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!

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