That tweet started a conversation with the Saskatchewan Fencing Association, @SKFencingAssoc Sask asked if I could blog a bit about some our our ‘plays’.
First let me stress that the names of these ‘plays’ are meaningless. We are having fun. We intentionally come up with sometimes ridiculously fun names. Actual fencing, hitting each other with a metal stick, like all sports, is silly. But using the analogy of sport to life to develop the mind and body? That is not silly. We take winning seriously but we never forget to have fun along the way.
When I teach fencing actions I tell the kids that the simple individual actions are like Legos. Each Lego piece has a function. The fencer has to understand all the pieces she has available. She has to understand how they fit. The fencer/artist puts the pieces together in novel ways to create a masterpiece.
A newer fencer can get flustered in a bout. To build that Lego masterpiece under the pressure of competition is hard. So we develop some attacks in practice that the fencer can fall back on during a tough bout. These are just like the plays a football coach might develop. We try to develop plays that have a single beginning but have 3, 4 or 5 possible endings. The goal is to make the opponent wait long into the attack before he can decide which response is correct. Hopefully by that time it is too late, he is already hit.
Grizzlies In A Small Boat is a foil fencing example of this.
This started out as When Grizzlies Attack which I use to help fencers understand running attacks. When the grizzly attacks, she runs at you. If you turn and run, she continues to chase you until it is lunchtime. If you stand your ground, she stops just out of range. Only after she has sized up her prey does she complete the attack. The fencer should do the same. From the engarde lines the fencer partially extends her foil and leaps forward as far as she can but stays just outside her opponent’s attack range. If the opponent upon seeing the attacking fencer flying towards him, retreats, the attacker with no hesitation continues the aggressive attack. But if the opponent stands his ground, the attacking fencer stops her aggressive attack and sets up for a more traditional fencing encounter. She stops to size up her prey just like the grizzly does.
Many weeks later I was trying to teach my fencers how to intimidate their opponent. I had the theme from the movie Jaws playing through the speakers in the salle. We were bouncing up and down on the balls of our feet slowly at first in cadence with the music. Then if you remember, as the shark approaches closer, the music begins to speed. We sped the cadence of the bounce. And of course the final measures when the shark attacks? The fencer attacks. The kids joked how we were going to need a bigger boat. The name stuck. We began calling it You’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat.
Fast forward to a few weeks later. and here is where the Legos come in. We combined When Grizzlies Attack and You’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat to make Grizzlies In A Small Boat. Again, the kids came up with the name. The execution of the move starts like When Grizzlies Attack as the attacking fencer lands from her leap, she must be prepared for one of 5 different endings. If the opponent runs, she chases them. If the opponent counter-attacks, she completes her attack with right of way. If the opponent stands still, she starts the bouncing action of You’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat in an attempt to intimidate the opponent. If the opponent takes just one step back, she leaps again into a high target attack. Finally, an option for when the opponent takes just one step back, she fakes the second leap with her shoulders and instead executes a long low lunge into a low target. The fencer uses the split second while she is in the air during that first leap to determine which ending of the attack is the appropriate one.
The various Lego pieces used in this ‘fencing play’ are When Grizzlies Attack, You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat, Tiger, Cobra, Mongoose, Bird of Prey, Rosemary’s Baby and Scorpion’s Tail.
The names of the Lego pieces need to be created with and for the student. My students are currently mostly high school fencers. Having fun is important. If your fencers are fun loving, then silly names like this work. If your students are serious, these silly names probably won’t work.