Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Swordplay: Time and Distance

I suppose that technically, these are two separate topics, but for swordwork in particular, they are intimately bound up with one another. Have you ever read books where it seems that the hero has all the time in the world to swing a sword around, or where one of the people in a swordfight seems unfeasible quick compared to another? It seems unrealistic that someone should have so much of an advantage, doesn't it?

It's not fiction, though. It does happen. I have had the joy of fencing against a few internationals now, and on occasion, it really did seem like they were moving twice as fast as I was. So fast, in fact, that I was stuck between moves while they hit me. When I attacked, it seemed like they had all day. They weren't really that quick, of course. They were simply slightly closer or further away than I thought.

Despite what some martial artists occasionally think, one thing is true: in the absence of contact to control an attacking limb/blade, if the other person is close enough, they will hit you almost regardless of what you do, because you simply do not have the time to react. If the other person is far enough away, by contrast, you will have all day to plot your defence.

That's why in swordplay, a big part of what the best people do is based on using tricks such as acceleration, rapidly changing direction (by bouncing in the case of much sport stuff) and generally creeping up to completely control the distance between them and their opponent. They show up slightly closer than you expect when they attack, and they keep you right on the edge of distance defensively, so that you think you're close enough to attack, but you aren't. So the next time you want one of your heroes to seem impossibly fast, just have him move forward a bit first.


Autumn Shelley said...

So if my hero is in a swordfight, let's say he's using a heavier, shorter weapon, (not a fencing sword, something less elegant) he should definitely manipulate his opponent so that he can invade their space as opposed to "go in swinging"?
In other words, my guy could win this fight, but he has to chance getting in close?
Thanks in advance for the answer since there aren't many opportunities for fencing lessons in Texas! :)

stu said...

Autumn, if we're talking about something like a short sword or machete, then he would certainly need to get in close to win, possibly after preparatory cuts to the arm, but this concept is less about the length of the weapon than about reaction time.

The closer you are, the less time the other person has to react.

Though as for the going in swinging approach, if he does that at long range, the other person should just step back neatly and deal with everything without any problems.

For a fantasy fight where there is a bit of skill involved, try just showing the angling for position and advantage as part of it.

Autumn Shelley said...

Thanks. I think for a somewhat realistic approach I can focus on WHY the 'hero' works to shorten the distance between he and an opponent, (it's so he's reducing the opponent's reaction time). I also appreciate the mention of 'prepatory cuts' because it helps to point out that the hero is thinking and that there is a lot more involved than just swinging and grunting. Thanks! :)

Helena said...

Excellent article, Ian, thanks for reminding me. It's been nearly twenty years since I last picked up a blade. And you complete forget when you don't practise ever day. Timing, as they say, is everything.