You see the knife in the hand, and all your training tells you to do anything other than what you are about to do. Block, parry, run, kick, grab the hand and wrest the knife away…anything other than pick your knees up, drop to a squat and expose your back to that blade.
But you do it anyway. You drop low as you see the knife start to arc, almost picking your feet up, you bend your knees so fast. For the merest hair of a second, you squat low. The knife is starting to curve forward, but you don’t see that anymore. You can’t change what you are about to do anymore than the knifer can. From the low squat, you drive forward, back exposed but under the path of the cut. Your shoulder slams into the attacker, one of your hands dropping low to trap a thigh. It’s fast, but not quite fast enough. The knifer has started to react, pulling the knife back…and you lift your head up hard, trapping his arm forward…you’ve got him. A hundred ways to finish the fight now, some not good for you, but most good. Much better than standing in front of the knife and trying to evade the frantic attacks. And all you had to do was commit…
And train non-stop. No avoiding that. A deep penetrating lunge takes some serious hours to even start developing the correct mechanics. But beyond the mechanics, the strategy is the hardest to develop. Bridging the gap, finding the void, hitting the slot, working the angles…lots of phrases, lots of different approaches.
When boxing, (in my schools’ terminology, any fight without weapons is boxing. A fight without weapons or striking is wrestling.) I like to transition to close range work by first making my opponent settle down. I want them trying to find a point of balance, sinking their weight down for comfort, strength and speed. I usually get them to that place with a series of big attacks, or stiff jabs. I want them thinking about kicks and punches. When they do that, I want my students shifting offline, looking to the opponents knees to make sure they are at a real angle to the natural motion of the opponent. Once they have that angle, they level change and penetrate, tying up the opponent and bring the fight into the realm of the grappling game.
You can also get there off of strong physical contact, like a block. It’s riskier, though. You have to have a good feel for the opponents commitment to the contact. If they are fighting for the position, that point of contact becomes a still point, a point of balance that the opponent seeks. That point can be your entry to transition…it gives you an easy angle.
Grappling with weapons often fails because students lack the necessary feeling at the blade. They don’t understand how to feel for that commitment, and instead focus on a purely visual understanding of the geometry of the situation. “The blades are crossed in this position, therefor I can now do my fancy grab the blade move…” they think, and wonder why the clever move dissolves into an ugly mutual tug of war at each others blades.
If you don’t have the requisite training in wrestling, you will have a hard time understanding the correct cues from the opponent. You won’t know how to read the knee angle, you won’t know how to interpret the body position of the opponent, and your only clue will be the blade contact, which is the home of deception amongst good fencers. Well trained and experienced fencers will be able to compensate by drawing on that experience…which is why they rarely close to grapple against an experience foe. Commitment is usually a ruse among the learned!
Aside from plenty of wrestling practice, you can improve your bridge with lots of slow work. Work from blade engagements and learn to read the story of pressure…yours and your opponents. Push against the point of engagement and find the fulcrum…the same place you might perform a wind from…the point at which the opponent has placed his strength. Practice your ceding parries and learn to spiral around the still point of contact while keeping your blade as a wall between you and your opponent. Learn to understand the correct measures that define your follow up, from a seizure of the blade, hilt, or arm…all the way to a deep grapple to the body or a takedown.
Wrestling at the blade requires a rare finesse to pull off. More than just an understanding of measure, tempo and line, you need to know pressure, release and the mechanics of stillness. It’s a complex art. Just like playing guitar, easy to pick up and get the basics down…but masters are rare.