The way in which you stand and move will have a great effect on your efficiency and effectiveness when fighting. An incorrect stance can reduce the speed and power of your blows, inhibit your movement, and allow your opponent to anticipate your attacks or notice your weaknesses. Proper stance and movement will have an opposite, and beneficial effect.
This paper discusses aspects of the stance and techniques of movement that I teach in my system. It also includes a discussion of tactical considerations and “tells”. I would like to particularly draw the reader’s attention to the section describing the Slide Step, which has a significant effect on tactics and choice of technique.
I recommend a moderately open, upright stance with the feet about shoulder width apart, and the knees just unlocked. Both feet should be pointing about 30 degrees from front and parallel to one another. From a line drawn through the legs towards the opponent, the toe of the front foot should touch the line, while the heel of the back foot should be four to six inches away from the line on the side opposite the front foot. See below for a full description.
The concept of an “open” stance is important. A totally closed stance is one where the feet are placed one behind the other on the line leading towards ones opponent. A totally open stance is one where the feet are parallel, and both placed on the line perpendicular to the line leading towards ones opponent. The completely closed stance will interfere with hip rotation and power generation, and lateral movement. The totally open stance allows for little or no hip rotation, reducing power, and interferes with linear movement to the front or rear.
A moderately open stance will allow the hips to rotate enough to properly generate power. It will also support better movement, both lateral and linear.
The height and width of a stance should vary with the situation. A low stance can provide more power, since the legs have a base from which to push. I prefer to widen my stance when I move into "slugging" range during an attack, especially when using two swords. I prefer to use a higher, narrower stance at range, since it provides increased mobility. A shoulder-width stance is a good starting point.
I use an upright stance. Crouching interferes with the rotational power application for strikes, blocks, and returns. Proper power generation relies on the stomach muscles to connect the upper and lower body. Crouching makes it difficult to keep the stomach muscles flexed, so that they can do this. Also, crouching interferes with rotation, which is a major component of power generation.
Stance variations that are not generally useful, such as the lean, can be profitably used in certain situations. Generally, most variations gain situational advantages by incurring a disadvantage. A decision must be reached as to whether the advantage gained is worth the price. In any case, it is dangerous to assume that since a tactic works so well in one instance that it will be similarly effective in all circumstances. Some of these variations are:
This stance provides the advantage of increased range by allowing the sword shoulder to move further forward during a swing, without moving the feet. Personally, I find it most useful as a transitional stance during combinations or movement. The disadvantages can be reduced support and mobility for the shield arm, and severely reduced power, especially if the sword hip is not cocked. Oddly enough, it can interfere with moving forward quickly.
In single-sword fighting it has the additional disadvantage of reducing the protection for the front leg, if the opponent is fighting with the opposite hand.
This is generally useful in the cross-blocking style of Florentine, and single-sword fighting. In my Florentine style, the stance is opened sufficiently that the toe of the back foot is almost even with the heel of the front foot, with the width slightly wider than it would be with sword and shield. This allows more leg push to be applied to the second sword. It also allows the cross-blocks to reach to the opposite knee. The disadvantage is that it opens up the centerline of attack. Also, if opened more than four to six inches, power starts to decrease.
In single sword, it has the advantage of allowing a cross block to reach low blows on the opposite side of the body.
Commitment to a direction limits your tactical flexibility, and should be avoided.
If I choose to commit forward, or if I wish to present the illusion that I am closer than I am, I will lean slightly forward towards my front hip, as described above. This commits me forward, and may interfere with my techniques. It may provide positional and tactical advantages, and the benefits may outweigh the liabilities.
Leaning back can provide similar positional and tactical advantages to a forward lean, but with more severe interference with technique. I feel that the disadvantages of the commitment backward outweighs the advantages.
To find a proper stance
Top is forward. Line 1 points towards the opponent. Line 2 is perpendicular to line 1.
Position the feet
- Draw a line (line 1) towards your opponent. Start with the feet about shoulder-width apart, with both toes touching the line.
- Assuming that this is a right-handed person, swivel counter-clockwise on the balls of the feet, keeping them parallel, with the angle between the line and the heels being about 30 degrees.
- Draw a line (line 2) perpendicular to the 1st line such that it crosses the back of the heel of the back foot.
- Keeping the back foot at the same relative angle to the 1st line, slide it sideways along the 2nd line until the heel of the back foot is two to six inches on the other side of the 1st line. Maintain the 30-degree angle.
- Fighters with a power problem will need to move this foot closer to six inches to allow for more forward rotation. In this case, the upper body must rotate slightly clockwise to place the shield in a good protective position.
- If this modification is used, it is wise to armor far around the back of the shield leg, since the front knee tends to bend in more on low blocks, exposing the back of the thigh.
Unlock the knees. Don't bend any more than it takes to do so.
Move your weight to the balls of your feet. Your weight should be balanced. Keep your shoulders back far enough so that you are not leaning forward. Pay attention to the small of your back. It is easy at that point to tell if you are leaning forwards.
Keep your shoulders level.
Put your shield arm in front of you, extended and pointing to your opponent. Rotate the elbow so that the thumb is pointing down. Move the hand down, then in, then up in a large 'U', ending up with the fingertips about six inches in front of your chin, with your elbow as close to your side as possible.
Without moving your body, extend your sword arm out to the side at shoulder level, with your palm forward. Move the arm back until it stops. Holding the upper arm still, bend the elbow until your fingertips touch your ear.
When holding the sword, it should lay across the back sword-side of your neck, pointing down, and to your shield side, about 30 to 45 degrees from vertical.
Your palm should be oriented nearly forward or slightly down, with the knuckle of your little finger higher than the rest of the hand.
When fighting an opposite-handed fighter, do not move your feet; just rotate your body slightly, with your leading shield edge moving more towards your opponent’s weapon.
As with any other technique, there are advantages and disadvantages to this stance. I would suggest that you start with this stance, and then depart from it when the advantages that it brings you outweigh the disadvantages. It is possible to only change parts of the stance to gain a new advantage, while retaining most of the existing ones. The important thing is to be aware of the trade-offs, and take them into account before making a decision.
Mobility and “Tells”
Movement should employ the concepts of balance and commitment. It is very desirable to avoid committing your weight to any direction. This includes leaning as well as shifting your weight too early during movement. When your weight is centered, movement in any direction starts from that center, and is quicker and more efficient. If you are leaning forward or back, your weight is distributed heavily forward or back. This will require you to move your weight back to the center before you move in any direction but the one towards which you are leaning. If you commit your weight heavily to each step, movement in any direction will be more difficult and slower.
Do you slightly lean your head and shoulders forward to assist in closing the range quickly? This requires you to unconsciously shift from keeping your shield arm in “ready to block” mode to “ to “holding up the shield” mode, which will delay any block you try to make.
It is important to avoid any unnecessary motion, or commitment to a pattern of motion forward or back, sideways, or up and down, etc. This also includes repeated patterns of motions which otherwise are correct. This includes motionlessness, if held long enough that you unconsciously commit to remaining motionless. It also includes extra or preliminary movements just before or during swings and blocks, even when not walking.
Basically, these commitments to unnecessary or unwanted directions, movements, and patterns can interfere with your ability to perform efficient techniques, reduce your options of movement or technique, or very importantly, provide advance information of your intentions to your opponent.
This last is very important. Advance information of your intentions, that you supply to your opponent, are called “telegraphs”, or “tells”, as in “I’ll send you a telegraph to let you know when I’m going to swing.”
“Tells” can be very subtle. For example, examine how you move into range with a sword and shield. You will likely shift your weight to take it off of the first foot to move. This causes a movement of your shoulders, and a slight lean. This can warn your opponent that you are going to move, before your foot even leaves the ground. Do you move your sword, even slightly, in time with your steps? This provides your opponent with timing information. Is there a preliminary motion that you use to set up an actual attack? This tells your opponent when and where you are going to strike.
Feints can be “tells”, as well, unless they are used sparingly, and performed correctly. If this is not the case, the feint becomes simply another unnecessary, pre-technique movement. For instance, a “shoulder fake” is where you dip your sword shoulder about a half count before you swing. This may encourage your opponent to think you are swinging for his/her leg, when the actual blow is towards the head. This is fine so far, but if a fighter uses this feint before every blow, it is simply a tell, warning his/her opponent that an attack is coming.
This is also true of movements from a resting position that are used to set up a blow. For instance, I have no good techniques that deliver a hard offside strike from a resting position. I have a couple that work, but they are not high-class techniques. I had someone describe a technique he used to deliver a hard, offside strike from a resting position. The description started with “First, I turn my body towards my shield side, and bring my sword elbow across my face, then....” What he had just described was an elaborate “tell” that brought the sword into position, so his actual striking technique was not from a resting position.
If you want to move while striking, the timing of movement is critical, as is the foot you move. Assuming you are in a shield-foot forward stance, if you step forward with your sword foot during a strike or block, you will lessen the power. If you step forward with your sword foot just before a strike or block, you can enhance the power, but you advertise your intent. In both cases, the “tell” is that your balance must shift before you move your back foot.
Generally, when you are striking, your weight moves off of your shield foot, allowing you to move that foot without decreasing power or telegraphing. During a return, the weight moves off of your sword foot, allowing you to move that foot smoothly. This is the basis for the Slide Step, described below.
I suggest that mirror work will help you to eliminate “tells”. It’s hard to fool yourself.
The Slide Step is a technique which allows you to get into range without getting hit.
Getting into range is always dangerous. Since you are committing to an action, there is a greater opportunity for you to include a “tell” in your movement – as described above. A skilled opponent will notice this, and consequently be able to avoid your attack, or to respond with a particularly apt counter.
There are some additional requirements to use this technique successfully.
- It is most effective if you use something similar to the Bellatrix technique to throw the snap.
- You must move your weight forward as you throw the blow, without leaning your upper body forward to do it.
- Your front leg must bend, not straighten, as the weight moves onto it.
As you throw a blow, your weight transfers from your back foot to your front foot as your body rotates, and your arm starts to move forward. About the point where you can see your sword hilt out of the corner of your eye, lift your shield foot slightly, and it will slide forward, closing the distance as you swing. The power of the blow is not diminished, because you are moving the center of rotation, rather than lengthening the radius of rotation.
It is important to ensure that your sword is in front of you as you step forward. Otherwise, the first thing that comes into the range of your opponent is your head. I call this the "Rocky Balboa Style" - leading with your face. This is not a good thing.
It is important to start this technique from a range that is about 6 to 12 inches outside of your opponent's range, even if he/she leans forward into the blow. One of my students is a female knight who is 5 feet tall. She can move about 22 inches with a slide step. If your slide step is this long, you can allow your back foot to recover forward in a “shuffle” step, where your back foot slides forward as your front foot pulls it forward. Don’t be left doing the “splits”.
If you want to continue to move forward, allow your back foot to take a striding step as you return your sword from the first blow, rather than taking the “shuffle” step. (Note – Don’t use a shuffle as your normal way to advance. It’s too slow, and supplies too much timing information to your opponent.)
This technique supplies you with a good alternative to walking in towards your opponent with your shield leading, covering up with your sword held forward. This has some problems. The main problem is that you commit your shield to a forward motion, which makes it more difficult to move it sideways or up or down to block. Another problem is that your opponent is not distracted, and is able to take whatever action he/she desires to counter your attack.
Moving the sword is much faster and requires less body motion than actually taking a step. Your opponent will get much less warning, and have less time to react, since the first thing that he/she will see moving will be the sword.
Another advantage to using this technique in reducing the range is to keep your opponent from having a clear shot at you. To do this, you must accept that your first blow (except in certain instances) is unlikely to land on your opponent. Given this, use it to set up your subsequent blows, while providing you some defense as you move forward. So, as you do your slide step, aim your first blow at your opponent's sword. Either he/she will block with the sword, or will block with the shield by moving the shield in front of the sword. In either case, the return blow will be delayed.
Note that when if you are fighting an off-handed opponent, you still swing towards their sword, and you continue to step on your shield side of your opponent.
Since the main purpose of this first blow is to provide distraction and defense during your entry, you can use techniques that will not necessarily produce a full-power blow. This gives you some additional alternatives.
If you perform this technique well, your opponent might well be slowed in his/her reaction because of the following subconscious thought process: "The sword is moving. But it's out of range, so I don't have to worry. Oh, it's moving into range, I'd better block fast." Thinking takes time. Every little bit helps you and hurts your opponent.
A very important tactical aspect of the Slide Step is that it eliminates the necessity of using a stance with the sword in position to act as a static block. Static blocks are not necessarily bad, but they encourage square stances which severely reduce power generated by rotation, and which do not maintain the power-generation link at the shoulder.
When you get into range, there are variations of the static blocking position, which do not require either a square stance, or the relaxing of the shoulder power link. But before you enter, you are out of range, and don’t need a static blocking position.
While using the Slide Step, it is useful to use another technique called the Right Cross. This is described in my on-line manual. Basically, it is a snap thrown at the opposite shoulder of your opponent, while trying to keep the tip of your sword high (so as not to hit the near side of the shield). It is also important to move your hand directly towards the target, rather than swinging down. Pulling the sword down while swinging will decrease the range, drastically.
As you walk in fighting, your motions, if elaborated, are very similar to skating.
- Your left foot slides out, and your right shoulder comes forward, perhaps into a swing.
- Your right foot slides out, and your left shoulder comes forward, perhaps into a block.
- When you step, your weight remains mainly on the balls of your feet.
- As you move forward (or back), your feet should remain outside of your knees, and your knees should remain outside of your hips.
This is important because if this is the way you move, whenever a foot hits the ground, the leg becomes a spring, which is compressed as your weight moves forward. This gives you several alternatives:
- You can push off with the foot to change your direction of attack to the other side of your opponent.
- You can allow your weight to pass over your foot in the initial direction to continue the attack on that side. As you pass over your forward foot, that leg becomes a spring pushing you on.
- You can push back, and stop your advance.
I would suggest that when you move into the attack, you don’t move directly towards your opponent. If you move on a line just outside of your opponent’s shoulder, on your shield side, you can:
- Continue towards your opponent’s sword, muffling his/her response.
- Move your weight over and past your shield foot, swinging your sword leg around to the outside of your shield foot, and moving your sword back and around into a deep offside strike.
- Push off your leading foot, moving to a diagonal line just outside of your opponent’s shoulder on your sword side.
- Stop, if you are at the location and distance that suits you best.
- Push back, allowing yourself a quick retreat.
One very interesting thing about these options is that they all look alike – until they happen. Further, from each of these alternatives, there are a number of other options.
Another reason for advancing on a diagonal is that most people reflexively respond to a threat moving directly towards them. If you make your first step at an angle, you won’t be moving directly at your opponent, so he/she will have less of the sense that you are approaching. This can help you to be just ahead of your opponent’s response.