When attempting to improve at fighting, drills can be a useful tool. There are many different elements that go into becoming a successful fighter, and often the specific element you wish to improve is an element that is not common enough to receive a lot of practice in general sparring. Drills allow you to isolate a specific element that you wish to improve and focus on improving your performance in that aspect.
Years ago Sirs Arg, Shadow, and Spyn got together and developed a set of drills to improve their fighting abilities. At least one of those drills is now famous; everyone has heard of block strike. Unfortunately, these drills have not been collected in one document, and the drills that people do know are often performed incorrectly or the people doing them may not fully understand the how and the why of the drill. Because of this, I asked Sir Shadow to describe and explain these drills to me so they could be made available to everyone in their entirety.
These drilled as described build on each other and one should become experienced with each one before moving on to the next. It is important to note that a common mistake most people make is moving too quickly both during a drill and to the next drill. Whenever possible it is important to go slowly and make sure every movement is correct; it is better to execute the movement 50 times correctly than 300 times with errors.
Name: Block Strike
Purpose: Block strike is designed to teach correct muscle memory with attacks and block your opponent's next shot. Hitting the opponent is not as important as throwing the shot correctly and then blocking the incoming shot.
1. Stand across from your partner, point your sword side feet at each other and space them a sword length apart. Front foot will remain stationary. Sometimes, the back foot moves, depending on the shots being worked on.
2. Decide two specific shots to practice. These shots need to be on different sides of the body or offense and defense will be too predictable.
3. You and your partner will alternate throwing either of the agreed on shots and then returning to a defensive position to block the incoming shot from the other participant. After one participant blocks an attack they will throw one of the two agreed on shots and the return to defend against the attack from the other participant then repeat.
4. After a specified duration of the initial set up change hands and set up again, ultimately a full set will encompass right on right, right on left, left on left, and left on right. With the change in hands make sure to place yourself the correct distance from your partner based on your sword side foot.
The Why: The reason this drill occurs at this range is that this is the distance that the majority of attacks will be thrown at in actual combat. The constant repetition of throwing the shots you want to work on correctly will instill the correct muscle memory. At this stage it is similar to pell work but with the advantages that if your shot is thrown wrong it is more likely your partner will block it which should help you correct your form and introducing you to the basics on returning to guard and being ready to block after every attack.
Note: Correct form is very important here. As Block Strike is the basis of these drills anything done incorrectly at start will have to be relearned later and bad habits will follow you into further drills. Make sure to keep your toe pointed towards your opponent, your knees bent, and grip your sword correctly.
Purpose: Hoppy is a tool to help you maintain center of balance while attacking and defending.
Process: The setup and implementation of Hoppy is the same as block strike except you stand on one foot. Your goal is to be able to stay in one place and maintain the regular rhythm of Block Strike while maintaining balance. Your foot should remain planted but you will probably need to hop to correct yourself. Reset to the original positions if movement takes you out of optimal combat range. Switch hands as in Block Strike and switch feet for a total of 8 combinations.
The Why: Hoppy will stop you from reaching, or over reaching to block very far from your body because if you make these mistakes you will lose your balance and have to hop back into position, it’s a very evident feedback mechanism.
Note: The first thing Hoppy will teach you is balance, this will take longer for some than for others. You will not benefit much from the other aspects of Hoppy until basic balance is mastered. As with Block Strike start very slow to perfect the movements and be very conscious of your form.
Name: Shuffle Step
Purpose: Shuffle Step will introduce you to very basic body mechanics as you will notice benefit from moving your whole body, it will also train you to move your feet in combination with your arms.
Process: Setup as per Block Strike except have the initial defender start with his sword foot back and his non sword foot placed as per initial set up. In Shuffle Step you will throw and block two shots agreed on as per Block Strike, the difference is that when you throw you will want your sword foot forward and when you block you will want your off foot forward. After you throw you will shuffle your sword foot back and your off foot forward and then back to sword foot forward after your block. This is mainly rotation of the hips, you wish to stay primarily in the same place throughout the drill. You also want to minimize jumping or vertical movement, it should become a quick simple transition. Switch hands as per block strike.
The Why: You will gain some very basic body mechanic concepts as you notice some shots are easier or harder to throw as your body moves and you start to use more than just your arms to power shots. Shuffle Step trains you to associate moving your feet with your offense and defense. This starts you on the path from being a static fighter to a dynamic fighter.
Note: With this drill you will want to continue to start very slow and monitor your form to insure that you aren’t learning bad habits. While the footwork involved in this may not directly apply to combat the connecting upper and lower body motion is a very important concept that after developed can be further refined. This constant movement of this drill will let you know how out of shape you are.
Name: Three Step
Purpose: Three Step teaches basic combos, how not to disengage out of attack range when fighting, and how to maintain range control on offense.
Process: Start opposite your opponent at the regular distance. The person initially on offense will take a step and throw a shot, the opponent will retreat and block, this is done three times then the roles switch. As soon as the third shot is blocked then the defender goes on offense and has three steps and three shots.
The Why: With more than one shot you can start building basic combos and practicing what seems to work and what doesn’t. Following a retreating opponent you will learn to become comfortable with maintaining the range you want for offense or lateral movement. On defense retreating from an opponent teaches you how to create the range you want to be safe but also project a threat against your opponent, this is very apparent when you switch from defense to offense. If you need to make more than one step or close an overly large gap before you can throw your first shot you are disengaging too far.
Note: Three Step is the first drill where you will want to go full speed from the start. On offense if your opponent doesn’t retreat it is valuable to use your steps to move around or to their sides. This drill should bring together the movement of Shuffle Step and the lessons of Block Strike.
Name: Pass it On
Purpose: Pass it On is designed to teach you to react to a group instead of one opponent and body positioning/mechanics.
Process: Pass it On requires at least three people. Create a circle as best you can with the number of participants all within regular combat range. Choose to go either clockwise or counter clockwise. The first person who swings will strike at the next participant in the chosen direction who will attempt to block, that person will then strike at the next participant who attempts to block and it just keeps going around the circle. You will want to switch through four states: right hand in clockwise, right hand in counter clockwise, left hand in clockwise, and left hand in counter clockwise.
The Why: Having to face threats that are not in front of you and strike at a different opponent will help you react to multiple people and switch targets quickly. As you block to one side and then strike to the other you will notice if you do not shift form correctly towards your new opponent your attack will be much harder and/or ineffective. This simple feedback will help reinforce proper form when shifting targets.
Name: Pass it on, Pass it Back
Purpose: This drill builds on the goals from Pass it On
Process: The setup is the same as in Pass it On. The difference in execution lies in after you block an opponents attack you immediately strike back while they attempt to block, then you strike the next opponent as per Pass it On. The process should go: block opponent’s attack, attack opponent, change focus to opponent on other side, attack new opponent, block their counter attack. Switch hands and feet as per Pass it On.
The Why: Pass it On, Pass it Back builds on everything from Pass it On. The added complexity of switching from defense to offense and switching opponents will further increase reactions to multiple opponents on multiple sides.
Name: More Block Strike
Purpose: Learn to predict and read incoming attacks, learn safe shot selection.
Process: The same as block strike. You may wish to use target locations instead of specific shots. Sword arm shoulder and off hand hip for example.
The Why: Being able to competently complete the first four drills at full speed should give you a very solid offense while defense may suffer. Block strike is easily modifiable to help with defense if you change your focus. Instead of focusing on muscle memory and correct shot form focus on creating a solid defense. You will learn through drilling that as you throw certain shots what returns are more common and how to return to a defensive position that will protect from them immediately after striking. You will also learn which shots are too tricky or too risky as you will get a low percentage striking with them and/or you find yourself unable to maintain a safe defensive after throwing them.
Note: At this stage of fighting you and your opponent will both need to be competent with most of the basics of fighting. You will need to be able to identify what areas you need to work on and which shots to choose between the two of you to raise competency in those areas. At this point you and your opponent may not even be using the same two shots or locations.