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.



3 thoughts on “The Play’s the Thing

  1. I learned Hit the Gap, Parry/Ripost, and Attacking Drill from Sagan and Paul (in fact, ran them with a student last night). We will start in on the others next week. Thx!

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