Slow Motion Work

I’ve had one of those months where the harder you work, the more you break yourself to pieces.  This has been true for my fencing as much as for my work: I’d see a valid opening, go for it with all possible speed, and then lose the touch.

The other day, Mark, my coach, recommended I try fencing in slow motion.

At first the idea sounded strange.  What would be the point of  slowing down my movement in a sport that involves split-second timing and victory by millimeters?  But last night, I tried it for the first time, and I realized: when I’m trying to be fast, I end up not being able to choose my moment.  Chasing tiny opportunities, I miss large ones.  I double down on bad ideas, and then when that doesn’t work, I try harder.

Last night, I slowed down.  And when I slowed down, I saw my moments, and I fenced a handful of very clean bouts.  Slowness transformed the experience, gave me space to dissect actions, and calm to take advantage of defects in my opponents’ attacks, and even press my own when the opportunity presented itself.

I wonder how many of my little frustrations are the result of working too fast…

3 Responses to “Slow Motion Work”

  1. Kathryn Purdie

    I love this post, Max. And I totally get what you’re saying. Today I wrote ALL DAY LONG and managed a measly 200 words per hour. But I didn’t panic. I relaxed and gave myself space to write a tricky scene that needed more research, a new and important location, and some critical interaction between two characters. The slowdown method was definitely the better route for me today!

  2. max

    Thanks, Kathryn! I’m glad the slowdown method helped. I think the universe of people who write genre fiction and talk about the process of writing it online can be a little too focused on butt-in-chair time and wordcount. Obviously writing won’t happen if you aren’t working at it, but sometimes a dedicated & productive afternoon can only move the odometer by a few hundred words…

  3. Joshua Kronengold

    Sorry for the necromancy, but I like this.

    It’s very much a dictum in music — “practice slow to play fast” — because until you know things very solidly, in ways that are all but impossible to work at fast, you can’t really have the deftness you need to play accurately and fast.

    But of course those concepts work equally well in everything. Slow down for a while and you see things from a differnet perspective.

    In fencing, of course, it takes on extra levels. Fencing is about speed, yes, but really it’s about timing — relative speed. You can’t parry a slow attack like lightning — your parry will hit with little force and your opponent will just continue, or they’ll speed up just enough to evade your parry and your overcomitment will leave you out of position while they continue their attack and possibly hit insultingly slowly. Of course, you can more safely counterattack quickly, but even there, an opponent who isn’t heavily committed to their attack will have a lot of options to react to your counterattack in ways that a more committed, faster moving opponent won’t.

    Instead, you generally want to respond a tempi (in time), counterattacking with only slightly more commitment and speed than your opponent as brought, thus leaving you with much more room to reply when they respond until you have enough of an advantage (or little choice but to) to finish a movement with full commitment.

    As such, while slow bouts won’t practice everything that’s in play in a faster bout, they’ll also examine the logic and dialogue of the bout in much more detail–and you’ll learn a lot of things that are entirely applicable–but harder to learn–at faster speeds, because even at slow speeds, the fencing is very, very real.


Leave a Reply