Albert Bandura, the famed psychologist and founder of Social Learning Theory (SLT) posited that our brains go through four mediational processes while learning:
- Attention: How one is exposed to and processes a behavior.
- Retention: How one remembers the exposed behavior.
- Reproduction: How one performs the behavior s/he’s exposed to.
- Motivation: How one develops the will to follow and replicate the behavior.
In learning Fencing, an athlete can be exposed to a variety of stimuli that cause him/her to adapt a desired behavior into his/her fencing repertoire. While there are many channels that may spur a Fencer’s innovation to expand upon his/her current skillset (e.g. YouTube), none are more important than a Coach and the private lessons s/he provides the athlete.
Private lessons are a (usually) expensive but necessary gateway to Bandura’s mediational processes. In a matter of twenty minutes, the Coach must demonstrate and expose the Fencer to new actions and proper form (Attention). The Coach will refine and correct as necessary until the fencer gets it right (Retention), and after the final salute is given signaling the end of the lesson, the onus of learning is placed upon the Fencer to reproduce the actions in practice bouting (Reproduction) determine which actions work for his/her style, and which actions are better placed on the backburner (Motivation).
So what’s the best way to take both the financial and time investment in a private fencing lesson and waste it away? To leave the club and end the practice immediately after the lesson.
Without an extensive investment of time in practice bouting with a deliberate focus on applying the actions demonstrated by the Coach, a Fencer is bound to stagnate in the phases of attention and retention, failing to understand the proper scenarios to apply the Coach’s teachings.
Operant conditioning tells us that a Fencer is bound to learn through process of consequence. Perhaps a continuously well-executed eight opposition advance-lunge positively reinforces to the Fencer that this action should become a normal part of his/her competition repertoire; conversely, an attempted sweeping six flick may trigger negative reinforcement if the Fencer keeps getting counterattacked to his/her own hand.
Practice bouting is required to innovate on the piste and truly undergo Bandura’s process of learning. Only through application of the Coach’s teaching, trying out new things, and succeeding or failing in bouting will a Fencer advance his/her skills. To leave the salle after the lesson is to waste the investment of the lesson. Stay in the club, keep bouting, and keep failing until you succeed.