Thursday, July 3, 2014

Theory Thursday: Defensive Footwork

This is a more detailed write up about footwork.  I am trying to build a stronger guide, using this post as a starting point.  Please comment if you think there is something missing or that needs clarification.  For now, I'm just looking at a person's center and where it moves, the feet will follow.  If someone needs more specific "put your feet like this" direction, I can eventually make some graphics for it.

Today's topic is using footwork on the defensive, when your opponent is being aggressive. We'll start using a simple duel between two right handed sword and board users as an example, with the fighter in red being the aggressor.  I'm not too worried about the specifics of where your feet are at each step, only your general stance (shield or sword foot forward).  If you move from point A to B, your feet should stay as close to one stance or the other as possible and get there in a comfortable way.  If you feel you are crossing your legs or moving awkwardly, try pushing off of the other foot or pivoting.  You need to be balanced between your feet at each step.

To start, lets look at our options if they simply advance directly at us, a very common approach.  There are four basic directions we can move, and four angles combining them.

The basic layout for our example. Actual sword and shield position, as well as the feet themselves, are beyond today's topic.  This is just enough to give you the rough idea visually.

 Basic Directions

We can choose to move forward (yes, towards the guy rushing you).  This is probably a set up for a bash and/or wrap shot.  This is the most aggressive of the defensive strategies, and the least likely to add any measure of safety from the opponent's attack.  If a bash is the intention, shifting your weight forward after sliding towards them will offer a little more power to the bash.  With luck, the bash could cause them to stop their attack or even be knocked down.  If you managed to merely come to point blank range without much success, a backblock can prevent a number of attacks, especially if they don't have a stabbing weapon.
The opposite end of the spectrum is to move backward in line with their rush.  This helps to keep the distance originally preferred, but if they are rushing, back peddling is slower than their run.  That means they can still close the gap.  This does, however, buy time and potentially cause them to be in range of someone else during a line fight, much like a staggered gap.
The remaining two basic directions are sideways.  The difference between sword side and shield side vary a good deal in their advantages and disadvantages.  Moving directly to the sword side greatly reduces the available targets your opponent has, usually leaving only the shield side leg vulnerable.  There is also an opportunity for a wrap shot to come in around the shield.  These two open targets are shared by you and your opponent.  If your stance is usually shield foot forward, this is a good time to switch stances, pushing off with your shield leg and then sliding it around behind as you move over.

Moving directly to the shield side opens up the target's sword arm and torso to attack, but also exposes you to the same attacks.  If you fight sword foot forward, this leaves you extra vulnerable.  It is perfectly reasonable to switch stances to shield foot forward, rather than rotating your torso.  This cuts off some of the angle, but keeps your torso free to rotate into strikes.

Basic Angles

The four basic directions combine to make four distinct angles.  Each one offers a unique advantage or opportunity.  More often than not, the angles offer better positions than the basic directions.

The two forward angles offer an aggressive counter to the rush, without directly running into the opponent.  In a larger fight, you might even be able to turn the tables and end up behind their line.  Moving this way towards your shield side greatly opens up both fighters.  Just like moving sideways, switching to shield foot forward is recommended during the move.  A lot of fighters are tempted to throw a high cross towards their opponent's chest when moving this way, but it exaggerates the already considerable risk to yourself.  Stick to safer shots like the short cross, or the slot shot as you move across their guard.  Target the arm or shoulder.

Moving forward to the sword side makes you and your opponent quite vulnerable to wrap shots and leg sweeps. Switching to sword foot forward does help a little, but the opportunities still exist.  Because you've cut off a large number of angles that could reach your torso, you can let your shield favor over a little towards your opponent to reduce their chance to throw wrap shots.  Throwing a wrap shot during the move will usually result in it landing on target as both of your complete your move.

The two backward angles can drastically change the fight.  Moving back and to the sword side is the most defensive move.  It takes you the furthest away from their sword. Depending on which shots they decide to throw, this move may make it easier to sneak in a slot shot or a leg sweep during the move.  On the line, it also causes them to angle their sword side towards your team, leaving them exposed to attack.

Moving back and shield side is less defensive, but gives you a better angle on their sword arm.  Switching to shield foot forward is recommended, but not as necessary as other shield side moves.  Short crosses are probably the safest shot to throw here.  Your team gains less of an advantage to the opponent's rotation here, because they will usually have to swing all the way across themselves to target them, leaving the friendly fighter exposed.

Staring position in the middle, each frame gives you a look at where you and your opponent are likely to end up after their one move towards you.


So, which move is the best one?  I generally prefer to back away towards my sword side, depending on the surroundings.  However, your opponent's nature, shot selection, and skill all come into play deciding which one to use.  Fighting against an opponent who is great at wraps, I might chose to back away to the shield side.  Against an opponent with a weaker guard or less skill, I might be aggressive and go forward to my shield side.  It is really a matter of what you need to do to accomplish your goal.  If staying on the defensive is a must, using any of the backwards moves is a good idea.  If your team needs you to make something happen, being aggressive might be necessary, forcing you to move forwards.

All of this so far assumes one move.  In the future, I'll look a little more at chaining moves together into more of an actual plan.  For now though, try practicing with a friend, taking turns playing the aggressor.  After/as they advance, try moving in one of the eight directions.  Pause and take stock of what has changed in the fight.  Where are your feet?   What is your shield blocking?  What targets can you see?  What did you gain?  These questions are what you should be asking yourself each time your practice.

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