Some thoughts on why being small and weak isn't a good thing


Just a few thoughts about the above video.

It's a nice idea that skill "vastly outmatches" size and strength. Unfortunately this idea that there is a spectrum with "physiology" on one end and "skill" at the other end isn't really true and it can be detrimental to your training to operate under this assumption. Generally speaking they go hand in hand.

In all sports there's a "software" element and a "hardware" element, this means a element that is skill based and learnt (like Software on a computer) and there is an element that is physiological (like the hardware on a computer). Having better software can make a computer with bad hardware operate better but I doubt it would vastly overcompensate against a computer with better hardware. Likewise in fencing if I had the choice I'd definitely trade off for physical advantages. Why? Because those with physical advantages can achieve disproportionately greater outcomes with less effort. For example being "big" and "strong." Being bigger allows you to overreach with everything while the stronger person will have a greater capacity for speed. They reach far and hit fast. You'd need vastly more software to overcome that hardware disadvantage.

Following from this point is that the person with the physiological advantage will have the incentive and capacity to train more and harder thus getting more skillful, which is what happens with high level athletes in most other sports. 

Part of this is what your understanding of "skill" is. Traditionally the idea seems to be that skill is a passive intellectual understanding of set piece techniques, that "if I just keep tweaking this move one day it will be perfect." However I think skill is more around "Principles" or in other words ever improving heuristics or shortcuts to better your reactions. A large part of getting your heuristics to work properly is being physically able to operate them at suitable speed.

So what's this about then? To my mind this is the same chat you get from every McSalle and every "get fit quick" gadget, it promises you a shortcut to all that hard work the other guys are having to do. It's a key stone in the argument that underlies anti-athleticism in HEMA, that HEMA is "skill based" rather than "fitness based", that it's the "martial art" for those who don't do fitness, being Artful will defeat all. Unfortunately this is a load of bollocks. Certainly at the level of most HEMA where my experience is that a person with a relatively small fitness advantage will have an enormous advantage in a tournament over most other candidates.

Finally it's probably worth noting that big and strong aren't generally the most dominant physical characteristics in fencing, things like depth perception and vision quality are probably more important, i.e. the physical ability to gather information more quickly and accurately is probably more key than raw power.

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