A key part of solo training for fencers is the development of a personal knowledge base about the sport. This has the advantage of providing knowledge needed for training and competition, but there is a broader benefit as well. The fencer who thinks about fencing, reads about it, and studies it is mentally engaging with the sport and reinforcing his or her mental solo training.
The first major assignment is for the fencers to learn the rules of fencing. This is not as simple as just reading the rules of fencing – these come in three parts (the rules that govern the actual bout, those governing competitions, and the technical specifications of the equipment) and a competitive fencer should have a solid knowledge of all three parts. However, fencers should also know the relevant sections of the Athlete’s Handbook and have read USA Fencing’s Referees Handbook. The Rule Book tells you the standards for your equipment, how the bout must be fenced, and how competitions are organized.
The Referees Handbook explains how the referee will check equipment and control the action, and provides current interpretations of the rules. And the Athlete’s Handbook is important because it establishes which competitions your fencers are eligible to enter and how to qualify for those competitions. Remember, two people have standing to question or appeal a referee’s decisions, the fencer and the team captain. They need to have the knowledge to be able to protect their best interests under the rules. It may take a season’s worth of study for them to master these three documents, but it is well worth the effort.
The second major solo study effort is to understand the theory and doctrine of the sport. Every fencer should have read at least a good beginner’s manual on fencing and an advanced text on their specific weapon. Not only will this help with the obvious issues of understanding terminology and the general classifications of actions, but it will also provide more depth to their understanding of both technique and tactics. It is a good idea to have a club lending library of important books and to encourage fencers to read them.
Finally, fencers, as well as coaches, need to stay up to date. This means that you should identify articles on a wide variety of fencing related subjects that will be of value to your athletes. Make copies, include the article in the solo training plan for the microcycle, and hand each fencer a copy. Providing the copy is important; don’t count on their finding something online or digging it out of the latest issue of American Fencing.
Athletes tend to think of their sport as doing, rather than thinking or reading. The challenge for a coach is to clearly communicate to the fencer that fencing requires knowledge and thinking, and that these have to be gained and reinforced through regular study of the sport.