The Circles of the Sword

The sword is an inanimate object. It would be wrong to say that it “wants” to move in certain ways. But it does. It totally does.

circles

If you remember your high school physics, you will recall Newton’s First Law: An object in motion will not change its velocity unless acted upon by an outside force. In real terms this means that when you swing a sword, you need to expend energy in order to make it deviate from its course.

Swords move in circles. Because a sword is anchored at one end – the hilt – it will tend to describe an arc when it moves. Changing that arc requires effort. Therefore for the most energy-efficient use of the sword, you will want to make use of these arcs as much as possible.

Why is it important to be energy efficient? That’s a topic for another post.

For now, consider this:

figure eight

This is one of the most basic circles, and I call it the Figure Eight. This is one of the first things a student will do when they pick up a sword: two slashes – one from right to left, and one from left to right. The hard part is flowing from one to the other without breaking the sword’s momentum. I say hard, but it’s not really all that difficult. It does, however, require a certain flexibility of the wrist.

When practicing the Figure Eight, it is often best to not worry about edge discipline at first. Just pretend it’s a broomstick. Or practice with an actual broomstick. The orientation of the broomstick when it strikes its hypothetical target doesn’t matter. When your wrist is comfortable with this movement, think about edge discipline – think about striking with the edge of the sword. This involves resisting the natural tendency to turn the wrist until the hypothetical strike has been completed.

The next step, of course, is to do this in the other direction. Instead of two diagonal down-strikes, make it two diagonal up-strikes. The movement is essentially the same, though of course backwards. Turn the wrist to make your hypothetical strikes with the sword’s true edge.

Here’s another useful circle:

around the head

Here, the downwards strike from right to left moves naturally into a block to intercept blows coming at the left shoulder. Having blocked this blow, the sword moves naturally to repeat the strike.

Notice here that the sword as it moves is more or less describing a plane. This is the natural movement of a sword – the arm and shoulder follow it.

Here’s the same thing on the other side:

outside

I say this is “the same thing”, but the motion is actually somewhat different – notice the sword shoulder is held back, for example. This gives a slight impression of leaning backward rather than into the blow. Ideally, of course, your shoulders should stay more or less directly above your hips.

Regardless, this is “the same thing” because it consists of the repeating diagonal strike, and the inclined plane that is described by the sword’s motion.

One last example:

thrust

An interesting variation, this, because it actually breaks some of the guidelines I’ve suggested above. Not really, but it seems to. Here, the sword is moving in a figure eight pattern like the first example, but instead of crossing the body, the sword does a small loop and moves into the thrusting position. Note particularly how the leg has to be drawn back slightly in order to make room.

To summarise:

  • Swords naturally move in circles
  • Deviating from these circles requires energy
  • Expending too much energy in a fight is bad
  • Following the sword’s circles when you fight is good.

Starting a strike, then arresting and reversing its motion so that you can strike elsewhere is inefficient in terms of energy and in terms of the time it takes to complete the movement. By the time you have arrested the motion of your sword and redirected it elsewhere, you have given your opponent time to react. You can achieve a similar effect by using circles, with less energy expended and in a shorter time.

Practice with your sword. Take it out whenever you’ve got time and room to move, and swing it. Don’t just do one movement at a time. Put some energy into it, move your feet, and let your sword move into the circles that feel the most comfortable. Familiarity with the way your weapon moves will help you in combat.

Session 1 Recap

Thanks to everyone who came out to the School tonight. I think we had a fun and interesting time. I’d like to emphasise here that my way of doing things is not the only correct way. It’s what has worked for me over the past 25 years, but every sword fighter is an individual with their own preferences and techniques.What follows is a recap of the main points of the lesson. This is intended as a memory jogger for those who attended the class, but also as an introduction to those who didn’t.

Warmup/Footwork
1. Fighting Stance: Feet at opposite corners of a square, weight evenly distributed between the feet.
2. The Tai Chi Step: Shift weight to the front foot. Lift the rear foot and touch it to your other ankle. Reach out with that foot and place it on the ground without putting weight on it. Then shift your weight so it is evenly distributed.

Solo Drill
3. Ward: Silver’s Open Fight – fighting stance, sword aloft. Arm next to ear, leading edge of sword and knuckles towards the enemy.
4. Strike: Diagonally at the enemy’s shoulder. With Tai Chi Step, time so that the foot lands at the same time as the blade.

Pairs Drill
5. Agent/Patient: The Agent does the action, the Patient has the action done to them.
6: Distance: fight takes place outside distance, so that the Agent needs to take a step to attack. Measure distance by touching your opponent’s chest with your sword, then take a small step back.
7. Ward: True Guardant – sword leg forward, point of sword directed at shield knee, gaze below the arm. A good defensive ward.
8. Ward: Variable aka Forearm Ward – protecting one side of the body or the other. Inside, outside, high, low for 4 separate forearm wards. Very good for defence, but vulnerable to thrusts.
9. Agent in Open, patient in Forearm Ward. Agent strikes with a step (as point 4 above), Patient shifts Forearm ward to intercept the strike. Not a parry, a shifting of the ward.

Sparring
10. Rock/Paper/Scissors: Guardant counters Open, Variable counters Guardant, Open counters Variable.
11. Change opponents regularly.