Thursday, 26 November 2009

Middle Ages spread

Realised the other day that the old MAS has begun. Damn! It seems I've just slid into a lifestyle pattern which is pretty sedentary and comfortable and includes quite a lot of goodies, like biccies (my one weakness, or one of my weaknesses) with every cup of tea or coffee.

It started a few weeks ago when Mr. Windsor visited Turku. During the warmup we do this exercise where we sit on the floor and raise the feet about six inces and either hold that position or move the legs. It just hurts my back and I feel not just a pull in my lower abs but like I have absolutely no power there to keep my feet off the floor. Frustrating!

I often enjoy watching programmes on TV where overweight people struggle with new exercise and dietary regimes in order to lose weight and be happier. I must admit to feeling rather smug as I watch sipping my tea and having another couple of biscuits or some more chocolate, thinking "that will never be me, after all I have self control!". But do I? How much do the ups and downs in everyday life affect our self-control? I could blame change of season, lack of light, worries about work, etc. for the desire to feel "full", which brings a certain feeling of satisfaction. These causes though may be just be a small part of the problem.

Ok. I'm not obese. I have a belly and love handles and I probably could do with beginning jogging again, but I still think I'm moderately fit. I guess the balance of food intake versus physical exercise has shifted so that the former outweighs the latter. Pun intended. What to do?

Well, first off, cut down on the calories. I'm not the sort of person who believes in the cold turkey approach. I think though that rather than having something sweet with every cup of tea or coffee, one small treat per day is ok. But that's it, ONE! In the past I've noticed that when I do this, I can get used to having less but enjoying it more. It's also not to just cut out the sweet stuff. Good diet is about good choices and certainly in my case, it requires conscious effort. I often get to the checkout and wonder how those choccy biccies got into the shopping basket, while the fruit and veg I planned to buy are nowhere to be seen. It's funny but kind of pathetic at the same time.

The other plan is to do more physical stuff. I don't feel like I really need to ramp this up to the point where I'm sweating buckets and ready to puke. I used to train like that in basketball and later in karate. I didn't enjoy it then and I sure as hell wouldn't enjoy it now. However, to do enough to get out of my comfort zone and to raise a sweat would be just the job, and this 3-4 times a week. The sword training is ok for this, it's occasionally demanding, but only occasionally. Anyway, we're not training to get fit per se, even though good conditioning is essential to be a good swordsman.

I'm thinking about going to Peru for 5-6 weeks in 2010 with my wife so I this gives me a good target to aim for, actually more to improve fitness than to lose weight. However, if I can get the balance back, I'm fairly sure one will take care of the other.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Back from Swordfish 2009

Just got in the door this morning and am trying to drum up some enthusiasm for working from home today on the laptop. Well, what can I say? Swordfish 2009 was a blast and I had a lot of fun despite feeling somewhat fluish on saturday afternoon and evening.

The first class I attended was Harry Winter's class on German dagger fighting. This was pretty interesting and I got some good ideas on warm up and reaction drill that we might use in our own training. Overall, the material itself was not hugely different from Fiore dagger but the presentation itself was kept fast-paced, intelligent, clear and by turns downright funny. Harry is a big man but moves very smoothly and quickly for all that and his technique was very impressive also.

After lunch I went along to Matt Galas class on Montante or Portuguese longsword. This style seemed to consist of, at least at first viewing, of twiddly sword forms, which increased in complexity as the class wore on. However, Matt told us that different forms were described in the manuscript for specific purposes, like fighting multiple attackers, defending a bridge or an alley, or fighting on a ship. The forms themselves were actually beautiful and a superb workout but quite a few people seemed to drop out as there were no pair drills and as the forms became more difficult, concentration was quite hard to maintain. This might simply be a feature of some people attending Swordfish, who seem to like a "good bash" and they weren't getting what they wanted from this class. All in all though it was very enjoyable and I'm glad I stayed til the end. I look forward to seeing Portuguese longsword thrown into the mix of German and Italian longsworders in tournaments in the future.

I was feeling rather fluish on Saturday so I just took it easy in the morning and watched the sword and buckler and singlesword tournaments. The former was a little bit too bash-crash for me, but I really liked the single sword comp. The vibe was completely different and it was a really nice opportunity to see a Silver exponent take on sabre and backsword fighters from other traditions. I have a new found respect for the backsword and think it would be fun to take it up. In the afternoon I took part in only half of Dierk Hagedorn's class on techniques from the Falkner manuscript. Although it was German style, which I'm not so familiar with, the clear instructions were easy to follow and the techniques shown very interesting. My headache had returned so when we had a break I packed it in and went to watch the rest of the nylon longsword tournament. It was interesting and fun to watch but the organisation took quite a lot of time and I think it may have been given too much weight in the overall event, with only one other option for those less interested in competition. Oh well, can't please everyone I guess.

On Sunday morning I was supposed to go to Fabrice Cognot's class but tiredness, flu, a slight hangover and laziness made me just take things easy and move from class to class, checking out what was going on. From what I caught while watching on the sidelines, Fabrice's class on Fiore was interesting as his interpretation is very close yet still different from ours. Ilkka Hartikainen held a very interesting class on Bolognese dagger, which looks very elegant. By comparison, Claus Soerensen from the Laurentiusgildet had a class on half-sword techniques (in armour) from Tallhofer which was brutally elegant. Both were great fun to watch and judging by those taking part, even more fun to do.

Although this was my third year at Swordfish, I caught the phenomenon that is the "Midnight Brawlers Club" for the first time. This is where anyone, regardless of age, sex, whatever, can take on anyone else in some friendly wrestling. It at first seemed incongruous that two guys in their underpants trying to twist each others' heads off, would then jump up and hug the other affectionately at the end of the bout, but I was told that this is precisely the essential element that makes this happening so popular year after year.

A big thanks to all the GHFS people who worked so hard to organise this event and did such a good job yet again. I'm looking forward to the next one already!

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Third thoughts

I've had a rethink about the nylon longsword competition which will be held at Swordfish '09 in Gothenburg this year. Basically, I decided to pull out and maybe attend Dierk Hagedorn's class on half-swording instead.

My reasons:

-I'm not very good at freeplay and my performance at the Medieval Mayhem overall, and particularly against the Mikkonator was crap. So, I'm just not ready for free bouting yet.
-Different rulesets and competition mode is different from the context we normally do freeplay.
-In terms of learning stuff useful for the practice of Fiore, there isn't much (at my current level, such as it is) that I would gain by taking part in the competition.
-I'd learn more from the half-sword class with Mr. Hagedorn.
-I started to stress about the competition and worrying if I was ready and all that crap. Yes, I do stress about things too easily, I freely admit. So, this worry was starting to take away the joy of the whole Swordfish experience, which is just daft. If the joy isn't in it, then there's something wrong. This has become my yardstick for my whole attitude to swordsmanship. It doesn't preclude hard work and regular training as these can be a joy in themselves.

Instead, if I want to have a friendly spar with people at the event, I will have more than ample opportunity to do so. I just have to be open to the experience, have a laugh, get a bit sweaty and maybe a bruise or two, make friends in the process, learn, consider and perhaps discard new stuff, then discuss it all over a pint or dram in the pub afterwards :-)

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Flappy swords

Dave Rawlings of Boar's Tooth and some other chaps are marketing plastic wasters and armour for freeplay. To see their gear in action, click the following link:

I'll say it straight up......I hate the armour, they look like robocops with swords. What's wrong with a nice gambeson or fencing jacket with a leather plastron?

The swords themselves, at least in the clip, looked rather flappy in the flat although we are assured by people from Schola Gladiatoria who've had the good fortune to try them, that it's just the top third that has the most flex. To my limited knowledge though, they still looked shinai-quick. I still think the Pentti wasters from Gothenburg look pretty good and were quite ok to handle.

Nevertheless, they don't look too bad overall and if they can really produce them at 40 quid a pop, then maybe it would be a good idea to invest in a few for our club, as they HAVE to be better than the wooden wasters we currently have. I'm looking forward with interest to see how these fare when more people can use them and write their own reviews.


It's a horrible word, isn't it? Yet I've been producing rather a lot of it all week as I've been laid up sick at home. I guess a fairly stressful and busy summer finally caught up with me and dealt me a good belt. Felt like it anyhow. While I have enjoyed the time spent at home just to sleep, rest and eat, I don't enjoy feeling weak, having headaches and mountains of tissues all around me. Basically, it sucks being sick! I'm on the road to recovery and I'll probably head back to work tomorrow but it'll only be indoors stuff this week. No diving for me!

I thought that we would be finished well in advance of the end of October so I could easily take some days off and enjoy going to Swordfish 2009. Now it seems we'll have to work right up to the last minute and into November to get all the pieces into place. We've got about 500 videos to watch and the underwater nature trail to break down for winter.
It never ends, does it?

Speaking of Swordfish 2009, there is a pretty interesting line up and I'm still looking forward to attending. I initially decided to take part in the longsword tournament but I have since decided to do something else instead, namely take part in the half-swording techniques from the Falkner manuscript, by Mr. Dierk Hagedorn. I had the pleasure to chat with him briefly last year and he was sound. Why did I change my mind? I had started to get a bit stressed about the whole thing, particularly after my rather dismal performance last year. I attended the Medieval Mayhem last weekend at the Helsinki salle (which was great fun btw!) and had a chance for a brief natter on the subject with Ilkka Hartikainen. I asked him if he intended to take part this year and he said probably not. When I asked why, he told me that he wasn't so fond of the competition-like approach and that it was much more fun for him to just have a bit of informal play with people he could choose, and that he felt he had nothing to prove. His attitude gave me a lot of pause for thought.

Perhaps I'm simply not yet ready for such a tournament? Given that the tournament rules (as in any competition) will result in a certain type of modified behaviour to best take advantage of the rule system in place, what would I actually and constructively learn about what I know/don't know of italian swordsmanship? I really don't seem to take competition-pressure too well. Ironically, the only person putting me under pressure is, myself! So, I figured I'd get more out of the half-swording class than the tourney and if I want to have a friendly spar with people while I'm there, then I'll probably get ample opportunity. The fact that I don't yet have a plastic sword for the competition, nor intend to buy lacrosse gloves for it either, because "hard" protection is not allowed, are just little contributing details.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Synthetic swords and banana gloves

Sound odd? Well, it's one way of describing some of the equipment used at the longsword tournament at the upcoming Swordfish 2009 event. The first term is apparent, the latter refers to how the players hand protection looks like to me, i.e. those who use lacrosse gloves.

Well, I've been reviewing my abysmal performance last year at the biggest sword-related event in the Nordic countries, hosted by those very enthusiastic and frankly tireless chaps and ladies from the Gothenburg Historical Fencing School.

Basically, I sucked. So, after some reviewing I feel I need to concentrate on, inter alia:

-protecting my hands and attacking the opponents'
-attacking in proper distance
-being more and constantly mobile
-changing guards
-using the thrust
-taking better advantage of largo and stretto distances
-learn to use the circlular step and not be so linear

Hmm, this will give me plenty of material to work on between now and the end of October....

I'd like my style to improve, perhaps win a clean point or two and have anybody watching still be able to say.."oh, he's a Fiorista".

We tried some slow freeplay at training last saturday and it went ok I think but I still got hit on the head a lot, and took a "lethal" thrust to the throat where I attacked, missed and ran myself onto the incoming point. I wasn't relaxed doing the freeplay, nor indeed was I slow and deliberate as was the oringinal intention, in itself designed to allow for constant motion and a way to stop the freezing. I think I completely forgot anything to do with the seven sword drills we've trained and sometimes it looked messy and well, shite. On the positive (sort of) I found that I could exploit the stops in others by grabbing their swords, something made easier for me by their attacks were occasionally made out of distance. I would say that this was feature of lack of experience though, not something that I'll get away with in Helsinki, nor in Gothenburg. Still, it was a lot of fun and gave us all good feedback about things, albeit basic, that we really need to train more. Thanks to E and M for making it a good training session.

Next weekend should be a blast as there is a two day "Medieval Mayhem" seminar, which should be loads of fun and a chance to spar against others in a variety of weapons. I'm looking forward to it already.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Poster for new Beginner's Course in Turku!

This is the new flier for the next Beginner's Course and I think it looks absolutely fab! We had talked about it before about how it should look and that it needed to be "simpler".

As the Yanks would say...."Good job!"

Autumn is coming...

There's a bit f a chill in the air in the mornings, which tells me that Autumn is just around the corner. I always feel like it's a new beginning at this time of year. Perhaps it just goes back to the old days of starting school after the long summer holidays. Here in Finland, it usually means we start to train indoors again, and in general Finns start to check out their local college to see which night classes or courses they will take to fill up the long winter evenings. Some will learn a new language, cooking, astanga yoga or a martial art.

I was In Ireland recently for the Electric Picnic music festival and although we were only there for a few days, the effect was well, electric! I came back charged up and looking forward to getting back to training and to going to the seminars in Helsinki and to the Swordfish 2009 event in Gothenburg. Take home mesage: a change IS as good as a rest!

So I've been doing the basic conditioning, cutting drills and footwork on my own for the past week and I'm enjoying it. A lot!

I've taken a huge step back from the sword club over the summer and it has actually done me good. I'm not on the list for leading the beginner's course, nor for leading classes. This effectively leaves me free to just train, although I should perhaps also officially hand over my class leader role to someone more active and involved.

My main focus right now is to train for the tournament in Gothenburg. Many lessons were learned from the last experience and my newfound "freedom" means I can do just that.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

No interest, no energy, no time

No blog activity al all for July. Huh!

Life has simply been too hectic. We're working long days at sea and spending days staying out in the outer archipelago so that even if I had time to get a little training in, I'm too bloody knackered to wag after a 12 hour day. Chi kung practice has also gone out the window. Meh!

I've started to get mails from our group about a new beginner's course starting in October and my first reaction is "Oh shit, again already!". I'm less than enthusiastic about it.

Overall my motivation to train has pretty much disappeared. Perhaps this is not so bad: it means I may be able to bounce back after the summer season with renewed vigour and determination.


Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Let's hold hands and skip!

Ok, lest I be called a big girly, or worse, forget about the first bit...

I've been thinking recently about my cardio/aerobic levels of fitness and although I cycle a good bit pretty much every day of the week, I feel that my general level of fitness is decreasing. Combine with this, my lack of enthusiasm for training has led to a small increase in waistline and weight. So, thought I, perhaps this would be a good time to do something about it.

Five euros later, I am the proud owner of a skipping rope. I figured that if it's good for boxers' footwork and fitness, it must be a pretty damn effective tool. I tried it out for the first time on Monday last, just for 10 minutes and was sweating buckets and had my heart-rate well up. This was followed by some situps, push-ups and finished off with a stretch. Two days later, my calves are still a bit sore. Not so painful that I cannot walk or cycle, I did attend training yesterday after all, but I could definitely feel that I had done some work and made my legs do something outside their comfort zone. There's even workouts with skipping ropes on Youtube!
You can do a single jump-both feet, double jump-both feet, jump on one foot or the other, all sorts!

I will try very hard to maintain this training regimen over the summer, particularly as I will be away from regular taining in Turku. Let's see how it goes!

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Non-stop quarter speed

We've been trying a little freeplay preparation in the last while at training. This isn't the usual "gear up and let's have a bash!"-type, but something a little different.

The idea is to move at quarter speed or very slowly. You can cut and thrust, but you must stay at largo distance. I stipulated this clause because we all have a tendency to close immediately to giocco stretto and start grappling and we don't train the largo distance enough. Also giocco stretto distance means shorter and shorter tempos so the play can simply devolve into a mess really quickly. More space/distance means more time, and this tempo is stretched further by forcing the players to move at quarter speed. So, the idea (at least) is that this becomes very good practice for people to:
-keep moving, even at slow speed, if you stop moving you'll get nabbed
-cut for the arms and hands if they are available
-protect the arms and hands
-remember that if all else goes pear-shaped, they can tornare backwards to safety
-maintain control and safety
-use Fiore techniques
-train at largo distance

The important thing is to realise that if you are going to get hit, you will get a light touch, but that's all. It's better to realise you made a mistake and take that tap, rather than speeding up in order to do something about it. This also lets people "spar" with just the fencing mask on and perhaps some gloves. As with regular freeplay, it allows people to realise that if they cannot make a technique work at slow speed, there's no way in hell it will work at higher speed.

Ok, so it is an artificial drill in many ways. Nobody moves this slowly normally. Also, certain blade actions like rebattere become less beats and more of a push. Still, it's a fun exercise and people seem to feel somewhat less pressure doing it slowly than by doing the regular speed freeplay. I gues that this approach is actually not freeplay per se, rather a form of freeplay preparation. Later on we can also start doing the same thing in giocco stretto. As well as doing the regular speed freeplay prep and freeplay itself.

"We'll make spears, twice as long as a man...."

We've had a bit of a revival in Fiore spear work recently in our group. Not sure why exactly. perhaps it's just that the spears are available at our summer training venue. We've got three so I made three more over the weekend, just for fun.

I got the shafts at the local hardware shop. I wish I could get ash but I have to make do with birch (2.4m length, 28mm diameter). These I cut to 1.8 m length. I used what I call pool noodles as the spear "heads". These are 180 cm long dense foam rubber tubes of approx. 15 cm diameter used as fun floats for kids in swimming pools. Using a carpet knife i cut heads of 15-20 cm long and drilled a hole using a hole cutter. To help keep the head in place, I drilled a hole crosswise through the spear shaft and added som wood glue to the hole. Making smaller holes in the foam and aligning them with those in the shaft, I pushed 6mm wooden dowels in each side and hammered them in so that they lay below the surface of the foam. The final touch was to tape the foam head onto the shaft using heavy duty black duct tape. I also made several turns of this tape down the shaft to give some protection to the wood. Finally, I added a cable tie, immediately under the spear head, to further fix it in place. This was probably overkill though as the duct tape is very strong.

I also tried using sisal string binding on the shafts of one of the spears. My binding skills are not great and I tried several attempts beforehand on the offcut wooden pieces to see which held best. The first was just bound on as is. The second was soaked in water first, the excess water removed, bound, and left to dry. The third version was bound on dry and then wood glue added to help bond the strings together.

Overall, the dry binding did not hold well, as it easily rotated and slipped on the shaft. The sisal string I had was quite uneven, which didn't help. The wet version held better, but once completely dry it also showed some signds of slippage. The glued version held best and this was finally used on the third spear. In hindsight, perhaps a wet binding allowed to dry, followed by an application of proper glue or varnish would be best. For the effort put in, as interesting as it was, the duct tape is the fastest, easiest and cheapest option.

And so to training!

Monday, 15 June 2009

The Nylon Crusade....

I've been following the debate on Schola Gladiatoria recently about the use of various materials for wasters or sword simulators. There seems to be a fairly big push on for the introduction of nylon swords as sparring weapons, which are, depending on viewpoint, to be safer to use at full speed, allowing fast and hard contact strikes and thrusts. This is combined with a prevalent attitude that steel blunts are more dangerous and because of the safety factor, lead to pulled blows, thereby affecting overall technique. According to some forumites this side-effect "appears" to be borne out by performances in tournaments, where "steelies" do less well than those who use nylon, shinai, ubershinai, etc. Some call for many types of waster to be used to increase the experience of the wielder, and claim that if the basic techniques and training methods are up to scratch, then the material used for the actual sword simulator is "immaterial" (sorry). I generally support this last statement. If you are any good, it shouldn't really matter if you have a shinai, a nylon waster or a blunt steel.

Although we use primarily steel in our group, I used a wooden waster for over a year before getting my first steel blunt. For beginners, we use wooden wasters, because they are sword-shaped, cheap, and that's just what we have in our gear bags. I wouldn't be averse to having some nylon swords as training tools, particularly if as claimed, they are stiff enough for sparring but flexible to give in a thrust, and balanced like a steel sword. However, I don't think we'll be using nylons to augment our waster repertoire for the more advanced students in our group any time soon. I'd get one for myself, just to have one though and to be able to take part in the logsword tournaments at Swordfish for example, without having to run around asking to borrowone before each of my bouts.

The only thing I have against the claim of superior safety supposedly afforded by nylon wasters is that despite their positive attributes, some people seem to think that full speed sparring equates with full force sparring. If that is the case, then people are going to fight more like SCA and try to bash the living shit out of each other. "Hit as fast and as hard as you can", something that the nylon swords magically allow you to do, and with a minimum amount of safety gear on, to boot. How is being hit at ful force and full speed going to hurt less in this case if struck with a nylon sword, as opposed to a shinai, wooden waster, or deadly of deadlies, a blunt steel sword? My gut feeling is, it's STILL going to hurt like buggery. Moreover, where is the extra safety afforded when sparring hard and fast BUT with less safety equipment on? This isn't logical. If we spar we use quite a lot of safety equipment, fencing jacket/gambeson, leather plastron.elbow/knee/groin protection, fencing mask, gorget with a rolled lip, etc, when fencing with steel.

I fence with steel, ok. But I try to remember to use the weapon as if it were sharp. I do need to be fast with good technique and control. I don't need to hit as hard as I possibly can though. I'm supposed to be using a sword, NOT a poleaxe. That's the whole point of a sword, you're not after blunt force trauma, unless you want to make a pommel strike. Instead you want to cut or slice with the blade and thrust with the tip. Do I need to decapitate someone to kill them? Or thrust my sword up to the hilt into their chest, just to make sure they are more dead? No, of course not, that would be ridiculous. Even a hit to the arms or hands. We know how little force is required when cutting tatami to get a clean cut. Whipping off a few fingers or near severing a wrist or forearm with a sharp sword (horrible thought though it is) would be pretty easy, would I have to hit the handwith enough force to try to break bone? With a club, mace or such, yes, but with a sword, no, no, NO!

Again, regardless of material used, it comes down to technique and control. If I make a thrust or a cut at an opponent's face with a blunt steel sword, does it have to be so hard and fast as to rock his head (in his fencing mask, naturally) back and knock him off his feet? Or otherwise, I might be accused of pulling my blows and therefore my intent is less than I if I was to thrust full force knowing that my flexible nylon waster will absorb much of the impact? This is nonsense, to my mind.
Control comes from the fact that even if I was to throw a full speed cut (note NOT full force) at my opponent's head, I have the requisite control to be able to stop my sword before it makes contact, if I choose. If I do not have this skill level, then I would consider that I should not
be sparring at full speed, full stop (regardless of simulator type).

It will be interesting to see how nylon swords will do on the HEMA market. I guess the biggest upside is that there IS a market as more people become involved in historical european martial arts.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Abrazare flow drill

Had a lot of fun at the class last night. We didn't have any gear as Timo and Mira could't come to training. Luckily Timo let me know in advance so I put together a class on footwork and the abrazare flow drill.

This drill has been a bane on my existence for a while now. It is technically complex and very easy to do wrong because of too much speed, anticipating counters, being to stiff and the overriding desire for a lot of people to "win" the engagement, despite the fact that it should flow. It devolves very quickly then, or can do, into a sloppily-executed, well......mess.

What to do? Simple. Step the drill. We went through each step slowly and I used the entire class to try to cover getting through the whole drill once. Actually I had just enough time to show the class the elbow push and step through, which starts the cycle again. So, lots of reps. I STILL had to repeatedly remind people to slow down while going through the steps.

In many ways this drill is "beautiful". It deals with timing, breaking and regaining structure, footwork, attacking along lines of weakness, and changing the line to make a counter more effective.

Attack: Player 1 strikes a hammer blow to the head of Player 2 (fendente) with a passing step.
Remedy: Player 2 extends both hands controlling Player 1's wrist an elbow simultaneously stepping accressere fora di strada, going to the porta di ferro posta and a passing step (alla traversa). From here they can break the arm or take them to the floor.
Counter remedy: As Player 1 feels his initial attack to have failed and his arm is being pushed to the side he can volta stabile in the direction of the push and drop his arm under those of Player 2. As Player 2 does his passing step, Player 1 does does posta lunga with a volta stabile/accressere combo* effectively "clotheslining" Player 2. Although we don't include it it the drill, Player 1 can take a passing step to further break Player 2's structure, hooking under his leading knee and dumping him on his head. (Third play of abrazare).
Counter-counter remedy: As Player 2 feels his attempt fail, he immediately does a chiave soprano and changes the line by taking his front leg behind that of Player 1, executing a volta stabile accressere fora di strada combo. From here he can continue with a passing step, dropping his hands to porta fi ferro, dislocating Player 1's shoulder joint. Naturally, we keep the hands high taking the point of balance only.
Contra-counter-counter remedy: As Player 1's arm is locked up in the ligadura, Player 2's elbow is in plain view. He counter grips Player 2's wrist with his right hand and pushes 2's elbow with his left simultaneously doing a volta stabile/accressere combo step. Player2's forearm is straightened and Player 1 steps through with a passing step to break the arm, bringing us back to the counter-remedy again.

The timing in this drill is subtle but actually obvious. The best time to effect a counter is when the opponent is making his passing step, therefore one foot is off the ground. To make your counter may also require a step, usually it is first an accressere (may or may not be fora di strada). This also takes your foot off the floor but for a much shorter time, allowing you to interrupt the attack. Sometimes however you may be backweighted and this will require a volta stabile with an accressere fora di strada. It is interesting that you can use these simple steps to both break as awell as regain structure! If students attempt to do this drill with too much speed, one side effect is that they anticipate what comes next and begin to apply a counter to a technique which hasn't even begun yet. The drill must be done slowly enough for each player to "feel" when the time is right to make a counter, when their own structure begins to be compromised or regained.

Another common mistake is to try to make an action with the hands while one of the feet is off the floor. A volta stabile by definition means a stable turn. It is inherently stable precisely because both feet stay on the floor. If a small accressere fora di strada is added to take advantage of a weaker line and to guarantee a shift of the body weight onto the front leg, the front foot is off the floor for a very short time. Secondly, the frontale and longa positions do not break the structure in the various counters by the strength of the arms alone. The power to break the other's structure comes from the hips and legs through the turning (volta) action.

It is a relatively difficult drill because there is a lot of technical stuff happening in a quite small timeframe. However, it is an excellent tool to develop skills in judging timing, balance, stances, footwork, strong and weak lines, etc. We shall be practicing it more !

*As a side note: in a previous class I was introducing the first scambiare di punta of the syllabus form to the beginners and they found the footwork as described above technically difficult when they also had to change guard from fenestra to frontale. To combat this I got the class to combine these footwork patterns. The beginners know the steps separately, but had never put these two together before.

Stress works in funny ways or I'm just anal about things

Well, I got married recently (at the beginning of April) and things were getting pretty stressful coming up to the big day, what with organising the venue, accommodating family over from Ireland and the UK, and every other little piddly detail. Weirdly though I was, or thought I was rather calm through the entire thing. I didn't get half as stressed as my wife. Only when it was all over and everything had gone back to normal did I realise how much pressure we had been under and indeed how it manifested itself......BTW we had an absolutely fantastic time and I loved every minute of the wedding and my family's visit.

For a while I had been getting a bit worked up about how we are supposed to cover the syllabus material and started cooking up ideas for gradings, logbooks and all sorts of shenanigans to "improve" the system. I even wrote several mails on the SES forum to air my ideas and views and started to get a bit ticked off with some of the replies, which in my stressed state I took as negativity. To give Guy his due, he did suggest going to Helsinki to occasionally discuss how the syllabus could be modified or tweaked etc. My gut feeling though was that the other class leaders seemed to be quite happy with things as they are. Basically, if it ain't broke....... so I must be doing something wrong to get that stressed about it. It's a character flaw of mine, I get an idea stuck in my head and it just goes round and round in a feedback loop, driving me nuts because I can't break it. I even dream about it and sleep badly as a result. How's that for hypermania?

Anyhow, I finally let the matter drop and concentrated on the wedding stuff. It was only after the celebrations that I realised that I had somehow transferred my stress into becoming totally anal about the whole syllabus thing. I came to this conclusion because I noticed that I really enjoyed going to classes and training, leading training and the Beginner's Course. For some reason, it has been a blast this spring :-) That most of the beginner's were still coming to training by the end of the course was testament to the fact that we were doing something right, although I could also put it down to other factors, such as their own enthusiasm, and that we have started to correctly apply good pedagogic technique. At the risk of sounding conceited though, I would also say that my enthusiasm for training, as well as that of the other advanced students, combined with mixing advanced students with beginners on two training nights a week, surely boosted morale and kept motivation high. The lesson of the story I guess is that the syllabus material will take care of long as the people leading/attending the class are dynamic and "up for it", it will stay fun and motivational. This doesn't mean that we cannot train hard, we just enjoy ourselves more while doing whatever the material is that class.

Guy once told me that we train swordsmanship to enhance our lives. I guess the stress made me forget for this for a while. Lesson learned. I'm looking forward to training tomorrow already!

Fiore flourishing in Canada

I was youtubing recently (is that even a verb?) and came across two separate groups in Canada with some nice vids on their interpretations on Fiore's material. The first group, Les Maitres d'Armes, I added to my favourites list and this can be found on the left of the page. I liked their videos very much and made some comments on their youtube page. The group leader Jason Smith, was good enough to write me an e-mail to introduce himself and to invite me to check his training blog, which also contains videos of daga material as a way to supplement their training notes. I think this is a wonderful idea and will also have to get my hands on a digicamera for the same purpose for our lot.

The second lot I found while looking for videos on lanza or spear. Sure enough another canuck group, or at least two chaps named Mathieu Ravignat and Nick Conway, out of Ottawa, Ontario popped up, working on their interpretation of Fiore's spear plays. Here's the youtube link:
Interesting, although they don't seem to cross the hands in the fenestra positions and so the alway thrust with an accressere rather than a passing step, but hey, vive la difference! They also show some other dagger stuff as well as the rather cool "lazy man's version" aka how to defend while seated.

Check the other videos out as well. Enjoy!

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Does this sound familiar?

This is unabashedly cut and pasted from the Schola Gladiatoria forum ( One poster, a certain Colin F. posted:

"Have any of you ever had a point during your training why suddenly, as if out of no where, you suddenly seem to lose any ability to fight/fence properly, where nothing comes off and everything you try to do just turns to crap? I feel like I'm having one of those times just now and it's really frustrating. Everything I am trying is going wrong and my reading of other people is just gone to hell. Even my distance perception, which used to be pretty good is now absolute shite If any of you have been through something similar, how did you get out of the rut and back on track? I suppose I'd just like to hear some ideas or suggestions, hell even small anecdotes and a thread drift about how you improved your training."

This rang bells with me and probably every fencer I know who hase been training for several years. Continuing to cut and paste from the same thread, one excellent answer and certainly food for thought, was posted by a member called "scholadays". Here it is, read it, memorise it, use it!

"It's a common symptom that I have heard, usually from intermediates, for years. There are a couple of observations and possible solutions I have on this phenomenon, for it somethimes preceeds folk giving up altogether.
Firstly, I've found that it's not their fencing that has become worse, but their perception of their perfomance that has raced ahead of their ability. Now, there's nothing wrong with a bit of self confidence, but sometimes folk get in a rut when they believe that they should have prevailed against someone they regard as beatable, but for som reason just cannot.
Furthermore, do remember that other people are training too. They too are improving. If you're not managing to pull off repertoire that you used to be able to, it may be because they are getting better. Conversely, I once had a student who boldy proclaimed in the pub after training that the entire club was getting worse and that we had to do something about it urgently. I had to explain to him that this observation was simply the result of him getting a little better.
Finally, I've watched intermediates beaten by beginner after beginner, and the more they are beaten the worse they get. Sometimes this is because they are actually trying harder, more complex repertoire. And the more they lose, the more complex technique they try to employ to rectify the situation. Now, simple, basic repertoire can beat clever, technical machination if it is executed quickly and from a relaxed and unexpectant player. Simple, reflexive repertoire executed quickly by a beginner whose mind may be uncluttered by much else can be rather tricky if you're trying out more complex technique.
Thus, intermediates can get into trouble when they start to attempt more sophisticated technique - for this technique may be rather slower than the simple reflexive repertoire of the beginner. Hence the intermediate feels like he's fencing in treacle against a beginner who's not really doing very much - but repeatedly doing it quicky and competently. And the more he's beaten the more clever the intermediate tries to be, and the slower he gets, and the more he's beaten.
My advice is not to change your training, but to change your perception of your performance. Any or all of the above may be taking place and so a step back from how you think you should be performing to how you are are performing. So, start taking some losses. Take your lumps. I often advise those in this situation to start playing to lose. Lose every single match you engage in for the next couple of months. However do fight for the repertoire. First, concentrate upon technique that is well well behind you. Simple stuff. Stuff that works. Now and then throw in the occasional clever technique. But don't ever exepct it to work. Just give it a go, try it out, don't expect anything, take little steps. But in the main simply try to maintain rather than improve and you'll improve. Play to lose. Be the biggest loser in the club. And you'll fight your way out of your rut."
Brilliant! What a well written and concise post!

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Broadswords and Buffaloes

Hi all,
here's a rather good essay by a chap called Chris Thompson, which was posted on the Sword Forum International board. Have a read, it's pretty good! Also keep this in mind when the next Tourney is being organised in Helsinki. The idea is that its a safe and fun way to put into practice what we train week in week out, NOT to win at all costs. If you lose a bout or a match, so what? All you are losing is points. Think of the invaluable experience gained from fencing against strangers or friends who you don't normally spar with. The post match analysis over a cup of tea or a beer is also an integral and positive part of the whole experience.......

Broadswords and Buffaloes: A short essay regarding levels of intensity in League bouts-by Christopher Scott Thompson

Elsewhere I have written about the value of fencing with a high degree of intensity, even beyond that with which one feels completely comfortable. In terms of your ability to master the stress of a violent encounter, intense training is essential. Now I'm going to take a different point of view, and discuss the problems with trying to fence that way in a competitive venue such as the Broadsword League.

It is possible to be a formidable competitor without being a particularly good swordsman. This seems counterintuitive, but it is true. Let's say the highest level of intensity that can be fenced with complete safety for both parties is rated as 6 out of 10. 10 would be the level where you are actually trying to do real harm to your opponent, in other words a real fight and not a bout. Most bouts are fought somewhere between 4 and 5, with 6 being the level at which the action starts to get sharp and even a little bit scary but is still controlled.With a lot of protective gear or with inherently harmless weapons such as toy foam swords, you could safely go as high as 8 or 9, but that would be unrealistic due to the illusion of safety. In other words, both fencers would be far more aggressive than they would ever dare to be in a real fight, because they know they can't be hurt. With the typical gear used in competitive broadsword fencing, however, 6 is about as high as you should go with anyone with the possible exception of a rare and deliberate training experience with a trusted partner.

Broadsword fencing in the era of sharp weapons was exactly the same. You can easily kill a man with a single blow of the broadsword, and battlefield descriptions of the aftermath of a Highland broadsword charge describe severed limbs and broken weapons on all sides. This sort of combat is not what competitive broadsword fencing represents, because it cannot possibly be. Nothing is like the battlefield except the battlefield.Stage gladiators and other broadsword duelists rarely killed each other. Most single combats with the broadsword were resolved by a bleeding cut to the arm, leg or sometimes the head, with fatalities resulting only unintentionally or when one fencer was unreasonably stubborn or bloodthirsty. They were fencing each other with sharp weapons but with such self-control that they inflicted only the minimum level of injury needed to demonstrate superior skill. My guess is that the typical duel or prizefight with sharp broadswords, just like the typical Broadsword League bout, was fought at about level 4 or 5, or else people would have been killed on a regular basis by the sharp weapons they were using.
This is the type of combat represented by the Broadsword League.Nobody fights in the League at level 9 or 10, because that is the mentality of the battlefield and serious injuries would be the inevitable result. The worst injury we've seen so far is a broken finger, and that was the result of a fencer going to level 7 or 8. He injured his opponent- and lost the bout anyway.

This brings me to my point. I can fight at any level I need to, all the way up to 10, and so can many other serious broadsword fencers. Some broadsword fencers are not yet at the stage in their training where they are capable of that; 5 or 6 is the highest level they can handle while 7 or 8 would totally overwhelm them. However, 6 is the highest that I or just about anyone else can fence at with relative safety for both fencers, so anything beyond 6 is starting to leave the realm of a fencing bout and enter the realm of an actual fight.What this means is that if I face an opponent who goes to level 7 or 8, I am forced into the position of being responsible for both of us, since he is not really being responsible for either of us.

This puts me at an inherent disadvantage throughout the fight, because he can concentrate primarily on winning while I am forced to concentrate on making sure no one gets hurt, and then trying to win with that additional handicap. Obviously he could go to the same level in a real fight and I would lose if I couldn't handle it, but in a real fight I wouldn't have to be responsible for his safety at the same time. You can't replicate the mentality of a life or death fight in a competitive arena, because "I want to win" is a totally different mindset from "I want to stay alive" or "I want to kill this man."For this reason, fencing at level 7 or 8 is not really realistic even if it seems like it ought to be more realistic. If both fencers go all out, one or both will be badly hurt. If not, then one of them is making sure it doesn't happen, at the expense of his own ability to fight and win.

The "buffalo" (as rough fencers are called) might think he is showing appropriate control because he isn't fencing at level 9 or 10, but he is simply wrong. What he is actually doing is counting on his opponent's sense of responsibility to give him an unfair advantage.Excessive intensity allows the buffalo to paper over his own lack of skill at the art itself. All he needs is fast reactions, a watchful eye, and the willingness to hit very hard. If his opponent does not or cannot take the fight to the same level of intensity, he will often win, even if his fencing ability as such is sub-par.I have known competitors who did nothing except stand on guard and hit as hard and as fast as possible the moment the opponent came within distance. I have known a competitor whose only tactic was to charge forward with the exact same barrage of strikes every time he fought, without the slightest concern for his own defense. Cutting 1,2,3,4 and 7 as hard and as fast as he could get away with was the one solution to every tactical question in this fencer's mind.

Against an opponent who cannot handle the intensity, these approaches will work, even though they are not examples of skillful swordsmanship. They work for psychological reasons that exist only in the context of the bout and not in real combat, because the opponent has no reason to want to get injured over a friendly fencing match and will therefore respond differently than he otherwise would. He would quite possibly be overwhelmed in the exact same way in a real duel, but the result might be different than the buffalo had anticipated. In one famous real-life incident, the charging buffalo opened his mouth in a terrifying scream as he attacked- only to swallow a few feet of his opponent's blade as the man simply extended his arm in a blind panic, killing the bully on the spot.

Against an opponent who can handle the intensity, the buffalo will usually lose, although he will lose by a much narrower margin than he really ought to because his opponent will be actively protecting him from the consequences of his own recklessness whether he realizes it or not.If you would lose at level 4 or 5, you have no business winning simply because you decide to fight at level 7 or 8. Skillful swordsmanship works under all conditions; it does not depend on intimidation or on the opponent's sense of responsibility.

All broadsword fencers should spend substantial training time working at level 2 or 3- what we describe in my school as "slow play." Slow play cannot be won by speed or athleticism, because none is used; it can only be won by intelligent use of real fencing technique. All broadsword fencers should also spend a lot of time fencing at level 4 or 5, and a certain amount of time at level 6. Level 7 should be used only by advanced fencers as an occasional training experiment with a trusted partner. The purpose of this is to build the fencer's ability to handle psychochemical stress reactions that occur in actual combat. These reactions can sometimes occur spontaneously even in a friendly bout, as in one case where I experienced tunnel vision and loss of fine motor control in an ordinary bout against a new opponent. For this reason, even if you don't believe in "training for the duel," it's still a useful skill to be able to fence effectively under those conditions.

Anything above level 7 is a real fight and not training, and should therefore never be done in training because it can't be. (The Dog Brothers is one group that actually trains a few times a year at what I would call level 8 or 9. This works only as stickfighting and not as swordsmanship, because the Dog Brothers are willing to absorb stick strikes that would be either lethal or crippling with a sharp sword.)Anything above level 6 ("sharp and even a little bit scary but still controlled") has no place in League competition, and even level 6 should be entered into only if both fencers are up to it. It should not be imposed by one fencer on another fencer in order to overwhelm him.The seconds should always stop the bout if these conditions are not met or understood by both fencers. If you're fencing without seconds, it's up to you to do the same. If your opponent is trying to win through raw violence alone, you should simply refuse to continue the fight. Report the incident to the League, and the fight will be voided.Broadsword League bouts represent a controlled and intelligent test of fencing skill between two respectful opponents. They cannot and do not represent a free-for-all, "kill or be killed" battlefield situation. The type of broadsword fencing we want to represent is that which would work consistently under all conditions, and not only against opponents we can personally intimidate.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

A concise description of Fiorean ordination or how to read the treatises

Not my words. This is copied and pasted directly from the Sword Forum International site. The thread discussion was on the clarification of the Dagger Masters (Fiore). This was written by Mark Lancaster of The Exiles group. It was so neatly and clearly put, I had to repost it here. Thanks Mark, it helps A LOT!

"Think of each Master as being an expert in whatever Fiore is describing at the time (i.e. he is representing mastery).
So, we have several different areas of expertise:

1. The stages of a fight (from the introduction).
a. The first expert is Master Battle. He knows how to fight (distance, reaction, etc). In context this would be an expert fighter of the period and Fiore does not go into much more detail (but see below).

b. This expert, however, can be countered (Fiore calls this a Remedy) by the expert Master Remedy. This is really where Fiore's manuscript starts (he expects the reader to know the bulk/jist of Master Battle).

c. The first person (who was the expert Master Battle) could be good enough that he/she knows the technique used by the Master Remedy expert and how to counter it. Fiore calls this Contra, so we have Master Contra.

d. Finally the chap who did the Remedy knows how to counter this Master Contra and is Master Contra-Contrary. This is so rare that is it only shown once in Dagger and Fiore basically says that the fight (if it every reaches this stage) won't go any further.

The above is like a pyramid with four layers (Master Battle at the bottom and Master Contra-Contrary at the very peak). The options (techniques) reduce as the fight continues.

2. The Posta Masters
Here Fiore is basically giving good "expert" positions from which to fight and to recover into (maybe in the middle of a technique). He is saying that mastery of these posta/positions and how they can be used are core to his system. The natural place that this happens is in the first stages of the encounter - Master Battle - and when recovering out of a technique/encounter back to a Master Battle position. Knowing these postas and mastering them gives your brain basic building blocks (like lego) to find within the fight and reduces the thinking time dramatically.

3. The Dagger Requisites.
Fiore gives us four requisites of dagger - each shown as a Master (with the crown). These show the areas of expertise that define mastery of dagger fighting in general - being able to strip the dagger from your opponent; being able to break limbs (in his view); being able to lock your oppenent and finally being able to use all of the unarmed/wresting skills shown in abrazare.The important point here is that the illustration shows someone who is getting older (check the beard) and better dressed with each of the four illustrations and Fiore is saying that these progressively take longer to master - i.e. the easiest thing to learn is to strip the dagger and the hardest (requiring longer to master) is the full abrazare within dagger.

4. The 9 Masters of Dagger
In the entire dagger section Fiore shows 9 different "methods" with several sub/progressive techniques for countering a dagger attack. These cover attacks from above and below and can be stopped one handed (left and right) or two handed, etc. Fiore has grouped all of these possibilities into 9 methods and he starts each one by showing the Master and the basic technique - i.e. the expertise of how to implement the defence/counter (he calls it remedy).

However, he then states that he will let his students/scholars show the other techniques that spring out of these nine methods.This has two illustrative advantages. First he is showing the arrogance of a Master by only showing the basic method and then allowing his students to do the hard work. Second it makes it easier to illustrate when a Master Contrary comes in to counter these Remedy techniques.If you can crack this use of Master then the manuscripts suddenly make a lot of very simple sense at a quick glance. I could look at any technique, without text, and tell you what is happening by who to whom.Don't know if that helps - but it's my contribution."

Monday, 30 March 2009

Grading systems and teaching syllabus. How do we fit it all in?

I posted this to the SES forum and to save time am posting it here also.

After an interesting conversation recently with some of the more advanced students in our group, I started to wonder about how the syllabus and levels are structured and the benefits of introducing grading, as commonly found in other martial art systems. I am sure this has been on other people's minds too and that Guy has given it extensive thought.

What would be some benefits of grading?
1. A solution to maintain long-term interest in swordsmanship
2. Focus training and goals
3. Reinforce the sense of achievement and progress in their studies and training

One of the main reasons for the drop in advanced student numbers is linked to their having little sense of progress, each training session introducing apparently random material drawn from the syllabus which is then not practiced again for months on end, if ever. This applies equally to the Fiorean material as to other weapon systems like 1.33. I am specifically talking about our own group here and the fact that we have quite a good "core" group speaks more of the willingness and interest of the group members than to the amorphous training programme being offered by me as class leader. I can openly admit to being able to handle the beginner's course with a fairly tight structure as laid down in the syllabus. However, the sheer volume of skills and techniques required for levels 1 and 2 "explode" after finishing the beginner's course and I am simply overwhelmed as to how to get all of this across to students of at least three different skill level cohorts at a level that meets all of their needs and which offers the possibility of regular revision. This also takes away from my own training time (but this is another topic).

I have trained karate for 4 four years and experienced several gradings (kyu) to gain a certain belt colour. I didn't really enjoy the stress that the testing engendered, but I trained hard for the gradings, with a specific set of techniques to show that my general skills were up to par, and passed them all. The feelings of achievement afterwards were worth it all. Before finding Fiore, I tried beginner's courses in Turku in Yushinikai karatejutsu, Choy Li Fut kung fu and Hokutoryu Jujutsu. I passed two gradings in the first style but dropped out in the middle because we had to pay to do the grading (100 FIM), which I disagreed with in principle, and through injury in the latter. I have got the impression that in SES we train and we are "observed" so that ultimately Guy decides if we have earned the free scholar rank and so we progress, more recently we have the coloured logos, all of which I think are good ideas and which I support.

However, if syllabus levels 1 and 2, etc. were broken up into smaller chunks, with a tighter list of techniques to be learned, followed by a grading, which needed to be satisfactorily "passed" before progressing, I am beginning to feel that the swordsmanship material would be easier to learn, teach (lead class), and give a better sense of progress/achievement than we currently have. I'm not saying that we would have to have a belt system, after all a belt just holds up your trousers.

Perhaps we could introduce some sort of training logbook for each member? Other martial styles have these and I have something similar for my scuba diving training, which covers all of the lectures(theory) I've attended, the underwaterwater syllabus in the pool and open sea(numbers of dives to specific depths), and any extra courses I've taken (Rescue Diver, Underwater archaeology, Chamber dive, cold-water dives, drift diving, boat handling etc), as well as the tests I've passed, and my current rank.

Ok, this is perhaps an odd comparison, but I think a parallel system could be applied. I've written in another thread on the SES forum about student training data and how to analyse this. Simply making a list and asking students to rank their skill levels on a scale of 1 to 5 is one way of doing it, but this only gives a vague impression of an individual's or group's "skill profile". A logbook system would be much more accurate and could easily be followed in a central database. Low level gradings could be done within a group (within Level 1), with anything higher requiring examination by Guy/Ilkka, or all gradings could be carried out on Syllabus days in Helsinki or when Guy/Ilkka/Topi visits a branch/group. So, if student X is travelling to Helsinki for a syllabus day, they might be grading or using the opportunity to find out more in depth information about the set of techniques required for his/her next grading. Syllabus days set definite goals as well as reinforcing skill levels if there is a particular "theme" for that particular day, i.e. measure.

On rereading my post, I realise that one could also look at the situation like this: Is it that the syllabus is too extensive and needs modification OR is it that as class leader, I am overwhelmed by trying to teach it?

It will be interesting to see the results of the poll I posted on this topic. That is, if SES members take the time to read my post and actively give feedback. IMO, there are too many lurkers and not enough posters.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Free training musings

I thought it would be fun to have some free training last saturday. Free training is an unofficial class where students can pick and choose what style or techniques within a style to train without any organised class structure. Saturday saw us split into two groups, one concentrating on the abrazare plays, the other on 1.33 (see previous post).

Despite my reservations on the outcome of the sword and buckler group, I think the idea was generally a good one. Nevertheless, it seems to be the case that in our group at least, quite a few people like to have a class leader to tell them what to do and take them through or suggest material to train. I was kind of hoping that our lot are independent or comfortable enough to pick something that they want to train and then just get on with it by themselves. Some are, some are not. Ok, so perhaps the next free training will be divided into a structured class for half of the training period and the remaining half will be designated "free".

Perhaps I missed something from saturday's training. The free training is a relatively new event for a lot of our group and even training 1.33 (which we have trained sporadically before) was sufficiently "new" to put some people outside their "comfort zones". When things didn't go exactly to plan, I was left with the feeling that I "failed" in leading the 1.33 class. I guess that in hindsight, this being out of the comfort zone applied equally to me as I'm not used to leading a group in sword and buckler and this reflected on my performance. Still, to look at it more positively, we need to train 1.33 more, and while I may not be good at leading a class in it yet, repetition will make me better.

Obsessing over obsessios

Well, we went over the basics on saturday last and it went....ok. The wards and rolling exercises were generally no problem but as soon as we went to the 1st play of halfshield vs. prima custodia things got a bit bogged down and I have the feeling that people may have gone away from the class feeling that 1.33 is shite and that the next time they have free training, they'll just stick to Fiore longsword instead. Here's some of the problems encountered:

-Students found themselvs either moving too late and/or not moving far enough to the side when "falling under", resulting in they got hit or ended up "stuck", with blades crossing at the fortes, and the besetter then not being able to bind down properly on the defender's blade.
-Other details such as the shiltschlac were somehow "forgotten" or done with the buckler arm bent, as they just wanted to hit the other, often with the false edge.
- To make the durchtritt "work", some students extended their sword hands well beyond their bucklers when "falling under".

Not their fault of course. The "blame", if we want to call it that, lies squarely on my shoulders. I should have gone more slowly and stepped the drill more. The way things turned out, I guess I was trying to make them run before they could really walk. Some of the students coudn't see the link between the movements in the rolling exercise and those in the counter to the overbind, leading to durchtritt, mutacio gladii, or the wrap. Perhaps this is just a question of starting again from scratch and drilling the wards and rolling exercise more.

In fairness, the plays in 1.33 are "difficult", in that they are rather subtle in terms of timing, distance, tactical intent and awareness of what is supposed to be happening at any step in the drill, however this is no different for longsword. In my case, I didn't ensure that each step was trained enough. I think though that if the students can get the hang of the rolling exercise, apply it to the first play and get it right, then everything will start to fall into place.

I love the 1.33 treatise, from the beards and moustaches drawn in later by some child in the last 800 years, to the enigmatic smiles of the priest and student, and the confident and assured "voice" of the priest wisely telling us, "If you would be judged by my counsel.....". Priceless. All I need to do now is practice, practice, practice! It's great that the basic plays are available on youtube from both the School of European Swordsmanship: and from the Hammaborg School in Germany:

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Seminar fun

Had a brilliant seminar in Helsinki last weekend. Mr. Windsor, despite being unwell, held a day of freeplay preparation, which taught us several key aspects of this facet of swordsmanship:

- How to protect the hands
- Distance and measure
- How to avoid stopping during sparring
- What to do when we got stuck and/or in a "position of equality"
- How rule sets change behaviour

Well, as you may imagine there is lots of food for thought in these aspects. For me, one of the most enlightening things about this seminar was that we actually already have the necessary tools to train them all, because they are built into the sword drills and the syllabus form.

For example, to illustrate the distance concept, Guy chose me to demonstrate the 4th drill with him. He instructed me to check my distance first then we went through a stepped version of the drill. As the attacker, it took me three attempts to get my punta falsa correctly onto his mask with my own sword inside his and even then I was so concentrated on making this thrust work, I failed to correctly pass alla traversa.

At first I thought it was my timing, but Guy pointed out that the most common problem with the fourth drill is that almost everyone begins at a measure that is simply too small. We do not make enough space, therefore we also limit our time. I understood this concept of course, but hadn't really realised, or more importantly, applied it to this, or any of the other drills.

We reset and this time Guy reminded us that the initial powerful mezano cut to the head only needs to come as close to the defender's head to maybe scratch his nose or cut his face, in other words, to present a real threat to him. If he doesn't react to this threat, simply put the point in his head. This manipulation is also a common concept in tactical fencing, i.e. make an attack which will force the defender to respond in a way that you, as the attacker can deal with.

On the second go around, it worked perfectly! I had plenty of space/time to effect my punta falsa after his blade made a light contact with mine and simply passed across the line to walk my point into his face. Beautiful! So what was the correct measure? Close enough to make a proper cut to his head but not so close as to have two or three cms of sword tip extending beyond his head, cutting air. It doesn't seem like a lot, does it? Yet it allowed me to execute proper technique without having to somehow correct, i.e. "make space", by pulling my hands back, just so I could bring my point online. I am always amazed by the sheer volume and subtlety of information that is packed into each sword drill. To unlock this information though will require much thought and physical practice.

To conclude, we went through repetition after repetition of the syllabus form. On each iteration, Guy would ask us, "As you are doing the form this time, how many of you are thinking about proper measure/timing/protecting your hands/etc.?". I have to admit that before he asked, I had only been really thinking of the correct choreography of the form. Again, I realised that the form, as well as being as sort of zip file containing all of the techniques required on the syllabus, can also be much more, depending on which aspect you decide to focus upon, even if your enemy is only imaginary.

Finally, I picked up a few bruises during the three-man pressure drills and was sweating like a pig (my new gambeson worked fine, but it's like wearing a duvet with sleeves!). At the time that I'm doing them, I don't really enjoy the pressure drills to be honest. Then again, perhaps we are not supposed to! All I ended up doing was trying to react to what was happening. Sometimes it worked, very often it didn't and probably looked awful and I got cut across the arms, body or head. However, I do enjoy the post-freeplay feeling of having learnt something and maybe, just maybe I showed a little progress. That's definitely worth the sweat and multicoloured collection of bruises I have while writing this :-)

An excellent day, tons of fun and a seminar I would recommended highly to anyone interested in taking their swordsmanship to the next level.

PS: Thanks to Joeli and Laura for preparing an excellent lunch!

Thursday, 19 February 2009

No mind

I've been practicing chi kung every day now for the past while, at least once if not twice per day. I am using a combination of the form for health which is a part of our syllabus and various exercises from Shaolin Wahnam Cosmos chi kung (I love the name!). Unfortunately I don't have the provenance for the form taught to us by Guy, I assume it comes from Tai Chi Mun, but that's all I know.

I've been doing ck for about five years now and recently have come to understand (should have sussed it earlier, I know) about the importance of mind in training. This is called shen in kung fu terms but just to keep it in a western format, I'll call it concentration and perhaps, attitude. The atter is important when practicing ck, your mind has to be "right" otherwise you are just doing gentle physical exercises. By "right", I mean focused, concentrated on the job in hand. I think I am just beginning to learn how to relax enough to simply focus on breathing and moving or just breathing. I always used to have awful problems quieting my mind when doing the standing meditation part of ck. I'd be trying to count breaths and random thoughts would just pop up like "what's good on the telly tonight?" etc. I'd get frustrated, my frustration would "stick" and my concentration would just disappear. Somehow, now I find that I can pretty much just count breaths and if a random thought pops into my head, I can be aware of it but simply let it go and continue breathing and counting.

Ok, you might wonder.."So what?" The answer to this is how I now feel after practice. I feel a lot more refreshed, I have more energy, I'm calmer and not least, i look forward to the next training session. In short, I really enjoy my practice. By not overanalysing and just getting on with it, I've in some very small measure achieved a "no mind" state. Of course, I cannot use this state to previsualise beautifully choreographed fencing or fights, like Tom Cruise in the Last Samurai (as cool as that would be). I'm just content with having made some definite progress in my chi kung training.

Oka wari?

E-blogger doing odd things

I've checked my page a few times now in the last week and on two occasions, for some very odd reason, my posts are not visible at all! I experienced this phenomenon on both my laptop at home as well as my work computer. Just a green sea of blankness......trippy.

Seems to be working ok again but. Anybody else noticed this?

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Demos, freeplay prep and skiing holidays

Our group has a new beginner's course coming up in less than 2 weeks time. I have to admit feeling a bit ambivalent towards these, as on one hand we get the chance to hopefully recruit new people to the group, but the overall return for the energy and time invested in the beginners is usually very small. If we have say 10 people starting the course, we are usually lucky to have 2 or 3 at the end, and of these not all will continue to train further. It's quite disheartening but it seems to be a necessary evil to ensure the survival of our group. I was also thinking today that we'll have to cobble together some sort of introductory demonstration for the first evening of the beginner's course. This has usually led to discussions about what should be included or omitted, how long should the demo last for, and who's the "lucky" one to stand in front of John Q. Public and hold forth on the jewel that is italian swordsmanship a la Fiore.

Well, if we want to have a good demo and make a good first impression at least, I guess we'll have to do something. It's a pain in the arse though because I want to get some freeplay preparation stuff done, not least because we haven't done hardly any, but because there is a seminar covering precisely this aspect of our training coming up before the beginner's course starts. We'll have to divert training time from fpp (free play prep) to demo shenanigans instead. Grr!

To complicate matters just a little bit more (as if I really need this), our training venue will be off limits for a large chunk of the next two weeks because of the Finnish school holiday phenomenon called "hiihtoloma", lit. skiing holiday. Everything just seems to shut down for this period. It's bloody daft, we use the training space in the evenings when the school is anyway empty, but we're not allowed to use it during these holidays! Insane! In effect, we have I think two training sessions to whip up a decent demonstration. It's like trying to fence longsword with your hands tied behind your back......

Friday, 6 February 2009

More counter remedies and talking about stuff

Training was interesting last night. I decided to do some more dagger counter remedies. At the last training session we covered some of the more "complicated" counters, or at least, the ones that appear farther down the play list. This got me thinking about why Fiore shows them in the order he does. I mean if the attacker attacks a fendente mandritto, the remedy can be a disarm/strike, a break, a lock or a throw, and this response will affect what the counter will be. Perhaps the most common remedy is a disarm so last night we looked at ways to counter it. I also though that if the remedy can be categorised into 5 things, perhaps we could do the same with the counters.....This is what we came up with:

-Avoid: Change the line striking under the defender's arm into the armpit/ribcage. This one is particularly sneaky as it's easy to do and quite difficult to defend against.
-Deflect: This can be done with the dagger or with the offhand. In the former, the defender is allowed to make contact with the attacker's wrist, who hooks the dagger inside the wrist and drops their hand to thrust at the belly/chest. The offhand can be placed on the heel of the dagger to reinforce the stab. The attacker "walks" the dagger point into the defender's chest/belly. Alternatively, as the attacker makes the initial stab, he uses his offhand to grab the defender's incoming wrist and turns him, before stabbing him in the back.

-Offend: As the defender's hand approaches the attacker's wrist, the attacker changes his line and raises his hand bringing the point down on the defender's forearm, between the radius and ulna. In theory the dagger passes through the defender's forearm and the attacker's offhand can grab the emerging point to control the defender's forearm, by twisting clockwise or anti-clockwise. Nasty!

-Collect/Trap: Here the attacker may be slow reacting and the defender gets his hand to the attacker's wrist. Again the attacker hooks the dagger over the defender's wrist and brings the offhand up to grab the dagger, trapping the wrist. The attacker then crosses his wrists causing the defender to turn his back, whereuopn the attacker stabs him. This trap is ok, but not as good as the counter remedy involving a roverso strike: it's relatively easy to slip your hand hand out. Then again, this trap isn't supposed to be a long-term thing, it's primarily a facilitating move allowing temporary control before you do something nastier.

We then did some dagger flow drill and then on a signal one of the drilling pair did one of the above remedy counters after attacking with a fendente mandritto. This worked quite well and further highlighted for me the versatility of the dagger flow drill, i.e. the flexibility to introduce breaks in the flow with remedies (one of five possible tactics), as well as counter remedies (one of the above four categories). Fiore ALSO shows some counter-counter remedies....hmm, food for thought..

After we did some cutting practice, I randomly picked two people from the line, told one to pick a random guard, and got the other to pick a guard they might use to break the first guard. We then did a stepped drill. One attacked with whatever attack they chose (no response). A second identical attack was followed by whatever remedy the defender chose (no counter remedy response). Finally, the same attack and remedy as before, but with whatever counter remedy the initial attacker thought would work. Ok. Then I stared asking both participants questions:
1. What guard did you pick and why?
2. What strike did you attack with? True edge or false edge? What footwork?
3. How did you defend? etc....

The point of the exercise was to encourage them to remeber the details of what happened using Fiorean terms. Naturally this can be done in whatever language the student is most comfortable with. I guess it's a really basic form of free play preparation. By encouraging students to see and react to what is really happening and not what they anticipate or what they think is happening will help them later when they come to doing pressure drills, and later free play itself. Sometimes talking about stuff can be a positive thing, as long as the talking is to the point, and the point being made is clear to the students. Who says pedagogics isn't interesting!

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Treatise fun

Last night we had a bit of fun looking at counter rememdies from the dagger section. I used the images from the Exiles excellent work, which has the Novati pictures. I don't really like the pen drawings from the other Exile works, although the texts in these versions is more complete. Some things we noticed about the counter remedies we used:
-you have to be awake and aware of what is going on for them to work
-they tie into the idea of constant motion, if the initial attack fails, keep going!, in other words, you stop = you die
- The attacker/defender must be ready to use their offhand also- there's a tendency to focus on the dagger hand/arm only
- The time window to successfully do a counter remedy is very small and gets even smaller if the sequence goes to a contra-counter
-The best counter remedies are the simplest ones, usually depicted being done by a King, other techniques, which are doable, but perhaps less efficient/common, are depicted by scholars
-The biggest number of counter remedies seems to be for fendente mandritto attacks

I printed out the images and brought them to class so that the others could see I wasn't just making up the stuff (I'm not that creative). It might also be fun to print out a few more images, maybe also from the abrazare section, get everybody to pair off with no input from me, give everybody 5 minutes to "interpret" the image they get, and have them demo what they come up with in front of the class. Obviously, I am not so au fait with the material that I can definitively say whether another's interpretation is correct, BUT it would be a great opportunity to promote the idea of actively using the treatise material and bringing it to life.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

New longsword drill videos from SESH on youtube!

Have you ever wondered how a left-hander would tackle longsword fourth drill? Well, wonder no more. Guy et al. have posted up ALL of the longsword drills on youtube, including the variations for left handers. This is an invaluable resource so capitalise on it!

Mark them in your favourites and study them assiduously! Then go forth and practice them for yourselves!

Seminars and a training update

Last weekend saw an enjoyable day clashing bucklers at the Helsinki salle, with a review of some aspects of the 1.33 system. Most of the material covered was already familiar to me but I welcomed the chance to review it, particularly since I haven't done anything with 1.33 since the workshop with Scott Brown at Swordfish 2008. Guy covered the wards and rolling exercise, half shield vs. first and fifth wards, second ward vs. second ward, and first ward vs. first ward. Of course there are other combos but this provided us with a good basis to work with. One of the highlights of the seminar for me was the light freeplay bouts with wooden bucklers and hickory swords. It became immediately obvious to me that I really need to practice this stuff more often as my first reaction was to hop around in what looked more like a boffer fight than anything we had just covered. Then again, iirc, nobody else successfully did a schiltschlac, a durchtritt or a mutacio gladii, most of us concentrating on trying to strike or thrust to the opponent's body but without first controlling their weapons. This reminded me that a good grounding is necessary in martial arts before attempting freeplay, or at least, before we might expect to be any good at freeplay. The lesson learned is that it's back to the training!

As a class leader, I had the extra bonus of learning the next step in the chi kung health form, which is part of our syllabus. It was't too difficult and I also got the chance for Guy to check out the previous steps to correct mistakes and tweak the form into shape. The breathing part is still the hardest task, as it's supposed to be I suppose. If you know the choreography of the form you can transition fairly smoothly from one position to the next. This smoothness helps the breathing to stay relaxed. However, if you fluff the movements and stop, the breathing also tends to stop with the results that you are left gasping for air and not cool, calm and collected as you are supposed to be. I guess one complements the other, calm breathing leads to a calm mind and the movement is smooth. Fun stuff, and I'm only half way through the form! Many thanks to Guy for a very enjoyable seminar!

At training last night I incorporated the crane form into our warm up. If we're supposed to have these things in our syllabus, I need to work them in somewhere on a regular basis so that we can learn them properly and derive benefit from the exercise. Recently, I had been talking with T about using our current footwork to avoid being hit. So, I decided to use the old pair drill of having one partner with a stick strike a committed fendente mandritto/roverso and have the defender use the footwork to avoid being hit and get behind the striker as well as getting to wrist, elbow, shoulder and back distance, both to the outside and inside of the attacker. This seemed to go quite well so the attackers could now also strike mezzani and finally also sottani blows, making the exercise into a low-pressure drill, meaning that if the avoider tried to anticipate the attack, they might get lucky one time in three if they voided to the outside. However, this option is practically impossible against anything other than a fendente mandritto. It feels horrible stepping right into a mezzano strike, even if it's done with a stick! A nice exercise, it works footwork, distance awareness, timing and adds a little pressure, so that it also warms people up nicely. We'll have to do it more!

After a half hour of this we switched to cutting mulinelli (40) and through cuts (30 per side). Again a sword tip hitting the floor means an automatic 10 pushups. It was nice to see that the practice is paying off. The cuts are smoother, the arms are more extended and the swords are passing nicely through posta longa. We still need to train more though! With cutting as with anything else, footwork, abrazare, dagger, anything, I try to look on everything as a mini-form. Get the details right, correct, neat accurate, and they are like gems. Add the gems together and I have a lovely necklace, something beautiful, long lasting and invaluable.

My last thought for our training was that I HAVE to jump in and also train more for myself. I noticed a tendency in myself to just do the class leader stuff and then train in the German style in the following class with the WSK guys. I need to remeber to train harder and prioritise in Fiore first, as well as enjoying other styles.

The German class was a lot of fun though and I particularly enjoyed the sword section. We trained moving from Ochs-Pflug-Pflug-Ochs with steps and I learned how this apparently simple movement can be used both offensively and defensively. Against an incoming thrust, I transition (absetzen) my pflug from right to left side, while stepping forward and to the right. I am more used to doing the accressere fora di strada/passo combo with a frontale, so it felt a bit stragne to step in the "wrong" direction. We then trained the fuhlen (with a winden) exercise and I had to admit it was very difficult because it had to be done slowly enough that you can feel through your blade what the other intends. Also it is a feedback exercise, not one that one or the other must "win". Fuhlen or "sentimenti di ferro" as I would know it, is not something you pick up in five minutes, or maybe even five years. Still, I admire the subtlety, and indeed beauty of the principle, regardless of what name or style in which it is practiced.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Forearm injury and maintenance

I wrote a little bit before Christmas about some problems I have had with my left elbow. In a nutshell it has been sore and I couldn\t quite decide if it was related to the joint or the soft yissue surrounding it. I mentioned using chi kung exercises and massage tom try to help the problem and said i would report back on my progress.
Well, so much for progress. I did almost nothing over the period I spent on holidays and then overcompensated for this by doing way too much since. I STILL haven\t quite grasped the concept of slowly and gently yet and now I\m paying the price. Ok, my forearms do feel stronger and where there was practically no brachius radialis to speak of, there is a definite increase in size. My elbow still hurts though........feck!
So what HAVE I done? Lets break it down.

Massage:I have done this mainly when my forearms were feeling tired after a session of what are known as sinew metamorphosis exercises. Along with massage I use a medicinal wine , a type of dit da jow. It helps a lot in reducing swelling and soreness and nothing beats it for reducing and clearing bruises. The biggest problem I notice with massage is that my hands and fingers are too tired to push on the massage lines, making it difficult to push hard on painful spots. Then again, every bit helps...

Sinew metamorphosis:This fantastic name (yi jin jing) and techniqe derives from chi kung, which are supposed to make your forearms strong, wrists flexible and give powerful strikes. There are a number of exercises of which I only know two. These exercises do come with a caveat that if practiced incorrectly they may lead to problems as they are described as being powerful, at least in terms of chi development. However, yi jin jing should be practiced as chi kung exercises and then they are supposed to be very good, not just for the forearms but for overall health. Sometimes I just practice them simply as physical exercises in order to reduce or negate any bad effects I might induce by incorrect chi kung practice. Those of you who do not believe in chi can roll your eyes to the ceiling.....NOW!

Weight training, etc:I also dug out my 1kg hand weights and did some wrist exercises as shown to us at the sword school. These weights are light enough to give a workout but not to cause undue stress on the joints. I tried gripping and squeezing tennis balls as an alternative exercise to increase grip strength and to help activate the tendons, muscles and those stringy bits in the forearm associated with the fingers. Basically a good idea, but I think I need to try squeezing something with more give in it. The tennis ball required too much strain and I could feel it the following day. Perhaps one of those grip thingies with a spring or a softer rubber ball?

-I need to find a good regime and stick to it, hopping from one exercise to the next is not either slowing or limiting my progress.
-Practice gently and dilligently.
-Build the exercises up slowly.
-Use massage with dit da to complement the training.

I will try to stick with this regime and keep youse all updated.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Before ze Germans come!

I've had two weeks training now with the Warusseppäin Kilta guys and have been having a blast. Training in the German style is interesting, sometimes difficult but ultimately a rewarding experience. The class leader gives us quite an interesting workout when doing our warm-up, with a lot of emphasis on leg stretches and leg exercises. The squats done with our feet in guard stance is a killer on the backs of the thighs!

The footwork is basically similar to what we do in Fiore, although there seems to be less emphasis on a forward weighted stance; more 50-50, with the back foot flat on the ground. One thing that struck me as interesting was the body angulation. I seem to naturally turn my shoulders and hips such that I face square on to the direction I'm going. However, in the German class, we were advised to angle the body: if the right foot is forward, the right shoulder is also forward. Regardless of which foot is forward, the front foot points in the direction of travel.

And so to the bladework. We start off with the meisterhau or master blows. Changing my grip to place my thumb along the handle is difficult for me. Firstly, because it feels odd. Secondly because my new sword, a Violet by Pavel Moc, has a little floret decoration right in the middle of the blade where it enters the hilt. Pressing my thumb on this is uncomfortable after a bit. I was tempted to file the thing off but was advised simply to adopt the "German" grip a little lower on the hilt instead. Simple! Why didn't I think of that? Doh! The meisterhau start with Krumphau,which seem to involve windmilling the sword in front of the body, with the hands extended at chest height. The thumb of the sword hand is towards the body and the movement is generated by the wrists. The hands can be close together or one hand can be on/close to the hilt. These "windmills" are then done to each side as well as above the head, the latter are the zwerchhau (i think). When combined, these windmills form a box around the wielder, which protects him from the front, top and sides. We then do a sort of figure eight motion with the sword, again with the german grip (thumb along the blade/hilt). This exercise is wonderful for wrist and forearm strength and flexibility, particularly if the arms are extended.

I mentioned above the body alignment. This became quite important when practicing sword drill which incorporate the Krumphau and the figure eight movements. I noticed that when my body was square on to my partner, I have to work a lot harder to make these blows and I could really feel it in my wrists. It was pointed out to me that by angling my body, my wrists are less stressed because the sword movements become more natural. Train smarter not harder. It started me wondering about my body position when practicing Fiore. I'll have to keep this in mind when next I'm training. It seems like a trivial thing, but already a little practice in another style has given me some interesting insights into how I usually train. Cool!

Monday, 19 January 2009

New Year's training objectives

Over the holidays and since, I've been thinking about the group's training objectives for the coming year. With a bit of luck, we'll organise a tatami cutting class together with the Warusseppäin Kilta sometime in February. Some of the WSK guys have said that they will kindly allow us to use their sharp longswords for the class. I'm not sure yet how we'll repay them, perhaps the classic Finnish "reilu meininki" (good turn) of a bottle of some hooch each, or possibly a dinner at the local Indian restaurant after the class. Anyhow, in the interests of safety and as a mark of respect for the owners of the swords we are being allowed to use, our immediate training objective is to train a lot of cutting practice. If, when cutting, one of our lot allows the sword tip to hit the floor, that person will not continue. So we will practice standing cuts, mulinelli, cutting and stepping, pell work using the ropes in the salle where we train, as well as sword manipulation drills. I'm certain that not all of the present members will be ready to take part, but at the end of the day, cutting practice is NEVER wasted time or effort.

Freeplay. Most of our members are pretty familiar with all five sword drills, thereby giving them a good foundation to begin freeplay preparation. I decided that whenever possible, there should be a light freeplay session taking place every thursday and saturday, either as a pair, when one of whom is a senior student/free scholar or a pair supervised/marshalled by a senior scholar. The emphasis is on light freeplay, not full on hard-core high speed duelling. I had noticed that some students, myself included, were reacting reluctantly to the idea of gearing up and giving it a go. Basically, the idea of freeplay was some horrible barrier that had to be endured, involving massive amounts of stress and sweat. As the training leader, I feel a fair twinge of guilt about this as the other students reaction to the idea of freeplay may well have stemmed from me. To counter this, I want to demystify the whole experience and make it fun, something to be looked forward to, while balancing this with the concept that it is a diagnostic exercise, showing us where our fencing weaknesses lie and encouraging us to go away and train to fill those "holes". There are about six of us who are ready to do light-slow to moderate speed freeplay so that each one should get the chance to practice every few weeks or so: the whole thing running on a rotational basis. This freeplay approach may also extend to dagger also. Naturally, we will also have to step up doing the sword drills as well as free play preparation: with variations and degrees of freedom.

Both the cutting class and the freeplay are ends to work towards, to train for. They set goals in our minds and drive us to train. However, it's funny that although these are goals, they are in fact only stepping stones on the path to overall improvement. If we perform poorly in cutting tatami or in light freeplay, we analyse what went wrong and why and learn from the experience. Even if we do really well, we should still be open to learn.

To quote the Roman astrologer and poet, Manilius, Per varios usus artem experientia fecit - Through different exercises practice has brought skill.