Did one of my favorite exercises in class yesterday. It was the first time that class practiced changing from the guard of sixte to the guard of quarte, and back.
It appeals to me for two main reasons.
The first is mathematical precision. One of the things about fencing that I love most is that when you execute things correctly, it is not dependent on strength or speed, or on the strength, speed, or skill of your opponent. When you are absolutely precise, you have all of math and physics on your side.
And you can't beat math and physics. Some laws can't be broken.
I love that.
The other thing I love is the simplicity.
To change between these two guards requires a movement of your hand of about a few inches.
You might think this is a very simple change- and it is.
But, as usual, it is not that movement of the hand that is the difficulty.
It is everything else.
What we are looking for is independent, yet coordinated, movement of several body parts. There must be some movement of the rest of the arm- or the hand can't move, right? There is progressively less movement in the arm, the further from the hand you go. So the elbow moves a couple of inches, but the shoulder barely adjusts its angle.
And then there is the sword.
For nearly all of these students, the sword is still a thing in their hands, and they have to be able to move IT in a coordinated way, when they do not yet have the facility to make subtle movements of the sword without gross movements of the body.
So what usually happens is this:
The first move, from sixte to quarte, goes relatively okay.
But going BACK to sixte... not so easy.
That elbow insists on taking the lead much of the time.
Or, the other common alternative:
on that first move, the student will turn their body and move their shoulder, in order to get their hand where they want it.
Both of these errors come from the same place as most errors at this stage: a lack of "connectedness" between the student and the sword, and between the student and his or her body.
It's like an infant.
A newborn has no muscle tone. When you pick them up, they come up all akimbo, arms and legs and neck floppy and in need of support. But a few weeks later, pick up the same baby, and they come up "in one piece," as a unit. They have become connected to themselves.
New students- and by "new," I mean relatively new, which can go on for years for some things- have the same thing going on. They are not yet able to execute fencing movements in a coordinated way, so arms and legs, elbows, shoulders and hands, often go places they did not consciously intend. They then have to make corrections- which often continue the same pattern, of not being entirely controlled.
This is why I love the simplest exercises most of all.
This is the level one must work at to incorporate fencing, to reach the level of unconscious control that is required. Start at the beginning, with a move that requires very little change. Work to be able to change only what needs to change, while everything else remains the same. Then, progressively add complexity. Make that simple movement of the hand, while simultaneously taking a step. Just that, a movement of the hand, simultaneous with a movement of the foot, can take hours and hours of devoted practice to master. Then, add a movement of the blade. Hand, foot, and blade precisely coordinated.
It is a thing of beauty.
But it takes a while.
Until then, it is as I mentioned before, with students who are so focused on that thing in their hands that they seem to forget they even have a body.
The first attempts to manipulate that "thing" go something like this:
Start the first movement.... ack! urgh! yikes! whoops! ... end up... somewhere.
All that part in the middle- they have no awareness of, whatsoever. None. As if time skips that part, and the only things that exist are the beginning, and the ending, with no middle.
This is partly because they cannot yet divide time very well or easily, but that's for another post.
Another part is something I've mentioned a couple of times- they are in a hurry, and rush to the end.
But mostly, it is because they don't know where, or what, the middle is supposed to be. They conceive of every action as where it begins and where it ends.
This is another one of my favorite fencing math moments. :-)
Part of what I try to help students understand is that fencing movements are not made up of pairs of points- the beginning, and the end- but are vectors, of a sort. They have both a magnitude and a direction. It is not only where you end up, but HOW you get there that is important. The entire pathway, mentally and physically, from beginning, through the movement, to the end. How you move, when you move, where you move, why you move, and what all you refrain from moving, all are important.
We do not teleport.
There is, and must be, a "between."
That is where fencing is.
Between space, and between time.
It works best when you can mentally be there, too.
You do not need to be heroic to be a hero*
6 hours ago