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!