Biomechanics for SCA Combat

Duke Paul of Bellatrix

Biomechanics has a lot to do with the physics of how the body works.  The body is designed to take advantage of the physical principles that concern movement and force application.  There is an optimal way in which your body works.  If you strive to learn about how these principles work best in the body, you can choose techniques that take advantage of them while avoiding those that operate in violation of them.

If you use your body in the optimal manner, it will support you in making your fighting more effective without causing you to be injured by the techniques you have chosen to employ. 

You can gain an advantage in your fighting by always seeking the biomechanical optimum for your techniques, because:

1.  You will have the continued use of techniques that will not damage your body.

For example, the last time I was in armor was at the age of 71.  I did not quit fighting because I was no longer physically capable of doing it.  Instead, I had reached the point where I preferred to spend my time teaching and working on the further development of my system rather than actually fighting.  (All the lasting injuries I have are from judo.  It’s a much rougher game.)

2.  Biomechanical efficiency will improve the effectiveness of your techniques by:

  • Speeding up their execution.
  • Allowing you to more easily access power and strength.
  • Making your movements more fluid.

One of my friends is a fellow duke.  We had not been in contact for quite a number of years.  When we met once again, he asked me to train him to fight with his non-dominant hand.  His shoulder had been injured to the point where he could no longer fight with his preferred hand.  I agreed to teach him my techniques, but using his dominant hand.  After a few weeks, he was practicing without pain and gave up the idea of changing hands.

If you disregard these principles, you will incur a disadvantage because:

  • You may still perform your techniques effectively, but not as well as if you were using your body correctly.

Example: If you throw a Snap using your arm to supply most of the power, your blows will be slower and lighter than if you were using your core to supply the power.  It’s hard to test this with big, strong people, but if you do a comparison of techniques with someone who is 5 feet tall and weighs about 110 pounds, the difference will be profound.

  • Your body may eventually become damaged.  How soon this damage occurs depends on how far your techniques depart from the biomechanical optimum.

Things That Will Hurt You

1.  The repetitive stress of using your body in an unsound manner, such as the following:

  • Swinging with your arm while not connected to, or not using, your core.
  • Holding the sword with your thumb and forefinger instead of the last two fingers.
  • Using your fingers, wrist, or arm to apply power instead of using your core muscles.
  • Using your wrist to change the direction of the sword.

2.   Applying torque to a joint in a biomechanically unsound position, by doing any of the following:

  • Applying power at impact with the back edge of the blade and an extended arm.
  • Twisting the blade when your elbow is above the line of your shoulders (which unlocks the shoulder).
  • Stopping your hand by allowing it to reach the end of a fully extended arm.

If a technique hurts you when you use it, or after you have used it a few times, there are two possibilities:

1.  You are performing the technique incorrectly.

2.  The technique is biomechanically dangerous.

Sometimes it’s both.  In either case, you should stop using the technique before you damage your body.  Try to determine whether the problem is incorrect performance or the technique itself is at fault.  If you can’t figure this out, don’t use the technique.

This is not a situation where the phrase “no pain, no gain” applies.

There are two kinds of pain involved in athletics.  The pain caused by fatigue and lack of endurance is acceptable.  It hurts, but it does not harm you.  However, the dangerous pain is caused by overuse, by the stress from using an incorrect technique, or by performing a proper technique incorrectly.

It is even more difficult to determine whether a technique is biomechanically optimum—that is, whether it is the best possible way to do what you are trying to do.

If you’re not trained in kinesthetics, it’s difficult to determine the biomechanical safety of a technique just by observing it.  Even most belted fighters do not have the experience or training to do so.  This list is useful as a guide, but it can still be difficult to make a determination.  However, I strongly urge you to try.

I suggest that you continue to look for different and better ways of doing things and evaluate them against the factors listed above.

In my experience, most (but not all) biomechanical problems are based on supplying power from some part of the body other than the core muscles.  This is a good place to start an evaluation.

I’ve found that most other problems are based on requiring joints to move in ways that are outside of their design specs.  These problems show up:

1.  When you are supplying power .

2.  When considering what happens to the body when you hit something while doing so.  

For example, if you’re hitting a target with the back edge of your sword while you are still applying power, and your arm is straight, your elbow will experience something similar to a brief arm lock being applied…hard.

3.  Sometimes it’s even worse when you consider what happens to that joint if you miss. 

For example, if you perform a return leading to an off-side strike (like a Single Hip), but with the back edge of the sword leading, and you miss, the rotational motion of the sword will apply considerable torque to your sword wrist.  Considerable.

Engaging in SCA heavy combat does involve some amount of pain, but you shouldn’t think that it is necessary to put up with pain caused by using improper technique or by improperly using a technique.

This topic is more thoroughly discussed in my book:  “The Bellatrix System – Techniques and Tactics for SCA Armored Combat”.