Sticks and Stony Hands

My hands seem to be more callous that anything else. I suppose it’s a side effect of so much weapons work, and all the movement work. My hands are on the ground a lot. It’s inevitable that the body will change and adapt to the circumstances I choose to put it in.

We’ve been doing a lot of cane work lately, derived from the modern French sport cane fighting. My chest really feels the work. Adaption hurts. Working on such an athletic style, you’d think my legs would hurt the most, as low strikes are done with a drop of the body and bounce back up. The correct mechanics make that a fairly smooth action, once you’ve put in a little practice. It’s a bit odd at first. You get used to it.

The forehand strike should be the easiest part. I’ve had a lifetime of striking arts, after all. And more than my fair share of time has been spent in stick arts traditional and non traditional. I’ve literally thrown thousands of cuts a night for weeks with my cavalry sabre. Swinging a simple stick in a basic forehand should be easy. You’d think…

The actual mechanic of the strike involves pulling the stick back close to the head, with the point forward, shifting weight back and then extending the stick straight out behind you. Then the weight shifts forward, the hips and feet get into the action, and the stick is swung forward to strike in a giant horizontal arc with a straight arm. If a single element in the pulling chain is out of balance, the strike waffles into uselessness. When it all falls into place, it’s a crisp and powerful strike.

Pulling off the co-ordination needed is making me reach far back into my martial roots. Pulling the right hand forward all the way from the right toe is not a natural action. Keeping tension and pull all the way through the chest, through the entire strike, requires time spent in repetition. If the hips don’t rotate just right, the body posture starts to collapse into itself and the tension is lost. Posture and timing have to align just right. And even when it all feels right, you still have to work in the back chain of push to counter pull. A few hundred reps, and you might have it down enough to start adding in the first hesitant baby steps of footwork.

Even if you never swing a stick in competition, it’s good practice. Half an hour spent on the basic strikes reconnects a lot of the muscles in the body, and following that up with some gymnastics work can be enlightening. At first, you just become more aware of the muscles used in a handstand. Eventually you learn that you can activate those newly discovered muscles to aid you. A handstand becomes not just a goal to achieve, but an exercise in muscle co-ordination. A drill to improve your fighting.

Carrying that lesson forward to rapier, even the most basic guard, long since committed to mindless body memory reflex, has to be re-learned. An untrained guard devolves into laziness without maintenance. Just maintenance isn’t enough to progress as an artist. The core techniques that build us up have to be continually improved. We must be able to run our guards and attacks on autopilot when we fight but what it is exactly that is on autopilot should be constantly updated.

The constant guard is passive. You have to make an effort to get it active again. When you stand with sword in hand you have to look into your structure. I, and most experienced fighters, take our favourite guards and relax. No conscious muscle is used, because I don’t need that. I have to ask myself the question, though…Could I throw the correct cane strike from this guard?

I can’t, because my muscle chain has been de-activated by familiarity. My structure is flawed. I’m not expert in my guard, I have not mastered it…I’ve forgotten it. I need to relearn it. If, in any guard, I am not capable of freely performing any action, than I am limited in my options. Limits are opportunities for my opponent. If I can only attack in a few ways while my opponent can counter in any way she chooses? I’ve taken my first steps to handing myself a loss.

To avoid that loss, I need to constantly strive to overcome my own inertia and momentum. I need to learn to integrate new lessons into my subconscious actions. My fight game grows through handstands and sticks, through frustration and effort. Every day it seems like I’ve found a whole new world of things I have to master, starting from scratch.

So many more callouses to come.

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