The Cutting Drill – Part 1

Do you know what the cutting drill is? I’ve thrown the name around in my posts maybe once or twice, but have actually neglected to clearly define it. In fact, I wasn’t even sure if I had described it on this blog at all. Apparently I have – sort of, anyway: Week 1 – Swords Are Heavy. About half-way through that post I start to describe the first version of the cutting drill I learned. Further into the beginner’s course this was expanded on and named the cutting drill (although we still only knew the first half of it). It is an exercise that, as the name implies, is for practicing your cutting technique. We usually spend at least a few minutes on it in the middle of every class.

The first half of the cutting drill can be summed up like this: cut down from the right, cut up to the right, cut down half-way, cut up to the left, cut down from the left, cut up to the left, cut down half-way, cut up to the right, repeat. Exciting, right? Now granted, little things like medieval Italian terminology can make it sound more complicated (mandritto fendente from posta di donna on the right to dente di cinghiaro, riverso sottano to posta di donna on the right, mandritto fendente to posta longa, move to posta di donna on the left, riverso fendente to porta di ferro, mandritto sottano to posta di donna on the left, riverso fendente to posta longa, repeat) but at its heart it’s still cut, cut, cut.

While this is not actually easy – there are tons of things to keep in mind, like keeping your posture, leading with the sword instead of the feet, getting the angle of the cut exactly right, etc. – it does get tedious after a couple of months. There comes a point where cutting up, down, up, down, up, down just starts to feel silly.

But finally in June a unique opportunity presented itself: only six people showed up to training, three experienced students and three beginners, and it came up that none of us beginners knew the full cutting drill. Awesome! Next thing I knew each beginner had been paired up with an experienced student and we were going through every step of the cutting drill in its original context.

This was really great. I could have just tried to observe the other students doing the full cutting drill and tried aping them, but it would’ve been just that: aping. I wouldn’t have actually understood where those cuts came from. After all, a cut down is not just a cut down: it’s an attack. A cut down to posta longa is an attack that we’re considerate enough to stop before impact when training. A cut up and down is the second drill parry and counter attack. Each step of the cutting drill can be tracked back to other sword fighting exercises or drills.

I learned far too much from this lesson to fit into one post, so I’ve decided to publish this in a couple of parts. In the next post I’ll look at the beginning of the second half of the cutting drill in more detail.

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