PDA

View Full Version : Sword fighting - The basic elements



efreysson
10-29-2015, 10:16 PM
One of the characters in my new short story serial is a 13 year old princess who is studying sword fighting as a main hobby. I'm not going to have sword fighting be an important part of the series, but one story opens with a training session and I want to get it right. The trainer is sparring with her and making adjustments to her style, pointing out what she needs to fix.

So, uh, any suggestions? I know it's about more than just making big swings. I practice archery and there is a lot to keep in mind about positioning your body. So if anyone is willing to explain the details of this or that aspect of sword fighting, it would be very much appreciated.

Richard White
10-29-2015, 11:00 PM
First off, it really, really depends on what kind of sword we're talking about. I've fenced with a foil, wielded a broadsword in the SCA, and currently do kendo. While there are a few things in common, footwork, body positioning, etc. are all pretty unique to the style of weapon, so it would be hard to give you the kind of feedback I think you want.

That being said, an instructor is always going to be warning the student to work on their footwork, standing the proper way, controlling their breathing, focusing on their opponent, relaxing, balance, etc.

efreysson
10-29-2015, 11:25 PM
First off, it really, really depends on what kind of sword we're talking about. I've fenced with a foil, wielded a broadsword in the SCA, and currently do kendo. While there are a few things in common, footwork, body positioning, etc. are all pretty unique to the style of weapon, so it would be hard to give you the kind of feedback I think you want.

Hi, and thanks for replying.
It's a sci-fi setting, but what I have in mind is sort of like a katana, if maybe a bit bigger.



That being said, an instructor is always going to be warning the student to work on their footwork, standing the proper way, controlling their breathing, focusing on their opponent, relaxing, balance, etc.

Alright, let's take breathing and balance, for instance. How should a sword fighter keep their breathing, and why? What is the proper way to balance?

kuwisdelu
10-30-2015, 12:01 AM
The trainer is sparring with her and making adjustments to her style, pointing out what she needs to fix.

My first question would be is what kind of protective equipment they're wearing and what they're using as swords? Can they actually hit each other?


It's a sci-fi setting, but what I have in mind is sort of like a katana, if maybe a bit bigger.

Alright, let's take breathing and balance, for instance. How should a sword fighter keep their breathing, and why? What is the proper way to balance?

Since it's a katana, I guess my kendo knowledge could apply.

For breathing, you want deep breaths from the belly, not from the chest. Inhales should be brief but deep, and you want to spend most of your time exhaling slowly, because you're body is more relaxed that way, and you want your body to be relaxed whenever you strike. That's one reason why kendoka shout (kiai) during strikes it encourages exhaling throughout the attack.

For balance, for kendo at least, my understanding is you want your weight distributed mostly evenly in both legs, which should neither be too far apart, nor too close together. Don't rest too heavily on either foot or shift your weight unnecessarily, which would create an opening for your opponent to strike you when you'd have trouble responding quickly enough.

Weirdmage
10-30-2015, 12:09 AM
I don't know if there is any HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) practioners on Iceland, although I'd be surprised if there isn't.
I'd suggest you search for HEMA to come into contact with people who practice HEMA in your area. I know several people who do HEMA, and all of them are happy to talk about it. And I would suggest you go to a training session if there is a club nearby.
Searching Facebook for HEMA will also give you a lot of pages and groups.

Katharine Tree
10-30-2015, 12:15 AM
Alright, let's take breathing and balance, for instance. How should a sword fighter keep their breathing, and why? What is the proper way to balance?

Since we're talking about katanas, I'll chime in. My experience is in shinkendo, so I'm getting my answers from that particular discipline.

1. You always step when you slice. You always slice diagonally (either up-to-down or down-to-up) or horizontally. You always step forward with the opposite knee--the side your sword starts on. This is so you don't slice your knee. You keep both hands on the hilt of the sword at all times.

2. Correct footwork is to never let either foot leave the ground. You sort of drag your toes while you're stepping or turning. You also never let your feet fall into a single line; you try to keep them perpendicular to each other as much as possible, so you can brace yourself in any direction. Your knees are slightly bent. Your weight is largely on your toes.

3. Learning to draw and sheathe your sword is huge, because those are the moments you're most likely to slice your fingers off. You draw with the sword-side hand bracing the opening of the sheathe, and the opposite hand on the hilt. When the sword is in its sheathe the blade faces down. So, when you draw, you always pull the sword slightly up, so that if you screw up and an edge does touch your fingers, it's the dull side. Not the sharp one. You draw high and wide without letting the blade flop around. Again, all this is to avoid cutting yourself.

4. Remembering to breathe is huge. In shinkendo we had a series of cries, and opponents alternated them with each strike: Ai, Yop, Toh! Some people say them softly, some people go Full Ronin and yell them. It creates a soothing rhythm between sparring partners, but also stops you from holding your breath.

5. Shinkendo at least is highly formalized. Every turn, every cut, every block, has a name. I can't remember them anymore. Training for the first few years consisted of repeating choreographed routines OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER. You had to be pretty damn advanced to spar freestyle. More advanced still to use a real sword for practice cutting (we cut rolled-up bamboo mats, for practice).

Other than cutting practice, we always used a wooden sword called a bokken. The standard ones are curved like a katana. The really good ones, though, were just slender sticks of waxwood, which is soft and elastic and doesn't splinter with use, the way a regular bokken does.

6. Have I said the swords are damn sharp? The swords are damn sharp. Still, if you are actually fighting with one, you have to know exactly the right way to slice, if you're going to disable your opponent. You slice, not hack.

(Stops to remember a particular sake-soaked party when Ryan-san got out his katana to demonstrate how it could slice a sheet of paper with no force whatsoever. Ryan-san was really damn drunk. No one got hurt.)

kuwisdelu
10-30-2015, 12:21 AM
2. Correct footwork is to never let either foot leave the ground. You sort of drag your toes while you're stepping or turning.

Assuming the footwork is the same as kendo, "drag your toes" gives the wrong impression, IMO. I was always chastised for dragging my toes. I would say slide rather than drag.

Richard White
10-30-2015, 12:26 AM
I agree with Kuwisdelu and Katherine. Since you're dealing in SF, I could see them using special swords (designed to replicate the weight/feel of a real katana but without the danger of slicing your opponent) and special training armor.

When I help train the beginners at my dojo (I'm a nidan - 2nd degree black belt for lack of a better term), they'll do lots and lots of basic drills. They'll practice strikes over and over, starting out against air, then the instructor holding a target for them, then the instructor him or herself, and then finally each other.

While they're practicing against air, the instructor is watching for things like proper footwork, keeping their hips balanced and their weight centered when they strike. Are they hesitating and if so, why? Are they uncomfortable with the swing, are they not sure what the strike should be? Did they bring the weapon up high enough to be a successful strike? Did they bring it back too far (giving their opponent time to counter)? And having been a beginner, they're not always going to understand why we're doing this over and over and over again. They usually just want to get into the fighting. It takes a long time sometimes until they realize they don't know as much as they think they do and allow themselves to be taught. Some never do.

If your princess has been training for a while, then practices may be simply warming up, going over a few techniques to ensure she remembers them (OK, if I strike at you like this, what do you do? I block here and then use your momentum to strike at your waist. Correct.", and then much more sparring.

It all depends on where you want her to be in her training.

Trebor1415
10-30-2015, 09:27 AM
Let me back up a question:

Is she training to FIGHT with a sword?

Or is she training for "sword fighting" as a sport?

If she's training to actually fight with a sword look for organizations that try to recreate actual sword fighting techniques. There are several groups that try to replicate actual combat techniques of Western sword fighting, from various time periods and locations, and I'm sure that has to be some group that does Eastern sword fighting in the same way.

The type of stuff would focus more on practical aspects with fewer concerns about "rules." There would be some safety rules, so people don't die in training, but it's not going to be the more formalized and stylized type of rules found in say modern fencing.

If she's training for "sword fighting" as a sport, look at modern fencing, or modern Kendo, as your examples. They both use distinctive and sophisticated safety equipment, and they both have specific and somewhat ritualized rules for how a bout is conducted. For instance, in fencing the idea of "right of way" is very important. In real combat, it wouldn't be. It's an artifact of the sport.

So, figure out is she's doing a sport or training for actual combat. Then find an appropriate model. Once you decide it won't be hard to find and contact a fencer or kendo practicer, or someone involved in the more combat oriented versions, to ask questions.

efreysson
10-30-2015, 10:33 AM
I don't know if there is any HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) practioners on Iceland, although I'd be surprised if there isn't.
I'd suggest you search for HEMA to come into contact with people who practice HEMA in your area. I know several people who do HEMA, and all of them are happy to talk about it. And I would suggest you go to a training session if there is a club nearby.

There is a Viking association on the other side of the country, nothing in my area.


Let me back up a question:

Is she training to FIGHT with a sword?

Or is she training for "sword fighting" as a sport?

If she's training to actually fight with a sword look for organizations that try to recreate actual sword fighting techniques. There are several groups that try to replicate actual combat techniques of Western sword fighting, from various time periods and locations, and I'm sure that has to be some group that does Eastern sword fighting in the same way.


The idea is she becomes an actual, deadly warrior.

Trebor1415
10-30-2015, 09:25 PM
There is a Viking association on the other side of the country, nothing in my area.



The idea is she becomes an actual, deadly warrior.

Ok, this gives us more to work with.

If she's training for actual combat she's automatically at a disadvantage due to her gender. In hand to hand combat, size and upper body strength matter for a lot. Some of that can be offset by technique and skill. But, if two opponents of roughly equal skill meet, the advantage will go to to the one who is bigger/stronger/has more endurance. And, nine times out of ten, that will give the advantage to a male over a female. This is even ignoring the fact that at 13 she's even smaller and less strong then she will be full grown.

My suggestion is to think beyond "sword fighting" and broaden it into "she's training for close, hand to hand, combat." That opens up the possibilities of what she can train to do and effectively do in self defense, or offense. She could train in some unarmed styles, things like how to break free of holds, how to use leverage, some strikes, etc. That would also give her a solid foundation on balance, and movement, and how to use her body in these ways.

She could then add in working with weapons. These could range from one-handed weapons like knives or impact weapons, up to two handed swords or pole arms.

Of course, this assumes that hand to hand combat is still "a thing" in your world and she's not the only one training for this.

You did say though she's doing it as a hobby, so if she's going to later fight against people who are essentially untrained in sword fighting, then her superior skill and technique can likely offset the fact she's facing bigger/stronger opponents. In that case the only disadvantage she would still have is endurance, so she'd want the fight to end quickly, before she's worn down by the superior endurance of the opponent or before they can bring their superior strength into play.

As to what to use in the story: She could practice kata's, which are motions you take the replicate the strikes you make with the sword. In general you learn and start these slowly. Once learned, in practice you practice them slowly to make sure the form is correct, and then speed up as the session continues. Talk to someone who does Kendo and see what they say. These have the advantage that you can practice them by yourself.

If she has a teacher or sparring partner than you can get into learning how to instantly implement the strokes in the bout. How to recognize an opening on a unconscious level, make the strike, and recover. And, how to defend.

Things that are important include breathing (easy to forget to breath, for instance) and balance and movement. You want to avoid over extending yourself, or putting yourself off balance, for example.

efreysson
11-04-2015, 02:03 AM
Sorry about being absent for a few days. I do have an additional question:

What is the science of delivering a good stroke? I do know that a good punch starts in the feet, and apparently Mike Tyson was such a powerful boxer because of abnormal calf muscles, but if I want to give a dramatic, slow-mo description of a strike, what steps does the body go through?

Trebor1415
11-05-2015, 01:16 AM
Sorry about being absent for a few days. I do have an additional question:

What is the science of delivering a good stroke. I do know that a good punch starts in the feet, and apparently Mike Tyson was such a powerful boxer because of abnormal calf muscles, but if I want to give a dramatic, slow-mo description of a strike, what steps does the body go through?

I learned about this when I fought in the SCA.

The power comes from the body, especially the hips, not the arms/fist.

Here's an example I'll walk you through. Assume this is a right handed fighter with shield on his left arm and sword in the right hand.

The fighter puts his left side towards the opponent so he's standing kind of "sideways" to the opponent. Left leg and arm leading, right leg and right arm trailing.

When he swings the sword it starts with his right hip snapping forward to the right (left hip goes left). His torso and upper body rotates.

This gives the power behind the blow. Note that the position of the right arm in space changes as the hip moves. (The arm stays in place relative to the hip, but the hip is moving, therefore the right arm is moving through space)

As the hip is snapped, at a certain point, the right arm is pushed forward towards the opponent. The arm has the power of the hips/body behind it.

The arm and hand guide the sword to the target and the arm strength is also applied to the blow.

It's harder to describe than it would be to show you in person.

Try this by yourself to get a feel for what I mean.

Face a wall, feel about shoulder width apart, with toes even. Your upper body should be paralell to the wall. Place yourself far enough away so you can punch towards the wall without actually hitting it.

Without moving your lower body or hip at all, try to punch the wall with just your arm.

Now, reset, and instead of just punching with your arm, drive your right hip forward as you punch with your right arm. You'll notice it is a stronger punch.

To add even more power, reposition your body so you aren't perfectly square with the wall. Put your right foot and right hip back just a little bit. This will emphasis the hip rotation when you punch forward toward the wall.


EDIT: I realize I keep talking about power coming from the hips, but you also get power driving off from the legs as well. It's a body thing, not just an arm thing.
If you can get a 'sparring partner" to let you punch their hands that will really demonstrate the extra power

kuwisdelu
11-05-2015, 02:47 AM
It's all in the butt.

A good swing starts from your anus.

So says a nanadan sensei I once knew.

Bren McDonnall
11-05-2015, 06:25 AM
Matt Easton-- scholagladiatoria on youtube. is a tremendous resource. (except guns. He don't know beans about guns) He runs a HEMA school in London.

Skallagrim is another. He's not an instructor, but he walks the walk of swordplay. He has many sparring videos that'll show you exactly what a proper swing looks like so that you can describe one in your own words.

The Japanese Katana isn't the only sword of that type ever to be made, it just has the best publicity agent.

Look at a grosse messer (literally, big knife)

A period example:
http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/attachment.php?attachmentid=82542&stc=1

There are others.

The grosse messers were good for draw cuts, which SCA doesn't really teach (Yes, I have bruises and scars from my SCA days) SCA is all about the chop or thrust. Or so it was when I was doing it.

Also, as a final bit of advice, often when I'm writing sword fights, I will step away from the computer and pantomime the movements to get them set in my head. It helps a lot.

Good luck

Bren McDonnall
11-05-2015, 06:53 AM
Okay, having gone back and read the thread from the beginning, a few more things.

The pells. Stout posts set up in a training area. The way you build upper body strength and endurance is standing in front of one of these things every day or other day with a waster (a sword designed for practice rather than combat that's not expected to survive long. Often made of wood) and hacking away for an hour or more. You'll run through wasters, but they did.

Tatami mats in the east. Hanging rope in the west. You practiced the cut by cutting things. Watch some test cutting videos-- they're very informative.

Worry less about the swing/thrust than the parry. A thirteen year old princess needs to be able to divert the blade of a stronger opponent away from her.

Each parry begins an attack (riposte). You don't simply block your opponent's blade like they do in the movies, you redirect and throw him out of balance. Then you use that opening you've just made to strike at exposed areas.

Sword against plate mail is about useless. If she has to engage warriors in plate, she needs a hammer, axe (one designed for the purpose with a bluntish blade), or mace. With plate, you don't cut, you cave it in until it impacts the wearer, you pierce or you go for the joints. With deft reflexes, your princess might be really good at the latter, and because of her lesser physical strength, she could train with that in mind.

Traditionally, the sword was a secondary weapon. Carried for the same reason we carry pistols today-- in case your primary is taken out of commission or otherwise compromised. The Swiss Pikemen carried short swords called Katzbalgers for use when opponents got inside the pikes.

Unless it's strictly a hobby and not aimed at any sort of combat, her instructor will be teaching her other weapons as well. Female Japanese warriors are said to have used Naginatas. The Chinese have similar weapons that were probably the precursors of the Naginata. In the west, there were so many variants of 'sword on a stick' that when D&D tried to separate the different types out back in 2nd edition, the list was a page long. Do a google search on "Pole Arms" and be amazed.

Both Schola and Skallagrim have sparring videos that show spear or polearm against other polearms or swords

She might also be training with a staff. Many uses for a staff. Remember, the only time Musashi ever got beat was by a guy with a stick.

If you're only going to write one short and stop, unscrew the handle from a broom and go through the motions as you're watching them. If this is going to become a series, or if you're going to continue writing of the sword, there are any number of wasters and practice swords available (subject to local laws)

I say this because it's important for you to understand how heavy that measly one kilo piece of steel can get in fairly short order.

slhuang
11-05-2015, 03:20 PM
Only skimmed, but it looks like you're getting some good advice. I'll add a few things that occurred to me:

1) On breathing -- the #1 mistake I see people I teach make with breathing is that they don't. "Remember to breathe" becomes a mantra for some beginners.

2) Some other things to throw in on the feel of delivering an attack: Almost all of the time, unless you are doing something particular and unusual (or unless you are caught off guard and doing something desperate), you will be solidly on balance, even at the farthest extension of your cut or thrust, even if you're lunging. There's no sense of lean. If I were describing a slow-mo attack, I'd probably dwell on the uncoiling of power, then the feel of lines and extension and balanced forces, then the moment of impact or miss. I tend to think of everything coming from the abs/core at the root. Your princess will also be aiming for a particular target (on the body or practice whatever), and that is where her focus will be.

3) I'll throw out a bunch of mistakes beginners tend to make: not breathing, weight not even, gripping too tightly, messy or incorrect footwork, letting the arms collapse (especially as people tire), parrying too far out (waste of energy), not going to full extension, NOT BREATHING, looking at the blade instead of the target and/or aiming to hit the other person's *sword* instead of the target, parries too far inside (so not protective), leaning, not breathing. (I've done a bunch of different styles but I'm trying to throw out what's generally been in common to all of them.)

Hope this helps!

Yesplease
11-05-2015, 06:08 PM
I don't know anything about sword fighting personally, but I just read "As You Wish" which is a memoir about the making of the Princess Bride from Cary Elwes's perspective. There's a ton of information about training for swordfighting in there.