Casual Long Sword & HEMA Training Insights

Friday nights, we run a relaxed, open-ended training session to let people kick back and unwind from the week in a constructive, sword-related way. No structure, no scheduled drills. People who show up choose to focus on something they noticed or wanted to refine from the past week of training, or ask for drills to help them with their current practice topics.

(The short one-on-one pointers or lessons are good material for writing down in your personal Google document training journals. If you don’t have one yet, let me know and I’ll create a doc on the Sword to Sword Google Drive and share it with you.)

After some rounds of sparring with everyone who showed up, Jessica and I stepped down to partial gear (mask, gauntlets, knees/elbows). We spent about 2 hours on slow sparring and fitness conditioning. The crowning moment came in an exchange where we’d entered a bind briefly, I went to abnehmen, she relaxed out of the re-bind, I wound into ochs reflexively to minutely nachreisen into her movement using fühlen, and she naturally rocked flawlessly into a stürzhau from auswinden. Pinned me like she was a professional entomologist.

A couple of other HEMA posts online have kicked around the idea of slow training. What is it? To me, you still engage and fire your core muscles in order to launch your actions (strikes, transitions, parries, whatever). You use all the muscles — there are no muscles that you don’t fire, that you normally would have. However, you only fire them enough to make them twitch and then you immediately let off the gas, so you’re not powering through even a quarter of the normal full range of motion for any action. This means letting the initial blip of power carry through with very light residual momentum. The end result is usually about 20-30% of full fighting speed with even less power, so that the swords only accidentally fall onto your partner or bop them very lightly. Thrusts are placed in the intended line, with a slight lean in or weight drop, but miniscule.

A lot of my kung fu partner drills and practice were at this level. So why use it? What are the benefits and trade-offs?

+ Much longer endurance. Go for 5-10 minutes straight easily, continuous action.
+ Relaxation makes for smoother actions, leading to faster precise actions later in higher stress fighting/sparring.
+ Promotes learning to use the core for initial impetus of each action, building good overall body awareness, coordination, properly synchronized muscle recruitment, kinesthesia, proprioception.
+ Gives more fractions of a second to identify developing actions and process/explore different skills and action responses that, at full speed, you have not yet fully internalized.
+ Easier to identify actions, so that in case of someone screwing up, you can remember the exchange in greater detail and recreate it repeatedly as a momentary drill for a set of reps (3-10 times).

– Pace is completely unrealistic. Just as 100% full contact full speed full balls to walls does very little to enable learning new skills (esp. complex ones). Both extremes (full speed vs slow speed) must be used together in a cross-training format.
– Related, extra time can lead to distortions of actions and choices b/c there’s simply more time to move the sword into places you might not be able to in half the time. This can be mitigated by stressing that both people initially twitch their core muscles but then rely only on the weak momentum to carry through an action. Simulates inability to easily redirect many actions in mid-motion at higher speeds and body tension.
– Easy to lose focus. B/c of lack of immediate stress, partners can lose interest and focus. Important to train with deliberate intention. Always be focusing on something, some part of your body mechanics. The format is slower-moving, so make sure you use the time to make every rep and every body mechanic of every rep count.