I was recently asked to provide a list of things for new(er) rapier fencers to keep an eye on when practicing outside of class, specifically in small groups with a similar skill level. Here are the questions, and my answers.
What are three mechanical things that you consistently notice with green cords/new sword-players that, over time, will affect their physical health? How can they correct these issues?
1 - Drifting front knee/toe. You know, the one that senior students are always correcting you about. Over time this leads to knee injuries, so make sure that your femur and front toe are pointing straight ahead. This may require externally rotating the thigh, and tucking in the pelvis.
2 - Overreaching lunges. This is when the step of the lunge ends, but you continue reaching forwards. This also strains the knee, and you should either take a bigger step or be closer, so that you are hitting your target at the same time your foot lands, or ever so slightly before.
3 - Hunchy shoulders. The shoulders should be relaxed, even (especially) when extending the arm to gain or lunge. This is also related to collapsing the chest/curving the thoracic spine (a general postural problem that can effect back/neck health). Keep your chest up and your shoulders relaxed.
What can less-experienced fencers do for each other to help correct the aforementioned issues?
Make sure that every practice session involves a form check, preferably at the beginning. Take some time to tweak your stance while standing still, while stepping in stance, and while doing a few lunges. Correct each other's form in stance, after/during each step, and at the beginning/end of each lunge.
Describe your own challenges with training safely and how you have been able to overcome them.
The biggest issue for most people is hurting themselves when they push themselves harder than they're used to. This is a common problem for people moving from drilling to fencing, in part because their form falls apart when stressed. Once your form is consistently good at slower speeds and lower intensities, make sure to include some high speed practice in every session, if possible. It doesn't have to be fighting, and newer fencers should stick to plain lunges at a target, or possibly a simple play like the cavatione di tempo (A. steps to P's wide measure, finding P's sword; in a single tempo, P disengages, gains, strikes with a lunge). Don't forget that we have safety equipment for a reason: Masks and gorgets should always be on for all drills and fencing.