Tag Archives: sword training

Hi, I’m at a point in my novel where my character is afraid of being defenseless and she wants to learn hand-to-hand combat. She has 0 previous experience and asks a prince, who is superskilled in sword fighting + hand-to-hand, to teach her. How would I be able to write that from the girl’s pov? I would like to relay her improvements across the novel, like I want my audience to feel her getting better.

I’ll be honest, one of the biggest issues with “super skilled” or “naturally gifted” fighters is that, unless they’ve learned otherwise, they tend to be shit teachers. Teaching is, in large part, the ability to take your own experiences and struggles then apply them to aiding your student to learn the same. The best teachers are often the ones who struggled hardest to understand their subject matter, who spent a lot of time on it. This can be someone gifted, but it’s not the natural conclusion. Someone who naturally grasps the concepts and grasps the basics quickly enough that they’ve never needed to really think about it will have trouble explaining those same basics to someone else. This can lead to many frustrations for both parties, especially if this is the teacher’s first outing.

It’s important to start with recognizing that being good at fighting and being able to teach someone how to fight are actually two separate skill sets.

Being a teacher requires that you think about what you’re doing, how it works, how it functions, and then how accurately show someone else how to do it. It actually takes a fair amount of introspection and understanding. It, ironically compared to cultural perceptions, often makes you better at what discipline you practice. This is why at the higher stages of martial arts training, for example, students take on more responsibility and begin assisting their teachers then eventually teaching themselves. Having to sit down and actually explain it to someone else, to think about what you’re doing, and how you did it in a way that they can understand is important to improving yourself.

In helping others, we help ourselves.

This is just a lead in to me saying that just because this prince is good at fighting, it doesn’t mean he can teach or teach her well. There are many different kinds of combat, and his training may not be suited to what she’s looking to learn or needs to know. This is even more true if he’s physically gifted and she isn’t. For the genius, a technique that may be extremely complicated is exceedingly simple, they natively grasp the concept and their bodies can quickly adapt it into their repertoire. They may have also learned at an accelerated rate. Their learning experience being vastly different from someone on a more even keel. Even if he’s not gifted or he is and she is, they may not learn the same way and that requires him having to entirely restructure everything about his teaching methods to get the techniques across.

He’ll also be far more educated than she is which will make it more difficult to relate concepts to her if she doesn’t understand what the concept is. They come from very different beginning positions. He’ll have been primed for combat his entire life even before he began learning, while this may be a concept that’s just occurring to her. Someone raised in the lap of luxury has a different perspective than someone who grew up on the streets. More than that, unless he’s ornamental, a prince’s life is filled with responsibility, study, duties both political and governmental, with huge constraints on his time even if he’s just the second or third son.

Ruling is a job and the child of a ruler is one groomed from birth to take over that role. A prince that’s really good at combat but not likely to inherit the throne, for example, may be one being groomed to be their older brother’s general or Grand Marshal. The one who takes the reins in terms of military matters and national security, both internal and external.

Or if he’s got a lot of older brothers and no prospects, then he could be raised to be the family’s duelist or Champion. The one who fights in place of the King when another noble challenges a decision, royal decree, or personal slight.

Ultimately, the kind of teacher he is matters. The breath of his experience matters. Teachers aren’t all equal and teaching is a learning experience, just as much as the student’s training. If he’s never taught anyone before, if he expects everyone to come to it with the same background he did i.e. lots of personal tutors, if he doesn’t understand the difference between starting with nothing and starting with something, then she could be in for a very rough time.

Mentor/Student is very much a give and take. It’s setting boundaries. It’s building trust. There are a lot of ways to do that.

Even though you’re not writing from the Prince’s perspective, these are important questions to suss through and figure out. Your main character’s entire learning experience will be decided by what he does and what he knows. So it may be important to figure out what that is.

As for the first person learning perspective from the student’s POV.

You’re in for an easier road when the student knows nothing and writing from their point of view means that their teacher informs their entire learning experience.

Start slow and build your base.

One spends an entire lesson on stances, learning to stand, breathe, and balance their weight before they’re ever allowed to hold a sword. Then, they practice holding the sword, practicing their strikes. Single strikes, rather than combinations, with stances. Then, they practice their footwork separately. Single strikes are practiced together in conjunction with the footwork. Then, we move on to combinations putting footwork/strikes together into a flurry of movement with attack and defense. Practice alone, becoming used to no resistance. Then, practice with a partner. Then, practice with multiple partners to build experience.

Intersperse cardio. Stretches both before and after practice to keep the limbs loose. The character thinks about their training during the day, as they do their chores. Practicing their stances, locking their wrists, adjusting their fingers.

Safety first.

Depending on teaching style it could be confusing and “mysterious” with the teacher refusing to explain what’s going on. Or, they could explain the purpose.

The character will practice the same repetitious movements over and over again. It won’t be very exciting. They’ll leave training bruised and probably a little beaten. The teacher needs to balance the realities with hope for improvement. She will get better slowly, though due to a vast difference in both experience and expectations she may never be his equal.

Attack and defense are both necessary.

Every sword strike can lead to death.

The teacher will destroy preconceived notions.

Try not to make it so that they’re awesome at everything right away. Even the ones who can physically get it, it takes them time to really understand it. Also, a character who goes “oh! that’s easy!” will immediately be bumped into harder challenges.

They will be dumb in the beginning. All students are dumb in the beginning unless they’re not really beginners. That’s okay. Being slow, confused, and frustrated is part of being human.

Don’t forget the cardio. Training extends outside of class time. She must practice and consistently or else she’ll forget, she’ll have to learn all over again in the next class.

Some good training sequences:

Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness and Protector of the Small are very good to use for reference. Particularly Kel’s relationship with her maid Lalasa in the second novel Page, with Lalasa’s training being geared for female self-defense. Lalasa’s solutions such as practicing her stances during the day while she stands in line are excellent examples of a character consistently trying to learn.

Game of Thrones: Arya Stark training under Syrio Forel. Cat catching included. Why cat catching, you ask? It trains the reflexes and hand to eye coordination, also helps the trainee hone their stalker instincts. Plus, it doubles successfully as the teacher trolling.

The Mask of Zorro: I’ve mentioned Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins before, but the Mask of Zorro has one of my all time favorite training sequences. It combines humor and no small amount of sadism with some genuinely good advice while being highly entertaining at the same time.

Check out Matt Easton’s (Scholagladitoria) Channel

He has a lot of good training tips like his longsword training tips, footwork, small tutorials about different kinds of sword combat, and discussions on history plus the roles of various weapons.

If you can, honestly, look up your local HEMA chapters and fencing clubs. The only ones who can teach you how to teach sword combat are teachers who teach sword combat. It’s okay if you know nothing, most martial artists are more than happy to share knowledge with beginners. Take a class if you’ve the resources. It’ll help you a lot.


This blog is supported through Patreon. If you enjoy our content, please consider becoming a Patron.