At the club, they tried to start in my face, a step at most beyond cutting range. We lost that Zufechten approach phase, so that freeplay was either a succession of almost footwork-free insta-hits or else they'd begin by leaping backwards while lashing out. In the former case, there were often ugly doubles; the latter often became a Benny Hill routine of chasing the opponent down while covering hand-snipe attempts.
I also don't like the common "staring cats" pattern of freeplay seen in longsword. By this, I mean when two fencers take guards and wait perfectly still a hair's breadth out of distance, like gunslingers hearing a chiming watch. Each hopes the other will begin the actual engagement.
Entry from Zufechten to Krieg is a pretty vital moment, obviously, and lack of skill or confidence in negotiating it is a fundamental impediment to fencing well. Consider the following suggestions rather than prescriptions, as they're things I'd want to try out rather than have honed through years of teaching experience:
- Don't let those sparring begin toe-to-toe or one step out. Give them corners to return to after each exchange.
- Encourage movement in drills. Begin well out of distance, and finish with an Abzug out of distance (to the rear or past their opponent) or closing to close range. Don't neglect the role of lateral and circling footwork either...
- Conditioning for agility and endurance. It's tempting to stand still and stay flat-footed if you're knackered. Stay on your toes, stay moving. Break out the ladder drills and lunges for agility, and running and circuit training for "cardio", and skipping rope for everything, and generally think like a boxer or a sport fencer.
- Drill the Vorschlag and other techniques that cover this transition! I assume you're training the historical techniques anyway, but it bears emphasis. Kunst des Fechtens sources have a lot on how to act here, and I suggest you read and train them!