All by myself, don’t want to be all by myself…
But sometimes it is inevitable. For whatever reason, you find yourself without a practice partner. What to do? Solo drills. But solo drills are boring! Yes, they can be. But any training practice can be boring on occasion. Remember why you started training in the first place. Going solo can serve you well.
One nice thing about solo drills, minimal equipment is required. You can certainly go without a mask and gambeson. Gloves are only needed if you are prone to blisters. If available, a full length mirror (or a glass sliding door at night) provides excellent feedback. You can also record yourself for immediate feedback.
How should you structure a solo practice? Any way you want. It is all about you. Some people prefer to keep it completely freeform and spontaneous, moving from one drill to the next without necessarily planning ahead. I prefer to set up my solo practice the same way that I would teach a lesson, first identifying a training goal or concept on which to focus. The practice itself starts with a warmup exercise, transitioning into a technically oriented drill, followed by more spontaneous freeplay.
For a warmup, you can perform any sort of aerobic or conditioning exercise. Most often I practice specific footwork associated with that day’s goal and save jogging or toning for off days. I find footwork to be an important part of my solo practice. When I am having difficulty making a technique work with a partner, the majority of the time it turns out that the fault was in my footwork and not the bladework. Employing footwork as an integral part of my solo training has a positive effect on my partner training.
The warmup is probably the hardest part of my solo practice, I am trying to get motivated and overcome inertia. Once I have started moving around, I am eager to pick up my sword and move into cutting drills. Easy to construct and of definite value for improving technique are drills involving performing the same cuts over and over. Examples include following the Meyer cutting diagram, repetitions of the Meisterhaue, or simply performing basic cuts from above or below over and over again. Feedback is a little more important for bladework drills than for footwork so employing that reflective surface or camera is invaluable. Another method for feedback is to use a target or pell. Thrust into an old throw pillow hung on a wall. Get creative finding something around the house which you can hit repeatedly without damage to it or your sword.
Now that you have those creative juices flowing, it is time to move on to shadow fencing. So I lied when I said the warmup was the hardest part of my solo practice. I find fencing an imaginary partner is akin to playing rock, paper, scissors against yourself. As a result, my shadow fencing is not perfectly freeform. I tend to script both my imaginary partner and myself, though not beyond the first movement or two. Those scripted initial moves target that practice session’s training goal. After that, it becomes somewhat easier to let the sword take me where it wants to go. Visualization is important. I have to ask myself why I would respond or act in that fashion.
Though being able to play with a buddy is inherently more fun, once you have finished your solo practice session, your body should be comfortably tired and your brain comfortably full.