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.