Other People’s Stuff: Aggression

The following e-mail thread has been ongoing on the Academie list, and has some useful thoughts.

The opening post:

Greetings to the list. A few people have been working with me recently on turning up my aggressiveness from its current minimal level. I find myself with numerous mental hurdles to overcome in being more aggressive. For example, in my dim mind, I suppose that I need to gain technical skill, master the art of calling blows correctly, gain good form, consistently have proper stance and footwork, master the control of my blade, and master the rules about blade grasping before I can think about turning up the aggression.
I know there are top fencers in Atlantia who clearly fight with aggression. I’ve seen other fencers who seem to win by having superior technical skill and form rather than being obviously ferocious.
Does focusing on aggressiveness help one to learn good form, or does it distract from learning the technical skills? How do I learn aggressiveness while not gacking my opponents, getting myself hurt, ignoring valid blows, or breaking rules?

Thoughts from Alric:

Aggression does not necessarily mean jumping down your opponents throat.  Aggression is the willingness maybe even desire to attack your opponent.   The best technical skills will not help if you are not able to say to yourself ‘It’s my turn to win’.
It’s just that some of us are more enthusiastic in our aggression than others.

Thoughts from Mathias:

One facet of “turning up the aggression” that wouldn’t necessarily interfere with learning all the things you mention below is simply taking the initiative more.  Instead of waiting for your opponent to make his/her move, and then reacting to that, move in and throw some attacks of your own.
The more time your opponent has to spend reacting to your actions, the less time he/she has to initiate actions of their own.
Thoughts from Belphoebe:
I have always said that fencing, like sex, is nothing more than an expression of who you are.  Technical skill can be acquired.  Aggression is something that has to be cultivated from the inside out.  It is about making it who you are.  It is about the mind game, and only you can figure that out.  No one can do it for you.

There are some very good books out there regarding psychology of sports.  Although no book will teach you how to be aggressive, you may learn some valuable techniques that may help you in your quest towards getting to know yourself and making it happen.
In the meantime, keep working on your technique.  You are doing the right thing by working with different people and watching what they do.  Keep doing that. The rest will come with time.
Thoughts from Dante:
My general philosophy is that if my technique is good, everything else will fall into place. I don’t need to be aggressive per se, but I need to have a fast, violent lunge that will land where I want it to. I need to know my range, how to protect myself, and how to stay balanced.
I’d probably be considered an aggressive fighter by many, but really I’m running a game plan in which I impose my will on my opponent and force them to react to me in ways I want. There’s no meaningful difference to me whether I rush in for a dagger cut or hang back and snipe, as each represents a strategy for a set of circumstances.
So, my advice would be: practice your fundamentals. Train footwork, train your lunge, train to engage and disengage blades, and train a parry-riposte response for different kinds of attacks. Practice single sword until you’re comfortable with that, and then move on. Be *controlled* at all times; a wildly aggressive person might land some shots by luck, but they won’t ever be *good*. Control and composure lead to excellence.
Thoughts from Arghylle:
There has been quite a bit of insight and help on this thread, I would like to add to the controlled aggresion thought.

“Controlled” is also having a plan, ie;  beat attack, thrust to shoulder,disengage thrust to the inside, slide to the right to clear….  If you dont have a plan, you dont have control, you can only react to what ever the other fighter dishes out.
Even if you have to change your plans in the middle, it is better to have a plan, or series of intentions
I suppose at this point I should offer my own thoughts.  First my reply to the list:
“Aggression”, for me, is the enthusiastic execution of my plan.  I think that, too often, fighters get concerned with unknowns and it paralyzes their fight.  If you can parry four and six (or, in the Italian form, quarta and seconda), you can successfully attack while defending against most fighters and their guards.  Boil your plan down to the essentials, and execute it with confidence.  Hesitation gets you killed.  Failure to plan gets you killed.
Now to get ridiculously pedantic: Let’s stop using the word aggression.  What we really want is control: control over ourselves, over our opponents, over the range at which the fight occurs, over the rhythm in which the movement happens.  And to have that control, you must first be confident in your ability to control.
Two things help with confidence.  The first is practice and drilling, until you know you can perform certain motions automatically, smoothly, and quickly.  Then, hey, you have confidence in your fight.  Work done.  Almost.
The second is ego.  Rumor has it that I am a cocky son of a bitch; slap-ably so.  I’ll admit it.  I go into every fight believing I will win it.  Why do I believe I will win it?  “Because I am a sexy, shoeless god of death!”  This means that my opponents will not intimidate me no matter how good they are, no matter their reputation. This also means that my ego gets me in trouble sometimes.  But more often, it protects me.
Musashi calls this a presence attack.  He describes it as extending your will beyond your opponent, and crushing your opponent beneath it, so that the actual fight is already decided.  I call it an ego attack.  My ego extends beyond you, and it welcomes your attempts to defeat it.
Even if your confidence has no basis in your real abilities, that ego attack unsettles your opponent, and they will make mistakes.  If you look like you know what you’re doing, even if you don’t, they will hesitate.  Their thought process goes “He has a huge hole in his guard right there, but he looks confident, so maybe he knows about the hole and it’s a trap, and so I should look for another vulnerability to attack.”  Which means they’re reacting to you, and over-thinking, while you advance in and launch your planned attack.  The Lazy Fencer Stance is entirely an ego attack.
Mantras help.  Consider “I will not move my back foot, I will not move my back foot.”  Or “My ego and my sword, they protect me.  They create a hole before me while my enemies stand idle; they annoint me with their blood; my stein overfloweth.”
So, having gained control through practice and confidence, you then drive your opponent before you and finish the fight quickly.  And it looks like aggression.

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