Key distinctions between Physical measure and Effective measure and why it matters:

Physical measure is the largest space between you and your opponent where you can land a single tempo blow.  Ex: a lunge

 

Effective measure is largest space between you and your opponent where you can land a single tempo blow while your opponent is defending themselves.

 

This distinction is very important. When fencing, there are many times where you can reach your opponent, but they are far enough away to be able to defend themselves, and you put yourself at great risk for a counter attack.

Many considerations go into both physical and effective measure, and those factors carry different weight for each fencer.  Some examples include height, wingspan, speed, acceleration, efficiency of motion, positioning, processing time, reaction time, and focus, just to name a few.  However, that is an entirely different can of worms that I will not currently get into.  

Some of these factors are immutable such as height and wingspan.  Other factors can be trained like technique and speed. Finally some can be fluid within a single moment such as reaction time and focus. When considering effective range, you must be aware of as many factors as possible of both you and your opponent to give you the best chances possible to be successful.      

Many people operate well below what their maximum range potential is.  As I said many of these things are trainable.  Speed and acceleration can be trained through a variety of exercises.  I recommend the standing long jump, and leg presses.  Technique which I referenced earlier refers to correct and efficient motion.  For example, hand before foot when lunging and keeping a relaxed shoulder when extending.  Good technique (decision making aside) requires smooth motion.  That smoothness eliminates all unnecessary muscle twitches, jumps etc. which slow your movement and decrease your acceleration and in turn your effective measure.

 The mental skills of reaction time and focus are much harder to train.  The best way to train reaction time that I have found is to expose yourself to all possible motions from specific positions.  The more you know of what your opponent is capable of from any given position then you won’t be surprised by anything allowing yourself to calmly react to whichever choice that they made in a much more efficient manner than analyzing their attack on the fly, and making a guess as to what their goal is.  Focus is hard to train.  The best drill I have found is also the best one to explore physical and effective distance.  

This is a single sword drill without use of the off hand.  Fencer A starts as the leader, and B as the follower.  Fencer A places themselves where they think they can strike B in the torso with no defense from B.  This is repeated until A successfully finds the proper range.  That range is the extent of their physical measure.  The goal then becomes for A to strike with one tempo while B defends.  A may move their blade and posture at will, but may only lunge once.  B may defend with their blade at will and may retreat once, but retreat admits defeat if A hasn’t lunged.  Upon failure A moves 3-6 inches closer.  This is repeated until A is successful.  Upon Success A moves back 3-6 inches.  This repeats for 5 minutes or so and hopefully a small range of less than a foot has been established of A’s effective range.  They then switch roles and start the process over again(remember to hydrate).  Strategies to employ in this drill are explored below.               

There are ways to change effective measure.  One way to do this is with an effective feint.  By feinting you can either change your measure with a gathering step, threatening a line, provoking an attack, or any combination of those.  For simplicity’s sake we will use the example of threatening a line.  Starting at physical measure, imagine yourself threatening a line. Your opponent puts herself out of position with a wide parry.  At this point you have now changed effective distance, due to her poor positioning and inability to defend a second threat.  You are now able to disengage around her blade and strike her in a single tempo. By merely moving your blade into a threatening position you have the ability to change effective measure.

Another simple way to change your effective measure is with your body language.  If you present yourself as fully engaged, tensed, and highly reactionary your opponent will naturally feel threatened to a degree and keep their guard up.  However, if you look relaxed and lackadaisical they will often follow suit.  With this reduced focus it is very possible to slip through their defences with a slow extension that looks like a probe into a quick full lunge.  This is not always going to work, but it has the potential to if you know your opponent is weaker mentally, or is taking you lightly.

Gaining a dominant blade position is another way to change effective measure.  Imagine yourself lunging straight at your opponent and her being able to parry it successfully.  With these factors as givens you are not within your effective measure.  Now change the scenario to where you place your blade over theirs and lunge forwards.  By lunging in a way that captures their balde in the process you render their parry useless.  However, if the opponent chooses to retreat as well as parry often you will still fall short.  This is a little bit of a conundrum since if they choose to only blade parry they are within your effective measure, but if they also retreat then you are not within effective measure.  In this case your effective measure is directly dependant on the way in which our opponent chooses to defend themselves.
The many factors of effective vs. physical measure are complex, fluid and can change mid fight.  However, understanding them is crucial to being a successful fencer.  Start calculating both the physical measure of yourself and your opponent the moment you know who you are facing.  Then when the fight begins try to learn all you can about their reactions, speed, and how they choose to defend themselves.  By gaining this knowledge you are better informed to make a good attack, and to stay outside of their effective measure.          

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