One my study group leaders asked me a question today:
"So, if you have a student who hits too hard without meaning to, how would you go about training control? And how do you tell if someone is doing it on purpose of if they just can't help themselves?"
The first step, I told him, is to figure out whether they are doing it because they are unable to not do it, or if they are just being a dick. Figuring that out takes intuition and experience. And if you have intuition and experience, they will tell you this: if you have to ask the question, then it's always because that person is being a dick. Always.
Now, to be fair, there are several exceptions. One such exception is two experienced/skilled fencers fighting at a very high level at a mutually agreed upon degree of intensity. Another is a teacher doing so for a very specific reason--often to correct exactly the sort of behavior being discussed. People who are too weak to control the sword will sometimes hit too hard if they strike with a big arc, because their arms act as a catapult. They are essentially throwing the sword and holding on for dear life. People also hit too hard out of habit without meaning to, but this is not really an exception because they got those habits by being dicks. People with very good body mechanics often hit hard as a consequence of optimal extension, centering, structure, follow-through, etc.. But not *too* hard. Not unless they're dicks. And if you ask such a person to tone it down, he or she should be able to do it instantly. You know, because they have good body mechanics. But with any of these exceptions (except the one that isn't), you wouldn't need to ask the question. So the point still stands. If you have to ask, then it's because that person is a dick.
What is too hard? One person's "too hard" is another person's "not so hard." It's subjective. As a teacher, you need to be able to gauge these things in your students and in yourself. Historical fencing can be brutal and it is quite dangerous. When someone strikes you with a steel longsword or an arming sword (or whatever), it's going to hurt. And that's okay. What's not okay is hitting someone so hard that they have to stop to recover. Or they start cringing away from you and start fighting extremely conservatively because they expect and are afraid of pain. The classroom is not a place where people should be afraid of pain (or, at lest, too much pain). Also, accidents happen. Everyone hits someone too hard, at some point, without meaning to. It's part of what we do. But if someone is consistently hurting people, then that person is being a dick.
So now that we know our problem child is a giant douche, what do we do about it? This isn't a training issue, it's an awareness and discipline issue (unless you're dealing with someone too weak to control the sword, then that person has a lot of work to do). There is no drill you can have them do, or trick you can teach them. Though perhaps therapy might help, or medication. Short of that, if you are the teacher, you can and should demand Mr. Douche stop brutalizing the students, but that may not be enough. Sometimes people don't actually realize what they are doing to others. Maybe they are better than the other students and always were, so they rarely get hit. Maybe they were never struck on a regular basis as hard as they are striking others. Maybe if they understood what they were doing, they would stop. Your job, as a teacher, is to make this person understand (I'm not going to spell out how, but it should be obvious).
If you can't do that, and if they still don't listen to you without it, you can kick them out of your class, or out of the school/group/club completely. And, for the sake of the other students, you should. No matter how important that one person is to your class, your club, your school, whatever, he or she is not as important as the numerous students they are costing you. Students who have better things to do with their lives than to be brutalized by Sir Dickalot in his quest for self esteem (or whatever narcissistic reason this person has for enjoying causing pain to his or her classmates).
I didn't (and don't) have any specific person in mind when I wrote this. The question brought back memories for me, and along with those memories, a healthy dose of anger. All of the people who triggered my anger are long gone. But If you are reading this and thinking, "Is he talking about me," then yes, I am talking about you, and you need to stop being a dick, before someone else stops you. If you have to ask, it's you. And you should stop not only for other people, but for yourself, because you are placing yourself in great danger. One day, you will do this to the wrong person, and that person may literally kill you (however unintentionally--the levels of force that we can generate are absurdly dangerous with steel longswords, and our gear isn't enough to save us). This isn't a joke, and it isn't a laughing matter. Stop being a brute, and stop it now, before someone gets hurt. And before you do.