Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Sword is an Extension of the Feet

The sword is the primary weapon of my system.

My teacher thought that the sword required the greatest accuracy and finesse to use, that the margins of error were the slimmest, and that the price of failure the greatest. Hence to get the most efficient learning curve, it was taught first, not last as in many styles and systems.

His method was - Accuracy first, then power, then speed, believing that if you could learn to understand range to such a degree of accuracy that you could differentiate a graze from a hit you would be far ahead of the game when playing with impact weapons or empty hand. Same with identifying angles, and thus lines of threat and safety - much more immediately obvious with swords than any other weapon.
Lastly, he wanted us to understand the use of evasion in gaining superior position, and there is nothing like an edged weapon to give the incentive to move out of the way.

He was a small man, and skinny - not of the body type to be able to take damage, and this was honestly one of the reasons I wanted to train with him. He understood the importance of protecting himself from damage way more than perhaps some larger, heavier practitioners who are able to absorb more impact.

He had to be certain, accurate, and have a means of entering and exiting range safely, or risk taking potentially fight ending damage in the process, and unless he had the advantage of surprise, the first hit was rarely the finisher because he did not like to commit all his power without having options if 'Plan A' was not enough to end the fight or give him the opportunity to get away.

His way was - Gain advantage/time, then drop them .... whether with edged weapon, impact weapon, or empty hand. To be clear, if he had the advantage of surprise, the first strike was often all that was needed, but the dueling paradigm assumes they see you coming ... or are coming for you ... and thus that you are behind the curve from the get go.

Once the accuracy was there, he worked on combining movement with torque and other methods of power acceleration .. so that the first hit would produce an advantage through either destroying the opponent's balance/structure or getting behind them, so that the NEXT strike would be possible, and that would be the one to finish or incapacitate to the extent that an exit was possible ..... Because as he always pointed out - it is easier to get in than to get out, easier to hit than to avoid being hit.

Gaining advantage could come in the form of shocks to the nervous system, perhaps hand hits with their potential to disarm, hits/kicks to the knees and feet to unbalance, perhaps showing flashes of movement in the peripheral vision to unsettle, other threatening moves/jukes etc, or even something subtler like a sleight of hand or some other way to steal range without the opponent noticing. All the time looking for the opening to 'take out the computer' .... that would be the head and brain stem.

But it was always movement that was the key. Movement gave you position. Movement gave you evasion. Movement gave you power. Movement gave you cuts. Movement gave you an exit.

They say the sword is an extension of the arm and thus of the whole body, but it is the feet that really give the opportunity for the sword to do it's work .... or the stick, or the cane, or the hands.


Unknown said...

Your insight is always well thought out and appreciated. Thanks. ;-)

Jake said...


Fencing in the SCA was what gave me an appreciation for the importance of footwork, which has stuck with me to this day. (A friend, who served as my teacher, often said "fencing is 90% footwork, 5% mental, and 5% other stuff").

You make me miss sword work.

Jim said...

It's more than a little interesting how many martial arts masters, across disciplines, find or teach that footwork is so powerfully key to success. My own teacher has stressed Footwork, Rhythm, and Timing for years as the keys to success.