We’ve looked at the benefits and pitfalls of training specialization. And we’ve explored the goals of a more general training focus. I personally enjoy the middle ground—the blending of specialization and generalization that I think of as universal practice.
Universal Practice in History
Fiore dei Liberi in his 1409 book The Flower of Battle presents a systematic approach to a series of different weapon disciplines. Each discipline teaches us about a different aspect of the system. Wrestling and knife teach us about groundedness, entry, feeling, tempo, and response. It provides the foundation from which to wield a longer weapon. The movements of this section are then transferred through each of the subsequent sections.
Through the practice with the sword Fiore teaches us to build an understanding of distance, lines and angles, and feeling at the blade. The spear teaches us about thrusting and transition between thrust, blow, and grapple. The system is even applied to the horse, and being an equestrian myself I can vouch for the fact that the use of the sword on foot transfers seamlessly to the saddle, provided you know how to move your new set of legs!
Within my own practice I bring in other weapons like the rapier, which I have found to be an excellent teacher of feeling at the blade because rapier technique tends to keep both my and my opponent’s weapon in contact more. I also practice many disciplines that use weapons in both hands simultaneously and I switch between right and left leads regularly. My goal is to be able to pick up any weapon and employ it in any context. I want to practice a universal system, like Fiore did, rather than having an approach that is too narrowly tuned. My aim is to be not only a competitor, but a warrior.
Specializing to achieve a particular objective can be healthy. I’ve fought in my share of tournaments, and when I’m going to be in one I train specifically for it. However, I temper my training with my long-term health and martial goals. This might mean fewer hours for that specific end, but I enjoy being a broadly capable martial artist and having a balanced physique that will help me move and live comfortably for a long time. I’d like to aim myself at being a “Jack of All Trades, Master of the Sum.”
Enjoy your training!