Distance

Discussion of Chinese historical swordsmanship from all styles.

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J HepworthYoung
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Re: Distance

Post by J HepworthYoung » Wed Jul 29, 2009 9:36 am

Yesterday I figured out that i agree with you on many aspects.

In regard to theory, if a theory of distance judgment takes into consideration that skill can be a major variable then it has the potential to account for that.

I have what is called aspergers syndrome, it sounds pretty funny to say out-loud. It was named after a guy. It has a lot to do with my strange personality. It is a form of high functioning autism, so on some levels I have very little social intelligence, while I have a lot of intelligence in some other areas. So please forgive my words if they are awkward.

While I have got my feeling for distance fairly well developed for pushhands, I am still cultivating a feeling for sword related distances. I have done a lot of push hands lately, but have neglected sword drills lately.

In taijiquan there is this adage about movement, I think it applies here.
When your opponent moves forward you make them feel as if you are always just out of reach, and when they move backward you make them feel as if they cannot escape. The stick/follow/listen energies and the footwork play a major role in cultivating this feeling, for me it relates to distance in a strong way.

I guess I can also say that in theory a distance judgment based on physical measures can be a fine basis as long as it is understood that there are more variables in play. So then the theory could include the concept that if someone has reached a very high rate of speed in their skill, then it is known another major variable has changed.

A lot of theory does get passed down with method, but it is rarely coherent or codified in the sense that it covers all details involved. Still lots of application theory can be found in taiji, just here and there as little transmissions that serve as guides to practice.

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Re: Distance

Post by Dan Pasek » Wed Jul 29, 2009 11:41 am

Michael,

I’m back. I’m glad that you are enjoying our ‘conversation’ since I am as well. I think that Chinese sword practitioners may be able to learn things from those studying historic Western swordsmanship. I am also glad to have other practitioners of Chinese sword contributing. I’ll need a little time to catch up on what has been said and to figure out what to reply to. For now I will offer these comments:

I am not at all surprised to hear of more similarities between Western and Eastern styles of swordsmanship when trying to discuss realistic historic fighting as opposed to the impressions given from sport. Personally, I do not know much about Western sword arts, and the inaccurate impressions that I have are primarily from sport versions. For example, the fights in a lane in Western sport swordsmanship likely changed the art significantly, as likely did the use of weapons designed specifically for the sports versions of the art. This is no different from the criticism ‘wushu’ often gets from ‘traditionalists’ in Chinese martial arts. But that has probably been discussed elsewhere, and I would prefer keeping this discussion closer to the ‘traditional’ swordsmanship being discussed on this thread. It is also a concern when discussing safety equipment for use in Chinese arts, like the commonly used lightweight padded ‘sword-like objects’ many modern schools use and that can lead to inaccurate methods. But this has also been discussed elsewhere and I would prefer not sidetracking this thread on discussing the subject.

It is sometimes said that different styles of martial arts seem vastly different at early stages of practice, but as one progresses in the arts they have greater similarities; like styles seeming far apart when ‘at the base of a mountain’ but becoming closer as they ‘ascend the mountain to the summit.’ At the bottom, the perspectives seem vastly different, but those at or near the summit will have fairly similar views. While in some aspects this may be accurate, in other ways this sentiment may be artificial and somewhat inaccurate.

In the Chinese martial arts, some say that the ‘external’ styles begin with training the speed and strength aspects suitable to young practitioners, but that those who have seen a reduction in their strength and speed due to aging begin to learn efficiency, awareness, and other aspects of the ‘internal’ styles in order to stay competitive with their younger practitioners. Conversely, the ‘internal’ styles begin with emphasizing awareness, efficiency, ‘trained’ skills, etc. and learn how to fight without relying on typical strength and/or speed. ‘Internal’ power develops later (see posts by J HepworthYoung), without compromising the aspects emphasized in early training.

I suspect that sword training in Taijiquan (an ‘internal’ style) probably reflects this approach. I’m leading up to something specific regarding distance, so please stay with me while I set up the background for what I wish to convey.

In both MMA and Chinese Lei Tai competition fighting, it is fairly common to see competitors using primarily striking and grappling/throwing (transitioning to ground fighting in MMA), and there are many styles of fighting around the world that emphasize one or the other of these skills. In Western fighting styles, these would perhaps be best illustrated by boxing and wrestling. Looking at Western sword arts and from what you have posted, I get the impression that the major concern is with the ‘striking’ range (the grappling range generally being too close to effectively use swords). Without weapons, fighters typically defend this range by moving out of range, blocking, covering (not appropriate when using swords unless one adds a shield), &/or slipping the attack. In MMA fights one typically sees a progression from strikes to shooting and takedowns which end in ground fighting.

But Taijiquan weaponless fighting focuses on a middle range not typically emphasized in other systems, and rarely seen in MMA or Lei Tai fights. I suspect that swordsmanship may also have this emphasis, resulting in our practice at a closer range than you describe for Western swordsmanship. This middle range is what push-hands trains. While striking and grappling are important aspects of fighting, and should not be ignored by Taijiquan practitioners, our emphasis is initially focused on the middle range. To land a strike, an opponent would need to cross through this middle range. Similarly, grappling would need to get inside this middle range to be effectively employed. Taijiquan principles including ‘stick-adhere-connect-follow’ and ‘don’t resist and don’t let go’ address fighting in this middle range and keeping the fight in this middle range. Once an attacker tries to strike, it is to our advantage to trap them in this middle range and not allow them to move away (disengage) after the strike attempt, nor to close within grappling range (ideally they should feel uncomfortable either grappling or striking if we successfully control them in this middle range). Since I have not studied other styles of Chinese swordsmanship, I cannot be certain about them, but it seems likely that the approach used to train Taijiquan may also present differences in fighting range when using swords.

Detailing specifics of fighting in the middle range in Taijiquan (weaponless or with jian or dao) would probably be too involved to enable posting on a forum, and it is easier to demonstrate so that it can be felt rather than trying to understand through words, especially for someone not already familiar with this art. I am also much more advanced in my weaponless skills than when using swords. I get about 6 hours of weaponless interactive work per week (between training Taijiquan and ILiqChuan) but none for sword at present. Also, sword sparring is much more difficult to do, in effect, adding an additional joint (the wrist that connects the additional section when holding a sword).

Briefly, we gradually learn control with less physical strength, and expand our control from the point of contact to the remainder of the opponent’s body (e.g. if contact is at the wrist, we also want to use our interactive energies to control the elbow, shoulder, torso, and eventually all the way down to the opponent’s feet). While I can probably demonstrate weaponless control in this manner (at least to some degree), I am still primarily at the level of only trying to control the point of contact (and to a degree, the opponent’s arm) when using a weapon. Sparring with swords also eliminates the ‘cushion’ that weaponless sparring affords, e.g. a punch or kick could land and the impact be somewhat dissipated such that no injury would result, but a sharp weapon is capable of causing significant damage even with a light touch. Despite the differences in skill level needed between fighting without weapons and using swords, I think that the underlying principles and strategies are probably the same.

Dan

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Re: Distance

Post by Michael » Thu Jul 30, 2009 2:59 pm

Dan Pasek wrote: But Taijiquan weaponless fighting focuses on a middle range not typically emphasized in other systems, and rarely seen in MMA or Lei Tai fights. I suspect that swordsmanship may also have this emphasis, resulting in our practice at a closer range than you describe for Western swordsmanship. This middle range is what push-hands trains. While striking and grappling are important aspects of fighting, and should not be ignored by Taijiquan practitioners, our emphasis is initially focused on the middle range. To land a strike, an opponent would need to cross through this middle range. Similarly, grappling would need to get inside this middle range to be effectively employed.
Is this middle range at a distance where both people are still able to strike each other, or do you mean closer than that? Specifically I mean in swordsmanship, because it's much easier to get too close to strike with a sword than it is to get too close to strike with an empty hand.

Also, it's important to remember that while you can choose to fight at any distance that you like, you still have to get there. If this middle range is within the duifang's striking distance, this could be quite difficult.
Dan Pasek wrote: Sparring with swords also eliminates the ‘cushion’ that weaponless sparring affords, e.g. a punch or kick could land and the impact be somewhat dissipated such that no injury would result, but a sharp weapon is capable of causing significant damage even with a light touch.
Yeah, this is an important difference. Some unarmed martial arts will take a high risk, high reward mentality, and others might advocate taking one blow in order to land a more damaging one on the opponent. When fighting with weapons, ensuring your own safety is extremely important. I think we should all keep this in mind when learning a weapon art that is based on an unarmed system.

The problem with being overly cautious is that if you always wait-and-see and avoid commitment, you lose the initiative and thus endanger yourself even more.
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Re: Distance

Post by Dan Pasek » Fri Jul 31, 2009 11:06 am

Michael wrote:Is this middle range at a distance where both people are still able to strike each other, or do you mean closer than that? Specifically I mean in swordsmanship, because it's much easier to get too close to strike with a sword than it is to get too close to strike with an empty hand.
Michael,

For weaponless Taijiquan I would say that this ‘middle’ range is where you can strike from contact (or initiate throws from that same distance), with the distance typically being where the arms contact from about the wrists to the elbows when the arms are extended comfortably. With a weapon this range would be extended by the distance added by the particular weapon being used (longer for spear or staff than for jian or dao), and grappling would then likely be out of range.


Is the sparring posted by jaime_g fairly representative of the Western swordsmanship that you are referring to? If so, then I do not see that much difference as the majority of the interactions are ‘in measure’ or the ‘middle range’ that I am referring to. Occasionally there is ‘narrow-measure’ which would be close enough for pommel strikes, punches & kicks, or even grappling, and occasionally they disengage and break the contact between weapons (going ‘out-of-measure’).

Perhaps what seems different is the way that an out-of-contact opponent is addressed, perhaps including the on-guard attitude?

It would certainly be appropriate to place emphasis on aspects concerning gaining an initial advantage, and this can probably vary by cultural context. I can only speculate here since I am lacking in-depth understanding of the cultures surrounding the development of various sword traditions in different countries. One example, however, is the Japanese training in the art of drawing the sword. Being able to draw the sword and cut the opponent in one motion would probably clearly give the initial advantage to whoever is superior at this art, and could end a fight before the opponent even has a chance to engage. Likewise, Western swordsmanship skills concerned with the change from ‘out-of-measure’ to ‘in-measure’ may be addressing the ‘initial advantage’ concept.

So, what cultural differences may contribute to apparent differences here? With Japanese swordsmanship the importance of ‘the art of the draw’ may my heightened by the cultural practice of sitting on the floor (or on low cushions) where initial mobility may be restricted relative to fights starting from a standing posture. It is less clear what may contribute to differences between Chinese and Western swordsmanship.

One difference may be that the Chinese style that I study maintains the ‘connection’ with an opponent even when beyond contact range. Moving in or out of contact is treated the same as if the fighters were still in contact, and the change from ‘out-of-measure’ would be treated the same as in ‘wide-measure’ (or in ‘narrow-measure’). Do Western styles of swordsmanship have special skills for the transition from ‘wide-measure’ to ‘narrow-measure’ analogous to what you seem to indicate for the transition from ‘out-of-measure’ to ‘in-measure’?

Perhaps it is simply a matter of Western traditions seeing distinct enough differences in each range to justify separate categorization and study, whereas Chinese traditions may treat distances more like a continuum.

I don’t know. What do you and other posters think?

Dan

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Re: Distance

Post by Michael » Fri Jul 31, 2009 3:05 pm

Dan Pasek wrote: With a weapon this range would be extended by the distance added by the particular weapon being used (longer for spear or staff than for jian or dao), and grappling would then likely be out of range.
It sounds like this distance would allow you to strike the opponent without stepping, although I could be wrong. That would mean that it is within narrow measure in European terms. This would be very close for European swordsmanship, but as long as you are controlling the opponent's weapon - and it sounds like you probably are, if you're maintaining contact like the push hands exercise - then it does not run counter to Western principles. But from my experience I would guess that a fight at this distance would not last very long.
Dan Pasek wrote: Is the sparring posted by jaime_g fairly representative of the Western swordsmanship that you are referring to? If so, then I do not see that much difference as the majority of the interactions are ‘in measure’ or the ‘middle range’ that I am referring to. Occasionally there is ‘narrow-measure’ which would be close enough for pommel strikes, punches & kicks, or even grappling, and occasionally they disengage and break the contact between weapons (going ‘out-of-measure’).
They're using longswords, which I don't have much experience with, but I wouldn't consider that video to be representative. They're fighting pretty close - sometimes at narrow measure, other times just outside of narrow measure but not quite at wide measure. And any time you can use a pommel strike or a punch against the opponent's body, you are significantly closer than narrow measure, and are probably about to grapple(Western swordsmanship tends not to use unarmed strikes unless while grappling).

Take a look at this video of Puck Curtis demonstrating Spanish rapier counters to the Italian school: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLEvUr9hVU4. In the first few seconds of the video, Puck(the one on the right) instructs his opponent to lunge at him. The guy on the left steps into wide measure, then lunges a couple of times. Watch his feet: when he can lunge and hit his opponent without any additional steps, then he is at wide measure. So here is a controlled drill where you can see the difference between being out of measure and being in wide measure.

A note of warning: Judge their distance by their feet, not by their swords. One of them has his sword fully extended, while the "Italians" in the video tend to have bent arms when they're not attacking.

The first few seconds are all you need, but it's an interesting and accessible video nonetheless, especially if you're interested in contrasting Spanish and Italian rapier. Note that the instructor, demonstrating the Spanish system, stays upright with his arm extended, while the Italians take very different guards. I believe this video was taken at an SCA event, hence the bizarre clothing.

Dan Pasek wrote:It would certainly be appropriate to place emphasis on aspects concerning gaining an initial advantage, and this can probably vary by cultural context. I can only speculate here since I am lacking in-depth understanding of the cultures surrounding the development of various sword traditions in different countries. One example, however, is the Japanese training in the art of drawing the sword. Being able to draw the sword and cut the opponent in one motion would probably clearly give the initial advantage to whoever is superior at this art, and could end a fight before the opponent even has a chance to engage. Likewise, Western swordsmanship skills concerned with the change from ‘out-of-measure’ to ‘in-measure’ may be addressing the ‘initial advantage’ concept.
I believe that it's at least in part due to following the principle of tempo to its logical conclusion. Every movement requires time to execute it, and at the high levels, you have to assume that an opponent will take advantage of every vulnerability, and should be able to do so yourself. The entrance into wide measure becomes an issue because it is a vulnerability, and one that can be relied upon to present itself in almost every encounter.
Dan Pasek wrote: One difference may be that the Chinese style that I study maintains the ‘connection’ with an opponent even when beyond contact range. Moving in or out of contact is treated the same as if the fighters were still in contact, and the change from ‘out-of-measure’ would be treated the same as in ‘wide-measure’ (or in ‘narrow-measure’). Do Western styles of swordsmanship have special skills for the transition from ‘wide-measure’ to ‘narrow-measure’ analogous to what you seem to indicate for the transition from ‘out-of-measure’ to ‘in-measure’?
To address your first point, about maintaining the connection: You don't necessarily need contact to establish a superior position, and such a position is in fact vital to avoid that pesky little problem of entering into measure. I don't think this runs contrary to the principle you mentioned, although we do make distinctions between engagements through blade contact versus engagements through absence of blade contact.

As for the transition between wide measure and narrow measure, that tends to be a major focal point of training. You can be at wide measure without taking any sort of protective measures, though inadvisable, and have a chance at stopping an attack if you're quick enough. That is to say, you have, by definition, a single tempo to get your act together and put up a defense. But of course, the opponent would likely continue the attack, at which point you would find yourself "behind the tempo" and end up trying to maintain a chain of reactions when the opponent has the initiative.

On the other hand, you cannot afford to be lax in narrow measure. At this distance, you can't depend on your reaction time to save you. You must ensure your own safety BEFORE entering into narrow measure, and that's what the transition is all about. In Western European swordsmanship, it is often the case that you enter into narrow measure at the same time that you strike your opponent. Remember this is the distance at which you don't have to move your feet to strike, so an attack begun with a step at wide measure should strike as soon as you enter narrow measure.

So in an ideal world, all the preparatory business of setting up an attack happens at wide measure(or further away), and then the final step takes you into narrow measure for the strike. Go back to that video I linked to above. The Italian on the left doesn't reach narrow measure until his front foot lands in the lunge, which is the same time that his point lands on the Spaniard's chest. We don't hang around in narrow measure. If someone launches an attack and nobody gets hit, most people try to get the hell out of there, like two opposing magnets.

So every time we take a step, whether it is from out of measure into wide measure, or from wide measure to narrow measure, or from narrow measure to "oh @#$!" measure, it requires the expenditure of time and therefore requires ensuring your own safety. The closer that you get, the less leeway you'll have with this. The kinds of protection available will differ at each distance, but you could very well look at them all as an expression of the same principles.
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Re: Distance

Post by jaime_g » Sun Aug 02, 2009 4:59 am

Apologies again for my english...
s the sparring posted by jaime_g fairly representative of the Western swordsmanship that you are referring to
Not really.This is an experiment.We use longsword aplying spanish fencing principles (blade control,sensitivity,etc).Usually longsword swordmanship looks like kenjutsu
One difference may be that the Chinese style that I study maintains the ‘connection’ with an opponent even when beyond contact range. Moving in or out of contact is treated the same as if the fighters were still in contact, and the change from ‘out-of-measure’ would be treated the same as in ‘wide-measure’ (or in ‘narrow-measure’).
Spanish fencing use this concept too.We call it oposición & contraoposición, igualdad & desigualdad ( ¿ opposition & comparison,equality & inequality ? )
Do Western styles of swordsmanship have special skills for the transition from ‘wide-measure’ to ‘narrow-measure’ analogous to what you seem to indicate for the transition from ‘out-of-measure’ to ‘in-measure’?
We use adherence as a shield for decrease distance.If we are out of measura and sticking is not possible, we put up diagonal positions of the blade, for same reason
Take a look at this video of Puck Curtis demonstrating Spanish rapier counters to the Italian school:
I like the video. We have a different interpretation of spanish rapier, but i like his work

We use rapier like that:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjmMjJp1LSg

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Re: Distance

Post by Dan Pasek » Wed Aug 05, 2009 11:35 am

Michael,

I don’t know. It seems that the concepts that I point to that I thought may help explain differences in distances have equivalent concepts in both Chinese and European swordsmanship. Thus, they do not seem to address the apparent difference in starting distance (if there even is a difference – see below).

The Chinese martial arts have many different styles, and many of the ‘folk’ styles are associated with a small group like a family or town. The large number of styles and the lack of a more formal unifying tradition may in part explain what appears to be a more informal approach of Chinese swordsmanship in contrast to the systemization that apparently evolved in the European styles which had national schools. I do not know of any equivalence to ‘tempo’ or ‘measure’ defined in Chinese swordsmanship, but that does not mean that these aspects of fighting do not play a part in the styles. It just may be that they are less formally addressed within the broader categories of ‘distance’ and ‘timing’.

I really do not know, and I am just throwing out possible ideas to contemplate.

At the beginning of the video that you posted a link to, their starting position is slightly beyond where the tips of the swords could touch, and after the initial ‘shuffle-step’ forward (shuffle-step being advancing with the back leg and the front leg without switching which leg is forward) they are about at the distance where the distal third of the blades could contact. This is the initial range that I am used to. So, if I understand your ranges correctly in comparison to what is shown on that clip, then I suppose that I would be ‘starting’ slightly inside the border between ‘out-of-measure’ and ‘wide-measure’. It seemed like the individual on the left wanted to start closer and had to be directed to back up more prior to beginning his advancing movements. Where he wanted to start prior to being moved back is about the distance that I am used to for Chinese sword sparring.

Farther distances would occur when perceiving oneself to be in trouble and simply wanting to disengage by getting beyond range of the opponent’s weapon (or for saluting prior to engaging, etc.).

It seems like the distance they start at in the video would be difficult to attack from without telegraphing the intent. Since the video shows instruction rather than free sparring I may be getting the wrong impression, but it seems like the defender does not really feel the need to respond until the attacker initiates a technique from closer in than that position after the first shuffle step. It seems like ‘out-of-measure’ is essentially a ‘safe’ distance where one needs to be ready but is unlikely to be seriously threatened. ‘Wide-measure’ would be where ones sword may be controlled during an advance and would be where the sparring would actually ‘begin’.

Perhaps I have somewhat of a ‘counter-puncher’ mentality where I don’t mind the opponent initiating an attack, so that I have something to control defensively, in order to expose an opening through which to attack. Could this attitude explain a difference in starting distance? In push-hands training one should be constantly giving the partner challenges that they need to respond to, while simultaneously responding to their challenges. If they do not respond, or respond incorrectly, then it should be continued into an attack. If they respond correctly, then you change with it and pose another challenge. The back and forth exchange of energy is sometimes referred to as a conversation. In swordsmanship, it seems to me that it would be difficult to start and maintain a ‘conversation’ from ‘out-of-measure’.

The latest free sparring video posted by gamie_g looks very similar to what I am used to. Except for the salute which is done ‘out-of-measure’, they soon move into the range similar to what I use and begin feeling each other out and attempting to find openings. They generally retreat back to this range after an unsuccessful attack (or feint) – not all the way to out-of-measure – so most of the video is essentially at ‘wide-measure’ unless they stop briefly after successful attacks. Since what is shown in this video is not very different from what I am used to in my sword sparring, I guess that I don’t really understand the distinction that you are trying to convey about the distances in European swordsmanship.

Perhaps it is simply how we are viewing the word ‘start’. If you ‘start’ immediately after the salute, then your ‘starting’ distance will be farther away than mine. I ‘start’ after moving slightly closer, at about the distance where the people in gamie_g’s clip usually pause briefly after moving closer after the salute, but before initiating an attack.

Dan

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Re: Distance

Post by Michael » Wed Aug 05, 2009 12:08 pm

Dan Pasek wrote: It seems like the distance they start at in the video would be difficult to attack from without telegraphing the intent. Since the video shows instruction rather than free sparring I may be getting the wrong impression, but it seems like the defender does not really feel the need to respond until the attacker initiates a technique from closer in than that position after the first shuffle step. It seems like ‘out-of-measure’ is essentially a ‘safe’ distance where one needs to be ready but is unlikely to be seriously threatened. ‘Wide-measure’ would be where ones sword may be controlled during an advance and would be where the sparring would actually ‘begin’.
To be out of measure is to be relatively safe, because the opponent, by definition, cannot strike you in a single action. Generally speaking, we tend to start worrying about our safety right just before entering into wide measure.

From wide measure, though telegraphing can be minimized, an opponent will always have a single tempo(the time it takes to execute a single discrete action) to respond. But we begin our attacks from out at wide measure because to come any closer would expose ourselves to the sort of attack that is too quick to reliably react to. Not only that, but to protect oneself at closer distances requires larger motions with the sword, which only exacerbates the problem.

You're right that, for most of us, wide measure is where the action starts. At the high levels, it may start just as you enter wide measure, whereas the less experienced among us tend to wait a bit longer.
Dan Pasek wrote: Perhaps I have somewhat of a ‘counter-puncher’ mentality where I don’t mind the opponent initiating an attack, so that I have something to control defensively, in order to expose an opening through which to attack.
You will be happy to know that there are European masters who take this mentality, but this doesn't seem to substantially change their idea of distance.
Dan Pasek wrote: Perhaps it is simply how we are viewing the word ‘start’. If you ‘start’ immediately after the salute, then your ‘starting’ distance will be farther away than mine. I ‘start’ after moving slightly closer, at about the distance where the people in gamie_g’s clip usually pause briefly after moving closer after the salute, but before initiating an attack.
Again, many people do start their fighting from wide measure. Generally speaking this is the closest distance at which a fight can begin in relative safety.
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