This paper contains guidance for forms of training exercises that are not sparring. These will be very useful for any fighter trying to improve their technique, or trying to integrate techniques into actual fighting.
When using these types of practice techniques, I suggest that you split up your training time. If you have only an hour per week to spend on this type of training, split it into four 15-minute sessions. If you can only manage five minutes per day, you can still improve your technique considerably, over time – if you are consistent, and ensure that you get in those five minutes. Splitting the time up allows your subconscious mind to integrate what you’ve learned, so that you are farther along the learning process when you start your next practice.
You only get something out of practice if you put something into it.
This is basically practicing striking techniques against a padded pole, or other target.
The type of pell can vary considerably. A padded pole is the norm. However, I have seen pells constructed of automobile tires, modified and tied together to have arms, legs, and a head, as well as the body. I have used pells that incorporated a shield. A heavy rope, suspended from above, and weighted at the bottom, works fine, and can be used with mirrors that allow you to see what you are doing.
Most pell work should be done at a slow speed. Perhaps the best speed for this is to move your sword just fast enough that it is actually swinging. It is useful to vary the speed, but full speed work should be minimal until you have techniques mastered. Your body cannot learn the techniques with any precision if the training is done at full speed. The movements will likely feel better if you do them quickly, but this is because the speed masks the mistakes.
The rule should be to learn slow, polish fast. If you persist in practicing techniques at full speed, even when you know you are doing them incorrectly, then you are simply polishing incorrect techniques. In fact, if you don't work up through the speeds, as I've described, I doubt, lacking guidance, if you will even know that the techniques are flawed, and you will end up with very polished errors.
On the other hand, if you are practicing slow, but aren’t sure of the technique, keep practicing. You will develop a consistent pattern of movement, which can easily be corrected by your instructor. Otherwise, you start over for every lesson.
Once you have learned to execute the techniques properly at slow speed, start increasing the speed and power. You will find that once you start applying power, the movements of the technique will become distorted. This may require returning to slow movement several times to modify the technique until it is useable at fast speed. These returns to slow speed can be for just a few blows, if that accomplishes your purpose.
The ratio of fast to slow will vary with the experience and skill of the fighter. Individual preference also will cause a variation. Since I'm somewhat of a perfectionist, as far as technique goes, I'll practice as I described, above. Since I am experienced and skilled, I'll likely move through the slower phases somewhat quicker than someone who is less skilled. In the case of a beginner, I would suggest that only 5 to 10 percent of the practice is at actual full speed.
Remember also, that movements at slower speeds must be exaggerated to correctly mimic those at faster speeds. Everything moves in towards the center of your body, when you speed up. If you are practicing the motion slowly, but using the tighter movements appropriate to a faster speed, your motions will be incorrect when you do speed up. Usually, this will result in a loss of power and range. Refer to the section on Slow Work for a more thorough treatment of this subject.
In addition to single-strike techniques, the pell is very useful in developing combinations. The same guidelines concerning slow and fast practice apply here. When you are learning combinations, you may wish to actually write them down, so that you won't forget them from practice to practice.
It is also useful to combine shield work into your combination practice. Eventually, you can add movement, as if you were actually fighting an opponent. I suggest:
- Make six marks on the pell, three on each side, with one pair each at the temples, ribs, and lower thigh. Strips of colored tape or cloth are good, since they can be moved to provide varied targets.
- In addition to single-strike techniques, create a list of combinations, specifying targets, returns, and the type of blow being struck. Use the marks as targets for each of the blows of the combination.
- When you start using a shield with the combinations, use a punch block to block between the strikes. Aim the blocks towards the marks, as if a sword were coming from that direction. You should block towards the marks in a specified order. The sequence of blocks can be the same as that of the strikes, or towards the opposite mark, or some more complicated sequence.
- Perform your 'sets' at least two times each. If you are doing more than two of each set, it is better to go through each set two times, and then go back through again, rather than doing four of each set in a row.
If you are having difficulty with mastering a technique or combination, or if you continue to have power problems, I suggest that you do some pell work using both hands. Hold your hands together at one end of the sword, with the sword hand on top. The shield hand will act as a guide, to keep your motions correct.
This type of practice will also start recruiting the muscles on the shield side of your body to help with power generation. Remember, muscles pull; they don’t push. If you try to take your arm out of the business of power generation, as I suggest, the muscles in your leg are the only muscles on your sword side that are fully involved in supplying power. The rest of the muscles involved are on your shield side.
If you do two-handed practice, use a stick, which is somewhat longer than your usual sword, and balanced well out towards the point – like a short two-handed maul. This will allow you to really feel where the sword wants to go. In fact, it will tend to go where it wants, whether you like it or not. It’s a great incentive to improve your technique. With that in mind, I would suggest that you weight the stick with something soft, like carpet. Soft padding is useful, especially when you are learning new techniques. It doesn’t hurt as much when you hit your head.
It is VERY useful to do some type of technique practice daily, if only for a few minutes. Your mind will continue to work on the techniques that you practice, even after you stop practicing. If you give your mind frequent reminders of what you are learning, it will speed up the process.
Using a mirror when you are doing striking practice can be very useful when used with, or in addition to a pell. It also provides a way to do technique practice if you don’t have a pell available. Alternate practicing with the mirror in front of you, and on your sword side. Both views will be useful.
If you only have a restricted space to practice where you can use a mirror, I suggest that you substitute a hammer or a piece of heavy-walled pipe about 14 inches long. Either of these will mimic the feel of a tip-weighted sword, or will allow you to practice in a much smaller space than would be required for a full-length sword. If you are practicing inside, I suggest that you put a lanyard on the hammer or pipe, to avoid having to replace your mirror (or other furnishings) periodically.
Proper use of slow work is the cornerstone of my teaching system. If done properly, it teaches everything from basic techniques to the esoteric perception/focus arts. If done improperly, it can ruin a fighter's style. It is perhaps the best method of integrating new techniques into your personal style, and making the jump from technique to actual fighting.
Nearly all learning of techniques takes place during slow work. You should learn slow, polish fast. Polishing before techniques are learned will result in polished errors. Many of the descriptions of techniques and exercises in my manual are designed for slow practice.
When practicing, it is not sufficient to simply slow the speed of the technique. The motions themselves change when the speed slows, becoming exaggerated and wider. It is necessary to mention this, since students may object that a practice technique would not work in combat because it would place them in a poor position, would move the shield too far back, etc. The answer to this objection is that the slow practice trains muscular action and cooperation, and this requires movements which are exaggerated and wide, since that's what the motions look like when they are done slowly.
Consider the example of cheap martial arts movies. It is the practice in many of these movies to speed up the film to make the actors appear faster. It is always possible to tell when this speeding-up is done, since the movements do not look natural. It is always possible to tell when the film has been slowed down, for the same reason. In reality, a technique performed at different speeds moves in different ways.
The training exercises are attempts to simulate the proper movements of the technique for the slow speed at which the greatest learning occurs. Some adjustments must be made when performing at full speed, but not many. The only one that comes to mind is that the position of the shield during sparring must be kept more closely to the front when moving at faster speeds. The motion of the sword naturally moves in closer to the center of rotation (preferably the body) as the speed increases.
For proper slow work:
- It is absolutely vital that movement during the exercise be slow, and as uniform as possible, not just for the sword, but also for the whole body. There are instances in intermediate and advanced training, and in the later stages of learning or perfecting new techniques where faster movement is desirable.
- At the slowest speeds, you should move the sword rather than swing it. In other words, when you stop your hand, the sword should stop. There should be no residual motion that requires stopping.
- The movement should be slow enough that you do not feel especially rushed, even when doing difficult or exaggerated movements.
- The better you get at the exercise, the more time you will seem to have, since your movements will become more efficient, and flow together better. The temptation will be to speed up. This is proper only in the faster forms of slow work. Resist the temptation to speed up, if you are still learning the technique, or in the early stages in integrating it.
- Movements should be exaggerated, and performed with the whole body. Movements tend to move in towards the center of rotation while the sword moves towards its tip when the movement as a whole speeds up. Therefore you must keep your hand higher, farther back, etc. during slow work.
- Since there is no momentum to keep the sword moving, you must consciously force it to move through the proper paths.
- Remember, when stepping, move the shield foot while your weight is on the sword foot during a strike. Move the sword foot while your weight is on the shield foot during a return.
- Don't step forward with your sword foot during a swing. Stepping before or after is fine, but if you do it at the same time in full speed, your blow will lose power.
- Don't hit hard or push into your strikes. Just barely touch your target, then go immediately into a return technique. This prevents the development of the habit of "posing" when you strike, which leaves your arm exposed for a longer time. It also protects your partner.
- Don't extend the wrist forward at the end of a strike. Keep the wrist rigid, with the sword maintaining its starting position relative to the arm. This also protects your partner, and is necessary in the higher-speed versions.
- You are totally responsible for not striking your opponent. If he or she looks away at just the wrong time, it is your job to keep from landing a blow.
- You must strive to keep the techniques "real". Don't change the directions of a blow, or stop it in mid swing, if you couldn't do it at full speed.
- If you miss, don't stop the blade as if you hit. Continue with the swing, and move into a return.
- Emphasize a backswing. Your return techniques should be exaggerated so that the sword hand moves back as far as possible.
- Don't get caught up in "winning" the slow practice. It is not a fight; it is a practice. You don't have an opponent; you have a partner.
- Again, don't change speeds during the exercise.
- In the early stages, don't worry about keeping the shield in front of you, or your stance in a proper open/closed position. The idea is to make your body flow with your weapons. It is relatively easy to get things tightened up in the later stages of the integration process.
- Work with your partner to coordinate a comfortable speed for the exercise.
There are a number of ways to do slow work, including several that are performed at a faster speed. I refer you to my on-line manual for their descriptions. It is useful to wear armor for most of the higher speed exercises. However, once you gain sufficient expertise and control, you can do some of them without armor. Staying slightly out of range is useful in this regard. The issue of control is why I do not teach the slower forms in armor. If your partner is wearing armor, you have much less of incentive to learn control. Lack of control will lessen the effectiveness of the exercise, and will be reflected later, in your fighting.
The rhythm of slow work is very important in developing a sense of the flow of a fight. It’s as if the fight/practice is a waltz performed with the partners several feet apart. In a dance, the partners become sensitive to the movements of their partner, especially to the subtle changes in balance and movement that signal a change in direction. That’s how they keep synchronized. Rhythmic slow work encourages the same type of perception.
In the type of movement involved in dance and fighting, it is usually the case that the position, balance and movement of one partner will lead to a particular following movement. The rhythm and the slow movement of the exercise will aid in developing a perception of this phenomena, and will eventually help in developing a very accurate sense of anticipation that carries over to high-speed fights.
In addition, the emphasis on performing in a set rhythm will improve the exercise by allowing you to notice when you are unintentionally varying the speed of your motion.
Even if your sword strikes are in rhythm, it is a common error to move the sword too fast during part of the swing, and too slow during another. The fast part is usually during the backswing.
This is often accompanied by an unrealistic change in the direction of the swing.
Later, in some of the advanced versions, changing the rhythm is one of the objects of exercise. By then you should know some of the techniques by which you can accomplish this change in a realistic manner.
When you move in slow work, it is important to coordinate the movement of your upper and lower body.
The movement of your legs should drive the movements of your body, and both should be coordinated with the motion of your arm and sword.
Your entire body and sword should move as an entity. It is not enough to simply move slowly with your arm, while the body moves at normal speed.
In some of the advanced versions, especially Slot Work, the emphasis is on developing the ability to achieve considerable lateral mobility.
There are a number of exercises described in several sections of my on-line manual, which is located at www.bellatrix.org. Most of these exercises are fairly abstract, and focus on very specific parts of fighting, like timing, power application, and footwork. There are others which are integration exercises, like the two-on-one drill.
The following is list of some of the common errors that bedevil fighters. Most of them are concerned with a lack of power in blows, but have profound effects on movement and various aspects of tactics. Descriptions of these problems and the ways in which they can be corrected are in Appendix E of my on-line manual.
The problems discussed in the appendix are:
|1. Feet In Line
2. Arm Not Cocked
3. Using Too Much Arm
a. Squaring The Shoulders
b. No Shoulder Rotation
4. Stepping With Blows
5. Short Returns
6. Returning To The Shoulder
8. Pushing Back While Swinging
9. Pulling Returns Into The Body
10. Abdomen Not Tensed Properly
11. Poor Distance Control
The on-line manual contains treatments of a number of other techniques, such as: use of the shield, great weapons, single hip techniques, and several others. Most of the subjects I’ve written about in the Known World Handbook are discussed in the manual in greater depth, or from a different perspective.