Somewhere along the way over the years I discovered a remarkably interesting thing about training. Stay with me now, this is mind blowing stuff here. Not everyone’s body works the same. I know, crazy, right? Turns out it is true.
I watched several people win fight after fight after fight and I wanted to be like that. I wanted to be the bad mamma-jamma on the field that other people wanted to be like. Typical, yes, I know, everyone wants to be the best. So, what did I do? I studied those people, I learned the shots I saw them winning with, but yet, I still was not winning. Hmm, must be speed, so I worked on speed, I got faster. Still not working. Why wasn’t I having success like they were?
The first realization is that my shots all come from a different angle because I’m left-handed. Okay, fair enough. Practice after practice and tourney after tourney, I worked on adjusting the angles to make them hit something other than shield. Oh, look at that, I started winning some fights. Amazing.
Something odd happened, I learned some shots that were thrown by another lefty. Should be good to go right out of the box, right? Wrong. I could not make it work the way they threw them. As an example, there is a particular shot I watched Sir Cona throw that I wanted to add to my repertoire. I learned it, I practiced it, I felt like it should be good, but I just could not get the gas on it, and it either got blocked or landed light every time. Hmm, okay, what is wrong? Bingo, Sir Cona is tall and slender, me, not so much. More adjustments for my, shall we say, squat, frame, and it started working.
Several instances similar to those above happened over and over again. I would spend time learning by watching, or having someone show me their shot, follow the process and end up with something relatively based on the original.
The real realization came when I started teaching new fighters myself. I found myself showing the basic technique as it was shown to me years before. Sometimes the new fighter would take right to it and excel, sometimes not so much and we explore a different way of explaining the same thing. It hit me right as it left my mouth the first time as a reaction, I said the words “it works different for different people sometimes” and the light came on.
The hardest part was figuring out how to get from point “a”, being the original method of teaching the shot, to point “b”, where the end user of the information takes that and uses it in a way specific to their own body mechanics for the best result. Turns out, it is just the translation that needed anything different. I started explaining as a preface that the basics are simple building blocks to refer back to if needed, and that the fighter should focus on the lead in and end placement of the shot rather than the in between areas. The in-between is where the variants lie. Start and finish are pretty much the same, with only minimal differences.
Curve ball, I started teaching a fighter who just happened to be female. This was a whole new challenge for many reasons. The differences in the male and female bone and joint structure as it pertains to shot mechanics are huge. Everything from hand grip to wrist and shoulder rotations are different in angle, from what I have encountered. Do not be misled, however, some of those differences are cleverly disguised advantages.
There is an angular difference in hand position, where males have a closer to 90-degree grip to their arm, females tend to have a more thumb-forward grip which makes the diameter of rotation smaller. This also makes it faster in most cases. Wrap shots that no longer require a wide berth, what a concept. Can you guess what I started practicing? That is correct, I have trained my hand to rest more thumb forward to allow for a smaller rotational arc on those shots. It has become difficult for me to throw the wide arcing wrap now, which is fine because that one is much slower than what I throw now.
Foot position will change how things work as well. While some of us put our shield side foot forward, some prefer to have the sword side forward, or “goofy foot” as I call it. Goofy foot has the advantage of range, giving you anywhere between three and ten inches of extra reach on your shots compared to shield side forward. Not only does it increase range, it changes angles due to shoulder position in relation to hip placement. This also affects your power output through the shot. Notice I have not labelled any of these positions as wrong or right. I try to avoid those terms because, and I will repeat this at practices over and over again, what works for one may not work for another.
The takeaway is that we have to be able to adapt a standard set of basics to the specific way our body says will be efficient for us. It is perfectly fine to teach the old standard “serve the soup, dump the soup” technique outlined by Duke Paul Bellatrix, however it may not look the same and that is okay too. At the end of the day, the goal is to make a good clean strike in a way that will not damage your body in the throwing. It does us no good at all to destroy our shoulders, elbows, and wrists for the sake of a shot that could be much easier to execute. Adapt, refer to the basics if needed, relax and enjoy the fight as it flows naturally.
In service as always,
Conrad vom Schwarzwald
Knight of the Society for Creative Anachronism
“Fight with passion, Serve with gladness, Live the Dream.”