However, there is never time to be complacent and we need to continue to be open to new ideas. To that end, I have been encouraging a number of our younger masters to come forward with their perspectives on the system and I thank them too for their thoughtful and sometimes insightful comments on what we do.
Inevitably, and somewhat less usefully, I also get to hear comments from those who seem not to have quite the courage to stand behind their own opinions . . . especially some who use the anonymity provided by personal gossip and/or the internet to make criticisms without taking the trouble to get their facts right or having to take personal responsibility for what they say.
One of the comments that I find personally very sad is the claim that the Academy does not teach tactical and competitive fencing and that our system does not appreciate skill development and coach education training and development. I think anyone who has attended a Denstone course would beg to differ with this.
In attempting to address this comment I should like to offer the following:
Tactical and Competitive coaching must rest on a foundation of basic skills.
In order to teach and/or coach tactical/competitive fencing it is imperative that the coach has a thorough grounding in the basic stokes and the conditions under which they are given. Without such skills, it would be irresponsible for a coach (and potentially detrimental to a pupil) to give tactical/competitive exercises. There are no short cuts to this.
The Academy’s first three coaching awards provide coaches with the foundation of the basic skills.
Before a coach can hope to be an effective competitive coach, he or she must acquire a sufficient technical standard such that he/she can consistently replicate tactical/competitive situations on command and control these without deviation. The coach’s owns skills must be so thoroughly developed and confident that they can concentrate their entire attention on their pupil. To summarise -- the job of a coach is to provide conditions under which the pupil can practise stroke(s) under his/her supervision.
The advanced and diploma awards deal with a high level of technical skill whilst focusing on tactical and competitive applications
In years gone by, the examination questions sometimes did not specifically address the issue of tactical/competitive application, but most candidates had sufficient skill and experience to give tactical/competitive lesson under examination conditions.
The current structure of our examination questions specifically tests advanced and diploma candidates in the areas of both tactical application and their ability to give competitive lessons along with many other underlying lesson criteria.
Over many years our system of training and examination has produced numerous coaches who have gone onto train fencers who have represented their country from cadet through to and including senior world championship level. To name just a few:
Neil Brown, Norman Golding, Patsy Nicholls, Bob Bales, Nick Chapman. Philip Bruce, Phil Carson, Graham Stretton, Peter Barrett, David Kirby, Brian Matless, Sue Benney, Peter Cormack Andy Hill, Neil Thomas, Peter Wright, Jonathan Katz, Lynne Melia, Chris Penney, Iain Aberdeen, Jes Smith
The most notable results from an Academy trained coach has been that of Andrew Vincent who coaches Jon Willis who in winning Heidenheimer, Pokal and Kish Island along with making a number of World Cup finals, has become our most successful senior epeeist since 1981.
In addition to those named above, many of our coaches regularly train fencers who make the finals of the various National Championships and the numerous opens around the country.
This list only contains a selection of our most recent successes and there are many more who deserve mention. I am in the process of compiling a database of all our coaches and their achievements so that the successes of the Academy can be better recognised and celebrated. All members should have received an email requesting such details and if you have replied, thank you. If you have yet to do so, please let me have the information about your achievements. They deserve to be more widely known.
The most extraordinary thing about our coaches is the ways they find to overcome difficulties. It’s not uncommon for our coaches to only give two or three lessons a week to their pupils. Very few have access to dedicated venues and the funding which seems to have become an integral component of success. Just think what they could achieve if they had the support their (so much admired) foreign counterparts enjoy.
Finally I offer thanks and appreciation to those who continue to express their opinions, good and bad about the Academy. Such feedback forces us to continually look at what we offer. I’d be the first to accept the Academy isn’t perfect, though you might find that Academy members will be the most dedicated and supportive coaches around. We don’t train the best coaches in the world, I wish we did, I’d love to have the money and the resources, but we are self-funded and have no financial support whatsoever from outside the Academy. Not a penny of government sports funding comes our way and yet, in spite of that, we offer a continually evolving, structured and quality system of coach education which is fully supported by fencing specific study material, and which has earned the admiration of a number of coaches (and some top level fencers) from around the world.