Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Myth of Speed Part. 2


I wrote a previous article on the Myth of Speed in which I indicated that speed had little to do with the muscles of the fencer, and more to do with the efficiency of the fencer performing the actions. This comes from practising these actions so that they become smooth and efficient. A similar idea was raised in the discussion concerning the learning process, especially in slow training, which starts here. This article will examine the subject of speed and the myth of speed a little closer, taking another look at the subject.

Of the things that people notice, one thing is that the experienced fencer does not appear rushed in his actions there is a certain sprezzatura, assumed easiness, in their actions. They have control over what is happening. This is reflected in an expression of Musashi concerning speed, “Speed is not part of the true Way of strategy. Speed implies that things seem fast or slow, ... Whatever the Way, the master does not appear fast.” (Musashi, 1974:91). 

The actions of the practised swordsman look deliberate and purposeful from the outside, they do not look fast or hurried. Facing them may be a different matter, they may certainly seem fast, but it is because the combatant has practised the actions so they have become efficient. This means there is no wasted energy and no wasted time, so they seem fast.

In discussing the actions of the smallsword Monsieur L'Abbat also discusses the subject of speed in his Chapter XXVI: Of Swiftness. There is much said about the subject of swiftness, but it is linked to practise. This is even stated in his first comment on the subject.

"Swiftness is the Shortness of Time between the Beginning and End of a Motion: It proceeds from a regular and frequent Exercise, joined with a good Disposition; that is to say, Vigour and Suppleness, which form Agility." (L'Abbat, 2007:75)
The action which proceeds with swiftness results from regular practise, or exercise as he calls it, but it also comes from a good disposition. This means that the individual has to be prepared to perform the action, the body has to be prepared with the appropriate amount of agility. So, he acknowledges that there is a physical fitness aspect as well. He then emphasises that the speed cannot be gained without practise and the disposition of the body to gain the speed.

L'Abbat then notes that, "every one is earnestly desirous of it, tho' most People are ignorant of the Means necessary to acquire it." (L'Abbat, 2007:75). Much is the situation in our current age. Many a student of the blade will see the more experienced fencer performing a feat with the blade and attempt to copy it, and fail. They will then attempt to speed up their hands or body, thinking that this was the reason, where it was the efficiency of their action, and thus timing was truly at fault. As L'Abbat indicates, "The Situation requires this advantageous Point of all the Parts, to communicate Freedom and Vigour to the Action, that they may act with Quickness." (L'Abbat, 2007:75)

Speed, as it is seen, needs to come from efficiency of action. Brute strength without knowledge and practise behind it will not give the results that the individual requires. A certain amount of speed may be acquired, but there will be a lack of accuracy in the technique, and this will result in the action falling short of its mark, being false in its timing. The action must be quick and accurate.

"As to the Motion of the Hand, it must not only be animated, but also the Action must not be wide, whether in Disengagements, Engagements, Feints or Riposts; because if you would be soon at your Mark, it is not sufficient to go quick, but it is also necessary that the Action be close." (L'Abbat, 2007:75)

Accuracy in an action comes from practise. Through the practise the action becomes efficient because the performance of the action becomes accurate, this results in the action becoming quicker, or seeming so. This improves the timing of the action and allows the fencer to hit their mark. 

Speed is a myth, the secret is efficiency of action and motion, but this needs to be matched to the opponent. There is little point in performing your actions with one timing if your opponent is performing them with another. Unless you have no intention of your weapons coming into contact, and intend to play with Absence of Blade; even then there is still the timing of the movements of the opponent to consider. Control of the actions is important, efficiency of action is important, speed is really only required for brief moments.




L'Abbat (2007) The Art of Fencing, or, the Use of the Small Sword, Translated by Andrew Mahon, Dodo Press

Musashi, M. (1974) A Book of Five Rings, The Overlook Press, Woodstock,  New York, USA (Translated by Victor Harris, originally written 1645)