Sunday, February 5, 2012

Heel Toe

Trying my hand at a few new disciplines.
Been working out with Scott to learn about Shaolin sword. Still continuing Toyama Ryu with Sensei MikeE, and now am 4 lessons into foil fencing again after a break of over 30 years ....
My foil teacher is a very elegant gentleman with graying temples and of indeterminate age. He has been fencing for almost as long as I've been alive.
Luckily for me he teaches privates, so it's just me and him for about 45 mins every week ... the lessons are meant to be half and hour but I always arrive early and it's easy to get him to talk about fencing methodology, foil design, the changes he's seen over the years etc, which is really interesting.
It very fun and quite difficult. The delicate finger and wrist manipulations required of foil are hard to regain, but the way the stepping is done, classically, is absolutely counter intuitive to me now.
Foil fencers are taught to roll off the front heel when retreating for instance, and apparently do not slide their feet going forwards or back, 2 things that are deeply ingrained in my body from my other arts.
The stance is also pretty square and quite upright - I am used to leaning, and interestingly the reason for the upright position and the heel roll is exactly the same as the reason that in my style of Eskrima you keep the weight on the ball of the foot and use the upper body lean ..... so you can disguise range and open up distance quickly.

Part of me really wants to add some context to this new and different information, so I can get some empirical evidence of why one way may be better than another ... but I guess I'm going to have to be patient and not be too obnoxious about it .... yet. But the question remains, without evidence, how hard do I work at changing something I know works quite well in other contexts?
Thing is, I understand that the context is different. After all, it's a tip only weapon, with only the upper body as target, straight line only, sport.
I can see that all these factors play into why the blade is manipulated as it is, and the positioning of the sword makes complete sense too ..... But the stepping and body positioning? Can't say I can see the reasoning yet, and probably won't until I get hit alot and find out by myself the reason why it is taught that way.

Sometimes trying to keep a balance between politeness and a questioning mind is a hard thing .....


considerphlebas said...

hmm. I think some of what you are being asked to do is a consequence of the learning process and normal reactions to what is asked. I just did some steps to test, and I move almost entirely on the ball of the foot. Rolling off the front heel is a side-effect, the actual goal is to
1. be able to push off with the major leg muscles
2. finish the step as quickly as possible
3. keep your feet underneath you as much as possible.

So, starting from fencing position with knees bent, if you told people to push off the ball of the foot they would naturally start to point the toe and straighten the leg. This transforms what is meant to be a sharp, snapping movement into more of a leap. Keeping your feet underneath you as much as possible makes it hard not to have your front heel contact the ground during the movement. so that contact is embraced as an easy way to teach the concept, but is not necessary (although I have known several stubborn traditionalist coaches who have taken highly skilled fencers with good footwork and tried to force this back in).

Leaning is the same way. Most people in fencing position will lean from the waist, disconnecting the upper and lower body, slowing movement. Most fencers, especially in saber, end up favoring a forward lean, but it comes from shifting from the knees and moving the weight forward slightly, which gets a little range and also enhances the snap of the retreat. but beginners will want to bend from the waist, so the more upright, totally centered form is what is taught in order to unify the upper and lower body.

Foil is traditionally the weapon taught first, but it's going to be the most abstract in terms of connecting it to what you already know. Saber would probably be more comfortable for you, and teach you some interesting things about speed and reaction time, while epee might show you some new things about large distance and entry preparation.

considerphlebas said...

oh and sliding: sharp direction changes are very important, so foot traction is also very important. Sliding the foot is seen as slowing down motion, but also fencing strips are metal mesh, and sliding will grind the traction pattern off your nice grippy fencing shoes. even sooner than normal. the ideal tends to be as close to sliding as possible without touching the ground.

Maija said...

Thanks cp - I knew you'd help me out with this :-)
I actually want to learn Saber .... but figured foil was traditionally first so why the hell not give it a go ... You are right though, it does seem much more abstract.
I'm pretty sure most of my inbuilt tendencies come from cutting weapons, so Saber I'm sure would make sense faster, though even then, this staying on one line thing is quite odd ... I'm going to have to imagine I'm fighting in a narrow hallway or something :-)
Hope to get to Epee too.
We'll see how rigid this teacher is about 'form' relative to function ...

Mike Panian said...

It will be interesting to see how your body reacts to the different approaches, to the cognitive dissonance of two ways that may feel like they contradict. I think to challenge yourself like this is good to do but I have heard other people argue that working at divergent things can mess you up. What do you think?

The idea of a linear fight...once I played paintball :) with a fellow from the SAS. The way he approached things was to move very linearly then retreat circle and move linearly in again. That made me think about how linear and circular movements can be utilized in general.. Maybe that example is a bad one. I dunno. Do you have insights about how to combine the feelings?

Maija said...

Next post should answer the first question ... and as to linear vs circular ... never thought about the direct relationship between that and advancing and retreating ... obviously getting off line is good, and a straight line is the fastest most direct way to get from a to b ....