Sunday, November 1, 2015

"When you can snatch the pebble from my hand, it will be time for you to leave." OR Andre Paurenfeindt's "12 Rules for the Beginner Fencer," 1516 - Part 1 / 2

Having committed HEMA heresy by alluding to an eastern martial art show in the title of my post on historical European fencing, the famous scene from the 1972 TV series Kung Fu is fitting to think about when discussing the German master Andre Paurenfeindt. The scene in the TV show depicts an aged kung fu master instructing a new student on how the student will know when they've achieved a certain proficiency in the art. The line quoted in the title of this post underscores the various--and often enigmatic--martial concepts a student needs to hone in order to do the seemingly simple task of snatching a pebble from his master's hand. That, however, is a Hollywood construction.

By contrast, Andre Paurenfeindt's "12 Rules for the Beginner Fencer" establishes exactly what those often enigmatic skills are in a more specific and less whimsical way. I'll walk through each of the twelve rules and outline the major martial concepts that are espoused in each one. These are fantastic pieces of advice to keep in mind, no matter your skill level. (Note: I use the Michael Chidester and Eli Combs translation.)

Rule #1: "Whichever leg stands in front is bent / And the rear is extended to create a strong base."

A fighter's stance is the basis of all movement. The front leg is bent to allow for quick stepping while the back leg is stretched or extended (but not locked straight) to provide the structural strength needed when delivering a technique. This is reinforced by the third rule which stresses that your feet are to remain apart. The strong base is a concept across many martial arts and stresses the idea that your techniques are flawed or weakened if your base is structurally unsound.

Basic martial concept: stance is a basis for all techniques

Rule #2: "Fight high with extended body / Shoot to the openings powerfully with your reach."

It's said in both MS. 3227A and by Sigmund Ringeck that you are to mainly fight to the upper openings. This then not only focuses the attacks to remain at head level but also the resultant binds. To bind and wind safely, fully extend your reach and properly adjust your footwork to maintain that maximized sense of measure. I define measure simply as reach + footwork, and one of the best ways to zero in on one's own sense of measure is to hit a standing target, like a wooden pell. In class, I use the simple phrase "fight long" to embody Paurenfeindt's advice. This gets across the idea that, for example, you should not be making strikes with the tip of your blade if you are in wrestling range. If you do not make strikes or other techniques with an accurate understanding of measure, you can severely weaken the attack by connecting with the wrong portion of your blade, miss your target, put yourself in jeopardy, or some combination of all three.  Paurenfeindt is stating here that a fighter must develop an intuitive sense of their own measure in order to consistently hurt the opponent while simultaneously remaining protected.

Basic martial concept: targeting requires a comprehensive knowledge of measure

Rule #3: "Strike and step together / And set your feet against each other."

Constant motion is a major tenet of martial arts, and therefore it's important to coordinate your techniques with accurate stepping. To attack or defend successfully, your feet will often be opposed or set against each other. For example, one foot will be forward, the other backward, one foot will be turned towards the opponent, the other away (think of the die waage or horizontal stance), etc. This allows for a purposeful distribution of weight and coordinates with an attack or defense to create powerful and effective techniques. In other words, what you generally do not want is to have your feet together or to have one foot directly behind the other. If your feet are together they can be described as being with each other rather than "against each other" and do not provide the strong base that's described in rule #1. If you've ever experimented with the ways in which shifting your body weight can add or subtract pressure in a bind you will understand that necessity of having your feet apart rather than together.

Basic martial concept: constant motion includes coordinated attacks and footwork

Rule #4: "He who steps after striking / Will find no joy in his art."

It's hard to find joy when you're dead! A strike needs to be coordinated with the step in order to execute a technique at proper measure, as described in rule #2. If you strike without stepping, you'll end up at improper measure, and a whole host of issues can develop putting your safety in jeopardy. Remember, measure = reach + footwork, and measure is therefore a factor of not only your ability to physically reach your target but also your ability to accurately perceive the distance to your target. The difference here with rule #2 is that rule #2 connected measure with that of the high target. In rule #4, Paurenfeindt is recognizing that in general terms, one must coordinate the technique with footwork in order for there to be art in our movements (and through that art, joy, as in, "holy crap, the technique worked!").

Basic martial concept: proper measure MUST include footwork

Rule #5: Note what the flat is / Do not fence left if you are right-handed."

Getting in a twofer, Paurenfeindt stresses not only the importance of using the flat in both the parry and the attack but the importance of mainly fencing from the right if you're right-handed (and conversely of mainly fencing from the left if you're left-handed). Of course, Paurenfeindt isn't saying don't ever fence from the left if you're right-handed, he's simply recognizing that the most powerful strikes come from our dominant side. We have to keep in mind that his target audience is the "beginner fencer." Once a fencer becomes more skilled, attacking from both sides should be a focus in training.

Basic martial concept: All parts of the weapon can be used; attack most often from the side you're most coordinated and most powerful

Rule #6: "Search for the weak and the strong / Indes, note this word"

There are a couple of ways of understanding the admonishment to search for the weak and the strong. The first concerns the pressure in the bind, the second concerns the actual divisions of the sword. Here, given the fact that Paurenfeindt expresses the importance of the word "indes," I feel it's best to consider the rule as an expression of the importance of pressure and what to do with that pressure. In feeling the pressure in a bind or similar engagement (i.e. grabbing an arm, shirking an opponent's hold on your weapon, etc.), one must understand when the opponent is weak because they're transferring energy elsewhere--often in the middle of switching techniques or trying something else--or when the opponent is strong which is often because they are pushing through towards their target.

What's vital to keep in mind is that your opponent's pressure is indicative of the technique they are trying to execute. That pressure is also relative to the forces being applied by both combatants. For example, if I enter a bind with my opponent and go weak, I'm not going weak simply to do so. Going weak in and of itself is not a conscientious choice or strategy. What I'm actually doing is shifting my target--attempting to strike elsewhere or attempting to strike with a different part of my weapon--which is causing the weakness in the bind, precisely because my focus lies elsewhere. If my opponent were to focus elsewhere as well--go weak--then the bind would evaporate and our weapons would be freewheeling, the benefit of fuhlen lost.

Furthermore, the moment in which you feel what your opponent is doing and thereby act with that information in mind, is the gist of the idea of indes. Paurenfeindt asks us to note that word within the context of pressure, weak and strong. In energetic and earnest freeplay, the feeling and use of that pressure happens in a moment. As martial artists, this concept must be honed and refined.

Basic martial concept: utilize pressure to your advantage

Rules 7-12 will be discussed in the next post.

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