Is either fighter wrong-handed? How do they begin their engagements? Most fighters have one and one only way of initiating a fight. Even if they have several entries, one is probably a favorite. (I use the same entry 90% of the time.) It may be a fine entry. It may not be. From what angle does the fighter like to attack? This will determine a lot about immediate footwork.
Each series of coming into range, throwing blows, and then retreating out of range within a bout is an engagement. How do they disengage? To which side? With a blow or without? Carefully or pell-mell?
Watch both fighters' feet, and only the feet, for as long as you can stand it. Are their feet squared? (Do they stand with both feet parallel as though naturally standing?) If so, you can hit them behind the head or leg.
Do they take large steps? Is their movement smooth? Are their blows coordinated involuntarily with their feet? Many fighters step with the right foot every time a blow is thrown. If a fighter has a tendency to do anything invariably, that tendency can be exploited.
Is there extra motion with which he does nothing useful? This can cause a fighter's tempo to be very regular and exploitable.
Can he throw blows at rest or when either his swordside foot or shieldside foot lands? Do they hop? Some fighters jump around to cover ground quickly. (What can't you do well when both feet are in the air? Hint: it has to do with a sword.)
Watch the hips. Does the fighter use them? If so, how? Just on the first blow? This is a common error. Many fighters fail to return or only make partial returns. This often results in the swordside shoulder coming forward which makes the shieldside thigh and swordside helm easier to hit. So watch the swordside shoulder. Does it go forward and stay there? This will result in a flurry of blows thrown with the hand far forward, often in front of the shield. Sometimes these blows land like a ton of bricks.
It is a sad fact that muscles can replace technique . . . sometimes. But do not be seduced by the dark side! Muscles have limits; technique does not.
OK, now the sword. How fast is he? Does he make returns? Does he have an offside attack? If so, how many offside targets does he aim at? Generally, how many targets does he aim at? How many leg blows, head blows, and offside blows does he throw? How many blows will he throw in one engagement? This information will build up into a profile of the opponent's tendencies. The goal here is not to get tricked by something easy to learn.
Does he single time? (Wait until he sees your hand move and then throw a blow at the same time you do.) If he does, on what sort of blows does he do it? If he can beat you doing it, eliminate the blows he likes to single time from your repertoire. Some fighters like to "hunt arms" when their opponents throw blows at the shieldside helm. If you know this, you can be sure to keep your elbow in the center as much as possible. (You should do it anyway.)
Does he have any particularly effective blows? (Almost all notable fighters at the time they became notable had a bread-and-butter blow.) If he does, then prepare a plan for dealing with it.
Now that we have observed and thought about our opponents, we are ready actually to fight in a tourney. How should we prepare for the bout?
First, find out who you are fighting. Before you fight someone, always introduce yourself. And, of course, if he fights before your fight, watch closely.
You should have prepared an opening sequence, an entry and a beginning combination of blows you wish to throw. Do this both in case you know nothing about your opponent and to have a reliable prepared entry.
If it is someone you have never fought, when the marshall says, "lay on," do nothing. See what your opponent does and react accordingly. If he rushes, check your stance etc. If he does nothing, wait a few heartbeats and then execute the standard entry. If he moves cautiously toward you, do the same.
When in range, throw some safe blows. By safe, I mean, strong blows which do not take you out of stance. The "crushing blow" is good. As he moves, see if there are any obvious openings. If not, when you wish (standing in A or standing in B), begin a series of blows.
Your combinations should go from high to low, from shieldside to swordside, from shallow (faceside?) to deep (backside?). Avoid throwing the same blow twice in a row. Never throw three of the same blow in a row.
Throw deep return blows standing in A. Throw fully extended power forward blows from B. Only throw blows that will reach places that damage the opponent if he fails to block. Only throw blows hard enough to kill the opponent if he fails to block. Don't waste any opportunities by throwing blows that won't reach a valid target or, if they did, would be discounted because of lack of strength. You may only get one good chance a fight, particularly as you start out.
Earlier I mentioned tempo. Tempo is the rhythm of your blows. Try not to fall into a predictable rhythm. I vary my attack by increasing the path my sword travels. My hand speed is almost always about the same, so I change the length between blows not their speed. I might go from shieldside helm to swordside leg (long) to swordside helm (long) to shieldside helm (short). I always go 55 mph but I take shortcuts sometimes.
From time to time, you can establish a predictable rhythm for a short engagement. When you change the rhythm, you may discover that your opponent was blocking to your rhythm. Blow, block. Blow, block. Blow, block. No blow, block. Blow. End of fight.
You will on occasion notice two fighters whose fight starts slowly and then gets more and more furious. A lot of fighters set the speed of their offense at the speed of their opponents' offense. Your offense has to beat your opponent's defense. Your defense has to defeat his offense. Do not try to fight at your opponent's tempo and speed.
The point of my whole system of fighting is to do what I want to do when I want to do it. Almost everyone is quicker than me, most are stronger than me, yet I have won many, many fights. I do this by making my opponent be where he does not want to be, by making him do what he does not want to do. I do it with movement which works from range manipulation which allows me to throw hard return blows. When I can't do those things, I lose. But using all the parts of this system at the same time means I win a lot.
What this manual presents are the tools to do it with and some elementary suggestions on how to use the tools. Everyone knows you need to practice swordwork and shieldwork. Fewer people talk about footwork. Fewer still ask questions about how to do all these things at once. Why ask why? So that you'll have a clue.
Fighters do some odd things in actual bouts. They forget to move. They
forget to throw blows. They forget to defend themselves. Everyone does
this stuff on occasion. The truth is the difficult part for everybody is
doing everything right and all at the same time.
Continue to Chapter 11