About a week ago I got the opportunity to fence against a Kendo practitioner, though it was largely on casual terms and less than full contact. It was a very interesting experience and I recommend it to all fencers. I’ve only fenced against three practitioners of Asian swordsmanship; two about two years ago and this last weekend. I’ll briefly gloss over my sparring experiences here to the best of my memory as examples to other fencers who wonder how such bouts transpire.
Two years ago:
I. This fellow did Wing Chun primarily but also did some weapon fighting. I believe he did some Kendo but I didn’t ask much of his training in it, so perhaps his swordsmanship came from Wing Chun. I recall lots of cuts from above and middle cuts along a horizontal plane, but not much else…lots of chasing him around until I could grapple him. By the end of it all I took his sword from him and that was that.
II. This fellow did Akido and Filipino martial arts. We did sparring with both swords and sticks, though both did not last long. He had good foot-work and awareness of what was around him, but I was unimpressed by his cuts. Most of the sparring consisted of me chasing him around the fighting area, until I pinned him against a tree and finished it there. The Filipino sticks are good against other sticks but they are poor choices against the sword. We only had four exchanges; I came out on top three of the four times. The time he came out on top was when he closed the distance faster than I could hit him and he pinioned my sword under his armpit. Goes to show you, even simple weapons can best a greater one if the user uses audacity.
III. I am not sure what martial arts this individual did; I believe MMA and Kendo (I’m certain of this at least). This was a very interesting encounter. I was a bit saddened that we couldn’t use wooden or steel weapons, but padded bokens had to do. I noticed right off the bat that these semi-floppy bokens are too short and light to use with two hands, and I think that was an advantage later on. We went for quite a bit of time and I noted some curious trends.
A. The entirety of his strikes were limited to above the belt and lacked thrusts entirely. He seemed to use the roof ward (holding the sword above his head) a huge amount, which in my experience is a good way to telegraph all of your strikes to your opponent. More on telegraphing in a moment. His strikes were easy to deflect because he kept attacking from the same angles repeatedly without really mixing them at all. I sort of switched into stick fighting mode and blocked a great deal of his strikes using the St. George’s ward, and did plenty of fast ripostes to his arms and head from that ward.
B. As in my previous sparring experiences against Asian swordsmen, there was a large amount of chasing involved. I was very impressed by this guy’s cardio! Sometimes I feel like I’m not actually fighting people when I have to chase them down, but you can’t expect everyone to want to close the distance with you. I threw him twice using a horizontal hip throw, something he was not expecting, and pinned him against a wall by chasing him with a half-sword grip.
C. Something I was really surprised by was my opponent’s vocalizations as he struck. They weren’t frightening or off-putting, so much as unusual and ritualistic. Let me explain what I mean by ritualistic. Every time he would raise his sword to strike at me he would make something of a shout first and then execute the intended strike. He would also make a shout every time he wanted me to approach him. It took me a minute or so to figure out this ritual-pattern, but once I did I used it to my advantage. Every time he telegraphed his intention to hit me I moved forward before the strike to get into a better blocking position and then delivered a fast riposte to punish the telegraphing. I also managed to throw in a couple feints when he wanted me to approach, which was quite effective.
What would be some good tips for going against a Kendo fencer? Attack the lower angles whenever possible, since they often cannot defend well against them. Use unconventional attacks like the Mordschlag (hit them with the other side of the sword), since they won’t understand what you are doing. Consider half-swording as much as possible, both as an offense and a defense. Don’t be afraid to mix things up with your more tricky maneuvers, like Passata Sotto. Most importantly you should always seek to close the distance and wrestle them to the ground strongly.
Alfred Hutton - The Original Victorian Badass
PS: for more information about half-swording, sword disarms, mordschlags, and more, see the website for the Association for Renaissance Martial Arts.