Hey all, Julian Schuetze here on behalf of the Collective. I'm here today to talk a bit more about gamification, specifically on the delineation between technical and tactical and how to adjust the focus depending on the skill level of the participant. A lot of this may seem very obvious when written down and presented, but I wanted to break it down a bit more as coaching aide for those looking to transition to gamification for their club. If you have not seen my other articles on gamification, I would encourage you to head back out to our other articles and check them out first.
Now, this is a bit clickbaity, as it's obviously not this simple: one isn't for the other, and they are not mutually exclusive. But hear me out - I'll start with my definitions of technical vs tactical. Let's use the Zwerchau as an example.
Technical - the raw mechanical properties behind the Zwerch. Thumb grip, cutting plane, biomechanics behind the movement. Also what it's an useful tool for. The how/why.
Tactical - The application of the Zwerch, the current situation where your opponent has presented a problem, and the Zwerch is the solution to said problem and your ability to apply that tool in the moment. The where/when.
Whenever we train the Zwerch, or any technique, you are generally training both technical and tactical to a certain extent. In previous articles on gamification I've written on how games do a much, much, much better job at letting participants learn the tactical application of a technique, than static drills do (as in, static drills generally don't. At all.) I also talked about the concept of open/closed games. Open being more tactical as there are less rules & boundaries, forcing the participant to mentally access the entirety of their internalized fencing framework. Closed is more technical as there are more rules & boundaries to let the participants focus more specifically on the specific factor you wish for them to be focusing on. Now although I presented this as two categories, it can be easy to assume they're binary - in reality it's all a gradient in which both systems are almost always at play, but not quite in the fashion of a teeter-totter. This is all well and good, however one thing that needs to be considered when doing this model is it's accommodation to beginners.
If we look at a Zwerch game, and we close the scope of it. Participant A starts in a high guard and can cut B in the head with a descending strike. Participant B can throw a Zwerch. Whoever hits the opponent gets a point. This is a very closed game, with a narrow focus on the technical aspect behind each action. A is learning to throw a quick descending cut by leading with the tip and minimizing tells. B is learning the mechanics on doing the same thing but with a zwerch. There is not a whole lot of tactical application here as the rules have set very narrow, closed boundaries. It is still better than a static drill through, as it is an opposed game, where both participants want to win - just like actual fencing.
Now a more open game, where let's just say it's sparring to 3 points, one person has a thumb grip while the other a regular. Each hit is 1 point, but the person who zwerchs successfully gets an instant win. It can be easy to say that "oh right, this is a tactical game, obviously" but it's technical too. It's still reliant on the participants knowing how to do the techniques.
In these two situations, it can be very easy to see which is more favourable for a beginner. But I do want to break this down this way, because while the statement "to make a game easier for beginners, just make it simpler" is true, I feel it's important to understand why. Fact of the matter is, it's easier for beginners to focus on fewer factors than more. That being said, easier does not necessarily mean better. I'm a huge proponent of just getting new participants to just join in by jumping in the fire. I do firmly believe that in the second game, a newer participant can learn at an accelerated rate by jumping right in, provided they're given active feedback along the way. However, not everyone likes to learn that way, and many can feel very overwhelmed and have a frustrating experience. Or, it can be very difficult to find someone to give them that level of constant attention and feedback.
So how does this look in application in a training session? When you have a game ready for a lesson plan, it's a good idea to have some modifications in mind on how to close, or open the scope in order to make the focus more technical/tactical. What I encourage others to do is not frame it as "easy/medium/hard" as although that is true, it may make others feel negatively to participate in an "easy" version of the drill, when in reality what they need is to close the focus a bit to really focus on the technical aspects behind the technique. Having these adjustments ready, go a long way to help the flow of a training session as you can make adjustments on the fly to ensure your participants are getting the most out of their training.
Another of the many other options is to have a "fundamentals" session where the focus is almost exclusively back on technical, but keeping the training opposed for better learning and authenticity. What I like about this method is that it's not called a "beginner's" class, which means more advanced participants who want to brush back up on their fundamentals feel like they are encouraged to do so. I've started becoming a bigger fan of removing terminology like beginner/advanced, and instead along the lines of fundamental/intensive to reduce the cliquiness that can happen sometimes and generally be more inclusive, but that's a whole other discussion for another time.
That's it for now, I know when reading a lot of this (and when writing it too) there can be a lot of "well, duh" moments, but it can be helpful to break learning down to this degree to really understand the why's so you can make adjustments if you identify an issue with your training program.
We acknowledge that The Historical Combat Collective operates on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Kwikwetlem, Sto:lo and Songhees First Nations Peoples. We are grateful to have the opportunity to gather, work, and train on this land.