I have written several posts on the merits of “Slow Work” which is the act of fencing at a slow and consistent speed. In summary, slow fencing gives you the opportunity to be more observant of the tactical environment.
From this state of greater observance you can move more easily in time with your partner (the desire of all full speed combat), develop your strategic and tactical decision making, and become aware of fundamental corrections you need to make in an environment where you can respond on a thoughtful level versus just reacting on an instinctive level.
Too Soon to Arrive
When students are first learning to use slow work, one of the biggest challenges is maintaining a consistent speed and not spiking up to a much higher speed when you’re about to be struck or there’s an opening to exploit. Changing speeds rapidly gives you a false sense of what is possible in combat – If you’re already going at full speed there’s no capacity to go at an even greater speed.
You want to limit sudden changes in speed because the goal is tactical conditioning and you don’t want to start choosing a response that won’t work when all speeds increase.
Too Strong too Fast
Another way that students often spike in slow work is in their strength. Coming to an even bind of blades, both sides can increase their strength in an effort to overcome the other. Alternately, when entering to grapple both sides can begin to wrestle with strength over a disarm or fight back and forth in the setup to a throw.
The problem with this increase of strength and pressure is not only that it’s not accurate to the speed environment — as soon as you add velocity to a situation the capacity to wrestle changes significantly, but it also: 1) distracts you from finding the easier and more effective answer, and 2) leads to a greater potential for strain and injury.
Next week we’ll explore the solution to these two problems in more detail. Enjoy your training… slowly!