The Friday Sessions

This is just a follow up on the training theme. I am trailing a more dedicated training session for a small group of people. The sessions are every fortnight at this stage and are all out of armour.

The first part of the session was circuit work were everyone rotates around various exercises. You perform the exercise for one minute with a 20 second rest to change stations. We went through this twice.

The stations were:

  • Boxing
  • Turkish get-ups with a 2kg weight 
  • Squat presses with either 2kg or 5kg weights depending on your level
  • Step jumps/step up
  • Kettle bell swings

Most of us simply do not do enough physical training outside of running around in armour. This little circuit is not going to do much but a number of people were talking about having to do some extra training.

We then did some basic pell work, running though all the basic cuts with a focus on maintaining good form, distance, flow and foot position/balance.

The main part of the session was working though thrusts. Firstly I explained about direct thrusts and then cut, rolling returns and thrust.

We worked though these on the pells first and then paring off, worked though the basic forms and then a number of pays involving thrusts.

The idea of the session is to focus on only one or two ideas and do a LOT of repetitions to ‘hard wire’ the movements in.

As the students get used to this format I will probably make the starting work out harder (skipping rope is your friend) and up the repetitions.

For the pell drills we used our usual training swords of rattan with a cross hilt and the training round shields. For the partner stuff we moved to soft swords (Action Flex, expensive but they work well) and shields. The use of the soft swords means we can do a lot of striking without armour and waring people out.

Now looking forward to the next session.


The Play’s the Thing

Last time I talked about the beginnings of an encounter. It is on the edge of measure that the combat begins in earnest. I spoke about maintaining a phasic stance, always applying pressure or making sure your opponent is very much aware of the threat you pose. You want to either draw your opponent into committing to an action that allows you to strongly counter.

It is here that some good solid training will serve you well. Too often we do not train in any meaningful way. We have an almost total dependence on free sparring and I have mentioned before that this is not the best way to advance in the tournament arts. What we are progressing towards in my group is a lot more reliance on formal drill work and exercises.

At our indoor practice session about 1/3 of our time is formal training in armour. I think some of you may find what we do as useful, so here is a quick list of some of our drills and exercises.

In any given session we will start with some easy drills and work up the complexity or intensity as we go. I use the terms Squire and Knight with the Squire talking the active part in the drill. I use these just as terms of convenience.


Hitting the Gap

The Knight and Squire start in measure. The Knight controls the movement and will drop their shield to expose the head. The Squire must cut 1 as soon as the opening appears.

The next stage of this is the knight lifts the shield opening the leg and the Squire must cut 3. You then progress to opening the offside head and then leg in turn.

This is a beginning drill to get the Squire to identify a gap and then strike the target.


Opening Cut

This drill is to get the student to keep moving on the edge of measure and also always be in a position that they can launch an attack. This is useful for new combatants as it gets them to always be looking for an opening and to attack.

The Squire starts on the edge of measure against Knight. The Squire must apply pressure and keep repositioning for possible opening attacks. On a shout (cut!) or a whistle they must launch their attack. They then must come back into a guard position ready to attack again.

Vary the timing of the whistle so the Squire cannot relax.


Parry Repost

This is the next step from the Opening Cut Drill. This is a core drill as it is mimicking the beginning of a combat pass.

Knight starts on the edge of measure against the Squire. On the whistle the Knight cuts to a given target (start with 1). The Squire must block this cut and throw a counter cut. Always get the Squire to step with the block or counter.

To start with it is useful to set this up in a predetermined sequence, e.g. Knight cuts 1, Squire blocks this, ½ steps to the right and cuts 3.

There are several variations to this drill;

  • Do not let the Squire know when the initial attack will start;
  • The Squire must block and then throw two counters;
  • The Squire must block, faint then cut/thrust; and
  • The Knight makes two (or three) attacks before the squire can counter (but she must block these attacks).


Flourishes or Plays

 Like the Parry Repost Drill these should make up the main part of your training. The core flourish is the Perfect Circle and this often forms a major part of warm ups and basic exercises and will be the subject of a separate post.

In these the Squire is the active participant with the Knight defending.

Set up a sequence of fakes, attacks and other moves and repeat them. Do not make things too complex.

Some examples:

  • Squire ½ steps to the left, faking 6, Knight moves to cover this threat. Squire now steps to the right cutting 3;
  • Squire cuts ear-to-ear 5, ½ steps right cutting moulinet 1. • Squire cuts 1, performs a rolling return, steps right thrusting to 1
  • Squire fakes 6, tilts the Knights shield and wraps 3
  • You can also work in attacks by the Knight – Squire cuts 1, Knight blocks and cuts 1. The squire blocks the Knights cut with their sword, stepping though to the left and then cuts ear-to-ear 5.

Do not do too many of these in any one session. It is better to do a few different plays many times.


The Tower

 This is similar to the attacking drills many groups do. The Knight makes series of continuous attacks and the Squire must try to block these. Start slow and concentrate on good form, facing the weapon and staying in measure. Do some of these with shield only defence and some with both sword and shield blocking.


Robot Drill

Here someone holds the field as the Knight and everyone else forms a line (get more lines going if you have enough people). As the Squire steps in just inside measure the Knight makes a predetermined cut. The Squire must block and counter this attack.

While this is very similar to the Parry Repost Drill it has a few differences. We do not predetermine the actions of the Squire. You should have the lines moving very quickly. This also give the Knight an opportunity to work on their defence to the repost.


Attacking Drill

Start with the Squire attacking. The first run though the Knight only defends. Then allow the Knight three counters. Lastly both the knight and Squire both must attack. This is more of a conditioning/ high intensity hart rate exercise than anything. See if you can run for 10 seconds flat out with good technique.


So there are the core sets of drills we use. You will always need to strike a balance between keeping the training sessions interesting and doing the high amounts of repetitions need to imbed the technique. Almost all of these can be done both in and out of armour and should be done at medium speeds.

Try not to do too much at full speed and power. The task is to hone good technique, so keep the focus on performing every move correctly, with good posture, stance and movement.

I would even suggest using some form of soft swords or boffers as this allows you to do multiple repetitions without trashing your training companions.

 It is also important that both Knight and Squire work together on the exercise given. The Knight must allow the Squire to succeed in the technique being worked on and can shift the degree of openings and tells etc depending on the level of the Squire.


I hope these drills will add to your training session and make better combatants of us all.


And a step to left!

Lets us talk a little about stances.

In tournament combat we see a lot of people constantly starting in their main stance. They shuffle forward and then stand there in each other’s measure waiting or wondering what to do. This is not the best approach.

I chatted a little about guards in a previous post. Perhaps the most critical aspect of any combat art is your feet, as this is all about balance, movement, power and measure. We commonly use three basic stances, bladed, box and square. These are useful descriptors but you should never be trapped in thinking that these are rigid edicts.

Your stance must be fluid, or phasic. Phasic describes a stage or interval in a cycle. It is the opposite of static. Never still, always changing.

Your weight must be on the balls of your feet, knees bent. Your steps must not be too large, small quick steps for speed and controlled balance. The short step and glide is what you are looking for. Remember to always be facing the weapon.

By constantly shifting your position and creating a variety of threats you do not allow your opponent to adequately adapt to what you are doing. You are trying to make your opponent misjudge their measure while being well aware of your own. You must develop the ability to always maintain the correct measure. Do not be in a rush to make the first attack.

You want to keep yourself just out of measure and look for the opportunity to close or quickly counter your opponents move. Never allow your opponent into measure unopposed. Hit them or make them commit to an action that you can counter. In maintaining the correct measure you are at a distance that you are just out of range yet close enough to immediately be able to attack or counter.

Confuse the measure of your opponent. Use small steps to change the distance. Vary the length as well as speed to keep your opponent guessing. By controlling the measure you are able to keep your sword ready to strike. Too close then you may be forced to bring your weapon forward in defence, diminishing your offence.

This all does not mean bounce around or wander around in a big circle. Being clearly out of measure means you are no threat at all. Look for an economy of movement; just enough is all you need. Your foot work should be easy and relaxed. Feet are a comfortable distance apart and are positioned to allow you the necessary movement to deliver a powerful cut.

So play with these ideas next time you are at practice. Seek to control the measure, commit when you find the opportunity or draw your opponent into over committing. This will take time and a lot of practice so give yourself permission to work at it gradually. Lastly, always check your feet and face the weapon!