Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How to hit harder

Disclaimer - this post is aimed at new fighters who are struggling to hit with sufficient force. If that is not you, this advice will probably not help you.

If a 5'2" girl can hit with sufficient force and control, so can you. That's my mantra when new fighters are struggling to throw good shots, whether it be due to weakness, wildness, or simple lack of confidence. There are some good resources out there in the form of videos that will show you this (go check out BrennonEH's channel on youtube if you haven't already), but I know I sometimes need more than demonstration to really understand concepts. In light of that, I've written this short guide to help those who don't have the benefit of good teachers near them.

To start, let's talk about ways you can make your strikes feel harder.

Be strong 
Pretty obvious, but more muscle trained for swinging your weapons means more force. In most cases, naturally strong fighters have less trouble connecting solidly even when striking quickly. You can, and should, work on this over time if you want to become a better fighter.

Be heavy
This doesn't just mean your body, though it certainly doesn't hurt.  Having more mass to throw around typically will make you hit harder. That includes using slightly heavier weapons, assuming you can control them. Even with those weapons (which require strength), you probably aren't going to be able to change this much.

Have tape on your striking surface (really, don't)
Okay, this isn't really a way to make you hit harder, but it technically can make your strikes "feel" harder. I'm only including this to address something you should not try but might come up in conversation.

Not much tape on a striking surface is allowed per the current Book of War, but you may notice taping is common on some flails and bats to improve the longevity of the weapon. As a side effect, it gives the weapons an extra slap or sting that makes it feel like a harder hit than it would sans tape. Note that this isn't the case when your opponent is wearing armor. More importantly, your weapon should be failed for using tape specifically to hit harder, so you can't rely on this method.

At this point, you've probably noticed that first way takes time to build if you don't already have it, the second is mostly immutable, and the third is strongly discouraged.  So how can you start throwing sufficient force shots more easily right now?

Body Mechanics

Can you guess what happens next? Photo © Kyle Janus (Noodle)
Quite possibly the most overused buzzword in Belegarth, the term "body mechanics" is spouted at newbies as if it is a magical unicorn that will solve all their problems. It's true, good body mechanics are required to hit hard and safely, but often the phrase is followed with so little instruction that new fighters can actually learn dangerous habits while doing what they think is necessary to get good force.

So before we begin let me be perfectly clear: if something feels "bad" about the way your are swinging (e.g. it strains your wrist, makes your elbow sore) do not keep doing it! 

Good body mechanics do not hurt and should help prevent injury, not cause it. If you're not sure what the problem is, please go find a skilled veteran (or comment below) so you can get help correcting the issue. There are many possible causes for injury that are no fault of your opponent, such as using a weapon that's too heavy for you, standing wrong, gripping the weapon poorly, or putting more momentum behind a swing than you can control.

What I'm going to outline for you is a simple way to work on throwing a full-power, controlled shot with a one-handed weapon. Before we begin, here's what you'll need:
  • A one-handed sword. This should be light enough for now that you can pull your shots without too much strain. As you become comfortable and stronger, you can use something heavier.
  • Gloves. Technically optional, but it can protect you from your sword's grip. Also, you'll want to train with the same equipment you use on the field because some gloves restrict wrist or hand movement.
  • Something to hit.  I recommend a friend with a shield if that's an option.  If that's not available, I've used a tall padded chair or couch indoors (a punching bag or pell is ideal if you have access to one).  You can even use a tree, but be careful of tearing through your covers. Whatever you choose, you should be able to comfortably strike it while standing. In the explanation below, I will assume you're swinging on a round shield.
For the sake of simplicity, I'm going to avoid the topic of different grips for now. That probably makes some veterans out there cringe, but I find that most new fighters already have a natural grip that works fairly well for this training. I will say to be careful where your thumb is: a thumb hanging out in the open or on your blade can lead to breakage if it gets hit the wrong way.

What I'd like you to do is stand sword-foot forward for now, other foot back and pointed at a 45-ish degree angle away from your body (view the videos on stance if you need help).  You don't need a particularly deep stance but be sure you aren't leaning over. Now, take a solid swing at the edge of your opponent's shield, trying to connect the top 1/3 of your blade with the shield edge.  You should be coming down at a significant angle, connecting with the shield in a place where this is no danger of hitting them in the head.  You can think of it as aiming for the shield instead of the person, preferably a little below shoulder height.

After you've done this a few times, take note of several things:
  • What muscles or joints are feeling the strain of swinging?
  • What parts of your body have moved between the beginning and end of your swing?
  • When you strike the shield, does it naturally force your blade to bounce back?
  • How much noise are you making when you strike the shield?
To be clear, I want to make sure you understand that the answers you should give to these questions will vary depending on what kind of shot you're throwing. When you've got body mechanics down pat, you'll be able to engage the right muscles for the right job, but at this time we're going to assume you're trying for full power. Most of the time, you won't want to use this full-body, maximum-power shot since it limits your ability to move and guard, but it should help you feel confident that you can hit sufficiently when you're working through other types of training.

For what we want to see, you should be engaging your entire core, including your hips, to generate power (more about that in a moment), so you'll feel it through your whole body. You'll be twisting from the start of the swing to the end to ensure a hard blow, so everything from the waist up will move through that motion. As you finish your swing, you'll be keeping your wrist "strong" to avoid taking the shock in a bad way to your joints, which will push the blade back forcefully after your strike. Of course, you should also expect the characteristic, reverberating "boom" that comes with a good hit to a shield edge. This isn't a foolproof list, but it will point you in the right direction.

You can think of your body kind of like a bullwhip in this exercise, with the sword being the end that cracks through the air. Your hips and core muscles will be the handle, the staring point that pulls your arm around to connect with your opponent. As that arm comes around through the shoulder, be sure to keep some tension so you can continue adding power to the swing as you extend to hit the shield. Lastly, you'll engage your forearm to actually complete the strike with a sharp snap, absorbing the bounce-back into your arm rather than your wrist, ideally using it to return to a guarding position.

Practice this full body-twist a few times slowly before trying it full speed on the shield. You should feel most of your upper body being used during the swing, and the sound that echos after it should be nice and loud. It will take a lot of effort to throw this kind of strike at first despite it being more efficient than an arm or wrist-only shot, but it shouldn't feel bad on any of your joints.

After a few tries, take stock of the earlier questions again to see what's changed and what hasn't. If you're doing well, switch to other stances and shots to see the difference in your swing.  You'll find you need to modify the finer details for a few, but the concept is the same. Your core is king to generate lots of power.

If you're struggling, this is a good point to hunt down vets or give those videos a watch to figure out what isn't working. Everyone's way of learning is a little different, so a second explanation might be all you need. I promise, you can get there with enough practice.

Some other tips
There are a couple additional problems that I see often enough during training that I'm going to address a couple of them now. If you're still struggling after everything above and the resources and teachers available to you aren't helping, I hope this will.

I'm going through the motions, but I just can't hit HARD!
I sometimes call this "noodle-arm" syndrome, and it's far more common in women than men. For some reason, many women have a tendency to go limp through their swings, letting momentum do the work. This ends in a very weak strike.

This problem can be symptomatic of using equipment that's just too heavy for you to control. The first thing you should do if you have this problem is go find something lighter to play with for a bit. It may seem counter-intuitive, but you may find that with less weight you're able to better engage your arm during a swing rather than letting your sword just fall. Using those muscles will generate far more force and control.

Noodle-arm can also be symptomatic of having a metal block when it comes to actually fighting a person. I know it sounds kind of stupid, but when you're facing an opponent, you're probably thinking more than just "I'm going to hit them as hard as I possibly can!" especially if you're worried about hurting them. For you, I recommend practicing on an inanimate object first if you can. If you can't, try to think of the shield like a tree that you're trying to chop down. Remember - you aren't swinging on a person during this exercise. Once you know you can hit hard enough, you can work through the mental hurdle of doing it on an actually opponent on the field.

If neither of these are true, you just might need to work on your aggression.  Now, I don't mean anger, that can be dangerous, but just the drive to fight.  It's something worth learning to turn on and off. On the field, it's necessary to stand up to other fast and aggressive fighters, so you'll to want practice getting getting your adrenaline pumping.  I've never had a problem with aggression personally, but I often remind those who need help to "put a little hate behind it" or "swing like a badass". That usually gets the point of confidence across without promoting lack of control.

I'm female and can't get consistency with how hard I hit. 
I highly recommend you get a copy of The Armored Rose and read it.  Although all the body mechanics don't apply in Bele and you may not find all are true for you, it can save you some serious frustration. Males may be the best fighters and teachers in Belegarth today, and you absolutely should listen to them, but they won't be able to explain why certain things just don't work for you that seem to for their other students.

The one takeaway about power I'll impart to you is this: experiment with your stance. Since your power likely comes from your hips and those hips are set differently from a man's, you'll probably find that sword foot forward generates surprisingly more force than the alternative when using the same technique. If that's true for you, be aware of this favored side when you fight - it can be the difference between sufficient and light even if the motion feels the same to you.

Need more help or have additional advice? Let me know by leaving a comment below.


  1. This message is Sir Torrence approved. Always make sure you are dividing the work across different muscle groups. You'll hit harder and won't fatigue as easily.

  2. Also, never be afraid to "not get it" and ask for help repeatedly; That's what knights, squires, and veterans in general are there for.

  3. All very informative and interesting, good job!!

    Though I feel obligated to say even though his instruction transfers, Brennon is an Amtgard knight. I don't think he's ever played Bel.

  4. If you read the book Armored Rose it will tell you the best set of muscles that females have and how to use them to generate proper force (from the hips). That being said combining what you read on techniques in sword fighting and how it is actually performed is challenging on its own. This takes patience with yourself on 'messing up" a technique you are trying and repeatedly do it over and over again as you are getting your butt handed to you on the field. It's takes its own kind of diligence and tenacity to keep it up. Also keep in mind to make it your own. As long as its effective in what you are trying to accomplish, it doesn't need to be perfect. Being different makes life WAY more interesting.

  5. When I was new, I hit quite light. I was following all the advice I could, and none of it worked. Eventually I tracked it down, but my problem isn't covered in this guide. Figured I'd share my two cents here, hope it helps someone else.

    Turned out that my problem was my grip was loose during the strike. A loose grip was an easy thing to fall into, as it's a shock absorber- it makes a strike easier on you. However, doing so removes all of the follow through, making pretty much all of your hits light if you do it.

    Holding the grip tight through/after the hit fixed things. It's in the fingers, not the wrist.
    Note this is different than holding the wrist tight, to prevent taking the force of the strike on your wrists. Though if you are, you are especially prone to doing this, as you'll really want the shock absorption in that case.

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  7. Shrike, thanks so much for this article. I am and always have been a spearman (shot hardness takes care of itself with that) but I'm trying to build my blue skills from the ground up to diversify my styles. It's not easy, and I'm experiencing quite a bit of tightness and pain along my lower arm (feels tendon-y) every time I pull a shot (this is a min-of-the-min blue, mind you, nothing too heavy). Is this just because I'm a pathetic, weakling plebeian, or is it possible that I'm injuring myself by throwing it wrong? I'm trying to follow Brennon's youtube tutorials, to give you an idea of what I've been trying.

    1. couple things come to mind which could be causing your soreness.

      If the soreness is delayed, then that's your muscles trying to adjust to a new activity. Proper stretching, lots of water, and regular training will help. Personally, I had to do regular strength training to rid myself of that entirely.

      If it's immediate, you could be trying to throw with too much brute force for your level of practice. Make sure your shots are controlled the whole way through, and build from slow to full speed. If you're practicing slowly and you feel there's an awkward part of your swing, that's probably where the pain is coming from, and you can adjust accordingly.

      Remember: the majority of your power should be coming from your core. If you're using mostly arm, you'll definitely end up hurting when throwing hard.

      Finally, I don't know where you practice, but if you can make it to a major event - Go! There are usually quite a few good, experienced fighters there who would be happy to look at your form and help you. It's definitely much easier to correct stance or technique issues in person than through text. :)

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