Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Art of Deception

What makes Duke Radnor the best fighter I have ever seen was not just the speed, the flexibility, the technique, or the number of fights we won. What separates Radnor from other people who were fast and strong and flexible is that, even now, he has all those qualities together. But he has something else: he has perception that leads to deception. He can read an opponent better than anybody. As he put it "we wait for our opponent to tell how how he wants to be killed." He is more than just a counter-puncher, however. At the height of his game, in the 80s and 90s when he was putting together his streak, SCA combat was transitioning from an active offense that built opening to a counter punching offense that waited for them, and while Radnor was the master of the misdirection fake, there was a mental component to his game that is harder to explain. He could get you to look away from his sword and then hit you. Some of the things he told me over time were.

  • Always break a pattern on the third (or fourth) pass. 
  • Strike through the transition window, when your opponent's mind has cycled off of defense
  • All fights are won in between beats (on the upbeat)
  • You can win a fight before you swing a bow, before the lay on, before you take the field
  • You can think a guy to death
  • Hit him when he's not looking
This last one was the trickiest (not the Jedi mind trick of thinking someone to death, which simply involved visualizing hitting him in the leg and then not doing so, hitting him in the head instead. It is shocking how often that will work on newer fighters). It involved the art of deception, a kind of slight-of-hand that is baffling even to people in the gallery. 

This very cool article in the New Yorker about Master Pickpocket Apollo Robbins helps explain why.  Pickpockets are slight of hand artists who use many of the same techniques as other magicians. They attract your attention to a spot and then do something elsewhere. You miss it because you have focused on where the action is not. Radnor had a few techniques that worked this way. He would shimmy his hips and then throw a blow (once we were fighting on a children's playground plank bridge, and what he was doing to us all was comical. His shimmy would shake the whole bridge, and as we looked to our feet he'd hit us). My foot stomp, where I begin an exaggerated rising snap, lift my foot high, and throw the blow as I stomp on the ground, comes from Radnor by way of Rolf. It was an edge technique in the pre-low-profile days, but Duke Edric from CAID has turned that into a wicked thrust. I learned from Radnor a trick to play on a guy who has been legged: float the tip of your sword in a downward arc in front of his face and then tap the ground and shoot up for his helm with the edge. Maybe thirty percent of all fighters will watch that tip as it heads for the ground, and the direction change will catch them off guard. I also use several techniques to lull my opponent into a rhythm and then changing it, from switching from fast counter hip returns to slower teardrop returns, to striking as I inhale instead of as I exhale (usually accompanied by an in-time movement of my sword that I break out of). My favorite of these techniques I have described here before: Radnor was King of the West and went to West/CAID war (this was in that two decade period when he won every tournament he entered). He hadn't brought his shield because it was a war, but it turned out that there was a prize tourney, so he entered fighting with two swords. He ended up in the finals against a really good short-sword fighter from the Outlands who had taken out Guy of Castle Kirk in the semi finals. At the lay on Radnor threw his regular three direction change leg shot that he used as a sword and shield technique. The guy went to his knees and Radnor stood there in a left foot lead. He drew himself up to his full height and raised both his swords up to a cocked position above his shoulders, a la Bellatrix (What we used to call his incredible inflating Duke trick). When he reached his locked and loaded position he wiggled his left heel, just an inch either way, and the poor guy on his knees stared right at Radnor's toe. Boom. 

All of this is just an elaborate version of Duke Rolf saying to Robert Kynslayer "Rob, your cuise is unbuckled."

This is the kind of thing Apollo Robbins is talking about. Read his description of closing distance on someone without making them nervous: 

“'If I come at you head-on, like this,' he said, stepping forward, 'I’m going to run into that bubble of your personal space very quickly, and that’s going to make you uncomfortable.' He took a step back. 'So, what I do is I give you a point of focus, say a coin. Then I break eye contact by looking down, and I pivot around the point of focus, stepping forward in an arc, or a semicircle, till I’m in your space.'” 

Now imagine that the point of focus, instead of a coin, is a thrusting tip. He talks about hiding an action behind a newspaper, when you can also hide one behind a shield. Most importantly, he talks about making someone believe they are in control when you are controlling them (watch the video). Neuroscientists have started working with Robbins on studying how attention works. Radnor could teach them a thing or two. 
Read the article, and then read some of the stuff on attention and cognition (and pick-pocketing).  According to Sir Artos, Radnor's transition windows technique was based on something he'd once read about cognition, as was his rule of three. I still don't know why the Jedi mind trick worked. 


Bart Beswick said...

Cheers for the article. I read the original pickpocket article, and thought "I need to try some of that".

STAG said...

Good article.

Amish Many Shield said...

Great work, very insightful, inspired me to add misdirection to my style. Any chance you could put in contact with Duke Radnor? I would love to pick his brain :)
Thanks in advance
-Amish Many Shield