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.