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Cross-Training Not Cross-Purposes

by Adam Adrian Crown

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Judging from the inquiries I've received about it recently, "cross-training" seems the hot topic at the moment.
All kinds of athletes are praising the virtues of engaging in some activity other than their specialty in order to complement or enhance their principle sport. Usually, the cross-training activity has some specific transfer value, that is, it develops the same muscles or uses the same or similar movements as the cross-trainer's principle sport.
This is nothing new. Conditioning programs of all kinds are based on this idea. That's why boxers do roadwork and athletes of all kinds lift weights.

First, cross-training is irrelevant to the beginner. Beginners should concentrate on fencing itself. But advanced fencers who are training at a higher level and are making greater demands on themselves in terms of training volume, duration, frequency and intensity, may find it useful.

In order to be beneficial for fencing, the supplementary activity should do one or more of several things:

  • it should improve the foundational elements of fencing: balance, line, focus and distance
  • it should enhance the appropriate energy system, matching the metabolic demands of fencing
  • it should develop your muscular strength and endurance
  • it should enhance your fencing-specific skills -- or at least, it should not contravene them
  • It should provide you with a "change of pace" from your regular routine in order to avoid over-training and stagnation.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
If you want something that transfers precisely to fencing, that's easy: fence! Fencing is a skill-based activity and nothing will make you as skillful at fencing as fencing itself. But I'll share with you a little training and conditioning secret of mine: interval training. This is for advanced fencers only. Here's how it works:
First, warm up thoroughly.
Then, set a timer for a specific period -- let's say 30 seconds. I use an interval timer so that I can set it to sound a signal at specified periods. 30 second intervals and a 3 or 4 minute round. Then a 30-60 second rest period.
Do 30 seconds of, for example, advances, slow, precise and easy.
The next 30 seconds do advances hard and fast as you can -- still as perfectly as possible; don't through skill out the window -- but keep pushing the envelope of speed/intensity.
You can do various kinds of footwork this way, first slow and easy, then hard and fast. You will be improving your conditioning while improving your skill at the same time by using fencing actions instead of, say, going out for a jog.

Jogging, by the way, is almost worthless to a fencer.
It doesn't match the metabolic demands of a fencing bout, it doesn't simulate fencing movements and it pounds your ankles, knees and lower back into trash. If you must run, run intervals. At least you'll build your anaerobic capacity and that's what you need in fencing. 30 seconds easy jog/30 sprint and repeat 3-15 times.

You can do bladework intervals, too.
I alternate handwork alone with handwork and footwork combined. For example: 30 seconds, straight-thrust followed by 30 seconds straight thrust-lunge-recover. 30 seconds parry 6te-straight riposte a pied firme, 30 seconds riposte by lunge.
Depending on how I feel I might rest every second, third or fourth interval.
I've done a tremendous variety of actions this way and it's become one of my favorite practice routines.
HIIT is VERY demanding and if you do it too often you'll probably over-train -- and that's the worst thing you can do. Use it as a spice not as a staple.

Okay, how about some real cross-training activities. Here are my recommendations. It may not be what you expected.

Horsemanship.
My top choice.
You will learn an incredible amount from your equine mentors. You'll re-define "balance" and have a better understanding of the importance of remaining "centered." You'll develop your sensitivity, enhance the lightness of your hand, increase your self-confidence.
I have found so much of horsemanship to be directly applicable to the sword (and, to be fair, sometimes vice versa) that it's like rediscovering the basic principles new and fresh all over again. Plus you get to spend time with some of the most beautiful beings on the planet. If you don't do anything else, do this one.

Music
Learn to play a musical instrument. Learn it well enough that you can read music and play what's written. And learn it well enough that you can get together with other musicians to play.
This will be a great deal of fun, which is reason enough to do it.
But you will also enhance your ability to focus your concentration, to feel rhythm and tempo, to understand what other people are expressing, to read their emotions. All of which comes quite in handy in a fencing match.

Dance
Dancing is fencing without bloodshed. It is about connectedness and intimate communication, feeling not thinking.
The main difference between dancing and fighting is that when you dance with someone you are trying to communicate truthfully and when you fight you are quite often lying.
But whether you tell the truth or a lie, saying it clearly in movement is fundamental to swordplay.

Magic
Much of magic is based on misdirection. So is combat. Direct your opponent's attention to one line then hit in another. Presto.

Boxing
Boxing is fencing with both hands and a few more band-aids. Until you've worked out as hard as a boxer works out, you have no idea what a tough workout is. Boxing will hone your fighting spirit to a razor's edge and teach you more than you ever though you'd know about committment. You will also learn about cherishing your opponent and a lesson or two about the transient nature of victory.

Sailing
The sword is based on the same natural principles as sailing. It's awe-inspiring to see them at work on a grand scale, a little fencing match between you and the wind. Your boat is your foil, the water the president du combat. Sailing will teach you that the shortest distance between two points is not always a straight line.

Weight lifting
No doubt about it, stronger is better. The stronger you are, the easier it is to do everything. As an extra added benefit you will improve your health, too. Weight-training also provides you with a great boon to your spirit because you have measurable and undeniable proof of your progress.
Be sure you get some expert guidance planning your program though. Gyms are full of guys with all their brains in their biceps just waiting to hand out worthless advice to the novice -- especially if the novice is a woman.

Give of yourself
Work in a soup kitchen. Plant some trees. Adopt a stray. Teach someone how to read. Visit someone who's alone. Protect someone in danger. Comfort someone in pain.
Remember that strength means nothing unless you use it to help those who are not strong.
The soul of the sword is benevolence. Stand up for truth, justice and mercy.
Be sure those muscles get plenty of exercise.

Rest
Be sure to schedule in some time off.
I mean really off. Time to do nothing in particular. Sit in the sun and watch the breeze blow. Stretch out and read a book. Watch an old 3-hanky movie.
Listen. Love. Laugh.

Even if these things didn't improve your fencing one whit, they would still be well worth doing in and of themselves, so you have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain. The worst that can happen is that you will inadvertently become a more well-rounded and interesting person and enjoy life more while doing it.

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Saddle, Lance and Stirrup: The Irish/Roman Connection
The Naked Truth | If I Had a Hammer
The Sabre's Edge | Swordfight at the OK Corral
How to Defend a Monopoly | A Propos d'un Accident
The Dubious Quick Kill part 1 | The Dubious Quick Kill part 2
Review and Commentary | Duels with the Sword | Starting with Foil
Liancour's Tercentenary | The Manuel d'escrime of 1877 | The Military Masters Fencing Program
Analysis of the Patton Fencing Manual | The Red Court Fencing's Royal Connection
| The Practical Saviolo part 1 | Saddle, Lance and Stirrup
Demystification of the Spanish School 1 | Demystification of the Spanish School 2
Demystification of the Spanish School 3
| A Brief Look at Joseph Swetnam
| Ithacan Retains Title | Third Time's a Charm
Cross-Training Not Cross-Purposes | Riposte Direct | Use of the Word "Sparring"
Chivalry Makes a Come-back | Teachings of Marozzo |

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This file was last modified Sunday, Mar 26 2006, 17:16:28 EST