If I Could Be a Newcomer Again…

With the new Training Program this year, a lot more responsibility has been given over to the students on what you want to learn and where you want to focus your training. That’s awesome and it offers so much flexibility and ownership! But it can be challenging to navigate the waters of your own progression without experience.

What do you train? When? For how long? Who do you ask to teach? As a Newcomer or Novice, these are really hard questions!

So what ends up happening is you pick what hasn’t been crossed off, or something you feel you can start using immediately like a secondary weapon or side. They’re not bad choices, but in the grand scheme of your fencing journey, they may not get you where you want to go as soon as you’d like.

This leads me to the question of the day:

If a Newcomer version of Kane showed up at practice, how would I* guide him through the Training program?

* I emphasize how I would go through the Training program because every Swordsman would focus on different things. It can actually be a really fun conversation to ask and discuss.

Where to Begin? The Newcomer Phase

The Newcomer Phase is where you start as a fencer. These first lessons are designed to introduce you to the group and get you participating as quickly as possible. You’ll learn foundational skills, but you need to continue working at them for those skills to grow. So back to the question, “If a 15-year old version of Kane showed up at practice this year, and I was able to guide him through the program, how would I do it?” Well, here’s the game plan:

Lesson 1: Four Levels of Importance

On the first day, most Newcomers start with Basics of Dueling so they can get a sword in their hand and start fighting. When I started fencing back in 2008, I had to wait three weeks before I could duel someone. I know it’s exciting to get out on the field, but learning the Four Levels of Importance first highlights how important this lesson is. It establishes the priorities that every fencer should have: Safety, Honor, Attitude, and then Skill. The order of the Four Levels is as important as the Levels themselves and if Newcomer Kane can keep them straight, it will set his expectations up for success.

Lesson 2: Basics of Dueling

While I waited for three weeks, I don’t think that’s required. After a week of getting to know the group, learning how things work, and settling in, New Kane can pick up a sword with some confidence and safely learn the basics.

Lessons 3-5: Safety, Honor, Attitude, and Melee Focus

With Dueling covered, the next few weeks would be focused getting Newcomer Kane (New Kane) prepped for the Melee field. We’re going to learn the Basics of Melee, address how to Gauge & Break Shots, and go over Gear Care & Requirements and what it all means. At this point, New Kane is interacting a lot more with other fencers and the group’s perception of New Kane’s Safety, Honor, and Attitude are being formed. The lessons up to this point can help New Kane really showcase who he is and bring his best self forward.

Lessons 6-8: Digging into Skill

The final Newcomer lessons for New Kane would be the Basic Blocks, Range & Placement, and Basic Offhand. Hard fast skills that New Kane will need to learn and continue developing through his entire fencing journey. These lessons showcase how you don’t just take a lesson and gain the skill. You have to practice. You have to implement. New Kane will need to dig into each of these skills over time to truly master of them. After 8 lessons, hopefully we can help New Kane establish some good habits on how to train and improve his skills.

Taking ownership. The First Novice Phase

Upon completing the seven Newcomer Lessons, New Kane earns the rank of Novice and things really open up. In the new program there are 40+ lessons to choose from and the journey towards Swordsman (because we’re definitely going to try and help New Kane become a Swordsman) begins.

As we start picking lessons, let’s keep in mind the 10 Criteria to Becoming a Swordsman, and specifically these three:

  1. Complete all 15 Required Lessons
  2. Complete, at least, 20 Elective Lessons
  3. Have, at least, 5 Check-In matches with an Officer.

I call out those three because they are things we want to specifically plan for. The other seven are ongoing things that can happen at the same time or as the season progress. I want New Kane to find a balance between taking the Required Lessons, which are fundamental skills, and Electives which can focus in on what he’s interested. You need a balance to maintain excitement and momentum.

If you just do Required, you’re delaying some of those really fun lessons you’re excited about and can provide a boost. If you do all Electives, you’re missing foundational skills that could really support your Electives.

So from here on out, I’m going to try to break it down month by month for New Kane. We’ll pretend that New Kane started at the very beginning of the season and earned the rank of Novice right at the end of April (2 months as a Newcomer), and he’s already taken Range & Placement! Woot!

May: Add Some More Basics

Some of the first lessons I’d encourage New Kane to take would be Multiple Attacks, Block/Attack Combos, and Line Fighting. Over the course of the month, New Kane can build on some skills that will help him both on the Melee Field and in Duels. He’s going to get plenty of experience being on the Line with the various Melees happening at practice, so most of the training will be developing those strings of Multiple Attacks to break through an opponent’s Defense, and Block/Attack Combos to create offensive opportunities from a Block that can then lead into Multiple Attacks, if needed. At the end of the month, I’d even throw in a Check-In Match with an Officer to evaluate how things are going as a fresh Novice.

June: Prepare for Summer Melees

School is over. It’s getting warmer, and Woodland is drying out. That means we’re going to be doing a lot of melees, so let’s prepare for it. This month, New Kane can take Theory of Melee, Two on One Tactics, and Parts of an Army: Linesman. Learning how to improve as a Linesman can build off the previous month. Theory of Melee and Two on One Tactics can become evergreen principles that New Kane is going to probably come across many times in the next few months.

And if you’re keeping track, at mid-season, New Kane has taken 5 out of 15 Required, 2 out of 20 Electives, and 1 out of 5 Check-Ins. Not too shabby!

July: Check-In and Hone In

When it gets really hot, things kind of slow down, which makes it a great time to evaluate how things are going and hone in on some dueling skills. For July, New Kane could work in a Check-in match with an Officer and still have time to take things like Advanced Blocks, Probing Your Opponent, and Rush Attacks. The Check-In will provide some really key guidance for New Kane on what lessons to take next and how Melees have been going. Then he can start introducing some more “thinky” elements of fencing rather than just the basic combat skills.

August: More War Preparations

Getting back into the swing of Melee, and Woodland War often coming up, New Kane could switch gears back to Melee and focus in on Basics of Command, Death from Behind, and Fighting with a Disability. These can prepare New Kane when things go south on the Melee Field and enable him to take advantage of DFBs when they are allowed. Plus, he’s got several months of experience which should help make DFBs safer and easier to perform.

September: Winding Down for Fall

After a Summer of Melee, we start to see things wind down for Fall and so let’s have Kane work on things like Dagger, Draw & Tip Cuts, and Flanking Maneuvers. You’re probably surprised to see these come up so late in the season and after all the wars. The reason is because to really take advantage of these skills, there should be some experience developed. This entire time New Kane has been training with his short sword and offhand. How to strike and land shots point in. He also has months of Melee experience now that can help him really grasp what is happening with a Flanking Maneuver. Sometimes it makes sense to introduce concepts beforehand so they have a chance to be used. Other times its more beneficial to wait and have experience after the fact to provide familiarity to new concepts.

October: End of the Season and solo prep

We’re almost to the end of the first season and winter break is coming fast. The group is tired and ready to relax, but winter can also be a time to train and think. The focus should be on any final lessons that New Kane can take into the winter and work on by himself. It doesn’t make sense to learn a new Melee skill and then have four months to not use them. Let’s have New Kane focus instead on Advanced Attacks, Sword Play, Advanced Rules of Dueling, and a final Check-In match with an Officer. All things he can think about at home during the winter, and may come into play for the Torchlight Tournament

At the end of the first season, New Kane has completed 11 out of 15 Required, 8 out of 20 Electives, and 3 out of 5 Check-Ins. That’s pretty good for a first season!

Your First Winter Break

The first Winter Break as a Novice is a tough one because your skills are still pretty fresh and you don’t have a lot of experience training or thinking through the depths of fencing on your own. You’ve relied a lot on what other fencers may have thought or talked with you about, and that’s okay!

But Winter is a great time to reflect and hone in on the basics. Review the fundamental Newcomer skills. Basic Blocks. Basic Attacks. Your own footwork. Set aside the drive for the next big shiny skill and come back to the basics. If New Kane can gently stay connected with those basic skills throughout the Winter, he’ll come back at full speed ready to tackle the next big phase of his fencing journey.

Pressing Forward. The Second Novice phase

And New Kane is back for another year! Let’s get started because there’s a good chance we might hit Swordsman this year!

March: Shake off the rust

It’s probably too cold for a lot of Melees, and we need to get New Kane back into the swing of things, so this first month back let’s have him work on Advanced Movement, Cloak, and Rubber Band Guns (RBGs). Easy lessons to implement and start practicing at home to shake the rust off.

April: Eyes on the Prize

New Kane is feeling good and the rust is off. It’s time to go to work! The goal is to hit Swordsman by the end of the year, so let’s have a Check-In with an Officer and take Preparing to Be a Swordsman, Falling Wedge, and Long Sword. This is going to provide some really crucial guidance from the Officers and set the tone for what New Kane should focus on through the Spring and Summer.

May: Flex Those Melee Muscles

Things are looking good and with a year under New Kane’s belt, we can really start establishing his place on the Melee Field. For this month, New Kane can take Parts of an Army: Harrier, Melee Formation & Movement, and Kill Pocket. This can highlight and introduce ways New Kane can participate on the field as an individual and by now, whoever is commanding should know what New Kane can offer.

June: Lean into Being a harrier

We find out that New Kane has a real knack and love of being a Harrier, so let’s lean into that by taking Advanced Tactics, One on Two Tactics, and Rules of Engagement. We want to take advantage of the momentum and excitement of having a role that highlight’s New Kane’s skills, especially in the final push for Swordsman.

Mid-season review shows us that New Kane has done all 15 out of 15 Required, 16 out of 20 Electives, and 4 out of 5 Check-Ins. How exciting!

July: All ahead full!

We’re so close to working through everything, let’s push ahead and have New Kane take Advanced Range, Parts of an Army: Commander, and Wall of Swords. He’s getting close to being a Swordsman, so the group is going to start giving him more opportunities to command and lead, so now is the time to focus on some commanding skills. Plus, we can finish out the Melee Maneuvers and continue refining some key dueling skills.

August: Wrapping Up and Preparing for swordsmanship

All that’s left is for New Kane to take How to Teach Fencing, and coordinate that final Check-In with an Officer. Woot!

But just because New Kane checked off the lessons, he doesn’t automatically become a Swordsman. With a few months left in the fencing season, New Kane can work with the Captain to establish exactly what he needs to do to earn that rank. He can start thinking about commissioning a tabard, and anything else required. New Kane has time that if all goes well, he’ll reach his goal by the end of the year.

September-October and Beyond

However it works outs, as New Kane has completed his lessons, he’s hopefully kept all the other Criteria of Becoming a Swordsman and he’ll be ready to that the Swordsman’s Oath. Once the Swordsman Ceremony is completed, New Kane can continue on his journey as a Swordsman! But remember, Swordsmanship is more than just learning the skills. It’s about being that Swordsman on and off the field and that’s something that will continue on forever. That’s the journey.

Reflecting on the example

What I just showed you was an demonstration of how you can progress through the Training Program, but it doesn’t demonstrate all of the little moments and side experiences that happened over the period of two years. This example hopefully shows you that the Training Program is an active effort, where some thought and guidance can really help.

You can also see that there is a balance in this process. It’s not just seeking out after the next big skill, but identifying what skills make sense to learn and when. Knowing when to slow down and focus, and when to lean in and push ahead at full steam. Every month, I aimed for New Kane to complete three lessons, but that’s assuming he was there every week and didn’t spend extra time honing in skills. I didn’t fill the schedule because I wanted New Kane to have moments where he could practice what he’d learn before moving on.

The whole idea that I want you take away from this example is that becoming a Swordsman or progressing through the Training Program doesn’t just happen by chance. You have to work at it. You have to really want it. You have to earn it.

And reflecting on what I experienced when I was learning to fence and going through the Training Program more than a decade ago, if I could be a Newcomer again, that journey of earning the rank of Swordsman while I learned to fence is what I’m most proud of and what I’d love to experience again. I hope you can be proud of and love your journey too!