As we’re wrapping up our classes for Christmas and New Year, we are absolutely delighted that our students are asking the question;
“What can I do at home by myself?”
Well, after lockdown, we’re pretty much experts at how to broadsword at home and in this blog we’re going to give you some exercises and tips to keep your sword skills sharp over the holidays.
So without further ado, here are some good home exercises to tide you over until classes start in the New Year.
Our skillful footwork and good measure of distance are the main things that keep us safe in a fight so it’s very important not to lose these skills! Lucky for us, footwork can be done in the smallest of spaces.
We recommend keeping it simple with advances, retreats, slips and lunges with recovery both forwards and backwards.
These are your foundation in fencing and while they may be simple, they are very important and good attention should be paid to make sure you’re maintaining good technique throughout with the knees bent and pointing over the toes (ideally over the second toe for those of you who like to be specific). Begin your footwork slowly and gradually increase the speed, make sure you’re getting it right or you may do yourself a mischief!
For this to be most beneficial, for those of you who would like a challenge, our advice is to vary the length, tempo and speed the action is performed at. Variation will keep the boredom at bay but is also the best thing to mimic a partnered fight and to train the muscles to change direction and move in different ways.
To be clear, when we refer to speed, we’re talking about how fast the action is done. When we’re talking about tempo, it’s about the rhythm of the steps themselves. When we talk about altering the tempo, what we mean is to try to connect the steps in different rhythms.
For example, a medium paced advanced followed by a quick slip. Or a slow retreat and a fast lunge.
Footwork is very important and while deceptively simple, it requires a lot of practice to get it good. If you want to get better at your footwork and keep yourself injury free, make sure you have good strength and mobility through the hips so they can open enough to keep your front foot and knee pointing forwards.Clamshells, coupled with adductor stretches, are an amazing exercise for this and deceptively simple but, you have to be strict with yourself or they’re not going to do you the most good.
There are many variations but a simple clamshell is done by lying on the side with the knees bent. Head, shoulders, hips and heels should make a straight line and hip bones should sit directly on top of each other – if in doubt, find a wall to align yourself against. From here, simply lift the top knee as high as it can go without moving anything else. Be aware of your hip rolling back! It will want to help lift the knee higher without the muscle doing as much work. (The wall will help you here too!)
We also recommend adding heel raises and squats into your exercise regime. Using the full foot as you move will not only protect your knees and help your alignment but it will also help you to change directions quickly and will come in useful for more advanced footwork.
Squats are a personal favourite as they help to give more spring in the lunge, more strength to the hips and knees and a little extra conditioning will help extend your stamina so you don’t fatigue so quickly when keeping your knees bent and ready and your weight on the back leg. When you squat, make sure your alignment is correct with your knees pointing over the middle of the foot. Keep your weight distribution even and hips level. The hips should be sent back first before the knees bend, as if you’re about to sit on a chair, and your back should remain straight. If you reach a point where you lose your alignment, it is better to keep your squat level higher than this point and try to work on what is limiting your range.
Please note this is general advice for how to do these exercises. If you have a problem or are struggling with these exercises, we recommend contacting a personal trainer to give you some more specific advice!
The Cutting Pattern
Nothing trains the arm and fingers like the cutting pattern! Practicing your cuts 1 – 6 as a sequence is a fantastic solo exercise and will do a lot to keep your wrist supple and strong. We’ve written a blog on this topic already so check that out for more information: A Broadsworder’s Guide to Wrist Strength.
For those of you who need a little reminder or who would like a video to follow along to, this is the basic figure of 8 cutting pattern.
If you don’t have space to use your sword, you can sub it out for some simple household items. A rolling pin, a wooden spoon, a spatula – anything of that nature. Just make sure, even though it’s a lighter object than your sword, you’re paying good attention to your finger activation!
Cutting into guard
Alongside practicing your cutting pattern, Roworth also advises cutting and recovering into a guard. To be clear, he does advise cutting and recovering into a guard before attempting the cutting pattern but for the flow of the blog, it makes more sense to put this exercise here.
Cutting and recovering into a guard is just that, cutting and recovering the sword into a guard that will close a line eg. Perform a cut 1 and at the final point of the cut, lift the point to the ceiling and sweep it across the body into an outside guard.
If you’re thinking you could use some more practice at this, Roworth recommends focusing on cuts 1 and 2 and working on them until “you are able to perform each as one motion without any pause, and to recover either cut to the inside or outside guard as the occasion may require.”
Once you’ve got them down, move onto 3 and 4 and finally 5 and 6.
Working like this may also help you to remember the numbers of all the cuts (a hint: all the odd numbers are on the right and the evens on the left). This is probably not very useful for actually fighting but when receiving feedback or listening to instructions for a drill, it’s very useful knowledge to have!
If you’re ready to progress from that, try to recover all the cuts to as many guards as possible.
For this exercise, we feel it is important to point out two things Roworth says about cuts and guards.
The first; “Be cautious not to lift your arm towards the figure at which the cut begins, as that would leave your body unprotected.”
Be sure that no matter the guard you’re cutting from or to, you are keeping the cut preparation small. Use the fingers to pull the tip of the sword back before squeezing them to push it forwards or draw a small semi-circle with the point above your head to change the line.
A top tip for this, if you have a mirror, it will show you all the gaps in your guard and you can watch for any overly large cutting preparation. For example, if you look at your outside guard in the mirror, you should not see any of your head peeking over the top of your sword. If there’s a gap there, you are not safe! We recommend doing this with your mask and overlay on as they do add a few inches to your head …
Once you know where you should be, challenge yourself not to look! Record yourself so you can look back and see if you were successful in keeping good form and covering the line fully.
If you’re comfortable with your blade work then try to link it with your footwork. Make sure you’re being specific with it though as it’s very easy to make simple mistakes if you jump into it at speed.
Your foot should land just after or at the same time as the cut lands, don’t let it start creeping ahead. It is one of the most common mistakes we see and, especially for shorter people, it will be what gets you hit in the head! Taking the time to make sure you’re learning the timing correctly will definitely serve you well when you get back to partnered work.
The second thing we feel inclined to highlight (bet you thought we forgot) is this;
“After making the cut be careful to always recover to that guard which brings your edge opposed to your antagonist’s blade.”
To make your guard as effective as possible, make sure your edge is turned slightly outwards – imagine a diagonal cut coming towards you, your edge must also be on that angle. It’s around 45 degrees outwards both in the inside and outside. Why? Well, there are a few reasons. First it makes the strongest opposition for a parry, the true cross, and second it does not give the opponent the advantage of the use of your flat edge. These things become clearer with partner practice but it is an important detail to keep in mind for your solo work.
This exercise is similar to the previous exercise of cutting and recovering but adding a feint to the start of the exercise.
It should run as follows;
Feint, cut around, recover into guard.
What is important in a feint?
That it fools the opponent and that you remain safe during the feint.
So how do we do that?
Again, the simple things are the best!
Make sure your feint preparation looks as similar to your cut preparation as possible. In this, you kill two birds with one stone as it should help fool the opponent and in doing that, help keep you safe. If it looks like you are about to cut, they should be focusing on their defence and will not be looking to counter cut.
For those of you beginning to feint, make sure you are clearly showing the feint cut line. It’s a common mistake we see to rush the feint to get to the cut – a slow but well done feint will still work!
Again, your mirror could come in useful here! Feinting towards the mirror will show you the line your opponent will see. You can pause in the feint at this moment and study the line, make sure you’re showing the line you want but not widening your arm to create gaps that could be forced through. Explore the feint, how small can you make the movement but still clearly show the line?
To link it with the feet, the feint should be in time with the raising of the front foot or toes and the cut with the lunge. Closing distance only on the committed action will keep you safer!
As you get more confident, you will start to feint with the body as well. This is a good thing to practice but make sure your whole body is still working together, keeping the core strong even when using it in unusual angles will help maintain, what Thomas Page calls, Equilibrio.
Page describes Equilibrio as;
“A Body is said to be in Equilibrio when the Center of Gravity is in its Center of Magnitude; or when both are Perpendicular over its Base, that Body is in its firmest Situation, for then any Part of it can be mov’d round that Center without falling...
And in this Position it is that the Swordsman uses all his Limbs with the greatest Freedom and Activity, and yet with the greatest Strength and Firmness, whilst he preserves this Equilibrium, and whilst his Right Hand is varying the Center of Gravity every Moment by continually Throwing from Side to Side and guarding every part successively; the Left is its Counter Ballance, and by moving Diametrically Opposite, preserve the Center of Gravity in the Center of Magnitude, and both still perpendicular over the standing Foot.”
We have seen a few interpretations of what Page means in this excerpt but my interpretation is relatively simple; balance.
The forces the body is under and the forces the body is producing are balanced and working together to promote smooth and strong movement. Legs and the arms are balanced and connected through the core.
I say simple but it’s a very complicated anatomical thing to achieve and very difficult at that! Equilibrio will look different for everyone because every body is different so there is no one way to move to achieve this. It takes a good mastery of your body and knowledge and awareness of where you are in space, how you move through it and exactly the amount of force you need to use at any one time. In my opinion, Equilibrio is the source of gracefulness, seemingly effortless movement but also strength and power. It is what, personally, I strive for with my training, which is possibly why I speak so highly of it, but mastering equilibrio, in my opinion, is to master movement.
And that is our final exercise!
Much like the Hydra, our exercises multiply when you get into it!
Many of these exercises are simple on the surface but, done well, they make up a very good foundation of skills. There should be plenty here to tide you all over until classes begin again!
As always, quality over quantity. A bit of tiredness means you’re working hard but building it up appropriately is what will keep you healthy and improving.
We hope you have a fantastic holiday and we will see you all again in the New Year!