Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Got woken up early in the morning by a call from my friend Basil, who needed a ride from the emergency room.

my understanding:
He was out at a bar, talked to some girls. Dudes with the girls took exception to this. So, after he left, as he was getting in his truck dude came from behind, pulled him out and took a couple shots at him. He doesn't remember exactly what happened, but from what he said, my guess is that Basil shielded his head as he was pulled out, the dude stabbed at Basil's shoulder, but it got caught up in Basil's leather motorcycle jacket, and then Basil blocked the second stab attempt with his arm and got back in the truck, kicked the dude away, closed the door, then dude was waving his knife in the air and got talked down. Basil said he felt alright as they were driving away, but then when he took off his jacket, well... picture below.
He's alright, going to see a hand specialist soon. My guess is, he's alive because the dude's goal was to stick him, and then show Basil the knife to show Basil that he got him, as opposed to pure assault.

Knife wasn't seen by Basil or either of his two friends until the guy was holding it up. Leather jacket had big, gnarly slices through multiple layers.

knife was this or a close approximation:

Sunday, December 18, 2011

You can teach what you're taught

Every student has things they get right immediately. Show someone a skill that has 5 important aspects. You demonstrate, they repeat it, and the first time they do it they do 3 of the aspects correctly. Excellent. Now you just focus on teaching the remaining 2 aspects. They master the skill. Later, you send them to teach someone new the same skill. Now, your student can do the skill, but they've only been exposed to teaching 2 aspects. Those are what they had to think about and work through and struggle with. Consequently, they are going to focus on those 2 things. It's entirely possible that they are not aware of the other three, or would have to rediscover them in the process of teaching. This is why teaching can be a useful learning tool: it forces you to re-examine basics, and make new discoveries about what is important. But if the newcomer automatically does the same 3 aspects as the student did correctly? Then the only thing taught is the remaining two. If those 3 are extremely common? Then, over time, it's easy to turn this into tradition. For this skill, there are only two important aspects to teach. Anyone who can't do it right after being taught those two things, well, they just don't get it.

To be a teacher, you have to examine skills, break them apart, and learn ALL the pieces.  For a student, especially one in a competitive discipline, or with limited time, this is a waste. If someone never intends to teach, then teaching them all the parts and the whole process of learning them is not an efficient use of time. Even if they are going to be teaching, it may be that their students will be preselected in some manner, the teaching knowledge may be focused. If you're teaching writing skills, you can reasonably expect not to have to teach the alphabet. You may expect someone who can teach writing skills to be able to teach the alphabet (just teach them the alphabet song!), only to discover they do it in a shockingly ineffective manner (okay class, today we learn the vowels, tomorrow the common consonants, then the uncommon consonants, then regroup them to learn the ones that are sometimes silent, then we'll learn about Q. I had a lot of trouble with Q, so we'll break it down into the specific tongue and lip movements needed to form the sound. Then just put them all together in a new, seemingly arbitrary order!).

Systematic example:

My fencing coach was a product of the soviet system. A member of a national team that routinely swept the Olympics (1st, 2nd, 3rd), he was then taught to teach in their thorough, research-based methodology. He is a master of the discipline of fencing, well-known and respected throughout the fencing world. 


The soviet system worked by exposing everyone in the entire country to some fencing, picking the winners from each group, the winners of winners, etc, and then taking that roughly trained cream of the crop and laser-honing them with all the available fencing knowledge. Basically, they're pre-selected for aggression, competitiveness, and basic physicality. As a result, my coach could teach everything... except aggression, competitiveness, and basic physicality. Anyone without those traits he privately considers hopeless for real fencing.

Coming up: my experiences, as someone who lacked aggression, competitiveness, and basic physicality, in learning fencing

Thursday, December 15, 2011

swing harder

another great Belegarth forum interaction, where a discussion on weapon control was decaying into a debate about who hits harder. I attempt to disambiguate. 

Vocabulary. "Harder" is a nonspecific term.

example: Person A punches someone in the chest and breaks their rib. Person B pushes someone in the chest and they fall over.

Who hit harder?

Person A exerted more force in a short time window. They hit harder?
Person B exerted more force overall. They hit harder?

Hitting hard in Belegarth is about riding the line between the two kinds of harder. You want enough punch to make it smack, but not damage. The foam in weapons helps convert the punch into push. Speed and weight add punch. For safety's sake, you have to error on the side of push.

With experience and practice, you get more and more control and can push right up to that line more of the time. To be clear, though, this isn't about being "better" or stronger, or even about being able to hit "harder" in any kind of absolute sense, this is about gaining a sensitivity to what the Belegarth standard of hitting is.

And for control. Another example:

Sprint a set distance past a line. Sprint the same distance to a wall.

The first time is going to be faster. You don't have to worry about stopping.

You can swing faster if you don't have to worry about hitting someone in the head. But since you do, you can't swing that fast. That is a disadvantage, it's a safety thing, that's the way it is. A lighter weapon can swing faster and more carefree in that regard.

So you have to swing more like you're sprinting to a wall. but... not exactly. If, instead of a blank wall, you were sprinting towards a wall with a couple doors in it, and someone was trying to stop you, but could only close one door at a time. You would not be able to sprint as fast as going past the line, but if your judgement was good, you would be able to go faster than you would if you had to stop at the wall since you would accelerate to the finish.

This is feinting speed. Gaining in options and control what you're giving up in pure speed.

and the only response I got: 

What I mean by "harder" is simply swinging hard. But there are a few that refuse to take a redshot unless it makes a loud SMACK, regardless of how hard it hit, even when I move them. They seemed to standardize on how hard a redshot is and yes, some (Thrax, Slaug) will take light redshots. Others, want you to literally move their body. I remember tearing someones shield off their handle.  

Friday, November 25, 2011


"Suppose there's no such thing as learning, or intuition, or skill, or thought. Suppose instead that it's all just memory; suppose that every cut and counter-cut and parry and block is just recollection of the same fight fought out a lifetime ago. Suppose the draw is religion, the sword before and the sword after, because when the hand closes around the hilt, the sword has already been drawn and swung, and the skin cut open. Suppose that nothing is learned—languages, names, skills, factsonly remembered from the last time round, which was nothing more than a memory of the time before that, the same sequence of moves repeated over and over at the instructor's word of command until they're perfect, and that's religion."

Saturday, November 5, 2011

teaching new skills

Someone on the Belegarth forums was going to be teaching at weekend training event and was asking for advice about how to present material and work with students in a group setting. I started writing out some bits, then remembered how every other interaction on that forum went and stopped. Then I finished writing them and here they are:

From Guru Mike Casto-
Every lesson should:

Revisit a basic concept - show them how there is more to learn about something they thought they knew

Present a new concept

Give some future material - something they can't pull off now, but is new/intriguing and that they can work towards having in the future

I really like the "these things are the same but different" style lesson. You take a concept, and show it in different forms. For example, with the basic concept of opposition (blocking out an opponent's line of attack as you're hitting them), you could have an attack with opposition, a parry-riposte with opposition, and a counter-attack with opposition. Beginners feel like they've just learned a whole slew of new things but had something to hang on to while you took them through it. More experienced students get a new linking insight between several things, often unlocking comprehension and making them think of other new possibilities. For a seminar that wants some 1h sword, 2h sword, double stick material, rather than tackling the basics of all the different weapon types, you take, say, a single line of attack, and show uses and application in all the weapon types. This could get boiled down to how to stand and physically do it if they need a lot of work, or expand into several variations and distances if they don't.


When correcting individually in a group setting, you can list briefly three or four things to change. Self-directed students will file them away and pull them out to work on their own later. Then, just pick ONE thing for correction right now. Give details, move 'em physically into place if you have to, demonstrate if they need it. Let them rep it three or four times, correcting ONLY that one thing, if they get that right, just say good and have them do it again, don't correct something else unless it is critical. A lot of over-teaching happens here, where you correct one thing, then when they do it once you correct something else, and then they lose that first thing, and then you move on to another student thinking you've showed them two things but they really just lose both.


One of the easiest ways to help someone learn a new skill is to pay attention to any sign of positive or negative transference. Positive transference is when the skill they are learning is similar to something else they know- plugging in that knowledge can immediately boost the skill. Noting negative transference can be even more important- a different skill that they know is getting in the way, and telling them explicitly that what they are doing is NOT like that will help them clear the slate instead of trying to force a different skill to be something it's not.

At coaches college, we got some material about stages of learning a physical skill. They broke it down something like this:

Stage 1: Cognitive. Mistakes are common, all movements are consciously controlled.
Stage 2: Autonomous. Mistakes are rarer, thought not necessary unless things get off track
Stage 3: Associative. Mistakes are very rare, no thought necessary, skill can be combined with other skills.

It's important to realize that these are stages that must be progressed through. It's tempting to tell a student to just stop thinking and do, because you know that's how it's done when you've got it, and, indeed, it can be useful and necessary to do so... but only after they've progressed past the cognitive stage. When they are first introduced to a movement, they HAVE to think about it, telling them not to will not accelerate the process. Only encourage them to not think about it once you're sure they actually have the skill.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Playin' it safe

"Every decisive action changes the battlefield."

note: this is about sparring/competition, but i'm gonna use words like "fight" and "fighting distance" because it's easier than saying "competitive bouting situation" and "sparring distance" or whatever term would be emcompass combat sports in general. also my use of "you" switches at will between a theoretical "you" in a fight and a "you" in charge of training a group of the first "you"s. whatever!

It's hard to get people to take risks in a fight. The main problem is this: the default fighting distance is safe. You're as close as you think you can get without risking yourself, whatever the compromise is between wanting to hit and wanting to get away that you are comfortable with. You don't even have to think about it, your body just *knows*. Without experience, it's probably wrong, but nonetheless, it *knows*. So here's the thing: you're in a safe place, but in order to hit the other person, you gotta leave that safe place. And... you don't want to. What you really want to do is be able to hit the other guy without leaving your safe place. So you feint, you stomp, you bait, you do everything you can to make the other guy come a little bit closer and open up so you can just hit them. But they don't, because nothing you're doing actually matters to them because you're sitting way back there in your safe place. When they do get close enough and you finally swing, it's because they're already swinging at you and you hit each other. Simultaneous hits. Sad tuba noise.

What the deal is:

"Every decisive action changes the battlefield." Anything you do that actually matters is going to change the situation. Is going to take you out of your safe place. You'll occasionally be able to catch the other guy making a mistake out of nowhere, but that is relying on your opponent to make an unforced error. The higher the skill level, the rarer those are. Relying on unforced errors is extremely passive and generally not tenable unless you have a fortress to hang out in. You gotta get out there, take some risk, create forced errors, make your own openings. Create your situations instead of reacting to situations.

Let's fix it!

So you got a bunch of timid fighters, won't attack, won't take risks, and you resolve to train this out of them. You start the training montage sequence. You're working targets, getting faster, learning how to find openings, getting stronger, attack attack attaaaaack! And then, in the fight.... more simultaneous hits. Except now they're hitting and getting hit harder.


Yeah, I know. What happened? Here's the thing: the physical act of attacking was never the problem. The real problem is mental confidence. The question that weighs people down is not "What if I don't hit?", it's "What if I get hit?". And, faced with that question, most people will stay in their safe place rather than attack. Even if, objectively, it means they get hit more. It's a feeling thing, not a fact thing. You can't really talk them out of it.

Let's fix it! part 2: the fixening

You want to get them to attack? Work defense. Work it into their bones, massage it into their reflexes. Have them block and block and block. Have them step forward and block. Have them swing and miss, then block. Have them swing and get blocked, and block. Have them swing and hit, and block. Convince their bodies that, no matter how things go wrong, they can deal with it. (even if it's not true) In saber fencing, parrying is hard. The weapons are so light and fast, and the rules of right of way favor the attacker. Nonetheless, lessons in saber fencing are heavily weighted towards parrying. You do it at the start of every lesson, and work random parry-ripostes in everywhere. You got to. For the feelings.

And then...

They will attack. They always wanted to. They just couldn't because their conservative subconscious didn't like the odds. Now that they've learned some different statistics, and they like their odds better.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

feinting at the critical point.

Close range = able to hit by extending arm
Medium range = able to touch weapons, hit arms if they're extended.
Long range = just barely unable to touch weapons.
Out of distance= anything more than that.

In fencing terminology, a feint is a simulation of an offensive or defensive action, so it doesn't actually finish. Feint a stab, finish with moulinet = a compound attack (attack preceded by one or more feints or attacks on the blade). If you finish an attack, but intended from the start for it to blocked and to hit with a second shot, that's called a second intention attack. If you start a stab, intending to finish or moulinet depending on your opponent's response, that's what we usually call an open eyes action. The timing and distance setup is slightly different for all three.

Feints are most effective at the critical point as you are transitioning into close range. From medium range, there's time for multiple feints before a shot hits. From close range, while you're feinting your opponent is probably just hitting you. depending on all the other situational stuff and setup.

There are two levels to combat sports- there's the mental game and the baseline, physical reality. For example, medium and long range feints are totally possible, but they're about setting up the mental situation. It's about choices and setups. But there is also a baseline, physical reality. There is a distance and position at which it is physical not possible to parry. The time it takes the blade to travel to the target is less than the time it takes for the visual stimuli to trigger the reaction and the block to arrive. This is where the idea of "action beats reaction" comes from- action time for the attacker being < reflex + action of the defender. Generally, this is true at close range, depending on various setup factors. It is generally NOT true at medium range- the time it takes to step and cut is greater than the time it takes register the attack and move to block. Somewhere along the line between those two positions is a critical point- the point at which it becomes biologically impossible to start a block. So when I say that feints are most effective, what I mean is that they are closer to that critical point. They are butting right up against that hard, physical reality where it becomes impossible to block. The idea of recovering from a feint is possible with mental-type feints, but not feints at the critical point.

What is usually meant by "high level" is full speed through trained, efficient paths. Any sort of conscious decision process becomes way too slow. You've prepped your brain, your reactions are trained, and once you get in close, you're gonna do what you're gonna do.

If you slow down enough that you can make a decision to finish or not finish, you have to move further away from that critical point. Instead of getting into that hard physical reality, you're playing more of a mental game. That works at all levels from medium distance or further back, but at closer distance, it only works if your opponent is playing too. If they're more of a more pure physical speed mindset, it fails. Feints that change intention depending on the reaction they cause are harder to pull off the faster and more trained the opponent.

When I say that at medium range, there is time for multiple feints, what I mean is that there is, physically, time to do them. There is, physically, moving at top speed, (depending on various other factors, etc) time to do two feints (not "a lot of feints") as you attack from medium distance. and on the other side, the same. during an attack from medium distance, at top speed, there is generally extra time for the defender beyond the stimulus-response and action. So the defender could, for example, feint a counterattack and still be able to parry. Or feint a parry in a different line before closing the one the actual attack is coming on. Or sit and do nothing until they make a parry at the critical point for parries.

The "best" compound attack (using a feint) relies on knowing your opponent will parry and when, and so can be done at full speed. A second intention attack can be done knowing what your opponent will do, but not exactly when, since you don't care if their parry succeeds or not. So those both rely on prediction and not reflexes (on the part of the attacker). An open eyes attack, on the other hand, has a decision point where somewhere along the line you are deciding whether the feint becomes a real attack or if it is going to disengage to another line. Good reading skills matter here, but not prediction - if you could read or predict before you started, it would not be an open eyes attack.

If my feints are indistinguishable from my attacks - right up to the critical point - then you can make the block... 50% of the time. But you're guessing. That's what feints should do- they should FORCE the defender to make a choice without certainty. Whoever is committing before that critical point gives the other person more opportunity to make an informed choice. If I can make my attack so the feint is at the critical point, but after that I could hit three different targets, then my success rate goes up to 66% if we're both picking randomly. If I can make my attack so that I can read your parry and attack the opening line, my success rate goes to %100 if I can get to that situation. Which means the real game changes to the defender not letting that situation start.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

not any sort of combat or competition, just playing with staying mobile and not locking down when things are swinging at me.

on the swinging side, playing a little bit with the flip shots for when the opponent gets too close (there's a good one around :20)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

drop step, structure

starting from my comment on this post and then continuing on to other related thoughts.

As a fencing coach, I work hard to teach hit before the foot lands, because hitting before the other guy does is very important. I file teaching to hit as the foot lands under bad/mistaken fencing. It causes other problems or lockups, too, so I really like drills to disassociate hand/foot synchronization (one blade action per step, briefly, to let them feel what they want to do, two blade actions per step to introduce new timing, and then three blade actions in two steps to really break their head open and put it together in a new way).

More likely culprit is our conscious mind. I read an article that mentioned that our brains will synchronize sound and visual stimuli before we're aware of it- up to 100ms and we will perceive them as simultaneous. So if you are seeing a lunge demonstrated and the timing is close, it's going to read as simultaneous. When students start working on it, I often found it easier to evaluate by not looking at them and instead just listening to the thwack-thump.

I was first taught the drop-step concept as a drop with both legs, "elevator down". This had the effect of usually breaking structure in the person you're attached to, and then chambered the body for a powerful upwards strike (or hook, with a bit of direction). Stick work had the same structure in it, elevator down with a downward stroke, then power back up. That work with the drop as chamber led me to use a front-foot drop as a preparation for a fencing fleche. Fleches work best from a low positition with the body tilted way forward, almost falling, so the legs can rocket the body forward with a mostly straight spine alignment. The interesting part of that is that when you pick up your front foot you have to wait until it hits the ground to start the attack. It feels like it takes forever and is incredibly obvious- I have to fight myself not to start early. but it makes for the most blindingly out of nowhere fleches I've done.

Matt Campbell (forgefighting) taught me a sequence of power hitting he learned from Sayoc Kali. It's basically a series of structural forms that allow you to hit as hard as possible- meaning full body-weight plus driving force from legs plus gravity on the downward shots. They're all the kind of shots that it's hard to practice in a competitive setting, in part because they'll do serious damage regardless of protective gear. They will also damage you if any link in your structure chain is off. The first one he taught (the "Plumber's slap") is a full body hook with a step, hitting with the palm. He warned us beforehand that in almost every class it's taught, someone ends up trying it with power before they're ready and damaging their bicep. And, sure enough, despite careful stretching, minimal force form work for a couple classes, one guy messed up his bicep somethin' fierce.

All these full body effects rely on being able to chain structure solidly all the way through your body- your legs can create the power, but if your elbow lets it go it never gets into your weapon. I've been working with my training partner Basil on his power structure. He's got a lot of athletic training- some good Muay Thai, he can murder a Crossfit workout- but he's never had much of the more flexible or eccentric kinds of movements. So I've been hitting him with the Sonnon stuff- weird crawls, strength and flexibility things, Systema exercises, aikido, silat ground/low work. Getting stronger in positions that are imperfect, yielding and pulling form back to center, collapsing and then restructuring to push back. and then I've found the most useful thing to be the aikiken stuff. The sword with a two-handed grip lets you push and play with structure in ways that are easy to feel.

It's been interesting reconstructing technique. I haven't been attending aikido classes in awhile, but I'll take a step, or a weak seam in his power structure, and then say, okay, there's going to be a takedown there, and there's going to be a sword technique, what are they going to be? It feels good to have my different backgrounds and knowledge coming together in new ways.

Friday, September 30, 2011

winning the fight

So you want to win the swordfight! Some brainstorming on how that might go down while avoiding a mutual kill or delayed mutual kill.


Physical impossibility
: The gold standard, and what you always strive for. You get your shot in while simultaneously blocking their line of attack/controlling their weapon/moving off the line and past so that, even if they were uninjured and fully aware, they could not hit you. Strive for this. Difficult to achieve.

Finish the technique: I've heard the Atienza guys separate their material into three phases. Phase 1 is entry, Phase 2 is the main striking phase, Phase 3 is takedowns/disarms/joint locks/finishers. If you're sparring, you typically are only working on Phase 1 material. Phase 1 is extremely difficult and multifaceted- the sport of fencing is basically just phase 1 material.

From my fencing skills, I am extremely comfortable with a first blood kind of fight, but when I started doing FMA, I was shocked at how it felt while doing some sparring kind of stuff when I would cut someone and they would then grab my wrist, pull me in, and keep fighting. I would blank. Aikido is mostly phase 3 material- extremely difficult to pull off in a sparring context. A lot of the critique for disarms and finishes is that they are complicated or showy- "you'd never be able to pull that off in a real fight." with the basis of comparison to a fully active sparring partner. And it's true, it's very hard. but that's not where that material really shines.

What that's really about is phase 3- you've already dealt serious or possibly fatal injury to your opponent, and you need to make sure they don't get you during the 10-30 seconds that they're dying. Then all the material becomes a lot easier to perform, so much so that you may get the opposite response from the critics- "you killed them like 20 minutes ago, why are you still doing that, this is not self-defense, oh the humanity." All true. From a battlefield perspective, however, you sliced this guy good, he's going to die in 15 seconds, but his buddy is going to be here in 5 so I really need him to die right now so I can deal with this new situation. Or, from another perspective, you've emptied his guts on the ground and he's going to die, but you're not doing him any favors by prolonging the experience. 

In any case, to get out of a sword fight, phase 3 material offers options if you can apply it in a timely manner. I've been making a point to tag it on to any sparring I do, even if it's only in my head.

Trade: Accepting a minor wound in return for a major one. A lot of the good tech for the gold standard of not getting touched will have this its failure states. That is, you make your attack and get off the line, and if you don't make it instead of getting a sword in the head you get it glancing off the shoulder. In sparring with competitive types it may help to keep separate tabs in your head. "Under these rules, a torso hit is fatal. However, my shot was solid into the heart while his glanced off my shoulder blade, that's a reasonable trade."

Grievous bodily harm: Your attack does so much biomechanical damage that they are not physically able to respond. A lot of two-handed weapon stuff has this aspect to it, while knife material goes after the same effect through multiple hits. Maybe unreliable to depend on in one blow, especially with any degree of armor involved, but you'll get there eventually if you keep at it.


So they've got their dead man's ten (or more) seconds. These outcomes are about why they decide not to attack with the time they have left. In other words, some reasons opponents decide to give up.

Fresh fight: You've hit them, and put together enough of a semblance of being complete unphased and ready for more that the prospect of starting all over again, now with an injury, is just too much for them to contemplate. Related in performance to Physical Impossibility, but more about appearance than actual fact. Just as being ready but not appearing to be ready can draw a reckless and easily countered attack, appearing ready even if you're not can dissuade one from trying.

Technical mastery or Winning by the Rules: By whatever standards your opponent has, you have so clearly won that they stop fighting. I read a blog somewhere where someone discussed how it seemed that police officers would get shot and sit down, out of the fight, regardless of the wound severity, where criminals would get shot in the heart and just keep on going. He theorized that police officers are rule-following types, and childhood cops'n'robbers rules said if you got shot, well, you lost. Whereas criminals are not into acknowledging rules. Could be this sort of thing, or ingrained sparring habits. Free bonus if you trigger them in other people (never hurts to try tapping out to get someone to release a hold even when they shouldn't), be careful to avoid engraving them in your own training.

Devastation: the mental equivalent of grevious bodily harm. There's so much blood, or pain, or so many wounds, that the opponent thinks they cannot function, even if they can.

Puzzlement: very good thing to cause. If your opponent is trying to figure out what just happened and how they got hit, they're not fighting, and they're not thinking about what else they could do. Tricks and misdirection can cause this ("I blocked that strike, I'm still blocking it, why am I bleeding?" "Because you didn't block the knife I drew while I was swinging that sword"), but so can moves from totally different styles, or an unexpected strong/skilled response from an underestimated opponent. Related: if an opponent thinks you just got lucky, it is to your benefit to let them keep that belief.

Stunning blow: Could be a physiological stunning effect, but could also be a sort "boing!" effect from something getting totally stuffed. A stop-thrust that physically stops the arm, a body bash that stops movement or knocks them back. Whatever they were doing got interrupted, and they have to drop the rest of the plan and start something new. Akin to puzzlement.

Preconditioning: I was always dubious about the tactical benefits of fear or intimidation. Banging on your shield or war cries or whatever. It could make people not want to fight, maybe, but if they've managed to stand their ground, it's not like they're just going to open up and let you hit them. However, thinking about this stuff made me consider a different possibility: fear and intimidation help make people give up when you kill them. In a large-scale battle any effort to nudge the scales away from people fighting all the way through their dead man's ten would be a serious advantage. Thus while I remain dubious about the value of trying to strike fear in the heart of the opponents in any sort of competition setting, it definitely has its place. 

And Stay Down: sort of a combination of Fresh Fight and Stunning Blow. They get hit, they pause, regroup, start to move again... and you hit 'em again right at the start. Has psychological power far beyond whatever the physical effect would warrant.

Flurry: Hitting someone many times, even if most hits are not very damaging, and even beyond the OODA loop interruption consequences, has a strong psychologic effect. "My defenses are useless, I can't do anything." Counting wounds or doing internal damage assessment is every bit as good as puzzlement.

And few additional easy ways to lose after you've won: 

Don't know they're dead: If you land a very successful attack- surprising and fast- your opponent didn't see it coming. They may not have seen it at all. In a fighting state, they may not have FELT it at all. Even though they're dying. So they don't stop fighting or slow down or change what they're doing one bit. Dangerous! Thus, it's important to stay ready and keep fighting. Related: In a similar manner it's often difficult to asses how hard something hits from an outside perspective. Hits that seem to cause a big reaction usually do so because the opponent was starting to react (move away or cover) BEFORE they got hit. Totally surprising hits, which usually land much harder, cause no immediate reaction.

Did I get 'em? You hit, and then stop and look to see the effect your attack had. The downfall of every would be hero or heroine in horror movies, where they stab the killer in the back and then watch instead of fighting more. It's not safe to stop fighting even if you did get 'em.

Got 'em: You hit, know that you got them, and stop fighting. It's not safe to stop fighting even if you did get 'em.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

physics and martial arts: why F=ma doesn't mean very much

Every time I've heard physics invoked to explain how to hit hard I have been dissatisfied. The most common thing is to invoke F=ma --- force equals mass times acceleration, and talk about how if you want some more force, you gotta get some more speed. Or, put some more mass behind it. Force, yeah! Even if they get beyond that, and explain, well, acceleration is not exactly the same thing as speed, and the force here doesn't actually mean anything, and hedge a bit, and then mention you're only describing the thing you're hitting with, not the target, but equal and opposite reaction, right? Force on target!


What you're talking about, when you talk about how you're throwing a punch with F=ma, is how much work YOU are doing. Acceleration is velocity per time --- a description about how long it takes to make something go a certain speed. The mass is how much you're moving. The force is how hard it is to do it. At the end of that process, you've launched a set mass with a certain velocity, and if you want that velocity to be higher, or for that process to take less time, you gotta work harder. It's just about you, it's not about what that hit is going to be like on the other side.

For striking combat sports, that actually does a decent job of describing what you want. You're basically throwing a ball at a bell at a bell. Whether that ball is a fist or the scoring tip of a foil, the goal is the same- you want to do that with minimal telegraphing (highest acceleration), low commitment, easy to get back on guard (just the mass of the ball, no more), with enough velocity to ring the bell (depress the tip, meet whatever is required to score). For this reason, snapping actions are king. You get a kind of wave of motion through your body to launch that ball, and then pull it back after you score. Or let it continue circularly to come back after glancing off.

That's all pretty clear. And you can sort of expand that to see how if you put more mass behind it, you can hit harder. But it doesn't explain the variety of hitting effects I've seen demonstrated, and the damage they can cause. What more do you need?

First, you switch your thinking. that F=ma? You have to think about it as force equals mass times deceleration. How hard the surface has to work to stop that ball. And your thinking about that mass has to change, too. A little example:

Imagine you have a piece of paper falling down as a vertical plane. Shoot a needle at it. The needle punches through. Throw a marble at it. The paper just sort of crumples out of the way. What's going on? Well, part of it is surface area. But. Suppose we attached big weights to the corners of the paper and dropped it. The needle punches through, the marble punches through. We've increased the mass of the paper. Mass is inertia, base resistance to movement. If it's moving, it's not getting damaged. In order to damage something, we need to do that damage before it starts moving away. If something has more mass, there's more potential for it to be damaged. Momentum is inertia with added effect with velocity. If something is moving toward the striking object, there's more potential for it to be damaged. Consider: Would you rather be hit in the face with a baseball traveling 49mph while you are starting to walk forward at 1mph, baseball traveling 50 mph while you are standing still, or 51mph while starting to fall backwards at 1mph?

So then, damage. This is where things get complicated, and you do not see equations invoked casually. If you wanted to learn how to break things, you'd think you'd want to know how things break, but... it's complicated. From my brief survey on the topic, you've got elastic deformation, plastic deformation. Stretching. Fracturing. Structural deformation, structural collapse. Each of these governed by equations that vary by thickness, constants different for different materials. Humans bodies are mix of elastic and inelastic materials, in a combination rigid and flexible structure. It's a mess! Some takeaways:

Elastic deformation is where something bends or compresses, but returns to shape afterwards, also returning the stored force. Not damage. Skin and muscle can deform elastically. For combat sports, this is what you want. No one gets damaged, and also that returned force helps you get back.

Plastic deformation is where something bends or compresses, and does not return to shape. A form of damage. Can't think of anything on the body that does this. Metals do.

Stretching can be elastic or inelastic. A combination of deformation and stretching is what allows for force distribution, like foam. Parts compress and pull other parts in to compress. Time is important- if force is applied quicker than the material can take, the material rips instead of stretching, and force distribution stops. I think this is what's going with the guys who can make you feel knuckles through boxing gloves, despite the fact that there are bigger guys who can hit "harder".

Muscles are somewhat elastic, ligaments and tendons less so. Bones are slightly elastic. "Brittle" is actually a function of stretching and compression- when something bends, it has to get longer on one side and shorter on the other. Once it can't do that, it's going to break. Both length and thickness are a factor. 

Some materials and structures, columns especially, can withstand much higher forces briefly and suddenly applied than they can if the weight was slowly applied or left in place. Consider someone crushing an empty aluminum can on their forehead. There is a dead zone between pushing strongly but slightly slowly and quick crushing where you can really hurt yourself.

Torque (turning force) has a tremendous influence on structures. If you didn't crush that can on your forehead (good choice!), you can do the fun thing where you can set it upright on the floor and slowly and carefully stand on it. Then have someone tap the side with a pencil or twist slightly.

Some structures have secondary structural solutions. That is, force is exerted, they're stable, force increases, they crumple more with more force, then hit another stability point where they hold for awhile.

Oh yeah and equal and opposite: anything you hit with is subject to the same deformation and crumpling and whatnot, and all that decreases the damage done.

hmm. to sum up a bit. To evaluate the damage potential of an attack, you have to look at the pressure (force per area) for what amount of time, with what torque, the material of the target for elasticity and force distribution, mass and structure of the target for resistance and crumpling.

We have a lot of experience with not breaking things. We have an unconscious understanding for how to touch and handle and drop a wide variety of things without damaging them or ourselves. Most of us do not have much experience with breaking things. Maija mentioned in the comments on the last post about Muay Thai fighters sparring light and having no problem going for real. True, but the real there is also still a combat sport. Taking a muay thai kick on the thigh really, really sucks. It's disablingly painful and a fight ender, for sure. But that same kick aimed slightly lower with a little torque would destroy the knee. Or kicking the knee itself. And I'm pretty sure with a little training many Muay Thai fighters would be able to break the femur, wherever the kick. but it's not in the sports training, and it's against the rules to hit too hard in a Muay Thai fight (weird, right?). The training spreads the force out just enough to hit as hard as possible without causing damage. There's a big difference between punching the air, and punching a heavy bag. There's another big difference between punching a heavy bag and punching something that will break or deform. Or crumple, grab, and counterattack.

A science fiction book I read had a punching bag with a programmable smart gel that would provide progressive resistance up to a set density, like bone, where it would release. I immediately wanted one, but I think the martial arts world would be a very difference place if that technology was everywhere. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


I think rules in combat sports fall into two categories:
I. Rules for safety
II. Rules to make the other guy admit that you won.

Category II only exists competitively, and most often as a consequence of safety rules, in order to prevent game-breaking tactics. But what that's really necessary is a sense of "fair play"- meaning, in this case, that both people share the goal, and avoid doing the things that are only possible because you're not trying to kill each other while working towards this goal. For example, if you slow down, there are tactics that are possible that would not be at full speed. Someone speeding up is obvious, but not obvious is the case where an action would only be possible if predicted. I start to swing, you counter-attack, I change the course of my swing to block your counter-attack. At speed, this is generally only possible if I planned it ahead of time- if you hadn't counter-attacked, i would've done it anyway. but with slower speeds, you can do it seamlessly, exactly as if you had planned it. And the only person who could know is me. You can't use rules to get rid of this problem- you either would have to go full speed, or else both people have to assume each is playing fair.

and then, competitively, you get the unintended consequences. In foil and saber fencing, they have rules of right-of-way to settle the issue. If I attack, you counter-attack, and we both hit at the same time, I win. Originally designed to promote good sword self-defensing technique- you saw the attack, and you decided to attack? Dumb. You get punished. Which, good, right? Except then competitively, the attacker gets REWARDED when his opponent counter-attacks. And the more committed the counter-attack, the better it is. So you get attacks that start long, lazy, and with the head and torso wide-open (but not the arm, because the opponent could hit that and get away) that encourage the opponent to counter-attack.
Safety foundation ("Only counter-attack if you can avoid getting hit!") plus who-wins rule ("Attacker wins vs. counter-attacker") = reality warping behavior ("welcome, suicidal counter-attackers!")

With the foam combat I've been doing, the head is not a valid target, and if you intentionally (or even solidly unintentionally) strike someone in the head, you should take a loss. Which has some predicatible warping effects on technique, as there's no reason to learn to especially learn to protect the head. But then the warping effect gets stronger- one of the essential problem of a large shield is that you can see, or you can protect your face, but it's hard to do both. Problem removed! Just stick your head right over the top of that shield. Which, naturally, people do. And but then it reaches even further. To counteract the advantage of a big shield, you can "break" it by hitting twice with a two-handed weapon. Which works sort of okay in battles with multiple people. but (unintended consequence), one-on-one, sword'n'shield vs two-handed weapon, the game is trivial (meaning, only one real chain of events, uninteresting). Any pauses mean the 2h-er will hit the shield. If they can hit it twice, the shield-user will probably lose. If the shield-user charges to close distance, the 2Her will have time for only one shot. The shield-user can easily block all shots to the arms and torso during that time, leaving the only possible target the legs. So, the only real course of action is: shield-user immediately charges, 2h-er attempts to hit a leg. If they hit a leg, they win. If they don't, the shielder user closes in and wins.
TLDR version: Two-handed weapon vs. sword and shield is a boring fight, with no possibilities or variations. Which is sort of mind-boggling, given how many possibilities there should be with that matchup. And then origin of that was a simple safety rule, "Don't hit people in the head." with associated who-wins rule, "If you hit someone in the head, you lose."

Every combat sport has these things. Not exploiting them is generally an insurmountable competitive disadvantage. It doesn't take long at all for techniques to warp to adapt to these holes. Attempts to correct the warp will just create new, weirder warps.

Friday, July 22, 2011

talkin' tactics, part 1

About a year ago I ran into a shortage of regular training opportunities. No local classes, reliable training partners, not a lot going on. I had seen a group of people who swung foam swords in the park. I figured I'd go play a bit, good for some movement and time outdoors if nothing else. I was pleasantly surprised. I learned there are different foam combat organizations, and while some are heavy on role-playing and ridiculousness, this particular branch is focused almost entirely on the fighting. They hit and play hard, and while there is almost no formal training background present, their veterans have been doing this a long time and have strong natural styles. Additionally, their weapon construction tech was way better than the manufactured foam bats I'd used to spar with FMA groups. Much more sturdy for blocking, allowed for stronger swings that still hit safely, and could be built to mimic most weapon types.  I read their national internet forums. The foam construction knowledge was very good, I learned a lot. but in sparring with the locals, I discovered that dealing with a shield was a big problem that I did not know much about.

So I read their Fighting Skill Development & Training board. It was... disappointing. New fighter questions were mostly responded to with varying degrees of "shut up and read the guides in the sticky threads." The guides in the sticky threads were a mishmash of a whole bunch of different things- 17th century illustrated fencing manuals, the wikipedia entry on OODA loops, SCA youtube video series. Not useful for beginners and no coherent basis for discussion. I thought, maybe if I throw some rigor and thought into the pot, the knowledge basis here will stiffen up and show some outlines.

My first effort was a response to a question about charging, which I reposted earlier in this blog. There was no response at all. Which was a bit mysterious- I had put a bunch of stuff in there, surely something would be worth responding to? but nothing. okay, I thought. I'll make a video. The florentine (two-weapon) section of the stickied guide links was particularly disappointing. Some brief descrptions of a static guard positions, advice to learn some filipino martial arts with broken links to videos or incomprehensible text descriptions of sinawali. I had spent 14 years as a rabidly single-handed fencer. To this day, my right arm is noticeably bigger than the left. Not just the muscle, but the BONES. I had some passable ability to fake it with my left hand (coaches need to be able to give a lesson left-handed to teach the differences), but it wasn't until I started with FMA and learned sinwali and other drills did i really gain any sort of ambidextrous coordination.

So I made a video. My target audience was the clueless new fighters who wanted to do cool shit but had zero background or training. I thought, super basic sinawali to begin learning two-handed coordination. Show the useless spinny version. Explain the broken-down timed version that you can start to pull tactical applications from. Make the connection to the classic two-weapon pose that everyone adopts but doesn't know how to actually use. Seemed like an obvious good plan, right?

What followed is familiar and probably predictable to anyone who has read public mixed-school martial arts forums. Let's take a tour! I'm pulling excerpts here, there's just a lot of great ground to cover. Some of this repeats from stuff I've posted here. I was drawing from my previous writing, and my failure in this forum was part of the impetus to start this blog. Italics are current comments, I bolded some choice lines for emphasis.

My video:

Todo: That **** will get you dead real fast. You pulling that on the Bel field?

Me: which part?

Slagar: Honestly, almost any of it. It looks like your mechanics for power generation are probably pretty decent, but any florentine fighter who keeps their swords in any of the places yours are is gonna get hit a lot. Good Belegarth florentine fighting looks sneakily similar to boxing with swords, plus wrap shots. This looks like ninja noob stuff, and will just get ya killed.

Black Cat: Though I am not experienced enough to truly know how to explain the reasons why, I have fought enough to know that these techniques won't work on the Belegarth field. I'm a horrible melee fighter, and I can see the flaws in this particular fighting style. <links to guide post by respected Belegarth elder, Kenneth>

Respected Belegarth elder, Kenneth: Many "real" martial arts techniques are going to get you "killed" no matter what fighting style you do. Some branches of martial arts have practical theories, but many are filled with complex, stylized and inefficient techniques ... Perhaps more importantly, many real martial arts techniques fail to take into account what happens if your move "fails". If your super-seiyan spinning roundhouse backfist lands, the other guy is probably going to be hurting. ...

Unfortunately, the movements shown in the video would fail many modern day combat theories. The angles of attack are limited. The weapons have difficulty traversing the vertical planes. The shots are telegraphed. The set of defensive movements is limited. The arms are easy to "jam" together and prevent effective attacks. Two practical theories I was taught: Putting your arms on top of each other is generally bad. Putting your arms behind you tends to be much less effective than putting your arms in front of you. ... The style shown in the video would probably not be very effective against your medieval knight wearing plate and using a large shield.  ...  Many martial arts styles teach techniques, not theories. True martial arts theories tend to translate pretty well into any form of combat. EX: Don't telegraph your shots. Don't stand in a stupid spot.

That response was particularly notable, for being completely condescending, lacking content, and just being plain wrong.

Tiercel: Pause sixteen seconds in. I can take a shield, a second sword, a jav, or just about any piece of equipment at all, hold it straight out, and have you thoroughly locked up. While I do this, I hack your left side to pieces. This would require neither much skill, nor quick reflexes, nor experience to do. You're putting yourself in a defenseless position. This is just one example.
There is no value in crossing your arm over your torso and "tucking the blade under." You're wide open. Fighting single sword, I'd throw two blue shots to your exposed side, and get out of your strike area before you could get your sword off your shoulder or out from behind your back.At about 52 seconds in, you show the "continuous swinging." You expose your forearms again and again and again. A Bel fighter wouldn't be intimidated by the swinging. They'd take your arms, since you're offering them so freely.

Note that the continuous swinging was the part that I demonstrated the common but not useful interpretation of sinawali. Which i say is not useful. And do not mention intimidation.

Me: <attempt to bring the discussion to practical details>
This is where you start with it, and is mainly concerned with the question of "how do I learn to operate with two swords in a way that keeps them both active and prevents me from getting tied up?" Attribute development.

The quote from Kenneth is good, but not exactly what's going on here. If you're going to hit someone, pulling your arm back from where it is in order to hit is a bad idea that invites a counterattack. Moving your body forward while your weapon remains behind (stepping forward while your blade is behind your back) is a bad idea that invites a counterattack. The pulling back I was talking about is concerned with what happens AFTER your attempt to hit. Filipino martial arts has several kinds of strikes. One is with follow-through, lobtik, i.e. you swing, it hits or misses, and you continue through to the other side to chamber for the next swing. The other is a rebound, wootik, where you bounce off and chamber back the way you came from. Full sinawali patterns train your arms to do either and not get in the way of the other hands.

that one where I withdraw my right hand to an overhand position is actually a third type, abaniko, or fan. I didn't get in the video because you can only talk about so much at a time usefully, but it's a right forehand shot, which then flips over and hits again. standard introduction is to hit both sides of the head, but in Belegarth translates to an over the shoulder wrap shot. i don't get to use it much because the more experienced fighters here are taller than me and my wrapping over their shield-side shoulder is tricky, but it's the exact same shot they use. the followup is a looping overhead stab which is more useful to me.

the default behavior of the blades straight back is from stick fighting, to prevent getting your stick grabbed and you getting trapped/strangled with your own stick. but if they go vertical they're effective blocks. Would be more effective if anvilling wasn't an issue, but that just makes it more important to have the return momentum for blocking.

like in boxing, i was taught that if i don't have something touching my chin, i should expect to get knocked out. if both my weapon are out trying to hit, i am about to get hit.

and then i get pwned

Todo: And here I was hoping you'd quietly accept your mistake. Silly, silly me.
Do you think EVERYONE who has posted merely "doesn't see your tricky ninja options"? Because trust me, we do, and we will kill you before you get them out. Like in boxing, if you don't have your hands up. If your swords are not up and available for punchblocking/ dodging and counterattacks, you're gonna die. Your arms are going to get pinned or your non-sword side is gonna get hacked. It's up to you.

I haven't even mentioned different options. Let alone tricky ninja options. I'd like to get to them, but we've gotta stick to the basics. I attempt to return to the basics

Me: At no point am I advising standing in fighting range with both arms chambered waiting for action. That is where the drill starts, because beginners need a place to start. Serious dudes roll their eyes at it, because it seems silly, but serious dudes also end up teaching it, because it works. It teaches you how to have an off-hand that isn't stupid and can attack and defend. It teaches you, specifically, how NOT to get trapped and bound up. The issues involved in reaction time, entry tactics, open vs. opening targets, distance, etc, are all interesting, and all factor in, but you start somewhere.

If you're fighting single blue vs. single blue, and you're holding your sword on one side, does that mean you're going to get hit on the other side? Nope, because that sword is gonna come right across and block it. Well, what if you feint an attack to the open side, then go the other way? Well, it might work, unless they counterattack at the start of the feint, or step back and do a compound parry, or just stay because your feint was too fast, or unconvincing, or etc. etc. entire body of combat tactics.

you gotta look and say, what's it for, what works better. there isn't good advice for learning basic two-weapon coordination. Advice i've seen here says do everything with your off-hand, or fight just with your off-hand. Which is alright, but doesn't teach the hands to work together.

Kyrian: I've often introduced sinawali variations to fighters when I'm teaching two-weapon combat. However, I've never seen them as being particularly useful in the melee.

Todo: So are you advocating this as a training drill or technique? Would you ever stand with your swords like that in a Bel fight?

Kyrian, holding the line: Absolutely. For fighting, however, no. I feel it limits the usable angles for the chambered arm; there are only so many attacks and angles you can initiate from there. I personally prefer being able to initiate the same types of attacks from either side. For example, with the arm chambered, I wouldn't be able to do a stab with that arm without some movement indicating my intentions. Plus there's the potential for that weapon getting "stuffed" by an opponent's shield especially if he closes quickly and/or uses aggressive shield techniques.

Todo, establishing battle lines: Oh, I know you wouldn't Kyrian. I was talking to Phlebas.

slightly pissed off at this point, I go take some sparring footage. my opponent, Chris "Dagganoth", is a longtime Belegarth competitor. He's not the best, yet, but he grew up in the sport, regularly attends national events, and is a reasonable representative of the state of the art

Me: Mostly training, but practical applications are pulled out of it in a variety of ways. I wouldn't advocate standing like that in a bel fight, but I'd do it, as much as you ever wanted to be standing in a set position.
it looks like this: <sparring video from earlier post in this blog, >
you can, in fact, thrust from a low chamber, with almost no telegraphing. i know i did some today, don't know if I caught any on video. there are stab-only sinawali drills, which are sort of awkward but interesting.

Slagar: Please stop posting bad advice in the forum I point everybody at as a teaching resource. Pretty please? Love and Kisses, Slagar

Dagganoth, my opponent: A lot of his stuff is surprisingly effective at Belegarth Combat, windows that are left open for shots LOOK to be open for far longer than they are, and close quickly. I'm pretty quick about fighting people's openings and these techniques, when done just right, pretty well keep my offense shut out. ... It's very sound stuff, and it can be very hard to track where both swords are moving at once, making blocking a real pain. It's an excellent foundation for combos and footwork in particular. I think it needs to be kept in mind that this video wasn't created to make a Sinawali fighter, this video was made to demonstrate a fundamental martial arts technique focused on combos and reliability, in order to benefit your existing belegarth game.P.S. Phlebas' stab technique outshines any Belegarth fighter I've ever fought.

Me: Slagar, you do know that in the tutorial page you refer new fighters to, in the florentine section, two of the three written ones advise people to learn sinawali, and the other written one recommends the cross block as the preferred block? and i made this video specifically because all the sinawali links in those tutorials are broken/useless.

Dane, one of the top fighters in Belegarth: Really hate that chambered guard; the bait is way too obvious. If you have to block to the baited side, that's too much ground to cover, too easy to be opened up for just about anything unless you're super quick, and even then, the super quick fighters that get away with that guard use it against opponents they know to be vastly inferior.

note that I am not super quick. my natural reflexes are actually a bit slow, and i tend to think too much. i do have a decent analytical eye, though, which can seem like the same thing

Slagar: Ok, on the chance I'm wrong and this is really an effective technique/style, I'll keep an open mind. Wouldn't be the first time I've been wrong, or the last.
Go to an event, fight big names. Post video if you can (video cameras are hard to set up at an event, I realize), or W/L ratios in sets of 10, and against who. Show me that what you're doing is making you an effective fighter in our game, tell me you used it and beat Galin, Kenny, Physic, Peter, Bhakdar, Battlechrist, Ruben, Dane, Angel, Elwrath, whoever the top sticks in your area are, 6/10 or better. Show me what it's good for .... anything to help you coordinate your off hand into fighting is fine to practice, to train with. I'm not harshing on that. You're advocating actually fighting with it, as your video showed. That's what I'm saying is wrong.

Repeating myself from earlier: "At no point am I advising standing in fighting range with both arms chambered waiting for action. " So he backs off slightly due to community pressure. In compromise, he admits that, if I can beat all the top fighters of their organization, documented, all by my lonesome, it might be worth discussing. Then there's some discussion about how sinawali drills are okay for coordination, but have no practical application, based on the one time they went to a class and learned something called "heaven sticks" or something. Seems to be getting somewhat back on track, so i try to work in some more basis of discussion.

Me: The takeaways from sinawali are things like always being able to hit from multiple angles, rhythm and tempo changes, awareness of opening and closing lines, and being able to manipulate weapons without ever getting tangled or bound (the idea of being able to easily tie up someone trained in kali is ludicrous). If you only see the spinny-flourish version, it's easy to get the wrong idea. With half-beat timing, you get the ability to simultaneously monitor low line and high line, as well as simultaneous near-defense (shots coming to the torso) and far-defense/offense (attacking or blocking shots to the arm).

The patterns are 6, 8, 10, even 12 count things. Practical applications are two or three shot extracts from the patterns, put in to proper context. You have to do some application drills to be able to use it effectively.

And then i cross over into discussion about guard positions. Next time!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Offensive energies

this is a draft of possible striking "energies". Many weapons and strikes combine different energies- unarmed attacks, for example, are both blunt and striking and can impact in a variety of different ways. Feedback on missing types or terminology suggestions are welcome.

Offensive Energies:

Slice-Push/pull cut





Saturday, July 9, 2011


When you are looking for an opening, what, exactly, are you looking for? This is an attempt to classify. Note that most of these are a matter of degree; while there is a distance at which an opponent absolutely, positively cannot respond, mostly you get something farther away than that. The physical openings put pressure on the mental ones. They force the opponent to make the right choices faster in order to have a chance. Most practical openings are a combination of these. For example, an opponent at a certain distance who is focused on defense isn't open, while the same distance provides a blatant opening on an opponent who is intent on preparing an attack.

1. Distance- Too close, not enough time to react
2. Position- out of position, takes too long to complete the reaction. important distinction: you want an opening target, not an open target. Open targets close. For example, if the inside line is open, it will close when you attack it. If they are moving to close the outside line, they're going to finish that motion, then come all the way back to close the inside line. Much better.
3. Balance- a shift in balance making them slow to get away, or locking them in place

1. Inattention- resting, thinking, mind elsewhere
2. Intention- focused on doing something else, or preparing something else. Inattention is vague, out of it, but can snap back. Intention is busy, and better, because they often won't even notice what you're doing. 
3. Expectation- prepared to defend an attack other than what you are doing. Could be twitch defense to protect the wrong target, or a deflecting defense that is weak vs. a strong attack.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Tactical planning: foreseen and unforeseen actions

This is the method of tactical thinking I was taught in fencing coaches college, augmented with some other things I've learned since. It divides an encounter into beginning and end, with each being foreseen or unforeseen. In order for something to be foreseen, you should have at least two of three pieces of knowledge: when, what/how, where. Sometimes the divisions get a little murky if you only have two pieces, and only rarely could count as foreseen if you only have one. So, three possibilities:

Foreseen beginning - Foreseen end
This category includes all first and second intention actions. For example, a first intention attack with a jump-lunge that successfully lands. You begin the action, thus know when/what/where, and it goes according to plan. A second intention action is one in which the first action is intended to fail, but the followup is known. Example: you attack with a lunge, knowing the opponent will parry strongly with a retreat and hold it for too long, and then redouble and remise with a disengage.

Attacks in response to an opening could be placed in the first intention category, but the beginning knowledge may be incomplete. For example, you know that at some point your opponent will relax and lower their guard, opening an arm target, but you do not know when. You have what and where, but not when. Or, you know that after two quick steps, your opponent will prepare and leave either a high or low opening. You know when (the two quick steps giving ample warning), you know what (you're going to attack the preparation), but you don't know where you are attacking.

1st and 2nd intention actions can be some of the fastest, executed at full speed with no need to make decisions. For that reason, the glitches and OODA loop interruptions are most helpful here. However, they are obviously dependent on knowledge of your opponents behavior. This can be gleaned from past experience, either previous encounters or touches, or observation of reflex reactions or repeated arm movements. Or it can be formed by forcing shaping the opponent's behavior. One of my favorite three touch patterns comes from a combination of experience and observation. I observe that my opponent is not fully aware and active- maybe it's his first bout of the day. As soon as the referee starts the action, I immediately launch a fast fleche action. If it scores, my opponent will be slightly shaken, and trying to wake up. The next touch will be a fleche that is even faster. The opponent was prepared for the speed of the first one- it seemed like the fast thing I could possibly do, and the extra speed is surprising. Now he's going to overly aware to the point of being twitchy. The third touch is going to be a stutter, which will immediately draw a panicked parry, then a full fleche as they relax.

Unforeseen beginning - Foreseen end

This category includes a lot of counter-attacks and "whatever happens, I'm gonna do this" kind of things. A lot of reality-based martial arts go for these kind of actions, where they try to simplify down to a couple of a responses that handle most things, so when you're surprised, you just go. It can be very effective, and definitely useful to have some of these prepared. In bouting, a lot of opponent initiated actions go this way, where the initial action fails/turns into a struggle, and one side eventual manages to transform it into their favorite action. I try to put one of these in my mental rack, which probably I'll write about another time.

Foreseen beginning - Unforeseen end
This category is referred to as "open eyes". You start the action, watch the response, and then deal with it. This is one of the most trainable types of tactical thinking. The methodology goes like this: teach an opening, say advance and press the opponents blade. Then teach individual responses: you try to press the blade, the opponent deceives and you don't find it, you close the line the other way and finish. You try to press the blade, find it, finish. You try to press the blade, the opponent presses back, disengage and finish. Then you give random responses and have the student respond appropriately. It obviously works best if the potential responses are limited and mappable, and when you can force the timing, leaving only what and where as the unknowns. I try to always add an additional "if you get a nonsense response, or something you don't understand, break distance and start over" for my fencers, just to prevent locking up or forcing an inappropriate action.

Unforeseen beginning - Unforeseen end
The worst and sometimes the best. The worst when you don't have a plan, you're trying to understand what's happening, and deciding how to respond in the moment. Basically disastrous, and where a lot of thinking beginners live and die. Purely instinctive fighters fair better, as they do whatever they feel, which can be reckless, but, as it cuts out the conscious mind, done very, very fast. And the best, in the zen no-mind state, where your training is good and flows out all on its own. Flow state.  Experience, training, mindset.

Friday, May 27, 2011

distract, confuse, freeze, stutter

Variations on OODA loop interruption. All of these only provide a brief, half-tempo hesitation, and as such have to be done immediately (i.e. you can't freeze someone, see that it works, and then start the action. Waiting to see the response negates the effect. Targetting is still possible, though)

Distract: Make the opponent observe, orient, and possibly decide about some irrelevant stimuli. Easy example of this is dropping something before entry. The opponent sees it drop and has to process what that means. The fact that the stimuli gets into their brain means you at least steal some of their brain processing time even if they decide to ignore it. Fails if they don't notice it at all, which is possible depending on their tunnel vision. I file the "am I hurt?!?" reaction in this category, where people feel contact and attempt to decide if they are seriously injured, or if the hit was sufficient for scoring or what have you. Can get a bonus confuse effect too, as in the showing a weapon, brandishing it, dropping it and attacking with something else. 

Confuse: Make the opponent fail to complete the orient phase. Basically, this is a hesitation you get when the opponent simply cannot understand what is happening and, instead of ignoring or acting, attempts to figure it out. This is what makes a wide variety of "tricks" work- they're just so weird the opponent doesn't have a response. Guru Mike demonstrates this by suddenly making like he's gonna kiss the guy he's fighting while grappling, then unleashing a flurry of elbows as their brain shuts down.

Freeze: Interrupting the loop by providing new information just before the opponent is about to act. Requires being able to read body language and thought process. Usually I do this by amping threat- often just bending knees. From the outside, it appears as if I simply attack and the opponent does absolutely nothing. What is actually happening is they have prepared to attack, and, the instant before they start to move, I suddenly appear to change. They abort and try to figure out if this change is important, and get hit. Good fencers can do this to inexperienced fencers almost at will. I've seen coaches who don't get it yell at their students, "Don't just stand there! Do something!" as a more experienced fencer does this to their student over and over again. It's something that's being done to them, the more they try to do the "right" thing the worse it gets. Can be defeated by the opponent not caring what you do, so it won't work on the threat-blind.

Stutter: Like the freeze, except you initiate it. You start moving, the opponent sees the movement, interprets it correctly, begins their reaction, you stop moving, the opponent sees the stop and starts trying to abort their reaction, you restart the motion, they're still trying to stop, etc. Basically compounds the idea of "action beats reaction", messes them around until you're well ahead. Depends on the opponent reacting in a way that they can recognize as nonoptimal- for example, moving the blade to block, when they realize that doing so would create an opening. If they don't recognize a problem, or if the reaction is safe no matter what (retreating instead of blocking, for example), stuttering doesn't work.  Opponents who have been trained that there is one correct on-guard position that they should always be in are particularly susceptible to this.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

double sword sparring IN SLO-MO

I'm in a ridiculous total chamber position, but it's cool, because i've got plenty of distance. Dagg starts an attack, i don't want it yet, so i step back, and he stops, seeing that it's got no chance. He starts forward again, i hold my ground, but this time he's hesitating. My first swing does nothing but swing short, but stops his attack. My second swing is for real, so he changes his oncoming attack to stop it. My third swing would've hit shield, so i don't throw it. Next two swings are a block for his followup shot and a shot to his forearm that he catches near his hand.

He's falling back, so i launch a standard hi-lo sinawali attack. 1st swing is high, slows down as a roof block to monitor his weapon. Second swing is low, if he had dropped to attack under the roof it would've come across to catch it, but he's still up high so it hits the leg. His attack is stalled, so the roof speeds up again and hits him in the armpit, then rebounds around behind my back to make another leg shot.

The next exchange, I'm looking to attack his preparation, so i make the distance slightly closer. Closer distance=less reaction time, so instead of a double chamber i take a more forward guard position.

on being charged

part of the difficulty here is misapprehension of what this charging is. We're sort of preconditioned to think of charging as charging for effect- like a bull, or someone trying to tackle. In those cases, the person charging is at full speed or still accelerating at the moment of contact. That's not really what's going on here. What this is falls more into the category of marching attack- putting tempo pressure on you in order to force the timing of striking distance. A marching attack is effective because the attacker can slow, speed up, or change direction in order to adjust the timing of the engagement. The main goal of the defender is to spoil this control.

Bad options:

1. Continuous retreat. This is instinctively tempting, but disastrous. When retreating against a marching attack, the typical reaction is to retreat at or near the speed the attacker is coming forward. This turns the situation effectively into two fighters standing their ground or slowly coming together, except that one person is defending. The fighter with the longer reach has several advantages in this situation.

2. Stand your ground. This leaves all the control to the attacker, and so the defender has to entirely rely on being able to read the attack. Marching attacks also usually involves lots of feints- the attacker wiggles the weapon and can variously speed up and slow down to feint commitment. Makes it difficult to read and solve passively.

3. Waiting then sidestep/rolling/lateral movement. This instinct comes from that initial misapprehension. If the other person were really charging, this would be a good option. They are not. Their actual intention is to come to a stop right in front of you. They're already decelerating hard at the moment when you would sidestep. Foam weapons have a minimal weight commitment. There is some advantage in causing retargeting by sidestepping, but it's about the same as for a normal engagement.

Somewhat better:

4. Advance one step as the attacker is coming into range. The advantage here is that at the critical moment things accelerate for the attacker. They have to launch an attack sooner than expected. If you have previous knowledge of their favorite/instinctive swing, that's probably what they will fire. Still, this is happening when they are likely paying the most attention to you, so depending on your timing/telegraphing, it will not be that surprising.

5. Retreat one or two steps, fast, as the attacker is about to swing. Done properly, this making their attack fall short or causes them to lengthen/slow/re-evaluate. In general, makes it easier to deal with.

More better:

6. Feign continuous retreat, sudden stop. This starts to return some control to the defender. Moving backwards continuously makes the attacker comfortable and gives them some commitment. Stopping gives the advantages of option 4, with the additional advantage of being able to choose the moment. The biggest mistake with this one is when people think this is what they're doing, but in reality they're just retreating and stopping when they realize they can't get away, which is just about the worst thing to do.

7. Instant forward movement at the start of their charge. Sort of like a counter-charge. Has to be done from very large distance, or it becomes a weaker version of 4, where the attacker has more time to adjust. Instead, what you're hoping for is the attacker to slow or abandon the charge, expecting a typical defensive engagement. You can then either give them this, or stop/retreat and make them start their charge again. Stopping and starting is tiring for them, and thus good for you. If they continue and you continue at speed that's going to turn into an uncontrollable situation. Not my thing but if you're outclassed or into chaos it might work.

8. 7, stop, then engage. The goal being they start to charge, slow/stop when they you're coming to them, then they start accelerating again thinking you're not, and then you're there while they're still getting up to speed. Tricky, but you get all the goodness of an opponent coming towards you while not actually prepared.

best, of course, is a combination of all of the above, with the general goal being to cause stutters, hesitation, exhaustion, and regain control.

guard position

"Guard position" is a conflation of the topics of distance awareness, proper position to close a line, and framing. Beginners lack all of these skills, and it makes sense to teach them together. Not being aware of the time and distance an attack requires, they need to keep their best possible guard at all time.  The small variations between large, medium, and close distance are hard to determine, and vary for each individual. However, as skill increases, gradations need to enter in. There is conflict between readiness and giving the opponent knowledge of your defensive intentions. Ideally, no defense would be presented until the last possible moment, to deny the opponent the ability to react or plan a compound attack. There are many difficulties with this, including reaction time, variable speed attacks, and ability to read the opponents target. Stepping back from that, presenting a guard only as you enter medium distance serves as a framing device, limiting and prompting the opponent's options. Another step down is to maintain a guard in medium distance. Maintaining distance gives the opponent time to think- whenever possible the distance should be closed immediately or only for chosen windows of opportunity.

A strong tactical path should constantly improve your position until you win. The stronger the path is, the longer it could be. So a weak path goes maybe one tempo, "I am in distance, the target is open, I hit you", while a stronger path would start from out of distance. The infinitely strong path would start something like, "I woke up this morning."