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.