Had a lot of fun at the class last night. We didn't have any gear as Timo and Mira could't come to training. Luckily Timo let me know in advance so I put together a class on footwork and the abrazare flow drill.
This drill has been a bane on my existence for a while now. It is technically complex and very easy to do wrong because of too much speed, anticipating counters, being to stiff and the overriding desire for a lot of people to "win" the engagement, despite the fact that it should flow. It devolves very quickly then, or can do, into a sloppily-executed, well......mess.
What to do? Simple. Step the drill. We went through each step slowly and I used the entire class to try to cover getting through the whole drill once. Actually I had just enough time to show the class the elbow push and step through, which starts the cycle again. So, lots of reps. I STILL had to repeatedly remind people to slow down while going through the steps.
In many ways this drill is "beautiful". It deals with timing, breaking and regaining structure, footwork, attacking along lines of weakness, and changing the line to make a counter more effective.
Attack: Player 1 strikes a hammer blow to the head of Player 2 (fendente) with a passing step.
Remedy: Player 2 extends both hands controlling Player 1's wrist an elbow simultaneously stepping accressere fora di strada, going to the porta di ferro posta and a passing step (alla traversa). From here they can break the arm or take them to the floor.
Counter remedy: As Player 1 feels his initial attack to have failed and his arm is being pushed to the side he can volta stabile in the direction of the push and drop his arm under those of Player 2. As Player 2 does his passing step, Player 1 does does posta lunga with a volta stabile/accressere combo* effectively "clotheslining" Player 2. Although we don't include it it the drill, Player 1 can take a passing step to further break Player 2's structure, hooking under his leading knee and dumping him on his head. (Third play of abrazare).
Counter-counter remedy: As Player 2 feels his attempt fail, he immediately does a chiave soprano and changes the line by taking his front leg behind that of Player 1, executing a volta stabile accressere fora di strada combo. From here he can continue with a passing step, dropping his hands to porta fi ferro, dislocating Player 1's shoulder joint. Naturally, we keep the hands high taking the point of balance only.
Contra-counter-counter remedy: As Player 1's arm is locked up in the ligadura, Player 2's elbow is in plain view. He counter grips Player 2's wrist with his right hand and pushes 2's elbow with his left simultaneously doing a volta stabile/accressere combo step. Player2's forearm is straightened and Player 1 steps through with a passing step to break the arm, bringing us back to the counter-remedy again.
The timing in this drill is subtle but actually obvious. The best time to effect a counter is when the opponent is making his passing step, therefore one foot is off the ground. To make your counter may also require a step, usually it is first an accressere (may or may not be fora di strada). This also takes your foot off the floor but for a much shorter time, allowing you to interrupt the attack. Sometimes however you may be backweighted and this will require a volta stabile with an accressere fora di strada. It is interesting that you can use these simple steps to both break as awell as regain structure! If students attempt to do this drill with too much speed, one side effect is that they anticipate what comes next and begin to apply a counter to a technique which hasn't even begun yet. The drill must be done slowly enough for each player to "feel" when the time is right to make a counter, when their own structure begins to be compromised or regained.
Another common mistake is to try to make an action with the hands while one of the feet is off the floor. A volta stabile by definition means a stable turn. It is inherently stable precisely because both feet stay on the floor. If a small accressere fora di strada is added to take advantage of a weaker line and to guarantee a shift of the body weight onto the front leg, the front foot is off the floor for a very short time. Secondly, the frontale and longa positions do not break the structure in the various counters by the strength of the arms alone. The power to break the other's structure comes from the hips and legs through the turning (volta) action.
It is a relatively difficult drill because there is a lot of technical stuff happening in a quite small timeframe. However, it is an excellent tool to develop skills in judging timing, balance, stances, footwork, strong and weak lines, etc. We shall be practicing it more !
*As a side note: in a previous class I was introducing the first scambiare di punta of the syllabus form to the beginners and they found the footwork as described above technically difficult when they also had to change guard from fenestra to frontale. To combat this I got the class to combine these footwork patterns. The beginners know the steps separately, but had never put these two together before.