When two new members engage each other, you’re bound to get one of two things happen: either they’ll strike at each other, eager to employ what they’ve learned…while completely out of measure or they’ll attack each other’s weapons ignoring openings. The former is great fun to watch. A desperate battle ensues while they swing wildly at each other from other sides of the room.
The latter is something that tends to be unlearned as time goes on. Why attack someone’s sword when you can strike past the sword? It’s the same in hand-to hand. If you’re striking someone in the head and they cover up, you don’t carry on attacking their arms. You target the kidneys or the groin.
Here’s the thing, though. After years of fencing, I still treat the sword as a target. This is something that came up when I was fighting a fellow during an impromptu workshop in Denmark while participating in Moesgaard. He was part of a group called Ulfhednir, an incredibly impressive and dedicated group of fighters so focused on the fight that I was convinced each time I crossed swords with them that they were trying to hate me to death. It’s fair to say that I liked them immediately, but I digress.
This guy talked about a number of really interesting things: biomechanics, stalking, active shield work and a load of other cool stuff. One of the things he mentioned was not attacking your opponent’s weapon because it adds to the number of steps involved in striking your opponent.
In other words, rather than going from Point A, the starting guard, to Point B, your opponent’s weapon, to Point C, their body, you should simply go straight for point C. This makes a lot of sense and the more new fighters practice, the more they direct their attacks toward their opponent’s body rather than their weapon.
So what do I mean by treating the sword as a target? Well, it’s all a matter of language. When we look at Fiore’s work, he talks a lot about countering an attack by entering with an attack as opposed to say parrying, then attacking. For example, this is evident by the way he exchanges the thrust: he makes his entry, attacks, and defends all in one movement in one of his Zogho Largo plays. Many of the translations read as beating the weapon aside. This to me sounds less like a parry and reads more like a harassing cut aimed toward the weapon. This can be done defensively by moving from Tutta Porta di Ferro to Posta Frontale, for those of you who understand such Italian jargon.
It might be that I target the weapon for the simple fact that I’m a big guy and I’m used to fighting people smaller than me and swiping their blade aside creates an opening which I can exploit. It’s also one of those things that catches certain opponents off guard. We start to become more spatially aware as we think about measure and the range at which an opponent can strike our body, but we don’t always extend that sensory awareness to our swords. Some fighters, confident of the distance between themselves and their opponents don’t even flinch when the sword is being swung about out of measure. Our mind set is different when we engage with new opponents. They can be more dangerous than people who have been training for years and sometimes they do things that are so unexpected that it brings the fight to an unexpected end.
“There are some things that can beat smartness and foresight? Awkwardness and stupidity can. The best swordsman in the world doesn’t need to fear the second best swordsman in the world; no, the person for him to be afraid of is some ignorant antagonist who has never had a sword in his hand before; he doesn’t do the thing he ought to do, and so the expert isn’t prepared for him; he does the thing he ought not to do; and often it catches the expert out and ends him on the spot.”Mark Twain
I’m not saying it’s something you should do. Hell, you might read this, chortle heartily to yourself and think, “What a newb!” And I wouldn’t blame you. To each their own and all that. But rather than teaching people not to attack the weapon, we should be clearer about what it means to ‘beat the weapon aside’. That way they can learn to turn a bad habit into a good one. Food for thought.