Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Syllabus Day revelations

Last Saturday saw some intrepid Turkunians braving the cold and heading to the Helsinki salle to brush up on our syllabus material. From start to finish the day was full of revelations for me. The whole giocco largo/stretto thing has been around for a bit now and it was really great to have a solid frame of reference for how the swords cross. Guy showed the crossing as positions, two in largo, two in stretto. What makes them differ is whether the points are in line and whether there is pressure on the blade.

Let us assume that my training partner has attacked with a fendente mandritto and I rebattere from tutta porta di ferro to frontale. The swords will make contact somewhere in between.

Position 1: (largo) I successfully beat the incoming sword to my inside. The point is no threat. I lay my sword across the attacker's hands, stepping sideways to my outside, before thrusting to the chest. I could also strike a fendente roverso to the head. The counter is to yield, pommel strike and enter.

Position 2: (stretto) I successfully beat the incoming sword to my inside but not as far as in position 1, i.e. it is closer to the central line. The opponent can put some pressure on my blade, their point holds more threat as it is closer to my head. I control the other's blade by grabbing near their point with my offhand, and cutting/thrusting one-handed to their head, while stepping in. The counter is to yield pommel strike and enter.

Position 3: (stretto) The swords are crossed close to the middle line and the other's point is close to me, with pressure on my blade. I cannot leave the bind as the opponent could simply press their attack or angulate the point to my head or chest. If I try to grab the other's sword I will lose stability and they press their attack, so I bind over, step in and grab the other's pommel, disarming and thrusting. Surprise, surprise, the counter is to pommel strike and enter ! :-)

Position 4: (largo) I fail to rebattere successfully and my sword is bound over to my outside. From here the attacker will step to his outside and strike to my head with a fendente roverso or as described in position 1. The attacker's point is not a threat and in seeking to bind on my sword, the attacker's blade is not directed towards me. I yield to the pressure, pommel strike and enter.

Neat! I now have a zip code of tactical choices depending on where the cross happens. Obviously these 4 positions are points along a continuum, but they are concrete and easy to remember.

There was loads more fun stuff which made me realise I need to get to train in Helsinki more. Perhaps for a lot of people this was basic basic but I loved it! I'm quite envious of the Helsinki folks. They have direct access to this material. It's no wonder we're quite behind in Turku. Unfortunately, there is no training today as the school where we normally have classes is using the space. Bugger! Can't wait 'til Thursday though!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Power walking and bloody royalty

Took both of my 3kg steel clubs for a 45 minute walk yesterday. I think I may have bitten off more than i could chew though. My left elbow was feeling the strain and I began to cramp in both hands, suggesting that I'm gripping too hard. Got a good sweat going though :-)

I think i may have strained my elbow a little after last saturday's training. We did quite a lot of push-ups and I probably pop up too hard causing my elbows to over extend. Hmm, need to watch that.

In future, I think one club will suffice. I definitely need to alternate the work done my each arm with a rest period.

Overall, a lot of fun though. Got my mp3 player going and it was lovely to walk along the woodland paths with some snow underfoot. Good clean cold air!

I'm a bit pissed off at the SG forum. There has been a thread on Kate Middleton and I wrote about not being a supporter of the monarchy, any monarchy. The thread had anyway devolved into folks just taking cheap shots. Nothing new for the "pub" but whenever any sort of reference to anything irish is made, the snide remarks covered with smiley faces start appearing. Ok, the forum is based in the UK, so I suppose I should not be surprised. It just galls me a bit that certain people on the forum like it to be known that the UK is superior to the rest of the world in every way. Any sort of comment to the contrary will bring out the "Rule Brittania!", Union Jacks, and God save the Queen and sweeping generalisations. It doesn't do any good to try to reply in a reasonable way, smart arses will nitpick every word you write to make themselves appear better and the veiled "how dare you presume otherwise!" attitude prevails....Bollocks! Someone wrote that it was no surprise that "the Irish" do not like the English monarchy and that this dislike is based on emotional rather than historical/logical reasons. But what historical/logical reasons do exist for the Irish to love Queen Liz et al. ffs? Typically, no-one was forthcoming on this point. Ludramans! Think I'll stay out of the pub for a bit.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Slingfish 2010

Got back from Swordfish 2010 this morning early. I feel strung out and absolutely knackered for some reason. Must be getting old but the event really took it out of me this year and I was taking it wasy.

In a nutshell the event was a blast! Well-organised, interesting and diverse workshops and competition events, excellent people and discussions and well, the time goes by all too fast!

I had the car this year so I took along 10 slings I made and a bucket of tennis balls. I had suggested to a few people I met for the first time that they might like to come along to one of the halls and try it out. Not a class per se, more of a brief intro and then just let them get on with it. We started off doing underarm casts, and I just added a new cast style in front of everyone every 20 minutes or so. I showed underarm, Greek (2 variations), and the figure 8. Some people came up with their own style. In many ways I think it was most fortunate that the first people that came to sling were a group of germans. They showed a natural aptitude and after 30 minutes of fun were asking to buy the slings!

This got the ball rolling. We left the door to the training hall open so passersby could see what was going on and I actively invited them to take part if they looked interested. After a brief instruction on how to hold the sling and a basic tutorial of 2 or 3 minutes, the newcomer was whizzing tennis balls with everyone else. It was really cool to see how the first tentative or totally misdirected shots started to improve after 10 minutes practice. A very few took to it naturally and could generate power and a good degree of accuracy. There still people slinging 3 hours later!

I sold or gave away all of the slings, even my "old faithful", the first woven pouch sling I made earlier this summer. I made sure they were cheap because it wasn't about making money as such (although it was welcome beer money :-) ), it was about spreading the word on slings and slinging. As I write this, my slings are in England, Germany, Sweden and Norway! Result!

Finally, it was most gratifying to get such great feedback from people at the event, even suggestions that I offer a slinging class next year! Well, I don't know about that, because I think that the infomal nature of the slinging this year (along with a beer or two) was an integral part of making the whole experience most fun. Who knows what may happen next year?

I gave out the slinging forum address, (i.e. http://www.slinging.org/)  to as many people as I could, so that they could also get more info and start to make their own slings. As I left the event and said my goodbyes, I was told by one of the visiting instructors that he had really the enjoyed slinging and that before he started he was just about to go to bed. He was still slinging an hour and a half later! He also reckoned that the fun slinging could be incorporated into an upcoming international event in Texas. Another German chap reckoned that something similar could easily be organised when next his club visited another HEMA club in Denmark.

So, Swordfish 2010 was a very good event for me in many ways. Kudos, thanks and continued respect to all the organisers and in particular, the fine people of the Gothenburg Historical Fencing School.

Tack för allt! Vi ses nästä år! (hope that's correct :-) )

Friday, 8 October 2010

Unbalanced power walking

Felt a little bit yuck after I drove home from work so I hemmed and hawed a bit about going for a jog/walk. I decided to do a compromise and do a brisk walk for 45 minutes with one of the 3 kg clubs. Basically my idea is a sort of power walking where I really pump my arms either straight forwards and backwards as I walk, or in a sort of "John Wayne" gait, where the arms are pumped more in front of the body. I chose a route that was hilly to add to the effort and switched the club between hands as I went. I could also increase the resistance depending on where I gripped the club. The fact that there was weight on only one side at a time meant I had to keep my core solid otherwise the imbalance would make me wobble all over the place.

Great work out! Perhaps I should try this again with paired clubs?

Getting fit...or trying to

I've decided, enough is enough. No more sitting around on my arse in the evenings! Ok, I've had a long summer season with long days and lots of diving and hefting gear around, which means I've got a bit of muscle but I'm far from being aerobically fit. I used to jog a lot before I ripped my knee cartilage and one or two attempts to begin jogging again left me with knee pain. Probably because I tried to do too much too fast with the obvious results. This experience and the fact that at heart I'm a lazy git has made me shy away from reattempting the whole jogging thing.

But, no more! I togged out on Monday this week and decided to do a 2-5-2-5 session, which is a 2 minute brisk walk as a warm up, followed by 5 minutes of a soft slow jog, then 2 minutes to get the breath back, then jog for 5 minutes, and so on. As well as pacing myself on the jog, I had to resist the impulse to do more than the initial five reps of each exercise even though I was bloody knackered by the fifth rep. I'll continue with this for a while until it becomes easy and then lengthen the jogging intervals. I played with a soft rolling gait where I land heel first and roll along the sole like in Fiore footwook, rather than coming down hard on the heel. In between I also tried lightly jogging on the balls of my feet. This is much "springier" and utilises the ankle and toe joints. Nice to feel the difference but perhaps not the most efficient for jogging. I could be wrong but I feel iot's more efficient to move mass as smoothly forward as possible and not waste energy boucing it up and down. Looking forward to donning my running shoes again when I get home tonight!

After I got back from the jog, I did a session with one of my 3kg steel clubs. This was a good way to stretch a bit and warm down slowly. It also helped to work my upper body a bit. I rounded off the session with some chi kung, which is always nice to practice outdoors.

I tried doing some Balearic style slinging yesterday and it was a lot of fun and I was surprised how much power is generated with the final snap and release. This is basically the same as a simple underhand cast but the sling rotates in a plane at about 45 degrees to the line of the shoulders and more behind you. The release is also more sidearm than underhand. I have to work quite a bit with this style because the angle of the plane of rotation seems to be critical to where the projectile goes with a sidearm release.

Check out this chap who uses natural plant fibre to make his own slings. He's pretty handy with it too!

Hmm, think I'll have to get me own video camera out and film some footage of my own!

Monday, 27 September 2010

Spreading the word..

The first part of training last Saturday was interesting and fun. We went through some of the basic stuff of dagger, footwork and unarmed posta. I never get tired of doing this material because it's ALWAYS relevant and never time wasted. One of the other trainees had done about half of the beginner's course and then had to quit because of shoulder surgery. Although there was loads of stuff to digest, she remembered an awful  lot and did really well with good humour throughout. I hope she enjoyed it and will continue to come to training. Our club needs people like this. Quite inspiring!

I took along some tennis balls and a bunch of slings to Saturday's training and after the first part we had  a line of four people slinging tennis balls at the wall. Some got it faster than others. Interestingly, although it was only supposed to be for about 10-15 minutes, people were quite happy to continue for much longer. Another thing I noticed was that no-one complained about being cold, so it actually could be quite a good warm down exercise. I made sure to apologise for "hijacking" the latter half of training but I don't think the others minded too much. Perhaps I could lead training with an occasional warm-up using tennis balls, skipping ropes, clubs and sticks etc.  to work on things like hand-eye coordination skills, etc. ? Hmm, food for thought...

In future, one thing I should stress though is not to try to use full power when starting off with the sling. As we are so often told in training: go slowly, concentrate on good technique, speed/power comes later. This is just as true for slinging as for swordsmanship. Tennis balls are a fun alternative to golfballs or stones to train with. They are very close to the same size and weight so this constistency is good if you want to work on technique and particularly, accuracy. Well and good. However, tennis balls are light, lack mass, and the fuzzy surface tends to increase air drag, which means they can curve quite a bit in flight and just don't travel as far as golf balls or stones. This means that there is a tendency to use a lot of power to make them fly long distances because they tend to have quite a curved trajectory and drop onto the target. In my experience, this added power without good technique can result in quite painful joints, specifically the elbow joint.

So, if you find your elbows hurt after slinging say for an hour or for 100 casts (whatever your training regime), something is wrong and I'd recommend a review of cast technique, what level of power is employed, and what type of projectile is used. Concentrate on getting the cast as smooth as possible. A smooth fluid cast can also generate a surprising amount of power so try to keep the arm and shoulder relaxed. Remember also that the whole body can be used, not just the hand, arm and shoulder. Unlike weapon-based arts where the weapon leads, in slinging, rotational force (centrifugal or centripetal, I can never remember which is which) is first generated from the hips and flows domino-like through the shoulder, arm, hand and finally the sling itself.

Happy slinging!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Slinging at a wall

Took my slings to sword training today. I thought it would be fun for the others to have a go and for me to gauge to some extent how people might react when they have the chance to use slings for the first time.  Well, apart from me there were only two others at training but they gave it a go and were soon able to pelt the tennis balls against the far wall (30 feet away). Tennis balls are definitely a safe option for indoors provided there is enough space. Result! It's also a good way to take a break between classes on saturdays because the session runs to 3 hours. It could also be a fun warm-down.

I initially got the idea because on the far wall are two squares measuring about 30 x 30 cm, made from duct tape. In Finland they call this Jesus tape (jeesus teippi), because of its multiple uses. I guess these have been used by people training basketball or baseball or something like that. Anyhoo, I figured these squares would also offer perfect targets for slinging as they really stand out clearly and the tennis balls are also clear against the silvery grey square edges. The centres of the squares are about my eye height.

Before sword training began, I managed to get the ball at least three times into the squares but as we were finishing up, I tried several more casts using Greek style and was bang on target three times in a row! A nice way to finish off the day! Following this experience, I think I may apply a couple of the duct tape squares to the tarp I bought as a back stop and start working more on accuracy from shorter distances.

I was so pumped at this mini-success that as soon as I came home I made yet another woven pouch sling!

Here's a chap using different versions of greek or byzantine style slinging. Enjoy!

Friday, 17 September 2010

Back to training

Was back at training tonight and it was a lot of fun. We went through fairly basic stuff such as the unarmed flow drill, which is always good to practice. I've described this before in my blog but it always surprises me just how versatile this drill actually is. The concept of tempo and how to break the other's timing, using power derived from the hips and volta stabile rather than the hands and arms leaves the latter more relaxed to better feel what the partner is doing. Finally, pushing elbows and arms by driving the power through the back leg as the passing step is made. One thing we noticed tonight though is that the roles of the right and left hand are reversed in the ligadura soprano, which we normally practice against a dagger strike from the right, with the left hand making the initial block to the wrist and the right hand threading the figure-4 lock. It still works! Neat!

Sling training yesterday wasn't so good. I finally got around to bringing a tarp which I set up about 25 metres away. The golfballs made a lovely sound when they hit it too. The operative word in the last sentence though is "when". They went over, under left and right of a nearly 3 m2 surface. Pathetic! Oh well. Just a bad day, I guess. Next time will be better!

Although I've been making slings, mainly ones with a woven pouch, I thought to start collecting others as well. This week, 4 new slings arrived from a very nice chap from the US called Glen Moore. His sling design is wonderful and is particularly suited for round projectiles like golf, tennis or baseballs. Glen's blog is here. And here's a short vid of the man in action, with eggs!

Man, he uses long slings! All of the available literature I've read says to start with a short sling and a short distance and go longer with time. I've also found myself that a short sling is more accurate. I guess it's something like if your hand-eye coordination is good when you throw a stone accurately, the compensation involved when extending your coordination beyond the reach of you fingertips is commensurate to the length of the sling. So it's a trade off initially between accuracy and added power to the projectile.

Ah what the hell, it's just loads of fun!

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Sling song

Training with the sling continues apace with a definite increase in control and accuracy. Ok, the balls or stones i use to shoot with still go all over the place but I can at least usually hit the target 10% of the time. For the last couple of days I've swithced back to using golf balls and minimum force to get them to the target. previously, I've been using tennis balls which are light and have a higher air resistance, meaning than more effort is required to propel them any distance to a target. As a result, I can usually feel it in my elbow after slinging 100 balls, so I should really concentrate more on short range accuracy using little power.

Each training session I try to shoot a minimum of 100 shots and rotate between 4 styles: underhand, figure 8, Greek and a cross-body sidearm cast. This last one is probably best shown by this chap on youtube.

Pretty, isn't it? He makes it look really easy. I find I'm most accurate with this style and the Greek, followed by the underhand cast. Whichever casting method, my projectiles tend to be more lobbed into a target rather than a nice horizontal almost flat trajectory. I'm having some problems with the figure eight cast, notably the projectile is being released too early resulting in a really high trajectory and/or it tends to go to my left. More work is needed.

I may get the chance to take some slings and tennis balls to Swordfish 2010 and offer, well not a class exactly, let's call it an "opportunity" for people to come along and give it a try. I got the ok to do it so I've been thinking a bit about how best to organise things. Think I'll keep it really informal once I've got the basic safety stuff taken care of. Should be a laugh. I've been busy making different kinds of slings as well as ordering them on the net from other slingers. I'll have to get my ass in gear if i want to have enough made for Swordfish.

Right, time to log off, switch off the computer and brave the elements for a little slinging practice in the great outdoors.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Slings and arrows of outrageous fortune...

Haven't posted for a bit because I've been working at sea since the beginning of July. Long days working in the boat don't leave much energy or desire for swinging a sword. I've noticed also my lack of interest in the whole giocco largo-stretto thing and what happens when swords cross. Well, whoopdy doo! I can go to seminars and follow the instructions but I've somehow been letting this sort of stuff just get in the way of enjoying training and occasionally just having a good old bout of sparring. One of my biggest obstacles to sparring originally has been thinking too much about what was happening and not just reacting according to the trained pattern learned through many repetitions of drills.

Anyway, I've been redirecting my interest towards longbow archery and slinging this summer instead. I used to practice target archery in uni with a 28lb 3-piece recurved bow, which had all the "bells and whistles", poker, counterweights, clicker, sights and an arrow rest. I always liked the fact that unlike shooting a gun, the power to shoot the arrow to the target comes from me alone through the bow. But it's not just about the physical force required, it's a combination of will, concentration and mastery of a plethora of little details, which if combined correctly put the arrow where you want it. I got a lovely 40lb flat section ash bow as a wedding present and it's a joy to use. I'm relatively accurate at 25 m but occasionally an arrow will go astray. I love the fact that it's so basic yet with a lot of practice can still be an effective weapon. The sling is an entirely different kettle of fish. Simpler in appearance than a bow, it is yet subtly more complicated to use. Shooting for distance is easy once you get the release down, but slinging for accuracy is very difficult.
Underarm style: the wind up...

I made some slings for myself from string: one is a braided pouch sling made from 4mm polypropylene, the other is a six-braid sling made from jute. Both are big enough for tennis balls but I prefer the former for slinging golf balls. I began by slinging just underhand for distance but have since also began using the Greek and figure-of-eight styles also.

Greek or Byzantine style: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FqZguQCgsvA

Figure 8 style: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJjXXnDSB4s

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Indian clubs


I've had some 3 kgs steel indian clubs for a few weeks now and have been practicing with them on a regular basis. I got them online from some sort of Finnish fitness shop, where they are called "voimakeilat" (power clubs/skittles, ugh! ridiculous name!) More recently, I've been watching a DVD by Pete Kautz which shows some fundamentals of club use for martial artists, in Pete's case, particularly those who practice Bowie knife fighting. Interestingly, in the DVD Mr. Kautz doesn't show much in the way of club swinging, but pointing with the clubs instead, in conjunction with footwork in order to develop core structure, joint strength, balance etc.

There are LOADS of vids on youtube showing different methods of using clubs, from wee 1 or 2lb ones to whopping great 50lb meels! Some good, some not so good. One thing I have concluded from the last few weeks practice is that 3kg clubs are too heavy to start with. I think i'll try to get a 1.5 kg pair instead and build up to occasionally using the heavier set. Another is that using the clubs isn't necessarily about developing wrist flexibility, at least NOT with heavy clubs, that way lies injury. I guess the question that needs to be asked is what you want to train for.

If you want wrist flexibility and mobility with some conditioning then light 1 or 2 lb clubs are probably best. Pete Kautz reckons 5lb clubs are his upper limit and even for a longsword wielder, these should be more than sufficient. He also reckons it's less about the actual weight and more about their leverage. If however, you wanted to develop a bit of mass, core strength, balance, etc. for something like wrestling or abrazare, then perhaps heavier paired clubs, or a really heavy single club might be more appropriate. Horses for courses!

So, it all depends on HOW you use them. Swinging from the shoulder or elbow is ok, the wrists stay straight, e.g. in exercises know as "mills". The swings can be powered by driving from the legs and hips. You can get an idea of some exercises from these videos:




I like this dude. I hope to be in as good a shape when I'm sixty! Twist and cast, an dhave a blast! :-)

Monday, 15 March 2010

Singlestick shenanigans

I lead a class last Saturday and we covered some basics of singlestick. At times frustrating, because I couldn't explain properly what I wanted people to do, or just couldn't understand the "simple" lessons, a la Mr. Taylor, it was still a lot of fun.

I splashed out and got myself the books on broadsword by Paul Wagner, Mark Rector and the one by R.C. Allanson-Winn and C. Phillipps-Wolley. The life of Messer. Donald McBane makes for a rollicking good read and the latter is pretty good too, particularly the descriptions of shillelagh fighting! Whirroo! Anyway, I've trawled through the first two and glimpsed at the third as a base for making a class or two. Overall, broadsword does not seem to be as refined as, say smallsword, but it appeals to me as a brutal weapon. Also, I think once we get going in our group, it'll be a lot of fun to have some light free play.

We strarted the class with the footwork, which is very simple, we just used the large circle in the cenre of the court (for basketball), had everyone adopt an outside guard with the swords pointing in to the centre of the circle and on a signal from me, everyone traversed around the circle, first one direction, then the other. Looked good and it was fun to check where our feet were after taking ten or so steps. They tend to wander off the circle for some reason!

The guards exercises and cutting drills went quite well also. I also got quite good ideas for how to do these from the chaps at the Cateran Society and the videos they've kindly posted on Youtube. The cuts and guards seem at first glance to be very large moves, but the more we went through the cuts and guards exeercise, I realised that the shift from making a cut to a guard is actually and indeed should be quite small. For example, if you cut to the right cheek of your opponent and recover to inside guard, the sword, following the cut, simply retreats back along the same line, keeping the centre closed and the point online. Ok, it sounds very obvious but only became so to be after I transitioned from simply reading about the exercise, to actually doing it.

The pair drills hit a bit of a wall though. The directions in Taylor's 10 simple lessons are almost in a dialogue form, not a new thing to anyone who has read the Fiore treatises. For example in the first lesson, it goes something like this:

Cut at my head - guard your own
Cut at my leg outside- guard your head

Simple right? It doesn't say though from which guard to start. Are both partners in the same guard? I figured we could both start in Hanging Guard (the version which covers the centreline and right side). So far so good. But then we got stuck at the second/third move. It didn't seem a logical move to protect your head, which we did with a St. George's Guard, only to take this cover away to try to strike at the outside leg of the opponent. Another version I've seen by the Cateran Society lads (Using Angelo's 10 lessons for sabre) has the exact same lesson except that a cut to the inside leg is made, which we found somehow easier to do. From Fiore experience, we already know that cutting at the leg is risky as it exposes your head, so I think we all had a bit of a brain fart at the directions given. Even if a powerful blow to the head could be stopped by the St. George's Guard, if the covering sword is removed, what's to stop the attacker simply slipping back an doing a draw cut down the forehead and face? Hmmm! Much discussion ensued.

I went back to the Youtube (God bless it!) to check the pair drill videos from Angelo again. There it was, plain as day. The cover is followed by an immediate cut to the leg (inside cut) which forces the partner to slip/shift back their front leg and make an immediate counter to the head. In turn you also slip back and cover again. Most of the treatises I read stressed that such a move is risky but needs to be practiced and is great for the footwork as it forces changes between advance, lunge and slipping the leg. So, rather than thinking of it solely as a tactical exercise, it perhaps should have been viewed as a cutting/footwork one instead.

We finished up with some cutting exercises where the attacker just attacks and the defender just defends. This was fun as again it showed than a relatively small move of the sword hand can very quickly close the line and cover the head and body. At this stage it was always the same order and so very easy. Later, it will be even more interesting when the cuts come in random order! :-) FUN!

Taylor (or was it Mathiewson?) talks about six main cuts plus one that come straight down on top of the head, (in effect 7 cuts) and gives them Roman numerals, much like the mulinello of Fiore. Using Fiore terminology thus:
Cut I: fendente mandritto
Cut II: fendente roverso
Cut III: sottano mandritto
Cut IV: Sottano roverso
Cut V: mandritto mezano
Cut VI: Roverso mezano
and the seventh cut, which doesn't get a number. However, when describing the above exercise, he also uses such numerals to tell which cut to make. Only problem is that now Cut I (straight down on top of the head) is actually the seventh cut, Cut II (left cheek) is Cut II (ok), Cut III (right cheek) is Cut I and so on. Phew! It's interesting thought that he starts with a left side cut to transition to a right side guard, and so it continues through the exercise, cut left guard right, cut right guard left.

The Cateran Society guys explain way more simply though. Using the dialogue-like directions as described above, they describe the drill like this:
Attack the head-defend my own
Attack high outside-defend high outside
Attack high inside-defend high inside
Attack low outside-defend low outside
Attack low inside-defend low inside
Cut to the leg-slip the leg/cover head
Cut to the wrist-defend the wrist

It's not as complicated as it may read! Also doing the exercise makes it clear really quickly. I'm looking forward to the next class already!

Monday, 22 February 2010

Making a singlestick

Just a quick post with some ideas for making your own singlestick. The design is copied from Guy Windsor and is cheap and easy to make. Ok, it's not beautiful but function over form is more important if you want to knock out half a dozen serviceable and durable weapons on the cheap.

Plastic buoy made from hard plastic, easily available from a hardware shop, costs 4 euros a pop. Circumference 470 mm, diameter 155 mm.

The first is the basket. Guy has used plastic buoys for fishing nets. Drill two holes with a hole-cutter and cut off approximately the back third using a jig-saw. It's advisable to smooth the edges down either using a file, or perhaps by applying a flame. Be careful of fumes, fire, hot dripping plastic though! Some guys have also just taped the edge with duct-tape (called Jesus-teippi in Finnish because it perfoms miracles!).

Super high-tech drawing (NOT!) showing a cross-section of the construction. The "pip" in front of the stick (top left) is the side view of the rim, through which a buoy rope may be passed. Two cross pins are shown to keep the basket in place.

The stick itself is rattan, but hickory or the more traditional ash could also be used. I'm not sure where to source rattan from here in Finland, but Purpleheart Armory stock them, also hickory sticks. Obviously the holes drilled in the basket will depend on which stick material you use. The stick is held in place by drilling a transverse hole at the bottom of the stick and tapping a dowel into the hole. A similar arrangement can also be used at the top of the basket. The models we have (surprise surprise!) though use duct-tape to keep the basket in place above the hand.
That's it!

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Backsword, smallsword and singlestick

There was a seminar in Helsinki last weekend on backsword, which of course I missed. Anyhow, judging from the feedback from the chaps who went from Turku, they had a blast. So much so that Timo bought 5 or 6 singlestick simulators on the spot. These are made from rattan cane which have cut orange plastic buoys attached as the "basket". We got to play with these at training on Tuesday and I thought it was brilliant. I started to look up books and treatises on the subject and there is a wealth of information available, from treatises by the Hopes, William and Thomas, the gladiator pimp McBane, George Silver and Thomas Page, to books by Paul Wagner and Chris Thompson. There are even some quite good videos on youtube from The Cateran Society which show at least their interpretations of how Highlanders may have fought using the backsword.

The guys who went to the seminar said that they got a sort of generic introduction based on a general mix of treatises, as some guards were simply given numbers, one , two three, or tierce, quatre, etc, while others gave them names, i.e hanging guard, St. George's guard, inside high, outside low etc.

Now my interest has been piqued I have begun to wonder how to proceed. Obviously reading treatises is a good start, but perhaps this should also back up current interpretations by scholars of the weapon. Iirc Angelo is the main source for backsword in the swordschool, but this seems to be strongly based on smallsword, which for my taste looks a bit too fiddly and gentrified compared to the broader bladed basket-hilt swords. This is just my opinion though, which may yet change!

Whichever source, the idea of taking a sabbatical from Fiore just to concentrate on backsword seems very attractive!

En garde!

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Vaccinations and preparations

Prior to our upcoming trip to Peru in six weeks, my wife and I visited the doctors to get some shots for yellow fever, typhoid and swine flu. Well, I thought I'd be ok after these but had an attack of shivering and chills the same night, followed by fever and a serious dose of the sweats. I took the following day off work to recover and am more or less fully recovered apart from a stiff shoulder where I got the swine flu shot. I guess i was lucky. I've heard of others who've been really sick for days after getting the vaccination.

Other preparations have included learning Spanish, or at least trying to. We borrowed and bought textbooks in order to learn the basics and I also bought a CD series which I transferred to my mp3 player so I can listen travelling to and from work. I can pick up vocabulary readily but the grammar is more difficult. Weirdly enough, although spanish is not terribly different from french, a language I learned in school for several years and did quite well at, finnish grammar keeps sneaking in and hijacking my thought processes. So, I keep thinking of what I want to say first in english, before it passes through some sort of weird finnish filter, then comes out as poor spanish. And it takes a long time! I hope that I meet some patient people when we go there! Nevertheless, i like spanish a lot, the rolled r's, it's overall cadence and musicality. Que bonita!

One really fun thing about this trip is buying the gear for being in the rainforest. Waterproof bags, head lamps, anti fungal and insect powders (still to get) and a hundred other things I've not even thought of yet. And it's so easy to get caught up in the details of gear...how many lumens does your headlight have? how quick drying are your trousers? does the anti-insect powder work against chiggers as well?

I'm thinking about bringing some sort of telescopic fishing rod and the associated gear as it's always been my drean to fish in the Amazon also. I probably won't have a clue as to what species I might catch (without having to ask first) but this just adds to the overall appeal.

I guess this explains in part why I have sort of placed the sword stuff on the back burner since the end of last year. This trip and work occupy my mind to the point where there isn't a lot of room for much else.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Easing off...

Haven't written for a while. I'm not particularly bothered though. I'm still training at least twice a week and enjoying it immensely. I only have to lead classes every second saturday so in the meantime I can just turn up and train. Brilliant!

I'm still not sure why the hell fencing became such an all-consuming obsession for me last year, to the point where I was thinking about it 24-7. Ah well, no worries. My work takes up a lot of my brainpower these days and has relegated swording back to the position of being a hobby, something to enjoy a few times a week and while I'm doing it, I don't think about what Finns called the "arkipäivä", humdrum everyday stuff.

The one thing I notice though is that I don't really check the manuals as much as I used to do. Maybe I'll head to a one-day seminar in Helsinki soon, maybe not. As I said above, I'm not too bothered either way. With the recent changes happening in the sword school, I'm more inclined to sit back and see how things pan out with new interpretations than trying to pick up every nuance and new change that pops up. Truth to tell, I've read the last article on the crossing of the swords several times, and I STILL don't really get how if I'm close enough to smack someone with the pommel it's somehow largo because my point is not making a threat, or something (?). I'll figure it out in time.

Right, off to training!