There are some who say that the best way to learn to do something is to do it. I would agree, with the addition that the best way to learn to do something badly is to do it badly.
In my classes I like to focus on the fundamentals – the steps, the grip, the way the sword and body move together. I believe that establishing good habits is essential to driving out bad ones. Repetition is the most effective way of doing this. It is also extremely boring. A small amount of repetitive movement is always going to be necessary for developing good technique, but I don’t want to let it take over the training session. This is why the entire second half of my classes are dedicated to sparring.
As it says in the description, anyone can hide behind a big shield. They are not difficult to use. Generally, my advice to someone using a shield is “keep it in front of you”. Defending yourself without a shield is a lot more difficult, and requires a lot more skill with the weapon. Hence, my classes focus on shieldless fighting.
All of my classes are designed with the following principles in mind:
1. Calmness of mind and preparedness of body
One of my goals is to train out the twitch response. A fighter should be calm and should react with precision, rather than being tense and reacting suddenly. Twitch responses are quick, but uncontrolled and can easily be deceived. Calmness in a fight is therefore to be cultivated. The mind must be calm in order to be able to react with speed and accuracy to what your opponent is doing.
Secondly, the body must always be prepared to move when necessary. The fighter must not be overly tense, but rather in a state where sudden movement is possible. Tenseness fatigues muscles quickly, and slows reaction time. The fighter should be relaxed but prepared to move.
2. Footwork and the relationship with the ground
I often say that you should always stay in contact with the ground. If you lose the ground, it will rush up and hit you in the head. Solid footwork is essential to maintaining contact with the ground. The ground is the surface that you push off in order to move.
There are some who will teach the “bounce”, that you should be constantly moving while you fight. I believe this to be a waste of energy. Your energy budget is limited, and excess movement that does not contribute to the outcome of the fight is unnecessary. I teach a stable stance, and a solid relationship with the ground. The purposes of good footwork are balance and distance, and neither is achievable without a good stance.
3. Precision of technique
Finally, I believe precision to be more important than speed. A precise fighter can move quickly, but a quick fighter rarely fights precisely. All fighters are capable of being precise, but speed is dependent on body type and fitness. Without precision, a quick fighter will always defeat a slow fighter. Precision is therefore the equaliser – the factor that can allow the slow to compete with the quick.
Imprecision in technique leads to bad hits – either you hit too hard or you hit a non-target zone. As safety is a primary concern in our game, both hard and off-target hits are undesirable and should be trained out. Slow repetitive practice is the best way of achieving precise technique.