One Kick: The Sydney Sabre Training Philosophy

Gu Bon Gil Special
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”                – Bruce Lee

Our Training Philosophy:

We are not a clone army. We are all individuals.

Every student training at Sydney Sabre starts by working their way through our 50-Week Course.

  • The 50-Week Course is a primer to the full core repertoire of modern sabre. It covers over 150 technical skills. This is far more than any fencer will ever use effectively.
  • Every fencer needs to identify a personal repertoire of 10-15 skills which they are good at and use successfully. They then need to master these skills.
  • The purpose of the 50-Week Course is to allow a new fencer to identify their personal repertoire.  This repertoire will be different for every fencer.
  • At the end of the 50-Week Course, every fencer should know what skills they need to master. They should know what kind of fencer they are. They should have a clear path.

The purpose of the 50-Week Course is to let us discover who we are.

A bit more detail:

There are two fundamental approaches to sabre training.

  1. The Generalist Method:  Learn a vast repertoire of actions, all of which are potentially valuable. Deploy them as needed on the fly.
  2. The Specialist Method: Figure out a minimal repertoire of actions that work for you. Drill them until you’re really good. Do pretty much nothing else.

The Generalist Method:

This is the conventional approach followed by a large majority of coaches out there. Learning sabre means constructing a complex swiss-army knife of dozens or even hundreds of skills which you can deploy to tackle just about any conceivable situation. On the plus side, this gives you (in theory) enormous tactical depth and adaptability. You’re a robust generalist who can cope with anything. On the minus side, it means you’re spreading your training efforts very thin. For someone with limited time (like someone starting sabre as an adult) it makes mastery of technique effectively impossible.

It also, in reality, means making tactical decisions in a fight is a confusing mess. With so many options to draw upon, picking the right one can be an overwhelming problem. Decision fatigue sets in rapidly. In practice, this limitation means pretty much all fencers end up trimming their own effective repertoires in matches to a modest number of favourite moves, but this is (in our observation) rarely reflected fully in their training.

The Specialist Method:

Gu Bon Gil is a textbook example of what we’re talking about: focused and relentless drilling of a highly limited skill set. Early on in training, the coach identifies what your strengths and natural inclinations are. What you do under pressure? How do you win your points? A core repertoire of at most 15 actions is picked, and drilled to the exclusion of everything else.

You become a specialist with a very narrow range of options which you’re extremely good at. On the minus side, this means you will probably end up in situations where you’re completely screwed and don’t have any backup plan. On the plus side, you can become properly dominant at a set of things that work, and be able to pick between options extremely fast. Hopefully this means you won’t wind up in situations where you don’t have a successful countermeasure very often.

At Sydney Sabre, we follow the Specialist Method. We believe it works better. We also believe that given our function of training amateur fencers with limited time, it’s the only viable way.

Here’s how it works:

Every fencer goes through the 50-Week Course as an introduction to the full sabre repertoire.

  • For each action you need to learn:
    • How to do it,
    • When it’s used,
    • What its limitations are, and
    • If you like it.
  • The goal of each stage in the course is to identify which technical elements work for you for each phase of the game (Basic actions, Attack, Defense, 4m)
  • At the end of 50-Week Course, you should be able to write a list of 10-15 actions which form your core repertoire.

Once you’ve done this you can then proceed to further training  with a clear understanding of what your style is and what you need to work on.

If you’re training with us, this is how you need to think about the content of each class.

Did you find today’s content intuitive and cool? Have you found yourself doing it already in fights? If so, awesome! Write down that your repertoire includes stop cut/circle 5/bind attacks/low line/bounce prep/whatever it is. Did you hate it and find it really hard? No problem, it just isn’t your thing. Let’s move on next week and find some alternatives!

In short: The purpose of the 50-Week Course is to let each fencer find their own repertoire. The purpose of post-course training is to master it.

Everyone has their own path to follow.

 Note: If you’re interested in what’s in the 50-Week Course, we’re in the process of outlining it in the “Sabre Codex” series of articles on this blog. We’re not going into technical coaching detail, but we are covering the big points: what an action is, when it’s used, and what its limitations are.

Whether you like it is up to you.

Why We Love Korean Sabre

Oh v Szilagyi 2017 Worlds. Photo: Bizzi
Oh Sanguk lunges against Aron Szilagyi in the final at 2017 World Championships. Photo: Bizzi/FIE

Regular followers of our work will know that we have a strong affinity for K-sabre. There are plenty of reasons: it is spectacular to watch, we’ve worked with them in the past with great success, and they’re nice guys.

But the real reason is this: They set sabre free.

Back in the distant bygone era of 2008 when we were just getting started in this sport, there was an iron-clad set of rules to follow if you wanted to win.

  1. Be European; or
  2. Go to Europe to train; or
  3. Hire a European coach.

Sabre was an art with a body of secret knowledge which was controlled by an Old Guard of Masters. To ever understand it, you had to go to the source and supplicate yourself.

This was clearly impractical for the enormous majority of humans on this planet, but it was an unavoidable price.

And then K-sabre happened, and everything changed.

Here was a squad who had never followed any of the rules. They never went to the source. They reverse-engineered sabre from first principles and hours of vidcam footage from 1990s World Cups. What they built wasn’t strict and regimented, but wild and diverse and individualistic. It bubbled with joy and ferocity.

The Old Guard shook their fists. They objected loudly to all of this. It was ugly. Simplistic. Unsophisticated. “This isn’t fencing, they’re just fighting like animals”, to quote one particularly memorable rant we heard.

But it worked. It didn’t just work better than it should. It worked better than anything that had been tried before. In an era of increasing professionalism and competition, it worked well enough to claim four consecutive World Cup titles and the current World and Olympic team championships.

Obviously there are peculiar conditions behind all this which are not easy to replicate, foremost lavish financial support for Olympic sports in Korea allowing the construction of a fearsome professional program, but the seeds were sown long before the system was in place.

What Korean sabre showed is that the old rules didn’t have to apply. That’s why we love it. It showed us there was another way.

Now, for all you kids who weren’t around when London 2012 happened, or those of you who may have forgotten, here is what a full-power Korean sabre team looks like.

Take the 30 minutes to watch it. It’s pretty great.