use of simple training aids. A suspended ball (available in softball, baseball, and golf ball sizes) is probably the least expensive, and is a recognized tool for developing point control and accuracy. Several vendors sell wall lunging pads. Several of these pads set at different heights allow work against high and low line targets. An enhanced version of the pad is the combination of a pad with a mechanical arm that can be positioned to hold a blade at different heights and angles. A more advanced version is the spadassin, a target dummy equipped with the arm. And sabre fencers for years have worked against a mask attached to the wall as the target for head and cheek cuts. Blade and footwork combined with timing can be worked with Tyschler’s training device, a beeper that provides stimuli for executing a variety of drills.
Unfortunately, footwork requires more space and a solid surface with no neighbors beneath it. The longer the available space, the wider the variety of footwork practice possible. However, even a short hallway allows practice of advance and retreat and training in change of direction and shifting from one type of step to another.
The ideal situation is if the available space allows a combination of footwork, such as multiple advance- lunge, with bladework against a training target. A garage bay or a long hall or a back porch may provide a training area in which fully coordinated training is possible.
It is important to understand that this training activity is not just a second class substitute for really fencing with a real partner or taking a real lesson with a real coach. Solo work allows the fencer to concentrate on the specific technique being worked in the exercise, to move at slow speed to perfect the movement patterns, to build speed, and to build the number of repetitions need (variously estimated as between 10,000 and 100,000) to fully understand the technique and automate execution. This has to be done, and eliminating distraction may actually provide a better training experience.