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.


  1. How's the weight and handling of these weird nylon sticks? They look pretty light. I'd imagine some of the hits you took were mainly due to their high speed and different handling.

    I'll never understand why people want to make those one-handed half-throw taps at the opponent's leg, though. :P

  2. Some of them have been designed based on an Albion Liechtenauer, with very close to the same weight, flex and amazingly, point of balance. I think there is still a lot of variation in these factors though. The ones I used were ok, I think they certainly handle a lot better than any wooden waster and it might be nice to have some instead of wooden ones for beginners. nevertheless, I thought they were very light and as a result rather "whacky" in the same way shinais are. I agree about the taps. It was bloody annoying to be hit on the hands have it count as a point. Why bother having gauntlets then? Still, perhaps it's better to train NOT to get hit at all. As I wrote above, I think the style people fought was heavily tournament-influenced, which would explain the main hits and the overriding desire to stay at wrist distance.

  3. Hi Kev!

    As it is our bout you are analyzing, I hope it is OK for me to add my own input into it. This is your own private space though so just delete my comment if it is not appropriate.

    First off, I also want to make clear that all the comments are with the best intentions etc :), I think these kind of discussions are extremely useful and informative as they show the different contexts and perceptions we train in. we tend to forget that we actually have very different outlooks on things like sparring, competitions, target areas, "good fighting" etc!

    For example, I also noticed the many hits to the hands during the competition. Sure, it would be nice to see more hits to the rest of the body (perhaps we should give more points for head and torso hits)! In your specific case your hands were often good targets, and so i went for them, cutting the hands off is as good a fight stopper as cutting the head off.

    I had no idea you saw the fact that you considered you wearing gauntlets to count as armour (in contrast to for example the lacrosse gloves I was wearing), it is no wonder you held your hands far out in that case, and I can understand why you were annoyed that hits you your hands were counted as points! Next year we will be more clear in explaining that the tournament is symbolizing completely unarmoured fighting, so wearing modern gloves or steel gauntlets doesn't affect the available target areas, damn Im sorry about that!

    This is also interesting if I understand you correctly that you freeplay wearing steel gauntlets that are supposed to actually represent steel gauntlets, Im sure there is alot more grappling and core body hits if the hands are no longer viable targets for attack. Again, different training contexts, I never thought of this, cool :).

    Back to the lack of grappling, I can come up with a few explanations that can explain it;

    grappling is dangerous, it is (from my perspective that is!) safer to stay out of distance and attack open targets. Since it is a competition people feel that they have much more to lose if they actually get hit (compared to casual freeplay) and so tend to play safe. I would do the same had it been with sharp steel we were fencing.

    When fighting against you, I knew Fioristas do a lot of grappling, and I had seen you fight Robert earlier, so I did not want to get into grappling distance with you (or i would get my butt kicked!), especially as I know my own game gives good result when I move a lot, in and out of distance (not just out of distance) and using "frequens motus" (the jumping and bouncing and guard changing, I have an athletic approach to fighting, and I am heavy under the Meyer influence, all this pre gioco larg/stretto action I amd doing can be found in the manuscripts though, and it does give results ). It can be seen as very bad fighting or as very good fighting, depending on from where you stand :). I tried to play on my own strengths.

    The nylons slide very quickly in the bind, faster than steel. That makes collecting the opponents blade and blocking the line to enter grappling distance more difficult. An error in the simulator the tournament used.

    As Roland said, we still pretty much suck at this :), hopefully we will see more grappling in the future (and allow pommel strikes!).

    Grappling is not the most common situation in the swordfight, even though you see alot of grappling techniques in the manuscripts, doesn't mean you by definition will see it in every fight. Especially as the stakes were high people went more for landing attacks than thinking about their overall display, so no one tried to force a grapple just for the sake of it.

    All in all, you definitely did not suck in the tournament! I lost two fights and won one and I am pretty happy with my performance (it was my first competition too, gosh was I nervous!), which isn't automatically determined by if you won or not.

    I think it is mostly down to different training culture and freeplay culture, and the still faulty tournament mode, hopefully it will be better as we develop it. You were also completely new to the nylon wasters, while many of us others are very familiar with them. For me it was more or less like regular sparring practice with nylons, minus the use of the pommel and plus the effect of stress and adrenaline (you saw perhaps my first fight against Tim, I got me ass handed to me there, being way too over eager!), so me and some others probably had it easier to adopt to the tournament setting in that regard, that gives even more kudos to you and Emil for stepping up and taking the fight!

    Alot of text here, I just find the subject of how different we view HEMA and how different we practice and with what goals to be fascinating, especially as we (or I) so often believe we think and train exactly the same. please do not take this text as criticism as i think you put forward some very good thoughts and analysis here, I apologize in advance if I come off the wrong way.

    cheers and looking forward to see you next year!

  4. Thanks for a really good post! This is what the comment box is for. I liked the points you made and wouldn't dream of deleting it because it will serve to remind me that there are other ways of doing things. Some criticism is always good, wakes and shakes us up a bit. Bravo sir!