Teaching fencers to fence has as its basic purpose the preparation of an athlete for competition. To achieve that purpose the fencing lesson should use triggers for action that resemble those that the fencer will encounter as opponents’ actions on the strip. These triggers are known as cues.
Cues can be delivered with a number of different stimuli:
(1) Blade – the classic cue is a blade cue. Opening the line to trigger a straight thrust, pressing the blade to trigger a disengage, circular attempts to take the blade to trigger a counterdisengage, a specific parry against a simple action to trigger the compound attack, etc. Blade cues must be presented realistically in speed, range of motion, and blade position so that the student has a correct picture of the conditions that make his action possible in competition.
Two factors must be considered in blade cueing. The first is a realistic height for the blade. Inexperienced coaches tend to stick the arm straight out from the shoulder in the more relaxed coaching position. This results in a blade too high to accurately simulate the height of the blade in most lunges, and makes some actions, for example a direct riposte, almost impossible. The blade should be presented at the actual height that the student will experience in the lunges of typical competitors.
Second, the instructor does not need to lunge. In the course of a full day of teaching the instructor may have to simulate thousands of lunges. A simple step forward with the blade at the correct height does the job.
(2) Movement – footwork is the most realistic cue to trigger appropriate footwork on the part of the student. For example, if the intent is to cue an advance lunge, the instructor should initiate a step back on the start of the student’s extension. Because footwork is one of the first parts of the lesson that can be released to the student, the instructor must be able to cue appropriate student actions by being able to recognize footwork traps and graciously fall into them.
(3) Rhythm – hanging rhythm and speed of bladework or footwork may cue the student to accelerate or decelerate actions. Accelerating actions on the part of the instructor cue the student to increase her speed. A predictable speed cues the student to either be faster or slower in delivering actions. And if the student is in control of footwork and timing in the lesson, the instructor’s matching speed with preparatory action, cues the student to accelerate on the attack.
(4) Tactics – tactical changes are one of the best cues an instructor has to teach tactical decision making and eyes open fencing. Changing a parry, changing the attack, executing stop hits, all combined with changes in movement patterns, all force students to select a new technique and a new footwork combination. For example, the classic cue set to trigger a change from simple attacks to compound attacks is to parry the simple attack with a step back. Now the student must use an advance with the feint to both draw the parry and control the distance for the final lunge with the actual attacking movement. At the same time the cue has given the student sufficient space and tempo to make the action work.
The Master should not use cues solely as a part of the individual lesson. In drills students use the same cues to trigger their drill partner’s actions. The tendency of fencers is to regard this as something you have to do to make the drill work. This is a shortsighted waste of a valuable training opportunity. When we use cues we are attempting to produce a predictable reaction by the student. That is exactly what an invitation attempts to do. It is important to teach fencers that one fencer is practicing an action, and the other fencer is practicing the invitation that will produce that action.
When we wanted students to perform a specific action, we used to command that action orally. Unfortunately, the opponent has absolutely no interest in commanding our students to do successful actions on the strip. This means that the fencing coach must have a full range of cuing actions available for application in lessons from beginner to elite level.