Matadora By the Numbers

We got a lot of excellent photos in last night’s class. It was in part due to a lack of equipment, which meant Courtney/She-hulk was able to use her talents with the camera to good effect. It was also partly due to the students. Our process of athletic development and heavy fighting tends to lead towards photogenic moments. Squeak and Zim, being the most athletic, tend to feature in the daily picture the most often. Worf, who is probably the strongest fighter in class, tends to not make the picture cut as often. He’s a powerful, aggressive fighter with an strong tactical sense, but his style has less pose. Last night we got good photos from everyone, but I chose the “Matadora” photo for a reason.

Squeak, when she started to train with me, was a very rigid and linear fighter. Talented, and very capable…but she had adopted a precision fight game that had led to a bit of a plateau. She was very much the model of a modern, period-style trained fighter. She’s more than capable of composing an effective fight game using only the most formal interpretations of Capoferro’s style…Something she is clearly not doing above.

The blog software I use has clipped her feet off, so you can’t see that she’s driving up, with elevated heels. It’s a powerful rising motion, with lots of rotation. It takes excellent timing and real aggression to land a shot on Zim, who can accelerate and decelerate, dodge or jump in less than a blink of the eye. Squeak has used unorthodox technique here, to land the shot…but it still comes from solid technical understanding. The basics of Guard, Line, Measure and Tempo are laws that can’t be broken, but it’s up to each fighter to find the best way to interpret them.

One of the problems that can arise with a more pedantic approach to learning period swordplay is the “must” fallacy. This is the belief that if you do certain actions, the opponent “must” respond in only certain ways. As I’ve talked about before, Aldo Nadi does this when he talks about “Freedom in Defense” saying that if you parry, the opponent must think only of their own defense…anything else, he goes on to illustrate, would be foolish. Suicidal.

The fallacy arise from this, from the assumption that humans won’t do the stupid thing, the illogical thing. It assumes that the opponent will know they are defeated, and respect that. If you’ve fenced for any length of time, you know better than this. It’s why we come up with so many different rule sets. We try to teach fencers to think correctly, to do the right thing at the right time…to burn out the poor logic which makes them risk their own lives. Which is the correct thing. We don’t want our students to do stupid things.

But that has no bearing on what our opponents might do, and damn the teacher who lets a student fight without that understanding. The world of martial arts has no place for a teacher who insists that everyone should dogmatically follow a certain logic, and deride those who don’t as being some sort of barbarian. Rules are for games…games can be powerful training tools, but you need to be clear about whether you are teaching gamesters or martial artists. Martial artists use the games to become better fighters, but know when it’s time to put the games aside.

I watched a mixed-martial-arts fight last night where one fighter was a martial artist, and the other a gamer. It ended quickly, with a savage arm-break. The gaming fighter was clearly out of her league, and when the unusual submission was applied, she lacked the training, experience, and mindset to understand the danger she was in. She committed the ultimate sin of being comfortable in the middle of a fight. She paid the price in a late understanding that not only was her arm breaking, but it was about to be wrenched in a circle after being broken.

This happens in fencing bouts where someone comes and does exactly what they were trained to do, confident that the opponent will react in the proper way. They never see the shot that hit them. I’ve seen fighters complain about shots not being “right” for one reason or another, as if the fact that it was unexpected would magically cause sharp edges to dull, and tips to blunt. More often I see people just flat out ignore a shot that offends them, that doesn’t arrive in a way they expect. They insult the art when they do that. They kill their own potential as a martial artist.

You should always be prepared for the unusual or unexpected. And you should know how to develop a defense, and an attack, that builds on your training and what you have been taught is good, to improvise and outsmart your opponent. Play the games your teacher gives you, and remember that they are only meant to build a specific skill. If your teacher is good, you will learn to build those skills together into a personal style that is yours, and yours alone. If it’s a style that will let you survive an encounter with a skilled opponent as well as an unorthodox opponent, rest assured Fiore, Capoferro or Marozzo would give it a thumbs up…

8 Comments

  1. “More often I see people just flat out ignore a shot that offends them, that doesn’t arrive in a way they expect”

    Though isn’t this part of the paradox of training. While we need to acknowledge our weakness, then need to ignore it in the real thing. People in survival situations survive because they refuse to acknowledge they are screwed, other accept it and die, People run on bloody stumps and broken legs.
    If under pressure we revert to how we train we have to create a set of “rules” that create “cheats” 😉

    • ????. Your meaning is unclear.

      • Sorry, I wasn’t clear. As a teacher one is helping people to improve, to do this they have to find and acknowledge their weaknesses and address how they should prevent it happening again. However if fighting for real the last thing one should do is acknowledge that they have been hit, they should keep going, keep fighting until they achieve the goal, whatever that may be.
        So in some ways we are asking people to do things that are in opposition from one another and finding a way to keep them able to do the reality despite the training.
        Am I any more clear? :-/

  2. I’d love to see you post some high-res pics from these sessions. You keep talking about how great the pictures are but unless I’m mistaken we don’t ever get to see hardly any of them! 🙂

  3. You meaning is clearer. Thank you.

    I am not disagreeing with anything that is said here. The school I attend has a very different training philosophy from Valkyrie WMA. I think the training goal may be different also.

    I do my best to understand other philosophies on martial arts, including the goals and training method of a group or school. I cannot explore all of them personally by experience. My solution is to study what other martial artists write, say, and video record of their actions. In this way, I can gain some understanding of what different philosophical approaches are intending.

    There are several fencing masters that agree with your statement: “However if fighting for real the last thing one should do is acknowledge that they have been hit, they should keep going, keep fighting until they achieve the goal, whatever that may be”; most especially Augustin Grisier.

    Good luck in your training.

  4. I was just looking at taking some Wing Chun classes with some guys who warned that showing up and trying to mix in my own background with what they were teaching in class wouldn’t work and that it hadn’t for everyone who’d tried. I want to thank you for helping me feel reassured in my decision to back away from them and their “my way or the highway” mentality.

  5. There is a point though, when people come to a class with other experience, and rather than studying what I, as a teacher am teaching, rather they they want to do things “their” way, or just want to show you all the stuff “they” can do, and/or start showing why your stuff is weak. Not saying that is what you would do. But it can be a pain when people do it, How one address’s it is a whole other post.
    Of course at some point the class should be trying to make whatever they can work, and finding out what in the style works or doesn’t against other things, and why.

  6. I agree with you entirely. One must often put down everything one already knows in order to learn something from a new system. When the teacher never goes back and sees how what they know can work with what you already have though, there is a problem.

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