Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The past week has had a lot of activity in it and I am reaching the edge of my current ability to go on. My Achilles isn’t bad, really, but it is still bothering me after a very active weekend. I found that taping in helped a lot, and I have an appointment with a specialist tomorrow. We will see what he says.

My elbow feels great. It stiffened up on me a little bit over the weekend but never hurt. I will probably not fight 10 days in a row this Pennsic. I now have to worry about my Achilles tendon as well.

I have been working out like a madman. Last week I took a conditioning class, I went to the gym, I biked 20 miles, I ran 5k, and I fought at SRWC. That was a lot of work. I have been feeling it physically. After running on Friday my Achilles tendon really hurt, and I did not rest it over the weekend but instead fought both days. It still aches (though a long bike ride yesterday didn't help). I feel strong but I have not lost any weight. This week, because I have a race on Saturday, I have toned it down. I fought on Sunday and biked yesterday, but that will be it.

War camp was pretty light for me. There was a lot of running around, but not much else. I didn’t do any sword and shield work at all. In the open field battles I used the pole ax and in the town battles I used a spear. I didn’t fight in the bridge battles at all. I am an adequate spear man and pole fighter, and I got a few good kills. I always try to use the spear like a long rapier, and it is fairly effective. I was paying particular attention to the now standard two-inch tips and found that they definitely hit harder than the old three-inch tips. Every hit I took was harder than I am used to, and once I got gakked. Worse yet, I totally jacked someone up without meaning to. He was just a little closer than I expected him to be. I hit him with a normal powered shot, but I could tell as it landed that it was excessive. He was shocked at how hard I had hit him. The worst thing I noticed as a knight who had his cheek-plate driven into his face so that a marble-sized welt raised on his cheek-bone. This was in a well-made helmet on which the chin-strap remained intact. In the third open field battle I got run down by Max, and while backing away from him and throwing shots my Achilles started hurting. I left the field for the next battle and taped it up. After that it was ok, but achy the rest of the day. Needless to say I was not on top of my game.

The next day was the Riverdale Riverfest. The SCA had a big presence, with the very good Ostardr demo team showing off fiber arts, calligraphy, archery, armor making, and heavy fighting. We only had seven fighters for the first demo, but it went off well and drew a big crowd. Later some guys from Team USA, who were there to receive a certificate and a flag from the local congressman, put on a demo. I have said all along that, as cool as I find what they do and as much as I look forward to doing it myself, it could be a death-knell for the SCA. They drew twice the crowd at their demo that we drew to ours. What they did was exciting and flashy and loud. It wasn’t as technically interesting or as aesthetically pleasing, but nobody but a purist cares about that. What they do will draw some people away from the SCA. Those who want a more “real” experience will gravitate to BOTN, as will the fighters, many of the knights and dukes, who have advocated for years that the SCA go to a more period fighting style. Most of them will stay and play with us and fight at Pennsic, but their energies will be directed to BOTN. If we play it right it will help our membership, but it is a fine line to walk. They have a good product.  We had a brief fighting demo after the BOTN guys, and that was when I had the most fun. I fought mostly with the buckler. I got Tormundr with a classic counter-punch off a leg shot, and I even killed Louis when I was fighting short-sword and buckler versus his symphony of thrusting tips. At the end of the day we held a tournament for the unbelted fighters. The two BOTN fighters who were not knights fought in it, so we had six fighters competing in a round robin. Small tourneys are a good for demos, and those spectators that stayed enjoyed the show. Louis de Castillo won.

This Saturday is the Rugged Maniac 5k in Brooklyn. Although I will be at practice to teach tomorrow night I don’t plan on fighting again until possibly Monday in An Dubagghin. I am planning to compete in the King’s Champion tournament next weekend. It is 29 days till Pennsic. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

McCarren Park Practice, 6/14//12

I just realized that I haven't posted anything in two weeks! What a slacker I have been! I need to be more diligent here. It is Friday the Ides of June. We had a small practice last night. Really small, but it was useful and fun. We need more fighters.

It is hard to say where I am with this. My elbow stiffens up, it loosens. I do rehab, but I seem to have plateaued. On days when I lift my elbow complains. Sometimes it complains after I fight. I have an appointment with an arm specialist in July, mostly because I want to see an expert and have him say what i already know: that my body is in good shape but has been mightily abused and I have to nurse it along more. :)

I have been training for that 5K mudrace on the 30th, but not by running very much. My Achilles keeps me down (I have an appointment with a foot guy too: unfortunately, it's two days before the race). But I have been very good at working out. I got a one-month trial membership at New York Sports Club and have been taking their Total Body Conditioning classes. I went three times last week but only once this week. Other days I have been biking, doing a set of aerobics and a set of weights at the gym, yoga, or WODs--not the crossfit WOD but one I get from an I-Pad ap of the same name. Wednesdays, which I did, was tabata sets of standing broadjump, pushups, situps, and squats. Strained an oblique on the broadjumps, had to do crunches instead of situps, was totally wiped at the end of twelve minutes. Tuesday I missed workouts because I had a virus, but otherwise I've been working very hard. I log them all at Map My Fitness and post them to FaceBook.

Last week Gui and I showed up with armor, and the only other person there was a new fighter from Australia named Joe. He is a grad student, has his shit together, and has some martial arts experience. He's got a lot of potential. I taught him my kata, and a few basics about sword dynamics. Then Gui got into armor and let him hit him a few times.

Last night Gui wasn't feeling well and left his armor at home, but we actually got good training in with both Joe and Tormundr. the things we did demonstrate the difference between training a new fighter, even one with some martial arts experience, and one with experience.

I warmed up both Josh and Tormundr with stretches and swings and such. Then I worked with Joe. We ran through the Kata again a few times, and then I taught him about sword grips. There are two that I use: one is the Belatrix grip, where the sword his held in the crook of the thumb and with the pinkie, power is generated by closing the hand, and all direction changes come from curling the wrist. This works best with the belatrix style, which generates power from the hips with a tip-heavy sword but can be used with a pommel heavy sword as well. Then I showed him the Gendy grip. In this style you hold the sword with the thumb and fore-finger. You close the different fingers and move your elbow in different ways depending on the blow: close the pinkie while pulling the elbow across for a snap, the ring-finger pulling the elbow down for a leg shot, the middle finger, throwing the elbow up, for an off-side and the fore-finger, throwing the elbow out, for a wrap. This grip you can't use with a tip-heavy sword. I worked with him a few times on this.

During this period Gui worked with Tormundr on his power generation. After this I took over working with Tormundr and Gui started working with Joe. Gui is mostly a Gendy fighter and I am mostly a Belatrix fighter, so our styles are diametrically opposed, and the things I say to do he says not to do and vis-versa. This is a tough issue since we are the only two knights at practice, and he is the Viceroy and I am the Marshal. We need to work through this, but in twelve years (most of the first nine with Gendy himself involved) we have never been able to, other than to respect each other and say "I do it differently." (It helps that we are really good friends).

When I took over with Tormundr I didn't worry about grip or hips or power generation. He has been fighting long enough that he has all that worked out for himself. With him I can work on blow-placement, target recognition, distance, footwork, etc. Last night it was target recognition.

We started out doing slow work and then two passes of just fighting. Then we rested. After that I ran him through one of Sagan's attack drills, just to see where he was. The main part of the evening was doing a bit of Block/Strike and Trigger Drills. In Block/Strike, I would attack and he would parry and counter attack. Then we would re-set and do it again.  We did this at slow speed. For much of it, like Sagan used to do with me, I would throw the blow and just stop, waiting for him to figure out the best attack. In the trigger drill, which works the same, I showed him the principle of striking before the opening appears. I would move or start an attack, always opening a target as I did so, and he was supposed to recognize the target and throw at it on the first movement. The way I teach this is by starting with the walking attack. I step forward with my right foot, changing to a right-foot lead, and he is supposed to hit me in the leg. Most people don't register the opening until it appears, when the foot plants. Sagan and Gyrth taught that you trigger of the step, as soon as the back foot moves forward, so that the blow is landing as the foot plants. That is a much harder blow to defend. I then use the same principle for the the slot that opens when you start a blow from a hanging guard, the leg with I shift my shield corner up, the shoulder when i throw a wrap, and the off-side head when I start to throw an off-side body. The drill is a lot like Block/Strike, except that he is triggering off of my movement *as* I strike instead of counter my blow after it has landed. After that we did Paul's Offense/Defense drill with the attacker standing and the defender kneeling. This is the one where the defender has three blows to throw and the attacker is unlimited. Finally after that we did some more slow work and then just did some rock and roll. He showed marked improvement from the beginning of the evening to the end.

Cornelius von Beck from Lochac is one of the best trainers I know. Yesterday he posted a great blog about training drills, which includes the three drills above (under different names) plus a few more.  I've added his blog to the links section on the right.

I will be fighting at Southern Region War Camp next Saturday and at the Riverfest Demo in Riverdale next Sunday.

It is 41 days until Pennsic!

Friday, June 1, 2012

How to run a practice

A supplementary post! Because I am in the week between finals and summer session, I have time to write a second Blog post only one day after my last! Last night was our regular Thursday Night practice in McCarren Park. There were only three fighters there, myself, Gui, and Ervald. It was a case study in how to run a small practice. I normally don't like to fight if there are fewer than four fighters in armor, but I jumped in and decided that we would do some intense training instead of just hitting each other.

If you haven't read Duke Paul's manual on broadsword fighting, do so. It is the best thing written on our art. In it, among other things, Paul discusses elements of how to run a practice. Paul believes in training, not just bashing. Practice should be structured and rely primarily on drills, pell work, and slow work, both for better results and to reduce the chance of injury.

Among the many things Paul suggests is blocking/striking drills, rotating opponents, and ending practice with mellees so fighters can fulfill their lust for combat with a lower chance of injury and at the same time practice for war. Paul also said that fighters should not don armor until they had been doing un-armored practice consisting of slow work and pell work for a year, but nobody is willing to ggo through that (which is too bad, because I've seen the results from those who have taken Paul's training seriously). In private conversation (he said the best thing someone could do is to traing with him for one to two years and then go train with Sagan, which I so wish I could do!)

As discussed before, I often try to employ Pauul's training style--not just his techniques but his class structure--when I am teaching. Since I m the Canton marshal, this was my practice to run. Two of us are knights and all of us have been fighting for twenty years or more. We know what we are doing to some degree. We didn't need any basics classes. Slow work might have helped, but we were starting late and wanted to get to it.

We started with a simple rotation practice. Each of us fought the others to one blow, regardless if it was a killing or wounding blow. Once any blow was struck we rotated. We went though this rotation several times. The first time through is essentially a warmup, but after that it becomes a great singles practice. It is better than bashing the same opponent six or seven bouts in a row, because you keep moving (we got twoo fights, one rest) and you get into a fairly aggressive mind set.

After a break to talk to passers by (and there were a lot--this is a busy park in the hippest neighborhood in New York. We share space with two soccer matches, baseball, youth football practice and three kickball games) we did situational drills. The drill here was Paul's offense/defense drill with a twist. In this drill, one fighter has unlimited attacks and calls any good blows struck. The defender has only three blows (or combinations) and the drill is over once those three blows are struck (I like to save my blows and defend, just looking for any openings that my opponent gives me, as opposed to tying to create and opening). The twist was that the defender was on his knees and the attacker was standing. This was good work for both sides.

 Our third drill was a rock and roll drill. Both fighters started on their knees and the fight was over when *both* fighters had been struck three times. This might have been poor planning, since one fighter was Gui and it takes a lot to break his defense. He struck me five or six times before I struck him three, and his fight with Ervald went on forever.

We chatted some more with gawkers, who were cool. Ervald's lady showed up, so we had someone to explain what we were doing during the fighting. Props to Ervald. Gui and I were ready to quit but he, all eager and hyped up after his Battle of the Nations heroics, was ready to go. We did a normal set of passes with one another, like we would at any fighter practice, acting out wounds and resetting after killing blows. My mind-set in these was to fight like it was Crown Tourney, and I was pretty on by that point. These were great fights.

My endurance and strength are up from my current training regimen. Gui hit me twice in my shoulder, which will certainly bother me a bit. I got a bit sick from the pain. However, after working it out, ice and ibuprofen, it felt great this morning. My elbow never bothered me at all. By the end of the night Ervald had adopted a better defense and Gui was very crisp. I felt pretty good. I think more than anything it improved our defenses. Props to Ervald: anybody whho fought in Battle of the Nations has got my admiration as well as my respect, and he has been training so hard between that and Ju Jitsu that he is in awesome shape. For once it was him pushing Gui and I.

Here are the finals of Cynagua Coronet in which Sir Mari defeats Faerrghis. Both of them are good friends old house-hold-mates of mine. It was great to see.