but it works!

Over the years, I have received training in a variety of martial arts, and along the way, I have managed to pick up a few useful features from each one. Occasionally, though, some of those things come back to bite me in the ass.

This time around, the bug/feature in question stems from fencing. When engaged in that stylistic form of swordplay, you and your opponent both are wearing head-encompassing masks generally made out of fine, but heavy, mesh – the sport uses blunted, dulled blades, but the whole, "Ow, you just poked out my eye," thing tends to be a drag whether the tip is pointy or not. In any case, you cannot very well see your opponents’ eyes, nor can they see yours.

So what do you watch when squared off against them? Good luck trying to watch the sword; the damned things move fast enough to leave very healthy welts through long-sleeve shirts if you are not being careful. The person’s hands are likewise somewhat pointless, given that they are generally obscured by the bell or guard of the sword handle. So there are two schools of thought I was taught: one says to focus on the shoulder facing you, and the other says to focus on the person’s chest.

In both cases, you are watching a location that does not move very much, but when it does move, you are probably going to have to do something about it in the very near future. Personally, I found that watching the chest – a spot somewhere around where the manubrium and actual body of the sternum meet up – makes it much harder for the person to "fake" you out, while simultaneously allowing my peripheral to keep track of those shoulders as necessary, especially when I defocused a bit.

Regardless, that is just me, and I am far from being anywhere near "skilled" with any kind of sword. However, all of that training eventually carried over into karate when I was a teenager; after all, when you are sparring, you are geared up in a light-weight Red Man Suit, and with the headguard in place, you cannot always get an accurate read on the other person’s eyes. So watch their chest.

Now that I am older and think about such things from time to time, it turns out that "watch their chest" is not always the best of tactics, especially not when paired off doing one- and two-step sparring in "plain clothes" against a female about a foot shorter than you.


11 thoughts on “but it works!”

  1. “I assure you, ma’am, as a marital artist of several styles, I keep my eyes on everyone’s chests. After being knocked around in sparring enough, you learn to reflexively watch the parts of the body that telegraph that person’s next move.

    “So, while, yes, you eyes are up there, I hope you’ll forgive me for falling into my combat-honed habits.

    “In any event, my battle instincts tell me that you are preparing to do some horrible, horrible things to me. Let me make this clear: I’m ready for you. Do your worst.”

  2. it turns out that “watch their chest” …”plain clothes” against a female about a foot shorter than you.

    Some how I think your wife won’t find that an acceptable answer if she catches you staring at a woman outside of the dojo.

    My advice – don’t get caught.

  3. I my experience, when fencing epee against a female, she tends to feint low (toward my man bits), then lunge high toward the mask our my exposed wrist. Women are also more vicious.

  4. Just look at her boobs. That’s what they’re there for. Look at them, and marvel. That’s what I do.

  5. My martial arts teacher said to focus on the chest. People who are aware you watch their eyes can fake you out with them, if they’re good. Faking with the chest is much harder.

    On the other hand, even though it’s not martial-arts-related, my dad always taught me to watch a person’s navel when playing basketball. If they don’t move their navel, they aren’t moving; they’re faking. Which also makes sense – most peoples’ center of gravity is right around the navel area.

    Nowadays, after lightly studying Wing Chun, of which a central concept is the “center line” – which extends from the bottom of the spine up through the chest and head – I tend to watch the center line, rather than a single point. If a person is going to move, they’ll have to move the whole thing. If it’s an attack from where they’re standing, only one end will move (top-end for hand strikes, bottom-end for kicks).

    It’s interesting to see the different schools of thought on what to watch.

  6. @ MSgt B: Hey, is true!

    @ Tirno: And I had to realize this while facing off against a black belt, too.

    @ Bob S.b: Well, I am not staring there if she is not attacking me, and if a female is attacking me outside a dojo, I think I have larger problems.

    @ MAJ Mike: Never did much epee… mostly sabre, and, annoyingly, male and female target areas are different for that one – our crotches are valid, but theirs are not. That figures.

    @ chiefjaybob: And how has that been working for you?

    @ Archer: Yeah, trying to watch someone’s eyes is a fool’s game, but apparently that is what the school I am attending teaches, since that is what everyone does. Dunno.

  7. In my coaching of beginning fencers, I’ve told them to watch the space between the weapon hand and the waist. If the weapon arm moves, you’ll notice. If the feet move, you can see them. If the center of gravity doesn’t move. the other stuff is no threat. That’s worked pretty well in kung fu as well. Nobody’s eyes ever managed to strike me any sort of blow. Query: what sort of fencing is it in which the groin is legal target for sabre? Competitive (FIE) sabre target is above the hip joints.

  8. To answer your question, Linoge, it’s getting better. I’m approaching the age where the younger women view me as the harmless old guy that they giggle about when he leers at them. In some ways this is good, and in some ways, not so good…..

  9. I did the same “defocused” watching of the chest, too. It put the center of movement that was most relevant to fencing in the center of my vision, while still allowing me to pay enough attention to the other relevant centers of movement (hips, shoulder, weapon arm) to get an idea of what was happening.

    The most challenging part of epee is that the entire body is a valid target, which means that it’s possible to score a valid touch without moving any part of the body except the wrist and hand. Focusing on your opponent’s “center” (wherever you define that to be) leaves you unaware of other danger areas, because they don’t have to shift their center at all to strike. We (Virginia Tech Fencing Club) had one person notorious for scoring touches on the wrist, right behind the weapon’s bell. He would also, occasionally, score against the bottom of his opponent’s foot when they tried to move, but that was usually just showing off.

  10. @ John: Honestly, I do not recall the scoring system we used – it was ages ago, and I may be misremembering the details.

    @ chiefjaybob: Heh, Heinlein certainly lied about getting older…

    @ Jake: Yup, that was pretty much exactly what I did. Wish I could have gotten more into fencing as a kid (and even today), but good Lord that stuff is still expensive.

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