On of the more difficult thing we must due during our training is work with and spar against novices. There are a number of things you need to be aware of and due when working with new or lesser experienced people than you. It must be a good experience for the novice, not just blasting them out of their socks every time. To help people with this part of our training I am attempting to write some notes to acknowledge and assist with this process. Any comments or suggestions are going to be well received.
Working with new combatants
Understandably, novices who are in armour and fighting for the first time will be anxious at the thought of being hit and or looking awkward. Getting hit is an adjustment that most people need time to get used to as is hitting someone back. It is totally normal to feel nervous and a bit overwhelmed when it is your first time in amour. For some people it takes a long time to get used to what is going on in a full paced bout.
When you are sparing with a novice who is just recently in harness it is important to start with light contact and build you up to harder contact. Make sure the novice is ok with what is happening. Take care that you are targeting decent armored areas. Most novices are in loner amour that is not made for them and will not cover everything or may not work that well. You also need to be aware that most people have no amour fitness when they start, do not run them into the ground.
Play against experience
In general I would not get new people sparring with other new people for a while so they can get used to what is going on against an experienced person who can demonstrate good form and control. It takes time to build trust with somebody and know what level of contact they are okay with.
Nobody can read minds so make sure to check how they are feeling. There is no shame in asking for lighter contact. When people get quiet during sparring it often shows that they feel either afraid or they are becoming angry. If somebody lands a good shot that you don’t mind, it’s always a good idea to tell them, “Nice one!” or “Well struck.” You are letting them know that you are okay with the level of contact by giving them those constant little verbal cues.
Fight to their level
It is no good just one-shotting new people, It does not teach them anything. The trick is to fight at just above their level. If they do everything correctly then they should land an attack. It is important to let them succeed to show them that a technique works.
Do not use techniques that they have not yet been taught. An example of this is thrusts. We do not show our novices thrusts until after they have been fighting for a few months, thus we do not use thrusts against them until they have reached that stage in their learning.
It is also important that you do everything you do cleanly and with clean and perfect form (treat this as an excellent training opportunity). The novice will copy what you do, make sure it is worth copying…8-)
Do not overload them
Novices have a lot they need to think about. This is a complex game for the new person. By all means offer some pointers but keep it clear and simple. I generally will only remark on one thing. Any more than this you are likely to create confusion and frustrate the novice who is trying to take it all in.
You must also be aware of the training the novice is receiving. If they are being taught A-frame style DO NOT try to show them something from a different style. This only causes confusion. Just because you have a particular style or move does not mean it is universally applicable.
When does a novice stop being a novice?
Tricky question. Everyone is different and will progress at different levels. As the new combatant grows in skills and experience you can begin to up your levels against them. This is something the more experienced combatant has to judge. Remember, as the senior combatant you are in the position of responsibility and control. Your job is to encourage and demonstrate what good swordsmanship is like. If the lesser experienced person walks off the training field believing they have gained something and want to do more, you have won.