While attending a first aid course recently, we did the usual sorts of things, including CPR practice (the breaths and chest compressions). It struck me that the structure required for CPR is pretty much that of Long Point: arms straight, with the hands together and directly in front of you (not deviated off to the side), and with your body structure and weight directly over the casualty (rather than pushing at some awkward angle).
I spent some time after the course thinking about this, and considering the relationship of some of our fencing actions to real-life situations that require physical solutions.
Many people struggle to make a competent, useful Long Point for anything other than thrusting. This is usually because the point is thrown as far forward as possible, often with the arms either slightly bent or hyper-extended, and often with the hands pushed off to the side instead of directly in front. This might seem like a good position to use as the end point for a thrust, but it’s not particularly good for anything else!
Liechtenauer’s core doctrine uses the Long Point as an approaching position. Just like you have Pflug and Ochs at a distance in the Zufechten, and the lower and upper hangers respectively in the bind and Krieg, you have Lang Ort at a distance in the Zufechten and you have the Sprechfenster in the bind and Krieg. Anything you can do from the Leger in the Zufechten, you can do from Lang Ort; when the bind is established and your Lang Ort becomes the Sprechfenster, you can do from that position anything that you would do from or in any other bind.
My observation from travelling through several countries to teach and to learn from hundreds (if not thousands by now) of different people is that most people don’t really understand how to use their body to achieve physical tasks, at least not until they gain enough experience and repetitions of being physically active. As a result, when people form and try to use a Long Point, it often doesn’t have the structure of the body behind it properly, in much the same way as people who are new to first aid and who have never tried CPR before will struggle to make the chest compressions and to keep going for several minutes without having any problems with structure or stamina.
At this particular course, the instructor challenged us to perform 5 full repetitions of the 30 compressions and 2 breaths. At roughly 100 beats per minute, with a few seconds break for the breaths, this took just over 2 minutes to complete. With my Long Point structure, I was perfectly happy to keep going; most of the other participants at the course were struggling to keep up or to maintain their composure by the end, because their structure wasn’t quite right and they weren’t quite using their bodies properly to achieve their physical goals.
At a previous first aid course that I attended, I was challenged to do a full 3 minutes of compressions, which didn’t faze me at all, but caused some issues for other participants, for exactly the same reasons!
Sometimes, at HEMA events, people ask me how I manage to fence against opponents who are larger and stronger than I am, and how I manage to defend myself the way I do. Largely, it is all because I can make a competent Long Point and can put my body behind it with good structure.
If you were to consider how you form your Long Point, what is that position good for? Where does it have flaws or weaknesses? If you were to improve the structure, how would that impact and improve your fencing?
If you had more ability and awareness with your body in general, and could bring more of your body’s strength and structure to bear on physical tasks, would that make your life any easier? Finally, with your answers to these questions in mind, do you think it might be worth improving how you practise and perform your Long Point in your study of HEMA (and therefore your use of your body in other aspects of life)?
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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.