Movement and Building the Coiled Spring

Class before last I was without a partner, and watching the rest of the students go through a drill. I couldn’t stop bouncing. I was full of energy…already past the first hour of heavy work, but still raring to go. It wasn’t excess energy or tension that I was trying to release. It was just a feeling that standing still was a little stupid. It didn’t feel like rest, to be still. It felt like it took work…It was easier to bounce. More soothing, more natural.

Which is an odd way to feel, considering I am an overweight forty-four and bit year old man, more than two years past my expiry date, at least according to the arthritis doc who is probably still sitting behind his comfy desk. To his timeline, I would now be barely able to lift my arm, never mind my sword. I enjoyed myself last night, thinking of that, while I worked on handstand pushups. I can only do partials, with my feet touching the wall for balance, but considering that’s the equivalent of doing a partial 230lb military press? I’m okay with that. I’ll do better as I get older.

Fitness and technical training go hand in hand, supporting each other…but they are not the same thing. I think this is part of the problem some people have with fitness training in the HEMA world. They seem to think that fitness work…speed, strength, agility and endurance…can only come at the cost of technical training. If I had access to a classical fencing maestro for only an hour a week, I sure wouldn’t want to waste my time with him or her doing pushups.

But I would spend some of those hours outside of that time working to improve myself and my fencing game. It can only be of benefit. One hour of instruction should be supported by three hours of technical drill, six hours of specific fitness training, and two hours of pre-hab work to keep things balanced. A little study, even online, can give you lots of resources for developing a solid program for yourself.

Movement is the key skill we work on at Valkyrie. My experiences at working on strict interpretive work with historical fencing had left me a fairly rigid person. I was inclined to feel old…to accept that my skill would naturally decline with age, and that people with certain physical gifts would always be superior to me. The more hours I put into training, learning and being taught…the further I was falling behind.

My problem was a narrow approach. I focused only on the skill in front of me, only on applying what I had learned within it’s context. My sword is in my hand, my enemy is in front of me, I must identify his intent and respond correctly. The feet move on rails while I try to implement my solution. The rail might have a switch to an angle, but there was no other path than the rail. Supremacy must be found while being locked to their guide.

That wasn’t working for me. It was, to a certain extent…I more than earned all the accolades I wanted…but it didn’t match the phantom of martial excellence in my head. That phantom demanded more. As I so often do in life, I started by throwing out everything I knew, and starting from scratch. I examined everything in new light, trying to piece together things from the most basic bits. I saw a lot of thing…core basics, beginner level stuff…that I was doing wrong. I had been teaching them wrong, and, bluntly, been taught them wrong. The end techniques were fine, but I wasn’t able to approach them from the right base.  So with Valkyrie, we start working the basics right, so that when we later hit the same things I used to teach as beginner technique, we can approach them as mastery techniques.

Speed requires strength. Control requires strength. Precision requires strength. Strong legs require strong backs. Agility drills are a favourite with a lot of people for developing footwork skill…ladder drills, stop and start direction change drills…people like to take drills from high-caliber athletes and add them in piecemeal to a workout, neglecting the years of prior work the athlete did first. Because, obviously, jocks are stupid, right? Sigh.

To be a fast mover start with sprints. You need to be sprinting a lot. Every week of training should see an overall increase in the amount of sprinting you do. I mean more than just the running style sprints, too…try hurdles. We sprint in animal styles as well…monkeys, apes, bear, turtle and shrimp sprints. Sprint by racing to the end of your training hall with tuck jumps. Short explosive actions trigger a lot of changes in the body. A few months of direct sprinting will start to give you the strength to begin exploring rotation and compound motion in your sprints…but you better have been doing a lot of core strength work to prepare, or it’s not gonna work well for you.

It’s also important to expand the movement repertoire, teaching the body new limits in order to build confidence and precision in smaller movements. Once in a while we do a drill that has students moving about the floor, but limited to only moving below hip level. A few minutes of that is a grueling exercise, and one that gets you thinking about movement in whole new ways.

The strength and ability you start to develop opens up a new world of movement, and you naturally start to explore the potential a lot more. If you watched the video I posted yesterday, you can see us playing, taking huge chances just to see what happens. Making a game out of movement. Playing at swords becomes another drill, another thing that teaches us and encourages us to train harder and deeper.

With all the potential movement, all those angles of attack, all those possible tempos and tactics to chose from, Capoferro’s plate 7 becomes something more than the simple beginners movement that I used to teach it as…it becomes a complex action, a test of skill and tactical reasoning, a demonstration of ability to aim for in sparring. Instead of a rote drill to be endured with toughness, it becomes an engaging mental exercise.

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