Minimalism and Specialization

Quote-Ten-Thousand-Kicks-Bruce-Lee

Unsurprisingly, it turns out that Bruce Lee might have been on to something here, so today we’re going to take a look at the idea of training a minimalist style with the goal of being highly specialized in one or two areas.

This methodology is one geared toward people who are still starting out and have not yet become experienced or adept enough to really branch out into the sort of things that make a well-rounded fighter; this is for someone who still maybe needs to work on their lunge, or has decent-but-not-good timing, measure control, or whatever else might be lacking after only a few years of practice. The idea here is to eliminate as much from the decision making process as possible so that what is left comprises only the barest essence of your fencing: form and judgment. By eliminating everything else from your mind except for a minimalist strategy, you reduce the number of variables to contend with and can have greater gains faster.

To accomplish this, pick one versatile guard and begin there, always. It might be the only guard in Thibault, terza in Capoferro, the extended quarta in Fabris, or the Iron Gate in Meyer. Whatever else is available, ignore it for the time being. The next step is to realize that having one good response for attacks to the inside and one good response for attacks to the outside are really all you “need” in the strictest sense.

As an example, I present to you Mirko Filipovic, one of my all-time favorite fighters:

“Cro Cop” was a terror in his day, but he used a fairly basic strategy to accomplish a very dominant run: he threatened his opponent’s right side with punches to the head and body, and then landed a brutal kick if he had the opening. If you protected your head, your ribs took the damage. Once your hand dropped to protect your ribs, your head opened up as a target. If you thought too much about your right side, you were kicked from the left. I’m grossly oversimplifying here, but the fact of the matter is that you don’t end up with 13 T/KO wins via kick by accident. Doing one or two things sublimely well can get you very, very far if your strategy is to make the circumstances happen where you can do whatever it is you do well.

If you’re a fish, make sure that all your fights happen in the water. Don’t accept a challenge to a footrace.

Using the example of the Fabris extended quarta, we see that there is a clear “ocean” and a clear “footrace” dynamic at play. From that guard, you would need to have a clean lunge, a clear sense of measure, and the ability to take the tempo offered when an opponent steps into measure. You would also need to have the patience to wait for them to offer it, and the will to act decisively as soon as an opportunity arises.

What you can’t do from there is pick and snipe, or hop around. If you’re looking for something more movement-oriented with (debateably) lower-risk/lower-reward targeting, then do something else. Don’t run on fins. Invite your opponent for a refreshing swim, drag them out into deep water, and drown them.

After enough time, if you’ve adopted the extended quarta as your base, you’ll have good timing, good measure, good form on the lunge and pass, good blade mechanics, and a really good sense of your body and how it moves from that position. If you went with Capoferro’s terza, then you’ll be good at some of the same things, but you’ll probably trend as I did into being more of a counterattacker because that was my initial base. With Thibault, you should develop an excellent tactile sense of your opponent’s blade, quick feet, and superior fight geometry. It doesn’t matter which base you establish, simply that you have one before you branch out into things that are too complicated for you right now. Feeling overwhelmed is discouraging, and I’d rather that you enjoy successes while still learning rather than learn through failure alone, especially since the latter option will take longer since there’s more information to work through after each fight. With a set plan, you can look to see where your plan failed rather than try and figure out whether it was your measure that failed you, or if you simply didn’t pick the right counterposture. Eliminate variables.

Don’t stop here, though. This is for intermediates to hone their skills. If you want to reach the next level you will have to eventually become good at everything, or nearly everything. Few people can skip steps, and you’re probably not one of them, and the people who are one of them usually spent years doing something else that allowed them to skip steps in the first place. When you have a solid base and you keep adding to it, you can reach a point where you have an answer for everything.

The real beauty of being exceptionally skilled at a minimalist strategy is that while some people may complain that you lack diversity, you may have much more in your arsenal than you even need to be victorious. If you can land one or two shots over and over, and no one can stop you, that is a failing on their part, not yours. It’s even better if you develop depth, because then the first person to solve what everyone believes is your entire skill set will be sorely mistaken and unpleasantly surprised when they realize that they’ve only dodged the tip of your iceberg and they’re taking on water anyway.


There’s something to be said for dedication. 🙂

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