Tuesday, November 16, 2010

This is really uncomfortable, do I have to stand like this?

So now that we've got you standing all funny like, you're probably asking yourself why you'd ever want to stand crouched down with your shoulder facing a guy thats coming after you with a sword.

The short answer is mobility. When you're defending yourself from someone coming after you with a sword, the best way to not get stabbed is to not be where they put their sword. You fight with your shoulder turned to your opponent so that you provide a smaller target, and you fight in a crouched position to allow your legs to act as springs so that you can move quickly and efficiently without losing your balance.

Basic Footwork:
I said this weird stance thing was all about movement, so today's article will introduce you to the most basic fencing movements, the advance and retreat. The goal with these movements is to move either towards or away from your opponent quickly, so you will want to make your steps small, really no larger than a single foot length. The advance and retreat are meant for the sort of small, quick, efficient movements that you want to perform when fighting.

When you are in your guard as described in the previous post, the advance is carried out by taking a small step (remember, no larger than your foot length) forward with your right foot followed quickly by an equally sized step forward with your left foot.

The retreat is pretty much the advance in reverse. You start with your left foot and take a small step back and then follow with your right foot.

At the conclusion of these movements, you should be in the same guard as you started in. Your body weight should be balanced either equally between your legs or slightly back. If you have done other martial arts, you may find this counter to what you have learned. (Many martial arts favor a forward weighted stance for power generation, but this is unnecessary for what we are doing and furthermore, a front-weighted stance makes your vital bits closer to your opponent's stabby bits.)


When working alone, you will mainly be working on performing the action correctly and over time you can work to build speed. In an open space, perform a series of advances (maybe 3 or 4) followed by a series of retreats without pausing in between. Ultimately this drill keeps you in approximately the same place and can be performed in a fairly small space. When working on these movements, work on making your step size consistent, keeping your balance, and completing the movement in the same guard as you started. Over time, you can work on building speed so that you can perform these movements rapidly and in quick succession.

Follow the Leader Drill:
This drill is done with a partner and will apply for pretty much all of the fencing footwork. One partner is the leader while the other is the follower. Both fighters assume their guard at a distance from each other like they're about to fight (maybe 5 or 6 feet if not using a sword). The leader chooses footwork to perform and the follower mirrors them (leader advances -> follower retreats) in order to maintain the same distance between them as they started with. This adds a level of speed and unpredictability to the footwork as well as introduces you to the concept of maintaining a certain distance between yourself and your opponent.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The 5 minute run-down now in print

As I mentioned in the previous post, I had a request to put some of the information we throw at new fencers in a printed form so that it can be easily referenced outside of fencing practice. Today I'll be going over the basics that I go through with brand spanking new fencers. I usually start off with a brief explanation of the safety rules. I make sure to talk about saying "Hold!" for everyone's sakes. For a thorough listing of the rules, see your kingdom and society rules of the list. (Atlantia: http://rapier.atlantia.sca.org/rules.php)

Standing in Guard:
  • There are a variety of "stances" employed by various fencing masters in period as well as in the SCA, but to start off with, the most common stance is the same as that used in modern fencing.
  • I find that an easy way to find this stance is to stand facing your "opponent" with your feet together and your arms at your sides.
  • Assuming a right handed fencer, turn your left foot 90 degrees so that your feet make a sort of backwards "L" shape.
  • Take a step with your right foot only so that your feet are spread about 15 inches (1 and a half of your own foot lengths)
  • Allow your body to turn so that your right shoulder is pointed towards your opponent and your chest is facing to the left. 
  • Bend your knees. You should feel this in your quadriceps fairly quickly unless you do a bajillion and a half squats on a regular basis. 

Two important things to check:
  1. You should now be in a semi squatting position, but you need to be sure to keep your back straight and your torso upright. 
  2. Your right toe, knee, and shoulder should be in line with each other and pointing straight towards your opponent. 
All of the footwork is done from this position. It will take some getting used to. I wrote up a drill for this a few weeks ago that might be helpful. here (Drill #1)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A blog for learning how to fence?

One of our new fencers remarked to me that he wished there were a blog or online text about fencing that catered towards very new fencers learning how to fence.

I'm considering taking up his idea, but I'm not sure where to start. If you were to try to explain how to do historic/SCA fencing to a new fencer through the internet, how would you do it? Obviously this is no replacement for attending practices, getting feedback in person, etc, but I think his purposes were to help him remember what he is supposed to practice in between our weekly practices.

If I were to construct a syllabus, it would look something like this:

I. Standing in guard
II. Basic Footwork (advance, retreat, pass forward, pass back, lunge, left, right)
III. Properties of a rapier (how to hold it, true edge v false, forte v foible, mechanical advantage, parry positions)
IV. How to stab someone/how to not get stabbed/ calibration
V. Tempo
VI. Disengages, Feints, Invitations

The goal isn't so much to create a really good fighter so much as build a very general framework to start with.

What are your thoughts?