Striking by the numbers

One of the difficulties of training in any art is the lack of measurable feedback. Every body is different, and there is little we can do to provide objective goals. Enter the tape measure.

Readers familiar with my Max Your Lunge approach to developing a good rapier lunge will see where this is going…

In the intermediate longsword class last night we had a small turn-out, which lent itself to some serious measuring. We  started by measuring our maximum possible reach, from the tip of the sword to the edge of the back foot.

measuring the swordsman

We then struck at the pell, and measured the linear distance on the floor between the back foot and the base of the pell. This gave us a ratio between actual comfortable striking range and our natural reach. We marked position of the base of the pell on the floor, to provide a quick reference point.

reaching the pell

reaching the pell

To eliminate the effect of blade length on the proportions, we subtracted the length of the blade (crossguard to point) from both figures. The range spread was huge- including the blade, our tallest measured 342cm, our shortest 288. But the proportions were strikingly consistent.

I then had the class work for 10 minutes on range, doing whatever exercises they thought might help (this is not a basic class). Then back to the pell, where the average improvement was about 10%! Clearly, these students did not warm up properly before class.

This gave us a sense of their maximum reach. But what proportion of that would we actually use? So next up we hit the tyres, and when that was working well I went round and measured their reach. An average reduction of 42%. To hit hard we want to get closer.

But what about the threat? So next they did the same blow (mandritto fendente) against a partner who would counterattack (step 2 of the stretto form of First drill). And out came the tape again. Now they increased their range from 58% of maximum to 79% of maximum.

So, the correct measure to strike from depends on what you want the strike to do, and the tactical circumstances in which it is to be done. There is value in being able to strike comfortably to the maximum reach of your skeleton, but more value in always being in the right place to strike according to tactical circumstances.

For those of a mathematical bent, here’s the spreadsheet. I am no expert at either spreadsheets or maths, so feel free to spot errors and let me know!

the data

The initial lessons from this are:

  • Targeted warm-up increased range by about 10%
  • Warm range minus blade length was between 48% and 66% of the foot to fingertip length
  • You should be able to reach about 60% of your foot to fingertip length, plus blade length.
  • Your maximum power range is proportionally about half of your warm maximum reach. This was the most variable measurement.
  • When striking against a resisting opponent you will tend to compromise power and reach, using about 80% of your warm maximum range.

So, things to check and work systematically towards are:

  • Being able to comfortably reach to about 60% of your foot to fingertip length
  • Reducing the difference between warm and cold: keeping your body such that warming up becomes unnecessary to strike at your maximum range.
  • Extending the range at which you can strike with power, from wherever it is towards your maximum warm reach. Leverage ensures you’ll never get there, so it’s a lifetime goal.
  • Understand the relationship between measure and tactical circumstances: more range = less power but more time to react to the opponent’s response. Your ideal striking range will depend among other things on what you expect your opponent to do. The perfect starting point for the attacker in the basic form of First drill is about 70% of maximum range, but that should be increased to about 80% if you expect a counterattack. Good luck making that kind of calculation on the fly!

I don’t mean to suggest that we should reduce the Art of Arms to a set of statistics. But this kind of practice can provide a measurable, objective, set of targets to aim towards, in certain specific aspects of your skill at arms. So go forth and measure!