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SKBC Notes: Train the Trainer, Part II
[05/13/2004] [Michael]

Still a Newbie but in search of more training:

Once a new player has committed to Amtgard and actually wants to learn to fight, the serious training can begin. Again, I emphasize confidence versus egotism. Be sure of yourself and your message, but treat your trainee with respect. Don’t let a student make you feel uncomfortable. If you have a disagreement with the student, you should explain yourself rationally. If even that doesn’t work, let the student do it their way… they’ll learn. When they do learn that way, avoid the “I told you so” mentality. It is disrespectful. The drill sergeant attitude usually doesn’t work very well in a hobby like Amtgard. On this basis, berating and yelling at a trainee is probably ill advised. You should use positive reinforcement like compliments pretty regularly, but only when they are earned. As a last note, newbies in the three to six month range often get discouraged. They expect to get better faster than is realistic. The best way to cure this is to let them know how long it took you to get to your level. Also, most new players have developed well in at least one area. Pointing out how they are developing more quickly than you or some experienced fighter did will help stop discouragement.

As a new player is just beginning to be interested in actually training, it is very important to analyze that person’s physical and mental traits and to teach them things that will match those traits. Among those traits that are most important are foot speed, reach, handedness, aggressiveness, favored styles, gender and even age. Here are some brief ways in which each of these things affect how you should train someone. Low foot speed newbies should not be started on techniques that require lots of side-to-side movement. Long reach fighters can learn wrap shots earlier than others. Short reach fighters should concentrate on aggression or blocking. Relatively passive fighters shouldn’t start with rush tactics. Those who favor sword and shield can start more defensively that those who prefer Florentine.

The differences in training lefties are many and care should be taken to consult with those who understand the format differences. Perhaps most important is to make sure that the trainee gets some contact with actual lefties who can help in his development. Good training of women fighters can differ from training men, although the same principles mostly hold true. I recommend reading the House Lionesse website for more information and links. The reverse can also be true. Finally, newbies in their mid 20s or older often will have issues being trained by 18 year olds. Often, the only answer is to have the trainee work with someone else until they can be convinced that the 18 year old knows what he’s doing.

[Analysis exercise: Each student brings up one physical trait that contributes to their style and how.]

[Analysis exercise 2: After watching other students for a little bit, do the same for them and check.]

These exercises were particularly productive. Among newbies, you should also pay attention to whether a technique is comfortable or not. Knee bending is a great example of this. We all know that when fighting with a shield especially, some bend in the knees is helpful. It allows quicker reaction, puts more of your body behind the shield and hides length. A good trainer should work on this with a trainee, but not teach techniques that rely on the trainee getting his knees more bent than is comfortable. No matter how sound the theory might be, if it doesn’t fit the fighter, it won’t work. Once a fighter is past the newbie stage and looking for any possible edge, then it is much more likely that he will be willing to train himself to do something uncomfortable.

Newbies at this stage have started to develop a regular weapon style. This can result from the equipment available or from a genuine preference. Even group pressure can be a factor. At this stage a favored style should be encouraged. It gives the newbie a better learning curve and quicker success. Forcible training away from a possible crutch should be left until after the new player has demonstrated some real skill with the crutch. On the subject of weapons, at around six weeks of participation you should make sure your trainee’s weapons are decent. Be positive if the trainee made them himself. Take time to rebuild weapons with him so he can build and repair good ones himself. Over the years in Amtgard, many, many weapons will need to be made. Also, make sure that your trainee understands the disadvantages of heavy and short.

Other instructors cover specific techniques better than I can in the scope of this article, but there are some habits that it is very important to work on at this stage. Punch blocking is the basis of many Amtgard shots in many weapon combinations. Punch blocking is good because it is easier for a new player to control where his hand is going than where a point on his sword is. Also it is very easy to pivot off a hand-block into a shot. Chicken winging is a very common bad habit and it should be broken at this time. Finally, many newbies just do random stuff. One of the worst things is sticking out their swords, sort of waving them around and never pulling them back. Often new players can learn to do better than pure random by making them drill bringing the sword back to neutral between each shot. It also helps make a student better able to think through each shot. As students progress, this technique becomes less valuable.

This is also the stage when a student should be started on drills and fighter practices. Spyn taught a great drills class so I only mentioned Block/Strike and hand matching. I also mentioned the values of off-hand practice. Fighter practices outside the game day are amazingly good at building Amtgard skills. Chances to think and talk about fighting interspersed with good practice are so valuable. Also, for a newbie, the social interaction of fighter practice is a great way to meet and get to know Amtgarder who will be your friends for a long time.

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