Friday, April 11, 2014

Coaches College Notebook

Yesterday, I pulled out my Coaches College notebook to look for information on 'learning theory" as it relates to fencing. No luck. It is not there.

As looked through the whole notebook, I was amazed at how simple and elementary it was. This is "Foil 1".

When I was at Coaches College it seemed so daunting.

Coaches College was one of the best fencing experiences of my fencing journey.

Monday, April 7, 2014

6 Wall Conflict Resolved

Last Friday night, my wife and I were invited to dinner at Dr. Ron Miller's home. He is the head coach for the University of North Carolina's varsity fencing team. He is know in the state/division as "Coach".  It has a greater meaning here than just calling a coach....."Coach" I tried calling him Ron once. We are not that far apart in age. I felt like I had sinned. It was just wrong.

It was a great meal, prepared by his wife, Susun. ( She is one of the most fun and interesting people you will ever meet.)

I had told Coach that someday when we were in a relaxed environment, I had some questions for him. It is impossible to find the time to talk to him at a tournament or at his club. He is just to busy or to much in demand by others. So he and Susun arranged that environment.

I had two things I wanted to know. One leading into the other. The first was about his ( Coach's) history and development as a coach. I knew some of it, but there were many gaps. In a coaching history as long as his, there are still gaps. It was so interesting. He traveled so many places and worked with so many people to become the coach he is today. He threw out names, that even with my limited knowledge of fencing history in the past fifty years, were so impressive. He elaborated on dozens he had worked with and their history. If you want to be good at anything, you must travel to where the knowledge and talent are.

(Editors note: As a man who will soon be 62, but has only been fencing 10 years, I am fascinated with what has taken place in US fencing history during my life time. I should have been fencing all my life, but I must live the part I missed vicariously through those my own age that had the good fortune to have done so. I am not bitter that I was not a fencer all my life. As I told Susun and Coach, it is like you were a man single until you hit fifty and then you find the woman you love. Sad that it took so long, but blessed that you found her.)

Back to topic.

I wanted to learn how Coach learned the series of  French epee technical drills that he uses in his private lessons. The foundation of these drills and the starting point is a drill called "6 Wall" in English. I found out, but it is to much to record here. He also studied other European methods, including (to my surprise) a Spanish style. I have no idea what that is like. That is a question for another time.

All of the conversation to this point was leading to a question I had about "Six Wall". In talking to other knowledgeable coaches, you always hear that you should teach your students in bout-like situations. The more bout-like the better. I agree to a point. I think you should always dress out in full gear, do your same warm up that you do in tournaments....that sort of thing. ( I believe it. I do not always do it.) I totally buy making drills bout like. But because of "Six Wall", which is not bout like at all,I did not believe that bout-like is always the way to go. "Six Wall" is cued by the coach resting his tip on the student's bell guard. The coach keeps his arm bent in such a manner as to leave a good target in the cup area of his elbow. The cue and the position of the coaches arm ( helping them to succeed in their action) is enough to make some coaches I have talked to cringe.

Coach explained to me about " Learning Theory". I think I have some information on this in my notebook from Coaches College. I need to go back and find it. He elaborated on different types of coaching theory in different nations.( Example:  1.Learn technical skills, then bout. 2.Throw the student in to bouting and let them get a feel for it, then work on fixing technical actions. This is better for small children. )
There were other ways of teaching talked about in between the two I mentioned. I wished that I could have taken notes, but that is not what you do when you are having dinner with friends. He summed it up by telling me that building a fencer is like building a house. You start with the foundation. It was what I needed to hear.

I use some of the drills that Coach has taught me when I work one-on-one with our students. "Six Wall" being the foundation for them all. Like all coaches, I base my teaching on what I have learned from coaches I admire. Sometimes it is the lesson I had from my own coach, that very week. I had worried that when I use drills like "Six Wall" that maybe this wasn't the best thing to do. I have heard so many great coaches say things that made it seem that way. I am not a great coach. I am a moderately skilled coach in a mostly recreational club. I am getting better though.  I have been so conflicted about what and how I teach in our little club. I now feel like you can get to the same destination by many paths. I will build my foundations my way, stopping along the way to examine the work . I feel like you should stop from time to time and scrutinize your opinions. For now, I think I am on the right track.

Thanks Coach.

( Yet Another editors note: I am a coach at the Greensboro Fencers' Club in Greensboro, NC. I am a student of Brian Toomey at the Charlotte Fencing Academy. From time to time I return to the North Carolina Fencing Development  Program for a lesson and technical tune up with my friend Coach Ron Miller.)