Thursday, 18 December 2008

Bolognese seminar

And so to the Bolognese seminar led by Messr. Ilkka Hartikainen last sunday. Well, what can I say? It was REALLY interesting, beautiful, efficient and deadly. I did have some reservations about attending the seminar originally as I just figured this material was more rapier stuff, with its (to my mind) unnatural footwork, odd stances and fiddly-piddly wrist actions, for which I have neither the finesse and muscle control, nor indeed the desire to learn. It's weird that I really have this mental block when it comes to the rapier! I always sum it up (re: justify my ignorance) by saying that I prefer a sword with which I can chop a man in half, rather than a glorified knitting needle to spit him with.

Well, mea culpa, but was I ever wrong! We began the day by a light warmup with some of Ilkka's (in)famous animal walks and material from his falling seminar, combined with breathing exercises. These exercises are beautiful in their simplicity but deceptively difficult to do, particularly as I am not very flexible and Ilkka is as rubbery as a boned chicken, he makes them all seem so simple. The breathing stuff was interesting. I can slow down my inhale/exhale speed quite well, but as with the chi kung form from the previous post, the exhale followed by a holding period before we were supposed to inhale again was really difficult for me! I was starting to see colours and spots in front of my eyes at one stage, so I must have been physiologically pushing myself close to some sort of aerobic limit. A useful exercise if one wants to develop aerobic stamina without the "jumppa". Well, leotards were never my thing anyway :-)

We began the actual Bolognese material by going over unarmed material. This was unsurprisingly, rather similar to the Fiore abrazare and dagger we know and love. The main difference is that in the Bolognese style, the daggers are more like mini-swords, double-bladed, pointed and with cross-guards and rings to protect the hands. I wouldn't fancy getting slashed with one! We had the opportunity to try a knife fight with rubber knives (masked) to try the techniques. It's horribly quick, in close stuff which would be very difficult for even the "winner" to walk away from without receiving some sort of cut. Realistically, we would have been spraying blood all over the place. I began to see why rapiers were so long and why you wouldn't necessarily want to close with your opponent, when a neat thrust through the body/face would suffice.

The sidesword, i.e. spada da filo (when sharp) or spada da zogho (blunt version for play) looks like a shortened rapier and compared to the longsword is lighter and whippier, although not as much as some rapiers I've seen. I wondered during the seminar what it's cutting power would be as it seems a bit flimsy for really slashing cuts. Hmm, a cutting class might answer that question (Ilkka??). I had my own sword with me but it wasn't really suitable as it's a simple arming sword (Hanwei), heavier and stiffer than the backsword, but better than nothing. I was amazed by the elegant attacks and retreats done with mullinelli-like turns. It seemed quite simple, make your attack, if it goes through well and good, if anything goes wrong, take a step back and cover with another cut to end in what looked like a one-handed Pflug (iirc on the right side it was a coda lunga and a porta di ferro on the left, but I could be wrong). My arming sword was noticeably shorter than many of the swords there with the result that partners with longer blades had no difficulty in cutting safely from distance at my sword hand/arm as I tried to counter.

Ilkka saved the best for last, i.e. combining the sword and the dagger. This was an absolute joy to train! The coordination required to be adept at this must be phenomenal but we were taught some basic moves that everyone could do and get a sense of how the weapons relate to each other. A dance of steel indeed!

Finally, I hope Ilkka will not mind if I praise him a bit further. Throughout the seminar, he was always clear. I always knew what I was supposed to be doing and didn't suffer my usual three o' clock mental meltdown. If we made mistakes he was always there to fix them and answer our questions with patience and good humour. I suspect that there is a whole lot more depth to the Bolognese tradition, viz a vis footwork, guard positions, etc. Instead Ilkka concentrated on giving us a digest form which was easily picked up, was great fun and left us wanting more. Five pm, and the end of the seminar came around so quick, I don't know where the day went. Well done sir!

After this seminar, I would definitely consider sidesword as another potential weapon system for study. I still have reservations about the rapier and probably always will, but after this experience I was left feeling much more amenable to other italian swordsmanship styles than that of Maestro dei Liberi.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008


Last weekend was a really good experience and I'm very glad I made the effort to attend both the maintenance and Bolognese seminars. I'll give the latter seminar its' own post later.

The maintenance seminar covered breathing techniques, chi kung form(s), wrist and arm conditioning exercises and massage of the forearms, neck, back, hips and knees. I liked the massage but noticed that I need to really practice this a lot more if I want to get any good at it at all, even for self-massage. We learned that for example, in the back musculature are basically three layers of muscle, each layer containg muscle groups which run in a different direction to the layer above or below. Super complicated! Also that experts are able to manipulate and feel which layer they want to target. Amazing to have such sensitivity in one's hands. I could barely feel the muscles just under the skin!

I noticed during the wrist/forearm conditioning that the small muscles and tendons and things in my right arm are noticeably more developed than in my left. How had I not noticed this before? I did injure my left elbow sometime during the early summer this year when I foolishly tried to pull an anchor rope without waiting for the boat engine to help me. In effect I tried to pull a 3½ tonne boat into a strong headwind. Stupid! Something "popped" in my elbow and it was sore for a couple of days but since gives off alarming twinges if I put stress on the elbow, i.e. when I try to do the wrap in the second drill. So, for the next month, wheon not otherwise training swordsmanship, I shall be incorporating forearm exercises and massage with medicine to try to build up the small muscles around the elbow and to strengthen those muscles and associated tissues involved in handgrip strength. I'll report after Christmas on my progress.

Other forearm exercises involved hand weights and sticks. The latter exercises were a lot of fun but we got lots of shoulder exercise as well because each time we dropped the damn stick, we had to do ten push-ups! The clangour of wood hitting the floor got so bad at one point that Guy got a bit annoyed and increased the penalty to twenty push-ups. Thankfully I didn't drop the stick again. I'm looking forward to getting my ash staff out for a forearm workout!

The chi kung part was very interesting. This stuff is very close to my heart as I've been practicing Wahnam Cosmos chi kung it for quite a while now, as taught by Sifu Wong Kiew Kit. We started off with the crane form, which is a very interesting exercise for breathing, balance and overall leg conditioning. Unlike Wahnam chi kung, where the breathing may be paused but never held, the breath hold phase in the crane form actually keeps air in the lungs and squeezes them gently, thereby expanding the lungs gently. I deliberately wrote "gently" here twice to stress that it must be done without force. I like this form a lot for the balance aspect, but also the sinking/rising along the central axis of the body, not just bending from the waist. Afterwards we did the chi kung form which is in the sword school syllabus. I had been practicing the first part on and off for a while, incorporating it into my daily chi kung routine. I got to fine tune the movements, which I had not been doing correctly.

The "fun" bit involves continuing to move in a relaxed, graceful manner, after exhaling, so running on "empty". It's a bit difficult as your brain is telling you to breathe in, you just have to ignore it, relax and continue. It feels wonderful to draw the next in breath, the air feels so good. Simple pleasures :-)

The next part of the exercise is even more, erm "fun". The moves themselves are not very difficult. It's just that the running on empty time is even longer! I'll have to practice the physical form for a while before I am able to do this part without passing out! :-) Guy reckoned that this form keeps him in pretty good shape physically and aerobically, when he is otherwise unable to train as normal. If/when my breath control becomes good enough to be able to complete the next part of the form, I'll definitely be in better shape.

So thanks to Mr. Windsor for organising the seminar. I was quite tired from a Christmas party (pikkujoulu) the previous evening and slightly hungover, and having to get up at 7 o'clock for the two hour drive to Helsinki. The material learned, particularly the chi kung and massage was a very welcome remedy for my battered body and soul. This, combined with the excellent chicken soup and lunch made by Ken Quek (from PHEMAS, Singapore) had me feeling relaxed, attentive and happy by the end of the day.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Weekend seminars

This weekend will see two very interesting seminars take place in the School of European Swordsmanship salle, in Helsinki. On saturday, Guy Windsor will host a course on "maintenance". Sounds a bit odd when I write it like this :-) Anyhow, it will cover breathing techniques, conditioning exercises, as well as various massages (forearms, knee-to-toe, back and shoulders and upper legs). The point of this is to give us the tools to help maintain good internal and external health and to help recover from the strains and occasional injuries that HEMA training often brings. I've been to similar seminars and they are invaluable, not least because of the material learnt, but it gives us the opportunity to practice on each other. The massages are often a bit painful but this is "good" pain. Basically, it hurts during the massage as a certain point is pressed or pressured, yet feels excellent immeditely afterwards. A good back massage leaves you feeling slightly stoned! This seminar will be worth every cent.

On sunday, Ilkka Harikainen will hold a seminar on Bolognese sword. The material will be based on the single handed sword alone according to Giovanni dall'Agocchie, the dagger and unarmed defence against it according to Achille Marozzo and the sword used together with a dagger. Should be a blast! Ilkka works very hard on preparing a good seminar as those attending Swordfish will attest from his seminars on spada da filo, falling on hard surfaces and freeplay preparation.

I'll post a report on the seminar after the weekend.

Blogs and internet forums

Well, I wrote a wee post the other day about different sword forums on the net and got some reaction.

Mainly positive from Schola Gladiatoria, although some issue was taken with me saying that perhaps SFI was a more scholarly site. Not so, what I actually said was that the "level of discussion" was perhaps not as scholarly as on SFI, particularly since one of the most active forums on SG forum is the pub......the thread LOL Catz (which is hilarious), springs to mind. Of course there are also more serious discussions also, with lots of useful info and reviews. I found it a little ironic though that while some members (for whatever reason) are highly critical of SFI, they didn't much appreciate any perceived criticism to their own forum. No criticism was intended, just wrote what I thought.

I have to remember that SG is rather proud of and hence, protective of their forum. Fair enough, I reckon. So, apologies to any SG forumites if I caused offence. I'd like to clear this up as I enjoy being a member of the forum and would like to keep posting there.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Flow drills and paranoia...

Training was a good laugh tonight. I've recovered from my flu so we had a somewhat heavier warmup than last Tuesday. As on the previous session we started the warm up with the crane-form, followed by some of the usual exercises and some others I threw into the mix just for fun. One of my faves right now is a combination of a squat and a push-up. It's taken from Ilkka's falling seminar. Basically, squat until the palms of the hands rest on the floor. From here push both feet backwards until you reach the push-up position, with the body and legs straight. Push up. Pull the feet towards the hands until back in a squatting position. Finish by standing up. This is one rep. Repeat 10 times. I like it because it works the legs, abs and back and if done as smoothly as possible, it has no impact on the joints. Lovely!

After this we followed up with the abrazare flow drill. This was fun but pretty tough as you have to time it just right or a correctly-applied technique makes it very difficult to recover from. I guess it's also a question of the minimal distance and therefore time. I noticed that the plays feel a bit like san shou (sic.) in kung fu: as soon as first contact is made, it never really breaks, although the hands can do various things like posta longa, ligadura soprana and elbow hyper-extensions. There is also the aspect that although the hands lead, i.e. once the counter has been initiated by the hands, it is completed by the actions of the hips and footwork. It's a technically difficult drill at first but with practice it does begin to flow and it's great fun!

Paranoia. This is one of my favourite games. We play it with daggers. Everybody masks up and forms a ring. In the centre of the ring are a number of daggers, usually one or more less than the number of players. Players can "kill" each other either by getting a clear strike on the mask with a dagger or by slapping another player between the shoulder blades with their hand. Players are told to trust no-one, then I shout "GO!" and the game begins. There is a tendency to get tunnel vision and go straight for the dagger, so that the sneaky bastard will stand back, let everybody else rush for the weapons and as they do so, he/she rushes in and "kills" five or six straightaway by slapping them on the backs. It's evil, but great to watch people's expressions when they realised they've been duped. Once "dead" you're out. Once there is a clear winner, everybody else must do 10 push-ups, while the victor watches. On the second and subsequent rounds, people are MUCH more careful about moving in to the daggers, or moving in any way that might expose their backs and their level of awareness is noticeably better. After the first round people's tactics also begin to evolve. One sneaky one is to simply wait in a corner, so that no-one can get behind them and let the others "kill" each other willy-nilly, then pick off the survivor. Alternatively, two players with daggers gang up on the others before the "partnership" dissolves and they turn on each other. An additional variant is that when attacked with a dagger, players can defend themselves and try to disarm/counter attack the attacker. This is useful because it tests whether players can perform a disarm under a "stress" situation. A nice game!

After this we did some dagger disarm flow drill with masks on and after a bit introduced a break in the flow using a wrap/lock. The more advanced students could perform the technique against an attack in any line, while the beginners only had to do it against a fendente mandritto, as this is the most familiar attack line so far. We finished of with syllabus form and had a look at polishing up specific techniques.

Naturally, there will always be room for improvement when leading a class, but I'm slowly getting the hang of doing it, while incorporating some training for myself as well, making the whole experience satisfying, rewarding and fun. Damn, it's a shame that this was the last class of 2008, just when I was starting to get all fired up!

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Inactivity on sword forums and blogs

A thought struck me recently about the general lack of activity on sword-related blogs and internet forums. Where did everybody go? Most of the people I know who blog have been quite quiet of late. I wondered why? Has their life taken up so much of their time that they simply cannot get to the keyboard?

This phenomenon also seems to be affecting the sword forum, Sword Forum International or SFI. I usually check it every day, my favourite fora are Historical European Swordsmanship and Scottish History and Borders. It has been a veritable ghost-town recently. People are just not posting! There has been a sort of social implosion this summer on SFI, with what amounted to a short but nasty flame war resulting from a clash of personalities. Without going into it further, a lot of people seem to have either left or are lurking but not posting. Many have shown up on the Schola Gladiatoria forum, or indeed have been there already after feeling disaffected by what they perceived to be a sort of intellectual hierarchy, or were banned from SFI because they clashed with the unspoken but present rank system. Perhaps the level of discussion may not be quite as scholarly, but the debates are usually lively and people regularly and actively post. There is a pub which has a no-holds barred attitude to language and behaviour but generally people are quite ok.
Perhaps SFI has had it's day, who knows? Internet fora seem to come and go anyway. Then again, maybe it's just undergoing a lull.

I wondered above if life is keeping people too busy to have time for blogging. In hindsight, perhaps that is a good thing. Rather than sitting at a computer, facelessly communicating through their screens, they are living their lives in a more fulfilling way. Of course, it may be that they are so stressed with work, family, kids and other things that they don't have the time to do anything else. Perhaps my need for another blog "hit" is in fact a sign that I should turn this blasted machine off and go and get a life! :-)

Compulsive Obsessive Disorder and thoughts on freeplay gear

Well, as previously mentioned, I bought myself a gambeson while at Swordfish 2008. So, I've already made an order for a hand-made leather gorget and a pair of pauldrons. Both of these will be hand-made by local guys. It's easy to get such things online, but it's much more satisfying to actually have some more input as to how the things look. Plus, it's great to support local artesans. Basically, Emil Lindfors will make the gorget and Marko Saari will do the pauldrons. Marko has already made a buckler for me and with which I am very happy. I really like the idea of having nice gear and being able to tell people when I meet them that it's hand-made and thereby "advertise" their skills.

The obsessive side of my personality has manifested itself recently in an extensive but ultimately fruitless hunt on the net for a leather cuirasse to wear over my gambeson. I don't think the leather straps close the gambeson quite enough to give enough of a safety overlap of the material, so I wanted something to wear over it to protect better against thrusts. There is some stuff available, but it is either very expensive, or it is designed for an orc or an elven hunter, in other words, LARP bollocks. No thank you !

I guess I could just move the straps (they are sown on), so that the overlap is off-centre and the risk of getting a point in the gap is lessened. Trouble is, I cannot sow to save my life and so was thinking of using rivets instead. Decisions, decisions! It's really bloody frustrating because I want to DO something about it, but don't have the requisite skills to fix it myself, nor does it seem possible to just buy a blasted breastplate from the net. Arrrghh! Grrrr!

I did have the idea to make a plastic breastplate from those blue/black/grey plastic barrels. I just cannot seem to find out where I can get them from. More frustration. The basic idea would be to cut a one piece plastic "cuirasse" which covers the ribs and goes over the collarbones and shoulders. It would be strapped with either an x or y-strap arrangement with a lower back strap and adjustable fast-locking clips. I'd like also to add shoulder pads to the thing.

Ok, it'll probably look bloody hideous. I was thinking to cover the plastic with black cloth, canvas or something equally durable. In addition, I'd add high density foam padding. This would also be covered in the black cloth, glued to the inside of the plastic shell and then riveted for extra durability and an attempt at some sort of "historical" look. I just have to find a plastic barrel first!

Friday, 5 December 2008

Unfortunately, there's more!

Come here, there's more!

The Six Insidious Guards:

So! So! ................So!

This chappie seems to be based in something called nintaijutsu and is a sensei or something. Well, kudos to him for that. But, it is debatable as to whether his experience automatically translates into italian swordsmanship. Actually being Italian isn't enough, although I like his-a haccent. This youtube video reminds me of Sensei Patrick McCarthy's take on sword and buckler. This man is highly respected in what he does, eastern style martial arts. Fair enough, he deserves respect for his hard work. He then decides to branch out into HEMA and posts a youtube video on sword and buckler. Result? He is shocked and insulted by the flaming he gets from all sides. Then again, flaming is the default state for youtube, so he shouldn't have been too surprised. Judge for yourselves:

To give some sort of contrast, I'd like to finish by adding some links from the Hammaborg group led by Roland Warzecha. I've had the pleasure to meet with him at the Swordfishes, including his second, Toke, who is responsible for the youtube site which has a plethora of videos on their interpretations of 1.33, large shield and sword, etc. These guys are dedicated, hard-working and IMO the stuff they produce looks and has a more realistic "feel" to it than the above mentioned sources.
Sword and shield:

As ever though, if you read the comments on youtube, even these guys aren't safe from being flamed, usually by SCA-based or re-enactment groups.

Noone is safe on Youtube! Which is why it takes guts to post anything in the first place and why the videos from the swordschool have the comments disabled! :-P

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

This-a make-sa me want-a to a-scream-aa!

Historical italian swordsmanship is open to interpretation and some interpretations will vary. Inevitably though, interpretations usually converge with time, becoming more similar.

Ahem, then this pops out of the box....

All I can say is, and I'm not a particularly good practicing Catholic, Good Sweet Jeeesus! Nooooooo!

Golden rules and metaphors

How often have we heard them while training in the salle, whether in Turku or Helsinki? Those three word golden rules which encapsulate all that is good about italian swordsmanship a la Fiore.
  • Bend your knees!
  • Sink and relax!
  • See an elbow, hit an elbow! (ok, this is six)
  • step the drill

There are no doubt more. Simple directives which allow the message to sink in and let us learn it in a positive fashion. They are positive because they tell you what to do without including a "don't!". From experience, I've found that when you hear a command, the brain tends to focus on the verb. So, if the class leader says, "Don't lean forward!", the student's brain really only hears "lean forward!" and does the opposite of what is required. Interestingly, the student is then confused why the class leader is STILL yelling at them to do a particular thing, when as far as they are concerned, they've been following orders exactly since they were first told. As a class leader, I have also had this experience because I used a negative in the order as opposed to reinforcing my request with a positive instead. If I do not make myself clear, how can I expect anyone to follow my directives? Worse again, if I'm not clear and they continue to do the "wrong" thing, I get mad and just start yelling. To be honest, I have done this a couple of times. I'm not proud of it. Perhaps though, in learning how to teach, I have had to make such mistakes so I can improve my teaching technique (such as it is).

If I can be concise and clear (verbal cues), as well as giving the students a visual cue by demonstrating the technique once or twice, I can let them get on with it (physical cues). This has several advantages:

  • Less bla-bla from me.
  • More training time.
  • I can also get a chance to train.
  • Better value for money

Of course, this is an ideal situation and applies more to advanced students who already have a good base in how to train. Some modification is necessary for beginners.

I was leading the beginners last night in the 5 things to do against the dagger. We've covered most of the techniques at least once by now. They particularly liked the takedown from a sotto thrust, at least the ladies did, for some reason. For those who don't know it, it's the Ninth Master (7th play in the Getty MS). Anyhow, we were also working on the ligadura mezzana from a sotto thrust. The students were having a little difficulty with it because they were all stepping to the outside of the attacker's arm and then turning to face the attacker. In effect, they were shutting off the space through which they could do a chingiale move and hook up the attacker's bent arm, followed by a pivot on the front foot to the ligadura mezzana, as in done on the other side in the 3rd longsword drill.

So, the only metaphor I could think of was "threading a needle". Here, the defender first makes an accressere fora di strada, combined with his right hand going to the attacker's elbow and the left hand to the wrist. This makes the attacking arm bend and forms the "eye" of the needle at the inside of their elbow. Once formed, the defender's left hand threads through this hole with a chingiale, as described above. In effect, the defender could be said to apply two chingiale moves, first with the right hand then with the left. Initially, the students looked at me as if I was describing the technique in swahili, but when I repeated it a few times very slowly, so they could see the "eye" followed by the threading move, they started to understand and best of all could do it by the end of class. Obviously we'll have to practice it a lot more but it was very satisfying to watch them progress from getting themselves tied up and totally confused, to being able to perform the technique, so that at least their basic form was correct. As with anything, once you know how to do something, it's easy.

It's really great to have the correct language to describe what we do, which allows us to communicate more efficiently with each other. Whatever about the beginners, I'm quite sure that I haven't really internalised what it means to perform a chingiale, or any other technique for that matter. I understand intellectually what it is and how it's supposed to look, but I dont really have a similar "feel" for what this posta is. The Finns say that when they really know something, it "goes to the spine". This describes internalisation wonderfully. So, in the above case, I used a simpler metaphor or word-picture to help describe an action. Later and with practice, the beginners may also begin to recognise the abrazare guards in their actions and plays and will be encouraged to use the historically correct terminology. Until then, one more three word "rule" to add to the list:

  • Thread the needle!

Not as dramatic as the rising attack of a wild boar, but it seemed to work!

Monday, 1 December 2008

Still sick!

Woke up this morning feeling like shite, again. I've been ill now for nearly a week. First off it was a sore throat which became chills and sweats then developed into a mild dose of laryngitis and a chesty cough. Admittedly going to the Salle Christmas party in Helsinki was probably not the cleverest plan, but I'm very glad I did as I had a lot of fun and although I'm still ill, the sheer enjoyment of the party and getting out of the house was great. As the saying goes: "A change is as good as a rest". This got me to thinking about the effect of mental state and other less concrete factors on health.

As I've written before, this time of year gets to me, the darkness, the GREYNESS, the lack of snow, the lack of sun. I don't mind the cold, doesn't bother me at all actually. So, I guess my immune system gets a good kicking during winter but isn't best reinforced by my mental state, making me more prone to getting sick.

I've practiced chi kung for the past five years. This involves daily practice (pretty much) or at least every five days out of seven. Some of the effects of chi kung include immune system boost, clearer mind, lowered stress etc. In line with being a bit apathetic over the last month or so, I stopped practising chi kung, with the excuse that I couldn't be arsed doing it. Now it seems I'm paying the price for that apathy. I don't mind if readers believe in chi/chi kung or not, that's their business. All I know is that when it comes to health, I usually don't get sick. If I do, I can kick it in about two days. This tells me that either I generally have a good constitution or immune system and/or practicing chi kung augments it.

Nevertheless, I think it might not necessarily be just one thing which contributes to getting sick or the speed of recovery. This also includes physical injury. I subscribe to the idea that sickness is caused by a combination of factors, in my case, mental tiredness, winter blues, lack of daily preventative measures, not enough sleep, poor dietary choices and worry related to work and daily life. As a good example of how our bodies can be super-resistant to sickness, I remember back to when I was finishing off my PhD. In the last 6 months I slept badly, worked 20 hour days and was stressed to the max. Amazingly, the high stress burden, primarily mental stress took over and did not allow me to become physically sick with flu or anything else. I was aware of this and knew that as soon as the stress ended, there would probably be a health price to pay, because my body would have "time" to be sick, once the degree was completed. I'd noticed this with quite a few colleagues who'd been in the same position and who were completely knocked out for up to 3 weeks by simple colds and flus.

As luck would have it, I managed to dodge this health "bill" by moving to Finland as soon as I'd done my degree. The weather in Finland at the time was glorious, very sunny and much warmer than Ireland. It was a total change of scene, new and exciting and I was very aware of being able to slow down and return to a "normal" pace of life. I remember sitting outside in the sunshine and marvelling at having the time to watch clouds and count grasshoppers on the lawn. Time seemed to move much more slowly! Sounds daft, now I describe it :-). I sometimes wonder that the novelty of my first autumn, winter, spring and summer in Finland helped to alleviate or at least delay the stress effects. However, as I stayed here longer, the novelty and "rose-coloured glasses" came off and like everybody else, I had to deal with the usual stresses of finding work, paying bills, relationship stuff etc. As a result, winters started to have their blues effect on me and the longer I'm here, the worse it seems to get. The piper must be paid!

I've hear it said that when mentally tired, some physical activity can have a good and refreshing effect on the mind. If the body is physically tired, sick or injured, adding an extra physical tax doesn't help at all. In this case, the only remedy is rest. The super-resistance described above is a stress-state effect and not something I would want to be in for an extended period of time. It's really burning the candle at both ends. I reckon that people who suffer burnout at work often become very sick after they are forced to take a step back from their working lives and try to recuperate.

In conclusion, although a single factor may be responsible for making one sick, I think becoming ill is a sort of process. Suffering the symptoms of that sickness is the endpoint of a net of circumstances, e.g. immune system, lack of light, amount of sleep, diet, mental health, stress, overwork, physical fitness, etc. These circumstances can be internal or external but they all interact to produce a person who is somewhere on a spectrum or sliding scale of unhealthy/sick to healthy/wellbeing at the physical, mental and even spiritual/energetic levels.

The third play of abrazare

Ok, as promised I'll finish the last post by mentioning the third play of abrazare. First off I'd just like to mention that I'm not writing out all this stuff in some misguided attempt to prove to everyone how much I know about italian swordsmanship. The more I learn the more I realise I know very little. The primary function of this blog is to make a record of what I've been training, what I've learned about that training and about myself, with the hope that when I look back at my posts, I'll see that I've made some progress in this art. Writing stuff out is also an old habit of learning info and ordering it in my head, a method I used to used when I was studying zoology in uni. Please note as well, that the stuff I write about is my current understanding of interpretations made by far better people than me. I'm always open to discussion and being corrected, if readers think I'm writing crap.

The Third Play

As mentioned in the last post, the second and third plays followe on in a sequence from first play. As the defender tries to apply the second play, he drops his right hand vertically on the attacker's hyper-extended left arm. However, as the defender's forearm reaches horizontal, the attacker simply drops his elbow and pulls his hand out and leans back. This is easy for him as the defender's arm forms a little hole or window for a very short space of time as it moves anti-clockwise.

So the defender realising that something is not right, and feeling the attacker start to move back, immediately does an accressere after him, extending his hand in posta lunga pushing on the attacker's throat. As the attacker's head is pushed backwards, his left leg will naturally lift as a counterweight. The defender takes advantage of this and hooks his left hand under the attacker's knee, flipping him onto his head and shoulders.

Things to note:
  • In the training salle, we stop in the position shown. Following through to the end would not be advisable, for obvious reasons.
  • This "following" tactic seems to be a theme running through the wrestling section. I make a play on my partner, he reacts my pulling his hand out and leaning back. My reaction is to simply follow him and take him even further in that direction.
  • The accressere made by the defender MUST be enough to be able to push on the attacker's throat, without having to overextend their upper body over their front foot, i.e. an inherently unstable position. If the first accressere is not enough, they simply take another.
  • The defender should push on the attacker's throat, not their chin, as the attacker can give more resistance if pushed on the chin/jaw. It's basically pushing on soft rather than hard. Be careful with this though, a gentle push with the edge of the hand to the side of the throat is enough to give the idea. Forget making karate chops to the Adam's apple!
  • In practice, if the throat push works with a good accressere, the attacker's leg will naturally rise as a counterbalance, so it's not necessary for the attacker to drop his stance height to reach the attacker's knee, it'll come to him instead.
  • In the final position shown, it's a good idea for the defender to accressere close enough so that they may keep their back straight and maintain their structure, making them stable. In addition, the defender can keep the attacker's raised left leg in contact with their hip. This provides additional stability allowing the defender to easily hold the attacker in this position, with three points of contact, i.e. the throat, the knee, and the hip. If the latter is missing, holding the attacker safely in this position becomes much more difficult.

These are some details from the first three plays. A lot of material! Guess what? There are thirteen more plays described! Phew! If the student has a good basic understanding of the first six plays, which forms the core of our abrazare syllabus, they should have no trouble with the other plays. Practice makes perfect!

Friday, 28 November 2008

Abrazare, the first three plays, part 1

I spent pretty much the entire class working on the first three plays of abrazare with the beginners tonight. The beginner's course per se officially finished tonight but those remaining were invited to carry on training for free in the 4 or so sessions we've left before the Christmas break. So I thought, sod it, at least they'll get to see a version of the first three plays done in one setting.

First Play

Based on the experiences and mini-aha! moment, I had them go with the chambered gut punch attack, with the defender in porta di ferra, right foot forward. The attacker attacks and the defender steps with an accressere fora di strada, turning a little anticlockwise to face at about 45 degrees to their original direction, while stopping the punch, striking (carefully) the elbow to get it straight and driving the right hand up to chingiale, making the attacker's elbow roll upwards. Some things we noticed compared with the last time:

  • Stepping straight backwards does give the attacker time and space to avoid the strike and if the attacker really goes for a shoulder or neck grab prior to punching, it makes the reaching arm pull straight, thereby making for an easier hyperextension of the elbow made by striking it and trapping the hand aganst the defender's neck.
  • If however, the reaching movement is tentative and the defender steps backwards, the attackers hand may be simply beaten away in front on the defender's neck. This is not necessarily bad in itself, as it may open to another play, like a ligadura mezana, or turning the attacker enough to enter and go for a headlock or a full nelson (eleventh play).
  • stepping offline diagonally forward ensures that the reaching arm is trapped against the defenders neck, giving a point of leverage against which the elbow may be hyperextended.
  • if you step straight forwards or back, the initial strike to the elbow usually comes straight up. This can make the initial straightening of the elbow joint difficult. If though, you step with the accressere fora di strada (afds) and pivot, you can strike the elbow in a more horizontal motion, straightening the elbow joint, before continuing the upward movement into the chingiale shown in first play, simultaneously rolling the attacker's elbow upwards.
  • stepping with afds and a pivot takes the defender's body away and offline from the attacker's strike, while allowing the defender to counterattack to the outside of the attacker's knee joint or thigh with the defender's own knee. This aids in breaking the attacker's structure as well as providing an extra contact point to allow the defender to feel how the attacker may react. The other two points of contact are on the crook of the attacker's striking arm and the hyperextended reaching arm, as shown in first play.

    The Second Play
    Following on from first play the defender, having straightened and rolled the attackers elbow, drops his hand vertically, gripping the wrist with his other hand, to help maintain the hyperextension. From here he can kick out his front foot and drop his entire body weight on the straight arm, pivoting from the hip. That Fiore doesn't explicitly show this suggests to me that this is a training manual and underlines the concept of friendly training, abrazare di amore. We take the technique to a safe point and stop, aware of our training partner's limits.

Things to note:

  • the defender is working on the elbow joint of the attacker, not his shoulder. If he tried to work on the latter, the defender could more easily resist.
  • the defender looks at his opponent all the time. This allows him to trap the hand of the attacker under his jaw, a bit like a violin player "holds" a violin. This is particularly useful in class if the attacker has small hands which just seem to always slip out when practicing this play.
  • the defender's back is very straight. He doesn't bend from the waist when making the attacker "kiss the ground", he keeps his back straight dropping his weight by bending from the knees (in the training non-violent version).
  • as the defender, the students often seem to want to pull their hands into their body, often with a volta stabile, trapping the attacker's arm straight along their body. Seems to be doable, as long as they maintain control of the attacker's hand(see bove), keep their backs straight and that they power the volta stabile from the hips not the arms. The hands should move first of course, back to porta di ferra mezzana.
  • a small detail but important. A "play" seems to be an action done in response to something else, i.e. He does this, I do that, but if he does that, then I counter with this. Fiore shows numbered plays that may flow from one into the next, as plays 1, 2 and 3 seem to do. But they can flow in a seemingly random order also, they don't HAVE to go like this. I think he shows the first three in this order to show precisely this point, that the plays should flow from one to the next and that he uses the optimum play to show what can be done when faced with a certain type of action. For example, I could just have easily done play eight from the initial attack as play one. Alternatively, if I screwed up the first play and didn't manage to get the elbow straight to do a hyperextension, I might get the chance to continue by immediately trying for play eight instead, striking under the ear of the opponent. This is just my opinion and I'm open to correction.

    Hell, it's late! I'll continue this tomorrow as I'm too knackered to keep writing.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

In sickness and in health....

Well, despite the flu I went along to training tonight determined not to do much. I had no training gear with me even. Today seems like it was "one of THOSE days", where despite getting a satisfactory amount of work done, proofreading at least, I kept making silly mistakes like missing the bus into town by two seconds and the piece de resistance was locking my house and bike keys into the lab when I left work. DOH! Lea was at work tonight so at least I could borrow her keys and get the bus home.

This damned flu is annoying. I seem fine one minute, the next I'm sweating buckets, then I'm freezing and can't seem to get warm. I think I am ok with my throat, then it's sore, then ok and now I think I'm losing my voice. I've got some sort of stomach gripe as well. I shouldn't have gone to training tonight really, but I thought I was ok, if still recovering. I hardly did anything apart from chase people around in the stick game and even that got me into a fine lather. I'm taking it easy tomorrow and on Saturday. It will be bittersweet to watch people at the salle. Sweet (well, sort of) not to have to work, sweat train; bitter because I'll be stuck on my arse all day watching people have a blast. At least the Christmas party will be good fun, judging by past experience.

I'm never happy it seems, I moan about training when I'm healthy and I moan about not being able to do it when I'm sick.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Mental tiredness

Changing perceptions with responsibility
I have noticed that since I started to have some responsibility in my sword group, my appreciation of the fencing arts has changed, sometimes I am as enthusiastic as I was on day one, sometimes I never want to hold a sword again! I tend to fall somewhere along this gradient and as time has gone by and my experience in teaching slowly grows, I find the source of my enjoyment has changed and even if I don't get to train as much as I'd like, I get a major kick from leading classes.

But there's a hole in my training, dear Liza, dear Liza!
For a while now though I've felt as if this experience has become a little "top-heavy" mentally. Most of my swording experience seems to be learning the syllabus mentally rather than physically. As a class leader, I'm supposed to be au fait with the syllabus material at a fairly deep level. Fair enough, to be a good class leader this is necessary and important. However, it feels too one-sided because I'm not taking the opportunity to train for myself so that I also form a good physical knowlede of the syllabus, something which is also vital. Understanding something intellectually is fine, but with a physical art like fencing, there must also be physical training.

Sometimes fencing adds stress not relieves it
Maybe it's the time of the year, a time that I have a tendency to get a little depressed and thus a bit obsessive about the details, not just swording, but work, lack of work, etc. Sometimes, just sometimes, I tend to let all these things pile up to the point where the things I usually take pleasure in, become things to be endured, sword classes, seminars, our new flat, work, time spent with friends, and so on, even getting out of bed in the morning is a major obstacle. I wish everyone would just leave me alone and I could just spend my time quietly watching TV, reading or sleeping, because all social interaction just takes away what energy I have. I guess I also suffer a bit from what in Finnish is called "kaamos" or winter blues, or SAD syndrome.

Fencing stress coming to a head
This weekend will see another syllabus day take place in Helsinki, followed by the Christmas Party. I'm becoming less enthusiastic about it as it draws closer and begin to feel stressed, primarily by the thought that the purpose of the day is to see what we know, what progress we've made, and what aspects we need to train more. This stress is double-edged. Firstly, the standard of the Turku students is, in part, a direct result of classes I've led. I want Guy to know I'm doing my best as much as I want the Turku students to know they've made progress and still get a kick out of coming to training. So, rightly or wrongly, I feel responsible.
Secondly, and this links with the second paragraph of this post, I feel like I'm going to an exam totally unprepared. I'll have to stand in front of the class and physically try to demo stuff I know or at least am very familiar with intellectually, but have not actually trained for ages. I'm not looking forward to this, but I think I have enough experience and knowledge to carry it off. Then there is the one-on-one lesson with Guy or perhaps Ilkka, where we may do freeplay. This is the scariest thing for me because I'll be put under stress to see how I'll perform, and I haven't trained ANY free play preparation, let alone free play itself since last I met Guy in a freeplay lesson. So, I know that I have made no progress, at least in this aspect of sword training. My last freeplay lesson wasn't fun, it was very stressful for me, I didn't enjoy it at all, and only realised that I need to do more of this type of training, if I want to do better and realise some progress.

Disclaimer!: Freeplay IS fun!
For anyone reading this who thinks that freeplay is scary, it's very important to make one thing clear though: freeplay preparation and such training is not actually unpleasant per se, it is actually ok and even fun to experience some stress and test yourself because what is freeplay or even tournament bouting after all? The biggest positive lesson one takes away from freeplay is that you need to practice more, sometimes it might even be a specific technique or a sense of distance or often something you thought you "knew" or had simply taken for granted.

The answer can be "yes" and "no"
So, what is the solution? Is there one? I have to answer positively and say "yes". A general yes to the general problem, perhaps a specific yes to a specific problem. Then again, sometimes the answer will also be "no", and this is completely ok too. As in, do I have the solution now, today? In these cases, the answers may well be "no", but with a qualifier, "no today, now, but maybe yes later, tomorrow". There has to be some room for improvement, progress, change. I can feel like shit now, confused, pressured, useless, but I don't have to feel like this all the time.

No Beginner's Course for me next year
Regarding training, the solution is obvious. I need to take a step back from letting leading the beginner's course take over the rest of my training, get assistance from the rest of the more advanced students who, I'm sure are more than able and willing to help out. I will definitely NOT lead the next beginer's course and make way for the others to lead the classes. Even leading the advanced class takes less from me because I can train with them and they are at a level where they pretty much know what they have to do, if not they can make that "jump" most beginners could not. The group is smaller and I would not have to be as vigilant as with the beginners either.

Ok, rant over!
Ok, these were just some ides I had rolling around in my head for a while. Guess what? I'm just as screwed up as the next person! Surprised? Well, if you knew me, probably not. Don't worry though, most of my posts will be about swording. En garde!

Friday, 21 November 2008

Abrazare di Amore!

Well the training was ok last night. It was my intention to introduce the first plays of abrazare to the beginners, with the help of the more advanced students. I didn't want to go straight to the first play by way of the neck grab and chambered gut punch, as we've been doing now for a while. Oh no! I wanted a build up so that I could also get the idea across that this stuff can be used as part of a flow type drill and not a semi-static response. Therein lay the source of my downfall. I first combined the footwork with the abrazare guards, this worked well enough. I then tried to introduce the "pummelling" exercise, first with no footwork and then by introducing an accressere step as the hand is threaded under the opponent's arm. The whole thing was pretty scrappy for several reasons.

I intended to have them accressere with the front hand only. So it should have been thread-accressere, thread-no step, and so on. I didn't make this clear and so some did it with no footwork, some with a passing step instead (thread-passare, thread-passare, each time time ending in a cross-hand version), while others had no clue what the hell I wanted them to do. I hadn't thought it all out enough in advance and as I couldn't fully explain what I wanted people to do (I wasn't 100% sure myself), there was wholesale confusion. Fuck! I realise that i have a problem trying to visualise plays in my mind as my thought process tends to flip-flop from the attacker's to the defender's perspective, rather than having a 3rd person overview of a particular play or action.

So, we had a laugh about it and went straight to the chambered gut punch start, from which the response is first play. This and the follow on to second play went fairly well, thank God, particularly as I realised I was on more solid ground, material wise. Some details I noticed from these plays:

1. The attacker needs to make a proper attempt to grab behind the neck so that they can maximise their punch. If they just reach for the shoulder, it's almost impossible for the defender to get the reaching arm straight/hyper extended, as the attacker's hand just slides past the front of the defender's neck. So, intent is important!

2. When defending, the defender can either step backwards or fowards. I prefer taking a step back for a few reasons. It moves my body away from the punch and it straightens the attackers reaching arm, making it easier for me to attack his elbow. If I step fowards, it's into the punch, the attacker's reaching arm tends to bend downwards, making the hyper-extension very difficult and the turn of the elbow is instead done with more of a crank action than a vertical drive into the chingiale position. Then again, both the Getty and Pisani-Dossi images show that the defender's front foot is clearly outside the that of the attacker, which suggests that the defender simply steps diagonally forwards (accressere fora di strada), followed by a pivot on the front foot, taking his body offline away from the incoming strike(or groin kick), simultaneously attacking the elbow of the reaching arm. This variation would also allow the smooth transition (rather than a stop-go-stop action), to the second play or other plays. Cool, I think I just had a mini-eureka moment! Yaay! I'm going for a pint!

This image is take from the excellent Fiore project by the group the Exiles. Check here for more information.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Embracing the floor

Traing was fun last night. As it was Tuesday the beginner's and advanced were mixed, which allowed us to pair off and effectively teach through repetitions across the skill levels. I decided to include the forward and backward rolls as shown by Ilkka in his excellent falling seminar in Swordfish 2008. We've been building this stuff up and I intend to start including forward rolls from a standing position soon, but in stages so that in a while we'll begin by bending forward until our hands are already on the floor, so the "fall" is very small. Last night i also included the changing from lying face down to face up, by drawing the legs up, keeping the hands close on the side of the body and "threading" the lower hand through the hole just above the hip. The same principle was applied to rolling the other way, this time threading the elbow through the gap instead. I very much like that these movements are natural, in the sense that when we change position in bed asleep, we do these things and don't even realise that we are doing them. Interestingly, when people suddenly had to think about them, as in the exercise last night, they found them awkward initially and far from natural. Sometimes the mind seems to be more of a barrier than a tool.

If you're wondering where all this floor work is leading, check this link to Ilkka's youtube video on falling and rolling.
It's excellent and should be studied assiduously and applied as often as possible. I hope that we may all become as comfortable embracing the floor as he obviously is. Also check Ilkka's blog L'Arte delle Armi for his essays on falling.

Training continued with dagger flow drill, before we revised five things to do against a fendente mandritto strike. This is where mixing the beginners and more advanced really paid off. From there we continued and trained the break and ligadura mezzana responses for fendente roverso attacks.

Longsword training included 10 minutes of stability drill, pell work: cutting at ropes with controlled cuts, each time they hit they rope they had a three push-up penalty, followed by cutting and stepping. We finished the class with about ten minutes of stepped first drill. I believe that most of the beginners are ready to start on the second drill.

All in all a good class. I planned it, kept it moving and got stuff done. I must mention though that I really appreciate the efforts and patience of the advanced students on Tuesdays. All I have to do is say, "Pair off advanced-beginner, first drill, stepped, slow speed, masks if you have them, once through then change roles, get going!", and off they go. They know what they have to do and get on with it. After that all I need to do is call for a change in partners. Sweet!

Finally, I realise that although we've covered the guards of abrazare, we've not touched the plays yet, either for the advanced nor the beginners. This will have to be remedied (pun intended). The beginers should have at least to the third play done before they complete their course. Bugger, there's always something! Can't rest on my laurels for long, if ever.

Onwards and upwards!

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Back to basics

Yesterday's training saw a poor turout, with only five people in attendance. Following up from Thursdays class, I had people go through the second drill, specifically the rememdy. In going through this exercise, I noticed several things. One person had never really noticed that the footwork was different from the first drill and was using an accressere fora di strada instead of a passare alla traversa. Naturally, this had made them wonder why they were so far away from the attacker when they followed up with the disarm. I was feeling sort of creative, in other words, I hadn't prepared anything for the class and so was winging it. I asked them to repeat the drill to the remedy point, but instead of doing the passare alla traversa, just do a passo stright up the line, then a very weak alla traversa, then a clear alla traversa. The point was to show the difference in the relationship between the swords, if the intent was to disarm, as is the point in the drill. In the first case, the cover must be made properly, or the attacker can simply cut through the defense. Even if the attacker's sword is collected, it's point could still be wound around the point of contact, i.e. a thrust with the hands high (posta saggitario??) The correct and clear pass across the line takes the attacker's sword point well out of danger, and allows you to grasp their sword hilt and complete the disarm. Some other details we noticed were that if you grab the fingers of their sword hand, particularly the ring and small fingers, as you do the disarm, the twisting effect on the wrist of the sword arm may become acute, so be careful with that. Secondly, this twisting effect is using a fulcrum action. As the defender covers frontale and the swords make contact at mezza spada, the attacker's sword was often collected against the defender's cross, i.e. the strong part of his sword. When the defender continued the action, grabbing the hilt, he could push his sword down and pull the attacker's hilt up, so that the attacker's sword is rotated anti-clockwise (from the defender's viewpoint) out of his grip, somewhat similar to the tora di spada actions. I'm not 100% sure this is correct but it seems to work. I'll have to add it to the list to ask Guy.

So then we took the drill in steps to the end before switching the second drill into a three person pressure drill. I then noticed that occasionally people were attacking out of measure such that rather than attacking with a fendente mandritto, they were entering more with a thrust coming in to the side of the head, or their stance length was so short, they were always really close during the drills. This is one of the main reasons, according to Guy, that 4th drill is so damned difficult for a lot of people. So we talked about stance and stance length and we did some cutting practice with stepping, paying particular attention to the length of our stances or if we were sliding on the floor, etc. For the finish, I used the ropes in the gym to give us all targets to practice cutting on. The idea was to adopt any guard out of measure of the rope. Slowly and carefully, we moved towards the rope using accressere steps until we got to the point from which we were sure we could strike the rope with a step, i.e. close measure. From there we cut with a step. Then, the idea was to take one step back and see if we could lengthen and/or lower our stances, tweaking them a bit so that our close distance increased, we could make the same cut with a step but from a little farther away. Then, we would start over with the exercise. Most of us found that we could increase our cutting range by a centimetre or two.

Finally, for a bit of fun, and because we don't practice them much, we did 50 thrusts at the hanging rope. A hit had to be clean to count. Of the 50 thrusts, 10 were from the high right, 10 from the high left, 10 low right, and 10 low left. The final 10 were done by adopting rear-weighted posta di Donna, volta stabile to bichorno, before thrusting with a step. I got something like 14 clean hits out of 50. The easiest thrusts overall people found were the low thrusts. The high ones from fenestre were made more difficult by the hand rotating the sword. Pell work (even if it is only a hanging rope) is fun and a very useful tool.

So, an interesting class. We covered basics but stuff which isn't actually all that easy. This material though forms an important building block which helps all the rest come together. From a class I hadn't prepared for, I just kept noticing things which called for us to take a step back and re-examine what we think we "know".

Friday, 14 November 2008

Training update

I enjoyed training last night. I still haven't quite got the hang of simultaneously leading training of the beginners and advanced students, while getting in some training of my own. I also need to remember to get the other students to help me with the beginners and more advanced and to delegate so that everyone is being supervised and I get to train a bit as well. Mira wasn't feeling 100% last night and sat out the pressure drills but I completely forgot to ask her if she could take over the beginners whicle I was with the advanced lot. Doh! Sorry Mira!

Last night, I managed to keep an eye mainly to the beginners and give the advanced students tasks and exercises to do, which they could do happily by themselves. For example, I got them to pair off and go through the five sword drills as stepped exercises. One would attack, one defend. They would go through the drill, 1, 1-2, 1-2-3, etc. Once through, they switch roles, repeat the exercise, then go on to the second drill. I gave them ten minutes. This was followed by a variant of the diagnostic pressure drill, with the exception that rather than being in pairs, I got them to go in threes, thus the defender has even more pressure to perform the drills. The person in the middle defends. The other two attack. The first attacks in first drill, the second in second drill, and so on. The attacks must come in fast enough so the middle person has no time to think, just react. If they didn't know the drill well enough, all they had to do was as much as they could remember, back up, turn around and immediately go to the next drill. No resets, no second chances. Once all five drills have been gone through, the positions are switched. The exercise keeps going until each one has defended twice.

As expected, there was some "slippage" in each drill, some people had problems with drill two, some drill four. So we had a look at drill two, tried to "fix" any obvious problems and then everyone paired off and went back to stepping drill 2. There was some discussion as to how to do the remedy. I showed one version which I could make work, but on hindsight, it wasn't 100% correct as I was covering in posta frontale and beating the incoming sword down with the result that I was lowering my sword tip too low (to horizontal or a little lower), similar to but not quite as low as in the rompere di punta. We have the instructions from the syllabus so I checked it out after training, including the youtube video of second drill.
Here's a link to the drills in the SES syllabus:
and the youtube link:

In the video, the defender clearly covers in posta frontale, with the point high and hands low. Looking at the video critically, I reckon the defender might have stepped more alla traversa and met the attacker's sword closer to mezza spada. Be that as it may, it's basic form is invaluable and cleared the issue up for me immediately. It's an interesting thought that even though the class had finished and I was surfing the net at home, the lesson still continues, as i still have to go through this in the next class to close the loop and stay consistent.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

How to do it and how NOT to do it...

Here are some youtube links to the nylon longsword tournament held at Swordfish this year in Gothenburg. The first is the final between Scott Brown (German style) and Tim Gallagher (Fiore). It was great to see an exponent of Fiore in the final.

The next two clips are of one of my fights. Each fight consisted of two 60 second bouts.

I got a new ganbeson as well. Yaay!

Adrenaline rush
I had a total of three fights (six bouts) and lost all three. So, I didn't do so well, at least tournament wise. I did enjoy the experience and when I realised that my bouts were posted on youtube, I felt a sudden rush of adrenaline just like when I stepped onto the mat for my first fight. It's an unusual experience, a kind of heady, exciting, kind of sick feeling. So, I got to experience adrenaline rush. I don't really know if it affected me so much over the course of the fights, but I was already much less nervous about the whole affair by the second bout. So, why did I get hit so much? These are my conclusions:

I let him walk right into measure, from where it was relatively easy for him to launch sniping attacks to my hands and he was often just too close for me to react in time. In fairness, Axel almost never came straight at me, he almost always approached in a zig-zag or at a diagonal to help confuse me about the distance between us. By comparison, the attacks I launched (perhaps lobbed is a more accurate verb) were from a pretty much static position,and I went straight at him. Result? I got hit on the hands or once, on the head.

At one point I looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights as he danced about before catching me once across the lead leg and once on the hands and I didn't even move! It was almost as if the connection between brain and muscles had been cut. As Guy would say, "you're asleep!". Quite embarrassing really.

As with the distance issue, I let him come to me and in doing so, I sort of "gave" him the fight. I should have moved more and been more active in rushing him, particularly as the theme of the day seemed to be stay in giocco largo and hit the hands and arms. In my first bout I managed to get into giocco largo distance and score a point with the pommel (although it was technically an illegal move, oops! :-)). My opponent did not like it one bit when I came in close and personal. I was going to say "aggressive" above instead of active, but I'm not sure this is the word I'd use. I didn't feel afraid in the fights and when I went in and made my attacks, regardless of the results, I wasn't really thinking anything apart from "go for it!". I could have kept moving all the time rather than waiting in guard, but without the bouncing and hopping around done out of distance by a lot of the other competitors. One of the judges said later that my guards were nice-looking but that I need to be more active.

So, am I just crap at this stuff? Thinking about it realistically, I don't think I'm crap, just not so good at it yet. Sure, I need to work hard on a lot of things: distance, awareness, footwork, and practice a hell of a lot more in free play and pressure play if I want to improve. And I do! Not solely because of tournaments, but for my overall improvement in this Art. Although I didn't win any of my matches, that wasn't ever really an expectation, I learned heaps.

The Art vs. the Tourney

Although I entitled this post as "How to do it.....", I'm not so sure that the final was necessarily a fine display of overall swordsmanship, or of the Art, be it German or Italian. I think rather it was a good example of tournament fighting, i.e. these guys know their stuff and knew how best to apply it to the tournament rules we were given. I hope this doesn't come across as sour grapes just because I lost all my matches though. I think only Emil went for a takedown in the entire nylon longsword tournament, and there were almost no giocco stretto engagements at all, let alone disarms, nor many thrusts for that matter. I believe a good demonstration of swordsmanship would include engagements at all distances, involve disarms, locks and takedowns, thrusts, cuts and pommel strikes. As Roland W. said, that we are not seeing these in the tournaments means that either we don't really understand yet how to apply them, or our skill level is simply still too low. This should motivate us all to train more and harder so that we can use our repertoire, not just at the training salle, but also in the tourney.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Less Talk More Action!

Had a good training session tonight. Well, it was good in two senses. First, when I asked if people enjoyed themselves, the response was very positive. I'm pretty sure at this stage that I wasn't just being told what I wanted to hear and that if it had been crap, they would have said nothing. Finns!, I'll never fathom them! :-)
Secondly, it was a good training for me as a class leader because I got a lot done and covered and I didn't say much. We had a nice warm-up with exercises from Ilkka's falling clas in Swordfish. I showed one technique, repeated it, and then got everyone to have a go. After this, I got on and trained the technique myself and only spoke again when I wanted to introduce the next roll, or fall, etc.
After the warm-up, we split the class, with me taking the beginners and Timo leading the more advanced in freeplay prep. I kept to the same basic pattern in doing flow drill. I showed the basic disarm for a fendente mandritto, repeated it and had the beginners pair off and practise the technique three times before switching attacker/defender roles. This was followed with the same thing for the disarm against a roverso and a sotto strike. They could all do the techniques pretty well and I let them get on with things in each case, unless there was some horrible glaring error. Then I got one of the beginners, said "This is flow drill" and we began to demo the flow drill to the rest. The chap I chose picks up the stuff really quick and we did a fairly nice job of showing the strike order and that it is done slowly and smoothly. I got them to pair off to try it. They pretty much got it straightaway. I had them change partners a few times and apart from reminding them that (a) the dagger doesn't always come back cleanly to your hand, (b) footwork goes out the window, and (c) the distances are suddenly much closer, (d) keep moving, I hardly said anything. When I mentioned these things, they understood straightaway because they were experiencing them directly.
For variation I also introduced the ligadura soprana. We moved on to basic cutting in standing mode, before going on to revise the first drill, of which we got to the counter-remedy stage before class ended.

So, what did Iconclude from my class with the beginners? This group seems to learn primarily from visual and physical cues, backed up with a few simple, clear verbal instructions from me. I showed them what I wanted them to do, with a repeat or two, then stepped those instructions such that they knew exactly what was required. Here's the kicker.....It worked! I think I'm finally beginning to learn how to do this! This was why the training was so satisfying.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Etätöitä or working from a distance

I've been thinking about distance today. How good or bad I am at judging it. I was thinking about doing some distance drills with longsword so that I and the others in class can have a go at practising it. It's a vital skill and not to be overlooked.

Basically we pair off. One person gets to attack. The one being attacked has to stand in tutta porta di ferra and wait until they think the other is within range to be able to hit them, then they shout "stop". The attacker attacks with a fendente mandritta/roverso. If the attacker is too far away, they "lose". If the attacker is close enough to strike the hands, or worse still, close enough to strike the arms and head, the defender "loses". A loss means five pushups.

This drill is repeated with multiple partners, i.e. different stance, arm and sword lengths to build up some sort of variation in the defender's perception. Pairs can be arranged in a tank track to build up repetition as a defender or attacker.

The attacker can aproach using whatever footwork, initially coming straight at the defender, then they can approach in a circular, diagonal or random manner to see if they can fool the defender and make themselves appear closer or farther away.

Of course the roles can be reversed, i.e. where the stationary person shouts stop when the approaching partner gets into what they think is proper distance, and the stationary partner can attack as the mobile partner enters close measure, i.e. this can be wrist/arm or head/body distance.

A proper hit should be made without overextending or compromising a stable stance.

Finally, both defender and attacker can move and try to fool each other as to how close they really are. Once they approach to a certain distance either can shout stop. The one who shouts gets to attack.

Could be fun, we'll see how it goes.

Swordfish nylon longsword bouting videos

They posted at least two of Emil's bouts from Swordfish 2008 on Youtube. Here are the links: Emil only lost this one on a "sudden death", which was a pity.

Well done Emil!

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Back from Gothenburg!

Well, I'm back. The event this year was a blast as usual, but I am still knackered after the trip back. The nylon longsword tournament was an interesting experience and apart from the first bout, I wasn't as nervous as I thought I'd be. I got beaten in all three bouts but I learned some things too. Firstly, I need to control distance better. The other fencers (which were mainly doing german styles) just walked into distance in Vom Tag and dropped their swords onto my hands, and I let them do it. Very silly. I got better with the distance issue in the second and third bouts and tried to take the fight to them instead. Even though most of the attacks were sniping blows to the hands and occasionally the front foot, I started to sense when they were just out of distance. We weren't allowed to use pommel strikes as they were considered too dangerous (?). Ok, their house, their rules. I managed to get one attack in, and when the guy parried, i changed sides and came in with a light pommel and a cut to the face. The distance thing was hard because they other guys always always stayed at mezza or even punta spada distance, and as soon as I did anything "unusual", they backed off like a shot, making it hard to rush them.

Secondly, I need to learn how to protect my hands, I got cracked across the hands a lot, mostly from downward blows. Good job I had gauntlets on.

Overall, it probably wasn't the best display of swordsmanship overall, not least from myself, but it gave me a good experience of how I performed under pressure, and things to go away and train more.

Ilkka's falling seminar was excellent! Well planned, interesting and with lots of "eureka" moments, particularly when he talked about natural movement. I am not a fan of forward rolls from a standing position, so this was a really useful seminar for me. The other seminars were ok, I learned some stuff which I can incorporate into training in Turku.

It was fun to chat with other guys from Denmark about their styles and how they train. The only thing that bugged me a bit about it though was that some of the things from Fiore were "stupid" to them. I really didn't feel like arguing about it because as far as I could see, they were interested in taking medieval techniques from the German styles they were studying and applying only the "useful" ones to modern street fighting techniques for self-defense. Everything else they dropped like a hot brick. Nothing wrong with that at all and a valid approach. From their viewpoint, trying to avoid a stab with a 35 cm spike with the first Master disarm was a stupid thing to do, because it would "never" work against a knife. One of the things I remember from Scott Brown's lecture on mindset in training was that a misunderstanding of contexts is, and has been one of the biggest causes for disagreements, splits and faction forming withing the martial arts world. I disagreed with some of his points but not this one. I didn't have the energy to try to explain to the Danish guys, who were sound and friendly, that we were looking at the same thing from different contexts.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Training in the dark

Decided to train outside last night but forgot about the time change over the weekend. So, while practicing, it got very dark, very quickly. Luckily I was up high on a hill and could continue by the general lights from the city. It was quite pretty actually. I worked on my cuts, standing and with one step, with emphasis on keeping my shoulders down and relaxed and snapping out the sword. Worked fairly well but I noticed that when I'm in Posta di Donna, I still have the tendency to tense my shoulders, regardless of whether I am back- or front-weighted.

My stability exercise is coming on nicely. I can really feel when I am in the correct position and where my weight is on my feet. As I can't use a watch with a second hand when outside (and certainly not in the dark!), I usually count ten breaths (one inhale-one exhale is one breath) in each stance before changing to the next one. With time, I'll increase the number of breaths. I was thinking about the broad similarity between this exercise and zhan zhuang chi kung. Interestingly, apart from a little muscular discomfort, I feel quite energised after the exercise and the more I "relax and sink", the better I feel. Food for thought.

Training again tonight with the beginners. Yaay! Sometimes I think of it as a chore, but this usually passes as soon as I stand in front of the class. We've got a good bunch this year. They are enthusiastic and work hard. One of the guys last week got a cramp in his right shoulder when doing the stability exercise. He stopped for a second or two and before I could encourage him to continue, he automatically switched his grip to a left-handed one and continued! Class!

We'll go over the sotto disarm of dagger, revise the disarms for fendente mandritto and fendente roverso, and try to begin the link between the three into the dagger flow drill. I also want to begin the first drill. At the last seminar when Guy came to Turku, the beginners that attended waltzed through the first drill and even began the second one. So, they are well capable. I'll have to sit down at lunch and make a class plan. Guy put me on the spot a while back at a seminar in Helsinki to lead a group and demo to the class and I totally blew it. However, as a good teacher, he gave me a second chance and a five minute respite to collect my thoughts. I did much better the second time. The lesson from this is that being prepared is good, but being able to act extempore is also a good skill, so that I'm not just stumbling in the dark.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Going to Swordfish!

I'm heading to Gothenburg again this year for three days of western martial arts fun, sweat, a few bruises and more than a few beers. Last year was great fun even though one of our party broke his leg. I'm really excited mainly for two reasons. One, I get to buy some gear I've wanted for ages, i.e. a gambeson, gorget and maybe a couple of new swords. here's a link to the retailer dude who'll be tempting us at the gathering:
Albion (Europe) swords will also be there but I'll not be buying anything this time around. The only two possible sword models I was interested in, i.e. the Liechtenauer and the Meyer (with its gorgeous flared ricasso!) are (a) too expensive and (b) have chord-wrapped hilts (ugh!). I'll mosey along anyway to the Albion display just to torture myself and admire the Kriegsmesser.
The second reason I'm exited about swordfish 2008 is the fact that I plan to take part in the tournament on saturday. I thought I was taking part in the nylon longsword tourney, but it seems I'm down for weighted shinai instead (?) Oh well, it doesn't really matter. I don't expect much from the competition, just the chance to get some competition experience and adrenaline rush and to see how that affects my performance. I don't really consider it to be a Fiore versus the rest because if I screw up, it will be me, and NOT the system I train in that fails. I'm basically looking at the whole thing as an adrenaline diagnostic drill and maybe it will be a bit of fun, nothing too serious. Actually, I'm petrified. Partly that I'll make an arse of myself, and partly that I'll be up against guys who fight all the time and aggressively. We'll see how it goes...


Training is going well-ish. I've been working on the absolute basics by myself recently, i.e. making a proper cover in frontale from tutta porta di ferro and porta di ferro la mezana. Likewise from chingiale cutting upwards with sottano reverso. Might sound daft but last time I had a lesson with Guy, it became horribly obvious I was flapping, making too large movements, and putting my whole body in to getiing my sword to move. NOT a nice thing to find out. I thought I had these skills down pat. Obviously not :-(
Guy said to use my fingers/wrists to effect small snappy movements. After working on this for the past week, it makes good sense and really work. I just have to learn to relax more so that I can keep moving.....hmm another problem to work on..