When you first read the books by Joachim Meyer, it is likely that you notice the low stances in the illustrations. Yet whenever you watch people sparring or competing, you rarely see such stances in use. Why is this? Is it a problem our community needs to address?
In this article, I would like to propose a few good reasons why we should practise Meyer’s low stances so that our fencing improves.
It builds physicality
Most people today are chronically under-active and do far too little exercise. This can be for a wide variety of reasons, but the outcome is often the same: we just aren’t as good at physical activity as we should be. By spending some time and effort on developing your body to be able to perform more demanding physical tasks, you develop and improve your overall physicality, and this will in turn improve your overall fencing skills.
Even if you do not use the low stances in your sparring, your physicality will have been improved by having practised them, and this will do good things for your fencing.
It builds strength in the legs
Having stronger legs is helpful. If you have more explosive strength in your legs then you can move from place to place faster, and you can launch more effective attacks from your guard positions. If you have more stability and stamina in your legs, then you can keep going for longer without becoming tired, and you will be better able to resist your opponent’s attacks.
Even if you do not use the low stances in your sparring, having more strength in your legs will let you perform your footwork more effectively, both for attack and defence.
It makes you concentrate more on your footwork during practice
It is all too easy to neglect your footwork while training with swords. Swords are shiny, and they do a pretty good job of distracting people and taking the attention away from the feet and out to the hands and sword. Instead of thinking about just the sword, you can bring your attention back toward your body and down into your legs, and thus you can be more mindful and precise about your footwork practice.
It is hard to avoid thinking about your legs and your steps when your thighs are burning and you just want to sit down and stop moving! By forcing yourself to work your legs harder during your training, you make it easier for yourself to think about your footwork and pay attention to these important fundamentals that you might otherwise skip or forget to think about.
You can go lower on demand
Sometimes, it can be valuable to be able to drop your body lower. Meyer suggests that the correct way to attack the leg is to lower yourself into a deeper stance so that you can reach the legs from your new shoulder height, rather than leaning over and exposing your upper openings to some kind of counter attack or double hit.
Personally, I find it immensely helpful to be able to drop into a lower stance, cut someone on the leg, and then raise back up ready to defend myself. I have also managed to duck underneath strikes that people have thrown against me in sparring and competitions – it gives me a great sense of pleasure to duck under a Zwerhaw while cutting someone across the stomach or leg!
If you do not train yourself to work in a deeper, lower stance, then you will not be able to do this effectively in sparring or competition. To be able to do anything effectively upon demand in these difficult situations, you need to have trained it sufficiently for it to be a comfortable thing to do. Therefore, even if you do not perform deep stances regularly in your sparring, it is better to be able to do it on demand than to be unable to do it at all.
It prepares you for grappling
Sometimes, people come close with the intent of grappling you. Sometimes, you might close the distance with the intention of grappling the other person. If you have ever done any wrestling, you should understand the importance of being able to control your body and brace against resistance, and you should also probably understand the role of centre of gravity.
In short, being able to drop your stance and work with a lower centre of gravity that remains stable and strong even while being pushed around is of immense importance when grappling occurs. Although most sword fighting takes place at sword distance, it does sometimes come closer, and it is important to be able to deal with it properly when this happens. Being able to drop your weight and push back against someone from beneath their centre of gravity will give you a huge advantage in your sparring.
Hopefully these reasons show that it is worth practising the low stances shown in Meyer’s books, even if you do not normally fence in such a position. Simply training like that will come with benefits to your overall fencing abilities. And you never know – by practising the low stances, you may find them becoming more natural and more comfortable, and then you will find yourself able to do more of your sparring in the right kind of postures for the system that you study, which may lead to more of the techniques and tactics working successfully.
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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.