What Makes a Sword Style Functional?

Discussion in 'Sword Arts Talk' started by Saevus, Jul 12, 2016.

  1. Saevus

    Saevus White Belt

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    This is for all the practitioners of all the sword techniques (HEMA, Fencing, Kendo, Iaido, Krabi Krabong and more) out there but what do you feel makes your particular or any sword style functional in actual/simulated combat? What does your particular sword art base their foundations in; do they emphasize quick thrusts, do they tell you to play defensive and capitalize on counters, or what have you.

    I raise this question because although I'm not a practitioner of any of these, I find the variety of techniques very intriguing. Do you, as a personal practitioner, feel that those who develop unorthodox styles (ex. making use of wide sweeping strikes as opposed to striking and keeping your blade tip within a preferred range or whatever) hold any merit or do you find yourself taking currently established styles and altering it to a style that fits you?
     
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  2. Blindside

    Blindside Senior Master

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    I do a blade based Filipino martial art. Most of the methods are designed around hacking and slicing style attacks with some thrusts. In its environment it was made effective by the training to instill timing and distance control through footwork. The emphasis is to be at long distance (can attack limbs) and using your timing and footwork to disable the arm. Alternately you use that timing and footwork to close to close quarters (inside sword reach) to control the opponents weapon while maintaining use of yours.

    I certainly don't claim my martial art is particularly superior, it provides a great basis of a true system that doesn't overtly specialize in one area and provides a fairly rapid acquisition of combative skill. I actively spar against different systems/styles and learn from those experiences. Filipino martial arts aren't overly rigid on "orthodoxy," function is a far more important quality.
     
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  3. kempodisciple

    kempodisciple Senior Master

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    For fencing: when I started learning knife fighting, I found that my footwork helped immensely, and still use a lot of the fencing footwork when I knife fight (although not as linearly).
    I've also done stick fighting with some FMA practitioners, and have discovered that by adapting fencing just a bit, I am able to do incredibly well against them. I'm not necessarily saying that would be true of all fencers vs FMA fighters, but it's the experience that I've had.
     
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  4. pgsmith

    pgsmith Master Black Belt

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    This is a very difficult question to answer from a Japanese sword arts perspective. I have only been studying the Japanese sword arts in my spare time for a couple of decades, so I don't have enough underlying knowledge to be altering anything to suit myself. Perhaps Hyoho, who has been practicing decades longer than I, can give you a better perspective. I am still trying to understand just what the ideas behind the movements are, rather than trying to make up my own ideas. I doubt that I'll have enough time left in my life to figure it all out, so I content myself with trying to understand what my instructors teach me. Since we can't actually go out and engage in sword duels anymore, I have to place my faith in the techniques and training that were developed back when the sword was in use.
     
  5. Blindside

    Blindside Senior Master

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    Long blade fighting with good fencers is a royal PITA for more slash oriented FMA systems, however I find that the advantage goes away in full contact stick fighting where power generation is important.
     
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  6. Charlemagne

    Charlemagne Black Belt

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    Agreed. Not to mention that there are so many differing FMA styles out there that it is hard to make comparisons sometimes.
     
  7. kempodisciple

    kempodisciple Senior Master

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    Hmm that's entirely possible. Next time I meet with one of them, I will have to do full contact stick fighting, since iirc it was always light contact.
     
  8. Langenschwert

    Langenschwert Master Black Belt

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    Functionality =

    Rule number 1: Don't get hit
    Rule number 2: Hit the other guy, provided you don't break rule number 1.

    If your sword art reliably does that, it's functional. How it does that depends on a variety of factors, such as the social context, the weapons themselves, the rules of engagement, clothing/armour, duel vs. battlefield, etc.

    There are even exceptions to the "rules". If your art is designed for bodyguards, it might willingly break rule #1 if you keep your charges safe from harm. Or perhaps the idea is to control or wound the opponent but leave him alive. But if we assume the idea is to fight one opponent or more with weapons in a lethal context and survive, then the rules hold true.

    "The essence of fencing is to give, but by no means to receive." -Moliere
     
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  9. lklawson

    lklawson Senior Master

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    No offense, but you're asking the wrong question.

    The variety appears to be great. Different sword arts have different emphasis. The real question is, "why?" What drives one sword art to use certain techniques but not others when the opposite is true for some other sword art?

    Bladed arts, indeed any martial arts, did not evolve in a vacuum. Everything about the environment they developed in goes into shaping the art. Was armor a common component? That changes the shape and use of the sword. What kind of armor? Slashing weapons tend to evolve for use against unarmored opponents. The length of the blade is also a component of the environment. There is a reason that Cutlasses tended to be shorter than Cav Sabers; use in the confines of shipboard makes longer swords difficult or impossible to use. Were there social issues which drove the design? I've been told that the French Court Sword, basically a long knitting needle with a shell guard, came into being due to the prohibition against military swords in the French Court. The German Messer has a full tang and slab-sided handle because the legal definition separating a sword from a knife was based upon the construction of the handle, not the length of the blade, so I've been told. There's a reason that a Shikomizue (Katana disguised as a walking stick) has no tsuba and you can be sure that it impacted the methods of use.

    Look at the environment that the weapon was developed in, both physical and social, then when looking at the weapon, you can begin to make a few educated guesses about how the weapon was used. Form follows function. :)

    Peace favor your sword,
    Kirk
     
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  10. Hyoho

    Hyoho Black Belt

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    Most Japanese sword arts are based on "kahanshin" A very low flexed posture with emphasis on ground contact. Similar to some of the diagrams you see in Fiore. By doing this power in generated up and through the hips. As we say 'It cuts'. The major changes that one can see is that as practice was transferred to indoor areas on a floor over the years posture has become more upright. Even nowadays many "indoor ryu" look very ill at ease demonstrating on the ground. Really they should not sit on the ground either and to be correct have to lay out sheets or do it on a platform.

    But as pgsmith states far to intricate to answer in detail. You dont do a style the "fits you". You have to abandon anything else you might have done and "fit in". The biggest problem is that what you might have practiced before creeps in to fill the gaps you as yet dont understand creating a mishmash of movement.
     
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  11. Saevus

    Saevus White Belt

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    Thank you very much for this section of text and the rest of your reply. It's certainly narrowed down my focus point. I've only recently begun my interest in the sword arts so I'm still learning but all the replies here were definitely helpful and I thank you all for this.
     
  12. MAfreak

    MAfreak Purple Belt

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    i'd say its like always: less forms as in kenjutsu (because cramming old choreos never prepare you to use reflexes for real situations) - more sparring, as in kendo.
    and straight attacks are mostly more effective, than round techniques. they are faster, less telegraphing and usually stronger, because the whole body, which pushes from the ground is behind it and not just air.
     
  13. Hyoho

    Hyoho Black Belt

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    But what you mention are two different concepts Both still use kahanshin but one (Kendo) uses issoku ito no maai then projects you all over the place. The other (Kenjutsu) is mostly stationary that waits for and deals with people stepping into your ito no maai. I can assure that when someone steps in to do a cut with a bokuto that stops 1 cm off the ground reflex action is essential. Otherwise you end up in hospital or worst.
     
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  14. Midnight-shadow

    Midnight-shadow 2nd Black Belt

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    I used to do Fencing (epee) where the emphasis was on trapping your opponent's blade and then delivering pin-point accurate strikes to the weak parts of the body. If you want to develop your accuracy while learning how to move quickly in and our of range, fencing is an amazing art to practice. The downside to fencing is in the points system and the way it is used as a sport. As you probably know, fencing is done on a single strip called the piste and all movement is either forwards or backwards. Not only this but you can only score points with the tip of the blade, which was very frustrating for me as people would often literally throw themselves forwards trying to score a point. I would block these and more often than not would get the blade of my sword on their neck or arm while dodging their attack. Unfortunately for me since I didn't hit them with the tip of the blade I didn't score, even though in a real fight they would have lost a limb or their head.

    Since then I have moved onto Chinese swordplay, which is a lot more versatile, allowing me to develop my own style of fighting that is more focused on actual combat rather than scoring points in an artificial environment. That's not to say Fencing doesn't have its place, and as I said it is amazing for developing your accuracy with the tip of the blade and quick footwork, but I still prefer what I do now.
     
  15. oaktree

    oaktree Master of Arts

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    In my opinion heiho or strategy.
     
  16. Dirty Dog

    Dirty Dog MT Senior Moderator Staff Member

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    Define "functional" first...

    If you're training for a sport (kendo, weatern fencing, HEMA, etc) then it's functional if it allows you to score points while preventing points from being scored. You won't necessarily WIN, because that's a matter of individual skill rather than functionality of the system.

    So first thing: define functional.
     
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  17. pgsmith

    pgsmith Master Black Belt

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    My question is "how do you know it is more focused on actual combat?" Since it's your own invention, you are only guessing. You should instead say " ... develop my own style of fighting that is more focused on what I believe would be involved in actual combat rather than ..." This way there is no confusion since you obviously aren't engaging in actual sword combat and so can't actually know if it works or not.

    Therein lies the crux of the problem with all of those that wish to "develop their own sword combat style." It is entirely guesswork since nobody outside of backwater third world countries actually fights with swords these days.
     
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  18. Midnight-shadow

    Midnight-shadow 2nd Black Belt

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    My statement was in comparison to Sport Fencing which is far less focused on actual combat than what I practice now. Also when I say "develop my own style" I mean that my instructor teaches me the various techniques and basic combos and then it is up to me to utilize them how I like during sparring. I try out different things and see what works and what doesn't. The main drawback to the sword sparring that I do now is that since we use rubber weapons, they have a habit of bouncing off each other, meaning sometimes I'll do a perfectly good block and my opponent's blade would bounce past my block and hit me. This wouldn't happen if we were using real weapons. That said, you are right that no amount of sparring is going to compare to actual live combat with real weapons.
     
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  19. Blindside

    Blindside Senior Master

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    what CMA do you do? I think it is great that you have an active sparring focus, do you have any video?
     
  20. Midnight-shadow

    Midnight-shadow 2nd Black Belt

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    My Main style is Southern White Crane and as part of that we train in various weapons. In terms of weapons I mostly focus on staff and broadsword. Unfortunately I don't have any videos to show you but here are some photos from last year's weapons sparring competition:

    Weapons Sparring Competition 2015- Photos taken by Kirsty Sloman, Brighton WCMA - White Crane Martial Arts
     

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