Swordfighting can give you a great sense of measure. With good work and attention, you can reliably lean back out of an attack so it misses you by millimeters. You can sneak just inside an opponents measure well enough to kill them with the slow hand, a gentle partial extension of the arm that just touches them. You can lunge the length of a room and hit an opening the size of a button at full extension, knowing your opponent has relaxed, thinking you are too far away to worry about.
But boxing and wrestling have measure demands of their own. Those demands require specialized training, as much as swordplay does. Fencers often have a problem boxing because of this. Hand measure can be learned fairly quickly, but the knack for understanding the flow from hand to foot measure can be tricky…and bridging the final gap to wrestling range can be trickier still.
Part of the issue is comfort. It’s difficult at first to teach an experienced martial artist, new to the sword, to rely on the steel alone for defense. Once you get used to the utility of the blade, it can be tricky to switch back. Hands and feet don’t have the same ability to control and strike that a sword does. It takes good drilling to keep familiarity up.
Part of the issue as well is that the transition range with a sword requires a different tactical mindset. When you move into range for grips with a sword, you still have to be aware of the blades, both as sharp pieces of steel and also as leverage tools. A steady eye is required to survive the maelstrom…you cannot reliably survive a single gentle touch from a blade, after all, anecdotes and macho needs aside. Neither, of course, can you count on the most vicious attack to put an opponent down. Armed and unarmed close range work both require excellent, but different, mindsets.
The 2×2 drill in our class is going to be developed more to address this need. The usual format of the drill is a simple exchange of blows, left and right. Punches, kicks, elbows and knees. We use this drill to build basic competency in boxing actions…it’s an opportunity to teach correct mechanics and basic boxing tactics. I also chain together actions to provide the students a good balance and direction change exercise, stealing combinations from various martial arts like Savate, Pugilism, Muay Thai, Capoeira and others.
We wrapped with a sequence last night that started with a jab, followed up with elbow and knee strikes, and then a spinning back fist followed a reverse of direction, squat and leg sweep. Not a sensible martial art drill, but difficult to pull off at speed. It served my evil purpose though…Students moved from jab range to close range, then level changed and wound up behind their partner. I’d slowly walked them through a deep penetration measure drill, with a “station” at each level of measure. It was an easy step to teach a proper wrestling drive and suplex technique as a follow up.
I got to shortcut all the usual issues with students not understanding how deep of a drive was required, or how to keep awareness even when committing, or how to build and use momentum to complete the throw. A very rewarding class for me, due to excellent students.