Sunday, July 15, 2012

What to teach first

been working hard with the Indian clubs and the Thera-band. Achilles doesn't ache much but that is mostly because I am not running at all. It is definitely better but still Swollen. I remember this taking about a year to heal. Days with lots of walking hurt after awhile. Elbow also feels a little stiff. That is from the Rehab work. Taking that easy.

Monday was Yoga class. Thursday was kettle bell, Indian clubs, a long bike ride, and then teaching and demonstrating at fighter practice. I was shredded. Saturday I noodled around on the bike, did Indian clubs and some pretty intense yoga. Light week.

I didn't, but i did have two brand new fighters at practice to train.

I have written an SCA fechtbuch which at some point I must typeset and distribute. I did it both for the experiment in pastiche (I am a postmodernist, after all), and because it forced me to think about my fighting and, more importantly, how to train fighters. The first thing you have to do in this project is decide which lesson comes first.

I was trained in the Western tradition, and like all Westerners I learned the Bellatrix snap before anything else. Paul of Bellatrix starts with the famous "soup exercise" in which you imagine serving a bowl of soup from your shoulder to just below your opponent's nose. This was my first lesson.

Hillary of Serendip was in charge of training fighters at the BART practice in those days. She started by having people swing the sword back and forth, the empty hand mirroring it, paying attention to the point at which it naturally turns over in your hand, and your swings become wider until you bring the sword up to rest on your shoulder.

Gendy, who was more concerned with how the sword moved even than Bellatrix, and was probably a better pure swordsman, was not interested in teaching that as the first lesson. He starts people off with the pipe exercise, which is designed to build up people's forearms so they can do all that fast blade work that he teaches.

Of course in period they were more interested in defense than offense. Once you got past the wrestling (which is the basis of both Medieval and Bellatrix technique) they were concerned with wards and parties. It is a good place to start.

I read one period manual in which the first lesson was the proper way to draw your sword.

Somewhat along that line, I tend to start with the salute. It is where the fight begins, and so it is where training should begin as well. The first thing we learned in Judo was how to bow. Radnor taught me that the fight begins long before the lay on. You can win a fight from the way you step onto the field. Everything you do should be calculated to unease your opponent, or at least to put him on his heels. The most important part of this is the salute. Most people don't give any thought to their salutes. They just raise the sword in the general direction of their opponents and then wait for the lay on. Then they come on guard, again without thought or determination.
Radnor's salute is very strong and direct. Every part of it is designed to prepare him for the fight, to take over the space, and to dominate his opponent. He stands with his sword foot forward, his body in profile to his opponent, his head turned to look him square in the eye. When the salute is called for, the Duke points his sword directly at his opponent (at times he will point to the spot where he intends to strike). He draws the sword straight back to his chest, breathing in as he does so to center himself and focus. Next he brings his sword around to his shoulder in a sweeping, circular motion, essentially drawing a circle around himself and cutting himself off from all distractions and all things outside the fight. As he does this, he steps forward into the en garde position (if he is fighting sword foot forward he can take two steps). Before the lay on is called he is already moving forward to attack his opponent. It can be disturbing. This is the salute I use. I have more than once won fights using that salute, before a blow was struck. This is the first lesson: how to salute and come on guard. It teaches a number of important lessons, the most important of which is Always Be Closing.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Three in one

This is long because it is actually three post in one. So much happened last week and I didn't have time to keep up with it all, so I am throwing it all in now. I practiced at the monthly regional practice in Philly, I had a long sword lesson, and I fought in King's and Queen's Armored Championships: busy, busy, busy!

First the preliminaries:

My elbow is doing fine. I have been doing my exercises and they work. The elbow barely bothered me this week, and considering that I fought three times (if you count the lesson, which wasn't really fighting but did work my elbow out), that is great. However, sadly, I now need to start reporting on my Achilles, and I am just working out the rehab on that. I consulted with an ER doctor who has injured his Achilles and was once a world ranked tennis player, who also trains at the fencing salon I was at on Friday. He said everything the specialist told me is wrong (except for "no more running."), and that instead of calf raises I should be stretching it with a thera-band. Obviously, I need to get together with Gwenlian on this one.

The goal this week was recover from the race, which was not very well accomplished. However, there was working out. Sunday was a rest day, but on Monday I took a yoga class, which I had not done in a while. Tuesday I fought, always a good workout. Wednesday I rested because my Achilles ached. Thursday I went for a bike ride down to Coney Island, which is about 5.7 miles. There I found a Par course, one of my favorite ways to work out. I did all 18 stations (one I modified because the apparatus was hurried in the sand). That took half an hour. Then I rode home. Friday I had that long sword lesson, which was a good workout as well.

This was a fighting week!


TECHNIQUE: I was working on the hook thrust and perfecting my range, trying to stay right at the edge of my effective range. I also tried elliptical movements, like I used to use with a smaller shield, instead of just standing in a closed defense and sniping. There was a big experience gap among the fighters I worked with. There was one Duke and a bunch of mid-level unbelted fighters. Everything worked witht eh unbelted fighters and nothing worked against the Duke. Go figure.

FIGHTING: I had two other goals. The first was to do some small shield training with Omega's squire Joseph. He has gone to a very small heater, and he asked me to work with him on it. Now, this is a game I have played a lot. I love small shield fighting. I borrowed an 18 inch center grip round and played with him for awhile. I showed him my two setups (high open form, a la Bellatrix, and high closed form, sword foot forward, ala King Hauoc. I did not have time to discuss Gemini's three wards (which are those two plus squared up for in fighting). I also showed him my basic footwork patterns, which are the key to small shield the way I fight it. These are simple: I move perpendicular to the center line and throw shots to the side I am moving toward; I do passing steps on a 45 degree angle; and I do grapevine steps, the direction always starting from my forward foot. (I also incresare and decresare, but not much). Then I just showed him some fakes and combos that work well against small shields, so he will kno to watch out for them. I taught him to throw his sword into a fake and then attack out of the bind. It was good. I got to brrush up on my offensive skills (which is what small shield is really for) and fight some of the techniques I enjoy using the most.

The other reason I went down there was so I could work with Ice. He is the guy closest in build and age to me, though he is stronger; he is out of the same school, being Ron's grand-squire; he fights a similar style to mine, and he is a super-duke. I need more work with Ice (and even more with Ron).

We fought for awhile and I didn't kill him once. Only twice did I lay stick on him at all. He fights with a short stick but he shaves it to be tip heavy, planing the bottom half of the stick but leaving the top half round, so the weight is forward, and he advised me to do the same. He also said that I was better in my offensive fight than in my defensive fight, which is the opposite of what I have been working on and how I have been winning since I went to the heater. I did enjoy fighting with his sword. Even though it is lighter and a lot shorter (it is an inch shorter than my own current sword, which is short for me), it works like one of Bellatrix's swords. All the weight in front makes it easier to drop a killing shot in. What I noticed is that when he throws his money combo--off side body, on side head, off side leg or hip, he throws it all from in front of his head and he totally squares up.

The rest of my fights were fun. I fought three sword and shield guys and a florentine fighter. My ranging seemed to work well. Afterward and for the next day, my Achilles was killing me.

My friend Ken Mondschein is one of the only men I know who lives by his wits and his sword, which is quite an accomplishment (apologies to Njal the Bloodstained, from whom I stole that line). Ken played around in the SCA in Ostgardr for awhile but never really fit in. His brand of nerdy didn't match up with any of the standard SCA brands of nerdy (at least not those in Ostgardr). Instead he went off and got a Ph.D. in Medieval studies from Fordham, and studied historical fencing at Martinez Academy. He has become one of the top scholar/fencers in the country, publishing several translations of fechtbucher with reputable academic presses. He has also become a Prevot dEscrime, meaning he is certified to teach fencing (both classical and competition). He is an adjunct professor at a couple of colleges in Western Mass, and teaches fencing at the Higgins Armory and The Pioneer Valley Fencing Academy (which has a great facility). While the SCA game is not for him, he is a steel fighter and a jouster. He organizes the sessions I usually present in at Kalamazoo, and he and I are editing a series of proceedings. He still shows up to local SCA events and teaches at Pennsic, but he doesn't fight in our game.

One of his recent books is "The Art of the Two Handed Sword" an adaptation of Francesco Alfieri's 1653 treatise Lo Spadone. It is both a translation of the original and an interpolation, adapting Alfieri's techniques to modern fencing instruction. He gave me a brief, half hour class in what he is currently working on, and this was the approach he took. It was very much a modern lesson but with period weapon and technique.

The class consisted of a series of exercises that formed a game. They incorporated footwork drills and trigger drills I had done in the SCA for sword and shield and in other HEMA classes. The footwork was simply distance work, and we did this without weapons. One of use would initiate a movement and the other one would respond, and the goal was always to stay right at the edge of our range. We could use either gathering steps or passing steps. The second part involved weapons. We used the French style 3/4" batons (though ours were made of rattan), and wore standard fencing asks and jackets. I had added elbow pads. His mask is a HEMA mas, built kind of like a Kendo helmet. We advanced in and out of range and struck each other on the helmet. He would set up a trigger for me, where I would stand in long point and strike his helmet when he dropped his sword. The key was to strike in a single tempo, not cock and then strike. This progressed to side of the head and body strikes in the same manner. As with Fiore and Marc d'Arundel, I could only strike to one side if I had stepped to that side. I could not pass forward on the right and then strike to my left. Then we worked on parries and ripostes. He would strike at mike head and I would deflect his cut, step off line, and cut his head in a circular motion. Then we progressed to the actual game. If he stepped back I could initiate an attack. If he stepped forward I could feint an attack and then strike somewhere else. I always had to keep at the edge of my effective range except when parrying. It was a lot to remember. Even though I had done exercises like this with sword and shield I had not done it often with long sword. I had trouble keeping my footwork and handwork together. Even though it took me out of my comfort zone and the types of things I normally do with longsword, it was very good drilling.

I had been looking forward to this for awhile. I almost blew it off because of my Achilles, but I needed to go up to see Ken anyway, and I really wanted to test myself. I felt I had been on an upswing in my fighting but that at Roses I had back-slid a bit, and I wanted to put myself to the test. I failed, at least on the primary level that I did not fight as well as I thought I should have. There were only two knights in the list, I certainly should have finaled, but I did not. I had some good fights but far below what I expect of myself in terms of effectiveness and skill. I was losing fights in my primary form. However, I fought honorably and had fun, which is the best thing to do.

I also wanted to fight because of the cool format. They started with four, single elimination Atlantian style speed tournaments, one right after another: sword and shield, then two weapon, then great sword, then polearm. I taped up my ankle really good and went out to play. I determined to fight in all four of the lists. It was EXTREMELY hot, with Pennsic style humidity. I was drenched after my warmup and was sucking water all day long. My endurance felt good, but the heat got to me at least twice. My ankle was hurting by the third fight, and I was limping most of the day. It really effected my footwork. However, the tape worked in that I didn't hurt much that night at all, and I am walking normally today.

My best work was in the Sword and Shield list, naturally. I don't remember who my first fight was. I fought two of the best unbelted fighters in the kingdom, Damien von Drackenclau and Marcus Blackheart. I have had a lot of fights with Damien over the years, and I think he has gotten the better of me most of the time. This time he took my leg but I killed him with a wavy rising snap, slipping it past that missing corner of his kite. He got me back when he beat me in the greatsword list. Both were really fun fights. Marcus I one-shotted with the same shot. I had seen that he set up with his sword held out to the side and knew he'd be susceptible to a rising snap. As it wa,s he went for a leg shot, and I stepped off line to the right, so I hit him in the back of the head with a snap (a rare feat).

I then fought Edward's squire Mathias, whom I beat with a thrust.

I won one two weapon fight and one great sword fight, but not a polearm fight. Only Wulfier of Stonemarch advanced out of more than one list (giving him a bye in the double elim portion).

The second part of the tourney was a double elimination tourney with each round being fought two out of three. The first fight the fighter with the higher order of precedence picked the weapon style, the second fight the other fighter picked. If there was a third fight they picked from a pile of Saxon themed weapons.

My first fight was against Cullwyn. I picked sword and shield. I noticed that his shield and sword were floating out, so I killed him with a body thrust. He picked sword and shield again for our second fight, and  killed him with a hook thrust.

My next fight I drew Evaldr. He and I had already nine times in three tourneys in the last year (counting the bye fight we had at Roses). I picked sword and shield. We had a great fight in which he finally took my leg and then beat me. Then we fought polearm. That was also a really good fight until I tried to switch up and knock his polearm aside with the butt of mine, but I didn't move offline and he gakked me. One of the spectators said he could smell the burning rattan, we were both so fierce.

Then I drew Mathias again. Even though I had beaten him handily, or more likely because of it, I had nothing for him this time. He took my leg, crowded me (I fell over a couple of times) and eventually pounded me like a tent peg. When he chose greatsword I felt like I still had a chance, but I hit a wall and had nothing for him. My focus was completely gone.

Brennan (who took me out of the two weapon list) eventually beat Evaldr in the finals. The other knights were teasing me and Sir Collin that we hadn't made it to semis.

It was a great fun list and I learned a lot. I already knew that I don't do well in heat and that it effects my focus, but what I learned is that that shows up in my usual best attribute, my footwork. Damien, Mathias, and Evaldr all took my leg, and I only survived Damien with a trick shot. I am using a 36" heater partially for better leg defense, but it isn't working because I am getting my feet out of position or not using them consciously. (I also have the shield strapped a bit high so it will work better goofy foot, which is how I usually start out these days). I am squaring up way too much, and it cost me the two most important fights of the day. I also already knew that with my Achilles aching I can't fight on the balls of my feet, and my lateral movement suffers, which I am sure had to do with it. Simple techniques, like stepping off line before passing forward in the polearm fight, were lost on me. Once again, some people took my thrusts but in crucial situations other people did not. I felt that my second shot in any combination was coming half a beat too slow. Pell work will fix this.

Due to my Achilles injury, I will not be fighting again until Pennsic, likely not until the Chivalry challenge after Opening ceremonies, maybe not until the town battle. This will give me a full four weeks rest. I will not be running again for several months. It will be yoga and cycling for awhile, but that has always been the best thing for me anyway.

It is seventeen days until Pennsic.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Western Crown

No, I did NOT fight in Western Crown. It is the first June Crown I have missed since 1999, but I fought in March, when the air fares were lower. It is too bad, because I think I would have done pretty well. This post is to talk about a few issues that came out of crown--not with the fighting, which was from what I've heard great, but with the format. And it talks about some other stuff.

I continue to rehab my elbow with strong results. It still twinges from time to time, but is pretty strong. It gets better every day. I can't say enough about how useful the flexbar is in my rehab, nor about the value of Indian clubs. On Thursday I saw a specialist about my Achilles tendon. He said that my running days are probably numbered. I have torn it slightly multiple times and scar tissue has weakened. it. He told me to do what I have been doing--calf raises to strengthen it and tape it before I do anything with it. 

Last week I was heading into my race, so I didn't work out much. I stretched, went on one long bike ride,a and that was it. The race, however, was AWESOME! i certainly wasn't fast--I ran it in 51:25.3. However, I was pretty strong. I ran between the obstacles. I didn't skip any of them. I pushed myself hard. I even ran in the part where they made us carry a tire up over a hill twice. My knees are all scraped to hell and I was pretty winded. The long stretch on the tarmac was truly a killer: but I finished and felt great. It was good to have a goal, good to train for something, and really good to accomplish it. It wasn't a monumental task by any stretch (a 10K or 12K would have been a real challenge), but it was hard and I did it! Yay me :) 

And with my ankle taped up I recovered very quickly.

I didn't fight this week, so I'm going to talk about Western Crown instead. Western Crown was fought in an odd format called "The Crucible". Essentially, it was a variation on the format used for La Prova Dura. There were 60 fighters in the lists. Like recent Eastern crowns it started out with four pools that were fought as round robins. The first twist was that fighters could enter who were not fighting for the crown itself. Their fights counted as non-destructive byes. Fourteen fighters entered the lists without fighting for the crown. This created a situation where top-level fighers, who always want to fight, could enter the lists without intending to win, and this is what happened. Among those fighting but not competing were the only dukes in the list, Brand, and Prince Loy of the Mists. The second twist was that the second part of the list was not an elimination list. Eight people (not sixteen) were advanced to the second round and they ALSO fought a round robin. The idea was that the top two from this would go to finals. 

But it didn't work out that way. First there was a three-way tie for the last spot in the round of eight, which had to be fought as a round robin. Then there was a four-way tie at the end of the round of eight, so they had to fight a four man round robin to get down to two fighters. The fighters liked it drove the lists people crazy! Not only did they not have enough support staff but they almost didn't finish by dark, and this was June! It would probably be better in the future if they were to not do full honors after the first bout (but keep the challenge round), and do a double elimination list with sixteen fighters after the round robin. 

The result of the whole things was very interesting. The presence of dukes in the list but not fighting for the crown made it appear to be a very light list. The only count in the tourney advanced, as did some of the usual suspects, but other fighters in the final eight were real surprises (pleasant surprises: we were following the lists via twitter on our way home from war camp, and when I heard Robert of Woodsende had advanced I was elated). 

The end result was unusual too. Frankly, this looked like a coronet final, not a crown final. It included two knights, neither of them royal peers, both of whom had recently moved to the West. This indicates, among other things, that the mid-level Western fighters are lagging behind the rest of the known world, or it could be that Yost and Roger just had great days. They both fight a big shield defensive counter punching style, not popular in the West. But it is also really odd for a Western king not to have reigned as Prince first--the last one was Stephen of Belatrix twenty years ago. A few Western knights were complaining that the finals looked boring and ugly because both fighters used large heater shields and a sword forward style, which once upon a time would have earned universal scorn in the West. That defensive style is effective, particularly among mid level fighters, but people like King Hauoc with his tiny tiny heater (to cover his extremely long legs) represent how the old West sees itself. There is rending of garments and gnashing of teeth over how low the quality of Western fighting has sunk.  (since I fight this way now, like an Easterner, I don't subscribe to that Western prejudice anymore)

Below is the finals between Yost and Roger. It is from Viscountess Aeschine's YouTube channel, which has lots of videos from the tourney posted (and other good fighting videos as well). It looks fun and honorable, and I would have been happy with either of them winning--I always like to see new blood on the thrones. (In fact, I would have been happy with any of the final eight) Congratulations Roger and Zanobia!