Fast moving goal posts

When we learn and train Historical Martial Arts, we must be aware of some traps we may fall in. In a small series of articles I will point out some of the pitfalls in learning historical fencing. Being warned of traps helps us to avoid them or disarm them. These articles will aid instructores and fencers to get the priorities right and put the focus to the learning of “the art that adorns them”.

Rapidly moving targets make it extremely difficult to assess one’s own competence. This can be so hindering that despite striving only little progress is made in learning the art of fencing or a student simply loses the desire to practice, because the student seems to be stuck. We therefore want to examine this problem in this article.

When teaching and training historical martial arts, we need to be aware of some traps we can fall into. In a small series of articles I will point out some of the pitfalls in learning historical fencing. Being warned of traps helps us to avoid or defuse them. These articles will help trainers and fencers set the right priorities and focus on learning “the art that adorns them”.

The quest for improvement not only takes its manifestation in the absurd, like the ever-increasing Guinness Book of Records, but every sport strives for new records, records that surpass those of the previous ones. Competitive competition takes place even in those sports that do not know any tournaments or competitions in organized form. Because in the competition for members, clubs and sports schools are in competition.

The historical martial art completed the step to the individual sporting competition in only a few years. While experimental rules for the competition were tried out at the few events in 2008, a public ranking of the athletes on the Internet and at least one international tournament will be found in 2018, the entry requirement of which includes a place in this ranking. If participants participate in a tournament which is included in this ranking (independent of the present fencing competence in the competition), the tournament success is recorded there and is included in the comparative position. If not recorded, the fencer will not rise or fall in the ranking despite possible competence [i].

The organizers of international tournaments managed the remarkable achievement of a very fast apparent professionalization by imitation of existing competitions. The Internet allows live broadcasts of tournaments and the publication of final matches. The resulting increase in popularity not only attracted those interested in a sporting competition with swords into historical fencing, it shifted the focus significantly in favor of tournament fencing within a decade. This happened and continues to happen during a period in which the martial art practised from the sources of fencing was and is still being exploratively and interpretatively researched and further developed.

We find two fast moving goal posts:

  1. the latter shift from explorative research of martial arts to pseudo-professionalized tournament fencing, and
  2. the increasing demands on the tournament fencer in an international comparison with simultaneous island problems [ii].

This is not unusual for a new sport with increasing popularity. Comparisons with Taekwondo as an Olympic sport (since Sidney 2000) are obvious, but should not be carried out here because internationality has a completely different dynamic in the age of high availability of social media in the 2010s than in the late 1990s.

Moving goal posts are completely detrimental to the objective and comprehensible assessment and evaluation of competence. If the main interests of students and teachers clash with regard to tournament fencing and martial arts, it becomes extremely difficult to assess and develop competence.

This can be easily demoralizing and has an overall negative effect on the progress. But it is avoidable. There is a rule in manufacturing and programming: be stable at inner processes, but react dynamic to outer changes. This is what must be achieved here as well.

Disarming the traps

It is necessary to create a training plan that describes exactly what a fencer will learn. At each end of a goal should be the determination of competence. A training plan defines several goals, determines the interdependence of the goals and describes the knowledge and skills to be imparted within each goal, as well as the methods for teaching them, and very importantly, the expected duration.

Each goal in the training plan should be completed by a performance measurement. This can, but does not have to, be a test. A common going through of the learning goals with experienced fencers represents also a statement of the competence and binds the fencer into the community of the advanced ones.

If new goals arise from wishes or requirements, they are defined as such. A change of learning content does not result in a new goal. If the group develops further in the interpretation, this is not a new goal, the learning content is adapted. Changing a fencing book is not a new goal either, unless the learning content is completely contrary to the previous one.

The acceptance of a new teaching would be as much a goal as a stronger orientation for tournament fencing. Tournament success can only be experienced if the necessary skills are developed. This becomes clear at the latest when creating the training plan, if one tries to integrate regular customer, behaviour in the tournament or competition tactics.

The necessary demarcation of goals from each other does not exclude that a fencer pursues several goals at the same time. However, it should be clear that this should be combined with an increased training intensity and longer duration in order to achieve success. This is easy to see with a good training plan.


[i] The few tournaments in Germany were sparsely recorded until 2018, which led to a low ranking of German fencers and thus excluded competent fencers from the corresponding tournament.

[ii] The island problem always arises in an international comparison when groups are either not included and they are therefore not algorithmically comparable, or when the group participants do not travel at all or only little and in fact can hardly be compared internationally.

Translated with

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