The first was what it means to "control" the enemy's blade. Now, this is something I am really just beginning to understand. Until last night, I did have a few rudiments. I understood "control" in the sense of bashing somebody's weapon out of the way (last night we looked at a play that may be my new favorite "coolest play I know," which actually did involve bashing somebody's weapon out of the way in an artful sense). But last night I think I may have begun to begin to understand it in a deeper way. We were looking at a zwerchau play that went like this: A throws a right zwerchau to the left side of B's head. B parries, fairly far from B's body. A's sword is now on the outside of B's sword, to B's left. A flips his sword over while still in contact with B's sword, and cuts B's neck.
This is in the family of duplieren ("doubling") plays, so-called apparently because A has attacked from one direction (B's left, A's right) and, after that attack is foiled, attacks from the same direction rather than trying a new one. This is, if one can permitted a degree of squee-ness, really super cool, and another example of the driving aggression that I really like about KDF. The trick is, half the time it didn't work for me. I would flip my sword over and find my sword in my opponent's neck while their sword was in my forehead. What went wrong?
The answer, Raab explained to me, was that I was merely flipping my sword over. I was not simultaneously controlling my partner's blade. Now, what does that mean in this context, "control?" Master Meyer describes this play in these terms:
Strike first from your right to his ear, as then when the swords glide together, thrust your sword's pommel through under your right arm, driving at the same time out with both arms, and hit him with the short edge behind his blade onto his head.Notice what Meyer says there: driving at the same time out with both arms (I feel I should point out that Tristan made this point also; I just didn't understand it until my duplieren wasn't keeping me safe). Now, as I said, I am only beginning to understand that, but the effect of this is to keep pressure on the opponent's blade - driving it back as yours is corkscrewing forward. This idea of keeping pressure on the blade is something that is new to me, and something I'm clearly going to have to refine my understanding of a lot. Questions immediately arise - if I'm putting pressure on his blade, shouldn't he be able to take off or deflect that somehow? How do I maintain pressure as I'm flipping my blade onto its other edge? Probably there is no single answer that applies to all the situations in which one must control the other person's blade. But the idea of keeping pressure on - not hitting the opponent's blade away, but pushing on it from a position of mechanical advantage - that was new to me. I must learn more of this.
The second big thing I learned yesterday was about footwork. When throwing a zwerchau, one often steps to the side - for instance, if I throw a zwerchau from the right, my blade travels from right to left and I step from left to right, thus keeping my sword between me and my opponent. This is accompanied by a twist from right to left, in order to put the power of the hips behind the swing (in fact, as far as I can tell, that twist of the hips pretty much is the swing, or at least the vast majority of it). I have a pronounced tendency to end this movement having turned ninety degrees to my left (or, if throwing a left zwerchau, to my right), with my feet in a single line perpendicular to the path of travel. This is a clumsy position in which to end, and it's bugged me for a long time.
It also turns out to be a clumsy way to cut. As Raab explained, your best cutting power is applied in a zone that is about a ninety-degree cone in front of your hips. Turn ninety degrees to your left, and your enemy (who is not actually in your path of travel, obviously, but in front of it) is outside that cone. I was over-rotating as I stepped, leaving me off-balance and cutting weakly or not at all.
Why was this? In pondering this question I made another dance-fencing connection. I instinctively swing ninety degrees when making this cut for the same reason I always swing ninety degrees - because I'm a waltzer, and being able to turn ninety degrees in a turning waltz is hugely important. I've spent twelve years drilling that swing-around into my body. It's one of those dancey habits I have to unlearn when I am fighting.
At the same time, thinking in terms of having a firing arc (well, cutting arc) that rotates as my hips do is super helpful, and probably moreso because I have dancey habits. One of the major factors in that ninety-degree swing-around is keeping your hips pointed towards your partner. So okay, when I'm fencing and we are not physically connected, maybe I only swing forty-five degrees around - but the concept of keeping the hips pointed at the other person is essentially the same.
I suspect, but will have to confirm as I progress, that the term "footwork" is as misleading in fencing as it is in most round dances. People just beginning to learn cross-step waltz often feel off-balance and clumsy, because they're trying to perform the steps as steps; teach them to rotate their hips with the steps and it all begins to flow together. In rotary waltz, beginners often ask where their feet should go on each count, and the truth is that it doesn't really matter - foot placement is the final ten or twenty percent of refinement. What matters much more than foot placement in a rotary waltz is that you are solidly connected to your partner through your arms, and that your hips and shoulders are square to each other. I begin to suspect that fencing footwork is much the same - when people say "footwork," what they are really talking about is the orientation of the hips (and maybe shoulders) in relation to the other person, and compared to that, the actual placement of the legs (and arms, in cutting) is merely refinement.* We shall have to explore this concept further and see how far it pans out.
* Not to say, of course, that the refinement is unimportant - that last ten or twenty percent can be the difference between a pleasant musical diversion and a waltz that feels like sex. And I wouldn't be surprised if it's the difference between your sword merely cutting skin and going right through the other person, either. But in terms of the learning process, it's important to be able to understand where the work is really being done.