Saturday, 12 December 2015

Training update....

Training is proceeding well. I train at home with calisthenics and weights, as well as Indian clubs and club-bells. I also practice hand-eye coordination by catching a ball bounced off the wall using only my peripheral vision. I hope to be able to blade grab without actually having to look at the blade. Let's see how that pans out. Either way, it's a nice way to get my breath back after doing three minutes of kettlebell.

I have two kettlebells, weighing 8kg and a 16kg. The 8kg one is fun to use but the 16 is a bruiser and I have already pulled/stretched small muscles in my back and sides by not being careful when using it. I certainly do not have to worry if there is enough resistance! I have 1kg wooden Indian clubs, which are great for warm-up and cool-down, they really open up the shoulders and upper back nicely with casts and mills. They are also very good for learning club techniques before grading on to heavier clubs. I have 3kg steel clubs also. which give a really good workout with squats as casts but they become hard to grip for the mills and are not very for giving on the wrists either. Most useful for practicing sword skills indoors is the Swingblade but combined with the steel clubs, my elbow joints have started to complain a bit, needing self-massage and Tiger balm applications. Lastly, after a blogpost by Guy Windsor, I began to do very short (5 minutes) session of sitting meditation. These are fun and more about me being more organised in my daily life than anything to do with fencing per se. I do not have a very organised mind and often try to do about 4 things at once or if doing something, I will break off suddenly and shift my focus to something else for a few minutes. For example, I arrive home from the shops and start unloading the food into the fridge only to (as my mum would say "take a vagary") start messing with a gopro camera. I come back to the kitchen five minutes later and the food is still half unpacked and the fridge door still open! 

I used to run a lot back in the day, when I was 10kgs (!) lighter. I tried to start up again a few times since but never got past the point where I could barely breathe and had that awful copper/blood taste in my mouth. What I have noticed over many years is that I really enjoy walking and hill-walking especially. As I live in Finland, it just seemed natural to get sticks and start doing Nordic walking too. At the start of 2014, I spent 2 fantastic weeks hill-walking in Tenerife and a good pair of sticks were invaluable over rough terrain, particularly while carrying some gear in a backpack. I admit it looks dumb but I don't care. It allows working the arms and shoulders while walking and is a great aerobic exercise, especially as now I am doing interval walking (5 minutes) followed by a period of jogging. Over time, the jogging period has increased and has even become enjoyable!

Classes have been very enjoyable too this autumn/winter season. Last night we trained using thrusts against thrusts (scambiare di punta) or blows to make single time counterattacks from different guards. Compared to how we usually trained it as a due tempi action, this was horribly quick and aggressive! Two key points to remember, regardless of from which guard the thrust comes;
1. Throw your point into their face, using their eyes as your targets.
2. Close the line with your hands to the side and extended so that their mezza spada is on your forte. 
This technique further confirms to me the idea that Fiore's style can also be super aggressive and to my mind, is indicative of a stesso tempo action (an immediate action or one happening at the same time as another) or an action happening in indes. It works beautifully as long as you trust it and your ability to close the line but if you hesitate, there is the possibility that you will miss with your point or that your opponent might have time for a counter. It was great fun to look at the giocco largo plays with others in the group and discuss the pros and cons of say, disengaging from the crossing and cutting at the leg. Not a super clever idea unless your opponent is backing off and you pursue. Also, I always just assumed that all of the the giocco largo plays come from the second crossing of the second master. After it was pointed out to me and I looked at the text and pictures, I had a "aha" moment, they are not.  There may be a crossing, but not necessarily at mezza spada, or as in the case of exchanging thrusts, the crossing can occur almost simultaneously with the counterattack.  How did I miss that?? This shows me that we really need to reinstate the weekly kebab/beer evening meet-up with a treatise, pen and notebook in hand to discuss what we train and just as importantly, why. It's not all about tournaments and fighting, it can also be academic. Either way, more fun than you can shake a stick at. :-) 

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Sickness, meditation and outbursts

I have been sick for the past two weeks. It might well be that this is the annual winter flu bug that is doing the rounds and that nowadays, no-one seems to be sick just for a day or two and then recovers. It takes a week. The bloody thing lingers! Then again, it may have been work stress coming out. Now that I have holidays until the end of the year, I have time to be sick and my body somehow senses this, then WHAMMO! I get a really bad dose. First, sore throat, lost voice, general malaise, followed by lots of snot and phlegm (love that word!) and it all goes down onto my lungs and I am racked with coughing for several days. Lovely!

I have seen this delayed reaction to stress manifest itself before when doing my Ph.D. Student colleagues of mine would work insane hours over the final months of writing their theses, often sleeping at their office and eating poorly. Yet, they didn't get sick until the work was done and the pressure was off and then they got a really bad dose of flu which knocked them out for 2-3 weeks. I sort of dodged that bullet in my case because two days after handing in my thesis, I was sitting in the warm September sunshine in southern Finland, watching grasshoppers on the lawn and clouds scudding across the indoan summer sky. And I didn't get sick.

Now that I really know how depression and work stress can negatively affect someone (burnout), as well as environmental stress, i.e. Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD-kaamos/winter blues), I am convinced that stress, like money, can build up a debt. And boy does it need to be paid back, often with interest! Finnish winters can be fantastic IF there is a suitable amount of snow, the weather is below at least minus 5 degrees (dry cold) and most importantly, that there are enough sunny days to maximise the light available. Sadly (pun intended), the last few winters in southern Finland have not seen much snow, the days are short and grey, and the temperatures are around zero most of the time. This is when kaamos or winter blues strike. For some it is the darkening time up to the winter solstice, for others, like me, it is that long painfully drawn out drag through February-March that depresses me. Even with the extra light, there is still no life, everything is brown and dead. While it can be equally grey (and wet!) in Ireland in this period, it is at least green throughout. The first flowers start appearing alreading in February. In Finland nothing happens until May, then within a week, nature goes POP! and suddenly everything is green again. I love it when this happens, I just wish it would happen sooner!

As part of my climb-out from burnout, I need to be able to feel feelings rather than shutting down and trying to suppress or ignore them. This has been difficult because I think I have nice-boy (kilttipoika) syndrome.  I don't like to say or do anything to cause conflict, so I swallow my feelings and feel it afterwards as anger and frustration and shame. There are no good feeings or bad. They are just labels to describe what we feel. And yet those labels are what help us to realise what we feel. Following an interesting blog by Guy Windsor on using meditation to mindfully observe feelings and so better deal with them, I have decided to start meditation again. This decision is timely. I had a temper outburst today, something I don't normally do. I felt the anger bubbling up and just let it come out. It was something I decided to do and it felt good. Afterwards, when I cooled off (after solo training with a sword for a half hour, try it, it helps a LOT!), I felt some shame that I had let myself go. I think it is ok to get angry when boundaries are crossed but it is not so good to pop your top for no good reason and you can be angry without being aggressive. I don't think I handled myself so well, I was aggressive and rather than using my brain to state my case properly and respectfully, I was almost willing to use my fists instead, hence the shame. Anyway, long story short, I apologised, shook hands and drew a line under it. Done. The sooner I start meditating, the better!

New Perspectives

I have been messing around with a quadcopter this last week, trying to get aerial footage that I can turn into spherical panoramas. I have read a lot about it on the net; techniques, fields of view, panorama software, etc. December weather being what it is, I have only managed two separate flights on the hill behind my house. It was sunny on both occasions and the low hanging sun caused exposure problems due to effectively being 'under' the propellers. I have tried three different software programmes to produce the panoramas, with greater or lesser success but it has been fun, if a rather steep learning curve. Above is a 'little earth' projection. Rather pretty!

What I am actually trying to get is this:

Ok, it's not perfect. I am still working out how to get the best angles so that the fields of view overlap and I don't have any holes. It is supposed to be completely spherical, which means if you scroll upwards you should see sky all round. Here, we have more of a cup or a sphere with the top cut off. Getting the sky in is easy to do with a terrestrial panorama, just point straight up to your zenith and shoot. With a quadcopter though, all you will see are the undersides of the arms and the propellers. Some panorama folks like to photoshop in stock images, I don't really see the point. As long as I have some sky and a horizon, it is what is on the ground that holds my interest.

Meanwhile I will play some more with the software and see what I can produce.