When I was 19, I was studying Hung Gar Gung Fu. I trained really hard, five or six days a week, lots of weight training and full-contact work. At one point I was working graveyards at a 7-11 in what seemed like a nice neighborhood but turned into hell itself after midnight. Being the only business in the area that was open at night, I got to be the place people came to call the police from after they’d met a demon or three. The boss encouraged us to keep weapons at hand throughout the shift, and you better believe police got free coffee all night long.
One night the crap started outside of the store, for once. A frantic woman started bashing on the glass windows and screaming for help, and then opened the door, yelling something about a guy going to beat the crap out of his girlfriend. Sure enough, I looked out across the street and saw some guy throwing a woman around. Hero mode kicked in, and I started across the street. I shouted to get the guys attention, and started a big, puffed-chest walk towards him. He turned, looked at me, and starting coming towards me. I realized he was a big guy. And every step he took, I realized just how much bigger than me he was. By the time we’d both stepped off of our respective sidewalks and into the middle of the very busy street, perspective kicked in and I realized the guy was a for-real giant. An angry, drunk, and very violent giant.
So the martial art style I’d been training in was tough, but also very…fancy. I’d spent the last month learning to do a lovely cross-step, leopard-fist strike to the armpit, guaranteed to shatter ribs, I was told. One look at the behemoth, and that plan went out the window. It was quite remarkable, really…hundreds of hours of dedicated training, and I take one good look at the guy and decide that if he so much as flinches at me, I’m going to stomp kick his knee, grab him by the head and smash that head into the ground until he stops moving. Because otherwise I’m pretty sure I’m going to die. I also decided the prudent thing to do was to veer off from direct confrontation and check on the health of the woman.
The story ends with a fizzle, and lesson learned about drunken couples being massive idiots, and me learning that even when my stomach is so knotted up with fear that I feel like my entire midsection has been removed, I can still intimidate the shit out of someone who could crush me in a heartbeat. And I dropped out of Hung Gar the next day. I spent the next three years doing nothing but learning to throw the strongest right leg roundhouse I could, and strongest right-handed reverse punch possible. I had no more patience for learning anything that wasn’t going to chop down a giant instantly.
Which, of course, availed me nothing when it came time to be good with a sword. Power means diddly next to sharpness, and size and strength are minor considerations next to reach. A decade of learning to chop giants down to size, and now that I had a sword in hand, I was once again victim to my physical attributes. Rapier is the perfect art for the tall and lanky, and stubby tank like me is an ill fit. But I’ve always hated admitting that anything is beyond me, so I put myself to the task of reliably overcoming the tallest.
It was a good journey, with lots of lessons. I learned not to try to work the inside of a tall person. It’s the common tactic, and it’s stupid…unless you are only boxing. Tall wrestlers even have an advantage in ground work, with all that leverage. In theory you have an advantage in rapier by getting inside the taller person’s guard…but any tall fighter worth his salt expects every single person to try to get inside their guard, and they have become specialists at screwing you up when you try. Devon Boorman used to be a real master at this. For a while he intentionally used a short rapier…to stop people from bitching that he was only winning because he was tall…which had the side effect of making him an excellent in-fighter, which was the very last thing people expected.
I found the best way to fight a tall fighter was to take them out of their comfort zone. Instead of driving in, stay just at the outer range of their measure, and invite attacks. Evade the attack with a fade to just out of measure. You build up a series of feints and invitations that encourage the tall fencer to pursue openings, until they start to over-extend themselves…at which point you have put them into a place they are less familiar with, having to reach just a little farther to hit their mark. You’ve made them too short. You’ve made yourself the tall person in the exchange.
The trick then is to take advantage correctly. If you counter now like a short person, and try to get inside…you give the taller fighter back all their measure, plus a dose of tempo. If they are half awake, you are going to eat at least one shot. You have to act like the tall fighter, fight in the same way that frustrates you. Confidently parry and make a good collection of the incoming attack, and then strike back at maximum measure…far enough away that your opponent doesn’t have the chance to counter. You want to make a long-distance sniping attack, the kind you would usually use against a target of opportunity like a wrist or foot…only this time the sniping target should be the mask.
You still have to be the better fencer, of course. But with this strategy you can equalize the measure factor and balance the playing field a little.