Sunday, January 20, 2013

Beau Geste!

Ok, so the off season is about over and preseason is beginning, Asa indicated by the fact that we had a tournament yesterday. It was a reboot of our Beau Geste tournament, a monthly tournament inspired by the Crapaud tourney in the West. I picked up my sword and shield for the first time since crown. That I won was cool, but it was beastly hard, and I was the only knight in the list. We fought at Grant's Tomb, and it was a lot of fun.

Ip have not been doing specific rehab exercises on my elbow or Achilles lately. They both seem to have healed.

my workouts are the same as last post. I have been concentrating on strength training lately doing a tradition free weights workout. Y weekly goal is to be in the gym three times a week lifting weights, doing arms and shoulders one day, chest and back another, and legs and abs a third. I have not missed an arm day, I have only missed couple of chest and back days. I have missed a few legs days, but I make up for that with all the walking I do. Other days I walk, run, ride, or take classes. I still post all of this on FaceBook and at My workouts have been good. I press and curl 80 pounds in my workouts, and I have hit personal records in squats, bench press, and deadlifts. Soon however I will change over to more of a fitness versus strength workout, with cross fit ( even though I can't do a single pull up) and aerobics classes dominating, plus Yoga class at least once a week. Feeling good. Definitely stronger.

yesterday I won the Beau Geste tournament, which was a blast. I get a spiffy medallion to wear around for a month. There were seven fighters and the format was round robin, best two of three for each round. I advanced to finals without a loss, meaning I four twelve fights in the round robin. There were three lefties in the tourney and some really good unbelts. Because it was a tourney and I wanted some practice for Mudthaw, I fought with my regular sword and shield instead of buckler or greatsword.

I honestly can't remember exactly what I did in each fight. They all kind of ran together, but there were a few specific things I worked on that went well, and some at didn't, and there are some general observations. First, as I knew would be the case my blows are strong and my sword arm really didn't tire, but my shield arm did because nothing at the gym replicates holding and moving a shield. I definitely felt rusty and sloppy. Third, I still need to re hang shield, which I will do before I use it next. Fourth, although I am in good shape, I have been neglecting aerobics lately and need to get back to it.

Specifically, I worked on the technique I talked about in the last post, flashing the thrusting tip and then circling around it to close distance. It worked sometimes, not because people focused on it and not on me, but because people defended themselves and blinded themselves with their shield. Most of the time however they just backed away (a lot of people run away in this kingdom).

I had some trouble mentally staying in sword forward guard, which is how I had been wining tournaments the last few years. I kept going back to old school Bellatrix form reflexively. Need to stop that.

Need a lot more helmet time with sword and shield.

Twice I followed the fake thrust and hit took the leg.

There is a very good young filter named Zach who has a great counter to a face thrust or a snap. It just come behind at an angle, but he times it very well. He killed three people with it and it nearly worked on me. I caught a bit with my basket hilt and the angle changed as a result.

Tormundr is taller than me, and he throws that high off side and the high snap really well. He killed me with snap in warm ups. I should remember the thumb lead offside against lefties, like Duke Anton throws.

Even though I went through cleanly, the finals were a real chore. Agrippa/Landon, who is still the hardest hitter around here, made it to the finals against me and we had some drag out brawls. The first was a single sword fight where we double killed, and that one hurt (as did the two times he hit me in the leg but he is why I wear Kydex). Our second fight I won but I don't really know how. Our third fight I lost. After a long break for a single sword meat grinder, I had my best fight of the day. It took three, maybe it was four blows. I faked high and he tilted his shield out and I took his leg. I through an off side, sword blocked, and threw a molinee at his head that killed him. That was that.

It was a good day and I get a cool medallion, but I have a lot of work to do.

It is six days until Birka, but I will not be going.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Art of Deception

What makes Duke Radnor the best fighter I have ever seen was not just the speed, the flexibility, the technique, or the number of fights we won. What separates Radnor from other people who were fast and strong and flexible is that, even now, he has all those qualities together. But he has something else: he has perception that leads to deception. He can read an opponent better than anybody. As he put it "we wait for our opponent to tell how how he wants to be killed." He is more than just a counter-puncher, however. At the height of his game, in the 80s and 90s when he was putting together his streak, SCA combat was transitioning from an active offense that built opening to a counter punching offense that waited for them, and while Radnor was the master of the misdirection fake, there was a mental component to his game that is harder to explain. He could get you to look away from his sword and then hit you. Some of the things he told me over time were.

  • Always break a pattern on the third (or fourth) pass. 
  • Strike through the transition window, when your opponent's mind has cycled off of defense
  • All fights are won in between beats (on the upbeat)
  • You can win a fight before you swing a bow, before the lay on, before you take the field
  • You can think a guy to death
  • Hit him when he's not looking
This last one was the trickiest (not the Jedi mind trick of thinking someone to death, which simply involved visualizing hitting him in the leg and then not doing so, hitting him in the head instead. It is shocking how often that will work on newer fighters). It involved the art of deception, a kind of slight-of-hand that is baffling even to people in the gallery. 

This very cool article in the New Yorker about Master Pickpocket Apollo Robbins helps explain why.  Pickpockets are slight of hand artists who use many of the same techniques as other magicians. They attract your attention to a spot and then do something elsewhere. You miss it because you have focused on where the action is not. Radnor had a few techniques that worked this way. He would shimmy his hips and then throw a blow (once we were fighting on a children's playground plank bridge, and what he was doing to us all was comical. His shimmy would shake the whole bridge, and as we looked to our feet he'd hit us). My foot stomp, where I begin an exaggerated rising snap, lift my foot high, and throw the blow as I stomp on the ground, comes from Radnor by way of Rolf. It was an edge technique in the pre-low-profile days, but Duke Edric from CAID has turned that into a wicked thrust. I learned from Radnor a trick to play on a guy who has been legged: float the tip of your sword in a downward arc in front of his face and then tap the ground and shoot up for his helm with the edge. Maybe thirty percent of all fighters will watch that tip as it heads for the ground, and the direction change will catch them off guard. I also use several techniques to lull my opponent into a rhythm and then changing it, from switching from fast counter hip returns to slower teardrop returns, to striking as I inhale instead of as I exhale (usually accompanied by an in-time movement of my sword that I break out of). My favorite of these techniques I have described here before: Radnor was King of the West and went to West/CAID war (this was in that two decade period when he won every tournament he entered). He hadn't brought his shield because it was a war, but it turned out that there was a prize tourney, so he entered fighting with two swords. He ended up in the finals against a really good short-sword fighter from the Outlands who had taken out Guy of Castle Kirk in the semi finals. At the lay on Radnor threw his regular three direction change leg shot that he used as a sword and shield technique. The guy went to his knees and Radnor stood there in a left foot lead. He drew himself up to his full height and raised both his swords up to a cocked position above his shoulders, a la Bellatrix (What we used to call his incredible inflating Duke trick). When he reached his locked and loaded position he wiggled his left heel, just an inch either way, and the poor guy on his knees stared right at Radnor's toe. Boom. 

All of this is just an elaborate version of Duke Rolf saying to Robert Kynslayer "Rob, your cuise is unbuckled."

This is the kind of thing Apollo Robbins is talking about. Read his description of closing distance on someone without making them nervous: 

“'If I come at you head-on, like this,' he said, stepping forward, 'I’m going to run into that bubble of your personal space very quickly, and that’s going to make you uncomfortable.' He took a step back. 'So, what I do is I give you a point of focus, say a coin. Then I break eye contact by looking down, and I pivot around the point of focus, stepping forward in an arc, or a semicircle, till I’m in your space.'” 

Now imagine that the point of focus, instead of a coin, is a thrusting tip. He talks about hiding an action behind a newspaper, when you can also hide one behind a shield. Most importantly, he talks about making someone believe they are in control when you are controlling them (watch the video). Neuroscientists have started working with Robbins on studying how attention works. Radnor could teach them a thing or two. 
Read the article, and then read some of the stuff on attention and cognition (and pick-pocketing).  According to Sir Artos, Radnor's transition windows technique was based on something he'd once read about cognition, as was his rule of three. I still don't know why the Jedi mind trick worked.