A Musing: Shot Generation

There is a certain amount of pride mixed with, what I’m told, might be sorrow or shame (I wouldn’t know, actually) that I feel when I describe the Kappellenberg practice as a “a bunch of thugs”.

What I generally mean by “bunch of thugs” is the fighters who come out to Kappellenberg are aggressive, not easily intimidated, and can smell fear.  The other side of the coin, though, is that they tend to hit a little hard.  Not consistently, but more often than the products of the gentlemanly fencing salons.  One of the Kappellenfechters recently asked how not to hit hard, because last night’s practice left bruises, but only on her opponents (including my hip, and upper arm).

Step 1: You’re not throwing a punch.

Many Kappellenfechters come from a martial arts background (Jeff, Shax, Miguel, Jason, I’m looking at you).  And like any good martial artist, they throw shots by instinct, and starting from the hip.  They drive up from their legs, rotate their hips and shoulders around, and then chuck their sword out at you.  If they don’t have a sword, and instead are throwing a fist, it hurts.  If they do have a sword, it still hurts.

Shots should not originate from the hip or foot.  Shots originate with the hand.  In your best “strip fencing” stance, with your body lined up behind your blade (admittedly, for most rapier purposes a 45 degree stance is better, but develop the ability to do this), your hand moves everything forward.  It pulls your arm along, then the rest of your body.  The result isn’t a roundhouse punch but a poke, controlled, precise, and quick.

Step 2: Relax

Keep your joints slightly bent, don’t lock them out.  Don’t tense up all of your muscles.  Have just enough tension in only those muscles you need to hold your blade on line.  This lets your joints act as a shock absorber traveling the entire length of the body, from your knuckles to your ankles (the real pretty poses I get in at the end of a close pass, with my blade held at a ridiculous angle, are just the result of my body flexing to absorb impact).

This is actually a pretty good state to be in all the time: just tense enough, but not all tensed up that you can’t move.  Or worse:

I may have the unique honor of being the only rapier marshal to report heat exhaustion at an Ymir.  One of the fighters was so tense, and burning so much energy fighting her own muscles, that she collapsed.  To quote Verbal Kint: “Tension is a killer.”  Instead, be all Zen-like and in a state of readiness.  Or else I’ll say “Boo” and you’ll jump five feet (Yes, Alejandro, I remembered that trick).

Step 3: Know Range

And lastly, keep your range in control.  If you throw your lunge from too close in, of course you’re going to drive your sword into your opponent’s kidneys from the front side.  This also means being aware of your opponent’s motion: I spent a good year stop-thrusting Charlotte to her sternum as she ran in on me, but was doing it without recognizing how quickly she was closing the distance, and as a result bruising her on a weekly basis.

It was observed that desperation can lead to hitting hard, and this is true.  But I thought about the most desperate shot I’ve ever thrown: It was a round house that started from behind my ass, came all the way around, and was delivered with an oblique fleche (“Banned in 1/3rd of Olympic fencing!”).  It was also the absolute lightest touch I’ve ever thrown in a tournament, because I was at my maximum range when I did all this.  If I’d been a half inch further away, I absolutely could not have landed that shot.  Range, like love, covers a multitude of sins.

Of course, all of this takes practice.  The average modern person is not used to standing in a state of relaxed readiness; is not used to throwing their body like an arrow and hitting like a pillow; is not used to watching an opponent’s toes, knees, hips, shoulder, elbow, head, and hand to judge centimeters of variation in range.  And it’s really a skill that is only developed by having to do it over and over again.  Have I ever told you about the week I fought 6 days?  I will.

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