Monday, November 19, 2012

The First Problem

Every time you attack, you are open ...
Put another way, if you can get them ... they can get you, and the thing they can get most easily is the part of you that is closest to them, which, in all probability, is your weapon hand.
Sword designers know this of course, so any weapon designed for combat usually has some kind of hand protection, a guard of some kind. This can take the form of a cross piece, a basket, a cover, a thumb guard, or a curve in the blade that deflects cuts away from the hand.
(Of course even with a hand guard the arm is still a target, it's just a little harder to get to as it is further away and behind an obstacle (the guard itself).)

In the Visayan style I practice, the weapons generally have no hand guard at all, because it is a system designed for 'daily carry' blades - Bolos, Goloks etc - and these are utility knives/tools. What this means is, because the piece of kindling, coconut, or chicken you are cutting is not going to cut back, they are deemed unnecessary.
This means that when you use the same blade in a combative setting, the first necessity is to protect is the hand, because basically, no hand = no weapon.

So the ability to target the hand and to not be a target is the first problem to solve, and the first game to play. It is part of our First Flow - playing at the edge of the range and 'picking' targets whenever they appear.

First lesson:

Learn how not to get hand tagged.
Learn to tag the opponent's hand.
Learn to not get tagged AND tag at the same time.

More advanced:
Learn how to use body angle and weight shift instead of stepping to play the margin. Also, learn the limits of this game - when to bait a tagger, and when it is too dangerous and what new game to play.

The most important pieces here are understanding range, but also understanding repetitive rhythm and the ability to mirror/read you opponent's patterns, whilst making your own movement as unreadable as possible. The ability to be accurate is also an absolute necessity.


Randy Packer said...

In the European systems, hand protection is governed by the actions of the forte of the blade, the handspan or so in front of the guard. You learn to use this portion of the blade in scissoring or controlling actions to manage the opponents blade against his will.

This supposes an attack by the foible, the end of the you would use when sniping at a hand with the tip of a sword. The weakest part of the blade is attacking, so you use strongest part of your blade to counter the attack. The function of the quillons, or sweeps in later rapier style blades, is to aid in your control of the opponents blade as you step in to follow up the defense, nuetralizing disengages (hopefully!)

The concept of line, sometimes called stringere in italian styles, seems to be almost unique in it's importance to the historical weapon styles. Which, of course, leads to some neat little dagger plays...have you read Marozzo's section on knife work? Different principles and concepts, leading to plays that might seem familiar. Neat stuff. I love it.

Maija said...

Thanks for the comment, Randy.
I think I have found a link to a translation to Marozzo's knife work, but would love to get your recommendation as to which is best.

I find it fascinating how blade design dictates system - am I assuming correctly that you are playing with single handed longish blades? Double edged perhaps, or are they tip only?

The style and length of the swords most commonly used in what we do means you can 'turn corners' with the tip. This in turn means the game tends to turn round in a circle, I mean both people moving around 360 so I think the foible vs forte contact is very different, and in fact very rarely happens as a hand defense, more as a closing tactic for body cuts. What is a most common paradigm in your style? Linear or in the round? And how does that relate to stringare? (This is possibly far too long a question to ask in a comments section ... feel free to say so :-))
I'm also curious if the hand rates as THE first target of choice in what you do, or whether it is more incidental due to the sword design of the period?

Randy Packer said...

Good Marozzo translations are hard to find, they all take some work. I use William Wilson's at but honestly you would want to read most of Steve Reich's Glossaries and such on this page before tackling the material.

You might find his translation of the self-defense section deeply familiar, and yet oddly different all at the same time. Defenses such as VI might seem sort of insane, but once you understand Marozzo's approach to guards and footwork it suddenly makes more modern sense...

Heading to bed soon, so I'm going to try to write as much as I can. If I can free the time, I'll try to respond more on the weekend.

My main weapon is a double-edged rapier that is as long as my armpit to the ground, paired with a dagger a forearm length long...but the system, and my training, covers all weapon sizes and types, from dagger to pike, touching on saber, quarterstaff, singlestick, paired weapons, cloaks, shields, etc.

The hand is one of the first targets...It's not usually mentioned, but when it is, the context is usually as a feint, or a way of killing time until a better situation comes up. Stabbing at someone's hand is a "free shot" may or may not hit or damage the hand, but if you do it right, it's hard for the other guy to hit you back, so...why not take the chance? The techniques that counter hand shots cover both these potentials.

And just for fun, here's my working copy of tow bits of Marozzo's dagger (his daggers are relatively big) work that I thought were a bit relevant. Hope they aren't too hard to read, and are somewhat entertaining:

cap 53 - From a good guard with close feet, thrust at the outside of the enemies dagger hand, as a feint. Follow up with an attack to the inside, and then step in and attack the head. The enemy should be trying to follow your attacks and will be trying to meet you edge to edge when you start a cut to his head. Your forward step and his counter should present his arm as a good target to grapple with your left hand, leaving you the opportunity to slice his head or stab him in the chest...don't let him counter with his left hand, though. After you strike him retreat four or five steps and settle back into guard.

Cap 54 - with the dagger exposed, the enemy stabs at your dagger hand. Lift your dagger over the thrust and give the enemy a backhand slice to the bicep of his dagger arm. If he responds with a forehand cut to your head, meet him with the true edge of your dagger, and deliver a vertical cut to his head, returning to a good guard afterwards.

Maija said...

Thanks for the links, and the explanations of the techniques - easy to follow :-)
The exploration of techniques from the historical texts is obviously a big part of looking back at usage, just curious when you free spar what comes out? And if you have found contexts where certain techniques appear?
Also, does the hand become a common target during your free sparring?

In our context, the hnad tagging is the most obvious and the first 'play'. Generally from safety, momentarily entering into tagging range and exiting. Like I said it's called the First Flow as it is the first thing people tend to do, and it's the first problem to solve because of this.
Using blade to blade contact to enter and close is considered 2nd Flow.
The highest level, 3rd Flow, assumes the blade only comes in to play to cut the body and never contacts the opponent's weapon (apart from on the exit if need be). The entry is created without contact.

shugyosha said...

"Put another way, if you can get them ... they can get you"

Maija, if I may: Only if they use the same kind of weapon.

Maija said...

@ shugyosha -
Actually it's even more nuanced than that .... If they have a longer weapon but the hand comes in first (weapon tip is back), then it applies.
If my hand is not an open target but my body is ... they can have a longer weapon and I can still tag their hand with a shorter one.
If they are poking at me with a long spear and I have a short sword ... then maybe not, though a projectile could work.
And then there are the moments when technically we are both in range, but because of angle or momentum only one can tag the other, but the other cannot counter tag.