Hands up! Put up your dukes! En Garde! The correct guard position is an important item though, many times, it barely “guards” anything.
I love to teach the guard stance because it brings the students’ minds into focus on the whole idea of self-defense. The guard stance is so basic that almost anyone can lift her or his hands and do a fair imitation of it, even with little training.
But to a seasoned eye, the difference between good and bad in a guard stance is as great as between Picasso and pizza. Here are a few thoughts about the position. You might already know all this but it’s a good list to help you re-establish the fundamentals of self protection.
1. The guard stance is neither here not there. It’s not just about guarding your self. It’s also about taking it to the other guy. The guard stance should give you the perfect blend of defensive postures and initiation mobility. This seems obvious, but if you cover up too much and shrink too tight you might as well ring a bell before you switch into attack mode.
2. Hide behind the weapon. In fencing it is quite clear: you keep the sword between you and the opponent. A guard stance has to put the threat of reprisal out there in the face of the opponent. Not only is this just common sense, it is enough to make the opponent think twice about entering the fight line. That hesitation may make up for any initial jump he might gain on you when entering the line. It is essential that all direct routes are blocked or at least obscured. Remember that third of a second he takes to realign himself is all you need for your reaction time.
3. The guard stance is a fun house mirror. Nothing your opponent sees in your guard stance should be quite right. In commercial art we called this, “Out of drawing.” Not something terrible, just wrong enough to make you itch. That big open invitation between your arms is a bit askew, sort of like a corridor in the Mystery House. Experts never show a direct, authentic way through their defense without wanting to. It might be a taunt but it’s not a mistake. Just to get a quick taste of this, look right into the mirror for a few minutes and you will automatically find yourself getting “shifty” about what is exposed and what is covered. The guard stance always lists a bit.
4. A guard stance is not vision dependent. When it comes to empty hand fighting I tell my students they should have four hands; their two normal ones and their elbows. When the opponent punches low you don’t drop your hands. You don’t look down. You simply sense the angle of his low attack and adjust accordingly. After all, it’s the stance that should be doing the work, not you. If you find you have to move your hands like a cross-eyed bandmaster, or that every attack by your partner forces a spastic, skittering over-reaction, it’s time to clean up your stance and start relying on senses besides sight.
5. Lazy is best. The idea of the guard stance is to do as little as possible. If a slight move away works, the deal is done. It is not always intuitive what this means. Sometimes a wise double parry can be more efficient than a small, sharp block. The situation decides.
6. Don’t contradict yourself. There’s a little psychological dependency we all have ingrained in us. It is the need for closure. We see an arm and have to block it. You have to overcome this to really master defense. If you move away and make him miss, don’t go messing it up by blocking, too. I have literally hundreds of pictures of fighters in tournaments blocking punches and simultaneously getting walloped in the face or body. The problem? They backed up to a successful distance then instinctively had to reach in and finish making contact with their block despite everything. Back to instinct: it’s flight or fight, but try to pick just one at a time.