Relaxation and cutting
Initially I was going to write about something else, then I saw this video which sparked a fresh topic.
This is a test video by Thrand working with a concept that one of my favorite researchers, Roland Warzecha, has been developing. Interestingly enough this is something that I have been talking about for a long time now as well.
I suppose it's my background with Russian Martial Arts, but to me this was something that seemed so obvious that I never really gave it much thought other than trying to explain it to students. The general idea is that instead of tensing up or trying to strike fiercely, you simply give the weapon an impulse and allow it to do the cut for you. Once it is in motion you maintain only enough of a grip to steer it to the target.
This works for cuts and thrusts with a variety of weapons, and there appears to be significant evidence that it was known to warriors well versed with melee weapons. I've often demonstrated the difference to new students by striking their waster in a variety of ways that appear to be similar, but have very different results.
So since I believe that there is very clear evidence that this is a beneficial tactic, the problem comes down to the method of training this until it becomes second nature. My approach is to begin slow, and develop a good sense of feeling for it. We now do a drill that I call the 'relaxation drill' where we go through some basic cutting motions very slowly and without any footwork focusing only on when to tense and when to relax. I'd say this is very similar in some ways to developing a golf swing, since you must initially add momentum then relax and steer it at the proper moment. As a general rule, if the sword is being lifted into a vertical position, you should give it an impulse to get there, and once it's reached that point, or slightly before if you've gotten the hang of it, you relax your grip and arms. This should allow the blade to swing into position fluidly and under a very soft guiding hand, more of a brace than a grip.
As you do this more and more at a slower speed, the slower you can go and keep the natural rhythm, the better, the easier it will become and the more you will develop the ability to feel what is happening. That is you develop a sense of Fuhlen necessary for adaptation to your opponents actions. Eventually with enough practice you should get to the point where you do this naturally under stress without thinking. I've taken this idea from musicians who learn music by going slowly as long as the timing is kept proportional, and then eventually they get the new piece down, and eventually can improvise on the original work. From my teaching it would appear that this method also works with swordsmanship and martial arts in general, so as I see it, why reinvent what you can steal and repurpose something that's already great?
Here's another video demonstrating another application of these mechanics in a way that is more familiar to me, explained by my friend Matt Powell of Pramek. He has a really great style of teaching the core mechanics and how they mesh together and create the overall style of movement I've attempted to describe.