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.