Thursday, 18 December 2008
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
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
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.
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
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
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! :-)
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
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:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8SRaa33otU
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
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!
- 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
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
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!