The other day in fencing class I was asking my teacher about what kind of solo practice would be beneficial between sessions, and we talked about using one's reflection in the mirror as one type of visual aid to practice lines, transitions, guards and parries.
I then asked about practicing targeting on a wall or dummy and he said something really interesting that matches perfectly with what I learned in Eskrima.
He said absolutely, but far more valuable than picking a target and trying to hit it, rather align your body with the weapon from different guard positions, thrust, and observe where the point hits. That way you are learning from the core to the periphery, and the hand eye coordination come from the feedback loop of body alignment manifesting in a hit, not an external target pulling the intent and hoping that the body will follow ....
Your whole body will learn by what it actually does, not just by what you want it to do, and achieving your aim by using what you actually do, turns out to be much more efficient in the long term than hoping for an outcome and trying to find a way to make it happen ... I guess it's like the Zen archer folks 'losing attachment' to outcome - focusing their training purely on the process, so when all is in tune, the arrow naturally hits the target.
On a physiological level, this focus away from the periphery makes sense too when seeking to improve accuracy.
I've been painting for a long time, and have done a little sign writing too. Not sure if anyone out there has done any, or ever seen anyone else do it in the old style, (Have a look here if you are interested: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6YCF-7bms8Q) but for freehanding accurate lines, sign writers usually use an arm rest to help align the brush before the brush is put to the surface, during it's use, and when it is pulled off the surface. Both sides of the body are in use, sometimes even weight shifting and turning the waist.
In house painting, you do the same thing when you make a freehand line with a brush, you either support the arm on your body or with your other arm and move the hand, or keep the whole arm in a fixed position and move the rest of the body (walking or dropping down) to create the line. Basically you are aiming with your whole body, your hand being an extension of it, and thus the brush also.
Works well for brushes, but also for tip only, and edged weapons, and has the added benefit of conserving balance and power, and enabling efficient recycle to the next move with no loss of either.
As a point of interest, Sonny said he would 'sight' with his knees, i.e. if his lower body was in the correct alignment relative to is opponent he knew he could hit them without even having to look.
"-achieving your aim by using what you actually do, turns out to be much more efficient in the long term than hoping for an outcome and trying to find a way to make it happen." I'm not sure what you mean by this. I have found, in 'real' practice, that students aim, and move, the center of their chest at the target first, then the feet move, then hips, then vision, then shoulder, then elbow-wrist-weapon (which can be the fist). Is this what you are referring to - independent motion vs leading center?
Any weapons art requires that the body be aligned behind the weapon as the blade/stick should be an extension of the body.
In the case of the foil, the shoulder and body are behind the line of the tip, so that the blade hits true and does not slip off.
This line varies depending on angle of attack and target (high, low, left, right) and as it turns out the line from the surface BACK or through into the opponent from the tip (empty hand the same) is what you should be looking at.
Similar with cutting weapons, and impact weapons - in these cases either the belly of the blade, or the tip of the stick have to 'arc' as efficiently as possible relative to the target to make a good hit.
So, as you say, orienting your body in relation to the target is the skill you want to imbue into your body memory, rather than just touching the target with the weapon.
The alignment THROUGH you, AND them is more important than just what is BETWEEN you, so working on containing balance and power when hitting and reorienting your whole body when targeting, is a better way to train than just touching specific targets with no 'meaning' behind them just to get 'points'.
Unfortunately the desire to 'get' the target often makes us forget the more important part that lies behind .....
Did that make sense?
Yes. Very timely, too because, just before my students began sparring two weeks ago, I prefaced the first session with a talk on the artificiality of sparring vs 'real' use of the blade. To get a point, only the weapon edge or point need touch a target, without concern for body position. To get a 'kill' - as you have articulated - body and weapon must be aligned, at least at the last moment. The 'setup' motions can be disjointed, but - at the 'moment of truth,' intention, focus, will, posture and weight must come together, like a pyramid on its side, all elements at the base coming to the point.
I would add that in our style there is a style of fighting Sonny called 'picking', which is exactly as you describe - touching with the tip or edge only with no 'depth' behind it.
'Drawing blood" only, as opposed to something more serious, and a way to 'pick' from the outside and not enter into range for anything decisive.
More of a psychological dissuasion than a physical incapacitation ...
Interesting. A former trainer at my Muay Thai school used to talk about lining up his shoulders with the target to set up his punches. Seems similar in concept...
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