Friday, December 18, 2009

Footwork: Movement in Fencing


Footwork is vital in fencing and it is often overlooked in importance in comparison to the use of the sword. What must be realised in this particular situation is that it does not matter what forme of fencing is being done, footwork is of great importance. This particular edition will be focussing on footwork and its importance. It will also address the differences and advantages and disadvantages of practicing footwork both indoors and outdoors. For some they may not realise the difference, but there is a difference.

Footwork is undoubtedly important. The practicing of footwork at a training session tends to be rather boring. It usually involves moving up and down the training area over and over again. This is designed to implant the footwork into the muscle memory of the fencer. Once the basic motions have been practiced and perfected, more interesting things can be done with it such as distance games of various kinds. The thing about this practice is that the fencer needs to be able to move without thinking. This means that the footwork movements need to be so familiar to the fencer that they do not have to think about them, this takes a lot of practice.

Practicing and using footwork is all about the ability to move freely over the field. Now, anyone can walk or run across a field, this is undoubted as it is something which we learnt when we were small children. Footwork in fencing is about taking this particular ability and making it more efficient and also about making it effective. Footwork is also about teaching the body to be stable while moving across the field. This means that footwork enhances the ability of the fencer, and it also protects the lower limbs through this movement. Accurate footwork is about safe and efficient movement across the field. Simple things such as turning the foot in the direction of the opponent creates a biomechanical situation where the body is better protected from injury and damage.

Distance is controlled by footwork. The arm of the fencer is only so long and so is their weapon. If the fencer stays stationary, the opponent only has to stay out of range of the arm and weapon. If the fencer moves with their feet they can change the distance. Footwork does the major part of moving the body of the fencer. Without the correct footwork, it is difficult for the fencer to move properly. It is also through the use of footwork that the fencer is able to control distance in the bout. Through this the fencer is then able to close or withdraw at the time and place of their choice. Through this use of distance the fencer is then able to control the bout.

For the most part, the question of training and fighting indoors or outdoors is pretty much mute for the sport fencer. So this particular aspect is more directed at the Renaissance and Classical fencer whose tournament field may be indoors or outdoors. The question of where training will actually take place is usually up to the person or organisation which organises the training. This may mean that you may end up training either in a hall or outside. There are some important differences that must be realised between these two.

Training indoors has some advantages. The floor is flat and this can affect many things. It is much easier to practice perfect footwork on a flat floor, and to some point it is also easier on the joints of the fencer. The other great advantage of training indoors is that the training is not affected by weather. This means pretty much regardless of what the weather is like outside training can go on. Of course if the tournaments are to be fought outdoors, this can also lead to some issues.

Training outdoors involves usually uneven ground. This can place extra stress on the joints of the fencer, and it can also be more difficult to present technically perfect techniques. The fencer who trains outside is also affected by weather and inclement weather means that sometimes training is not possible on that particular site. However, the big advatage that outdoor training has over indoor training is that it reflects the effect of outside conditions on the movement in fencing. This means that the fencer's footwork is prepared for uneven terrain and knows how to move efficiently across this.

For the most part, for the Renaissance fencer, the field on which tournaments are fought is outside. This means that the fencers who train outside are already prepared for the conditions presented by the field. For the indoor practicing fencers this can present somewhat of a challenge to them as they are not used to fighting on uneven ground. It is true that the event organisers will attempt to find the most even ground possible, but this is not always guaranteed. The result of this is that the advantage will go toward the fencers who train outdoors. A way that this advantage can be gained by all fencer is for all fencers to do a proportion of their fencing outside. For those fencers who have the access to do both indoor and outdoor training this presents an advantage over both the people who train only indoors and also those who only train outdoors.

Footwork is of vital importance to the fencer and it is something which should not be glossed over. For the fencer to be able to move properly over the field they must have practiced their footwork. This must be done with correction so that the fencer learns the correct thing and is able to move efficiently and safely over the field. The practice for footwork should be done under as many conditions as possible, indoors and outdoors. This will enhance the fencer's ability to move over a variety of terrain, and thus be able to move efficiently over it.



Thursday, December 10, 2009



It has come to that point in time that I am going to have to ask you, my readership for some questions. It seems that I have struck upon most of the essential sort of stuff that I know I should write about, now I am asking you for any fencing question you would like to have answered.

You can post them as comments at the end of the blog or e-mail them to me, what ever you like. I will answer each question as a blog, or if it is brief several questions in a single blog. I will endeavour to answer as many of the questions that you pose to me as possible, but I will tend to focus on particular aspects.

So, if you have a question you would like for me to answer with regard to fencing, get writing, I want to hear from you.



Newton's 3rd Law in Fencing


This blog may be a little short, but it will be focussing on a single point in fencing which is of importance. One of the fundamental things about fencing is that there is no ultimate killing move. There is always a counter to every single attack performed. This is one of the things which is so exciting about fencing, it is about putting the bits together in order that they can work. So this blog will be focussing on action and counter.

"To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction."
With regard to many things, this particular comment has been used many times. This particular statement is as applicable to fencing as it is to human interactions as it is to physics. There is an action which can be used in response to any other action in fencing, no matter how simple it may be. This is one of the most essential points that as teachers, we must instill in our students, and as fencers, we must understand. This is one of the keys to the development of the fencing mind.

So first, there is attack and defence. A scenario, a thrust is made this is a very simple attack to which there are at least three defences regardless of the form of fencing you are doing. The attack can be parried, voided or retreated from. Each one of these either displaces the body or displaces the attack. For this particular purpose the parry will be used.

So, the attack is parried, this allows the parrier to mount a counter-attack, the riposte. With regard to this discussion, tempo is not going to be mentioned so bear with me. Even in a stesso tempo response there is still the element of a parry and a riposte, they are simply blended together. Of course the individual recieving the riposte can perform anyone of the three actions described in defence, the ceding parry being the most useful if blade engagement is to be maintained. From the ceding parry another counter-attack may be made.

With the simple description above, it can be seen that each attack has a counter, this counter then builds to a counter-attack, and against this there is also a counter. There is no action in fencing which is performed which cannot be countered in some manner. It is up to the fencer to find this particular counter and use it against the attack. In many ways it is like the arms race. One builds a weapon, the other builds a weapon to counter it and so forth. Luckily in this competition the world is not under threat.

Even in the actions used in blade engagement the same sorts of things can be seen. There is an action followed by as response followed by a response to the response and so forth. Stringere is performed in order to open a line on an opponent. A cavatione is performed to counter the stringere to change the engagement and close the line again. A contra-cavatione is performed to counter the cavatione. A ricavatione is performed to counter the contra-cavatione, and then just when you think it is all finished, a simple cavatione will start the entire process again.

So, it has been demonstrated that in blade engagement there is always a counter to the action performed by a fencer. The fencer merely has to have the skill and the ability to think of and use the counter at the appropriate time in order to counter the action of the opponent. The same was demonstrated with regard to attack, defence, counter-attack, and counter-defence. In all cases it must be remembered that every action in fencing can be countered. This may take some time for the fencer to wrap their head around this particular concept.

The fact that eventually every action will be able to be countered some way is one of the most fundamental points in fencing and for some it is the reason why they keep going. In the beginning when the skills are low such things will seem like they have no answer, but it should be remembered that there is always an answer to every action. In many cases it is just a matter of building up the skills of the body and also those of the mind in order for the fencer to be able to percieve these answers. In many ways the action posed by the opponent is a question and the action performed by the fencer is an answer to that question. This is a debate performed with steel in the same way that any debate is performed. There is always an answer all you have to do is go out and find that answer.



Thursday, December 3, 2009

Why Do Renaissance Fencing?


What a question. This is a big question that needs to be asked both of the beginner and the more experienced fencer. For those at the beginning, the answer is a reason to start and stick with the training. For those more experienced fencers, the answer is a reason to keep going with the training. This blog will bring up some of the reasons for starting fencing and also some of the reasons to continue with it. The important thing about the answer that is given to this question is that it must satisfy you more than anyone else. For some of my readers you will notice that this blog has a great deal of similarity with an article I wrote some time ago, well, to be honest, this is a re-write.

The most interesting, and often most difficult question to answer, especially for the practitioner of Renaissance fencing is, why fence? What is the use of fencing? Why bother going to all the effort? In a way, points have to be conceded to this sort of questioning. For the Renaissance fencer, it is an “outdated” style of combat, which belongs to a period up to 500 or so years ago. For most fencers, there are no gold medals at the end of it, and not to mention the many confusing issues that abound with the recreation of this martial art. The original purpose of learning to fence has gone, people do not generally wander around in public with swords at their sides, and it is not likely you will be challenged to a duel either. This is a question of outsiders to the fencing community and members of the community also. The question is often best answered by each individual practitioner. But we can highlight some general points of relevance in answer to this perplexing question.

There are many influences, which may cause a person to become interested in fencing, these all have an impact on the individual. The media, especially in regard to movies often influences people in this. A person may see a movie and become interested due to the flair, which is shown by the characters in the movie. With special attention to rapier combat, movies such as “The Three Musketeers”, “The Mask of Zorro” and “The Musketeer” all show rapier combat as a combat art with much skill. Unfortunately, these movies do not show the hard work that is required to develop such a level of skill. Learning how to fence and learning how to do it properly takes a great deal of time.

People are also influenced by friends and family, especially those who are already involved in groups which do fence. A person may become influenced by the skills demonstrated by a relation or friend. Others may become interested because of a search for something new; these people often have a background in sport fencing and wish to explore new skills. Still others are interested in fencing because of the different styles and approaches, which are possible, and some become interested because of a level of competition that is not found in other sports. The reasons for starting to fence may actually not be the same reasons that a fencer will continue with it. This notes a change in mind-set in the fencer over time.

A person’s own individual values and passions also influence a person’s interest. Values that are expressed in fencing and not so much in other combat arts. Others simply develop a passion for the arts of their own culture, and especially those from older times. It is often these passions and values, which will sustain a person through the long process of training. While oriental martial arts have a lot of mysticism associated with them, western martial arts do not. The important thing is that something deeper can be found in these martial arts and amongst the community who performs them, if only the fencer will look deeper than what is seen on the surface.

Fencing not only teaches new skills but also teaches control, among other things. It also teaches a new approach on how the world should be viewed through the teaching of the social elements that are important. Though some teachers may neglect this particular aspect of fencing, it is something which should be taught. In some cases the student may have to simply go out and discover these aspects for themselves. Fencing also teaches strategy, strategy which is not only useful when fencing but also in other aspects of one’s life. These things that fencing teaches are of benefit to all, and not just those who fence.

The reasons for learning to fence are many. Some people learn to improve their fitness, and fencing does supply some of the requirements for this. Some people learn to gain a new set of skills, and fencing does teach those. The reasons for learning to fence are personal, but learning how to fence does teach many things. Fencing gives both intellectual and physical pursuits. On the intellectual side, fencing teaches new ways of thinking, and opens many avenues for intellectual research, and these often improve the physical side. The physical side is much more obvious in the skills, which are learnt and used. Renaissance fencing especially is much closer to a combat art than sport fencing and it does supply a lot of the intensity without the downside of physical harm. Fencing teaches gracefulness in its movements, style in its actions and finesse. These all translate into things outside of fencing.

Renaissance fencing, when it comes to tournaments, is competitive. The important thing that needs to be questioned here is why a person should win and also how. There are reasons for this, and each must be considered. Winning can supply a sense of achievement, and an enjoyment of victory, this must be tempered with grace and consideration. It can supply recognition from fellow fencers and this is also a good thing. It can elevate a person’s esteem and prestige; there is a certain amount of glory achieved in winning. Most of all, it demonstrates excellence in a combat art and performance of the skills that have been learned.

With winning comes responsibility. The winning of the tournament may not confer responsibility, but the method of winning the tournament in the first place. What is important here? The method by which you win is important. A person who wins with brute skill and force will not be as respected as a person who wins with grace and style will. It is the influence of the “perpetual gentleman” which changes a person from a duellist into a gentleman. To exhibit courtesy to one’s opponent displays a certain good nature, which the rapier combatant should possess. This will be influenced by a person’s values, and will develop a view of the person by others. This consideration of courtesy should be at the fore whenever a person takes the field in tournaments or in sparring. Is it not more of an achievement to win with grace, style and courtesy than to win by brute force? This should be at the forefront of every rapier combatant’s mind. We are attempting to recreate a gentleman’s art, so shouldn’t we also act like gentlemen in the execution of this art? Consider your own impact upon the arts of defence, do you promote a positive or negative image?



Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What Does Fencing Give the Fencer?


The fencer puts a great deal of effort into training, acquiring the correct equipment and various other aspects if they want to become a better fencer. How much the fencer puts into this is the measure of their dedication to the art. The question that needs to be asked is, after all of the effort put in by the fencer what do they get back from it? This blog will address some of those things that the fencer gets back from doing fencing. Some of these things will be obvious and others will not be so obvious.

In our dollar-emphasised, capitalist, modern society, the question is always what do I get out of this? It is a question that is asked in the workplace and even in social situations. In the workplace it is pretty easy to see, it is perks, benefits, and a regular payday. In the social situation it can be a little blurry, and for the fencer some of the results of the effort put into their fencing can be very difficult to see.

Clearly, some rewards are obvious, these are usually in the form of such things as trophies, accolades, awards and other prizes usually awarded after a tournament or a period of service to fencing. Depending on what sort of fencing and what sort of structure will depend on which apply to you. These things are nice to get but in many cases they are fleeting in nature. The question that needs to be asked is whether there is more than these physical things.

There are some physical aspects that the fencer will gain without having to win any tournament whatsoever. It is these physical aspects which are the most obvious rewards for the fencer. Fencing will, over time, improve the fitness of the fencer. This is especially the case if they are doing it on a regular basis. The simple cardio-vascular activity which goes on inside the body during fencing will improve the health of the fencer. While the health aspects are some which are the most obvious results of fencing, there are some health aspects which are over-looked. Such things as improvement in self-worth due to the acknowledgement of the skills which have been learnt, and the achievement associated with this. Then there are the skills learnt while fencing. These skills have their most obvious application while fencing, but the fencer will also notice other changes due to these skills being learnt. Their movements will be more fluid and more accurate. This actually leads on to the mental aspects as well.

The fencer actually does develop some mental attributes which are not clearly apparent in a short amount of time to the fencer, but these will surface over time. The fencer will begin to look at things from a different point of view. The thinking fencer especially will begin to notice the movements of their opponent and in some instances be able to predict what the opponent will do without thinking about it. This will begin to be apparent in times outside fencing as well. The important thing is that these mental aspects need to be developed while fencing. Problem solving will also be improved, and one that links with the physical aspects is the movements of the body in a thinking manner. The fencer who develops these mental skills will begin to see them appear more and more in daily life and not just in their fencing.

There are also some social aspects which are present as a result of fencing. Many long-term and indeed life-long friendships can be developed due to a mutual interest in fencing. These friends become such not only in the fencing environment, but also outside of it. There are also other social attributes which are developed. Due to the expected performance of the fencer in social situations notions of manners are also developed if the fencer takes the time to acknowledge their importance. This particular aspect increases their ability to deal with people in the wider community as well. Clearly some accolades recieved fencing will also carry over into the social aspect of people's lives, but these are not as regular as the other rewards which have been mentioned.

While the bulk of the rewards for fencing are hidden, they are present. The important thing is that for these things to develop in the fencer, they must put in the effort in order to develop them. The mental aspects will not develop unless the fencer is actually thinking about what they are doing when fencing. The physical aspects will not be developed without some effort put in and some pushes made. The social aspects will not develop unless the fencer takes on the ideals of fencing etiquette and is willing to express these in the correct situation. Without these more hidden prizes for the fencing, there is very little for the fencer to strive for, and it is often due to this that we see fencers drop off. Instant gratification is not what fencing is about in the long run. True gratification in fencing takes time and it takes effort on the part of the fencing. If this effort is put in then the rewards increase and never end.



Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pressure in Fencing


Pressure is something that we all have to deal with in our every day lives. This blog is primarily aimed at the idea of pressure in fencing and more to the point suggestions of how it can be dealt with. In fencing pressure can build up for many different reasons and some of these are self-influenced. The result of this pressure is what happens when it actually begins to affect people. The pressure will affect people in different ways and we need to be aware of this, but more importantly is how to deal with the pressure.

Pressure is exerted on people in fencing for different reasons and each one of these reasons has a particular impact on the individual. Any form of examination, whether it is verbal or physical, exerts pressure on the fencer as they are expected to perform. The success of this examination will allow them to progress further, the failure of which will restrict their progress. It is these thoughts which form a great part of the pressure. In the case of tournaments pressure is exerted because of the drive in the individual to win. Even if it is not to win the expectation of a certain level of performance is present.

Expectations form one of the most pervasive forms of pressure placed on the individual. This pressure can either be an internal thing or an external thing. The pressure exerted from others may be something which is explicit or implicit. A teacher or someone else may come up and tell the individual that they expect them to do well in this particular situation, as much as this is encouragement it is also a form of pressure. The implicit pressure is merely from an expectation that the student has learnt a great deal and should do well because of this. Expectations which come from the self are actually much more pervasive than those from the outside. These exert more pressure because there is an expectation which has become a part of our own thoughts and thus while the expectations of others can be ignored to a point, the internal ones are ever-present and in our thoughts. This is also how the external pressures can become internal.

There are three primary results due to pressure being exerted on the individual. Some people go to absolute pieces, some people focus harder on their task, and others do not seem to be affected at all. Obviously the people who go to pieces seem to be feeling the pressure of the situation the most out of the three, but this is not to say that presssure does not affect the other two, even subtly. The people who go to pieces, the pressure is exerted, hits a particular mark and then they go to pieces, all that they have learnt leaves their brain and sometimes they go catatonic. In this situation the pressure will move on toward panic, and the situation will get worse for them. The people who focus, tend to internalise the pressure and use it as a focus for the task which is at hand. They tend to end up so focussed that other that everything else is forgotten or just pushed to one side. The ones who do not seem to be affected actually are affected, but they have internalised it so far that it is just a normal thing for them and nothing to be thought about. The result of this is usually they end up blase about the situation, and this can lead to a lack of focus. Identifying which type of individual you are is the first step in dealing with it.

Pressure exerted on the fencer can result in some specific things and some general things. For some it would seem that they have a loss of ability. They can't seem to perform the techniques which they have learnt effectively. A further stage of this is what I refer to as the "brain-melt". In this situation they have a complete loss of ability and they have no response to the actions of their opponent. This is usually one of the most catasrophic result of the exertion of pressure on a fencer.

There are also physical effects that the fencer will notice in themselves. There is a large flow of adrenaline to the individual. This gives them more energy, but can result in being "twitchy" or the hands shaking. Another result of the boost of adrenaline is an increase in heart rate. Sometimes the increase in heart-rate will actually happen before the burst of adrenaline. This particular causality is the result of the human being's in-built fight or flight response. The increase blood-flow and adrenaline is so that the individual can either fight or fly. The amusing thing about this is that for a large portion of people the brain is programmed toward the flight response. This is not particularly helpful for the fencer. There are other effects that may be noticed, but these are the most common.

The first step toward dealing with pressure is understanding your natural response to it. There are important elements of this that must be taken into account. Many people will focus on the physical aspects of the increase in pressure, but will forget the psychological ones. It is important that both aspects of the situation must be taken into account. The attempt to deal with either of the sets of symptoms alone is futile. Once your own symptoms have been identified then it is possible to move on to dealing with these symptoms.

When pressure takes hold of the individual and the physical symptoms start manifesting, these are usually a result of the psychological ones being in full swing. The first approach is relaxation. Deep breathing to slow the heart-rate down and in order to conserve energy. This actually works very effectively as the blood gets flushed with oxygen allowing the heart to work more easily thus slowing it down and the rest of the body with it. The next part of the process is examining the thought process and removing all of those things which will not have an impact immediately. In this situation, it is especially negative thoughts that need to be removed. The focus on the individual needs to be on the current situation and not what may or may not happen. For the fencer, it is simply dealing with the problem presented by the other fencer. This allows the mind to be cleared and the focus placed on the present.

The other way to deal with pressure is to harness the energy supplied by the physical effects of the pressure applied. This approach works especially well for those who tend to focus rather than the other ones, but this is not to say that they cannot. The increased heart rate and adrenaline supply the body with more energy. This particular approach harnesses this energy and uses it for the current process. Energy is wasted in such things as shaking hands and other twitches, this energy needs to be directed to the purpose at hand. In order to do this the fencer needs to focus on what they are doing and to use the energy supplied on what they are doing. This may require holding some of it back while waiting. Having a constant flow of energy is much more useful than sharp spikes of energy. Of course, it also requires the fencer to allow themselves some leeway in order to open themselves up to more possibilities in their fencing. The important thing is that the energy needs to be focussed at what they are doing rather than being wasted. This can be a difficult approach especially for big tournaments where there are large breaks, but it is possible.

Pressure is present in fencing, the important thing is to know where and why the pressure is being felt. Once that is known then it is possible to go about dealing with the pressure being exerted. It is important that in any approach to dealing with pressure that both aspects, physical and psychological, must be taken into account in order to get the best answer to the situation. The approaches presented are designed to give some ideas about how pressure can be dealt with by the fencer. It is important in all cases that the energy supplied is used effectively in order that it is not wasted, or the energy of the fencer runs out before they have achieved their end. Look at pressure in fencing as one of the problems to deal with, and a challenge to surrmount. Just remember that like any one opponent, it can be beaten.



Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Building an Individual Training Program


The individual training program is different from the group training program as it is designed to fit an individual. This means that the specific requirements of the individual must be taken into account. In order for the student to get the greatest benefit from the program it is important that it suits them. This can be somewhat trying if sufficient information is not gained from the student to start with. The teacher should not be attempting to build the training program without communication with the student. In this way the program will fit the student better and go further to achieving their aims and also keeping them interested in it.

The individual training program must suit the individual and thus must be individual in nature. This will mean that the program will change dependent on the particular student. There are several different aspects that must be taken into account in order for the program to suit the student the best and these will be discussed in a little detail. In order for the program to be the best for the individual student all of the elements present in the training program must suit the student. This means that information is required from the student in order for this to happen.

The first element that must be taken into account is the student's background. Do they have previous experience in any relevant areas that may assist them? Are there any elements in their background that may hamper their development due to thought processes or physical elements present? Students with experience in martial arts of any kind will already have some background in movement and bio-mechanics. Also they will also have certain movement patterns and thought processes that will have an impact on what they are to learn. This is the same for students who have previous experience in fencing. How this will affect their program and ability will be dependent on the type of fencing they have done, and to some degree the school of thought. Other sports can also have an impact on the program depending on the sport. All of these background elements will have developed a level of conditioning which can be an asset or a detriment depending on their training.

The student's present ability and potential ability is important and must be taken into account. Their present level of ability is important and must be taken into account so that the skills that will be taught are appropriate to the student. This is to ensure that the program does not deal with skills which are too far out of their current ability. This is also dependent on their potential ability. A student who is currently at a lower level may be able to deal with skills at a higher level if the program allows them to build up to the higher level, but this must be present in the program to allow them to do this. If the program is to be built around a particular manual, such as a period manual especially, this must also suit their ability in order that they are able to perform the skills present. Finally in this particular element, personal issues must be taken into account. This includes such things as disabilities, fencing knowledge and also time constraints. All of these elements will affect how the program is built and what sort of program is used.

The final personal element that must be taken into account before developing the program is interest. What sort of level of interest in fencing does the student have? This will affect how rigidly they will stick to the program and also how much they will be willing to spend time doing it. In general, the student with a passing or social interest in fencing will not request a personal training program, and will also have more difficulty sticking to the program. The dedicated fencer will go out of their way to make time in order to train and do what is present in the training program. Their level of interest will also affect how far they want to go with the program. Interest areas are also important. It is less useful to attemtp to teach the French school of fencing to a person who is more interested in the Italian or German. Specific areas of interest are useful as they allow the student to focus on one particular area and this also allows a more focussed training program to be constructed.

Once all of the more personal details have been taken into account with regard to the student, it is then possible to examine the program itself. The purpose of the training needs to be considered next. This is the foundation principle upon which the training program is based. The basic requirement for this to be possible is communcation with the student to find out exactly what they want out of the training program. It is through this process that goals for the training program are set. This will affect what type of program is developed and the focus of the training program. If the student has a specific goal, this is useful as it means that the training program can be tailor-made to strive toward that particular goal. If the student has a more general goal, then the program will be more fluid and will involve skills of general development. It is important that the purpose of the training program is established for both the student and the teacher, in this way they both know the goal of the training program. Once this is established, it will then be possible to examine the type of training program that will be required in order for the goal to be achieved.

There are essentially three types of training program that will be developed for the individual student. The first is the initial training. This is designed to introduce the student to the skills of fencing for the first time. This type of program will introduce the basics of fencing and how the skills all work. In some cases this type of training may be included into the other training program types. The second type is the re-training type. This is designed for the student who has been away from fencing for an extended period of time and is designed to re-introduce them to the skills that they may or may not know. The re-training program may also be used for those who have been rushed through their initial program in order to go over basic skills to establish a foundation from which to progress further. The final type of training is the developmental type. This is designed for the advancement of the skills of the student. In this case the student has already learnt the basics and is looking at advancing their skills to a higher level. This form of training tends to be the most intense version of the program types as the skills are at such a high level and more is required of the student.

The individual training program must be developed between both the student and the teacher. If either attempts to do this by themselves the ultimate goal may be missed. The most important thing is that the training program must suit the student more than it is required to suit the teacher. This means that the goals of the student must come first. Pushing a student into a premade training program is generally futile as it may not have those things that the student is interested in learning or may not go toward the goals that they have set for themselves. While in general every form of training should be suited to the students which are present, the individual training porgram takes this idea to its upper limit as it is purely focussed on the individual. It must be a collaboration between the student and the teacher at all times. Both the student and the teacher have important roles to play in the development of the individual training program and this is very important. Of course, the first thing that needs to happen is that the student actually requests the training program in the first place. Teachers are not mind-readers.



Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Building Co-ordination in Fencing


Co-ordination is important in fencing as such this blog will be discussing the development of co-ordination in its relationship to fencing. This blog will be partially written from a personal point of view as I have had some co-ordination problems myself. It is hoped that this blog will assist those with some co-ordination issues and realise it is an obstacle that can be surmounted given time and patience. The discussion proper will discuss the question of co-ordination in fencing from two points of view, the mental and the physical. Both of these are important in order to get over this particular hurdle.

Co-ordination or lack thereof can be a real problem in fencing. A lack of co-ordination can lead to elements in fencing being substantially more difficult than they otherwise would be. In the realm of the positive is the fact that it is possible to defeat this particular problem given the time and the patience applied to it. The trick is actually taking the time to figure out what is actually happening. Surprisingly enough for some, all fencing students will feel the bite of a lack of co-ordination some time in their fencing career. For some it may not last long for others it will last for a longer period of time.

This can be as simple as something that just does not work for some inexplicable reason. It is something that can be fought against and that can be defeated. While I do not tend to get very personal in these blogs, for this particular subject I think it is important that I explain some things about myself and the reason why I believe that this problem can be beaten. I am actually naturally uncoordinated. I have a history of being exceptionally clumsy and accident prone, and believe me when I say that I have the hospital records and scars to prove it. In my earlier years as a child I was clumsy enough that it was important enough for my parents to send me along to physiotherapy to get some physical therapy to help the problem. This is something that has plagued my whole life and still does to a point. The important thing here is that with time and patience it is something that you can overcome in fencing, it may just take a little more effort than other people.

There are two different aspects that need to be taken into account when considering the nature of being uncoordinated. The first is the mental side of things and the the second is the physical side of things. Both of these aspects need to be acknowledged in order for the process of dealing with the problem can start. The correct physical processes will train the body how to move. The correct thought processes will train the brain how to think about what is going on and what to do about it. It is the two working in combination that allows a person to master the problem presented.

The mental process of dealing with this particular problem is of great importance. The process, the way that I see things, has four elements or parts which are all important to the process. The first is acknowledgement. You need to acknowledge that there is a problem with what is going on. For some this can be an issue as they don't want to acknowledge that they have a problem. Without this particular step it is impossible to move on to solving the problem. Of course at the other end of the scale is those who obsess about the particular problem and this is equally unhelpful. This moves on to the second part of the mental process.

The second part of the mental process is a positive outlook. You must be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel so to speak. It is not enough to believe that you can do it, you need to know that you can. This is the way that you fight frustration. You acknowledge each little victory. Take one step at a time and keep looking at where you are going. Without the positive mental outlook there is no point in starting the process as it is this that will enable you to keep going through the processes required. Of course, beating up on yourself won't help either.

The next part of the mental process is to start dealing with those negative thoughts that you may have about the process and your ability. You should only be thinking positive things about yourself in this process. Words like clumsy should not be used to describe yourself. These negative thoughts can poison the whole process of development of the skills required to beat the problem. It is actually quite difficult to stay positive about yourself the entire time. Yes, mistakes need to be acknowledged, but they also need to be turned around and used. Mistakes are just another way of not achieving the goal, and thus are a learning process. The reason why which is behind it is more important. This requires concentration, and this is something that is required.

Most of the time in life we do not particularly concentrate on what we are doing. This is because we already know what we are supposed to be doing and how the body is supposed to move. This is because these particular things have been learnt and practiced to the point that we don't have to think about them anymore. In order to defeat uncoordinated feelings, it is important that the focus needs to be on what you are trying to do. Each part of the action needs to be focused upon in order for it to all come together. Often when mistakes are made it is because the concentration has drifted somewhere else for a brief period of time. It is important for the learning process that the brain is trained to concentrate on what is happening. Distractions in this process can lead to problems with the action and also frustrations. In order to achieve the end desired we must be focused on the action being performed.

Once the elements of the mental process are dealt with, it is then possible to look at the physical. What is important is that the aspects of the mental process will reappear in the physical process. These two sets of concepts must work together in order for the end to be achieved. The physical aspects are about training the body in order that it can do what it is supposed to when it is supposed to. The important thing about this is that the actions have to be mentally set in the mind. You need to think about the action and focus upon it. Then the physical side of the action can be dealt with.

In the case of any action in fencing, or any action for that matter, you need to learn the action. In this particular process you need to be focusing on the movements that are being made. For some it will require listening to the description of what is required, and for others it will require watching the action closely. In this process it is important to pay attention to the small movements being made as well as the large ones. This focus will place the action into your mind before you attempt the action. The first time you attempt the action, do it slowly and have someone watch you doing it. Once you get the action correctly then it is time to practice and drill. At first it is best to practice the action alone so that you can train your muscles and tendons exactly what they are supposed to be doing. At the same time you should be going through the description of the action in your mind and making sure it matches up with what your body is doing. Practice the action slowly over and over until you are comfortable with it. Once you can do it comfortably alone you should be able to move on to doing the same action with a partner. Drill the action slowly with a partner to see how your action relates to theirs and how your movement relates to theirs. Once you are performing the correct response at slow speed you should begin to speed up. You should be remaining focused on the action that you are doing. Responses to this action and counters will come later. Remember it is all parts of the action that need to be thought about, the small actions and the large actions. Each element of the action needs to be learnt, practiced and drilled.

In the process of learning an action it is important to think about what you are doing and focus on this. All the elements of the action are important and you need to be able to feel how you are moving. In order to get these movements right you need to be focused on these actions rather than anything else. Find a partner who is willing to allow you to drill slowly so that you can feel the response of the opponent's blade as well. Be approaching the fencing action in this way you will be training both your mind and your body simultaneously. This will make it much easier to learn the action and get over any awkwardness in the action.

The unity of hands and feet in fencing is important they should be moved together and this may take some time for you to get your head around this concept, and get your body to do this. It takes some practice to get them to work together and if you only focus on one element the other will be left behind. In training a skill it is important that you get one movement completed first and then work on the other. In general while the hand should always move before the foot, training the feet first has its advantages. Work on the foot movement of the technique so that you are comfortable moving in this manner. Then once you are comfortable with this move on to the hand movement, first alone and then in combination with the foot movement. This division of an action into single movements is a great advantage when learning and this process can be applied to all actions in fencing.

All fencing actions can be divided into separate movements. This goes for the simplest as well as the most complex. For example, the thrust is actually the combination of the movement of the shoulder and the movement of the wrist. The shoulder moves the arm and the wrist moves the point to the appropriate target. In this way the movement can be practiced as two actions and then worked together to form a single motion. Movements in fencing should be stacked like bricks one building on the other, in this way you can focus on a single movement which will add to another and another until the technique is completed as a complete movement. This takes more time than attempting to do the whole technique as a single action, but it is better for the assimilation of the movement into a fencing routine. During this process it is important to accept the achievement of getting the technique right. This praise is useful as it motivates you to move on to more complex actions.

Being uncoordinated in fencing can be extremely frustrating as this may result in taking much more time in order to learn an action. The important thing is that with work it is not an insurmountable obstacle. It is important that you get your mind in the right place first and also your body. Work on the actions from a mental as well as a physical point of view. Work on the actions in simple terms, dividing a technique into individual actions and this will assist your process to learning them greatly. Take the time needed to learn the action before moving on to other things. There are people who can help you with this and who will be willing to take the time required, all you need to do is be able to find them, and also be strong enough in yourself to be able to ask for help in the learning of the actions.



Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Time and Distance


This blog is about time and distance as will be noted by the title. This will be a discussion about these concepts and will examine the various elements involved in each of them. First the importance of these concepts to fencing will be discussed. Along with an important realisation about them that must be highlighted in order to understand them properly. Following this will be a discussion of each one of the concepts in some detail in order that each one of the parts of time and distance can be understood.

Time and Distance are key concepts in fencing and indeed all martial arts. Any form of martial arts which involves the engagement of two combatants with one another will involve elements of time and distance. They are so important that they should be included in some way in every lesson that is taught in fencing. They are also important to the development of the fencer as with out them their understanding of what they are doing will be severely limited. Only with a complete understanding of these concepts and how they apply to fencing will the fencer be able to excel. One of the most important realisations of these concepts is that they are relative and not concrete. This means that they cannot be measured in increments of seconds for time or metres or feet and inches for distance.

Time is also known as tempo, in many ways these two terms are interchangeable, so when one is spoken about so is the other. Tempo is about the relative movements of the individual and the opponent. This is important as often time is discussed only with the movement of the individual. It is important that the moevements of the opponent must also be taken into account in order to understand this principle completely. It was stated by Di Grassi that every movement is accomplished in time. What he is stating is that each movement takes time. This is a basic understanding of the concept, but it in some way fails to bring to light that it is not only movement that must be taken into account but stillness as well.

A motion of stillness, or the lack of movement is also a tempo. Thus when counting the tempos it is important that an action must be completed and there is a stillness there. For example, the parry and riposte is counted as such, there is one tempo for the start of the movement, a stillness. There is a tempo involved in the action of the parry, a movement. There is a tempo in the completion of the parry a stillness. There is a tempo involved in the movement of the riposte, and finally a tempo in the completion of the parry, a stillness. In this there will be counted five tempos used.

Time is a concept, timing is the action performed in relation to an opponent. In this it must be noted that while time describes all actions in fencing, timing discusses the actions of fencing in relation to an opponent's actions. It is important that both of these are understood. Time is the overall concept but, timing is also important as it describes the movements in action against an opponent who is also moving. With regard to this time must be understood as a concept, while timing must be felt while fencing against an opponent.

There are some important elements that must be understood with regard to time in order for it to be completely understood. In general for the starting student most of their actions as described by the teacher will be completed in dui tempo, or double time. This means that they will be encouraged to make a solid defence before attempting to make any sort of counter against their opponent. This ensures that the combatant is safe from their opponent's attack before any counter is made.

Stesso tempo, often called single time, literally means self time. This is an action which combines the action of defence and counter-attack in a single motion, hence being referred to as single time. This motion is often developed from the smooth motion of a fencer who knows dui tempo well and is able to combine the two actions into a single one. What is important with regard to this concept is that there is a defence made, but it is done in combination with the counter-offensive action.

Contra-tempo, means against time. This means that an attack is launched when the fencer should be parrying the opponent's attack. What is important in this particular concept is that the attack is not launched without any concept of defence, the defence is usually ensured by displacement of the body or the blade engagement witht the opponent. Without this defence in place it would be highly likely that both fencers will be struck.

Mezzo tempo, or half time, is one of the more difficult concepts to understand. What it means is that an action is performed in the middle of the opponent's action in order to counter it. This is often confused with contra-tempo. The most common action performed in mezzo tempo is an attack to the opponent's hand or arm as it is moved forward in the attack, a stop hit to this part of the body. This effectively counters the opponent's attack before it is completed. This is the primary goal of the mezzo tempo action, to counter the action of the opponent before it is completed.

The slowest form of time is dui tempo as more tempos are spent in its action, but it is also the safest from the straight attack. Stesso tempo is highly effective when used and very fast as it uses very few tempos in its execution. The same could be said of contra-tempo as a similar action is often being performed when compared to stesso tempo. Of the times mezzo tempo is actually the fastest as it counters the opponent's action before it is allowed to be completed, this in half time. What needs to be taken into account with regard to these concepts is how they affect fencing and how each of them use time to their advantage, and what each advantage gains the opponent. This is one of the keys to developing timing.

With regard to time there is also the concept of the time of the hand and the time of the foot, these being the two most dominant. The time of the hand is any movement involving the use of the hand or the arm. The time of the foot is any movement of the feet. For the fencer it is important to realise that the time of the hand is faster than the time of the hand, and this needs to be taken into account. The hand should always be moved before the foot, this sounds contradictory to the speeds which have been described, but it is important that the defence, or offence of the weapon is in place before the foot moves the body. This is most important in the lunge. If the foot is moved forward first the body is presented as a target. If the hand is moved forward first then a threat is aimed at the opponent which they must deal with before being able to attack. The same things apply in defence. A parry should be made before a retreat is made in order to control the opponent's weapon for the same reason that the hand is moved first in the lunge.

Distance, also known as measure or misura. These terms are interchangeable and as with time it is a relative measurement which is dependent on the movements of both the individual and the opponent. Both of the combatants can and often do affect the measure. Every movement of the fencers either increases or decreases the measure. It must be realised that if only one moves then the measure is changed, if both move the measure may or may not be changed. It is the movement of the body through the use of footwork that increases or decreases measure. The choice of whether to move to increase or decrease the measure is dependent on the particular situation and the preference of the combatants.

With regard to measure there are two main distances which are discussed, stretta and larga, narrow and wide distance. Misura stretta, narrow distance, is where the combatants can reach one another by a simple extension of the arm, with or without the assistance of the body. Misura larga, wide distance, is where the combatants can only reach one another through the movement of the feet and the extension of the arm, with or without the assistance of body movement. These are two important concepts as they are integrally involved in the motions of fencing. Most simple attacks will be made at the misura stretta where a simple thrust is sufficient to strike the opponent, whereas more complex actions are required for use of an attack at misura larga. A fencer's on guard position should be adopted at the misura larga because the opponent requires foot movement in order to attack and this is more easily visible than a simple hand movement. This is related to the time of the hand and foot which were discussed previously. Essentially, misura larga is at the time of the foot whereas misura stretta is all at the time of the hand.

Two distances which are often not discussed as much as narrow and wide distance are close distance and out of distance. Close distance is a measure inside that of misura stretta, while out of distance is a distance outside that of misura larga. Close distance is often the result of two combatants closing with one another while at misura stretta, while out of distance is usually the result of one of the combatants retreating while at misura larga. Close distance as described is referred to by Capo Ferro as extra narrow distance or misura strettissima and is most often used for the execution of the mezzo tempo attack as described above, but it can also be used to refer to the situation as described above. Out of distance or fuori misura, is where the fencers cannot reach one another even with the use of a foot movement.

Some fencers may have a preference for a particular distance. This is often based on where they feel that they can gain the greatest advantage out of the situation. What is most important is that this consideration should be made dependent on the opponent rather than any personal preference. It would be foolish to close with an opponent who prefers to fight close, and it would be foolish to stay at range with an opponent who prefers that distance. With regard to this any preference for distance can actually limit the fencer, in all cases the fencer should be adept at being able to use distance to their advantage and use the distance which is most appropriate to the situation.

Just as time is affected by distance, so too is distance affected by time. At the misura stretta all actions are at the time of the hand, this makes for very fast movements and often single tempos being used. At misura larga actions are at the time of the foot, and thus two tempos are required for the effective use of an action, one of the foot and one of the hand in order to reach the opponent. At misura strettissima, half tempo actions are used this can make for a very messy situation if the combatants are struggling with one another. In general, when combatants are at fuori misura actions are much to slow to be performed against the opponent due to the time taken to close the distance. These examples describe the important relationship between the two concepts, and it must be realised that the should not be talked about separately as they are so intertwined.

Time and distance are two concepts without which a true understanding of fencing is not possible. They should be integrated into every lesson that is taught by the teacher so that the students get used to using the terms and how they affect fencing. It is important that the concepts which have been presented are understood not only alone but also in association with one another. Time and distance are very much intertwined and to discuss one means discussing the other. More than understanding the concepts the fencer must also be able to apply these and understand where they are present while actually fencing. This develops a feeling for the concepts while they are in motion and with this feeling the fencer will have a great advantage over an opponent who does not understand them and cannot feel them in motion.



Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Building Self-Confidence


Going by the title of this particular blog one could assume that this is going to be some sort of "make people happy" discussion. Actually, that is not the point of view that will be the focus of this one. In this particular case the subject of self-confidence will be addressed from two points of view. Firstly it will be examined from the student's point of view and then from the teacher's point of view. The purpose of this blog is to address the idea of how both the teacher and the student can build self-confidence in the student. This is an important process that both the student and the teacher need to be aware of in order for the student to excell.

From the student's point of view, there are three main points that will be raised. Firstly that training is a learning process and mistakes will be made. Secondly, the importance of practice and how it builds skill and thus confidence, and finally being comfortable in what you are doing. Each one of these particular points is important and needs to be addressed in order for the student to build confidence in themselves.

Fencing and training is a learning process, in this there will be mistakes made by the student in what they are doing. What is important about this is that the student needs to learn from these mistakes, in this way the mistake made is not a failure but a chance for the student to learn and improve what they are doing. The learning process takes time. This is important as the student must realise that it will take time for them to learn skill-sets and be able to use them effectively in fencing. Fencing is a long road if it is approached from the correct point of view and they will never stop learning. When something is done well it should be celebrated. The student should take pride in all of their achievements, no matter how small they might be, but this must be in proportion to the level of the achievement, and also through this not become over-confident. This achievement should spur them on to want to do more.

It is practice that builds skill, and skill that builds confidence. Needless to say, practice is required for all of the skills in fencing so that they can be called upon and used at anytime that the student requires them. In this practice the student needs to be practicing the correct action in order that the correct action is learnt. In this the teacher should be correcting them in order tha this is possible, and to a point the student should also be correcting themselves. The action performed must be completed. Where the drill involves a parry and riposte, both actions need to be completed in order for the student to learn the correct thing. Where the parry is missed, the student should correct the parry, and then make the appropriate riposte. This is the same for all actions. It is this sort of repetition that builds muscle memory and allows a student to perform an action without thinking about it. Much in these blogs has already been said about practice, but it is something which is vital for the student to keep progressing.

Being comfortable in what a person is doing is about several things. Firstly it is necessary for them to understand what they are doing and what it is suppose to achieve. Next it is important to understand the effect of the action and the parts that are involved in the action. This understanding will enable the student to have a better grasp of what they are doing and thus be more comfortable with it. Once the mind is prepared it is important for the body to be able to feel what is happening. Performing an action slowly will allow the student to feel the activation of muscles and other parts of their body. This will enable them to perform the action properly at faster speeds once they can feel what their body is doing during the performance of the action. Each student will find things that feel more comfortable for them. In some cases there may be some modification in the action required for the action to work for them, and this is fine. It is important for the student to discover what works for them and thus enable them to develop a level of comfort for themselves in their actions. Of course, the development of this level of comfort in an action will take time, especially for a new action. It is important that the teacher allows the student to take the time that they need in order for them to become comfortable with an action. An action which is comfortable for the student will more readily be used by them.

From the teacher's point of view, there are also three main points that will be raised. The teacher's purpose in training is an important factor in building self-confidence in the student. Next is encouragement and how it can be effective in building self-confidence through building the student. Lastly is the idea of relaxation on the part of the student in order that they can more freely learn what needs to be learnt. Rather than specific points of reference for the teacher, it will be a general discussion focussed on the particular sub-topics presented.

The purpose of the teacher needs to be something that the teacher is aware of. In teaching their purpose is to develop skill in the student, rather than simply demonstrating how good they are to the student. It is important that this focus is maintained by the teacher in order that they do not get side-tracked into simply contradicting the actions of the student. Along with this, the teacher must get hit. The hit should be the result of a correct technique performed by the student and not simply the teacher just standing there. This may be required for the most timid of the students, but in general the hit should result from a correctly performed technique. In this particular aspect, once the teacher has taught a student a particular technique, and they are getting them to perform the action, they should neve counter the correct technique as this builds negative reinforcement associated with the technique. If there is a counter, this should be taught as a separate section. The student should be allowed to complete the action as described. The teacher must allow the student to complete the action and to perform it as it was taught, if there are problems, the teacher should correct them once the action is complete. Being that it is the training of the student which is the focus, the teacher must also know the difference between training and bouting. Training is designed to reinforce a particular action, in this the person who is supposed to get hit, should. This is the same for drills as well, the action needs to be completed. This is where the focus of the teacher must be toward teaching the student.

Encouragement is important and necessary. The student should be praised for a skill well performed. This encourages the student to complete action and gives them a boost in order to move on to the next action. It is important that the encouragement is not over-used, but measured in proportion to the achievement of the student. This will also reinforce the validity of the action taught and performed. Encouragement is especially necessary where a student is having problems. This may be problems with a particular technique, or overall. In both cases, the teacher needs to find little victories to encourage the student to continue along their path, without this encouragement the student may give up. When an action is performed as per a drill, the action must be allowed to be completed, unimpeded by the teacher. Encouragement should be given for the performance of the action completed. Encouragement goes a large way toward building confidence in the student, and especially confidence in their skills.

For some students, relaxation in the performance of skills is difficult, but it is also important in order that they are able to perform the action without hesitation and more fluidly. It is important that the student is focussed on what they are doing, but not so much that they become tense. This tension needs to be relieved in some manner or other. This can be achieved through light-hearted anecdotes, but the student should not be criticised in these. Tension will be built by the student over-thinking an action. This often comes from looking outside the technique being taught. It is important that the students focus on the particular technique being taught, rather than worrying about what comes next or what might happen. Over-thinking an action will increase tension which will make the action more difficult to perform. If the muscles are relaxed, and thus lack tension, the action will be much easier to perform. This is the primary reason that relaxation is important, it allows for better performance of actions. Of course true relaxation comes from confidence, and this must be built. This confidence needs to be built one technique at a time, and then stacked in order to complete the picture.

Self-confidence is important for both the student and the teacher, without it neither could perform. It is also important that both are able to improve the level of self-confidence by both their actions and also their attitude toward training and the training process. The student needs to consider how what they are doing can build their own confidence in what they are doing, but the teacher also has a role to play in this. Victories need to be celebrated, especially where the road toward it has been difficult for the student and the teacher. Of course, such victories need to be celebrated in proportion to their merit otherwise over-confidence will build and this will be to the detriment of the student and the teacher. In all as fencers all need to consider how they affect and are affected by the actions of ourselves and others in the building of self-confidence. The students in a class all have a role to play for themselves and one another. The building of self-confidence in the student needst to be a partnership between the student and the teacher.



Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Bio-mechanics and the Effect of Body Shape


Bio-mechanics is something that as fencers is often ignored. What is important is that there are many elements of bio-mechanics which can be very useful to the fencer if they are understood. Being that fencing is the actions performed by the body and this is affected by bio-mechanics. This blog will be addressing some of the elements of bio-mechanics from a very basic point of view which affect the fencer. It is more designed to encourage the fencer to consider bio-mechanics and their effect.

Bio-mechanics is something which most fencers will not take into account in their fencing, but it is something that really cannot be ignored. This particular element effects all of the actions on fencing and needs to be considered, even if it is only to examine in from a personal point of view about how the individual moves. For the teacher, bio-mechanics becomes more important especially in dealing with students of different body shapes. It is important to realise that a brief study in the elements of bio-mechanics can greatly assist in fencing, and also the teaching of fencing. The awareness of bio-mechanics and how it can affect your fencing will greatly enhance the fencer's ability to perform.

There are some supposed advantages and disadvantages in body shape when fencing is considered. The tall fencer with the long arms, in general, is supposed to have an advantage over the shorter individual with shorter arms. This is due to the range that the tall individual has and their ability to move because of their long limbs. Even with this taken into account it does not mean that the shorter individual has no hope of excelling in fencing, actually quite the opposite. While the longer limbed individual has an advantage at range this can be taken away, thus both the advantages and the disadvantages must be taken into account when considering body shape and its effect on bio-mechanics. Each fencer needs to be able to use their body shape to their advantage, and needs to consider how bio-mechanics can enhance their advantages while compensating for some of the disadvantages.

It has already been stated that bio-mechanics will have an effect on all the movement elements of fencing, but it also needs to be realise that it will have an effect even on the individual's on guard position. In the on guard position, especially for Renaissance fencers, there are choices to be made with regard to the on guard position. Even when considering the basic on guard position with the weapon held in the natural on guard position of third or terza, there are elements which can come into effect which will affect the way the fencer moves. The first choice is with regard to the feet, sword foot forward or off-hand foot forward. This will affect the body position in the on guard position and change the options available, and affect those options which are available. The refused stance promotes the off-hand for use in defence. The forward stance promotes the sword. The refused stance withdraws the body, the forward pushes it more forward along with the weapon. Next is the consideration of whether the weapon is extended or more withdrawn, this will affect the way the weapon will be used and also the timing of the actions. All of these elements, even in the on guard stance, are affected by bio-mechanics.

Bio-mechanics also has an effect on the actions of fencing. This is because all of the actions are the result of the movement of the body and therefore are reliant on bio-mechanics for their effect. If a person understands how bio-mechanics affects their actions they can learn how to do them better, and one of the keys to this is flowing through the action. The action performed needs to be moved through and completed in a fluid motion. Some fencers will attempt to use their strength in the performance of the action, it is important that where the action is performed fluidly and accurately there is very little strength required for the action to be effective. This is a perfect example of how bio-mechanics affects the performance of an action, and how it is the body movement of the fencer that really needs to be considered in the action. This needs to relate to the fencer and how they move naturally.

The choice of which action to perform against the action of the opponent will come down to personal preference in all cases, but if the bio-mechanics of the individual are understood this choice can be more informed and thus more suited to the situation and the individual. The choice of how to approach a particular situation should be dependent on what the individual knows works best for them. This is mostly based on bio-mechanics and what actions they will prefer to perform against an opponent. In the performance of an action the fencer should consider what will give them the greatest advantage over the opponent. In all cases a mechanical advantage should be gained, this is also based on bio-mechanics. It does not rely on strength, in fact the use of a lack of strength against a strong opponent can be very effective. This particular effect can also be seen in the choice of measure. The shorter individual will need to get closer to the opponent in order to strike, thus there must be a consideration of how they can get there safely. The taller person will want to keep the opponent at range. These two choices are purely based on bio-mechanics.

Some of the effects of bio-mechanics on fencing have been discussed. What is important is that the actions can be modified to suit the individual. Each teacher will teach actions in a particular way, these are the base elements that need to be considered in the actions. Where the bio-mechanics of the individual have an effect on the action is where a consideration needs to be made as to how the action can be changed to suit the individual. It is important to utilise the advantages that you have and minimise the disadvantages. If something does not work for the fencer they need to consider why and how their own personal bio-mechanics will affect the action being performed. The action should then be modified to suit the individual in order that they can be more effective in their movements. One of the most important things here is that the fencer needs to fight the game that suits them and not let their opponent dominate what is happening. The fencer needs to move and to perform those actions which will give them and advantage over their opponent. This will take practice.

Bio-mechanics affects all the actions of the fencer and this needs to be considered, even if on the most basic level. A person who can utilise these particular principles will have an advantage over the opponent who has not considered them. Fencers need to examine their own movements and consider how they move and why the perform the actions of fencing in the way that they do. Once this is done elements can be considered as to how they can change this to suit their own body and thus move more effectively. Teachers need to take bio-mechanics into account in their teaching in order that they can teach their students to be more effective in their movements and also teach each student to take the advantages that they have and increase them. While it is often not considered on any conscious level, bio-mechanics is important to the fencer and needs to be considered.



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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Fencing Movies - Problems with Getting it Right


Movies with fencing in them are there for the entertainment of the people who view them. All fencers enjoy a good fencing movie. All remember the fencing scene at the top of the cliff in "The Princess Bride". The problem is that quite frequently experienced fencers will look at these movies and see holes in the technique and the actions of the combatants. This blog is a brief investigation into the problems with getting such things right, and also continuing to make them saleable for the general public, as unfortunately the educated fencing community seems to be rather small for budgeting an entire movie around. Various aspects will be addressed and considered.

The first problem that is encountered in the making of a fencing movie is the approach. It is a question of choreography versus combat. The purpose of the combat in a movie is to enhance the scene and develop dramatic elements between the combatants involved in the action. The purpose of an encounter between two fencers is a test of skill which is the focus of the encounter, considerations of their relationship to one another is usually not considered. Thus the big difference here is that one set of action is an attempt to tell a story while the other is a martial engagement between two individuals for the purpose of the encounter, rather than for developing a storyline. This particular situation leads to other elements of great importance to this particular topic.

Fencers are trained to strike their opponents with their weapons. Admittedly there is a level of control behind this striking, but the intention is to strike the opponent before he strikes you. For the actor involved in a dramatic situation, the last thing they want to do is to actually strike their opponent. Stringent safety precautions are laid into the training in order that the actors do not strike one another. Anytime that one actor happens to hit the other is usually the result of a lapse in judgement or a break from a set routine. This is a fundamental difference that must be taken into account. Intent is important and the intent of an action more so.

Fencers use tactical considerations for the actions that they will use against their opponent. They will use the most efficient method of striking their opponent while at the same time ensuring that they are not struck. This differs greatly from the actor. The actor has a set of choreographed actions which were developed by the fight director of the movie for the actor to perform in order to portray the action required by the director. There are no real tactical considerations here in the hands of the actor at all. The actions are controlled not by the person holding the weapon but by someone else, thus the actor is not free to change an action in order to be more efficient or in order to avoid an action which will result in defeat. Their fate, or the fate of their character has already been determined by the director and writer. This is obviously not the case for the fencer, who is in control of their own actions and responses to their opponent's actions.

Both actors and fencers are involved in training in order that they are prepared for the encounter with their opponent, but the training is different for the two and also the length is also different. While a fencer will spend months and years perfecting their technique in order to improve themselves, the actor has a much shorter period of time. On average the actor has about six weeks in order to learn all that they need to in order to perform the actions that are set by the fight director and the director of the movie. This truncates the training of the individual quite markedly. This is not to say that there are not actors who are also fencers, this is simply not the case as Basil Rathbone clearly proves. The thing is that the actions learn by the actor are set moves which are performed for the movie. While there is a basic introduction to what the actor is supposed to be doing the main focus is on those actions as determined by the director and the fight director. It is only this set of moves which is the focus for the actor. If the fencer limits themselves to a predetermined set of actions this would limit them a great deal and would not make a very effective fencer.

The image presented in movies is quite different from the actual nature of fencing. The image depicted by the movie is dependent on many factors and what sort of story the director wants to portray in the movie. This is of great importance. "By the Sword" depicts some elements of sport fencing in it. Some of the training is addressed, but the main focus in this is to depict the actions of the fencers as having speed and elegance once trained properly. This is reflected by their actions before and after training has been done. Still, though the actions are limited by what was required for the movie. Swashbuckling movie such as "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "The Three Musketeers" want to portray something different and thus the actions are different. The most important thing in this respect is that movies tend to focus on the flash and the bash. The sound of steel on steel and the large flowing actions of the characters in the movie. The use of the weapon is dependent on the character being depicted. Certain actions will be used by some characters and not by others, this enables some character development through physical actions. This is all quite different from actual fencing where economy of action is the focus and being the most effective against the opponents being the prime objective.

One of the problems that seems to come up again and again is a lack of research by the individuals involved in making the movies. This is evident in several places. Assumptions have been made about weapons and armour and this affects how the action is depicted. A great deal of this is attributable to 19th century fencing historians, but still there are some issues that can be brought to light where there are problems.

The first assumption which is often made is about armour. It is often assumed to be heavy and thus extremely limiting on the actions of the combatants. Anyone who has used armour which is fitted the right way will know that movement, while limited somewhat is not limited to the degree often depicted in movies. Research into the correct construction and wearing of armour is important in order that it can be depicted properly. Armour which is constructed properly and for the wearer is much less restrictive than several movies would like us to believe. A perfect example of this can be seen in "A Knight's Tale" where one of the knights is hoisted on to his horse. While this did happen much later in the Renaissance period where tilting armour was very heavy, it simply was not true for most of it.

The next area which needs to be investigated and researched by those making the movies is about the weapons themselves. Some would have us believe that weapons of the medieval period were heavy and unwieldy. Proper research into their construction and make will reveal that this simply was not the case. The sword of the medieval period was a precision weapon, and not one used for simple bludgeoning of the opponent. This is also reflected in the many Renaissance period texts on the use of such weapons. Simple bashing at the opponent was not the objective, there was a great amount of technique present as can be seen in the texts presented by such individuals as Liechtenauer, Talhoffer and other masters of the art of the sword. Some movies would also have us believe that the thin elegant rapier was as effective at cutting as some of its medieval counter-parts. This is simply not the case. While there were some rapiers which were somewhat effective at cutting, its prime use was the use of the point of the weapon. The weapon was simply too thin, in most cases, to perform the slashing and cleaving cuts which are so often presented in movies.

Added to all of these misconceptions about weapons and armour, the background of the fight director needs to be taken into account in the examination of the weapons and their use. A fight director whose main area of expertise is sport fencing will depict the use of weapons primarily based on this particular mode of fighting. This is appropriate to some weapons, especially those of the 18th century and later, but ones previous cannot have the same said of them. It is important that the fight director actually investigates the weapons being used in the movie in order that they can be depicted properly. This is where Renaissance martial artists and other researchers will be of great help to them. Needless to say, only the correct research will enable the weapon and the armour to be depicted properly.

While a great deal has been said about the problems associated with weapon-based combat as depicted in movies, it must also be said that there have been some great improvements over the years in the depiction of various period weapons in movies and their associated combats. One example of this is the difference between the 1993 version of "The Three Musketeers" and the later 1998 "Man in the Iron Mask". The formers' fencing is primarily based on sport fencing as can be seen by much of the action, whereas the later has a great deal more fighting which is more depicted like the weapons of the period. As research into period weapons improves and becomes evident to fight directors and directors, the depiction of fencing in movies will improve, so long as this research is taken into account. There have been several movies released relatively recently in which the historical nature of the movie has been more and more evident, along with the use of the weapons in these movies. "Kingdom of Heaven" is a prime example of this particular trend toward an increase in research in the period associated with the particular movie being depicted and the use of weapons and armour in the movie.

Movies with fencing in them are very entertaining to watch for the fencing community and also the general public. There are many of them out there, some of them are good, some of them are not so good. It is important that for the fencer that these movies are looked at both from the perspective of the educated fencer, but also from how the general public will see it. Questions about what this movie is attempting to depict as well as what sort of angle the director has taken in depicting the movie are important. If fencing is depicted totally accurately, much of the general public will not understand what is going on in the movie and thus will lose interest in it. The fight director's art must be respected as the depiction of any form of sword combat on the stage or screen is not a simple thing to achieve, but also considerations should be made on their part in order that this depiction will improve and thus represent fencing as it should be. Enjoy movies for what they are, they can teach us much.



Thursday, October 1, 2009

Brutal Fencing - A Discussion of Aggression


Aggression is an element which must be taken into account in all forms of fencing. It is also something that can lead to brutal play where there is the high chance that a fencer may injure their opponent. Obviously this is something that we need to avoid for many reasons. This blog will be a discussion of aggression and how it can be related to this important subject.

“One problem in fencing is brutal play that leads to injury. This is neither good for the individuals injured, nor good for fencing when fencing’s image becomes that of a dangerous activity.” (Evangelista, 2000:71)

In the question of aggression there is the question of the use of aggression and also overt aggression. The nature of attacking an opponent implies a level of aggression that is required, if the fencer is totally passive they will not attack their opponent at all and as such from this point of view there is a level of aggression that is required. The problem here is that sometimes a fencer may get taken away by their aggressive state and this can lead to problems. It is this being taken away by the aggression that can lead to overt aggression that needs to be avoided, and this is the case for both on and off the fencing arena.

Overt aggression is a situation where the fencer cannot control their aggressive tendencies and this can lead to bad habits forming and also other problems. This form of aggression can lead to brutal play which is something that all fencers should avoid. In this idea of brutal play there are some areas which are undefined. There are some inherently brutal styles of combat, but even these need to be tempered with a level of control in order that the opponent is not injured in the execution of such a style.

"Aggressive: adj. having or showing determination and energetic pursuit of your ends" (

The purpose of facing an opponent in fencing is to match their skills against them. In this the fencer will be striving for victory over their opponent. In the current day and age it is not the purpose to utterly defeat our opponent and totally put them out. This particular aspect ceased as soon as the sword was not used in combat. It is an important consideration that needs to be in the back of the fencer's mind whenever they take to the field. The way that an opponent is defeated will project an image of the fencer to others who are watching, and also the opponent. This image is important as it will be attached to the fencer's reputation as a fencer regardless of the form of fencing that the fencer is doing. In this the method used to gain victory must be considered, and must be considered to be important to the fencer.

A clean victory against the opponent where it is reliant on pure technique should be the goal of the fencer regardless of the form of fencing and regardless of the opponent. This form of victory will lead to a greater level of respect and renown for the fencer. If the fencer relies upon being purely aggressive in their fencing this will be noted by other fencers can result in notoriety rather than respect for the fencer. This form of fencing is less clean, and if the fencer is focussed on the win and nothing more it is what can result out of the encounter. The overt use of aggression in an encounter will be noted by the opponent and the other fencers who are watching the encounter. This also relates to the use of force as related to the use of technique.

The fencer has a choice of using force or technique in an attack and depending on what they choose will decide the result. An attack which uses force to force its way through the opponent's defence is using the muscles of the fencer in order to overcome the defence of the opponent. An attack which uses technique in order to defeat the opponent's attack uses the founding principles upon which fencing is based in order to strike the opponent. In the former, the muscles are tensed and are used to a great degree. This form of attack uses a great deal of energy and due to the overt use of muscle and force will tend to be less accurate than the attack which uses technique. It is also the case that often this form of attack will also be delivered against the target with more force and thus a higher likelihood of resulting in injury. In an attack which is delivered using technique, the muscles and the fencer are much more relaxed. The fencer relies on their control of the weapon and the principles of fencing in order to deliver the attack. This attack is more likely to be more accurate, and will also be delivered against the opponent with less force and thus less chance of injury to the opponent. The attack with technique relies upon the discipline and control of the fencer.

Discipline and control are related very much so. In order to have control this takes a great deal of discipline as this control is developed through practice and application of technique. From another point of view control is also necessary for discipline as the fencer needs to be able to control their actions enough in order to be able to develop discipline in their actions. These two aspects are directly related to the idea of aggression and the results of it. Where the fencer is able to control their aggression, they can apply the aggressive tendencies to the performance of a controlled action, which is more likely to succeed. This means that even though they are being aggressive, it is controlled in the application of the technique, still, however the fencer needs to be careful that the result of the technique will not injure their opponent. Where control is lost and aggression rules, there will be little consideration of technique and the fencer will use anything at their disposal in order to strike their opponent. It is important that discipline and control are applied to the aggressive tendencies in order that control is maintained over the weapon.

What is control? What is the control applied to? How can aggression be controlled? Control is the application of self-discipline to a situation. In fencing this means that control is applied to how the body is moved and how the weapon is moved as a result. This control is also over the individual's mental state during fencing. The loss of temper or loss of control over the aggressive nature, is a failure of self-discipline on the part of the fencer. Thus it is both physical and mental aspects in the fencer which need to be controlled through the use of self-discipline. The idea of controlled aggression would seem to some to be an alien concept. The common feeling is that aggression is not controlled at all and the use of such can only be a detriment to the fencer. This is actually not the case. Through the application of self-discipline aggression can be controlled and thus applied with a measure of safety. It is only when the aggressive tendencies take over that the fencer becomes dangerous to themself and their opponent. A controlled aggression will mean that the fencer knows how far to go and when to stop before causing a problem. Aggression can be seen to be a bad thing in fencing, but it is really only when the fencer loses control of such aggression that problems will start.

One of the most important things about fencing in the modern world is that in general fencing is done with friends. The antagonistic scenario for which fencing was originally designed has fallen by the wayside for the greater part in favour of a sporting or recreational pursuit. What this means is that there is really no reason why a person should be injured deliberately during fencing. More to the point, such behaviour is seen in a negative light. A certain level of injury is liable to happen due to the contact nature of the recreation, but this should be minimised as much as possible. Part of this can be achieved through protective equipment, but a larger part comes from the control of the actions of the participants. Injuries which result from brutal or overtly aggressive play reflect badly upon the fencer, but they also reflect badly on the activity itself and this is a vital consideration for all fencers, regardless of their type of fencing. Injuries make fencing seem as though it is a dangerous activity and this does not encourage others to join and does nothing for the image of fencing at all. Remember for the most part that fencing takes place with our friends and injuring these people is a bad thing that should be avoided. Injuring friends is a good way to lose them and also have others lose respect for the fencer.

It is the duty of the fencer to ensure that they are taking as safe an approach to fencing as possible in order that the recreation is able to be maintained and for it to be available for future generations. Aggression is a part of fencing, this is something that cannot be avoided. The act of attempting to strike an opponent with a weapon is aggressive in its nature, but this aggression can be controlled. Due consideration needs to be made by the fencer of their performance of the art, and also especially with regard to the level of control they have over their own aggression. Brutal play should be discouraged strongly in all aspects of fencing, regarless of the type of fencing being performed. Where the aggression takes over the fencer injuries can happen quite easily. Self-discipline and control are of vital importance to the safe and better performance of fencing.



Evangelista, N. (2000) The Inner Game of Fencing: Excellence in Form, Technique, Strategy, and Spirit, Masters Press, Illinois, USA