Putting it into games: Keep fencers playing

For any coach or instructor interested in tuning your sessions to be more based around games, a useful early consideration is how you structure your sessions to keep fencers focused on the task of the game and what they want to achieve with it.

When I first started using more game-like sessions it wasn’t initially obvious how the switch in structure caused some confusion, but if you’re coming from the kind of class where it’s more common to work on compliant or cooperative goals and ideal outcomes in drills, there are some things to keep in consideration. Especially if the games you’re introducing are competitive, fencers can end up considering the games a bit more unstructured, or potentially like sparring with some extra goals. Try to keep track of the following things:

  • Establish the conditions for winning or succeeding in the game clearly
    When describing the game, be sure the fencers are well aware what constitutes as win or success, whether this be a just touching the opposing fencer, or if the goal is different, like touching the blade.

  • Make sure potential fail-states or disqualifiers are discussed
    You can rebrand these as win conditions for the other fencer if it works better, but it’s as important that fencers are keenly aware of it; I.e. “you have to keep the left foot planted, if you move it you have lost (or the other fencer has won)”

  • Make sure fencers acknowledge what terminates a game
    I find this one particularly important, as fencers can easily end up doing rote repeats of the game, and then in cases of unclear hits/end-states or doubles, they just keep going with no acknowledgement of what happened. Fencers should be aware of what they’re doing, so an acknowledgement of the loss or win (especially in unclear situations) is useful. Having a third fencer judge the exchanges is the easiest way to do this. If that’s not possible for some reason, just make sure fencers keep track. I. e. “oh you hit me in the head, and I hit you in the legs, but legs are off-target for this game, so this one’s yours”.

  • Be open to potential outcome edge cases and questions around them
    Related to the point above, it’s not improbable that the game you run has edge cases. These will either seem obvious through the rules or come up during play, and having an idea of how to solve them ready is useful (mostly so you don’t spend 10 minutes redesigning rules to remove a specific edge case). If it’s one you’ve already considered, you might have a solution ready. If it shows up on the fly, and it doesn’t seem frequent enough to enter the “normal case” zone, you can probably just tell fencers to call such outcomes a draw. Again, having a judge for the game here will be helpful.

Generally, you want to work towards keeping the fencers focus on the tasks at hand and remove as many questions as possible. The focus of what the fencers are trying is as important as always, and even though games allow fencers to explore the environment in a playful way, they should be seen as self-contained problems that fencers are attempting to solve. If the fencers interrupt this by just trying to get to their next repetition without giving a brief reflection over what they just experienced in the last one, there’s a risk they might misunderstand or misattribute the actions they are doing, and what results they lead to.