Lets set up the following scenario to look at the motion required to hit a target. Your opponent is already fighting someone else, and hasn't noticed you approaching from their side. Your sword side is "behind" them, like a right-handed fighter approaching an opponent from the opponent's left. This makes your most direct attack a straight swing to their back. You have approached swinging range while maintaining your normal stance and guard (in case they actually notice you).
Now, the typical stance starts with the sword arm's elbow bent and the wrist turned slightly so the sword angles towards the shield side. The shoulders are squared up towards the target, and one foot is forward. Assuming the sword side foot is forward, this means your torso is slightly twisted away from where you want to swing. If the shield foot is forward, your torso ends up twisted towards where you want to swing.
We know where you started, but how do you get the sword from this stance to end up hitting the middle of their back, blade first, and with sufficient force? For starters, you'll have to rotate your arm/wrist so the blade is tipped outside of your swing. Rotation here is a mix of a little bit of wrist motion and moving your elbow closer to the body, which essentially uses the shoulder muscles to help. You'll also want to extend your arm, in a motion similar to punching. Of course, doing both motions separately is awkward and slow. However, combining the two causes your sword tip to travel in a nice, smooth corkscrew motion. Add a little wrist extension to the end, and you are doing a pretty decent swing.
The only missing piece now is that that combination of motions doesn't really add a lot of power to the swing. Most of your effort so far is just re-positioning the sword, not adding power in the direction of your target. This is where your stance and torso motion are very important. As stated above, sword foot forward makes your torso twisted away from the target. That also means it is coiled in a way that you can use the muscles to twist into the swing. This can add significant impact to your swings.
You will hear vets talking about using your hips when you swing. Really, what they are saying is to lead your shot with your hips, so that your torso is essentially coiled to add to the swing. In our shield foot forward example, this means starting your swing by rotating your hips towards your shield side. Now, keeping your feet planted and twisting your hips here can work, but another alternative is to simply switch stances as you swing. By moving your sword foot forward as you swing, it forces your hips to naturally rotate. The rest is just following that motion up with the torso and the arm motions.
- Start the swing by rotating your hips in the direction you want to swing.
- Follow the hip motion with the rest of your torso.
- While rotating into the shot, use your arm to position the blade to strike.
One point here I would like to highlight, a good swing like this uses the whole body, not just a single group of muscles. Besides adding power and speed to your swings, this also distributes the work/effort required. Ideally, that means that you shouldn't end up being sore in only one spot. For example, many new fighters have issues with their wrists being sore. Likely, this is caused by using the wrist to swing, rather than using the whole arm and body combination. This concept of using the whole body in swings will be a running trend throughout the fundamentals series of posts.
My next post will look at over swinging and recovering from a swing.