Structuring Your Solo Practice

Not everyone has the luxury of being able to regularly attend classes at a school like Academie Duello or get together with regular training partners. So how do you train on your own in a way that is effective? In this last week’s DTV Livestream we discussed just that. Here’s a round-up of some of the best advice.

Set a Rhythm

Quality and quantity of practice are less important than regularity of practice. I recommend that you practice at least twice per week, if not everyday. A simple daily practice schedule is the 5 minutes per day regimen. If possible, make set times that you practice. Put them on your calendar, and even get a local buddy to train with, or find an internet buddy who will train with you regularly over skype or simply act as an accountability check-in point.

Structure Your Time

Whether you’re practicing for 5 minutes or 2 hours, make sure that you use the time effectively. I recommend using a phone app like Ultratimer or Seconds to run your program. Make a set with 1 minute of activity and a 10 second break, repeating 10 times. Then use each minute to focus on a particular exercise or side of your body. These timers can even be set to call out the names of exercises so you don’t have to remember or see your program to follow it.

Do the Right Things

Training an effective parry in solo practice is very difficult. To successfully parry an attack requires not only a good motor-program (the trained movement of your body), but that you know what each potential attack looks like—how the opponent might ‘tell’ you it’s coming, it’s placement in space, angle, and proximity. Though I am a big fan of visualization, it’s important to recognize that some techniques are best practiced with a partner. Here’s what you can do well at home.
Physical Conditioning
Training your strength, power, and resilience are very useful to your practice. You can cross-train with non-swordy activities or practice footwork, cutting with a double-weighted sword, lunges, or other actions within the sword fighting repertoire that can tax your body effectively.
Motor Programming
Practice single actions and sequences of actions with a focus on manual dexterity, order of operations, and flow. Building your facility with the sword is not only pleasing but can give you an effective base in the martial art.
We put tons of drills for rapier, lonsgword, and sidesword up on Duello.TV. A free membership gets you tons of drills.
Train Your Mind and Spirit
Practicing techniques you’ve learned in class or online, reading good books on swordplay and martial art, and visualization of technique can all be effective ways to help forward your practice or simply keep you excited and inspired about it. Though some things may be more effectively practiced with a partner, don’t underestimate how valuable it is to simply keep them alive in your mind and body.

Get Feedback

Everyone is worried about ingraining a bad habit. Though there is some worth to this concern, don’t let it freeze up your practice. Mastery is a long-term journey of refinement. No one starts at perfect. In fact many techniques will be difficult to do in their final form until you’ve built the specific strength required to do so. How do you build this specific strength? Do the exercise less than perfect and refine it mindfully as you go.
Now getting some outside feedback is still a good plan. If you don’t have a regular teacher, here are a few good tools.
Use a Mirror or a Camera
Examine your body from the feet up or the weapon down. Are your toes, knees, hips, shoulders, elbows, and hands where you want them? Examine the set-up position, the end position, then the motion in between. Read more about the “Tunnel” movement concept.
If you don’t have a mirror, a window in your home will become one once it’s dark outside and you turn on some lights.
Do Video or Photo Comparison
If you’re using exercise videos or other online examples, make a video and then do a window-to-window comparison. Some DTV subscribers even use projectors to put up a big image they can stand beside or ‘inside’ to try to position their bodies correctly.
Schedule Some Regular Help
Plan time to get with an instructor one-on-one at least once per year to get correction and guidance. I’d recommend once per season if at all possible. The Academie Duello Instructor Intensive gives eight months of video review after the week in Vancouver. You can send a video to us and we’ll give you feedback on your form to help you keep on track.
Solo training can be an effective way to both build your martial practice and to simply enjoy connecting with a beautiful art. In the end, make sure you have a practice that meets your goals and is rewarding to you.
For those who’ve been at it for a while, what do you do to make the most of your solo time? Let us know in the comments.

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