Practice Log, 6/17

Let’s get to it …


We’ve recently introduced our students to the concepts of measure, tempo, and line. Naturally they’ve already had some exposure through osmosis. Thursday’s drill was based on the idea that we can only safely attack an opponent who has given us a tempo.

So: to start, agente finds, patiente performs a cavazione and lunges against a passive opponent. Pretty standard stuff to get the mechanics right. Then, the next step. As Dave said, “wouldn’t that be stupid?” Yep.

The cavazione retakes the line, but agente has not given patiente a tempo in which to act. Patiente is acting out of tempo, and agente can use this to his advantage. Agente could, of course, simply retreat or parry, and survive. But he has better options. Among them: retaking the line in the tempo of patiente’s attack by turning the hand and extending through patiente’s proffered debole.

This is hard to do. When a sword comes at us, our instinct is to move it somewhere else (parry), or move ourselves somewhere else (void or retreat). Moving towards it violates all sorts of lizard-brain warning sirens. But if you can take the tempo, it works.

Usually, anyway. If patiente overfinds with the cavazione, agente will be out-muscled and unable to counterfind (but patiente’s extension will be off target, and agente can drop into a low pass or a void). This took a little time to discover. It’s always fun when something should be working, but it’s not.

After drilling, I fought Torse a bit. Sticking to Fabris’ fourth has opened my mind, even if the actions are still difficult to do. Torse is a great fencer, he trumps all my edges, but during our first few passes I could see the openings – I just couldn’t take them fast enough. He’s too quick for me to think about it, so I figured out the counters to a couple of his favorite patterns and readied myself to perform.

Attempting one of these resulted in a low pass in second, during which I caught a quillion between my metacarpals. That ended my fighting for the day.

Letia came out and did some lunge drills, pursuing a backpedaling Cailin until she was juuust in range, then launching the lunge. There was visible improvement in form, which resulted in MORE kibitzing from the sidelines. It was all well-meaning, of course. I think good fencing may be like good writing in that regard: the better your performance, the more critiques you’re likely to get. This is because only large-scale corrections can be made to an atrocious lunge (“no, hand first!“), but as you get closer to perfection, the critiques get increasingly detailed and thus, more numerous. Don’t get frustrated, and work one thing at a time!


Baronial practice! We had six fencers, plus Dame Roz out of armor. After some footwork and lunge drills, we moved on to drilling Ruairc’s Book of Four Things: press, fall back, step, and charge. More to come in another post on these!

There was some trouble drilling. After basic instruction on the target maneuver, one unit (we shall call them A) was receiving the target command and performing the maneuver; the other (B) was supposed to provide resistance. Problem was that B invariably knew what A was going to do, and subconsciously (or consciously, in Gawin’s case) “cheated” to counter it. Once we became aware of this and called them out, we were able to fix the problem relatively quickly. Mmf. Have to make sure everyone knows how to do the drill properly, whether it’s melee or singles.

I also tried out my mezzo-tempo footwork drill. There were some problems with auditory processing latency and it didn’t quite work as hoped. We may need lights or something. I’ll keep thinking.

A Semantic Digression Into Lunging

I was trying to improve my lunge today, and Gawin was providing feedback. We were going slow, trying to figure out why my geometry was off vis-a-vis Fabris’ plates. We broke it down. Performing the lunge without the step worked well, but whenever I tried to add the step back in, I ended up screwy.

This led to an interesting line of inquiry …

When we teach fencers to lunge, we usually give some variant of the following:

1. Extend (the arm)
2. Lean (the body)
3. Step (and push off the back foot)

Naturally, this gets internalized after a few hours of drilling. But the Masters seem to conceptualize of the lunge a little differently. Giganti just mentions extending the body forward (presumably by driving off the back leg) after the arm, and mentions the front foot only when he describes the recovery. Capoferro notes that the “extraordinary guard” can be reached with or without an accressimento (an “increasing” of the pace). Fabris also notes that the firm-footed attack can be done with or without “carrying forward the right foot” (portando il destro piede inanzi; Leoni’s translation gives this as “lunging forward with the right foot” but I think this could be misleading for my purposes here). None of these are conceptually the same as “step” – which seems to indicate, at least to me, an extension of the foot.

Once I removed the idea of “stepping” and instead just drove off the back foot, with no muscular action in the entire right leg, everything immediately improved, and I had a much better sense of the muscle isolation that gives the lunge (and the “advance”, and the retreat) its rapidity. I also did not overstep as much.

So that’s an idea: there is no step; there is only extension, followed by extension, followed by extension. A straight chain of muscular action, quite in line with general martial principles (although inverting the usual power-generation sequence), with everything moving the sword and body forward. The right foot is simply “carried forward” and doesn’t do much moving on its own – certainly not as much as would be implied by the word “step”.

Of course, this hasn’t seemed to confuse anyone else. Maybe I’ll try it on my students and see if they get any mileage. Thoughts?

15 comments to Practice Log, 6/17

  • With the bulk of your weight on the rear leg, the action for the front leg is less a step and more simply removing the buttress that allows you to fall forward into the lunge, aided by the extension of your rear leg. I’ve written more about this on my website.

    This is, in part, why I’ve also talked here about the lack of utility in breaking things down into discrete movements: more often than not, it leads to incorrect interpretation.

    • Ruairc

      The mechanics made perfect sense in my head – but I had to excise the ingrained idea of “step” before I could actually do them with consistency.

      We usually try to learn complex motions (or complex anything) by breaking them down. If this is likely to lead to mistakes, are there any better approaches?

      • *Nothing* makes complete sense in your head if you cannot also do it in reality.

        You learn what is *involved* in complex motions by breaking them down, but you do not learn to *perform* them in that way.

        A sentence might be: adjective noun adverb verb adjective noun. However, for a sentence to be useful, it has to express an *idea*.

        “It is also important, when you lunge, that you are lifting up your right foot and allowing your left leg to propel you forward; if you have too much weight on the right foot, you will have to push off with it as well, which wastes time and energy. Rather than falling easily into the lunge, you will have to move upward before you can move down and forward. If done correctly, the lunge should feel like gravity is doing most of the work for you; your hips should not elevate at all.”

        “Remember that when you lunge, your arm will extend fully and the body will follow; this will improve your point control and enable you to disengage or yield around parries as necessary. I think of it like dropping an anchor off a ship, with the sword being the anchor, your arm as the slack in the line, and your body as the main coil of rope: the sword moves first, then the arm, and the instant there is no more slack, the coil unravels. A good lunge should look as if your point is being pulled forward and your body is following it.”

        • Ruairc

          Funny how I could read that a half-dozen times and STILL get the semiotics wrong. It’s almost like “lift up your right foot” could be synonymous with “step”!

          • Why would I say “lift up your right foot” if I meant “step”? 😀

            “Just as a lunge is accomplished by removing the buttress and allowing the body to fall from the pillar…” — me.

  • Wistric

    When you push off the back foot does it move?
    When you stop thinking in terms of stepping with the front foot what does the front foot actually end up doing?

    What part of your form/fight/etc were you working on at practice Thursday? How did you go about working on it? Was it effective?

    • Ruairc

      Back foot does not move. Gawin thinks there may be a turn around the heel (per CF) and there seems to be support in Fabris’ plates for this. I’m not totally convinced. It doesn’t open the hip socket, so you don’t get more distance; on the other hand, it does seem to balance better. Might be worth doing just to ensure that the weight is going through the heel.

      The trick seems to be just raising the front toe, and allowing that flexion to carry the foot slightly off the ground, then explode off the back leg and land. Said “explosion” has to be tightly controlled and directed, of course. It is useful to think of it as moving the hip or shoulder forward rather than a sort of one-legged “leap”.

      Thursday was a lot of sitting in fourth and trying to act in contratempo. There was a lot of “oh, that would have been a good time to lunge” and similar. I feel safe, but I don’t have time to think. Need to make some of these actions more automatic through drill.

      • Gawin

        You only seem to keep the weight pushing through your heel when you rotate the foot. When you don’t rotate you do one of the following 1) pick up the heel 2) pick up the whole foot 3) roll the ankle over sideways onto the edge of your foot.

        • Ruairc

          Sure. But I ought to be able to keep the weight through the heel sans rotation – in which case, why bother?

          • If you’re expanding your body to lunge and get the narrowest profile, you have to open your hips up to do it. This makes you drive through your heel because your toes are not available any more, which should invariably all lead to an outward rotation of the thigh and the foot as a result.

          • Ruairc

            I see – the foot is following the thigh. That makes sense.

          • Dante di Pietro

            Generally speaking, it’s better to look at the spine and head first and then go outward from there with most mechanics. You can put your foot all over the place if you don’t move you torso, but the position of your torso really dictates where your limbs are going. Perlman talks about controlling the spine via joint locks; this is an extrapolation from that, but going in-to-out instead of out-to-in.

          • Gawin

            Not with your toe still pointed slightly forward on that leg. Unless of course your Achilles is super stretchy.

  • “I think good fencing may be like good writing in that regard: the better your performance, the more critiques you’re likely to get. This is because only large-scale corrections can be made to an atrocious lunge (“no, hand first!“), but as you get closer to perfection, the critiques get increasingly detailed and thus, more numerous. Don’t get frustrated, and work one thing at a time!”

    Hell yeah.

    • Dante di Pietro

      The positive side to this is that while there’s more fine work to criticize and plateaus become commonplace, when things do improve they tend to result in great leaps forward all at once.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>