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!