Thursday, August 16, 2012

3rd Flow

My teacher was very fond of the number three - The Trinidad he called it, and threes certainly appear as a consistent feature, not just in martial arts but in the whole human experience - waltzing, triangles, gua (trigrams), ba-DUM-cha ...... and on.

Sonny broke training down into 3 main flows -

1st flow - mostly out of range and picking targets by momentarily jumping into range and out again - the target is mostly hand and arm.

2nd flow - all about bridges, fighting from contact, either from an offensive or defensive move. Target is now more body (and head), but arm and hand too, as secondary.

3rd flow - considered the highest level, and only possible to understand after working through the first two. The main target is the body (and head), but there is no blade to blade contact, in fact the blade is held purposefully out of play, either down, or back, never tip out between the players. The entry/opening is created purely from body movement and blade manipulation in space, and the blade purely used to cut. (There is sometimes blade to blade contact on the exit, but not necessarily.)

3rd flow, as an idea, makes a great deal of sense when you understand the poor quality of the materials used in some of the original Filipino weapons, though all swords, even of the highest quality, tend to eschew edge to edge contact to preserve the brittle cutting edge. It is, however, hard to achieve, and feels incredibly counter intuitive.
(Just FYI - Some FMA systems train using the flat or the back edge to parry or block. Sonny used them too, but often preferred the angle of the edge bevel. He also always 'rode' the power of the strike to lessen the impact, even force to force.)

I was thinking about this yestarday at Sabre class - a classic 1st and 2nd flow system - with the blade always held tip forwards, guarding the space between the players. I asked my teacher if the 3rd flow game makes an appearance at all in this context, and he said not really - not that it's impossible to hit with no contact, but that it rarely happens.

So .... what are the parameters of the 3rd flow game? What dictates if it is an option, if it makes sense or not?

Size of weapon? Space? Weapon design? Context?

It does not makes sense in a point sparring sport where double hits don't count or right of way wins out, and it has to involve weapons with an edge, not purely stabbing/poking weapons ... and there must be 360 degree possibility of movement ...

I've seen it in samurai movies of course, and the single clean cut seems to be held as a central aesthetic of Japanese swordsmanship ... and I was taught it as the highest level of the Visayan Corto Kadena game ..... so ...... between the Japanese and the Filipino systems we have single handed - single edge - short swords, and double handed - single edge - long swords, both possible, also in battlefield and duel. Cane seems to fit the bill, and perhaps shorter stick too .....

Outside the parameters I have tip only weapons and double weapon ... maybe.

What else?


considerphlebas said...

Maybe I'm not understanding exactly what 3rd Flow means, but I see a lot of it in high level saber.

Blade held down, very little blade contact except by mutual agreement. Not sure how well it reads to someone not used to fencing, but the touches are mostly very clean, in terms of who hits first and the... intentions? of both fencers.

I think the main condition for 3rd flow to happen is there has to be a mutual respect for possibilities, i.e. if you are able to make a parry, I assume that you would do so successfully and so no contact should be made. There's no expectation of a technical fault (trying to block but not doing so successfully), only a forced fault (having been maneuvered into a position where it is not possible for the block to arrive in time). A match proceeds as possibilities are eliminated through positioning and movement until a clean hit is possible.

I definitely strive for and have sometimes achieved this in epee fencing, so I would rule out tip only. Double weapons may not be possible to find this because there are so many more potential situations where the only clean hit involves having one weapon contained. might be our brains just can't hold it.

Maija said...

Thanks for the clip, and yes, your reading of 3rd flow is what I'm talking about.
The best example in my eyes was the 3rd hit - no contact, clean hit, exit.
It is certainly hard to ascertain the cleanness of some of the hits to an unseasoned eye - some seemed good, the contact coming from a late (unsuccessful) block, but other times seemed like 'double death' material, and others had contact/break ... then a clean entry. I think I liked the 10th, 11th and 13th points too.

I would like to get your opinion on a couple things - Even though the guy on the left won, I liked how the guy on the right fenced more ... not sure why, perhaps because he was center screen more ...?
I am assuming the guy on the left was a better counter fencer? Would love it if you could compare their games a bit to help my understanding.

Also, from your Epee experience, do you think it harder than with Sabre? Especially restricted in lateral movement as you are - the margins are so much tighter.

Thanks :-)

considerphlebas said...

I know and have fenced with the guy on the left, so I have a bit of a bias that way, but in general:

The guy on the left was is a more powerful fencer- all his attacks and parries are very concentrated, and he's got good eyes. He's watching and has a better meta-awareness of the bout.

The guy on the right is faster, a twitchier fencer- he's constantly throwing off a lot of little starts of movements. Also, he's very tall, long reach.

So left is looking to create a decisive situation and boil things down, while right is constantly trying to create confusion. Left has to give ground because of the reach advantage and the fact that right is faster to start steps and feints.

At 13-9, right should have been able to attack straight off the line and win enough touches to win the bout. But he every time he tries to force a simple action, he loses, because left is just a more solid fencer (meaning, I guess, that he keeps a much stronger core positioning?).

Saber fencing has a default position of both fencers attacking off the line and doubling out. You've got to lay some groundwork down in order for that too change. so in that sense, epee is easier to get clean touches at the start of a bout. also, in epee it's possible to get stop touches on the arm that prevent an opponent from finishing their attack, and control the distance more exactly. Saber fencers sometimes hit at the edge of the range, but more likely are going to end up close enough that both can hit any target.

Maija said...

Thank You!
Makes sense that guy on the left has to deal with range advantage of guy on the right, and I think what I was seeing was right side guy trying and creating opportunities ... but as you say, left side guy had better skills at dealing with what was important, and had better subtlety of angle for the win.
PS:"Doubling out"is both scoring, or both exiting ...?

Erik the Strange said...

I have been watching the videos of Sonny and his students on youtube. I admit at this point I don't get the training methodology - but I am intrigued with what I see. Thanks for illuminating the pedagogy a bit.

considerphlebas said...

By double out I mean score simultaneous touches, in order to increase the score.
In epee, if you get a lead, say 3-1, and you're going to five, you can double out and win the bout.
In saber, if you can create a simultaneous attack situation, it'll usually tip back and forth, where one person gets a touch, and then the other, so you can get the same sort of effect over more touches.

Maija said...

Thanks CP,
And Erik - Glad you are making some sense of my ramblings :-) It's funny, because in some ways it's a totally old school training method, but it's not systematized .... though there is a progression. More of an experiential thing rather than accessible through pure visuals, but IMO at least, very effective.