This week I decided to do something different. In this blog I wanted to cover an unconventional form of cardio exercise that not only builds reaction time, speed, agility, and endurance, but also requires a great deal of strategy and a quick mind. I am, of course, talking about fencing and other forms of weapon based martial arts. For this weeks blog post, I asked my friend Kevin Yates, a fencer and a sword smith, to write a guest post about the benefits of this wonderful sport that is, so often, neglected and overlooked the fitness community. Here’s what he had to say:
As a fencer and avid follower of western martial arts, commonly known as European sword fighting, I found that it was the “only” form of exercise that was enjoyable to me. As I got older I decided to research what goes into this sport. The art itself requires, and also helps to reinforce a sense of balance, anaerobic readiness, aerobic efficiency, flexibility, reflexes, speed, and coordination. Though strength is a useful addition to one’s combat arsenal, it is truly secondary to speed and accuracy, as in a true sword fight it takes less than 1 pound of pressure for a moderately sharpened metal tip to break the skin and pierce a vital organ, bones withstanding. In most fights, it remains, the faster guy who wins, not the stronger.
If high intensity workouts are your thing, nothing quite matches armed combat. During a fight you will have moments, sometimes minutes worth of posing, planning, preparation that ends with a flurry of combinations, counters, and feints. One on one exchanges rarely exceed 20 seconds, which pushes the muscles to use resources readily available instead of relying on nutrients and sugar to come from the blood over time. Arguments involving metabolism heavily favor intense moments of activity coupled with recovery instead of steady maintained exertion which is exactly what you find in combat. The liver, heart, lungs, and kidneys benefit from these workouts the most.
Coordination, speed, and precision are key components that make up a good fighter. In combat, unlike with other forms of exercise, sloppy or lacking form becomes immediately evident and can lead to injury or a lost bout. Most modern sword combat training, is heavily centered on form, precision and safety aspect, in order to minimizing broken bones, pierced skin, damaged organs, or tendon/muscle damage. These skills (form and precision) do not need to be learned in direct confrontation either. One popular method of inducing muscle memory involves frequent and rigorous training with a pell or dummy. This allows for a safe and effective way to learned proper technique without the fear of retaliation and subsequent injury. However, nothing prepares you for a direct confrontation better than facing a live opponent.
Outside of improving your cardiovascular health, teaching patience and precision, self defense and improving muscle tone, armed combat also helps develop faster reflexes and hand-eye coordination. Very few things teach a person to react quickly and correctly on moment to moment basis quite like armed combat. In all simplicity there are about 11 styles of attack which can be countered by roughly 8 styles of blocks. Regardless of the style of combat, these simple moves (with some variation) are repeated over and again until they become second nature. Then the ability to fight comes into play as one must use these moves to deliver a strike against the opponent without in turn receiving one. In addition to the physical aspect of fighting, there is a mental component. There is a point in every fencing bout when it stops being a skirmish and becomes a very convoluted form of chess style strategy coupled with moment to moment reactionary changes in direction, flow, and patterns. A successful fighter will be able to out-think the opponent while reacting to unforeseen changes. The heart isn’t the only thing racing at these moments. Every muscle in the body of a fighter, including the heart, works in unison to form a complex dance that improves the body, the mind, and overall reaction time, physical readiness, and fitness.
–By Kevin Yates