Forum: Research Questions

Discussing: sparring

sparring

What would be a likely habit or error in sword technique that a sparring opponent could take advantage of? I' m particularly interested in something that an observer or past partner would notice and coach a new opponent to exploit.

TIA

Lyllyn

 

 

Re: sparring

I have used things such as drawing back before the strike (as opposed to simply striking forward with the blow) and being slow to defend - not raising the guard high enough, quick enough -especially as they tired, ... BUT these are only supposition, I have NO real experience in this sort of thing and would love to see some discussion on it.

 

 

Re: sparring

It could be helpful to you to poke around some fencing sites. There are many styles of fencing currently in practice, from pseudo-medieval stuff done by re-enactors, to the high-speed Olympic sport of foil, epee, and sabre fencing. I fenced (modern sport fencing) for about two years, and mostly learned foil and sabre. I was never any good but had some very talented teammates. From on-strip pep talks given during point breaks during fencing matches, I can tell you that vulnerabilities in sparring partners are as varied as sparring partners. I once scored several touches on a highly-ranked sabre fencer simply because she tended to drop her hand low during her attacks and try to come up under my guard, and my panicked counterattacks consistently caught her hand before my flailing blocked her line of attack. She defeated me once her strip coach pointed out that I had no idea what I was doing and was simply panicking. All she had to do was attack from a different line, and my panicked response no longer worked. Many vulnerabilities in an otherwise excellent fencer stem from something a poker player would call a "tell"-- simply that they tend to preface an otherwise flawless attack with some kind of behavior, like a foot stomp or something. I have never done medieval-style fencing, which is more what M-e would feature. But I will point out that swordplay tends to be much faster than you expect. Fencing is so fast that a good director doesn't call the actions by sight, but by sound, because often blades are moving too fast to see. (Modern fencing blades, even sabres, are thin and somewhat whippy anyway. I have no idea how fast a broadsword could move, but I assure you, it's fast-- any kind of fencing is a wicked little sport.) US Fencing Association (USFA) Fencing.net: Online training resources for modern sport fencing Federation Internationale D'Escrime: modern sport fencing's governing body The most useful of those would likely be fencing.net, which is an active discussion board for current, practicing fencers. It tends to have the sort of thing you'd be looking for-- people wondering how to beat each other. ;)

 

 

Re: sparring

She defeated me once her strip coach pointed out that I had no idea what I was doing and was simply panicking. All she had to do was attack from a different line, and my panicked response no longer worked.
This is very interesting. I can see something like this happening, where an experienced swordsman could be defeated by one less experienced who essentially "gets lucky." Could be a useful scenario for a writer.
Many vulnerabilities in an otherwise excellent fencer stem from something a poker player would call a "tell"-- simply that they tend to preface an otherwise flawless attack with some kind of behavior, like a foot stomp or something.
Also an interesting point - a swordsman who had the opportunity to observe an opponent prior to engaging him could pick up on such things (all I can envision is the scene in Maverick where he "loses" for an hour so he can figure out all the other players' tells) ~Nessime

 

 

Re: sparring

Many vulnerabilities in an otherwise excellent fencer stem from something a poker player would call a "tell"-- simply that they tend to preface an otherwise flawless attack with some kind of behavior, like a foot stomp or something.
I know you're asking about sword fighting, but this happens in any kind of sparring. It's very difficult not to give your move away. Of course, it's fairly easy to spot in those who have less experience than you, and harder to spot in those who are better than you. However, if you have a 6-foot plus man coming at you and they know what they're doing, then it's very hard to notice anything. (In fact, my instructor is the same height as I am and so they don't even need to be tall.) In Middle-earth, they would probably mix all kinds of fighting, as they'd be trained in different forms. But I'm way off topic here - not that I was on topic to start with.

 

 

Re: sparring

an experienced swordsman could be defeated by one less experienced who essentially "gets lucky."
There was a famous case around the turn of the (20th) century of a renowned sabreur who was defeated in a duel by a man who barely knew how to hold a sword. The experienced fencer attacked with a scream, and the inexperienced fencer, terrified, stuck his arm out-- and his sword point entered the experienced fencer's mouth and went through his head, killing him instantly. These things happen. In fencing sabre, I learned that in order to score touches (points) I had to be either terrified or furious.What doomed my career was that I can't muster fury or terror at will. Also, I'm slow. ;)
a swordsman who had the opportunity to observe an opponent prior to engaging him could pick up on such things
What do you think they do at tournaments? it's not just "tells", it's also things like-- when he parries a blow to the head he doesn't raise the blade high enough, and a strong blow could sweep through the parry. Or, he tends to parry with distance, i.e. back up out of range, rather than relying on capturing your blade, and if you followed up your attack with a very fast forward movement, you could probably catch him and hit him. Things like that are what make strip coaches invaluable--- even if you're not an international-level fencer, just having one of your teammates watch the bout and give you advice during the breaks can make or break a bout. Things like, this opponent always feints to the inside before hitting you on the outside. Don't parry the inside feint, but parry where he's GOING to attack, and you'll block it. Also, often, once you've figured out an opponent's main attack and countered it, that will often jar them (if they've hit you on it a couple of times and suddenly you've figured out how to block it-- oh crap, this isn't going to be as easy as they thought!) into making mistakes. But yes-- smart fencers will find out who they're going to have to fence later in the competition-- either in the direct elimination rounds, or in the semifinals, or even by determining who ranks highest coming into the competition, and will take every opportunity to watch that person, to learn what their weaknesses are and what attacks they rely primarily upon. (The highest-ranked fencer I ever fenced had a very weak defense against attacks to his head, and so would always parry even the most unconvincing feints to the head, because he hated being hit there. Not like it mattered, as he was also faster than a rattlesnake and his arms were four feet long...) It would be different in M-e, because in the end, their bouts are for blood, while even the most ruthless of sport fencers are, in the end, fencing for points. (Not that there's never blood, and not that it's not about international honor and the like-- just watch any of the high-level competitions. [Oh, never mind. They don't show them on TV even when the US women's foil team nearly places in foil for the first time in history in the Olympics. Not that we're bitter about that. Oh no.] But, in the end, I don't think anyone's died in international competition since the 80s.)
easy to spot in those who have less experience than you, and harder to spot in those who are better than you
Well. Did the fact that I knew that the A-rated sabreur always parried head shots help me one bit? No! It was a 5-0 bout over in less than a minute! {repeat 5 times: "Engarde. Ready? Fence!" "Yargh!" THWACK! beeeep! (the electric equipment registering a touch) "Touch left!" "... Ow!"}

 

 

Re: sparring - another question

I've been wondering this for a while and this seems like a likely place to ask. Would it be likely that you would use 'not-real' swords for training/practise? I'm thinking wood or heavier (possibly) and not sharp metal. This is partly because it would suit me and partly because a good, well-sharpened etc sword strikes me as a bit precious to to use for constant practise. Cheers, Avon

 

 

Re: sparring

Many vulnerabilities in an otherwise excellent fencer stem from something a poker player would call a "tell"-- simply that they tend to preface an otherwise flawless attack with some kind of behavior, like a foot stomp or something. I know you're asking about sword fighting, but this happens in any kind of sparring. It's very difficult not to give your move away. Over on the HA list they were discussing ways to say someone is 'telegraphing' a move in a Middle-earth idiom. So far my favorite is 'heralding'. Dragonlady, thanks for the URLs. I had been looking at ARMA and a few others... great for some things, but not so much for errors. If you don't mind, I'll add the URLs to the URL library if they're not already there - always looking for more good resources! Lyllyn

 

 

Re: sparring

>likely that you would use 'not-real' swords for training/practise One of my fencing-maddened housemates started researching medieval swordplay. The textbooks and how-to manuals recommended using a weighted wooden sword for practice. Using live steel for practice would be dangerous and yes, probably expensive-- a good sword would be about as expensive in real terms as a new car nowadays, so damaging or losing one would be A Big Deal. I think the how-to manual recommended using two-by-fours weighted somehow with iron, because of course wood isn't heavy enough. I think the SCA would have more info on that. I haven't heard of ARMA, but I'll look up the SCA-- Society for Creative Anachronism-- they do medieval mock battles and the such. Their site has links to research resources and the like. I think medieval swords are your best bet for M-e stuff, even though Tolkien said M-e wasn't Medieval Europe-- the stuff they've got there is believable enough. My parents are re-enactors, but American Revolution and Civil War, more's the pity-- little there of use here. But if anyone ever, EVER wants any info on the care and use of a flintlock musket, I'm your woman. I don't mind you adding any URLs anywhere-- go ahead! Fencing is a beautiful and noble sport-- too bad I'm no good at it. And the general information in fencing is useful for anyone studying swordplay-- simply being familiar with how the art of "sticking the pointy bit into the other guy without getting stuck yourself" works is very handy when trying to write about swordplay. >heralding I suppose. I wouldn't really get into simply subsituting a non-anachronistic term into an anachronistic cliche; it strikes me that it would be better to simply come up with a new idiom of your own.

 

 

Re: sparring

I haven't heard of ARMA The website is here, and I've found some good material for stories; the site has many historical articles posted. Would it be likely that you would use 'not-real' swords for training/practise? I'm thinking wood or heavier (possibly) and not sharp metal. Their training method involves wooden swords which are called 'wooden wasters'. Lyllyn

 

 

Re: sparring

Thank you, Lyllyn and dragonlady - weighted wooden swords will suit me very well indeed. Avon

 

 

Re: sparring

I have a few questions regarding how to teach children how to spar properly: How would you go about it? When would you actually start using wooden swords? Is there a special kind of sparring with which to start lessons? In short I need a sort of lesson plan for a six-year old boy who is quite eager to become a soldier Any guesses as to whom I am talking about? ;) Thanks in advance Maka

 

 

Re: sparring

With modern fencing, I know the first thing you start teaching is footwork. The Olympic-level fencers will start learning footwork as young as age 4. I kid you not. Bladework comes a bit later, when they're big enough to hold a sword. I've seen tiny children (one with a pacifier in his mouth) practicing with little plastic swords, but at that age they're doing it for fun and because their older siblings or their parents do it. (Modern fencing can be very high-pressure at a young age. I've seen formidable 6-year-old pre-Olympians who could kill with their eyes. I've also seen fully-certified directors (the judges of bouts) at age 7. So... It's nothing the young can't enjoy, and indeed the youth divisions are the most competitive, before many good fencers are forced to go to work and earn their own living, and no longer have 40 hours a week to practice.) I don't know with medieval swordplay how important footwork is, but for most weapons that involve so much movement, it's definitely an important component. You have to teach footwork and bladework, often separately, in drills and such, and then put them together into more advanced drills. Once the motions are mastered (they're never fully mastered, and I watched a junior world champion being put through an embarrassingly simple drill and improving by it-- you can always work on the basics) then you move on to learning advanced techniques and tactics and the like. So, an eager six-year-old boy (actually, I haven't read your story, so I'm not sure which one it would be!) would probably be given a scaled-down wooden sword (that might not even be weighted), and taught the basic positions. At that age, it would be most important to ingrain the movements and build up the foundations of muscles, not to accustom the arm to the weight of the sword. I doubt fencing in M-e would be quite the theoretical and highly academic pursuit it is in certain circles here, but classifying the movements wouldn't be unreasonable. (Modern fencing has divided the body into numbered sections, and has codified the attacks and defenses in each one-- parry 4 being across the body, parry 6 being the other direction to protect the sword-arm, parry 5 being to protect the head, etc.) But you would start by giving several basic lessons encompassing 1) how to properly hold the thing 2) how to properly stand while holding the thing, so that it's effective (a good engarde automatically blocks several lines of attack, simply by the weapon's being held ready) 3) how to move forward while holding the thing, without falling over yourself (this could be taught empty-handed, but the arm posture is as important as leg posture) 4) how to move backward &c... 5) how to attack someone in the most basic lines of attack (straight cuts to the head, body, limbs, etc) 6) how to defend against the most basic lines of attack and maybe, 7) how to attack out of a defense-- i.e. the simple parry-riposte (halt the other attack, and then launch your own attack) These are the fundamentals you need before you can spar. And, of course, combining them is important and difficult. You'd do drills to reinforce each basic lesson, and then once the motions were mastered, you would perhaps let two students of approximately equal ability spar, under close supervision, so that they could apply what they had learned. (Close supervision is not to keep them from hurting one another, but to ensure they're properly applying the skills learned and aren't already picking up bad habits.) (alternately, the coach would spar briefly with the student, but carefully-- that would be part of the drill, most likely.) Once the student had mastered those things (and each lesson, you would go over all 6 or 7 of them again-- repetition is key, and you don't simply learn it and move on. Every lesson of the student's career would probably involve the basics, at least in drills.), you could move on to more complex attacks, and the defenses against the more complex attacks-- then you'd get into more advanced motions, more sophisticated defenses, and more complicated techniques including using psychological tactics and the like. Most important would be to emphasize the basics. I'm not saying that you spend most of your time on them, but you never let them fall by the wayside, and you build on them constantly until the child does them in his sleep. And then some more. Having seen many lessons given by elite coaches to young children, either singly or in groups, I can say that the best among them involve a mix of discipline and play. Most coaches will start practices with some kind of game-- throwing a ring that the student tries to catch on the blade of the sword, or throwing a ball that the student should try to catch in his empty sword-hand while demonstrating proper footwork, etc. -- improving aim and hand-eye coordination etc. Very small children do well as fencers, and the best elite coaches are those who are skilled at being both kind and terrifying to the little children. Mike Marx's epee girls feared him like they feared God, and loved him like they loved their parents, and played pranks on him, and cowered in terror at his wrath, and climbed on him like puppies. It's love and respect and fear.

 

 

Re: sparring

Thank you very much, dragonlady, this does help me a great deal, because it really covers everything I need. As for who the child is, it is six-year old Boromir Makamu

 

 

Re: sparring

Thank you, dragonlady - a very interesting post. I don't fence but I plan to start when I find a club that's close to me and I can free an evening from martial arts (I should also be starting archery within the next year - yay!). I think one of my instructors is going to teach me sword katas in the summer. the best elite coaches are those who are skilled at being both kind and terrifying to the little children. A very good point, but it's so hard to be nasty to little children, unless they stare at you with a particularly blank expression as though you don't exist. I guess there's a lot of difference between teaching and teaching well. Repetition, repetition, repetition.

 

 

Re: sparring

>nasty to little children Oh no. No no no. Not nasty. Terrifying. I think some of those girls would have sooner died than displeased their coach. Why? Not because he'd hit them. Not because he'd yell at them. Not because he'd insult them. But because he'd be disappointed in them. That's often the biggest motivator for a small child, if the person in question has their devoted respect. Good luck finding a good club. If you're in the US, I recommend checking out USFA's website (www.usfencing.org) and looking for local clubs. There are different styles of fencing-- mostly differentiated as either "modern" (aka "competitive" or "olympic") or "classical". The USFA is the official body that governs competitive fencing in the US. (The international governing body is the FIE, Federation Internationale d'Escrime) If you're looking to take up fencing, even if you're not that interested in being competitive, I recommend going for a club focused on "modern" fencing simply because the classical ones tend to emphasize outdated ideals, and it seems to me that the tactics that deserve the most study are the ones that win bouts, no? That's most in the enduring spirit of fencing. (By "classical", they mean "fossilized in approximately 1920, before these pesky electric scoring machines came into vogue". Not classical like Greek and Roman. ) Anyway, that's my rant. >6-year-old Boromir Ah. Yes, I had suspected as much, but wasn't sure. Yes, I can envision him at that age.

 

 

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