Thursday, February 26, 2009

Legs and Locomotion

Feet are important, but they don't go anywhere without the legs, so let's talk drumsticks. People I have observed are often not aware where their feet are, and they don't know where their legs are. No matter how strong your legs are, they are among the most often hurt. So, as feet are important, so are legs. Knowing about your legs could save you trouble down the strip.

Your feet move along the strip, your legs move your feet, your legs carry your body on top of your feet. Often when an action happens in the legs and feet the body telegraphs it for the whole world to see, or at least the opponent. One of the forms is bobbing: both knees straighten to some extant. The feet may also be a bit closer than they were, helping the fencer to stand up. From this position the fencer needs to drop down again to effectively take advantage of an en-guarde position. When repeated quickly down the strip it seems as if the person is galloping down the strip.

Rocking is also a major problem. This is caused by one or the other of the knees straightening, causing a shift in weight. This is particularly disastrous because it can bring the target area much closer to the tip of the opponent's blade. It can also bring the front knee too far over the foot, causing strain over the long term.

Bouncing, it may feel as though you are ready, but I have a story from another martial art, Tae Kwon Do. One of my friends told me about a tournament where he faced an opponent who was bouncing in readiness, he circled once, got the rythm down and caught his opponent just at the top of the bounce. Even though it wasn't a big movement the feet needed to be on the ground to initiate an effective reaction. Along with setting up a predictable pattern it is tiring and can lead to long term damage, or short term strain.

In warm-up getting the blood flowing in the legs is a good thing, and bouncing might be an ideal warm-up. However, out on the strip it shows an over-eagerness and an easy way to tire and defeat the bouncer. The feet should be lightly on the strip but leave excessive, repetitive bouncing out of it.

An exercise: The escalator, some old comedian or another used a waist high curtain and made it look like there was an escalator behind it. The smoothness of his descent was quite a treat and feat. Do something similar, and see how low you can go with smooth steps, no "elevator."

The importance of knees is to bend, right, but knees need to bend correctly. Most knee injuries come from lunges. A competitor lunges at an opponent and has to keep going to get the point. The front knee is bent well beyond the foot. This in itself is okay, only if you don't need to retreat, but slowly come out of it and celebrate a good touch or wonder how the opponent got that riposte. However, it is more likely that you will try to spring back to avoid the riposte. The pressure on the knee to come out of this very low lunge can damage it and possibly bring your bout to a close. The rule is to not let your knee go less than 90 degrees with the foot or the leg. That way the sudden reversal will not put quite so much pressure on the knee, but spread it to the foot as well. Make sure to practice lunges slowly to get the feel of a good lunge, make it muscle memory.

The hips are just as important as the knees. In combination with the knees the hips provide the other side of the shock absorbers. You should feel as though you are sitting on a somewhat high stool, but definitely sitting. This allows for the movement of the knees to be compensated for by the hips. This compensation deadens most of the movement of the legs, making smooth steps seem even smoother. There should be no galloping or rocking with the knees and the hips working in concert.

Strong legs are good for fencing. That statement is obvious, being able to move in fencing is the best defense and offense. I have seen people win bouts without moving more than their wrist, but they were 90 years old and had very good form, also they couldn't keep up if they were to try to move. Anybody below 70 who doesn't have an injury or chronic pain should move. So what do you need to do to get those legs into tip-top condition?

- Squats, calf-raises, standing leg lifts, side-lifts toes forward, one-legged, with weights.
-Sit-ups and reverse sit-ups or supermans, are actually important to the strength of the legs. These exercise the core of the body which sits directly on top of the legs and there are muscles that run between.

Knowing what your body is doing is important for all physical motion, most people just go about their daily lives without thinking about it. In fencing this is another idea which needs to be ingrained so that it can be done without thinking. You may try using any of the bad things as lures for those who might react to them, however, it can get your feet bound up in a knot if you are not careful. The legs are the movers and shock-absorbers built into one. Learn, strengthen, take care of and you will move opponents to the brink of collapse.

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