The match has begun and two knights are warily facing each other. Poised and alert, just out of each other’s measure. Their swords constantly shifting, bodies and shields adjusting to new positions, seeking an opening or a moments lapse in concentration. One of the knights quickly moves forward, her opponent steps to defend his weapon side but is too late to see the smooth shift in the oncoming attack to the shield side of the helm as the cut strikes home.
How many times have we seen such a scene played out on our tournament fields? Is this preliminary manoeuvring just two combatants circling, trying to decide what to do or is something more interesting going on?
Could I suggest that the encounter begins well out of weapon range or measure. As you approach and enter measure you look for opportunities to attack and are cautious of an incoming strike. Even before you enter into measure, you can cause our opponent to react or commitment by applying a ‘threat’ or pressure of an imminent attack or offensive move.
Pretend for a moment that you are on the edge of measure and you take a diagonal step to your opponents shield side and prepare to launch a cut at the leg. Your opponent is likely to see this move and shift their own position and defence in order to counter your move.
This movement or threat we call ‘pressure’ and it is very similar to the idea of Seme in kendo.
You can apply pressure without launching an attack. By moving into a position in preparation to attack is an application of pressure. You are forcing your opponent to react to your move. This threat of an imminent attack must be done with smooth confidence, demonstrating a true ability to attack at a given moment. The moment you decide to apply pressure you must be ready to physically attack. If you are not ready to attack then you are only stepping forward inviting to get hit. Your mind must be resolved to cut the opponent, doing so will either force your opponent to move or you must strike.
So pressure is a form of attack as it forces a reaction from your opponent. Some would think of this as a fake or misdirection. You can use pressure to make an opponent commit to a defensive position of your choosing. This in turn may allow you to launch an attack to a poorly defended opening. An example of this may be that I move into measure and threaten a cut to 6 (off-side neck) and my opponent, sensing this moves their shield up and over slightly to close of this line of attack. I am now able to shift the direction of my movement and launch a cut to 3 (shield side leg) as I have caused my opponent to open that target for me.
In turn, by understanding the pressure that my opponent is projecting you are able to understand what attack they are building up for. Knowing what they are about to do enables me to organise my defence to counter the building threat. I need to move my feet to face whatever the oncoming threat is. Of cause by closing off such a threat my opponent will then shift the treat to a new opening and thus the opening dance begins.