Tuesday, January 21, 2014

My Happy Place

In a good place.
A little sore, tweaked and various joints have been stressed. Just right. Two days of of talk, but also rolling on concrete and punching people in armor and playing with blades of various lengths and configurations.  The knee is healing well enough. Better than I expected. Trouble with joints is that you can't truly test their limits because you find the breaking point by, well, breaking them.

Working short power strikes from the clinch with a big, fit, Muay Thai guy. Close contact flow with a good Silat player (who also cooked curry. Nice.)  I think most of the tweaks come from the footwork with the long blades.

Fencing (this wasn't collegiate or European fencing, it's just the word I like to use for bladed dueling with safe weapons) is a microcosm of many things. Not everything. There are limits on people applying Musashi to business, for instance, and a lot of dueling strategy and tactics are counter-productive or suicidal for ambushes. But fencing reflects a lot of being human.

It's both extremely physical and extremely mental. I think it was Aldo Nadi who said a prima donna ballerina didn't have the flexibility to be a world-class fencer. And (Olympic) fencing is the fastest sport in the world. It requires immense explosive speed. I measured once at the end of practice in college and my right thigh was two inches bigger around than my left.

And mental, too. I was a better technical fencer left handed. By better, I mean that there were people I could rarely score on right handed that I could take left handed. (And, yes, before the fencing snobs start talking about the natural left hand advantage, let it go. That's not what was going on.)

Right handed, I relied on my speed and reflexes. I was fast, but reflexes are predictable and, as Marc says, speed and strength are false gods. Left handed, I didn't trust my speed, precision or reflexes. So I fenced smart. And there were certain people I could beat with my brain that I couldn't beat with talent.

The sword player was really good (Hi, Maija!) and most of my big take-aways were from working with her:
-Getting in for the kill is not enough, you have to get back out before you get killed right back. Doublekill is a bad definition of a win.

-Just because a feint works, doesn't mean it works. I was using a head feint to the knee shot, but her natural parry for the head shot put her blade in the perfect position to slash my arm as I dropped for the knee. Just because something worked (the feint did draw the block) doesn't mean it worked to my advantage.

-Great distancing saves enormous energy. If you can read when you are out of range, you don't need to defend and won't fall for feints. The finer you can read this, the less energy you waste. (I've known this for years, and I think it is the one skill that helped me hold my own.)

- This is a hard one to put into words. If you aren't careful you can come up with solutions that only work if the problem wasn't the problem. Grrrr. Specific example. I have long arms, am fairly fast and most people don't think about their legs, so one of my favorite targets in any weapon class that allows it, is the lead knee. Maija is also fast, sneaky and very aware of her legs, so I'd get the cut sometimes but almost always at the cost of a slash to my extended arm, back or head. I couldn't get out fast enough. After a little thought, I would feint to the lead knee and slash up to catch/cut her counter slash first. And it worked, or at least it felt like it worked...until I realized (and there's really no 'I' in this, we were both brainstorming constantly) that it wasn't solving the problem. The problem was how to cut the lead knee without getting countered. The thing that worked involved NOT cutting the knee. It was a tactic, but it wasn't a solution.

Also (out of blades and into infighting, now) there are some things that have to be taught by feel and you have to learn to feel them. One of the big guys was putting me on my base in a clinch, especially from behind. His grip and weight were making my structure stronger. A slight hand movement immobilizes the spine and robs the core of power, but a profound difference in feel is a very small difference by sight.

Wiring differences-- and this is something I'd like to actually experiment on. We had a very effective technique for taking down (without injuring) a threat who was in a cell doorway, ready for us. Part of the technique is in the approach. For some people. For a lot, there is a full beat hesitation between the approach and the technique. That can be deadly. The experiment would be to see, first, if some people do or do not have the hesitation the first time. Second, to see if the hesitation disappears with practice, experience, both or is robust. Hmmm.

Infighting by feel; time; and efficient motion. This could probably be a book. Time is something I've been wanting to write about and got closer to the words this weekend. One of the things with the one-step is that almost every martial artist I see has offense, defense and footwork in three separate boxes in their head. So they have a tendency to block, move and strike. In order. Taking three beats to do what they should do with one. Infighting can bring this to another depth with a single motion defending, unbalancing, collapsing structure and possibly doing two different types of damage to different places.

That probably seems like a lot, but it isn't. Sometimes in the tangle you can turn and drop your shoulder in a way that locks his elbow and forces him towards the ground, the turn also puts your knee into the back of his and your near hand can do anything from grab testicles to an inner elbow smash into the cervical spine. And that's not even using your off hand. And the motion is about as complicated as shrugging.

But to get here, you need to be able to feel targets and structure and motion. And (this is huge, and goes back to sword people who aren't aware of their legs) knowing your own body well enough to not forget that your fist is over his liver while you are twisting into his knee. And your other hand is coiled to clip him under the ear. One body twist powering three different strikes but all still a single motion. (My benchmark, BTW: Good jujutsu means the person can hurt you three different ways with a single motion.)

Good weekend.