Using basic moves

When I am teaching basic movements, what I like to do is really exaggerate those moves and make them in quite a large generic sort of form. Although you can see this to a certain extent in all weapon systems, this tends to show up more in dagger work than in anything else.

A common criticism to using this type of training is that it is not how you spar or that these are not effective techniques. This is true to a point, but it also completely misunderstands the purpose of what is happening. When practicing a large movement like this, what you are doing is learning the base move that the technique is built on.

One of my early instructors worked as a somewhat overly enthusiastic bouncer. It was interesting to watch him fight because he had a very plain, yet highly effective fighting style. He never did anything particularly fancy or elaborate, or even especially unexpected. It was largely just a fairly limited range of basic techniques. He had an unbreakable structure, which was one of the reasons why he was so good at what he did, and he would constantly make the point that all fighting is just the application of basic technique. As a consequence, we used to spend endless hours of constant repetition of basics. It didn’t make for a particularly exciting class, but it was fantastic grounding work and it paid off. His point that all fighting is the application of basic techniques is a valuable one and well worth paying attention to when training with these large basic moves.

A good analogy I like to think of is teaching kids how to write. Every five-year-old writes in much the same way. It is all large circles and straight lines. Those are the basic moves that every five-year-old learns. It does not matter what country they’re from or what language they’re writing in. If they are using Arabic script, it’s circles and straight lines, and they all do it the same. Nobody ever gives them a hard time, saying “You’ll never get your thesis written if you’re writing like that.” It’s just understood that that is the framework that everything else is built upon later on. That is how you should treat base moves. They are a framework upon which everything else is built. They are not the finished product in and of themselves.

Part of teaching these base movements is to use the techniques in their fullest range. They are big, massive movements. You are not ever going to use this kind of thing when you’re sparring, but you can always make them shorter. That is the advantage of training like this. If you are making large movements you understand all the drive and power and momentum that you can get into it. So that if while sparring, you find yourself somewhere unexpected, you can realign your movements to deliver as much power and drive as if you were winding it up as a large movement.

Although it is very easy to make movements smaller, it is very difficult to make them larger. If you are constantly training to strike with short techniques, it is much harder to develop a sense of strength and structure and power as opposed to when you are making an exaggerated basic form. Basic form provides a capacity for reflexive adaptation. When you start large, you can always adapt it to the situation that you find yourself in. So regardless of what level you are at, it is well-worth performing and practicing these base moves before you start making an actual application of the technique you are practicing.

Another advantage to practicing with these large base movements is that when you are working with a partner, it’s a good deal easier on your partner to act in a defensive capability against something which they can see coming a long way off. That gives your partner the time and opportunity to develop their own defence. Again, you can always make these faster as you both improve, but to start with large base moves, gives everyone an introductory warm up into the exercise or that section of their learning. By improving your partner’s defensive sparring, you are also improving your own attack capabilities as you try to get through them.

All sparring is an interpretation of a base move. One of the things which really draws me to Fiore’s work is that he applies a small number of concepts to a wide range of contexts. Throughout For di Battaglia, you constantly see repetitions of the same base move happening in different weapons systems and in different contexts. But he is still using just essentially the same basic technique reinterpreted in a slightly different manner to suit the new set of circumstances. When practicing a specific play, understand what base move that play is built from, and practice that basic move. Whether you are just learning it, or you’ve been doing for years, the constant improvement of these base movements by practicing them continually at the full range will give you a far greater capacity to adapt during sparring and provide much greater strength and structure behind what you’re doing.

You are practicing, not so much individual plays, but a series of basic movements. By doing so, you will learn the power and structure behind them as well as get a feel for how to lock your entire body behind a single move. It is very easy to make them shorter and still maintain that structure. It is extremely difficult to start small and make them larger. Practicing large basic movements will also assist your partner and that will improve everybody’s training. Sparring is simply an interpretation of your basic moves.