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.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

New spaulders!

These babies were waiting for me when got I back from my Christmas holidays. Well worth the wait, they were made by Marko Saari, the guild leader of /the Armoursmiths' Guild (WaruSseppäin Kilta in Finnish). Here's a link to their website:

Nice one, Marko! I think they're gorgeous! As you can see from the photos, they are attached using points. I still have to find out how to sew the laces onto my gambeson and whether to use laces or leather thong for the chords.

Already before the holidays, I decided to join the WarusSeppäin Kilta group, WSK for short, to enhance my historical martial arts repertoire and experience. The WSK train in various German styles based on several historical treatises. In effect, they do what we do, but in German styles AND they also make their own gear and do re-enactment. To-date, I have not really discovered another one-handed sword style that I am really interested in*, so I thought I'd stay with an approximately similar period to Fiore, but with a German twist. I like the finesse in longsword as well as the wrestling and dagger techniques. I also love both the look and feel of the Messer, which although it looks like a fearsome sword, is technically a long knife! Through this cross-training I hope to deepen my appeciation of HEMA overall and to get new insights into italian swordsmanship.

*= with the exception of backsword/basket-hilt claymore.

Happy New Year 2009

Well, I'm back. It was fun having a break from swording, visiting relatives and friends over the Christmas holidays. It's been almost a month since the last entry. Either I've just been too lazy or don't have much to write outside the remit of sword related material. In either case, that's a bit pathetic. So, another new year's resolution for my list, blog more!

L and I spent a few very relaxing days in eastern Finland. We got the chance to go skiing, which was a lot of fun but I'm not so fit and was well out of practice. Not surprisingly, both L and her Dad were much more comfortable with skiis on. I found that I was concentrating so hard on not falling over and keeping my skiis moving properly that I didn't really have much time for admiring the scenery, except when we stopped for a breather. Still, I'm looking forward to spending some time with L's family in Lapland later this spring. Once you get used to the motion of cross-country skiing you can relax a lot more and only have to worry about staying upright going down hills and (my least fave aspect) around bends.

I flew to Ireland on the 28th of December by myself; Lea had some night shifts at work and followed on New Year's Eve. Ryanair lived up to its usual "cheap & cheerful" reputation and did that stupid fanfare on the PA when we landed informing us that we were on time in Dublin. People actually aplauded! Doh! My biggest peeve though was that to fly on the 28th cost me nearly 400 quid, but was 100 euros cheaper the following day. You pay all that extra dosh and the service is still exactly the same. I wanted to get home because my sister and her husband (and his brother) were over from England and were due to leave on the 30th so it was worth every cent. It's only money after all.

Most of the holiday in Ireland was spent at my mum's house drinking tea all the day, sitting around chatting, eating and sleeping. Some evenings we went to the restaurant, the cinema and to my brother's place. We spent New Year's Eve at home singing songs and drinking. It was a lot of fun especially as my brother and his girlfriend played music. Which was nice. One memorable day was spent driving around west Clare, where we visited Lahinch and Doolin. It was one of those really sunny days with blue skies and was quite cold. The air was very clear allowing excellent views of the Aran Islands, particularly Inis Oirr (Craggy Island, for Father Ted fans). My brother kindly drove us around the place and even up to Galway the following day.

It was quite a wrench to leave home this time around. I really should go home more often. Then again the clan is coming over for our wedding party in April, which should be a lot of fun. I've been back now a week and slowly getting back into some sort of routine. This is a bit difficult as I'm out of work so the temptation is to just stay in bed and sleep the day away. Instead I come in to uni and well, faff on the computer all day, doing a bit of this and a bit of that. Thankfully the sword training has begun so I get some exercise, which lifts my mood a lot.

Some good news. I got offered a job, starting in April. I still have to finalise the details but it means that with another job lined up later in the summer I may well have most of 2009 in gainful employment. Yaaay! The first gift of the year.