Wednesday, May 13, 2015

To the Point: What Watching Fencing Teaches This Arnisadora

As I mentioned in my post Scaling the Martial Arts Cliff, my daughter has taken up the study of fencing. Sabre, in particular.

Kidlet scores a point (in the black pants)
I want to state up front that my knowledge of fencing is rudimentary at best. It's a sport I've always admired, and I've watched it from time to time in the Olympics, but that's about as far as it goes before Kidlet strapped on protective gear and starting getting stabby with it a few months ago.

However, as a parent, you pick up a few things when you sit on the sidelines and pay attention, much as we all do when we watch our kids play sports or do the martial arts. You get to learn the basic rules, the equipment, and a term or two here or there. I admit, it took me a while to understand that when they said "Repost!" they weren't talking about sharing an old blog post, they were saying "Riposte", which means a quick return thrust.

Yes, I felt a little dumb until I figured that one out.


My new sidelines headgear.

What I am finding interesting, though, is what the mere observation of fencing is teaching me about Arnis.  I don't have to risk a good stabbing in order to learn stuff.

Let's take footwork.  As we all know - or should know - footwork is the foundation of everything we do in the martial arts (and in sports in general).  Good footwork can overcome a lot of deficiencies elsewhere, and bad footwork can make the rest of your game weak.

Sabre footwork is not all that different than what we do in Arnis, really. I like the narrow bladed stances and how they push off the back foot when advancing.  I really like how they manage weight distribution in order to advance and retreat, changing range very quickly.  This same sort of skill set is very handy in an art like mine, even if we tend to go at angles versus in a linear direction.

Friendly Arnis stick sparring.
Look at my footwork - similar to what I see fencers do.

In fact, I was describing just this sort of footwork with a student who was having ranging issues in Arnis.  I coached him to use similar footwork but at an angle, like we do in our art.  I think he found it useful!

One other tidbit I've noticed is that just as we see in Arnis, new fencers have the exact same body language where they are "afraid" of the weapon.  They shrink back and stiffen up (especially the upper body) when the weapon approaches.  Experienced fencers - and Arnis players - are relaxed, and do not shrink from the weapon in fear.

One more thing - my art is a "corto" to "medio" (close range to medium range) art, mainly designed as self defense in tight places, much like the related art of Balintawak. 

Click here if you can't see the video.

Well, Coach +Kate Sierra informs me that the linear nature of sabre fencing is due to being designed to fight with longer weapons in narrow corridors.  If you account for the differences in the length of weapons - bam, both my art and hers are designed for tight spaces and personal combat, versus open spaces and general warfare!

But it goes to show that as different as sabre fencing and Arnis seem to be - they're really not all that different at all!  The fundamentals are very similar enough so that while I am no fencer, I can watch it and learn some cool things by seeing what they do and applying to what I already know.

To use another metaphor, I don't speak their language (yet), but I speak one that's close enough that we share many of  the same words.

You should really check out other martial arts, even if you don't train them.  You might be surprised by what you can learn and improve in your own art.

Have you had this same experience?  What martial art or martial art sport has taught you things about your own martial art?  I'd love to know!