Avoiding ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’

One of the most common pitfalls for fighters seeking to advance their skills into the higher ranks is nicknamed “Rock, Paper, Scissors”.

rpsSimilar to the child’s game, where you choose rock, paper, or scissors at the same time as the other player(s) hoping to win the round, many fighters enter combat range and fight in a similar manner.

The “knee jerk” reaction of many fighters is to throw a blow immediately upon entering combat range. Often this blow is thrown at the same time as the opponent, with little or no actual awareness of what the opponent is actually doing. This is playing Rock/Paper/Scissors. When you do this you are leaving yourself open somewhere, hoping to land a shot on an opponent and hoping that they don’t hit your open spot.

This is usually what happens when a much more experienced opponent loses to a novice. Almost always it’s because he was throwing at the same time as the novice and simply chose wrong. Now the “better” fighter usually wins, however, fighting in such a manner opens up a window of chance for an opponent to “get lucky”.

Fighters who engage like this often suffer from a greater level of inconsistency in their tournament performance as well as having a lot more “double kill” fights.

One of my goals in fighting is to eliminate as much random chance as possible. This means controlling yourself, your opponent and the fight. You are hardly in control of the fight if you simply come in and start flopping shots around and your opponent does the same. You should be leading your opponent, controlling the fight and striking when it is safe to do so.

The first thing to do is to eliminate the knee jerk reaction to throw a shot every time you enter range. If you follow through with a lot of the defensive drills outlined previously you should be able to build your confidence in your defense enough to not get hit while in range. Always throwing first can be a sign of over confidence or habit, but most often it is a sign of a lack of confidence that you can defend and control the fight. Control your anxiety, calm down and let the fight happen.

Now that you are in control of yourself, you have the presence of mind to use your range, shield, sword and dodging to protect yourself. Your opponent, when he commits to a shot, can only use his shield and dodging to defend with as his sword is committed and he is closing range or is locked into a particular range for the shot.

When your opponent has only half of his defensive options left he is at his most vulnerable. When committed to a shot a fighter is always open somewhere. By controlling yourself and defending, you will be able to watch your opponent, his shot selection, movements and pick up on exactly where and when he becomes open in a fight.

Strike at the openings, with purpose, when you know that your opponent cannot strike you. This means that the ideal time to strike an opponent is when they open themselves up but are unable to hit you because you are prepared to cut off all of their available angles of attack. It could mean throwing a shot at their opening just after they have committed a shot to an area that you have covered. It could also mean throwing before they throw, at a perceived opening on them, but keeping yourself positioned bodily and primed with the shield to intercept any counter.

You will find that most fighters cannot resist the urge to throw a shot, hence opening themselves up in some way. The true learning will be to follow this and discover when to attack the openings on an opponent and when not to.

Playing Rock, Paper, Scissors is following your preconceived plan of action with no regard for what your opponent is doing.

Avoid this by always reading and reacting to your opponent. Avoid random combos, nervous flurries. It’s okay to be the aggressive, just make sure that every move is intentional and calculated. Always be aware of what your opponent is doing and be ready to cut off his angles of attack.

It will take time, and plenty of hits to get this down, but in the long run you become a much more aware, precise and efficient fighter.


On Fighting Style

I am often asked what style is best to fight with. The answer is easy, but very few truly understand it.

Just as with any other sport or martial art, as we are learning we see particular ways others use to get the job done. Many people adopt a particular style of movement, walk, motions and favorite strikes and special maneuvers.

Part of the problem arises when people pre-program themselves with patterns and particular ways of doing things, so much so that they become predictable and fail to adapt when needed.
Fighting is a living breathing thing, it grows and changes constantly. There is no one “right” way to fight but there can be many “wrong” ways. Any style which claims to be all encompassing will have flaws.

There are many, many ways of throwing shots, moving and fighting. To limit yourself to a “style” of fighting effectively imprisons you withing a particular mindset and way of thinking. You will see combat and your options only within a narrower scope and it will eventually lead to defeat, often leaving you confused as to why.

So my answer, which is similar to the thoughts of Musashi and Bruce Lee, is to have NO STYLE. Learn all ways, all styles you can. Incorporate these things into you fighting abilities. Choose what works for you but remember all.

Try to avoid setting yourself up in a predictable “style” by always throwing the same shots, blocking the same way or moving in a certain fashion. Most fighters are predictable, following particular patterns almost always. If you observe them long enough, you can figure out how to one shot or two shot most fighters. This is not to say that you shouldn’t have favorite ways of doing things, just that you should flow with the fight, let it develop and be able to adapt to whatever happens.


Empty your Cup…

Most practitioners of the martial arts reach “plateaus” at which their forward progression seems to cease. Some feel that training harder, or training different, will help them break through this “barrier” and allow further progression. Other fighters, usually high caliber, feel like they are at the top of their game, and hence cease to progress further.
Both groups are usually stopped by the same issue; their Cups are Full.

When fighters train and compete they achieve merit, gaining skill and knowledge. This serves to bolster the confidence, pride and sense of self. Unfortunately, it is easy to lose perspective, let the ego take over and to feel that you have attained some higher level. When a fighter becomes “Full of Himself” then he ceases to learn. This is what is meant by a “Full Cup” as it can hold no more and any excess just runs off.


The Fighter’s ego is like the Cup. It is healthy to be confident, but when the ego becomes filled by success and achievement over time the practitioner ceases to be the bottomless vessel into which knowledge can be continually poured.


emptycupThis is why you must “Empty Your Cup” when training in the Martial Arts. You must always be open to learning, growing and progressing as a warrior. Devoid yourself of Ego, empty your cup before every practice and be ready to accept what the Way will teach you next.


We all get full from time to time so whether it’s simply a mental reminder or an actual physical demonstration one should empty their cup every now and then to make sure they return to being the student and can be filled again.


In this way you can enter the field, unfettered by pretending to be greater than you are and becoming completely open to learning. This is why they say that true Masters are always Students and it is how Students become Masters.

The Four Basic Elements of Defense -Sword and Shield/Sword and Buckler

The Four Basic Elements of Defense

for Sword and Shield/Buckler

There are Four basic elements to use in your defense when using the Sword and Shield in combat, that is besides your armour. But after all, the goal is not to get hit in the first place.
These Elements are Shield Blocks, Sword Blocks, Dodging and Range. In a proper defense you should be ready with at least 2 elements to cover every area of your body at any time. This means training so you have at least 2 layers of defense ready against any attack.

11081008_10207255531533426_1028743815164962639_n1. the Shield.  You need to practice and develop methods to block every point of your body with your shield alone. In an actual fight it may be impractical to block a particular area with the shield but it can prove very useful in the “unusual” situations that can develop. It is very important to “dial in” you shield work, moving it just enough to pick up a shot and not over block with the shield. The more you over commit to one area the longer it takes to block an opposite area of the body. The “tighter” your shield work the faster you can move from block to block and you will expend less energy.

broadsword2. the Sword.  As you do with the Shield, you need to learn and develop techniques to block every part of the body with your Sword alone. Once again it’s impractical to block certain areas with the sword when the shield is ready and more reliable, but you never know what situations may develop or when you might end up without a shield. The important consideration is that when your sword is busy blocking it’s not able to strike. It’s important to keep your sword as free as possible and develop the ability to strike right from your blocking positions.

3. Dodging is moving your body out of the way of blows. It is important to practice moving each and every part of your body out of the way of attacks. The extremities are the easiest to do this with, then the head is a little more difficult to dodge with leaving the torso as the most difficult to spur to movement and dodge attacks. For the legs, practice sliding them out of range or bending them out of the way of an attack. For the arms, practice pulling them away from a strike or down behind the shield. Ducking the head can work, but is the most difficult to master and leaves you often blind with your eyes often ending up behind your shield. Dodging your head back out of a shot or side to side to roll with a shot is the most common practice. Now for the body, it is very difficult to move the whole thing out of range of an attack. You can move the chest out of an attack easier than the abdomen, but they can all be done if practiced a LOT. The best use of body work is to roll away from a shot with the torso. This delays the impact of a shot, often giving you the extra time to pick up the shot with a shield or sword block. Moving with the motion of the blow also can greatly reduce an impact or cause it to hit well past the power point of the stroke.

4. Range is the simplest concept of defense, but still needs to be practiced regularly. Simply, if you are not within an opponent’s range you cannot be hit. You will notice that proficient fighters use range as a way of controlling the fight and the other fighter. Moving out of range allows a fighter a degree of safety to rest and to refocus his efforts if needed. Moving into range often stimulates an opponent to immediately throw a shot which is a control technique used by the best swordsmen. You can stay out of an opponent’s range entirely to keep safe, or you can keep your legs out of range while entering range with your upper body, or reverse by leaving your legs and shield in range while pulling your torso and head back in order to bait your opponent to swing at “air”.


Layering. As I said earlier you need to develop a style in which you double up on your defense for every shot. That way if your primary defense posture fails your secondary can take over. That could mean blocking with the shield but having the sword poised to block the same shot as well. It could mean blocking with your sword while dodging your head away from the blow at the same time. It could mean sliding your leg out of range while blocking with the shield, just in case. If you practice all aspects of defense and always try to layer up defensive options you will find yourself much more capable and confident in fights.

Tunnel Vision

Avoiding “Tunnel Vision”

Summary: When fighters become too intense their blood pressure and adrenaline races.  They can lose peripheral vision, even hearing, resulting in lack of awareness of what is going on around them.  In this state they are easily blindsided by other opponents and are unaware of developing threats in the environment.

After fighters have been fighting for some time the subject of “Tunnel Vision” usually becomes a topic. Tunnel Vision is when a fighter loses perspective and awareness of the world surrounding them and instead is focusing solely on one object or objective. As a swordsman, the loss of perception of the world surrounding you can be a fatal flaw as you will be unable to adapt to the environment or see other opponents coming.  The worst part is fighters don’t realize it’s happening.

“Tunnel vision is the loss of peripheral vision with retention of central vision, resulting in a constricted circular tunnel-like field of vision.”


In the heat of conflict fighters often become hyper excited and unaware of sights and sounds surrounding them, so instead focus narrowly upon their one target, an objective or even an emotion or thought. This fixation often leads to defeat as a fighter becomes unable to adapt to the environment, the opponent or simply think “outside of the box”. They are afflicted with a very narrow field of vision and focus and end up often doing the same thing over and over hoping that it will work, often throwing the same shot over and over, swinging wildly with no reason or sometimes simply forgetting to defend themselves.

It is not just in the mind however. Tunnel Vision is not only a Mental state but a Physical one as well. Studies have shown that while in this state, brought on by higher blood pressure and adrenaline, your vision is actually narrowed, with the mind only processing the visual information in your focus, ignoring peripheral vision. Auditory perception is also drastically reduced as awareness of sound drops off dramatically. This is why you can often approach someone affected from the side and they do not see you coming nor hear you.

Mental Training.

To avoid falling into Tunnel Vision mentally, a fighter must practice remaining calm under fire, to perceive the fight, not “look” at it. The difference is letting your senses and mind become aware of everything instead of forcing your consciousness upon one target or aspect during the fight. It comes from mental and emotional discipline acquired over a lot of time spent practicing and fighting at full speed. It is when you force your consciousness to focus on a target or aspect of the fight that promotes Tunnel Vision.

Physical Training.

Physical training is also key to avoiding tunnel vision. You must train constantly so that fighting “becomes as breathing”. This is a state where you can remain calm and in control of your physical responses even while moving, blocking and striking. This is a calm state, where you are ready, but not tense or anxious.

There is another factor to be aware of that physically triggers tunnel vision. When you are moving in a sustained exertion or state, your body runs on it’s natural energy reserves of fat. When you trigger states of high exertion you trigger your body to start burning sugars in the bloodstream. If you over exert for long enough you begin burning close to all sugars. Not only do you seem to become exhausted faster, physiologically you begin to lose peripheral vision and hearing perception in high exertion states.

So the longer you stay above your thresh hold for exertion, in the sugar burning stage, the more explosive your power, but the quicker you will become exhausted and the greater the tunnel vision you will experience.