Monday, January 27, 2014

Market Day At Birka!

Oh, my God I am so sore! I have a bruise the size of a dinner plate and the shade of a New Mexico sunset on my left ham, another bruise, the same size but not as colorful, on my right thigh, and everything from my shoulders down to my fingers is tired—especially my forearms. It is that deep tired I just fought hard ache, but I also fought a lot.

If you’ve never been to the tournament at the Market Day at Birka, it is the most fighting you get in in one day anywhere. It is a three hour holmgang/bear pit with ten 10x10 fields (step out you lose your leg, step out with both feet you are dead). Each fighter is given a number. Fighters line up and are fed in to a field to fight the fighter already there (who has just won the previous fight). They fight, and the losing fighter reports to the lists minister with his own number and that of the fighter who won (“107 beat 71”). The winner gets two points, the loser gets one point. Then the loser gets back in line and cycles through again (or takes his or her helmet off to rest). This year there were 144 fighters. In three hours they fought a total of 3,101 fights, an average of 17.23 fights a minute.

And *I* thought it would be a good idea to go back to gamboissed cuises for this event. HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!

Since last I typed, on December 19, I’ve logged 49 workouts, though many of those were short. These included a wicked 10 mile hike around a steep mountain course, and a three mile run in the smoggy Fresno County air, which was so bad that I ended up with a smoker’s cough. It’s included pell work and a few lifts, and every day so far this year I have done 50 pushups. I also went to Cali and Vegas, ate big rich meals, drank more than I normally do in a year, and turned 50 (yesterday).

Are you kidding? Birka is not about technique.

As I said, Birka is not about technique. It’s not about endurance or strength or training or victory. Birka is about fun—it’s about fighting until you just can’t fight anymore.

Fearing my own mortality (it’s true) and having only been in armor twice since Crown, I set myself on a pitch count. I promised to pop my helmet and rest as close to the finish of every 5th fight as possible. If I cycled through the line with five losses I would stop and rest. If I lost two bouts but then on my third time through I had a run of three or five or fifteen, then I would rest. Then I’d go out for another round. It was a good policy. I wasn’t out to win, just to fight. If I had any goals, I wanted to make it all the way through and be fighting in the last group, and to fight more than 50 fights (which is not hard at Birka but was a bit symbolic). As it turned out I had a pretty good day.

The person who wins Birka is the person who wins his fights the quickest. You need to have long runs of one or two shot fights and get through lots of fighters quickly. That was my game 20 years ago, but today I fight defense and win after long fights in which I don’t throw a lot of shots. That was my first big issue.

I started out slowly. I was a bit rusty and it showed mostly in my focus. I’d win a fight, lose a fight, cycle through again. I found that I was thinking my fights too much. I’d get jumped while planning what to open with. I try not to think in my fights anymore. Not working. I also noticed there were certain people/styles that I was losing to, but since it was the styles I always find difficult—guys my height or taller, with kite shields that cover them from nose to knee, and who love to crowd you: in other words, the Northern Region—I just figured I was not doing too well.

In my first round I fought Breeder and really turned it on. He hit me in the leg and I felt a great shooting pain. Then he killed me. But it had been one of the most intense fights I’ve had in a long time and I felt very good about it. Then I took my break.

About midway through my third cycle I went on a good run. I killed a bunch of people in a row. I realized something interesting: the reason I was losing to the big guys was because I couldn’t retreat. I was locking them up and trying to beat them belly-to-belly. After that I did a little better.

At some point I killed Duke Edward. I kind of dissected him. He was using a center-grip kite. I took his leg. Then I threw a snap followed by a slot, and it almost killed him. I threw it again and this time he had it covered, moving his shield more to the center. Rule of 3: I threw the same snap, faked the slot shot, passed forward on the right, and hooked his shield. At this point he knew he was out of position and he ducked. I short-sticked him to the back of his helm and won the fight. In Birka winning a fight means about as much as it does in practice. For all I know I had been Edward’s 10th fight in a row. Often times, especially when legged, opponents will kind of give up so they can get out and rest a bit, because the real enemy in Birka is time. Still, killing Edward felt good, and a lot of stuff clicked. And that’s when I realized I wasn’t sucking at all. I was doing pretty well.

About half way through the second hour I started putting together some good long runs and I started killing some good fighters. Then I went on a really long run. I had a lot of luck in that one—I fought Breeder again and he rolled his ankle and yielded, which is not a victory for me but kept me going.  I was fighting like it was 1990 and I was Prince of the Mists, using all my old one-shot techniques, which I rarely use anymore. The only things I didn’t kill people with were that rising molinee and the foot stomp. I used a rising snap, a wavy rising snap, a stutter wrap, the butterfly (both Radnor’s version and the Gendy version), and several successful hook-thrusts. A few times I successfully used Lucky’s passing shot on lefties (Snap, pass on the right diagonally off line to the left—in other words step through between your shield and your opponents, pass on the left, turning to the opponent and throwing an off-side head shot). Twice I had runs that were so long that someone cycled back through and faced me twice, and one of those times I killed that person again. I even killed somebody with Jade’s lazy floating snap (that’s where you start with your sword and shield down and pass forward on the right, just raising you sword into a thrust that comes up then down over your opponent’s shield).

I also lost a bunch of fights and got the crap beaten out of my leg. I did some stupid stuff and got sloppy when I tired out. One polearm one-shotted me (he had a left hand lead and I stupidly opened with a face thrust) so hard I probably should have quit. But that was my rest break anyway and after some water I felt fine. The only time I violated my pitch-count rule was right at the end, when I finished a long run just before they closed the line. I wasn’t tired at all, so I jumped back in and won a few more fights after the close. The last two fighters were Ajax of Sparta and Duke Omega (Darius), which was highly appropriate. I shouted “Thermopylae!” as Omega won the fight.

I had a great day. I accomplished my goal of fighting till the end and fighting at least 50 fights. The only two fighters who really dominated me were Douglas and Breeder (who finished 1-2 in points). Doug one-shotted me with a shot that I knew was coming but did nothing to prevent—he faked a right hand snap and thrust me in the chest with his left-hand sword. That’s classic Musashi stuff, and it’s why he won the tournament. I fought Breeder three times, losing twice and once with him retiring: but I killed Edward, Gregor, Evaldr (that was a lucky shot) Prince Brenan (with a hook thrust, same as in crown), the King of Ealdomere, and several other knights. I double-killed with Omega. Some of those were when they were fresh and were being cycled in to face me. In the final results I was ranked 14th out of 144 (that ranking is deceptive, since they don’t gap for ties, meaning there were three people ranked 3rd and the next person was ranked 4th when he should have been ranked 6th, but it’s still top 20).  I finished higher than Omega. I fought 64 fights, with 48 wins, 15 losses, and 1 double kill, for a winning percentage of 75%. That was the 7th highest winning percentage, behind Douglas, Breeder/Ionnis, Gregor, Edward, Konrad, Griffith, and Thomas of Ravenhill, who had a 92.9 win percentage but only fought 56 fights. I was winded a few times but I was still strong at the end. The workouts are definitely helping. In my third go-round I broke my tip-heavy sword and finished with my hilt-heavy backup. That sword always kills well. Even now, two days later, my forearms are achy and fatigued, my shoulders worn out, and I’m limping from the bruises. Considering that puts me right up with the three of the dukes in the list and ahead of the fourth, I actually had a pretty good day. Fighting wise it was the best I’ve done at Birka.

Afterward I was so amazingly tired. I don’t know if I was dazed, concussed, de-hydrated, or badly in need of caffeine, but I had a killer headache and was just in a stupor. I think it was a caffeine headache, because it came on long after the list was over, not during or right at the end, and a cup of coffee banished it. Hot tub helped too. But the ache was as great as from any crown I’ve fought in.

At midnight I turned 50, so I drank.  

The pre-season has officially begun. It is 110 days until Crown Tourney. My next time in armor will likely be Sunday at Brooklyn Practice. 


Minghan the Mongol said...

50! Crazy. I am 40 and after three fights I have to have a shot of oxygen and a quick nap. Good job.

Steve Muhlberger said...

I could feel the fun all the way from here!