I Attack With My +1 Rapier

A much more positive post this week.

Training with the ACA has been pretty good lately and a lot of technique is starting to click into place (at last!). One of the causes for this is the introduction of some training documents into the group. While we’ve had a basic text for our longsword trainging for a little over a year and another for single-handed weapons, they’ve not been particularly useful outside of the group training night. They were about imparting knowledge and not so much about training. Don’t get me wrong: they are both good cources of information, just a little too high-level to meet my needs right this minute. The new doco puts these texts into practice.

The first of the new texts lists a series of eight drills which take the techniques described in the previous doco and connect them into sequences and patterns of movement designed to promote muscle memory and automatic responses to threats from an opponent. The drills have two features which really interest me.

Fitness: As a fencer, you can never have enough stamina and the drills have the side effect of increasing one’s endurance. It’s well known that body motor skills diminish the higher one’s heart rate. For example, at around 115 beats per minute (bpm), one begins to lose fine motor skils. At around 145bpm, complex motor skills become problematic and it just goes downhill from here. Since I’m dead keen on the rapier, which relies for success on controlling how the point of the weapon moves, the fitter I am, the lower my heart rate during a bout and thus i can maintain better control of the weapon. Presumably, this will result in winning more bouts but that is a theory as yet untested.

Style: Let no one tell you that fencing is solely about effectiveness as a fighter or as a competitor. Grace and style are major components of the sport (or, for the purists, martial art). The truth is that there’s very little chance of me being challenged to a duel to the death, let alone a duel using seventeenth century weapons. Training, to me, is more about recovering or re-learning our lost martial heritage and sportsmanship than it is about preparing to defend my life, hearth and family (until the impending zombie apocalypse occurs, of course). The drills promote style and grace by training your body to move in a particular manner and they focus your attention on performing the moves perfectly and precisely.

As an aside, I first became interested in the precision of my technique after seeing a demonstration of iaido, a Japanese martial art which concentrates solely on drawing the sword, performing brief offensive and defensive moves and returning the sword to the scabbard. The art shows just how beautiful a technique can be.

The second text is a defined set of responses to particular threats while standing in a particular guard position and is (somewhat grandiosely) called The 24 Master Techniqies. This is basically the syllabus for the school. In essence, what it does is say “Ok, you’re standing in middle guard back (our equivalent of the German pflug) and someone attacks to your high outside line (throws a blow at your upper right for the right-hander). How do you defend against it?” By removing the thought process from the rock-paper-scissors like thinking evident in many historical treatises (eg: zwerchau breaks vom tag), it becomes much easier for us moderns who training maybe once a week to become proficient at what we do. It turns historical fencing from something concerned only with static knowledge of the medieval sources into something much more dynamic and functionally driven. These techniques are also built into the drills so that they become automatic and very natural responses.

The best way I’ve found to preform the drills is to do them a few times until you know the moves then do them again with your eyes closed. This makes you (well, me) concentrate on how my body feels and moves during the drill. You can feel how each muscle group changes and interact with other muscle groups during the drill. I’ve found that the precision of movement I can achieve using this technique greatly increases my confidence in my abilities as a fencer – and makes me look good. This concept of muscle memory is dead interesting.

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