Monday, June 22, 2009

From tae kwon do to fencing

I suppose I've spent around five years taking lessons in tae kwon do, and a similar length of time fencing, when we account for my lengthy lapses in both, and it's always been interesting to me the similarities and differences.

Some correspondences are very close.

The parrying edge used in TKD is the leading edge of the forearm, about the same length as the forte of the fencing blade used for parrying. With that in mind, it's pretty clear that the mechanics are the same for a parry five and a high block. Parry four is an inside block; the outside block lines up neatly with parry three. Those three are the normal saber parries. There's another direct correspondence; the fourth basic TKD block, the low block, is parry is a parry eight; parry two would be a high low block, something a little too awkward to use comfortably. Parries one, six, and seven would correspond to blocking with the inside of the forearm; in TKD, you would use the other hand instead, something you do not do in fencing.

The lunge and the front stance are similar, but there's a key difference. In TKD, the back foot and hips are squared to bring both arms to bear, while in fencing, they are twisted sideways to minimize target area. In both cases the back should be completely vertical in practice - no martial artist is advised to lean into their attack and overcommit to it as a matter of habit, though at a crucial moment, overcommitting may be occasionally worthwhile.

The classic fencing en garde stance falls between TKD stances. The feet are in an L - as in a back stance - but the weight is further forward. TKD uses asymmetric weight distributions to make light-leg kicks easy and quick, and heavy-leg kicks powerful due to whole-body momentum shifts; fencing uses even distributions to let you change directions from forwards to backwards more quickly.

When it comes to stretching, fencers are advised to use many of the same leg stretches. The reason in TKD is that being able to split one's legs apart gives you easier higher kicks; in fencing, it is to maximize lunge range. Fencers, however, use their wrists a great deal more; I have found the stretches TKD students do not use, but aikido students do, to be quite useful as well.

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