Stabbing with a spear

One of the advantages of living where I do is that we have lots of banana trees growing here. Banana trees make excellent cutting targets. They are heavy and wet and dense, but also slightly spongy. They are about as close as you can get to getting a body without actually using a body. They have a fairly short life span and need to be cut out and trimmed. That gives us a good opportunity to practice cutting.

In this video, I am taking a look at the penetrating power of a spear. Spears not only have an advantage over most weapons in terms of reach, but also mass. This one weighs just under two kilos as compared to my longsword which weighs 1.4 kg.

Stepping off the line

Stepping off the line comes up quite a lot throughout armizare. There are plenty of examples throughout the book. If you go hunting, it comes up again and again and again.

When you’re stepping offline, the typical pattern is to step offline, make a beat and then step through with a counterstrike. But one of the questions that comes up every now and then is, is which way do you step. Do you step left or right when stepping off the line? The answer that you give has quite different ramifications. 

Whether you step to the inside or outside, neither is wrong exactly, but they have very different tactical attributes. It makes an interesting concept to play around with and explore what difference it makes.

Using the pommel as a dagger

Just because something is in one chapter of Fior di Battaglia doesn’t mean that is has no relevance in all the others. Pommel strikes are fun close range attacks that share a lot of common ground with dagger strikes. Do you ever get to use these in your sparring?

When is a stick a weapon?

Here’s a selection of bits of wood that I like to use as weapons. I have my old bokken, what I am using as wasters these days, a short staff and a rondel dagger. We will have a quick look at each of them in succession.

This is my bokken. I started off with a piece of wood, which is an inch by two inches and then I cut the curve into it. I trimmed a long shallow v out of the middle and trimmed triangles off each end and then set to it with a heavy rasp and a file and ultimately sand paper, leaving the handle with an inch by an inch and a half cross section. I have been through a few of these. This one is made from Australian red gum. It’s a heavy, solid timber. I’ve abused this bokken fairly substantially over the years, and it’s held up really nicely.

I used to own one which was made out of Japanese Oak and broke it within a fortnight. I was pretty disappointed with that given how much I had heard about the quality of the wood. But this one has held up quite well. Its very solid and reliable.

I also used to own a bokken I made out of yellow box. It was not so well shaped, and I eventually cut it up for firewood, but the yellow box was an excellent material for making training weapons. I tried to test it to destruction one day, but outside of a few savage nicks, it came out unharmed.

This is what I am using for wasters these days. I used to put cross guards on them, which do make them handle better, but I kept on breaking them. So now, I just use a single piece of wood, which is just based off the idea of a bokken. Again, it is an inch by an inch and a half. That rectangular cross section gives you a sense of edge alignment far better than a round piece of wood. I carve a simple pommel on the end and shape the handle a little to feel where the handle stops and the blade begins. For the blade I just smooth the corners off. They are simple and light. If you want to play around with the balance, you can start with a heavier piece of wood, make the tip a lot thinner, and leave more weight in the handle. This becomes more important if you are making a heavier waster. If they are only fairly light, it is not such an issue.

This is made from a piece of decking plank which I cut down. It costs around two dollars for each waster, plus the time I spend shaping it. Although technically a hardwood, these are fairly light, and I treat them as disposable. I don’t care if they get broken. That’s basically what they’re designed to do. I used to have a couple of nice ones made out of some heavy hardwood, but they kept breaking. So now I don’t bother putting that much effort into them. I just use a simple stick like this, and that’s good enough to do the job.

Next is one of my favourite weapons and its about a simple as they can get. It’s just 120 cm of hickory with a diameter of 32 mm. Because of the density of the wood, it is surprisingly heavy and weighs around 1400 g. This started life as a shovel handle, which I bought at the hardware shop somewhere in the mid nineties and trimmed down to shape. Again, I just used very simple tools – a rasp, a file, and some sandpaper. This staff is damn near indestructible. I’ve had it for 25 years, done some seriously abusive things with it, and the most damage its ever picked up is just a few small dings. The kids have taken this and put it through all its paces, but it stands up to anything.

I was practicing spinning this one day when I accidentally clipped my elbow with it. The pain was so much that I couldn’t speak or move. At first I thought I had shattered the joint, and it was four days before I got full mobility back. Hickory is an excellent wood to use. Tight grained, dense, heavy and strong, although harder to get hold of now than it used to be.

Rondel daggers are dead simple to make. This is literally a piece of firewood that I dug off the scrap heap. Again, it is very roughly shaped with a handle carved into it. This one has a bit of a crack in the wood, although that is not as exciting as it looks. It’s more discoloration than anything else.

You want to keep a nice square point on the dagger especially because obviously the only thing you can do with these is stab someone and they’ve got absolutely zero flex in them. So you want to leave a nice square point so that you can do the least amount of damage to your friend as possible.

So that’s a quick run over some wooden training weapons. They’re really good. I like them. The advantage of using these sorts of things is that they are cheap, effective, and historically accurate. If you spend a bit of time on them, you can get them reasonably well balanced. They are excellent for practicing drill sets because they’re not sharp. You can go as fast and hard as you like with complete safety. Every now and then, give them a light sand and rub some oil or wax into them. I typically use olive oil.

You’re far more likely to hurt your training partner than anybody else, so be aware of that if you are using them for any kind of sparring or partner work. The real big thing about them in that context is stabbing someone with them because they have no flex, so tend to hurt if you are not careful.

However, they are really simple to make, they are cheap, and if they break or catch fire, it really doesn’t matter. For materials, I prefer a solid hardwood such as hickory or yellow box or a red box.

Using a curriculum

In this video, we look at using a curriculum and outline how you can develop a structured training program to help. If you want to learn about how the components of sparring fit together, and most importantly, what goes into building a successful training program, then this is the video for you.

Universal defence

In this video, we’ll be applying a simple generic defence and seeing how it applies to all weapon systems. To improve your defensive capabilities and apply this simple principle to whatever circumstances you’re in, you need to look at Fiore’s universal defence. In part one we took a look at one of the introductory components of the curriculum, which is footwork. Here, we build on that and look at how to develop a strong defensive capability, across any weapons system.

Introduction to footwork

How is it that some people are able to move with grace and ease across the floor while others are always stumbling over themselves? Why is it that some people are always at exactly the right range while others are never in quite the right spot to deliver an effective technique. And how is it that some people are always exactly where they need to be while others are constantly struggling from position? It all comes down to footwork.

You fight with your hips

When you are training, you often spend a lot of time checking things such as your lines of attack, your cover, making sure you know where your weapon is at all times, and ensuring you move with appropriate distancing. These are all important things to be in control of, and certainly should not be underestimated. Underlying all of them, however, as a foundation to all your movements is understanding what your hips are doing. To a very large extent, you move and fight with your hips. Everything else is just delivering a message.

The best fighters always look completely relaxed. They seem to move much faster, and with much less effort than anyone else. They always seem to be right where they need to be, having used very little effort to get there. To a large extent, this is due to good clean hip movement. It reduces all extraneous movement, and provides clear direction and intent. This is what gives these people fast and powerful techniques.

Your hips control your core, and this in turn, determines where your bodies energy is moving. Every action needs to be driven by the hips first. It is this hip motion which provides power through the shoulders and arms to the weapon. Beginning a technique with your shoulders or arms disassociates your bodies actions from its core. The top and bottom halves of your body will be moving in different directions and in an uncoordinated manner. The end result is a weak and slow technique. In contrast, by using the hips to initiate the movement, the body structure is aligned. This gives speed, power, and intent to any technique.  

When initiating movements with the hips, the arms stay fairly still relative to the body. They will obviously move enough to give shape to whatever technique is being delivered, but essentially, they are always in front of the body, and reasonably still. This reduces the amount of movement required, making everything that much faster. It also reduces physical stress on the shoulders and wrists, leaving you with better control and extra energy to expend elsewhere.

Driving techniques with the hips anchors the body to the ground. This anchoring provides a huge amount of force and power to drive your techniques home. Whether you are striking aside an incoming attack, or trying to break through a potentially weak defence, the extra power you gain from a well grounded structure is a huge advantage. Its gives you strength which you don’t normally have.

As with so many things in any martial art, these things are better felt than described. By way of demonstration, choose a posta and a technique. Delivering a thrust and lunge from Dente de Zenghiaro is one of many examples you might use. Throw a few techniques initiating them with the shoulders first, then try the same technique powered by the hips instead. You should be able to feel a qualitative difference between the two. Techniques driven by the hips first should feel faster, smoother and more powerful.

Your hips provide your core movement. Everything beyond that is an extension of your core. If you control your hips and use them to initiate your movements, all your techniques will be faster and stronger, and you will be more relaxed. Your arms will be allowed to remain reasonably still, adding speed to your techniques and locking them to your core. Your actions will be solidly grounded adding power and strength to everything that you do. Whenever you are practicing your drill sets, keep in mind to initiate your techniques with your hips. Carry this habit into your sparring. For very little extra effort, this will dramatically raise the standard of everything you do.