I like to think of and visualise body structure like the plumbing system in my house. This is quite an easy image to have, which makes it easier to understand the necessity of developing good body structure for fencing activities, both for performance and for longevity.
Imagine your longer bones are all pipes and your joints are like the joints in the plumbing where pipes come together.
If the joints are all connected up properly in your plumbing, there is no leak, and even a high pressure jet of water will go from the boiler to the nozzle very easily and efficiently. You can consider this a good representation of a well-stabilised and well-structured body that is able to work at a high intensity to transfer or resist high levels of force with the sword.
If the joints are not quite connected properly, then there is a leak, and the high pressure will cause water to begin to leak. The nozzle cannot then do its job as well as when the joint is connected properly. Leaky pipes make for a weak shower; poorly-stabilised and poorly-structured bodies will make for weak strikes and weak parries. Efforts at high intensities will bleed strength (or demand more effort to achieve the same result) due to poor use of the body.
Furthermore, maybe one leak won’t flood your house, but if you leak from the same joint in the plumbing once a week for the next five years, your house will definitely be suffering from damp, and there will be major issues that may even render the house uninhabitable. Similarly, you will damage your joints and muscles and tendons and ligaments and all the fun stuff inside you if you persist in moving incorrectly, especially at high intensities.
We don’t want to do that to the body, and we do want the benefit of the high pressure from the boiler (core) going straight to the nozzle (limbs, extremities), so we must pay good attention to the connection of all of our joints in every movement.
If you watch skilled fencers, or skilled martial artists of any style or system, or indeed skilled sportspeople from any physical activity (consider dancers or ice skaters, for example), you will observe that they can control their every motion. You will also observe poise, balance, grace, and the ability to go from slow or calm motions to fast or furious motions and back again without stumbling or losing their control.
If you watch skilled weight-lifters, you will observe that they structure themselves properly before lifting weights. They don’t try to lift a couple of hundred kilos with bad structure, with all their weight on one leg, or with one shoulder rounded forward. They take a proper position and lift their weights with the best form they are able to maintain during the action.
To get back to the premise and visualisation of this article, if you watch plumbers doing their job, they fix leaks and try to avoid creating any new leaks. They recognise that a well-structured and well-connected plumbing system is the best way to carry high-intensity jets of water from the boiler to the place where the water is to be released under pressure. They don’t (or shouldn’t!) accept poor joint connections between the pipes just because some amount of water comes out the tap.
If we look after the plumbing systems in our homes, and try to ensure that the plumbing is all well-connected and without any leaks, maybe we should try to do the same with our own body and work towards developing a body that can do what is asked of it without damaging itself.
Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers. I teach regularly at Liverpool HEMA, and help behind the scenes with running HEMA in Glasgow at the Vanguard Centre.