I, the tiger, am so swift to run and to wheel
That even the bolt from the sky cannot overtake me.
~Fiore de’i Liberi~
Whether you’re darting out and in for a quick nachreisen, defending against an attack, or following on with one of your own, the ability to quickly adjust your body position and facing is critical. After a successful attack, you must be able to withdraw successfully. A proper parry deserves a prompt riposte. Everyone understands and recognizes that being faster is an advantage, but how do you achieve it? It’s a little more complex than “just get out of the way.” To accelerate your progress you have to understand what actually makes someone good at “getting out of the way.”
Change of Direction
Change of direction, as defined by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) comprises “The skills and abilities needed to explosively change movement direction, velocities, or mode.” For us, it’s the ability to advance, withdraw, rotate into cuts or defenses, and generally be faster on our feet.
You’ve heard it. You’ve probably heard it a dozen times or more. The scoffs and side-eyed gazes that come when someone only goes down halfway are common in a gym. You HAVE to squat to parallel EVERY TIME.
That’s not true, especially for most weapons-based HEMA. Let me explain.
When developing your training plan, one of the keys is specificity. That’s how close the exercise you’re doing is to the activity you’re training for. The closer or more specific your exercise is, the more likely it will actually help your combat performance.
So how low do you get when you’re fighting? Most fighters I’ve seen rarely even get as low as a half-squat, for these people a full squat isn’t specific to their style. Pay attention to how you fight, it tells you how to train.
I know. I can see you fuming through the screen.
Of course I’m not suggesting you never squat to parallel. Definitely do it, and often. Full depth squats are un-paralleled (pun intended) when it comes to giving you the strength foundation you need to fight well. They’ll help you reach your training and health goals faster than almost any other exercise. Plus they make your butt look good in fencing pants.
Those things are not what you’re training for in the weeks before a big competition though. In those 2-4 weeks you should be training to be as good at fencing as you can be. Keep your workouts highly intense, highly specific, and low volume during this pre-competition time frame. This is where half-squats shine.
BE WARNED! You’ll undoubtedly get some odd looks if you’re training at your local gym. That’s because those poor, ignorant souls are so confused why you’re doing the ONE THING everyone knows not to do. Personally, I think curling in the squat rack is a larger sin. If they end up bothering you at all, just go up and tell them that your combat performance coach told you to.