Learning to Observe – How to Deconstruct a Fight


You’ve just finished a sparring match. You were struck, but what happened? The ability to recall a fight in a useful manner is a different skill than those required to have that fight.

Here’s a process you can use to develop fighting recall:

Fight a pass. At the conclusion of the pass, pause and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Where was I struck or did I strike?
  2. At the moment of the strike where was my weapon and where was my opponent’s?
  3. What happened one tempo (one action) before that?

Usually this is enough data to garner something useful. To develop the skill, follow this process after each pass and compare notes with your partner. Often you will find that you and your partner have a different recollection of events. Initially I recommend your objective be to develop the skill of recall. After that, start working on using the data you gather. Don’t be surprised that this skill takes time to develop. Until you start requesting some particular piece of information from your mind, it won’t know that you need it to be accessible. Be patient, it will come.

Once you have developed some ability to recall your fencing bouts you can use the data in a few ways:

  1. Drill creation. Use the last few movements of the fight to create a drill to correct the mechanical or tactical error that lead to you being struck.
  2. Look for patterns. If you’re being struck in a particular fashion or in a particular target over and over again, there is undoubtedly a common theme. Identify what it is, construct drills to fix it, or get outside help.
  3. Become a more strategic fencer. If you can identify the patterns in your opponent, you can manipulate them into creating openings. Few opponents adjust to their own errors on the fly. If they acted in a particular fashion a few moments ago, they’re likely to act that way again now, provided you can create the same stimulus a second time.

The further back you can develop your recall, the better. Practice deconstructing and reconstructing a fight back several tempos, or all the way back to the beginning of the phrase or fight. Not all of the best fighters are able to perform this operation, but certainly the best learners and teachers are. Become one of them.

devonboorman Devon Boorman is the Co-Founder and Director of Academie Duello Centre for Swordplay, which has been active in Vancouver, Canada since 2004. Devon’s expertise centres on the Italian swordplay tradition including the arts of the Renaissance Italian rapier, sidesword, and longsword, as well as knife and unarmed techniques.
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