If you’re not offering a “free trial” class at your club, I would really encourage you to do so. A free, no-risk, no-pressure session is an easy way to get new people through the door. It’s a great way to show off the culture you’ve created at your club and to let members of the community see the amazing things you’re doing. We allow observers to photograph and/or record whatever they wish. If they tag the club in the photos they post on Facebook, so much the better!
The single, most important element of hosting a great free class is the person leading it. You need to choose someone who is personable and who can make newbies feel comfortable. This is especially true for beginner adults who are sometimes very hard on themselves and need to be around someone who can make them laugh and relax. This person needs to be able to demonstrate proper technique but their personality, not their fencing ability, is key. You don’t need an elite fencer or, for that matter, a coach to teach the class but rather someone who loves the sport and is extremely enthusiastic about it.
At Cutting Edge Fencing Center, we hold a free class once a month (usually the last Friday) from 7-8:30 pm. We choose that day so that they don’t have long to wait before the next round of Beginner classes starts. There’s nothing worse than being all excited about a new activity, only to have to wait a month before getting to do it again.
There is nothing else going on at the club on those evenings, no distractions, no big crowds impatient to get on strip for bouting. We don’t spend any money advertising it, choosing instead to post the event on Yelp!, painting the date on our front window, and listing it in the events on our Facebook page. We have an RSVP list on ZenPlanner to keep track of who has pre-registered and who is a walk-in. We limit the class size to 20 but our classes normally run from 5-12 participants.
Here’s our approximate schedule:
6:45-7:00 Check in: as the participants trickle in, they sign the “free event waiver”, are told where the bathrooms are, get a little tour of the club, and are made to feel welcome.
7:00-7:15 Everyone (parents and observers included) is taken out onto the floor. They are regaled with the history of fencing (make it as interesting as possible), they are shown the three weapons (we emphasize how great sabre is and why), and they get to see/touch all of the fencing gear. We make sure to emphasize how safe our sport is (moms need to hear this), thanks in part to all the gear that fencers wear. We always start right on time, even if we are expecting others, to show everyone that you will miss out on fun if you are late to our classes.
Here’s a picture of our set-up, with Ivan the SabreCat serving as model.
7:15-7:25 Warm-ups. Whatever your club does to warm up its fencers would be good to do here. We do an abbreviated version of ours that won’t tire them out but that will make them a little sweaty. This is important. Everyone needs to be sweaty–but not exhausted–at the end of the class. Adults come in with the expectation that we will make them work hard; parents want that for their kids. Sweat is the visible proof that they have achieved a level of “hard work”.
7:25-7:40 Footwork. We teach en garde, advance, retreat, lunge and then do the numbers game (1 = advance, 2 = retreat, 3 = lunge, 4 = en garde). Sometimes we play “Maestro Says”. We aren’t super picky about their footwork, except to make sure they keep both feet pointed in the correct direction and extend their arm before they lunge. You don’t want to over-correct them; this is all about having fun.
7:40-7:45 Quick bathroom/water break. You need to give them–especially little kids–this opportunity before they put on all the gear. You’ll regret it if you don’t (spoken from experience).
7:45-7:55 Put on fencing gear. We give them all the pieces and then all get dressed at the same time. This eliminates you wasting a lot of time explaining the same thing over and over. We also encourage them to take pictures of themselves in the gear (or to get pictures taken of them by an observer or by us). This is the part when they all start to get very excited.
7:55-8:10 We teach them how to hold the sabre (give it a “thumbs up”!!) and how to attack to their partner’s head. Letting them hit and be hit is vital to this class. It’s what they are there for in the first place! It’s the fun part! They are acting like movie pirates! It also shows you who is more timid and allows you to help them overcome that in a small group environment.
8:10-8:25 We play advance-lunge game with whatever perimeters and restrictions we desire. For example, if someone is a lot taller than someone else, the taller fencer can only hit to head while the shorter fencer can hit anywhere above the waist. We usually play without parries at first and then allow them toward the end of the game. It’s amazing how well they can figure out how to defend themselves, even without being “officially” taught. By this point there should be a lot of laughing and good-natured ribbing.
8:25-8:30 Wrap it up. Thank your participants for coming. Tell them when the Beginner classes are scheduled at your club and when the next session starts. We don’t put any pressure on them to sign up right away but always make sure to hand them our postcard with our website address and contact information. People seem to like signing up for classes online more and more these days, so we have a button on our website that takes them to our ZenPlanner page and allows them to do that.
Does your club offer a free class? Why or why not? What do you do to entice people to sign up for classes at your club? Let me know in the comments!