Some thoughts on slow play.

"Fencing is, par excellence, a fast sport, in every sense of the word: speed of perception, speed of reaction, speed of movement, fast change of action, fast change of rhythm." - Zbigniew Czajkowski

As I see it the purpose of slow play is stop wailing away at full speed for a minute and bring mindfulness to your actions, to catch nuances of our mechanics that you wouldn't notice when moving fast. It allows realisations such as "oh hey, I didn't realize that I wasn't voiding my torso fully when parrying" or "I didn't notice how my elbow sticks out when I make this guard." It can explain happenings that are hard to understand at full speed like "how come I'm always thrusting short?" or "why do I always get hit in the same place?" Slow play is a great tool for finding inefficiencies in your technique and experimenting with solutions.

Is slow play something we should be proud of in of itself? No, not really. Drills including slow play are nice but really should only be judged on the resulting improvements in your full speed play: did “slow playing” that problem lead to resolving the fact you were always getting hit on the arm when taking that guard, yes or no?

In my experience an over focus on slow play or slowed down play is particularly bad for several things: firstly it degrades your reaction skills as you become less used to perceiving and reacting to things at full speed. Secondly it degrades your economy of movement as you will take advantage of the extra time to add more and more movements into the action, movements that wouldn't exist within a proper tempo. This leads to fantasy technique such as responding to half tempo actions with time or time and a half responses. Finally extended slow play, especially of set piece techniques, removes the "mindfulness" element that is the whole point of the exercise as you find yourself sedately "going though the motions" of the play without thinking.

Of course doing everything slow has the benefit of reducing the risk of injury. Because: more speed = more force

Now I believe that a few bumps and bruises are a worthwhile risk for a closer approximation of the Arts. Especially if the following obvious steps are taken:

1. Mitigate the other main multipliers of force, such as weight of your weapon (it's worth noting that with a really heavy weapon there can be no injury free speed), length of weapon, width of edge etc

2. Understand that it's not about delivering every blow with full force but delivering a fast blow when appropriate to the technique

3. Learn to deliver fast blows accurately

4. Coupled with point 3, ensure you have targets suitably prepared to take the additional force (such as the mask, plastron or into your opponents sword).

Points 1 and 4 are about sensible preparation while points 2 and 3 are what I consider to be “control.” To my mind “control” isn't just simplistically hitting lightly all the time but hitting hard with an appropriate weapon, at the appropriate time accurately to the appropriate target


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