Bunnies, bloopers, and slow work.

Let’s start with the good stuff today. Kaja Sadowski, who wrote the hugely popular “Turning Expectations” guest post, has started an Indiegogo campaign for her other project: Starlit Citadel Reviews. When she’s not fencing, Kaja works in the gaming business. She and Joanna Gaskell started doing these video reviews a year ago, and they are popular and a lot of fun. They have support for a half-season, and are starting a campaign to make it a full season. Go kick em some money. It’s entertaining, and worth it! You can find the campaign here.

In WMA news, Guy Windsor has an intriguing blog post up today. I admit I really found it interesting because I was toying with the idea of making a similar post. For a bit of context, ARMA, the “Jersey Shore” of Western Martial Arts posted this article a little while ago. In the usual ARMA fashion, it’s almost impossible to read, barely makes sense, and tries to be hostile to everyone. Sometimes entertaining, when “The Oatmeal” hasn’t updated recently enough. Anyway, the article struck me as particularly odd, since, as Mr Windsor points out, real skills are indeed learned slow. Constant practice lends speed, and to the practitioner, it still feels slow.

When I was learning to strop my straight razor, I wanted to go all speedy like you saw in the movies. I was told to just go slow, always slow. So I did. I still feel like I go slowly…right to left, lift, flip, apply, left to right, lift, flip, repeat…but it appears to be fast. I taught myself to quick-draw my pocket knife by smooth, intentional practice. I still perform it smoothly and intentionally, but people comment that it is a fast draw. Could have fooled me.

When I wanted to increase my speed as a fighter, I improved my diet and got stronger. I never want to feel fast when I fence. I always want to be in precise control of what I am doing. I want time to correct for my screw-ups, which are constant. Inevitably some fencing actions  will exceed even your own ability to perceive. It’s entirely possible to move so fast you don’t even know what you are doing. I’ve shown this time and time again to myself and clients with slow-mo video reviews. In such cases your only hope of awareness comes from methodical pre-planning of actions…or countless hours of slow-work fencing to build up your perception.

I’ve lost hundreds of matches because I was just too fast. I got a lot of corrective advice when I was working on my competition game, and I struggled to improve and incorporate that advice, but it wasn’t until I got good slow motion footage of myself that I realized I was moving two or three beats ahead of my opponents. I would feint deep, disengage, attack another line, counter the expected reaction and land my real attack. And usually pez myself on someone’s blade because they were still reacting to the first feint, which in retrospect would have been a perfect single-time attack.

Fortunately I did finally learn to slow things down, and keep things within the level of my perceptive abilities. If my opponent is very fast, my instinctive reaction will usually cover me with a parry before I’m even aware of the threat, thanks to unending slow work.

Now if only I could figure out a solution for my knack of making stupid decisions in the middle of a bout…

One Comment

  1. Interesting reads. I fall down the ‘go slow first’ route; mostly because I find that with fencing there’s such a huge amount of ‘wasted’ effort that can be trimmed out but really only seems that way when you are forced to go slow. I used to fight at half-speed against opponents going full-speed :).

    In addition, I’ve always found that if I work on a technique really slow at first till I know it well, I can easily speed up the technique till I hit ‘combat’ speed. After that, adjusting to an opponent to make it work (timing, physics of clashing blades) is much easier in combat.

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