Friday, 31 May 2013

Thought For The Day: Don't Begin In Distance

I returned from a tournament to try a "regular" sparring class at a local club. One thing that stood out was that locals skipped over the Zufechten. In the tournament, you began in your corner, and enjoyed a phase of manoeuvre, feeling out, and trying to steal an angle or distance on your opponent. Often there were false starts, feints with footwork, and other incomplete efforts to encourage the opponent to compromise himself.

At the club, they tried to start in my face, a step at most beyond cutting range. We lost that Zufechten approach phase, so that freeplay was either a succession of almost footwork-free insta-hits or else they'd begin by leaping backwards while lashing out. In the former case, there were often ugly doubles; the latter often became a Benny Hill routine of chasing the opponent down while covering hand-snipe attempts.

I also don't like the common "staring cats" pattern of freeplay seen in longsword. By this, I mean when two fencers take guards and wait perfectly still a hair's breadth out of distance, like gunslingers hearing a chiming watch. Each hopes the other will begin the actual engagement.

Entry from Zufechten to Krieg is a pretty vital moment, obviously, and lack of skill or confidence in negotiating it is a fundamental impediment to fencing well. Consider the following suggestions rather than prescriptions, as they're things I'd want to try out rather than have honed through years of teaching experience:

  1. Don't let those sparring begin toe-to-toe or one step out. Give them corners to return to after each exchange.
  2. Encourage movement in drills. Begin well out of distance, and finish with an Abzug out of distance (to the rear or past their opponent) or closing to close range. Don't neglect the role of lateral and circling footwork either...
  3. Conditioning for agility and endurance. It's tempting to stand still and stay flat-footed if you're knackered. Stay on your toes, stay moving. Break out the ladder drills and lunges for agility, and running and circuit training for "cardio", and skipping rope for everything, and generally think like a boxer or a sport fencer.
  4. Drill the Vorschlag and other techniques that cover this transition! I assume you're training the historical techniques anyway, but it bears emphasis. Kunst des Fechtens sources have a lot on how to act here, and I suggest you read and train them!


  1. My group has recently adopted new sparring rules to counteract that inclination.

    We play to 5 points where the head/body is worth three and the arms/legs one.

    We don't stop fighting after a successful hit, so throwing a combination of blows can win a bout instantly.

    The winner stays on the field, so the match starts as soon as the other person steps onto the field. If you want to salute, salute well out of range.

    In the first dagger bout I stabbed the head, body, and head again as he hit my left arm. My opponent was confused as hell when I sent him off the field, but that was the last time he lingered in range after scoring a hit.

    If both opponents score five points, they both take the walk of shame. No do-overs or tie-breakers, so everyone is a lot more careful than they were last week.

  2. Excellent post.

    In my particular case I tend to describe two distinct distances at training. One is training distance, or drill distance. This is where you are supposed to be drilling thus being out of distance is useless. The other is combat distance where combatants should start out of distance. The former is for training the latter is for combat and bouting.