Wednesday, November 28, 2007

McCaren Park

As the weather turns cold it becomes harder and harder to get people out to practice. Thankfully Global Warming has mediated this a bit. It's been warm a couple of Tuesday's recently. Not so much last night, but enough to have people still thinking of the joys of bruising their friends.

Last night was a typical McCaren Park practice. I was a little less tired because I'd taken a car service to get there (at my age, though not advanced, it's still important to invest in my health and well being from time to time). There were five of us: me, Timur, Ervald, Bill, and Gil. The tree we normally fight under had shed a few thousand acorns, which lay like marbles on a parade route all over our regular fighting surface. Fortunately, the cold had chased away the baseball players so we fought on the baseball diamond. It turned out to be a bit muddy from the rain but it's gritty and drains well, and we simply ended up with a bit of red mud caked on our boots.

At 100 minutes war I gave my bunny round to Timur, mostly as an incentive to make a new one. It needed some repair anyway. It turns out that might have been a mistake, for reasons discussed below. But the result was that I didn't have my shield. I'd brought my buckler and some extra weapons, but I was not there to train for anything.

I fought against Ervald (and his polearm) using Timur's 24" round shield. Then I fought the same way vs. Gil. This was particularly fun, because I just naturally fell into classic Bellatrix style and then decided that I would stay there. I kept reminding myself not to through any whippy one/two combinations or molinees and to stay in the Paul high guard form. It was a blast. It was especially fun against Gil, who was using his heater for some reason. I killed him with a straight up rising snap, a hook/thrust, and from my knees with a shield press followed by a slot shot as he over-recovered. Classic stuff. I fought a couple fights with bill but the strap broke on that shield, so I switched to sword and shortsword, which was fun. I borrowed Ervald's polearm so I could get some fights in with Timur. Then I fought a few fights with buckler against Gil and taught him about misdirection (after he took my leg I looked at his leg three times then hit him in the head).

Working the polearm stuff was pretty cool. Ervald is mostly using a bayonet technique, with the butt-spike forward and the head, like a rifle butt, in the rear, and taking huge painful swings with the head at people's armpits. It's not a style that I like very much. I don't think it's particularly effective. I taught the basic (my basic) techniques to Timur and, as always, he picked them up right away. He's a sponge. But he looked best when using the 24" round, once I got him to keep his elbow back. He's got a really good form for that style.

It was windy and a bit cold but fun. It might well be my last practice of the season--I think I'm busy the next two Tuesdays. Another result is that I decided not to go to the gym today since I fought last night. Probably not a great decision, but I'll live with it.

Monday, November 19, 2007


Sometimes the pain is the thing we love.....

100 Minutes war was this weekend and it was great, as always. It's a 100 minute resurrection battle. They hold a single-elim speed tourney among the unbelted fighters to start out with. The two finalists are tema captains and the winner of the finals gets to pick first. They pick by units, not individuals. Tzeitchel Gaida von Halstern won the tourney and we (Serpentius and others) with Von Halstern, (natch) and ICOD. Gunther was the other commander and had Blood guard, VDK, and the rest of the Norhter Region Army on his side. There were just over 150 fighters. It was a bean cunting war and there were over 3,000 kills total (which only averages 20 over a 100 minute period, which isn't much). We one by right around 300 kills.

I did not die 20 times. I died fewer than ten times. But the last time I died I really got my bell rung. They called "ten seconds left) and I charged, with my polearm, right into VDK and I got masacred.

I got a lot of kills with the whort polearm. Mostly, as usual, on breakthroughs. But I assisted on quite a few spear kills by pinning sweeping people spears down and letting Cian or Darius gack them. I had a couple of memmorable kills and two rather memorable deaths--both from polearm, one from Balfar and one from Lucan. The one from Lucan was great because I saw it coming and could do nothing to stop it. He came from my left, killed the shieldman next to me, which I caught out of the corner of my eye, and then killed me with the same shot. I couldnt' do anything to block it becuse I was too busy bloking the two spears in front of me. I got to look right into his eyse as he burried his partisan in my helm--actually, quite a scary sight. I'll remember that one for awhile. Balfar just schooled me when we ended up together on one end of the line. He looked at me, waited a beat, then cut me straight down the middle of my forehead. It was like being dissmissed. "Bang! I'm done with this guy."

But on the whole I had a really good day. Some great fighting and some good kills.

But to me the most amusing thing was when I was on the end of our line with ICOD. We had Gregor, Kelson, and Stephan with us. Having stephan is kind of like having a chain gun. He has no fear. Every once in awhile we just launch him at the opposing line and he kills four or five guys in rapid fire and then gets killed himself and goes to resurrect. He had better than a five to one kill ratio, which for a sword and shield guy is great in those battles. It's a good use of resources.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Requiem for "The Western Way"

The other day I made a joke to Ben that led to a long discussion about shield sizes. I was referencing something Ben had once said to me about Radnor, that when Radnor came home from from Pennsic last year after seeing all the big shields in use he was scandalized and asked "how can we preserve the Western Way of fighting." Now a bit of clarification is in order. Like most Western fighters of my generation Radnor is the fighter I always wanted to be. He's my idol. He is far and above the best fighter I've ever seen. He won every tournament he entered over a twenty year period. He is also the most elegant fighter I've ever seen and possibly the finest knight. Watching Radnor was like watching Joe Montana play football or Michael Jordan play basketball. The things he was able to do were so far above what everybody else was doing that it was beautiful to watch.

Anyway, Radnor is also the pope of the small shield church. When he says "the Western Way" he means in part fighting an offensive style of fighting with small shields. Small shields in this case mean nothing larger than a chin to crotch heater (which Radnor considers too big for himself, but ok for others). Radnor had taken the 24" round used by Duke Paul and andded corners to it so it looked more knightly and this was his shield. Later he cut it down to 22" and then to 18". Now, due to a bicep injury, he uses a "shattered lance" which is the bottom end of a heavy jousting lance about 40" long--basically a stick (not a madu).

In the beginning of the SCA, particularly after Pennsic 6, Western fighters had a rep for winning most of the interkingdom tourneys (and also for higher calibration). This was mostly because the West had started first and because the West had Duke Paul, who was not only the top fighter of his day but developed the most complete fighting system in the SCA (still to this date). At Pennsic 6 Paul, Lucky, Houghton, MacEnruig (I think that's the list) came out and trounced everybody. According to Gyrth Oldcastle, Paul lost only one bout that entire war, and the Westerners prompted most other kingdoms to change the way they fought and trained. First Pual, then Radnor, then Jade (all of whom used 24" shields) were considered the most dangerous fighters in the SCA. There might have been a year or two when Radnor wasn't fighting and Jade hadn't come on that Torgul from An tir was the best fighter in the SCA. But as Radnor said back in 1992 "Once upon a time you could take the top ten fighters from any kingdom, put them in a list, and the winner would always be a Westerner. That is probably still true. But if you took the top two fighters from every kingdom in a list and put them in a list the winner could be anybody."

Now the rest of the known world has caught up to and surpassed the West. And most of them have done so using (by Western standards) huge shields and fighting a defensive style that is anathema to old Westerners like Radnor (and me).

I have heard a number of different definitions of what a proper shield size is. Paul preferred a 24" round, Radnor and 24" rounded heater. The ideal measurements were based on your torso. A shield should be no longer than chin to crotch (or inseam, which on an ideally proportioned person should be the same thing). The standard for roundshields was kind of ridiculous. They should be no longer than twice the length of your forearm, or two cubits, giving roundshields a lot of advantages. One standard I saw was that the shield could be two cubits in the longest dimension, meaning that as the shield got narrower it could get longer but a roundshield was the bi9ggest shield you could have. I'm 6'3" with 16" long forearms. Twice that is 32". So I could have a kite shield 32" long but a heater that was 24" wide could only be 29.6" long. That standard never really caught hold. I think it's because it required knights to do complex math. In CAID when I lived there the standard was written into law. At armor inspection you held your shield up to your body to prove that it was smaller than shoulder to shoulder and chin to crotch in armor (so if you had wide shoulder armor you got a wider shield). They also weighed you weapons and shield with a fish scale to prove they met a minimum weight.

This is why on the West coast you hear people talk about a difference between tourney shields and war shields (you could use big shields in wars-that was ok). Anybody who used a shield bigger than these dimensions in a tournament was considered unchivalrous and cowardly. My shield actually fell into the shoulder to shoulder chin to crotch rule--it was 24" wide and 34" long (I stradled it to make sure it was correct) but I was told it was unchivalrous anyway. Only one knight--Duke Rolf, used a long kite shield back then (same size he uses now).

But now you have a number of Western knights using big kite or heater shields and Radnor is despairing the loss of the Western Way of fighting.

When I made the joke to Ben I was just trying to be funny. But I didn't realize how the issue effected him personally. When he came out to the West and squired to Uther he went from his Eastern style shield, 24" x 36" to a 24" square. Now, following his knight's example, he's gone back to it. He's winning a lot of fights and he's catching a lot of shit from Westerners who think he's being chickeshit. So when I made my joke he took it personally and I don't blame him. I'm also sorry. We got into a long discussion over the relative values of the big shield versus the little shield but there was a paradigm block in the way. He makes some really valid points about many people not being able to generate power if they are moving as much as you have to move to use a small shield. To Ben, who started fighting out here in the East, using a 24" shield is handicapping yourself, because big shields are his norm. To someone who started fighting in the West, particularly in the 70s or 80s just the opposite is true. You are not handicapping yourself with a small shield you are being unchivalrous with a big shield. *I* don't feel that way, especially since moving to the East and meeting many fine and chivalrous fighters who use big shields. I still don't like them or the style they come with, but I don't think they are unchivalrous. But that is the prevailing feeling among fighters on the West Coast. As we traded emails I realized that Ben was not taking it as a joke. He got very defensive and I realized later why.

Two years ago at Duke Jade's suggestion I went back to fighting with a half round and have stuck with it. I loose my leg more but I seem to be winning more fights. But I'm going one day to go to a long Norman kite. I just want to try it out (and maybe I'll finally win another crown).

I've said this before but I want to say it here: perhaps the Western Way doesn't deserve to be saved. *I* love it. It's the most beautiful, powerful, elegant form of fighting I've ever seen, and it is also the most fun fight. I also think it is a much higher form of the art. But my opinion doesn't matter for shit (unless I'm king). The worst thing you can do as a knight--other than cheat--is to whine about your opponent. That is especially true if you are whining about his equipment. I should be able to take my best game and beat him at his best game. If his best game uses a 36" or even 40" shield then so be it. It's me vs. him and let the best man win.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

McCaren Fighting Video

We shot a lot of video at the McCaren Park practice before last crown. I'm posting one of the longer vids of me fighting Gil here. I find it interesting. First off I can see that I look slow. I'm not trowing rapid fire combinations at all: I'm trying to pick my shots. Not a bad thing really, just an observation. I was purposely changing up my technique in this exchange. I start out using a counter-punching technique a-la Hauoc. I then go into an offensive style using a few of Radnor's shots. I employ a bit of Connor's squared up style but get away from it quickly, and I use a lot aggressive thrust and cut with very offensive shield work, stuff I learned from Jade. Against Gil it was pretty effective. But I can see where, going into Crown last weekend, I was still very unsettled as to what I was doing. Once again, like Jade says, I'm trying too many things and not getting good at one of them--even though I've been sticking with the half-round as he advised to get away from just that problem.

I can also see one reason why my fighting got better. It's not just that I'd lost weight or that I'm using better thrusts or that the half-round improves my visibility and movement: it's that it also improves my offensive shield work, which I need to help me deal with the preferred shield sizes on this coast.

Monday, November 5, 2007

More on Fall Crown

Liam St. Liam shot 417 photos of Fall Crown, including some great shots of the finals. They're located on his flikr page.

Here are a couple he took of me.

I never realized my eyes look so sleepy when I fight--or maybe I *was* asleep and that's why I was so off .

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Eastern Crown Results

Tracy called it the night before. She called Thorsen and Conrad in the finals with Conrad winning. After King’s champion I was pretty sure Conrad would be the guy to beat. After Crusades I was pretty sure Thorsen wanted it bad. Tracy didn’t think Throsen was that keyed up but she was very wrong. I’m also positive that if finals had been fought in the traditional East kingdom manner, with five fights with different weapons forms, that Thorsen would have won. But Ice doesn’t like that finals form much, and the last few crowns have mostly been fought with a best two out of three final with sword and shield. That’s the way he’d had Darius and I fight finals at King’s Championship. For mee it’s like home, but in the East it causes angst.

From my own perspective: not a bad crown really, but not what I had been looking forward to. Time was not to long ago I would have been happy with five rounds. It meant I’d won more fights then I lost. In this case I killed a couple of knights as well, which is the second benchmark I look for. But for all that I was disappointed.

I warmed up with Conrad and I was fighting him very well. I had pop to my blows and my defense was pretty good. I certainly wasn’t beating him. I killed him once and I took his arm once (which he was taking as a kill, so I guess that’s twice). I did slow work with Dietrich and felt pretty good. Had a couple more warm ups but definitely didn’t over do it. I felt good.

Damien von Drachenklaue challenged me first round. He was probably the one person I didn’t want to challenge me. He’s a really tough fight for me and I knew he was really disappointed when he lost to me at King’s Championship. He kind of had a hard-on for my hide and I knew it. And he’s tough. Our fight was a slug fest which eventually I lost. I’m told it was a bit ugly on my part. You might want to ask Damien about it if you get a chance. He told me he was happy and didn’t think I was blowing his shots off. He said it not just to me but to Artos as well, so I’m hoping he wasn’t just blowing smoke up my ass because I’m a knight. What he was doing was throwing a lot of high shots trying to get them over my shield that he was throwing with all arm and that were glancing off the top of my helm, and they didn’t hit hard at all. That was his interpretation too. The big problem from my perspective is that I let him take my leg because I got flustered when I thought I’d hit him and he called it low. I stopped to look at the target (he wears his knees under pants). I paused—much like the way I did against Max in the last crown. It was amental mistake that cost me. The other thing that bugged me is that I didn’t land the hook-thrust harder. I hit him square in the chest, but he wears lamellar and sometimes you have to hit that a bit harder than you do mail or leather. I should have cranked it up a bit. Anyway. He couldn’t get over my shield effectively so he started thrusting underneath it. Eventually he hit me in the cup. I asked Andreas what he thought and he said it looked rough. I asked him what he’d like me to do. He told me to just keep it in mind. Of course once that happens my fighting goes south in a hurry.

My second round fight was against William Raven Hair, who I later learned had had a family crisis that week. He was not into it at all. I took both his arms in very short order.

My third fight was against Sir Yoshi. That was probably the most fun I had all day. He was fighting greatsword, as usual. I did what I always do. Got inside after his first strike, took his leg, then worked him until I hit him (in this case in his gut). I think I may have thrust him in the arm at some point as well. It was a great fight.

My next fight was against Allexander de Hautville, the SUV of the East. He’s about six foot seven and lots of muscle. He was one of Randall’s squires and fights with a huge coffin shield and, like Randal, if he takes your leg he’ll be all over you. As to be expected he took my leg. I was pretty lucky. He knocked me over once. I stayed alive just long enough to hit him with a thrust as he was coming in on me, same as I did with William at King’s Champion.

My last fight was against Antonio. We had a good long fight. But eventually he took my leg and, after that, I was dog meat. I’m usually pretty good against lefties when I’m on my knees, at least at staying alive for a long time. Not this time though. He kept coming in on a low like attack but I couldn’t hit him as he did so.

Afterward I went and did some pickups and I felt I was fighting ok.

I wish I had video. I’ve been told alternately that I was backing out, that I was off, and that I was slow. I had intentionally gone into every fight without a plan, because I didn’t want to over-think my fights and I ended up over-thinking my fights anyway. I felt totally relaxed ahead of time but I was not relaxed once the flag dropped. I was tight, I was putting too much pressure on myself and I was fighting not to loose. I didn’t really decide in most cases when to fight with aright foot lead and when to fight with a left foot lead (except against Antonio, because he’s a lefty). My recent debate with Ben regarding shields sizes and the disadvantages of the Spanish half round agaisnt big Eastern style shields was in the back of my head the whole day. I had a bit of mundane stress going. And, of course, when I start worrying about my calibration I always choke. In other words, my mind was all over the place. No excuses. Just trying to analyze why I fought as I did.

With all that other stuff analyzing my technique would be a waste of time.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

McCaren Park practice

Normally I don't fight the week before crown, but since I hadn't fought the week before and was feeling antsy I strapped my gear on anyway. It was a good practice not just for me but as a whole. we had five fighters in armor and got to do a lot of fun stuff. I figured three or four fights with three or four opponents--no newbies--and I should be fine. I say no newbies because they can be dangerous. Gil was nice enough to strap on a heater, with which he's better than he thinks he is, to give me some practice. So I got heater shield (Gil), leftie (Bill) and small round shield (TImur) to work against. When I got there Gil asked me what he could do and I said "Got any dukes in your pocket?"

Turns out there are only three royal peers on the list for crown, and only one's a duke (Darius). That doesn't make it easier, but it is kind of cool to be second in precedence in the list (Of course, that just means I'm older than Thorsen).

Lest you you think I'm obsessing about crown, well, I am, in the way I always do. It's what I enjoy most in the SCA is fighting in crown tourney. I'm not all hog wild to win (if I were I would have trained a lot harder), and I could easilly go out in two rounds, but Crown is what the SCA is really all about, so I'm looking forward to it the way I always do (I'm told I pace like a caged tiger waiting for work to end so I can leave for crown). I'm in good shape and I want to win, but the odds suggest that I won't: I've fought in seventy four crown tourneys and I've only won one of them. That's the worst success rate of any count in the SCA. :)