Strong enough?

I’m not sure when strength became a swear word to the historical fencing community. The knee-jerk reaction is to comment that weights slow you down. I’ve been told a few times online that strength training would ruin my fencing, making me into a lumbering beast, presumably with shortened arms to match my primitive approach. I sometimes feel like I’m alone in actually taking the time to keep up with sport science.

The usual refrain is that speed, finesse and control are the hallmarks of good fencing, and those are things that can only be destroyed by lifting weights. Which is total nonsense. You cannot be fast without muscles to make you go fast. Speed is nothing other than the result of an intense contraction of muscle. Strength training is training a muscle to contract as quickly and strongly as possible. Weights are most commonly used for this, but they aren’t the only tool.

Anything that loads a muscle up, and makes it exert more force than it’s used to, helps to promote strength. I use a carefully designed progression of athletic exercises…sprints and gymnastics…because I don’t have access to adequate weights and facilities for my students. I also resent the time weight training takes, when I can achieve what are equal, and in some ways superior, results in shorter time with no equipment.

Strength is key for any martial art. You must be able to explode quickly in any direction, including up and down. You also need to be able to stop that acceleration instantly, which can require even more force than accelerating, as the body mechanics are usually not so well balanced. Being able to make a rapid parry, disengage, beat and extension attack requires a well trained, tuned and strong muscle system. A weak person moves slowly.

Strength radiates out from the core. The spine has to be strong, the muscles of the back powerful and lively to support the shoulders, and deeply rooted into the hips and legs to take advantage of the push-back from gravity to give us impetus. The quality of that support structure directly relates down to our fingertips and out along the blade. If you build strength all along the chain, it will show in the precise and technical actions of your swordwork. Strength training cannot be neglected. It must be a part of your training program if you really wish to claim swordwork as your art.