After the second beginner's course

Yesterday we finished the second of our Bolognese swordsmanship beginner’s courses. We have traditionally been open to newcomers around the year (and still are), but we are aiming to shift to a model where beginners are introduced to the style and safe training through a course designed for this purpose. This will benefit not only the beginners, who will get a consistent introduction to the art where the next lesson is always built upon the previous, but also the other students as the regular classes can better focus on the needs of the more experienced people.

This second course was different from the first one. In designing the class plan for it, I wanted to correct the problems of the previous one and try out a few new ideas. Mainly, I wanted there to be less material, more repetition, and more of a feeling of accomplishment for the students. Previously the choreographies were longer, there were more cutting exercises, more unnecessary details in the drills, and so on. This time we focused a lot on free-form footwork, building a good base, general cutting practice basically only through the Meyer square which I borrowed from our longsword classes and then focusing on the variations of the simple combination of mandritto feint and a cut around.

I am still not entirely satisfied with how the material worked, but one thing is clear: this time we had much less “trouble” learning all around, and basically the only hindrance in learning the students had was the lack of masks which called for very careful training and some adjustments in a few drills to facilitate better safety. Learning control is a good thing, of course, but basically I would rather have students learn controlled practice against a mask from the beginning than completely pulling their blows. I see training without masks as a more advanced skill in a way.

Learning to throw long, beautiful, and effective mandritti and roversi, with good stepping and posture – keeping the left hand at the hip, extending with the steps whether it be a half or a full pass and recovering safely (usually with the said roverso) is an excellent beginning spot for training. This combination will teach not only attacking but also defense and beating the opponent’s sword in order to attack. For there is not much difference between these mechanically. It will teach the mezza volta di mano, half-turn of the hand, which is the change from coda longa to porta di ferro or vice versa. When applied to a pair exercise it will teach some of the provocations beyond mere attack and defense. Namely the feint-strike combination as well as the ribattere, or beating the opponent’s blade.

I begin all the attacking and defending, feinting and provoking with a mandritto, and if time permits, all of these can be applied on the other side as well. But before that, I introduce attacking or provoking with a thrust instead. This stoccata thrust will be transformed into a cut, familiar from the previous drill. Lastly, the cut following the feint can be thrown to the leg instead, teaching the students to go low with their actions if necessary.

The things I’m not entirely satisfied with are how to most efficiently teach the way in which the mandritto is turned into a roverso after the feint since there are essentially two ways to do this, and showing the difference is not always straightforward. Likewise, I am not yet happy with the way I do the beat and attack. The distance, timing, and the following attack, as well as the angle of the beating cut itself, still need refining. Finally, I am not sure whether I want to keep the Meyer square in my Bolognese training, especially at the basic level. As much as I love the drill, it is more Meyer, and I do not wish to proceed with the combination of mandritto and sgualembrato and roverso and ridoppio in pair exercises with the beginners. I prefer learning the combination of two sgualembrati first.

But these are minor points. I am happy about the progress and the results I saw in the ten or so students who took the course. I wish they will stay for further training, as the Beginner’s course is, as the name implies, only the beginning. In eight classes, it is not even possible to properly cover the so-called alphabet of Bolognese fencing, much less all the tactical, technical, and mechanical beauty found within this art.

Now, off to Dijon!

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