Sunday, September 9, 2007

Teaching problems

I'm the only active knight in Ostgardr and I've got a number of people who come to me for advice. Now, when I was the only active knight in Cloondara and people would come to me and say "I went to practice across the bay and was told to do X," I'd normally say "That's cool. Learn from everybody." But it was easy then, because although we all had different techniques we fought the same "school" if you will--some modification of Belatrix. Now, however, it's different. Now people come to me and say "I went to practice across the river an they told me to do X" and I have to say "Don't do that."

I've got one new fighter who is dedicated and eager, but who's got a slow learning curve. I teach him something and the next week he forgets it, or comes in doing it wrong. He only wants to fight greatsword, which is a problem yet again: I'm a decent greatswrod fighter, but not the best, and it's a form where you take a lot of beatings before you get good at it. I was showing him the basic Bellatrix greatsword techniques, which primarily uses the high right side guard. Well this guy went across the river to Nutley and fought Duke Kelson and got his ass kicked. From what he showed me, he wasn't using the techniques I taught him particularly well, but the basics were what I'd told him to do. And he was fighting the best fighter at that practice. Then a couple of guys over there took him aside and said "you're doing it all wrong--fight like this" and told him to only use the standard SCA middle guard. He came to me and said "everybody says I should do it this way instead."

Now what am I supposed to do? I'm trying to teach him a specific style of fighting, one that takes a long time to learn to do properly. I know it's not the only technique he can use. It's not the only technique I use. But if he's going to learn to do it he needs to concentrate on that style and not mix it up with a bunch of other things that undermine both his technique and his confidence. So what am I supposed to say when he says, in a nutshell, "the guys over at Nutley say you are teaching me wrong"?

Well, i told him, curtly, "don't do that."

"But I got my ass kicked." he retorts.

So what? Ignore them. do it the way I told you to."

He persisted "but I keep getting beaten."

"Of course you do. You were fighting a duke and you are a beginner, plus you are fighting a difficult weapon form to begin with, and you're learning a fighting style that takes a long time to master. Now, do you want to win fights now or do you want to really learn how to use the greatsword?" He really didn't understand what I was telling him.

Perhaps it goes back to that Western Zen attitude that Artos has: the idea that victory isn't as important as mastering both yourself and the weapon. I don't know. I do know I'm having a hard enough time teaching this kid as it is without the guys at Nutley undermining what I'm trying to do. But then again, I freely admit that some of those guys over there are much better greatsword fighters than I am. Kelson's a Duke after all, and I'm alway telling my guys the Dukes are the people to listen to.

Then to make matters worse Ed started teaching one of his impromptu broadsword classes. Now I love Ed. He's one of my best friends. He certainly got me through moving to New York. He's a great friend. Ed is great at moving the sword around but his basic technique is faulty in my opinion because (although he won't admit it) it requires more upper body strength than a lot of people have and even when done right unless you are Ed (a carpenter) or Kelson (an armorer) your blows don't land with any authority. he tells people "don't do what Val says: do what I say." which is the opposite of what I've told them (Ed uses no hips or body mechanics, my style is based on movement). So in other words Ed is using my lines on me. To top it off my own squire, who worships Ed, says to me today "Ed's style just doens't work for those guys. Ed is right, but his style takes too long to learn. People are good with your style right away."

NO NO NO NO NO!!!!!!!! That is exactly wrong! That is what I am saying about the greatsword style they're trying to teach my guy over at Nutley he shouldn't' be saying it about me.

Or maybe I'm just full of shit.

The bottom line is that (a) Ed's not a duke. I know only one duke who fights anything like Ed, and that's Kelson. Most of the Dukes I know fight like me. (b) There are maybe six actual techniques in the SCA, counting brute force and ignorance. If you are going to learn to do something properly you need to study that technique until it is second nature and not pollute yourself with other techniques. This is a lesson I had to learn the hard way (I'm a chameleon. At various times I've used all six of those techniques and still do. But as Jade keeps telling me I've got to stick to one thing and master it if I'm really going to be a great fighter). So is it wrong of me to tell my students "Don't listen to those guys, do what I tell you"? I mean, that's essentially what those guys are saying about me.

I don't know. I don't want to be that guy in the samurai movies (Ed and Paul are both that guy) who says "My school is the only true school! All other schools of fighting are inferior!" But isn't that what I'm saying? In the end I want my students to be able to dig any technique out of their bag of tricks and use it when necessary. But they have to walk before they can run, and they have to have a foundation. Bellatrix is the foundation of everything I do and if they won't master that I'm not sure what I can teach them.


tracyg said...

why not take option c.
I can teach you the way that I have seen be very succesful for alot of guys in the long run, but it is going to be very hard to learn this form properly if you are doing something else.

Essentially it is like trying to learn karate and jujitsu at the same time, they are just too different to wrap your brain around both at the same time and be any good at either.

student needs to choose, jack of all trades or specialist.

Ben said...

first off - I don't think people should be taught greatsword (or pole) until they actually learn to fight first. Otherwise they:
a) are going to get frustrated
b) are going to get hurt

There are of course, exceptional individuals, but they don't really need the kind of instruction you are talking about anyway.

How do you know when they can fight well enough? Well probably beyond when it matters what guard they start in - they should have enough feel for what is going on to experiment with guards, stances and foot work themselves.

Ben said...

Now, re: Ed vs. Bellatrix S&S I think I can confirm your feeling.

I am one of the "few" to survive the Ed school of fighting. My experience is that it requires extreme forearm development. I disagree that there is any hip/body in the short, it's just more subtle.

For anyone with a medium or lower build I would recommend fighting with the basket back and shoulder taught.

Other comments: It's not just Ed and Kelson - there are huge numbers for of fighters who fight "sword forward" and do it effectivly. Kelson actually (last I fought him which was when he was king first time) drops his basket low and keeps sword vertical (like an ansterorran). Again, requires the armorer arms to get the stick moving. "Classic" Eastern is more triangle guard... maybe Ed is a bit lower??

In my opinion, one critical difference is that they require very different weapons. Sword back should have a neutral or tip weighted sword (usually a plastic or leather basket or cross hilt), while sword forward seems to necessitate a light stick and heavy basket.

Anonymous said...

Hi Val. This is the first time I've seen this blog, but I wanted to comment on this post.

I know the fellow you are speaking of. As this person is a new fighter, there might be something to say for letting him get a little confidence in his ability to fight at all before teaching him something that will help him win all the time against anyone if it will get him killed a lot now. It's like those video games or gambling games which are easy to learn but tough to master. You get past the early levels pretty quick, but you have to learn something new to advance.

I would recommend letting him learn the form of greatest room for error (SCA middle guard) until he gets basically competent at it: able to live through a few blows and win every once in a while. Then when he wants to advance, teach him the advanced stuff and let him forget the beginner stuff. He will have had the experience of learning something ans gaining success, and now he will be ready for more.

About Ed's blow, yes, forearm strength is a vital part of his technique, but if you use the leading motion of the elbow, you don;t need to be an armorer or carpenter to deliver a killing blow. Look at me. My weakest shots are when I am not using the technique he taught me correctly, but rather trying to use forearm strength. then I use the technique properly, and when I teach someone who finally gets it, there is a sudden breakthough in which the blows are stronger, faster, less awkward and land with more authority.

Anonymous said...

Blow me Duke Sir Zorikh

Anonymous said...

Blow me Duke Sir Zorikh

Hanna said...

I think you ought to tell him that he should learn only one technique to start, and he ought to stick with it. You don't care which one it is, but if he chooses a different style than the one you teach, he has to realize that you won't be able to teach him that well... other than through the school of hard knocks!

MAC said...

Ben is right re: sword construction. Gendy used a sword that was hilt heavy while Bellatrix uses a sword that was tip heavy.

MAC said...

Zorikh, I can't agree for a couple of reasons:

1) learning to fight in a high guard will make someone a better fighter than learning to fight in a middle guard. It just takes longer. Starting with middle guard (like I did) is too easy and makes it harder for people to adapt later.

2) You are not a good person to use as an example. You've been fighting Gendy style for--what--twenty years? On the one hand you developed your forearm strength through twenty years of using this style. On the other hand you've been fighting it for twenty years and still have some problems with power generation. Your best form is polearm, partially because it's easier for you to generate power using a polearm. There are other knights who use the Gendy style besides Ed and Kelson, but the only ones I know who are pure practitioners of the style are Horic (who isn't active anymore), and Amalric (who doesn't live here anymore). Possibly you could throw Terric and Steffan into that list, but Terric uses an amalgam of styles and Steffan uses a lot of Gregor's body mechanics.

So I have to dispute your post.

MAC said...

I think Hanna has it right: you should stick with one style and one trainer until you have been fighting for at least a year or two. My style is now nothing like my knight's style, but it was for the first few three or four years I fought and that was good. It's important for fighters to become competent in a single style before they branch out.

Anonymous said...

Response to MAC:
1) I suppose the subject of what style is the best to teach a particular individual who is just starting out is actually a rather complex one, that includes such things as the person's dedication, physical abilities, ambition within the sport, what it will take to get the guy to shut up and stop complaining, and more.

2) I really don't have that much forearm strength. I will be the first to admit that I don't work out or practice enough. When I do best, whatever style I use, is when I do it right. When I don't do it right, I fail.

They were just suggestions anyway, I though they might help.

Response to Anonymous:
I never blow anyone if I don't know their name.