Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Move Slow, Learn Fast


The meme of moving slow and learning fast is one which has been around for ages. For the most part it is a principle which I like and can easily relate to, however I will be presenting this idea from a slightly different point of view as my main focus will be fencing. Odd? A little in some ways, but as will be demonstrated below, the slow movement principle applies more to the use of the sword than many would think.

Fencing for the most part is a quick, energetic form of combat or sport, depending on what your weapon is. This means that the actions are quick and precise. With this in mind, for some, it will be difficult to understand how practicing actions slowly will help them progress when in the end they are going to have to perform the same actions at speed. This is something which you will find will come from the greener students for the most part, but some advanced students as well.

In the SCA, the heavy combatants, i.e. fully-armoured combatants use what is know as "quarter-speed" this is slow movement of the weapon and body in order for warming up for the most part and also for practice without armour. Essentially this is moving at a slow speed where both combatants can see the weapons moving and thus there is a less likelihood of injury even when not wearing any armour. This same technique, or something like it can also be applied to fencing.

The use of slow work allows us to see the body and weapon moving. This is something which is much more difficult to see at full-speed when bouting. What this means is that the combatant and any observer can see how the combatant is moving his or her weapon and body. This can allow a person to see where a possible change in footwork, body movement, or hand movement can make a difference to their technique. As a diagnostic tool, slow speed performance of technique is very useful.

Even in training and especially for drills the movement at slow speed is very useful. Corrections to technique are more easily made at slower speed than they are at faster speeds. A student can develop a lot of muscle memory by moving slowly because they can focus on the movement of individual parts of their body in order to make the technique being performed more efficient. A trainer can see the movement of each part in slow speed and make corrections to engagement and position of the student in order that they are learning the correct techniques.

Movement at slow speeds is obviously slowed as compared to that at faster speeds. What this means is that a combatant needs to balanced in their movements. Sure there are some actions which are difficult, if not impossible at slow speeds, but the movements which are allowed become more comfortable at slow speed. If the movement is not comfortable they can be corrected until they are. Slow speed movement promotes efficiency in motion as pure speed is removed. Efficiency results in better movements in combat.

The use of slow speed combat as a learning tool is something which should be embraced by all combatants. Eastern schools have demonstrated its utility in arts such as Tai Chi, which promote movement of the body and health. As western martial artists, should we not take advantage of proven theory in order to improve ourselves? Movement at slow speed promotes balance and efficiency in movement both of which are a great asset to the fencer.