Wrestling to Lunge: Mechanics of Speed

As part of our usual rotation, last night’s unarmed portion of the class was a wrestling focus. We started with a variation on the fireman’s throw, and then worked some ground defenses. We had a lot of fun, and when the time came to pick up the swords…it looked like everyone still wanted to do a little more wrestling. So I asked what the group wanted…and we spent the entire night working on wrestling. In the last hour I introduced some new guards. We moved from the closed guard to the butterfly and x-guard, and talked about different grapevines. We started to work with the omoplata, but stopped short of using it as an entry point for the more usual bar hammerlock.

The class wrapped with a lively session of sumo wrestling, which really showed the development everyone has gone through. After months of work, everyone is starting to show some solid basics. Strength, size, and athleticism still win, but every student now understands just how much more equality skill can bring to the game. And the fitness training has really started to show…No one was all that tired after a night of wrestling. It felt like an easy class, until we started to walk down the stairs to go home. Today is a day of stiff legs and sore muscles.

Cooling down after class, I got into a chat with the students about lunging technique, and variations. I showed them that one of the reasons we wrestle is to develop a stronger lunge. Gunslinger, who’s done modern fencing, talked about how he was taught to just kick the lead leg forward, and use gravity and momentum more than the back leg drive. I demonstrated how the method I taught used the same principle, but added in the leg drive as well.

Watch any athlete move at high speed, and one thing is universal…the very first thing they do is lower themselves. Everyone drops. It might only be a few inches, it might be more. Most people aren’t aware that they do it. It’s a key action…bending the knees, tipping the body that slight bit forward…that gives us our first kick of momentum. It’s utterly key to good wrestling skill. You must be able to level change with ease and power before you can have any kind of a decent penetration. Level change and penetration is wrestling equivalent of a lunge, for those of you who don’t speak mat.

For fencing, we can start in the usual guard, which for most is some variation of Capoferro’s terza…right foot forward, back foot pointing out at some angle, sword sticking forward. Lots of variations, depending on which school you train it, but it’s pretty universal. Lunge teaching tends to focus on the mechanics of the arm and step. You always extend the sword first…You may skip that step if you are fencing me, I always appreciate it. After that, you may be taught to lean the body, to step with the front foot, to lift the foot and straighten the back leg, to kick, to roll the quillons to a new position or something else. Everyone has their own flavour here, but most of your practice is going to be spent honing one or the other of those elements.

When I work with a student or client to improve their lunge, we usually skip all of that. The first thing we work on is the level change. From the initial guard position, we relax our legs and let gravity drop us down. At a certain point, you can’t go down in guard any further, and you start to understand your high school physics lessons about potential versus kinetic energy. Dropping down has allowed you to access the potential energy of the higher position, and now that pent up energy has become momentum. When the structure of the guard stops that energy, it has to go somewhere. It translates along the easiest route, taking an angular change into forward motion. We start to lean, to tip…in order to preserve balance, the head starts to come forward, and the chest follows. If our foot position is good, and we have strong enough legs, our posture becomes a ramp that begins to propel us forward.

Now we can start to apply our technical training. The drop has started to twist the body a little, which kicks the arm and sword forward. We can ride the momentum and use our strength to finesse the blade. We pick up the forward foot so it can stop impeding the transfer of energy forward. We straighten the back leg for that extra little bit of boost, and to add any extra “english” our attack might need. From here on, the usual rules of your school can apply to some degree, although you will likely need to adjust your measure somewhat. It may be a more committed attack than you are used to, so you might want to compensate for recovery with a little extra stand-off. It’s also a good idea to compensate for extra power, and make sure you don’t take someone’s head off with a nasty pez shot.

Of course, the same mechanics directly apply to throwing a good punch, as Jack Dempsey wrote about. It’s why we train all three arts in a holistic fashion at our school. Box, wrestle, fence. A true mixed martial art. Every art feeds into the others.

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