I dearly love to punch people in the head, but not as much as I like to kick them in the thigh. Alright…I lie a little. I like punching people in the body more than the head, but that’s not as “punchy” as an opening line, so there. It’s a lovely little pleasure to generate a good solid rotation, hit someone just right, and watch them just up and fly away. Doesn’t happen too often. Seems that people don’t like me getting that close to them when we box. Meanies.
Stabbing someone with a sword is a different kind of fun. There is a real satisfaction in landing a precise shot that seems to have a life of it’s own, landing in just the right way. When a good shot lands, the opponent sags a little as their brain forces them to acknowledge that they have been truly bested in the moment. It’s a nice feeling, a great feeling, but it doesn’t have the same visceral gratification as a punch or a kick. Part of that comes from the different power generation each discipline requires.
Good mechanics in boxing exist to allow you to transfer all of your body weight, plus momentum, to a finite point…a few knuckles, the point of the elbow, shin or something else. There are a lot of other factors at play, but that transfer of energy is key. Momentum has to be built first. It has to successfully transfer to the target, which requires an efficient pathway. Rigidity through good alignment is key. Muscle tension is commonly thought to be the source of rigidity for momentum translation, but this is incorrect. Transfer happens along correctly aligned skeletal structure, with muscles providing tension support for the bones.
The muscles start the motion and build the momentum, speeding the limbs along, but it’s a delicate balancing act. One muscle contracts to lift and bend the arm, another start to straighten it. Some muscles have to relax to achieve best speed, others have to actively lengthen to maintain approach alignment. At some point before impact, all the muscles of the body have to synergistically come under tension to guy-wire the body together. With good training this becomes the basis for a springing reaction that starts the recovery process.
The diamond-structured steel of a sword eliminates the need for skeletal alignment to transfer momentum. Sharpness eliminates the need for speed as a requirement. It’s a lower energy equation in some ways. The energy that we would commit to delivering a good blow with a fist or a foot is now freed up. We are best served using that excess energy for tactical considerations.
I don’t need to plant my feet to drive my hips to twist my torso and drive my arm forward. I don’t need to root, I don’t need to drive my opponent from his place. I need to find my enemy more than move my enemy. I need to find him with the steel. My muscles and alignment now are less concerned with speed and rhythm, with the jackhammer drive, and more with agility and reaction. We need to move like hunters, fleet and stealthy.
The mechanics of swordplay still require strength and alignment. We still need to transfer momentum. We have an extra joint to worry about now, with the sword. We don’t need to transfer our energy all the way to it’s striking surface, but we do need to place that striking surface with absolute accuracy. We need to be able to radically alter it’s direction at the smallest quanta of motion.
Instead of letting our knees continue to drop over the feet, giving us more weight shift, we grip more with the toes, and keep the calves tighter. We lose a bit of speed, and a little more power, but we gain in reaction. With the toe and calf prepared, we are better able to halt the forward drop, and shift the angulated momentum from gravity sideways or even backwards if need be.
Back muscles play a bigger role in supporting fine wrist and elbow actions, and allow dis-alignments of the body to alter blade trajectory. For a modern historical fencer, this is probably the hardest thing to do. We aren’t in touch with these muscles anymore, being surrounded by devices that do the job of the back for it. We don’t walk or move the way we are meant to, and most of us think of a horse as a mythical thing seen on movie screens, not as an essential part of our daily routine. We are blind to the muscles of our hips and back, and aren’t even aware of how they can help us with swordplay.
Without the need for the entire hand to be wrapped into a tight, self-supporting ball to survive and transfer impact forces, we are free to use all the muscles of the fingers, thumb and forearm to drive the blade. Alterations in grip can speed, slow or twist the blade in any plane. It’s a much more complex action, and some part of our finite chemical processing power has to be directed into the hand. Added to the increased speed of weapons work, we are at risk of overwhelming our ability to process and control information and ability. We are dependent on pre-planned actions, hard-worn neural pathways that can handle the atomic actions of parry and thrust, giving us just that much more limited ability to react and compose tactics on the fly.
We need a different energy mix, as well. More time is spent in low-energy states while maintaining tension, and we need a constant ready supply of ATP and an overcharged PCr reservoir for most of the muscles. The burn of the glycolytic system, so necessary for wrestling and boxing, is rarely touched in weapon work. Fencers need more power, much stronger muscles capable of faster contraction, than other combat artists.
Different training, different outcomes. Yet still people want the satisfaction of feeling like they’ve hit something when they pick up a sword. They don’t feel like they’ve owned the process unless there is the satisfaction of a heavy impact on one side or the other. It’s a feeling born of innocence in the best cases, willful ignorance in the worst cases. From top to bottom, wrestling, boxing and fencing are different arts. You have to respect their differences and train them each correctly in order to reap the benefits of the synergy of the triad.