A student and friend of mine asked about solo training and what someone could do to up their game as a solo act. When I lived in Kazakhstan, I didn’t have anyone else to with whom to train.
The snow was two to three feet deep in the winter and the summer was bitterly hot and dusty. While this would have made for some dramatic training, few people wanted to do anything even remotely exercise related which had dashed my hopes of sparring with someone out on the remote step.
And so, I had to train alone. It wasn’t easy. It can be very difficult to motivate yourself to do something when you’re alone.
“I’ll do it a little later,” you tell yourself. But then a little later becomes too late.
If I’m honest, the first step to solo training is finding a way to constantly motivate yourself to train. Having short term goals really helps or, better yet, identifying a weakness in your fencing as a whole and working at ways to improve it through exercise. In that, you create your own exercise regime to develop your fencing.
However, there are things you can do to work on your fencing in general.
Cutting drills – The expression that slow is smooth and smooth is fast is one with which I very much agree. After warming up, this is good exercise to develop fluency and confident movement. Cutting from ward to ward while focusing on the edge of the blade, the position of the feet and the extension of the arms, you should move slowly, only speeding up once you’re confident your cuts are accurate. If you end up just flailing wildly and your cuts are sloppy, or your feet are pointing in weird direction, it’s time to sloooooow it back down again.
You can also look at Meyer’s cutting diagram as a guide. There are some good articles by Keith Farrel on Meyer’s cutting drill that I’ll link bellow. Or, if like me, you’re a Fioreist, then using Fiore’s diagram is also a good idea and is similar in its design.
Remember that big movements are good for developing strength, but they’re pretty useless in a fight unless you’re counting on just using brute strength to win the fight like the Buffalo or the Villano. So, you’ll want to make your movements more refined, striking with the wrists and elbows rather than the shoulders. This makes the cuts faster and much harder to predict.
Using a pell, a wooden post or similar target, is great to develop measure and accuracy while using a heavy sword or weighted pole of some sort is great for developing strength and endurance. Take that one slow, though as you don’t want to pull anything. Build up to it.
True time – moving in true time, the blade moving first and the body following after is something every fencer should seek to make their bread and butter; whether you’re seeking to take the Vor or you’re looking to be the First Master. I’ve already written about some points on true time in an earlier blog.
True time is also about intention. One of the principles of Fiore’s armizare (art of arms) is Audatia, to be audacious or bold. Cutting toward an opponent with a true intent to strike is something that you want to do quickly and with good structure without the hesitance the comes from the fear of the opponent’s blade. This means cutting in such a way as to cover yourself. Vadi is a good source on cutting under cover.
Footwork is another thing that can be developed without needing a partner. Moving in a balanced manner while maintaining good structure is something often neglected by many HEMA fencers. If you find that your feet end up far apart during sparring and you’re over reaching, or you cross your feet too often when passing off line, or if you just feel like your balance could be better or you fall over a lot then you should train your footwork. Marozzo’s stepping star is a good way of doing this. If you fight with sabre of rapier which is very linear in my experience, then something else might suite you purpose more. However, I find Marozzo’s stepping star (a nickname for it) is an excellent exercise for learning to take measured steps off line.
In addition to exercise dedicated to fencing, developing cardiovascular and muscular stamina so that you can endure long tiring fights which is essential to you overall game, it is also useful for your fitness in general. Exercise means having more energy and gives you a better self-image overall.
If you have any solo training exercise you would recommend, I’d like to hear about them.