At Bucks, we go through the Lew Gloss in order on a cycle, which helps inform what we will work on in a particular practice. We recently started the schillhaw (which I will henceforth refer to as “squinter”), and it reminded me of common issues people tend to have with it. One of the most common I call the “flat slap” version. Basically the issue is they start and end in the correct position, but instead of cutting from above with the short edge, they swing their sword around laterally, which results in a hit with the flat.
Now generally I don’t care about form and ideal movement, and I still don’t, but I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. In the case of the squinter, the move has a few particular uses – landing a hit with a cut, cutting over someone’s attack, cutting through someone’s guard. None of these will really work if you are doing this as a flat slap instead of a cut. So I’m not really concerned about the specific exact form of each cut, but it does need to be a cut, otherwise you can’t use it to accomplish its intended goal.
I noticed this happening, and tried to intervene using my favorite external cue for it: pay attention to the path of the tip, and make sure it’s making an arc down from above. What do I mean by “external cue”? In this case I am talking about a verbal focus cue, which is the last thing a coach tells the athlete before they do a rep. “External” means it references something outside the body, in this case the tip of the sword. An “internal” cue references something inside the body like a joint, muscle, or limb. In general, studies have shown that you should give no more than one cue per rep, and they should always be external. Jack Elers wrote a GD4H article going into more detail about cues, and for the full story check out The Language of Coaching by Nick Winkelman.
For this cut, I also like to emphasize the idea of what the action is, which is that it’s a cut down from above, for whichever use case you are using the squinter. While I could tell that they were trying to adjust and did make some improvements, the verbal cues did not work as well as I would have liked, so I moved on with the class without addressing it further since I couldn’t think of anything else and didn’t want to make it worse.
I brought it up with Sean Franklin and Nathan Weston since we were all at the event together, and we came up with some good ideas that I would like to try. They all involve a similar theme, which is putting an object in the way so they need to come down from above instead of coming in laterally.
- Have the coach hold the sword up on their left side, so they have to go around it. This is a simple solution that requires a cooperative coach.
- Do the direct attack game (or just reps of the swing) with your right shoulder up against a wall. The wall will physically prevent them from swinging laterally, and will force them to cut straight down from above. You can also still do this without the coach being cooperative.
- Do the direct attack game (or whatever game you are using to train this), but instead of the head being the target, the far shoulder is the target (right if you are right handed, left if you are left handed). If you do this, they will have to cut down from above, because if they swing across, the opponent’s head will be in the way. I like this one especially because one of the RDL sources, Ringeck, specifically tells you to aim for the shoulder. Maybe he also had a problem with people swinging across.
I went with the third one, for two reasons, because I wanted them to be able to do it as a group and not have to individually coach everyone (we had 16 people that day), and because we have a shortage of walls, and the walls that we do have are drywall that I am always worried about damaging. I would count the run as a success, I walked around and generally saw what I wanted to see. Some people reported that they hit the side of the mask with the flat first, then corrected to the shoulder. They also reported that it was more difficult for the attacker, which I guess should be expected since you’re aiming for a smaller target, and the target is also closer to where the opponent’s sword starts in order to parry. In the case of the direct attack game, all this should mean is that the attacker will end up being in a closer distance.
Some issues that I still saw, mainly with the beginners who had never tried squinters before, was that they still came down with the flat, but in a downward arc to the shoulder. While this is still something that needs to be worked on, I see it as progress.
I think the moral of the story here is something that Nathan mentioned when we were talking about this; no matter how good of an external cue you can tell someone, a good constraint will always be better.