Firstly – for the sake of accuracy – my stance in this picture is not en garde. It is the cool and far more effective stab-le-camera stroke, of myth and fable. I am one of only 17 people in England to have mastered this attack in the last 300 years, one of whom was Sir Richard Francis Burton (aka the Ruffian Dick), who has become a particular hero of mine.
Secondly, I’ve totally did some fencing last night! It is, by far, the most confusing sport I’ve tried to date. Everything is backwards!
From practising various combat sports, a few things have became second nature. For one thing, I tend to perform on the balls of my feet with my heels barely touching the floor. In fencing, however, your back heel remains on the floor pretty much ALL THE TIME. Oh yeah and, in fencing, my back foot is my left foot…the foot that is normally my front foot.
For another thing, I’ve learned to lead with my legs and move my body pretty much as one, to get as close to my opponent as possible – to lift him, trip him or apply some kind of lock. If you do that in fencing, you get stabbed and die. Instead, you lead with your arm – straightening it first, before lunging with your front leg, keeping your back heel on the ground and keeping your body well out of harm’s way.
In short, it feels like fencing requires me to do everything I have learned not to do. More than this, however, it seems my actual body has developed to be BAD at fencing. Seriously. I quote Harry, who has been RGS fencing coach for 20 years:
“He has Karate arms. They’re rock bloody solid – I can even feel it through the sword! His body just won’t relax; he is getting his footwork right, but he’s always tensed up.”
Sadly, he’s right and I heard exactly the same thing from a physio a few months back. I’ve never ever done karate, but years of heavy lifting and performing stupid deeds has left me with a body that is virtually incapable of completely relaxing or performing subtle or graceful movements.
My wrists are hopefully inflexible and, even when I totally relax my arms, the muscles are just as tight as if I was clinging onto a cliff-face for dear life. When Harry said I have “Karate arms”, what he means is that instead of delicately flicking my wrist and extending my elbow to parry, stab and kill my opponent, I punch forwards as if I’m trying to run him through – getting myself sliced to ribbons in the process.
The irony is that all these physical developments are actually bad for Karate, or any kind of combat sport really. Granted I can take a heavy fall or elbow drop a brick wall and come out more or less unscathed, but the reality is that relaxed, flexible muscles work faster and hit harder than hard, tensed muscles.
Still, it’s something to bear in mind for future training and future sports!