Wistric’s Drill Class, Meridian Fighter’s Collegium, 25 Sept 2016

This past Saturday I taught a class on drills (and other ways to improve) on your own and with a partner. My notes are below, and the drills covered are linked here. One day I should get video of these.


  • Don’t try to win the drill (ffs!). If your job is to get hit, you get hit. Practice the action.
  • Start slow and large, train up to small and precise. 80% success rate (4 out of 5). If it’s below that, go slower and larger. If it’s above that, smaller and faster.
  • Targets should be small (hand, not chest)
  • Add footwork when it gets too easy.
  • Drill for 15-30 minutes at practice. If you have a two hour practice, this still leaves an hour and a half for fighting. Fighters will just get bored after 5 minutes or so, so alternate drilling different actions (feel free to cycle back to the first drill). Add time for conditioning on top of the drill time.
  • Execute an action until it can be done consistently before moving on to the next.
  • If you’re the coach, take this time to work on your form. Make sure your en garde stance is solid and your footwork and sword-work are clean.

Solo Drills:


  • Go slow to go fast. Train at Tai Chi speed to develop the muscle memory. Don’t train going as fast as you can. Train doing it right.
  • If you’re missing, your hand is going after your foot (point control is a myth).
  • I use a target of four small pieces of duct tape. One for each shoulder, the face, and the torso at “en garde” height. Start with just hitting one, then just hitting the next, and so on. Once consistent, start rotating through the targets or randomizing them.
  • Break it down into separate pieces: Start with the extension to strike. Step back half a step to add in the extension and shoulder rotation. Step back another half step to add in the torso lean. Step back another half step to add in a small lunge step. Step back another half step to go train the full lunge. Again, repeat each step until it can be done consistently before moving onto the next. Start over from the beginning each day.
  • Falling into a rhythm of lunge/recover/lunge/recover is bad. Don’t do it. I recommend using the Random Timer app for your smart phone if you have one. Set the interval to beep between, say, 3 and 6 seconds. Lunge when it beeps. Recover when it beeps again.


  • The next best use of your solo time is working on your conditioning: Develop the fast twitch muscles of your arms and legs (the ones responsible for bursts of energy), work on your core strength so you can stay in guard a long time, and cardio. These can be worked with mostly bodyweight exercises, no gym needed. Look around for examples (or maybe Dominyk can post some links here).
  • Also, Hell Drills. Misery loves company, so try getting your whole practice to do these.

Dead time training:

  • We have a lot of dead time in our lives. Use it to train.
  • Do footwork around the house instead of normal walking. 
  • Practice standing in guard in line, waiting for the shower to warm up, on telecons, whatever
  • Hold your sword extended out to the side at shoulder level while watching TV.


Paired Drills:


Drill building:

“I want to be able to do a thing.” Drill doing that thing. Literally, “My dagger parries to the high inside line don’t work.” Have somebody lunge at your left eyeball until you can parry it effectively. Then add footwork (you or them leading the footwork). Have them add a setup (feint to the low-line, sword beat, whatever). 

If you can’t find anybody to drill with you, do directed sparring: Drill doing a thing against an opponent who’s actively resisting (because they don’t know what you’re working on). You will eat a lot of sword until you get it right. Ego impedes improvement.

10 comments to Wistric’s Drill Class, Meridian Fighter’s Collegium, 25 Sept 2016

  • Indy

    Good stuff, as usual. Care to elaborate on why point control is a myth? It seems as if you say that, then talk about hitting pieces of tape on the wall… I think I understand what you mean, but would like clarification.

    Because you’ll sigh to yourself, then ask me anyway, here goes:
    I understand that it is not the point of the sword that controls where it goes, but rather proper body mechanics. Thus, no point control in the sense that you maneuver the point to where you want it to be. Rather the point gets to where it needs to be by proper manipulation of your body first, and sword second. Is this what you are speaking to? Or do I have it wrong? (Entirely possible, and I’m willing to be so.)

    • Wistric

      No sighing occurred!

      You have it. If you’re thinking about moving the point where it’s supposed to go, your mind is on the wrong part of the process. If you have your target, and execute your lunge correctly, you will hit. Control the time of your arm’s extension and your leg’s extension, not the point of your sword. To test out your technique: take your guard, then close your eyes. If you execute correctly you’ll still be accurate.

      I vaguely remember a similar concept from shooting rifles in Boy Scouts, but it’s not coming to me right now.

      • Indy

        No sighing?! Sweet! Happy to know I’ve not lost *that* much in my absence from the lists. Thanks for clarifying.

        As for the rifle drills, I suspect you’re talking about natural point of aim. It’s where the bullet wants to go, given the structure you support the rifle with. In other words, you set yourself up so that there is no adjusting of the rifle to the target, but rather the body’s natural positioning points the rifle exactly at the target, so all you have to do is gently squeeze the trigger.
        Similar to what we’re talking about here; set up the body, then the extension of arm and sword puts the point right where it should go. Good stuffs.

    • Dante di Pietro

      As the originator of the phrase, let me add an another layer to Wistric’s accurate response: hitting by aiming the point is bad fencing because it allows you to consider yourself successful when you might have otherwise not even bothered to defend yourself from a counterattack. Aiming the point encourages sword tag, not swordfighting.

  • Ruairc

    “Fighters will get bored after 5 minutes.”

    I do not tolerate boredom in my students, and certainly not after five minutes.

    Boredom either means that you’re doing something way too easy, or that you’re mentally unengaged.

    In the first case, the student needs to find a way to make it more difficult. This can mean adding footwork, speed, antagonism, or additional steps/options to the drill. But a better idea is to focus down on some smaller element to perfect, just as you recommend the “coach” do. Fencers must understand: The core “movement vocabulary” of fencing comes down to, what, two dozen actions, tops? If we could really learn them well in five minutes, we’d all be masters after a couple hours. We can’t, so we must become more sensitive to smaller details, then work on those.

    In the second case, the drill is worse than a waste of time. “Going through the motions” – not analyzing success or failure, not tweaking the action to make it faster or stronger, not worrying about maintaining good structure – is a great way to burn mediocre technique into muscle memory, which is exactly the opposite purpose of drilling. Same goes for “going through the motions” during conditioning exercises, with the added bonus that these will result in injury or dysfunction.

    Doing multiple drills is fine. But if you’re not doing AT LEAST twenty good, focused reps, you’re not really learning. Once an action becomes technically solid and consistent, thirty, sixty, or one hundred reps are more appropriate (depending on the action and the training goals).

    • Gawin

      I certainly groaned at that line as well. I expect that Wistric was anticipating the attitudes of people who are used to the SCA way of doing things.

      I have zero problems getting my group to drill for up to an hour or more without “boredom” (Fatigue and soreness, certainly, but I’m a sadistic bastard in any case).

      New fighters are generally going to do what is expected of them and, if they’re made to drill from the beginning, that’s what they’ll get used to doing. My group has been trained from the start that drilling is important and our practice has consisted of about 3/4 drilling/conditioning exercises and the remaining sparring has been performed in a relatively controlled environment. In my experience, it’s the SCAdians who have been around a while who have negative attitudes towards drilling.

      My students have even been reasonably successful without much sparring practice (3 novice tourney wins with < 1 year of training). They're probably less "comfortable" sparring than I was with 1 year of training, but their form is better than mine was after 3 years of fighting (And honestly, they've probably gotten at most 1/3 of the practice time as I had at 1 year). My current plan is to integrate more sparring in the next few weeks, but I expect that they'll make some pretty significant strides once that happens.

      • Wistric

        “I expect that Wistric was anticipating the attitudes of people who are used to the SCA way of doing things.”

        Yep. The people who attended my class, and the people who read this website, generally have been fencing in the SCA for a while. The intent of this was to introduce them (and those readers who aren’t regularly drilling) to the idea of drilling, setting reasonable expectations.

        • Ruairc

          If drilling is distasteful to these folks, it stands to reason that they won’t learn to like it unless they see measurable improvements in their fencing. But if their frequency is too low, they’ll never see benefit. Drilling isn’t a “progress bar” that can be filled up whenever, at whatever pace. Motor learning doesn’t work like that. I think those are very important concepts to communicate.

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