Step and thrust vs. thrust and step

Discussion in 'Weapons' started by SWC Sifu Ben, May 11, 2017.

  1. SWC Sifu Ben

    SWC Sifu Ben I am the law

    I was having an interesting cross training session with my step brother who does olympic fencing at university and I came upon a significant difficulty in countering a habit I'd learned across a multitude of styles; stepping first and thrusting second. He kept trying to correct it and it was most difficult for me to counter. Every weapon style I've done teaches either coordinated movement of the feet and hands or a slight lead by the feet in order to move the body mass first. Empty hand is slightly different as you're not thrusting at an opponent using a weapon but this style of movement makes sense to me as you're moving the largest mass first, are able to close and correct the angle and distance of hits while in motion, and especially with large/heavy weapons use your body to drive the weapon's momentum and then thrust it with the arm(s).

    So much of weapons is transferrable and a lot of other training plugged right in to fencing, especially the sue mai gwan techniques from wing chun. The fact that this one thing is inverse really makes me question. Can anyone explain why olympic fencing would teach the thrust mechanics in reverse to all the other weapon systems I've trained in?
  2. aikiMac

    aikiMac aikido + boxing = very good Moderator Supporter

    Perhaps ... because in Olympic fencing it's not about a blow that would kill, but just touch? The electronic scoring things score touches regardless of how bad it would have been in a real life fight. And a thrust first is faster than a step first. :dunno:
  3. Hannibal

    Hannibal Cry HAVOC and let slip the Dogs of War!!! Supporter

    Also because it's a light, easily movable weapon and the angle can be switched "in flight"

    Significantly Bruce Lee taught hand then foot with his straight lead
  4. Aegis

    Aegis River Guardian Admin Supporter

    Going back to the original sources of Western swordsmanship, most of the fencing masters also taught to lead with the blade. This makes a lot of sense when considered in the context of an engagement, as you generally start a lunge or thrust outside range, but the step in puts you at the right distance. That step will also put you in a position where the opponent can hit you, so it's vital to lead with the blade to force the opponent to think about parrying rather than simply stop-thrusting an open target.

    That said, most of the same masters also suggest that, while the blade should lead, the stepping cut or thrust should take place at the moment the foot lands, i.e. the point of maximum weight shift.

    It's worth remembering that these weapons we inevitably very sharp, therefore safe entry to deliver a strike was far more important to a fighter than delivering a heavy blow. This is especially true for weapons designed specifically for the thrust, e.g. smallsword or rapier, where even a small amount of forwards force will be enough to draw blood or kill.
  5. Tom bayley

    Tom bayley Valued Member

    What type of sword were you using? The foil and epee fight with the point. when you fight with the point you dont want to engage with the other guys blade. where as many edge weapon techniques actively push the opponents sword out of the way first, then strike second.
  6. ned

    ned Valued Member

    In agreement with Aegis. Most of the time with (Chen) taiji, the sword clears the way first and the foot follows, though often it might look simultaneous.
  7. Botta Dritta

    Botta Dritta Valued Member

    Strictly speaking about Olympic fencing (foil,epee) and HEMA smallsword, and possibly other linear forms of weapon footwork, its done for three reasons off the top of my head (I'm talking about stepping here, Lunging is whole different kettle of fish...)

    1) The movement of the hand is smaller and more difficult (generally) to perceive than the forward movement of the body, which for fencers is a big telegraph and a signal to attack on preparation.

    2) The extension of the weapon can be a number of things: a preparation, a feint, a forward parry, an attempt at engagement an attack on the blade etc etc. Generally if you extend you hand first you allow yourself some tactical flexibility to change your mind if in a split second you see something you don't like.

    3) A step forward or advance is seen by fencers Tactically as a 'preparation' as well as just footwork. They key in on the dynamic of the forward movement of the body as taking that the opponent is moving into range and therefore their target area is closer to striking distance. If an opponent extends their arm first it becomes a grey area 'is my opponent going to attack, or are they up to something else?'.

    This varies somewhat between foil and epee. Epeeist's are loathe to advance unnecessarily as the forearm (and the thigh) is part of the advanced target area and prefer to displace the blade before stepping or lunging into distance. Foillist's are a bit freer with the footwork as only the torso and some of the bib is the target area. That's why foillist's tend to take fuller step in and out of distance in a crouched lower en-guard stance while eppeist's tend to take smaller measured steps or bounce on their toes in a more upright stance.

    The better the fencer though the extension from the elbow happens only fractionally before the advance of the step to be almost indistinguishable: the step is taken but lands on the heel, and you only commit to putting your toes down and transferring the weight forward when you think nothing is coming your way and this must be done/felt in a split second. If you feel a counter attack is coming your way you always have the option of pushing off your heel and quickly retreating in the other direction.

    As regarding HEMA smallsword/ duelling sword you reach out with the blade first because you want to make damn sure you displace a sharp point before stepping or lunging into an attack, because lunging are stepping on to a sharp point without controlling the opponents blade is generally a very bad idea. To some extent (though not 'always' this is true of epee fencing, but not foil because of the 'Right of Way' rules - more on this later)

    'Hand before Foot' Aldo Nadi's dictum, famously repeated by Bruce Lee, is however really just a rule of thumb. The Germans dined out victories in the early 1980's throwing out the classical manual and foxing the rest of the fencing world by advancing first and then extending the weapon in a particular fashion and perfecting a 'Feint in Time' approach that made them tricky adversaries for a while before other fencers figured out what to do against them.

    None of the above transfers to heavier swords where the inertia of the blade makes stepping first viable, or unarmed striking.

    When I started boxing learning boxing footwork was no great mystery and contrary to internet myth fencers are quite good at side-stepping or rounding footwork. What I found very tricky was the feel of the footwork. In boxing you tend to feel and pinch the canvas in a particular way that is quiet alien for a fencer, and yes you can step without extending the arm for tactical reasons which took a great deal getting used to, keeping you hand up by your cheek initially and stepping without being able to use a weapon as a distance 'yard stick' was initially quite disconcerting.

    Important to the sport is also the much maligned 'Right of Way' rule convention in the foil and Sabre disciplines (not Epee) which states that he who extends first has right of way, and has priority, unless the opponent parries or negates the attack and then the initiative passes to who extends their arm next.

    This rule was created to penalize suicidal attacks of fencers who is continually counter attack into someone who is attackingthem first because, as in a real duel (see HEMA smallsword above) its generally a bad idea. Is it arbitrary and sometimes unrealistic? Yes. Do fencers push the ruleset right up to the grey area? Damn straight. But its better than nothing, and certainly better than two people continually counterattacking.

    Lastly because many fencers, especially children start with the foil discipline this mantra 'hand before foot' is both enforced in teaching and in the sports ruleset, and it gets ingrained to the point fencers believe this should be true of other systems when is patently not.

    But again. Its a rule of thumb applied to specific contexts.

    Hope this helps
    Last edited: May 11, 2017
  8. SWC Sifu Ben

    SWC Sifu Ben I am the law

    Most educational, thank you very much :)
  9. Langenschwert

    Langenschwert Molon Labe

    In George Silver's "Brief Instructions on my Paradoxes of Defence", he refers to leading with the hand as True Time. This means that an attack will start with the hands, followed by the body, and then by the foot or feet. This allows the safest form of attack for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it creates a threat before bringing the body into danger, and secondly delays the opponent's reaction time, since our threat response is triggered by the opponent getting bigger in our field of vision.

    Here's a handy but lighthearted video on the subject:
  10. Botta Dritta

    Botta Dritta Valued Member

    Nice Vid Langenschwert. I reminded me of the few times I tried sword and buckler.

    For a sport fencer Longsword/federschwert I found was not to bad a transition as long as you learnt the guards, kept it to single time and not try to do anything stupid/complicated.
    But sword and buckler? No idea what I was doing! Like no clue. zilch, even after I read into I33. Its not like smallsword/rapier and dagger. The duel wielding dynamic is totally different as is the footwork and the timing in bringing the rear arm to the fore.

    My favorite Historical Smallsword Source Donald McBane (The experts swordsman's companion 1728) has this to say about the targe or scottish shield:

    " I Reckon a Man that does not understand the Target, better to want it, than to have it, it would have been better for him to have a cane or scabbard in his left hand, to parie a smallsword, than a target to blind him"

    I Know that the target is nothing like a buckler, but the sentiment certainly felt true as I got repeatedly whacked! Like kickboxing it was one of those few times that I didnt get it.
  11. Hannibal

    Hannibal Cry HAVOC and let slip the Dogs of War!!! Supporter

    I disagree with this sir and challenge you to a public debate!!

    Possibly at a Fitness Expo at a location convenient to us.....Sunday is good for me.....about 13:00hrs.....
  12. Langenschwert

    Langenschwert Molon Labe

    I'll be there.
  13. Botta Dritta

    Botta Dritta Valued Member

    Just as an interesting diversion i mentioned how epeeist tend to bounce rather than step unlike in foil fencing where you normally step, the following MMA article discusses the whole issue of bouncing vs stepping footwork via discussing some of the benefits of karate. Personally i prefer stepping, but if you are losing bouncing can disguise your intention when it comes to distance manipulation.
  14. pgsmith

    pgsmith Valued dismemberer

    I would like to point out that this is true of the Japanese sword arts with which I am familiar. All of them advocate moving the blade before the feet. The timing varies slightly between some of the schools, but none of them lead with the feet.
  15. Langenschwert

    Langenschwert Molon Labe

    There are certainly JSA which use false time as well. To my current thinking, it's a tradeoff: power vs. safety.

    You can certainly land hits safety using false time, even if true time would have been better. People do it in tournament regularly. Some counters work better in false time, such as the krumphau to the hands vs an incoming strike, since there's no blade contact to keep you safe... you have to move and then cut. I can go back over my footage and see me landing some hits in false time, no matter how much I try to use true times. False time still creeps in once in a while.

    True Time is hard to do under pressure. Our monkey brains don't seem to like it. It's something I strive for in my HEMA practice. As long as my percentage keeps increasing, I'm happy.

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