Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Point: Mastering swordsmanship alone

We've all seen or read the stories. An unskilled Hero must learn how to fight. So he seeks out the master swordsman/Kung fu/Jedi/whatever and finds him cloistered away in the mountains/remote temple/far off planet. Once the Hero finds them and proves that he would make a worthy student, the master teaches him and he return to kick the antagonist’s butt. I can't say about the Jedi, but I know for swordsmanship (and just about any martial art) it isn't as simple as that.

Yes, training directly with a master is one of the best ways to learn, but it's only part of the equation. Someone who trains only with his master would be better then an untrained opponent, but he wouldn't be as good as you would think.

Just because you can spar with and perhaps even beat one master doesn't mean you can beat everyone who isn't as skilled as that master. Real fighting isn't like levels in a video game. There are hundreds of fighting styles and ways people use them. That is why it is important, even necessary, to spar with as many opponents as possible.

If you're opponent knows one trick that you don't then that could give them the upper hand. There's no way for any one person to know all the different forms of fencing. That is why a fencer’s best tool is adaptability. If you can read your opponent and adapt to them, you have a huge advantage.

Back when I was still sport fencing I started going to a saber class. Our club was small and before I started coming there had only been one gal in the class. She had been fencing for a while and could go toe to toe with our coach and, if not beat him, at least make him work for his win.

Then I come along. I've never done saber before. At the time I only had limited experience with foil. Since I had such limited experience my body signals were all over the place. She thought I was feinting an attack when I was just shifting my grip on this new, unfamiliar weapon. One of the first times she came in for an attack I parried and thwak got her right in the side of the head. We were both surprised I got that shot in. She came in for another attack in the same spot, parry, thwak again. It took her several more tries before she found the right counter to my attack.

But why did my attack land in the first place? She was better then me. Much better. But she had only sparred with our coach. She was trying to fence me like she fenced him, expecting me to make a cretin counter attack or fall for a cretin feint. If I had been a better fencer, I might have, she was very skilled in that, but since I wasn't good, I didn't know exactly what to do, so I just did whatever. I was random. That is very hard to fight unless you can quickly adapt.

You can't learn to adapt without having a wide range of opponents to practice on. You can't learn that alone.

Picture from SXC.

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