Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Protecting your hands

After being approached by a friend who wants to learn stick fighting, I sat down and started to think about the most common problems for a beginner. A couple pints and some Ladytron later, I began to remember how much I used to get hit in the fingers and how often others got hit in the hands as well. The problem of protecting your hands is an issue for all fencers and it can plague people regardless of weapon. Of course, some weapons protect your hands better than others but no amount of protection can substitute skill. If hand-hitting is a well known foe to you, try some of these tips for protecting your hands.

  1. Be aggressive. One of the most natural and prevalent problems in defense is the lack of aggression in its operators. For this post, let's go ahead and say that aggression is synonymous with violent intent. Violent intent is a vital, yet overlooked or even demonized by some martial artists. Why is violent intent important for your hands? There are two reasons. First if you are aggressive you will extend your arms while you strike. An extended strike is a safe strike. Extending your arms when striking is what puts the blade\stick of your enemy aside, it gives you reach, and it allows you to properly utilize your hilt. The second reason is simple: if you hit your enemy before he hits your hands, your hands will be safe. Don't wait for him to attack you! Remember, offense IS defense.
  2. Be smooth and graceful in the bind. This is something that can only be learned through sparring. It is easy for you to exaggerate your motions if you only do drills or solo work, and you won't even realize it until you get your fingers cut in sparring. If you exaggerate your winding in the bind, you won't properly use the hilt. Be smooth and have the grace to only do the minimum required to use your hilt while winding. Move simply and you won't get nicked while winding!
  3. Be rapid. Don't linger around in the approach distance and don't do unnecessary stalking. A fight with weapons shouldn't take very long; weapons are force multipliers for a reason. Size up the situation rapidly and gain the initiative! Don't muck about and give your foe additional time to make plans. This is especially important because lingering in the approach distance leads to chicken scratching from a "safe" distance, and as chicken scratching increases so does the likelihood of a random hand hit. Close the distance and take your foe down, don't dance!
  4. Be aware of your hands. This is going to be an unpopular opinion in this age of padding, but here it goes. Don't train with gloves and spar with the absolute minimum of hand protection. BUT OH NOES HOW ELSE CAN YOU FIGHT IF YOU DONT HAVE STEEL MITTENS ON?!?! This isn't field hockey and gloves don't replace skill. You will never learn to be aware of your hands if you always wrap them up in protective gear. Train without gloves and you will learn to protect them; what hurts teaches.
  5. Be aware of your weapon. Being aware of your weapon means that you utilize all parts of the weapon for offense and defense. Aside from using the hilt and the flat, you do have another part of the weapon to defend yourself with: the handle. Blocking with the handle is seen in fencing with the longsword and quarterstaff, and in stick fighting with krabi krabong sticks and Irish sticks (which you can see a bit of in the video below). 

If all else fails, train with the quarterstaff for a while. It will teach you to be aware of your hands, your grip, and blocking strong blows between your hands. Fighting with the quarterstaff will teach you how to keep your digits safe, even if only through perpetually aching hands.

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