Sunday, December 5, 2010

Murphy's Laws of Fencing - Henry Version


There have been many different versions of "Murphy's Laws". Each one of these is focussed on the particular topic to which it is directed. These are a way to gain some amusement from these topics while at the same time learning something about the topic. Many of the lists have some hidden truths in them as well.

There should be no surprise that for the most part each particular area will have its own and fencing is no different. There are many variants of Murphy's Laws of fencing. This is a list which I have assembled based on other lists and also on my experiences in fencing. This will have the laws as well as a little bit of an explanation about where this particular law comes from. In this way, it is hoped that these will be a source of amusement and education simultaneously.

1. If the opponent is within distance, so are you.
2. If you have a tempo, so does the opponent.
Laws one and two are about timing and distance, these are the two key concepts in fencing of all kinds. The important thing here is that they are fluid and what you have the opponent can take, or will also have at the same time. Remember to use these to your advantage.

3. The opponent will attack either when you are ready or when you are not.
4. If you are not attacking, expect your oppoenent to be.
If you are on guard in front of your opponent, expect that they will attack at their convenience, and not yours. This means you need to be prepared at all times. If you do not have the opponent on the defensive then he will take the opportunity to attack you.

5. Incoming attacks always have the right of way.
Make defence a priority against incoming attacks, the opportunity for riposte or counter should be secondary to not being struck

6. What can be seen can be hit.
If you leave an opening in your defence, expect it to be struck. Likewise even if it is covered, it can be uncovered and hit.

7. If your attack is going well, your opponent is using second intention.
8. The only plan to rely on is to strike the opponent while not being struck yourself.
9. If you have read your opponent, he has read you.
Plans are awesome in fencing, but remember that the opponent will also have a plan. Expect that your opponent will have some sort of counter to your attack, and you should plan to counter that.

10. Secret Blows, aren't.
11. Ultimate killing moves, aren't.
12. The brilliant technique you just learnt has a counter.
13. There is no complex action which cannot be countered by a simple response.
The botta secreta (secret blow) is effective until it is used, therefore it can never be used. Once it is used people will learn it and counter it. There is no technique in fencing which cannot be countered in some fashion. Usually the counter to the action is very simple.

14. You need to know the simple before the complex is useful, but you will only realise this later.
15. The lesson that you need now is the one that will be taught at next week's training session.
16. There is never enough time between tournaments.
17. You will wish you had drilled more.
Training is important, unfortunately for many of us, we only realise that it is the simple stuff which is the most important. It works and it is the basis for the complex stuff. There is always something else to learn, and there is never enough time to learn it all properly.

18. If it's stupid but it works, it isn't stupid.
19. Professionals are predictable, it's the amateurs that are dangerous.
Eighteen is one I stole from Murphy's Laws of Combat Operations as it applies to fencing as well. This one is about the unpredictable and unbelievable. Both are dangerous to the fencer. The experienced fencer has a pattern, the beginner for the most part doesn't, and it is that which makes them dangerous.

20. You are always too subtle or too obvious in your feints.
21. What you think is a feint is a real attack.
Feints are a useful technique when done properly. They are also a problem when used against you. Learn how feints work and what they look like, even if you don't use them, you can figure out how to counter them.

22. Anything you do can get you hit, including doing nothing.
23. Be too focussed on defence and you won't attack.
24. Be too focussed on attack and you won't defend.
Actions in fencing need purpose, but they also need to be tempered with their opposite. You need to act against your opponent, but you need to do this with thought behind it.

25. Your next opponent will always be faster.
26. Progression in a tournament is inversely proportional to the amount of energy you have left.
27. There is always one more round to fence than you expected.
These three apply mostly to tournaments. As you get tired your opponents will seem faster, as such you need to preserve some of your energy for later rounds in tournaments. Of course, you should always be sure when the tournament is finished, or when you have been knocked out.

28. Your gear will always wear out just after you have worn it in.
29. The borrowed sword is always less comfortable than your own.
Equipment is of great importance, and your own equipment more so. The nature of equipment is that as it gets worn in it will wear out. Always remember to bring all of your own and keep it in good condition as no gear will be as comfortable as yours. This is your responsibility.

30. A cluster of bruises is Nature's way of telling you that you have a hole in your defence.
If you seem to always get hit in the same spot, you should probably have a teacher check out what you are doing and what you are not doing in order to get hit there constantly. This is something that you should be aware of.

This is a list of thirty laws which came to my head. They have been clustered them in order not to give explanations for all of them and thus take a large amount of space. They have also been clustered them in order to put the like-laws together so that they can focus on a single aspect of fencing.

There are, no doubt, more laws of this kind that can be applied to fencing. As things proceed there may be another blog which includes more of them, but they will be named as "Henry's Laws of Fencing", rather than Murphy's. These are, after all the ones which I relate to the most and have thus collected together. Consider this list, examine them, you never know, you may find something useful.



Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Making Plans for Training


A while ago I posted about taking a hold of your training. This was designed to get people to realise that the only person who was going to make it all work was you. This is more or less a follow-up on that one, examining the next step in the process and one that should be considered by fencers at all levels.

Making plans for training is a good thing as it provides advantages, but it needs to be done right. The advantage of making a plan for your training, rather than just filling in holes where they are perceived is that it gives a plan for the future. This provides a direction for the training and a simple process to follow. This particular plan can provide a reason for going to training, and going on a regular basis especially. Where it is filling holes then there is motivation to pick something, where there is a plan, it is just the next lesson in the plan. This provides things to do at training, especially where the motivation may not be there to figure something out to do. This also means that the training is directed at a target.

Targets are important as they give us something to aim at. For some, they can be non-specific, but for most they need to be specific about where it is all going. As far as overall targets are concerned "I want to get better at my fencing." is a target which we all have as who does not want to get better at their fencing? This target does not provide particularly much direction. In order to provide direction, it is useful to be somewhat more specific, this is achieved by dividing goals up into long term and short term targets or goals.

Long term targets are those which will not happen soon and will require a lot of work, and are something to strive toward. These are often hopeful goals of where a person may want to end up sometime down the track. In many ways this is some what "cloud shooting" dreaming about the day that you will hit the top of the ranks in your particular form of fencing. Of course for some, this will be out of reach so this needs to be tempered a little with sensibility. These long term goals should not have a time limit on them anything under a year or even more.

Short term goals are those which will happen sooner than the long term goals, but they may not happen in a couple of months or possibly even a couple of years. These goals need to be realistic in order that you can work toward them in an active fashion. It is these goals that the plan for training is written to actively pursue. Each short term goal should be achieved with a plan. Each one of these short term goals should build to fulfil a long term goal. In this way there is an overall plan and more specific ones as well. The short term goals may or may not have a time limit, or date of completion on them. For some the introduction of a time is useful, for some it is not. Just remember to be at least a little flexible.

Being flexible in your plan is always useful. Things will happen in life which will interrupt the progress of your fencing plan. This can be major life-changing things or even simple things such as the flu. Due to these particular factors it is important to be flexible in your plan in order to take into account the unexpected. This means that if you propose a date, make sure that there is room in there in order to make changes as they are required. If one week off due to being ill will mess up the plan, then you need to be more flexible about it. Of course, simply putting things off because you don't feel like it is a way that will cripple the plan, so you also need to temper this flexibility with motivation and control over yourself.

Once all of the goals have been decided and dates set for the completion of the goals, next it is important to look at the lessons themselves. Most of the time these lessons will be able to be taken from the standard training program. In most instances it will be a simple tightening of the expectations of these lessons. Often it will be an increase in the performance aspect with regard to form. There will also be those lessons which will have to be modified to suit the training program and the goals set. In these particular instances tailor the lesson to suit what you want to achieve out of it. Use what works. Sounds silly? Use those techniques which have worked for you in the past in order to learn. For some it is simple repetition in drills, for some it will be to put the skill into a more active situations such as bouting.

Remember this plan is being tailored to suit you. Make sure that the lessons build on one another. The lessons should be connected in some way. One lesson should attach to the next in order to get to the one after that. Parry + Thrust = Riposte is a simple example of two lessons combining to result in a third. In this way the lessons should build on one another in order to get you to your goal. Think of this like building a wall. Each brick lends its strength and the wall would be faulty if it was missing. This needs to be one of the most important considerations in your plan.

Plans help us to achieve goals. Some will muddle through and find their way through other means, but a plan is always a useful thing. The plan will set simple goals for the fencer for each lesson. Each lesson will built to assist in achieving that overall goal. It is direction which a plan most supplies and often gives a person the motivation to do what they need to do in order to achieve their goal.

1. Establish goals.
2. Make a plan.
3. Find lessons to suit the plan, or make lessons to suit the plan.
4. Stick to the plan.
5. Expect to have to change things as you go.



Monday, November 1, 2010

Musashi for the Rapier Combatant: Adventures in Cross-Training


Musashi for the rapier combatant? What is he on about? These are the first two questions that I would expect to be asked with regard to this particular topic. The idea of this blog is to get people thinking about other resources that they might find useful in their study of swordplay. I have actually already written an article entitled "Musashi for the Rapier Combatant" and I was tempted to simply re-print that article here. Instead I have decided to go through the approach that led me to such a conclusion and the article that resulted.

"Let the Gaze Be Broad" is one of the most used sayings found in Musashi's book Go Rin No Sho, or The Book of Five Rings. From Musashi's point of view it is about being aware of the opponent and also aware of your surroundings when facing an opponent. For the purposes of this particular discussion it is also about being aware of the resources available to you in your research.

People tend to approach the research of fencing and swordplay in general from one of two points of view, a narrow view or a broad view of things. Each one of these approaches has advantages and disadvantages. They are also useful for different things depending on the desired outcome of the particular research.

For the narrow view, people get caught up with the importance of a culturally-centric, weapon-centric, or even "school"-centric approach in their approach. The advantage of this is that they are totally focused on their material and will go into all of the finer details in their particular approach. One problem is that if they are hampered by the source material, being a translation issue or an availability, then their research will stop. Every researcher has been here, "I could really do with studying "X" but it is a) written in a language I don't speak or b) simply is not available." Another problem is that they do not experience swordplay from a broad point of view and thus miss the overall picture. For the researcher with a broad point of view, this is less of an issue.

The broad point of view looks at all of the source material that is available and thus has much more to look at. The wealth of information can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. The advantage being the quantity of material available and the disadvantage being that there is so much of it that research on a particular topic can last forever and never really finish. The advantage of the broad point of view is that this researcher is able to compare and contrast, and get a view of topics from an overall perspective rather than a focused one. The researcher with the broad point of view is able to use resources from different places in order to build his research and this can lead to using some resources of unexpected usefulness.

There are resources out there which on the surface look like that they will be of no use to the researcher of swordplay. One of the obvious examples for the researcher of rapier combat is the usefulness of sport fencing materials. The movements expressed in these texts can be quite useful, but the real value is in the drills and concepts which are most useful. From an even broader point of view, you need to look at things from a broad point of view in order to realise the usefulness of different texts. This is even to the point where seemingly differing weapon systems can be used to assist one another. The trick, of course, is to find these resources in order to be able to use them.

In order to find other resources it is first important to ensure that you are looking at things from a broad point of view. In order to do this you need to look at your topic for study from an over-reaching point of view. Examine it for the key elements which the particular topic is based upon and look for these. If you limit your searches to only one type of material that is all you will get. If, on the other hand you broaden your searches to include different types of materials and different subjects you will find a great deal more.

The next thing that you need to do is to have a broad outlook in your research and research topics. If you choose "A study of Salvator Fabris" for example, then for the most part, you will only really be looking at a single manual. On the other hand if you choose "A study of the use of 17th century Italian rapier" then you are going to be able to use more materials. If your topic is even broader you will be able to use even more materials. Even with the topics suggested, depending on your approach, there are also other additional materials that you might find useful in order to completely understand the topic.

In order to increase the different places where you can look for materials you must first have a broad point of view. One of the more obvious places to look for material is art and documents of the appropriate period. These are useful as they give background and can also give depictions of the weapons "in action" from a certain point of view. Documentation about the actual weapons used is surprisingly useful to understanding a particular weapon form. Understanding the characteristics of the weapon can be most useful. Another thing to consider is body movement.

The human body, for the most part, can only move in a certain number of ways and to and from a certain amount of positions. When a weapon is added to this, then the number is further reduced. This is one of the reasons why it is possible to do cross-cultural examinations of combat systems. One of the prime examples of this a comparison of the longsword and the katana. This is especially useful in the use of the weapons and the tactics involved in their use.

When further looking at the movements of the human body, a researcher should not ignore an area which has previously been the purview of physiotherapists and fitness instructors, and that is bio-mechanics. This investigates the use of the human body and how it moves most efficiently. This is most useful especially to the modern martial artist, both eastern and western, in order to utilise the body in its movements most effectively and safely. This something that the theorists of the Renaissance period knew and this is one of the reasons that the figures are often depicted naked, in order to see the muscles in movement.

In our research of swordplay, it is important that we do not lock ourselves too much into a single subject, this narrows the vision of what is possible to be found. Of course where a particular topic is specific it is important to stay on the particular topic and thus use appropriate materials. This being said other materials can be used to explain things which are not in the primary source material. This all being said, a broad point of view with regard to the research is useful to the researcher in order to gain an overall view of swordplay.



Monday, October 11, 2010

Dedication... too much to ask?


The question of dedication to something is something which will come up in every person's life. With regard to fencing, indeed in all its forms, it is an especially important one and one that needs to be addressed. Is it too much to ask for our students and teachers to be dedicated to what they are doing? What does it mean to be dedicated? This blog will investigate the idea of whether or not it is too much to ask a student or teacher to be dedicated to what they are doing.

First of all it is important to figure out what is meant by "dedication". There are many grades of this particular word and many different interpretations that may be used. For some dedication brings ideas about travelling vast distances in horrible weather in order to get somewhere. For others it simply means that they always put their mind to a single task. With regard to fencing and this blog, there is a mid-point between these two.

Dedication means putting in the effort in order to get somewhere and use the teaching that the teacher has so generously supplied. It is also about being regular to training and putting in the effort while being present at the training session. Sure, it is understood that things do not always go the way that they are supposed to. Injuries and illnesses will hamper the ability of the fencer, but aside from these there are certain things that should be expected from the student.

Most of the things that people are dedicated to in the modern world are those things which are most relevant to their existence. For example, people go to work each day and do what they need to do because this is relevant to their existence. So, with this in mind, could the fencer be on the wrong track as skill with a sword in the modern world is not particularly relevant? Can this be used as a valid reason for the student to be slack or the teacher to not give the students their full attention? This is clearly not the case. If the person has decided that fencing is what they want to do, and it is not just another hobby, then a certain level of dedication should be able to be expected.

Expectations are something which we have put on us and also are personally placed. The athletically gifted individual has a great advantage over someone who is not so gifted, it could be said that this person has a lot of potential. The same could be said of a person who picks skills up quickly and is able to put them into practice. Both of these people would be expected to do well, but only if they are willing to put in the work. Regardless of a student's potential, the student still needs to be putting in the same amount of effort as the student with less potential.

The expectation of a teacher is for the student to come along to classes regularly and participate to their fullest capacity. The student's expectation is that the techer will come along prepared to teach and give the students their full attention. Aside from this there are other expectations which can be present such as the expectation that both the student and teacher will do things "out of class" in order to further themselves. Unless both the student and the teacher meet these simple expectations, how can they be seen to be dedicated to what they are doing?

Is fencing just another hobby, or is it something more? Other hobbies expect that a person participating will put in a certain amount of time and effort in order for the person participating to achieve anything. The same can be said for fencing. Of course it can also be said that there are those hobbies which have much lower expectations of the person, but there are also those which have much higher ones also. The question that the fencer has to ask is whether or not fencing is just another hobby or whether it is something that he or she truly wants to be dedicated to. It can be easily expected that the more dedicated a person is and the more effort put in, the more benefit the person will get.

So it comes to the time where the question must be asked, is dedication too much to be asked of the fencer in the modern world? Or is dedication more of a personal thing? Dedication is clearly related to the amount of effort a person is willing to put into a thing, thus if the person is willing to put in the effort then they could be considered to be dedicated. Each fencer needs to ask themselves, how dedicated am I to what I am doing? How much effort am I willing to put in to get what I want out of this? Sure, there will be those people with their own expectations of what a dedicated fencer will or will not do, but it is up to the individual. Regardless of the potential of the individual, with the right level of dedication the fencer has the potential to do well.



Friday, September 24, 2010

Update on Fabris from a Chair


A post was made some time ago about working on manuals from a different point of view, and more to the point, working on Fabris but from a seated position. With regard to this, I have made a start on the discussion paper variant of the overall project. I have run into some interesting findings in the process of writing the investigation actually.

The first part of the process was to describe to the reader exactly what I was doing, and the perspective I was taking with regard to the manual itself. This was mostly covered in the introduction, but a little more detail is required. An additional part to this particular discussion of intent is discussing the fact that only the single sword will be discussed. This is because it is considered by Fabris that if the single sword is known then the other forms will follow without much difficulty.

An important part of the introductory part of the discussion was to highlight the tactical differences between the seated and standing combatants. Much of this has been discussed earlier in one of my blogs so I will not go into any detail about it here, for such information I would direct you to the previous blog mentioned. Needless to say this is designed to introduce the normally standing combatant to the important changes when being seated.

From this point on there is a discussion of the various theoretical principles which Fabris delves into and must be understood before delving into the more practical aspects of the manual. The discussion of the single sword has already been pointed out. This then needs to be combined with his division of the weapon in order to understand the various important parts of it. The next part of the discussion follows on with more of the basic elements.

One of the most basic elements of fencing is those positions that the combatant adopts in the performance of the art, the wards. Now, Fabris calls these guards, but they are wards in effect. While they do protect certain areas they are not the guards found in the modern sport. These are the foundation positions that the fencer will adopt and as such it is important to go into some detail about them, thus there is discussion of the four basic guards, counter-positions, body and sword position. Armed with this information, the reader can then proceed with more of the theoretical elements.

Time and distance are the two essential elements from which no art with the sword, true no martial art can escape. To this point there are two separate sections one about distance, or measure, and the other about tempo. It is important also that the reader also understands how these two interact, thus there is also a part within both of these sections about how they both interact. Once these theoretical elements are understood it is then possible to discuss the actions made with the weapon.

The actions of the weapon go along with the movements of the body and as such it is important that both are understood. The essential offensive action with the rapier is, of course, the thrust and as such there is quite a bit of detail about this particular action. The other offensive action with the weapon is the cut, and while Fabris has some misgivings about its use, he does describe it as a technique that can be used should the opportunity present itself.

With regard to defensive actions, Fabris actually says surprisingly little about them. For the most part with regard to this, Fabris advises the use of the void as a purely defensive action over the parry. He makes some various points about this and also goes into a little detail about the reason for his preference for the void over the parry.

The next set of actions with the weapon once offensive and defensive actions have been discussed are those with regard to blade engagement, such things as finding the blade and the disengage. With very little surprise, Fabris goes into a great deal of detail with regard to all elements of blade engagement as he finds them essential to the proper use of the weapon. These particular elements are most important if Fabris' method is to be understood completely.

The tactical elements are those which divide the beginner from the more experienced fencer and it is these considerations which are important to truly understand and be able to plan how to defeat the opponent. To this will be added feints as they are a tactical option more than a specific action. Fabris also goes into a discussion about how the fencer should deal with different sorts of opponents as many Renaissance theorists did.

The final part of the theoretical part of the discussion covers the guards. There is a great deal of information covered in this particular discussion. Each guard is discussed separately for its advantages and flaws. There is little surprise that Fabris makes his impression of which guard is better than another and so on. He also presents some basic actions which can be performed directly from the guards and their defensive potential. This is designed to lead on to what he calls the "wounds" which are his practical demonstration of the theory previously presented.

This completes the update for my investigation of performing Fabris from a chair. No doubt I will come up with a better title for the investigation as time goes along. I am in the process of now working through the various "wounds". This will form one of the most time-consuming parts of the investigation as they will have to be deciphered and then seen whether or not this technique will work from a seated position. This will be the first and final update as the wounds are very specific and to go into each would take a great deal of time. Needless to say, I will continue working on the investigation and hopefully publish (in some form) my results.



Saturday, September 18, 2010

Taking a Hold of Your Training


There is a time in each person's fencing career when they need to take a hold of their own training. What this means is that the fencer needs to take hold of the direction in which the training goes. This blog is designed to address this particular concept and present some ideas about how each fencer can take a hold of their own training and thus push it in a direction which interests them.

The first thing that each fencer needs to realise is that training is actually a very personal thing and that the fencer is the real person who gets benefit out of training. Sure, the teacher or coach may get some satisfaction out of the progress made by the student, but in the end it is really up to the student. This is the most important thing and the reason why eventually each fencer needs to take ownership of their own training and give it some personal direction.

To begin with the teacher supplies the direction because the fencer does not understand those skills that he or she will require. In this particular element the teacher will supply the basic elements of training and through such the basic skills which are required of the fencer. Once these basics have been learnt then the fencer needs to have some idea about where they want to go after the basics. The new direction will always be based on the basic skills which the fencer has learnt, but will tend to go in a direction different and more personal than previously.

There are many different directions that the training can go once the basics have been learnt. For the more Renaissance oriented fencer there is the question of whether a particular school or nationality will be the focus. Or the fencer may focus toward a particular skill-set or weapon combination. Or the fencer may even decide that a particular manual may be their focus. Each one of these gives different options for the fencer and gives a slightly different direction. The important thing in this particular situation is that the fencer has to choose the direction. The teacher may suggest or encourage, but in the end it is the fencer's decision.

For the fencer who is primarily training alone the taking a hold of training has to happen a lot sooner. Firstly this is because it is only the fencer who can really motivate himself in order to do the training in the first place. In this particular situation there really is no teacher or coach that can give the direction for the fencer. Other teachers or fencers may supply suggestions, but in the end it is all up to the fencer. In this particular situation the fencer needs to decide where he is going and what to work on next as there is no one else to supply the plan of where to go.

In order to continue to progress the fencer requires some sort of direction. Even if that direction is merely to improve the skills that he has already, still this is a direction. The best direction for a fencer to go in is one which the fencer is self-motivated to go in. The teacher can supply ideas and encouragement, but in the end the fencer must make the decision and then stick to it. This requires the fencer to have the motivation to start and continue along their chosen path.

In the end the fencer must choose the direction in which they want to go. The fencer should get some ideas about what options are open to them from various sources. These ideas can be based on a particular direction based on a specific text, general improvement or at a specific goal that the fencer wants to achieve. The fencer should take the time to put the suggestions on paper in order to compare them. This way there will b a clear idea about the choices open to them. Once the fencer has an idea about where he wants to go it is time to plan.

It is necessary to plan the direction that wants to be taken. If there is no plan made of the direction it is difficult to see any sort of improvement. It is also difficult to see what end result is planned and whether the fencer has deviated from the direction chosen. The plan is what will keep the fencer striving toward their goal and also having some idea about where that is.

In choosing this direction for training it is a good idea to get some help and advice. This should preferably be from your teacher. There are others who can supply some ideas about the direction and the plan to make to get there. People who are on the same path are also useful as they are currently doing it and will have ideas about good things and bad things. The same can be said for people who have travelled in the same direction, experience is very useful in this endeavour.

Some people like to make plans and keep the ideas in their heads or some other loose form. The best idea is to put it on paper. In this way the plan is obvious and presented to the fencer so they can see exactly what they need to do next and what is coming up. Putting the plan on paper also gives it a solid quality. This being said, it is also important that the plan has some ability to be modified if required, some level of flexibility to meet different challenges along the way. Things happen which are not controllable, illnesses and injury will mean that the plan may have to be changed or put on hold for a period, and it is important to take these things into account.

Once the plan has been put on paper it is important to work towards the goal described. It is also important that it is not packed away and then never seen again. The plan should be placed somewhere it is easy to get a hold of it and to examine what is happening and whether the plan needs to be modified. Integrate the plan into normal training this way the plan will be followed by habit rather than being something separate from normal training. It is also important to discuss the plan that has been worked out with your teacher or coach. This way they will know what is going on, what is being worked upon and will be able to help with it. They may also be able to help with it and assist in improving the plan.

In essence, each fencer will come to a situation where they have completed all of the basic training which enables them to fence at a reasonable level. It is at this time that the fencer really needs to take control of their own training. What happens after this will determine the length of their fencing career. If the fencer is clever they will look at many different options and discuss these with various people. In the end the decision is the fencer's and this is of great importance. Remember to plan the direction, put it in some solid form and then work towards it. Don't be afraid to ask for help.



Thursday, June 24, 2010

Stand Up Straight and Relax


Most of the time when we are told to stand up straight relaxing is not going through our heads. This is usually someone telling us to improve our posture or stand at attention. In these particular situations the body goes rigid and upright. For fencing the two need to be accomodated in order to achieve the most effective on guard, or ward position.

Being rigid in the on guard position is detrimental to your fencing. When you are rigid, your muscles are already burning energy and are already tensed. This means that they are not ready for movement which leads you to slower movement, which can decide whether you are struck or not. In order to fight this you need to relax your body, so only those muscles that need to be working are actually working.

Standing up straight means that you are standing tall. Your chest is expanded and you have an air of confidence about your stance. Both of these elements are important in the on guard stance. With the chest expanded it is much easier to breathe, this means you have more energy due to the increase in breath. Your muscles are also not tensed as much if you were slouching, this goes especially for those which are over the shoulders.

So, the trick is to combine the relaxed but upright position into the on guard position. This may sound like a contradiction, but it is not. First of all, spread your feet to shoulder width, remember to keep the front foot pointed at the opponent. Bend your knees somewhat, but not so much that they become tensed. You should still be able to move your feet easily. Your body should be in an upright position, with your spine vertical. Push your chest out, and roll your shoulders down and in. This should expand your chest and make it easy to breathe. Keep your head upright. Now, breathe deeply in and hold it, then let it out slowly. Do this a couple of times and mentally relax all of your muscles. What you should find as a result is that the body is relaxed and ready for action and is also upright.

The common mistake that is made in the on guard position is that the shoulders are slouched forward. This pushes the shoulders forward, and also the head forward. The position that results also constricts the breathing of the fencer and makes it more difficult for them to breathe. Standing in this manner also tenses muscles, tightening them and making it harder to move. This is usually found in beginners, or fencers who face up against a more experienced opponent. What they are tying to do is shrink themselves into a smaller package and hide. Needless to say, this does not result in good fencing.

Stand up straight in your on guard stance, you will be able to breathe better and move more efficiently. The other thing is that standing up straight gives you an air of confidence and makes you feel more confident, neither of which is a bad thing in fencing. A relaxed but upright position is advantageous for all the reasons above, but the same principles can be applied to any on guard position that is found in fencing. Expand the chest, keep the head up and relax.



Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Fabris From a Chair?


Many in the Western Martial Arts (WMA) community examine manuals from their own points of view and in order to understand what the author is saying about fencing. For the most part it is purely so that the individual can understand what the author is on about and possibly put some of what the author has said into practice. The question happens to come to mind about what happens when such information is examined and then attempted only to find out that there is some physical impediment to completing the action, what now?

Performing most of the actions of Fabris is a simple impossibility for me due to my physical condition. My body simply will not allow me to bend in the ways that Fabris would have me do so. For the most part, I will admit, I bought the manual in order to extract as much information out of it about his blade engagement and counter positions (contra-postura) as possible, and this has been most useful. This is somewhat limited as it does not take into account much that could be used from this most informative manual. So in order to lower my the position of my body without having to damage myself, I thought, what about a chair?

One of the prime principles of Fabris is that the lower position of the body is safer than the taller. Sitting in a chair sure lowers the position of the body, and it also allows for the bending of the body as well to make it even smaller. Of course sitting in a chair and fencing, while possible, as I have already discussed previously, does remove certain aspects from being possible. Any form of major footwork is removed, but it can be compensated for in part by the movement of the body. Approaching the opponent is also not possible due to the seated position. However, even with these limitations, there is a great deal that can be done.

The most interesting discovery that I made while experimenting with the actions of Fabris is that a form of his girata (a turning void) is actually possible from a seated position. This is so long as the movement is based on the movement of the body rather than the feet. The ability to do this particular technique opened much more of the manual as possible from the chair.

All of the actions of the seated combatant are made at misura stretta (narrow distance). This is simply because the seated combatant cannot lunge from the chair, nor can they approach the opponent. What this means is that the seated combatant must wait until the opponent is within the misura stretta before launching any offensive action. This means that the seated combatant will be more passive, but does not limit them to only reactive or defensive actions, far from it.

The seated combatant is limited for distance, yes, but this does not stop them from being the first to initiate the action once the opponent comes within their distance. Sure, the opponent may launch an attack from misura larga (wide distance) but the blade of their weapon must enter into the seated combatant's distance before it can strike them, and it is here that the seated combatant can act.

There will be two versions of "The Seated Fabris". The first will be more of a discussion paper describing what can and cannot be done from a chair. It will also discuss Fabris' theory and other aspects which are applicable to fencing whether the fencer is seated or standing. The second version will be more lesson-like, actual instruction about how to use Fabris' techniques from a chair and how they are applied in a combative scenario.

I am not sure whether I will publish these two versions on my blog as they will both be quite long. On the other hand, for those who are interested, I should be able to make them available by some other method. I will hopefully remember to keep you all updated with my progression as I move through both versions. I have already started the discussion paper, and will move on to the lesson version once that is completed.

The most important thing about this particular discussion is that we should take a more broad view of the period manuals and see how they can work from different points of view. This particular idea can be broadened even more to take into account how different weapons are similar in their uses and how the different techniques may be used. An holistic view of swordplay is most useful to the researcher and a great asset in the understanding of different authors.



Saturday, April 24, 2010

Beginning to Teach


Benginning to teach can be one of the scariest endeavours a fencer can put themselves through. Just like all other aspects of fencing it is a skill which needs to be learnt. The decision to teach really needs to be a voluntary one and not something which is forced on the fencer. There has been a great deal said about teaching and the process of teaching, some of this will be of use to the beginner teacher, but there are some things which have not been said.

Preach What You Practice
The expression "practice what you preach" is most useful for correcting your own techniques, but there is also a situation where the reverse of the process is actually more useful for the fencer who is beginning to teach. The skills which the fencer uses in bouting are the ones which they will know the best. They understand these particular techniques and subconsciously understand why they work. This is where the teaching process should start from, hence "preach what you practice".

The skills which you have honed over your time fencing are those which you will know the best. It is of little use attempting to teach things that you do not know so the best thing is to start with those things that you do know. For example, a fencer who does not use a great deal of blade engagement techniques should not be attempting to teach these, more he should be looking at how he manages and teaching this, possibly teaching absence of the blade or something similar. This is the sort of thing that you should be looking at when you begin to teach.

The Basics
Each fencer will have been taught the basics at some point in time. This may have come from a more qualified teacher, or it may have actually come from another fencer. The basics are those lessons which we have drilled the most in our fencing careers. Footwork and the simple elements of defence and attack are perfect examples of the basics. This is a great place for the beginning teacher to start teaching.

The basics should keep your prospective students occupied for some period of time. These particular formative lessons are some of the most important lessons a fencer learns. If there is something missing from these particular lessons then there is the good chance that something will go amiss in the future of the fencer. The simple fact that these lessons should also be very familiar will help with any concerns about confidence with regard to teaching the lessons.

Do reasearch. Fill in those gaps in your fencing knowledge which you know you have. Begin to research how some lessons are put together and also information about the skills being learnt. This will help a great deal in the teaching process. The more that you learn, the more you will be able to impart. The more you understand, the better able you will be able to teach your students. Research is something which all teachers should do.

You should even consider examining where your teacher got their information from in order to understand it better too. Some teachers will have a "tried and true" method of teaching which has worked for them for many years. This does not mean it is the only way to teach. Find a set of skills and lessons which are more comfortable for you and the way that you teach. You have to be comfortable teaching them.

Teaching can be one of the most fulfilling experiences that a fencer can have, or it can be one of the most harrowing. In most situations it is the level of preparation that the teacher has had that will determine the result of the lesson. Think about what you are going to teach, see what the vital elements are, and stick to them.

Experienced teachers should be explaining why the teach the things that they do and how they do it. In this way the information can be passed along. If you are interested in teaching, talk to your teacher if you have one and discuss it. Get together and consider some lesson plans. Most of all when you begin to teach be prepared to learn, teaching is the greatest learning experience. You learn about fencing and you also learn about yourself.



Wednesday, March 10, 2010

No Footwork Fencing Or Fencing From a Chair


The first thing that is going to be said by my regular readers is "Didn't you not so long ago write a blog about the importance of footwork?" The answer to this is "Yes." Am I going to deny the importance of footwork to normal modes of fencing, not at all. This blog is more a reinforcing of a much earlier blog about disability and fencing.

The question arises, just because you cannot walk for some reason, either permanent or temporary, does that mean that you should stop fencing, or fencing training for you is not possible? Not at all. There are ways around this. From the point of this particular blog so long as you can sit up and hold a sword you can still fence in a form.

Leg Replacement
The first part of the process is replacing the bits of the body that don't work. In this particular case it is replacing the legs that are not working. To this point the chair is used. This has some advantages over legs actually. The chair is more stable as it has four legs and is thus less likely to fall over. Your legs do not have to be used and thus any injured joints do not have stress placed on them. Finally sitting in the chair means that footwork in its normal form is not possible.

Of course there are some disadvantages as well. With the increased stability also comes the lack of footwork and thus the inability to move as far as you otherwise might. This means that you are a stationary target for the most part, though as will be explained, there are some options available for the sitting fencer. The final disadvantage is the possible increased luggage when you travel, but this is more of a side note.

Choosing a Chair
Choosing the chair needs to be done carefully, just any chair will not actually do. While your favourite laid-back chair may be awesomely comfortable, it may not be the most appropriate for fencing from. The first thing is that the chair must allow you to sit up straight in the chair's normal mode of operation. This means that it should have a straight back or none at all.

The second thing is that the chair must be stable when you are sitting on it. For this particular purpose, four-legged chairs are the best option. Remember for those Renaissance fencers you are not always on concrete or otherwise stable surfaces, so the potential for the chair to sink in needs to be considered as well. The next thing, is arms. Arms on the chair will limit your movement so it is better to have them be able to fold away, or not at all.

Height is also an important consideration. For the most part it is better to have the chair too low than too high. A chair which sits high will not necessarily be the most stable and stability is a vital concern. The other thing is that it is best that the lower limbs are able to be placed upon the ground comfortably and flat footed.

From the above ideas you should get the impression of a relatively low-sitting chair or stool with four legs. For some a back on the chair will be a help and for others it will be a hinderance. For some the worry of falling off backward will be more of a consideration thant the advantage of the back not being a distraction or annoyance.

The Sitting Wards
Now that your chair has been selected it is time to start the process of learning to fence from it. As with all forms of fencing the ward is important to the fencer. For the sitting fencer, the position of the lower limbs is just as important as if they were standing. Your legs should be lined up with the front legs of the chair. Make sure you have the chair turned so your dominant shoulder is closer toward your opponent. This will profile your body to them slightly. The top half of the body should assume the normal position for your ward of choice.

In selecting a ward when sitting in a chair you should consider your position and what you have to protect. Selecting a high ward may place the blade across the line of the opponent, but it will also allow them easy access to it. This is beside the fact that it will be tiring. A low ward is much preferable as the arm can relax more and the blade is withdrawn more. This means that the engagement can be chosen by you at the correct time. The other thing is that a low ward may lure your opponent into easy striking distance.

Sitting "Footwork"
What? How can you do footwork when sitting down? When sitting, remember it is possible for you to lean your body forward, backward and sideways. The forward and backward will serve for your advance and retreat. The sideways movement will serve for voids. In this way you can actually change your distance, however so slightly that you do. Sit in your chair, see how far you can lean in each direction.

With this in mind, it is actually possible to do a lunge from a chair. It works the same way as it would if you were standing. Extend your point toward your target and lean with your body. Just as with the standing version the hand should always lead the body. Especially when performing this action from a chair, you should lift your hilt in to protect yourself.

Other Fencing Actions
For the most part, the other actions in fencing work much the same as they do when you are standing up. Parries are the same for the upper part of the body. Parries for the lower parts, if used, will just have to be a little more shallow than when you are standing. As stated you can lean your body to the left, right and rear in order to void, though this will clearly demonstrate the advantage of going perpendicular to the opponent's attack.

Actions using the blade of the weapon will work the same as they have previously. This is because the hand actions are not changed. You just have to remember that you don't have to go so low with many of them and if you do you may run into problems.

Tactics for the Seated Fencer
Where the two fencers are seated in chairs, they should be placed an extension and a lean away from one another. This allows for some movement and use of distance. Where there is the normal situation of a seated fencer against a standing one. The standing one has the advantage of movement and a much greater use of distance and height. The seated fencer has the advantage of having a set distance so has one thing less to worry about.

The only way that the seated fencer can get the advantage in distance is to lure their opponent in so an attack may be made. This is the primary method that the seated fencer has to use. This can be achieved by body position, arm positon, sword position or all of them. Blade engagement is one way in which this can be achieved.

Fencing without footwork is possible, not advised for the individual who has the option of movement, but for the fencer without that option, it is. Fencing from a chair is an option for those individuals with a mobility impairment. In this way they can participate, and quite effectively, in fencing. This idea is not actually new, as can be seen by the wheelchair fencing at the paralympics, as has been mentioned in a previous blog. For the Renaissance fencer a suitable period-looking chair is even an option. Fencing is something which many can participate in, with the right attitude and approach. This has been a rather short guide to fencing from a chair, but it should give some ideas about where to approach this particular problem from.



Friday, January 8, 2010

What is Fencing?


A question that is not often asked is "What is fencing?" Most often the answer to this question is assumed to be general knowledge by most people. While swordplay, for most people, is not a normal part of their everyday life, there is the assumption that something is known about fencing. This blog will address both this particular question and some of the associated elements of fencing which must be realised, and most importantly by the fencing community.

There are many assumptions which have been made about fencing over many years. Some of these are reinforced by popular culture in movies and other things. One of the first places that must be investigated is the "dictionary definition" of fencing and what that implies.

"Fencing is a family of sports and activities that feature armed combat involving cutting, stabbing, or bludgeoning weapons that are directly manipulated by hand rather than shot, thrown or positioned."
This gives a surprisingly broad definition of what fencing is. What is most relevant at this point in time is that this particular defintion of fencing is the one that must be used in order to appreciate its complete scale. Even for the fencer this is important, too often to we get locked into believing that what we do is the one and only true form of fencing whereas there are many out there. This much broader view of the idea of fencing allows for a much deeper analysis and discussion of fencing and the potential it has for all fencers and others as well. Where modern usage of "fencing" falls down is as follows:
"In contemporary common usage, fencing tends to refer specifically to European schools of swordsmanship and to the modern Olympic sport that has evolved out of them."
This falls down from several different points of view. First of all it limits fencing to European schools of swordsmanship. This is very limiting as it would be known and argued that any Japanese kendoka or Chinese swordsman would also argue the point. Fencing must refer to all forms of swordplay not only those found in European schools of swordsmanship. The next point that must be made is the idea that sport fencing "evolved" out of the previous forms. This is inaccurate to say the least. The change from the rapier to the smallsword and thus to later weapons was a result of fashion not evolution or increase in skills. Those treatises left by the masters of the Renaissance period will demonstrate that what was taught were complete and complex skill systems. Thus the so-called "evolution" is inaccurate.

In order to approach fencing with a truly holistic point of view it must be appreciated how each of these martial arts relates to one another. The first is through the foundation principles. All the forms work on the principles of time and distance. These two form the foundation of the theory found in all fencing. Then there is the universal fencing principle which applies to all, and that is the principle of striking the opponent without being struck. With these ideas in mind it is then possible to see where the forms of fence are similar. This can also be seen in technique where the techniques of one transfer through to another. Thus it can be seen that all forms are similar in the most elementary parts of them.

With this in mind it can easily be seen that one form of fencing can assist another. This is possible due to their similarities. The similarities in principles and techniques in many cases makes it so that some are simply transferable from one to the other. This also means where one has a problem with a particular technique it can possibly be explained better by another school of fence. These similarities assist for a better understanding of each and every form of fence. So, too is it the case that their differenced enrich the practitioner who appreciates the different forms of fencing available to him.

One thing that must be realised is that the impact of the individual fencer has more impact than they would realise. The individual's action will directly affect those fencers who fence against them. This will follow to that it may affect the organisation to which they are associated, and in some instances the actions of the individual may come to affect the entire fencing community. There are many fears and misgivings which are had for fencers in general and the negative actions of the fencer only serve to increase these. Public knowledge of the individual fencer does come through in a positive light on occasion, but also too does it come through in a negative light. One person who attacks another with a sword with the intent to do real injury affects the entire fencing community.

All fencers have a responsibility, not only to themselves and the group with which they fence, but all fencers regardless of their form of fencing. This means that they must watch their actions very closely in order that they do not reflect badly on the fencing community. It is also their responsibility to spread knowledge about the art of the sword in all its forms. This means that no fencer should derride another school of thought, Eastern, Western, modern and Renaissance all forms bring something to the fencing community. It is only through the spread of knowledge about fencing that fencing stays alive and people become more informed about it.