In the January 11th edition of This Week in 5 Minutes we talked about distance. Go back and review that blog entry. This week we will work on the simple mechanics of maintaining, opening, and closing distance, and you need to know what the 11 January post says.
If distance is determined by the physical distance we have to travel forward in order to hit the opponent's target, how do we measure that distance? On the strip the key to distance is arm extension in the attack. We teach that an attack should land as the culmination of a coordinated acceleration of all the speeds your body can generate - leg, arm, torso, and finger. Three of these speeds are also distances that you can cover in the attack, but they do not happen in the same order as they do in acceleration.
The governing distance is arm distance. At the last moment we want to hit the opponent with an arm that is almost completely extended, still extending in order to generate speed and acceleration, but within millimeters of completion. If we hit with a significantly bent arm we giving an opponent three important advantages:
(1) we are limiting our ability to make dynamic realistic feints r to execute trompement in response to an attempted parry, and
(2) he can deal with an attack that is not at maximum speed - in other words it will be easier to parry, and
(3) we have positioned our target area closer to her than would be the case if we land with a full extension - in other words we are making ourselves a better riposte target.
If you can think of a good reason to give the opponent an advantage in dealing with your attack (not a false attack or a second intention or a countertime, but your first intention attack), then by all means, make every attack with a bent arm. Enjoy being hit by the riposte as a reward for a poor tactical choice. Otherwise, extend and reach for the target.
Part of the reach comes with the acceleration of torso rotation. The distance you gain by torso rotation is a small, but vital, addition to arm distance. Obviously the gain is proportional to physical size, but 4 to 6 inches is a good rule of thumb. Absent any complicating factor, torso distance should be part of every extension.
Note that I am not advocating extending your arm first and then lunging. I am saying that arm distance determines the degree to which the problem must be solved by leg distance in the integrated attack in which all parts operate nearly simultaneously in one flowing movement.
Leg distance becomes a factor when we know that arm distance will not reach the target unaided by forward body movement. The advance or lunge must be proportional to the difference between the distance to the target minus the reach of the full extended arm. If your advance or lunge is too short, you will not reach the target.
However, it is just as important not to overlunge. Lunging full power and full length into an opponent's action makes you incredibly vulnerable to their attack, or to their riposte if they take an active parry. At the same time it increases the probability of a very heavy hit, collision and injury, broken blade with penetrating injury, or concussion. Bottom line, uncontrolled forward movement in distance that is shrinking rapidly is a predictor of bad outcomes - touches on you if you are lucky, serious injury if you are not. Control the distance with your footwork, not with your extension, but don't bludgeon your opponent in the process.
It is also important to remember that sequencing of the movement of leg, arm, and torso differs by type of footwork and your tactical objective. For example, an attack conveyed by the lunge requires that arm movement start anywhere in the range from before the kick of the lunge to after it, depending on for how long you wish to deny the opponent the opportunity to deal with your blade. But in an attack you intend to deliver off an advance, the front foot goes first, and the other distances come into play as the rear foot moves. These variations in the timing of arm distance employment mean that you must have a very good sense of the reach that arm and torso distance give you. And that comes from ... practice, more practice.