How to Get the Most Out of an Open Workshop

Each practice has one of three themes: Dueling, Melee, or Open. On Dueling and Melee practices, the first hour is used for lessons and trainings. Students of the Order of the Rose Training Program work with Officers and assisting Swordsmen to progress through the program. Swordsmen, who have already graduated from the program, work with the Master Swordsmen during that same hour.

Open practices are a little different. Instead of lessons, the first hour is used as an Open Workshop for all members* to work with others, get advice, and learn from experienced members of the group.  Students can also use this time for Reviews & Test Matches. This is a great opportunity to hone your technique and resolve challenges that you may be facing or struggling with. But how can you make the most of these opportunities. This week’s article discuss three tips on how to make the most of these Open Workshops and training in general. Any time you seek someone’s help use these three tips to ensure you walk away better off than when you started.

*Note: Newcomers will still receive either the Basics of Dueling or Basics of Melee lesson to ensure that they can participate with the other activities throughout practice.

Tip #1: Have Something Specific in Mind

Being Captain, I get asked to work one on one fairly often when I’m not busy with my other duties. It’s one of my favorite things to do and I always get excited at the opportunity. When I finally get a chance to work with whoever asked me, I like to ask what do they want to work on and I can’t tell you how many times their answer is, “I dunno. What do you suggest I work on?“.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate that you respect my opinion enough to ask for my suggestions, but this makes my job as a teacher much harder. You’ve just put me on the spot. Without any warning, I have to rack my brain for what I know about your fencing or I have to fight several bouts just to get an idea that may not be completely accurately or what you need most. What would be better is to have something specific in mind and tell me that’s what you want to work on.

This allows me to hone in on what you’ve already been thinking about. I’ll ask questions, watch for details that you may have missed, or even share my experiences if I’ve worked on the same thing. If you come to me with something specific, I can work with you more effectively and we may actually have a solution to your question by the time we’re done.

No matter who you decide to work with have something specific in mind before you start. If this is something you struggle with, writing down potential ideas in your fencing journal will allow you to save ideas for future Open Workshops.

Tip #2: Vary Who You Learn From

After you know what you want to work on, you need to start thinking about who you are going to ask for help. Last week we had over 30 members at practice and we were still missing quite a few! There are a lot of people to choose from and each one of them has a unique experience and perspective to fencing. 

You may be tempted to always look towards the big names in the group because they are in the open all the time, but I would suggest that you don’t. Instead, vary who you learn from and gain a different perspective on the things you are working on, especially if you are working on them for long periods of time. 

Fencing is a skill that only gets better with more experience. One of our greatest strengths in Terrasylvae and the Order of the Rose is our ability to share our knowledge and learn together. You have an entire company of fencers whose experience is at your disposal. Don’t miss an opportunity to tap into that wealth of knowledge in favor of seeking out the same person each time.

Tip #3: Set Goals to Implement What You Learn

My final tip will help you after the Open Workshop is over. When you finish training, set some goals to implement what you learn during practice. 

Some of the most influential fencing lessons I’ve learned came from one on one training with another fencer, but I wouldn’t have learned those lessons if I didn’t apply them. If I just thanked my instructor for their time and went back to fighting the way I did before, the training would have been for naught and I never would have improved. Luckily, I walked away from those experiences determined to put the advice into action and make it work.

Every Open Workshop should give you something to think about and something to try for the rest of practice. I know it can be hard to stay focused and keep trying it, but I cannot emphasize how important that is. Fencing is not something you learn in a day. It takes hours and hours of practice. You’ll need to do the same action hundreds of time to perfect the technique and a thousand more just to make it feel natural. Setting goals will help you keep that focus and track how you’re doing instead of letting these incredible opportunities go to waste.

What to Do When Someone Asks For Your Help

An Open Workshop means that everyone can be the student and the teacher.  Working with your peers can be an incredibly powerful learning experience that you can share with another person. It will give you opportunities to practice teaching and sharing your knowledge with others. If you don’t know what to do or don’t feel qualified to help someone train, follow these principles:

The most important thing to do when someone asks for your help is to do your best. They came to you looking for help and you should do your best to help your fellow fencer and friend. Even if it’s just sharing your perspective on a problem. That is still worthwhile and can open someone’s eyes to new possibilities.

The second most important thing is to listen. Take some time to understand the question or the problem and make sure you are on the same page. Teaching in this kind of setting isn’t about correcting or showing someone that you know better. It’s about addressing an issue together and hopefully finding a solution.

Finally, the third most important thing is to learn. More often than not, the teacher actually learns more from a lesson than the student. This is especially true here. Every time you express your thoughts and perspective about fencing, you are solidifying your own understanding of the same principles. As soon as you voice a thought it becomes concrete instead of something bouncing around your head. Take advantage of these teaching opportunities to deepen your own understanding.

Final Thoughts

Tomorrow’s Open Workshop will be the first of many this year. Every three weeks, you’ll have an opportunity to train on the things you want to and you should not let it slip by. You may have opportunities to teach and those should be exciting moments to remember and look back on. Whatever happens, I’m looking forward to these workshops as an opportunity to learn and I hope you are too.