Saturday, March 29, 2014

Beau Geste, March 14

The Beau Geste tournament was this week, but I was sick most of the week. Also, during pickups, my shield had come apart (I just lost a bolt) and I had forgotten to fix it. This led to the inescapable conclusion that I needed to fight with my greatsword. It's far from my best form, but I've had some good success with it in the old old days. I felt great on thursday after having a cold early in the week, but that was an illusion. Exerting myself fighting on Thursday then only getting 5 hours of sleep that night and I felt really ill on Friday.

None. I did my pushups, but having a cold most of the week, I didn't do anything else--not even yoga on Monday (ever try to do an inversion with a head cold?). The cold mostly manifested itself in the form of a migraine headache, so I was really not too good for anything.

Lately, I've been trying to employ the Greatsword technique used by Duke Gregor, who is the top greatsword fighter in the East Kingdom. He fights a very simple but effective style, with his sword held with his top hand about shoulder or chin-high in front of him and using diagonal cuts, as can be seen in this champions battle against Duke Palymar from 2006:

It's n ot unlike Duke Rolf's bastard sword technique, which is the first thing I learned.

Much of my early training with two handed swords, beyond what I learned with Rolf, came from Duke Paul of Bellatrix. His techniques can be found here: 

Lately, I've been trying to learn the techniques of Duke Marc d'Arundel, one of Paul's students and probably the best bastard sword fighter in the SCA right now. He has a very detailed manual describing his techniques here:

Thursday night, I was trying to stay away from my opponents, use Marc's middle guard, try to step into a hanging parry, and cut to the off leg. That never worked, but I did take a couple of legs and won a few fights.

I warmed up against Conrad and then Baldwin. I was running my ass off trying to keep them at range. It was working pretty well. I killed Conrad two out of three fights and Baldwin at least once. I was specifically not trying to close with them. I wanted to work on my outside game. I might have won one more fight if I'd closed and used some back-edge technique, a la Gui Avec Cheval.

There were six fighters in the Beau Geste: myself, Tycho, Zurr, Conrad, Baldwin, and Caithlin. Zurr and Tycho are both very good lefties.

I was challenged first round by Zurr, who killed me very quickly. I struck at him, he blocked, struck my sword, stepped in, and struck me in the body.

I next fought Tycho, whom I beat. I managed to keep him at range and block his attack till I took his leg. Then I struck at him, he missed me, his momentum carried him forward, and I hit him.

Baldwin killed me about as quickly as Zurr had. I struck at him once or twice, but he blocked and instead of countering with a cut threw a thrust that hit me in the throat.

Against Conrad I lasted a long time, but he took my leg and then killed me.

Caithil I beat kind of handilly. After a few exchanges I took her leg and then hit her in the head.

Zurr defeated Baldwin 2-0 in the finals. Vive la Beau Geste.

I'm still taking it easy this weekend. It is  49 days until Crown Tourney. My next time in armor will be this Wednesday at Nutley, and after that it will be next Sunday at Iron Bog.

Monday, March 24, 2014


I was sick for Mudthaw. I kind of realized the night before that I had a cold coming on. I kind of realized it all day when I couldn’t manage to wake up (I actually dozed off between first and second rounds—and I’m not *that* old!). I kind of realized it when I had so much trouble doing my push-ups that morning. But it didn’t really click until about half-way through court when, not only couldn’t I stay awake but I couldn’t breathe. After the lists (in which I fought pretty well but only went to fifth round) I was asking “what the hell happened?” It wasn’t’ until I was sitting at the Chinese buffet, scarfing down General Tso’s tofu and suddenly feeling a bit better that I realized how bad I’d felt all day. Oscad, who fought pickups with me afterward, said I wasn’t’ myself, that I didn’t have the normal flow to my offense that he’s used to. Breeder, who is one of the best around at breaking down people’s fighting, said I looked in my last fight like it was the end of Birka and I had been fighting for two hours straight. I was really down on myself after the tourney, because it was a pretty wide open Mudthaw (Omega and I were the only royal peers). When you are easily as good as the two guys in finals, you have to wonder why you aren’t one of them. However all my fights were good ones, all my fights were tough ones, and all my fights were fun. The two guys I lost to were guys who on my best day would be trouble, and the whole day was excellent, capped off by Luis de Castillo getting knighted—which is something I’ve wanted to see for years.

With Mudthaw coming up, I treated it like I would Crown. I fought on Sunday but not during the week. I did my pushups every day and two classes—Yoga on Monday and a wicked-hard step/core class on Wednesday (that included a really intense WOD with dumbbell squat-presses and row-pushups on the Tabata timer). I didn’t want to be injured or over-tired come Saturday.

Here is the other problem: I said to myself I would not very from the A-frame defense and, for the most part, I didn’t—until my last fight, and that’s part of what got me killed.

I warmed up with a couple of guys and felt really good but a bit slow. I was seeing openings and not getting to them, my second shot seemed to fall a bit behind in tempo.

My first fight I drew William Death, who is a really good pole-arm fighter. He is one of the East Kingdom fencing champions, and won the fencing tourney at Birka this year, so his point work is very good. I didn’t realize what he was doing to me till after the fight—he was thrusting at the back corner of my shield, disengaging, and then thrusting at my face. He almost got me twice with that. When I fight pole-arm fighters I don’t try to wrap and I rarely try to thrust—I wait till they commit, place my shield flat against their forward hand to control their pole, and then go for their legs. The second time I did this I missed and hit him in the body, winning the fight.

My second fight was against a righty who was taller than me and had very fast hands. I don’t recall how I won it.

My third fight was against one of those tall VDK guys. I fight them a lot and they are really trouble. This was my best fight of the day. I fought a very patient fight, kept to my A-frame defense, waited it out, and won. It is hard, because in that style of fight I don’t throw a lot of offense—which is what I’ve always been best at and enjoy the most. I have to wait things out. Eventually, after a very long time, I took his leg by changing my guard to the plow, faking a face thrust, and striking the leg. After that it didn’t take long. I noticed that he squared up on his knees, which with his kite opened his torso up. I switched to the plow again, waited for him to throw a shot, and stabbed him in the belly.

Then I fought Willem de Brock. He is a fast leftie with a Lucan-style kite and great feet. Since I’d been training with Zurr and Gui a lot, I felt pretty confident against fast lefties, but I could not crack his defense. Eventually he took my leg and then killed me.

My final fight was against Jan Janovitch. It was the second year in a row he’s taken me out of Mudthaw. I had realized recently that, although I am fighting my A-frame a lot, I do better against Jan when I’m using a more standard high-closed form. I started out in an A-frame, switched, and then switched back, which is probably how he got me. It was a straight shot down the middle to my faceplate during a flurry. I was clearly out of position in one way or another, which is likely due to my switching from one defense to another.

Afterward I fought pickups. A couple of people just toasted me! Oscad, in addition to thrusting me right in the cup and making me double over in agony, kicked the snot out of me. One of Tim Mayer’s sons (I don’t know which), whom I beat at Birka, just lit me up. He was so fast I couldn’t follow his attacks. He hit me in the off-side body three times (once right on the nipple—Ow!). I managed to kill him twice, once with a hook-thrust, but otherwise I had nothing for him. In the rest of them I dominated.

I swear— even though I only fought about 20 or 25 fights, including warm ups and pickups, I felt more beaten up and abused at the end of Mudthaw than I did at the end of Birka.

It is 54 days until Crown. My next time in armor will be Thursday at the Beau Gest tournament out in Wantaugh, Long Island (unless I push myself out to Nutley on Wednesday). 

Monday, March 17, 2014

St Patrick's Day, 2014

As is often the case, I meant to post this earlier. I came up with the idea that Saturday Night was the best time to post to this blog, but I forgot an important principle: nobody wants to be sitting at a keyboard on a Saturday night.


Once again I am reeling sloppy. I fought at Nutley on Wednesday and at Acheron on Sunday, but, especially at Acheron, I felt all over the place.



I did twelve workouts last week, but I was slacking off. Seven of them were just 10 minutes doing 50 pushups a day. Mileage was terrible—just a 2.4 mile walk. However, that was with my armor in a back pack and carrying a shield, so it’s good practice for Pennsic. I also did a yoga class and the two fighter practices, but that was it. I need to log some more miles (and the temperature needs to stay above freezing!)



At Nutley I had a simple plan: I would fight six fights with everyone I faced. Two of them would be with an A-Frame defense, two of them would be goofy foot with a high-closed form, and two of them would be strong (shield foot lead) high closed form. I would also get in a pole ax set. When I did, I worked mostly a thumbs opposed technique employing a swim move, which I learned from David Civet. It’s inspired by le Jeu de la Hache, but instead of breaking down specific techniques it relies on some basic principles: use the que to attack, push the opposing ax aside by swimming yours (like a breast stroke), control the opposing ax by catching it between your hands. Acheron was mostly a teaching practice for me. The only technique I worked on was a high closed defense. I also fought a few fights with an 18” center grip round, because I wanted some fun time.



AT Nutley I fought four fighters: Jan Janovitch, and unbelted fighter named Demitrius, and two more unbelted fighters whose names I’ve forgotten (and I beg their apologies). All of them were right handed sword and shield fighters. My plan worked well, and even against Jan I won more fights than I lost. I found that I was effective out of all three styles. So long as I’m ready to void the right leg, the weak high closed form (goofy foot) is probably the safest, but that always has the least offense. I didn’t slip into Bellatrix at all this time. Against Jan I’m still convinced that high closed form is the best. I just need to remember how he hunts arms. I was able to read and pick apart everyone’s fight. Against Jan with Pole  Axes I had fun. He had the matched rubber headed axes, which sometimes don’t hit hard enough. I found that the thumbs opposed style was very good against him.


At Acheron I fought Ervald, Zack, Andrew and Samale, the usual four. Gui and I didn’t cross swords at all. This was where I was getting sloppy. Part of this was because it was training mode—I was intentionally sloppy in a couple of fights, presenting openings to see if they got hit, but then when I didn’t intend to be so I was still being sloppy. I did manage to get Ervald with a floating thrust from the hip, one of my favorite things to kill with, and nailed Samale with a hook thrust. Best part of the practice was fighting Sam and Zack using the 18” center grip. I lost more fights but had a lot of fun.


I was also more sore after that practice than I’ve been since Birka. I’m not sure why. Regardless, I’m taking a rest. The next time I’ll be in armor is Saturday at Mudthaw. There are sixty-one days until Crown.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Helmet time

It's all about helmet time, but I'm worried that helmet time is making me sloppy. I am doing a lot of training, which is good. I'm teaching others, which is also good. But I'm getting sloppy. The only knight I've fought since Birka has been Gui, who doesn't fight like anybody else. The rest of the time I am getting kind of goofy. My tendency to be a chameleon--the reason Jade says I'm not yet a duke--is once again making an appearance and getting in my way. 

I had eleven workouts last week. I did  a nice little 13 mile bike ride, I fought, I did 350 push ups. I took a yoga class. It was a good week. My weight is still 10 pounds heavier than I want it to be, but it's Lent, and my calorie count always goes up when I turn vegan for 40 days (why do I observe Lent? Because I'm a knight, silly). 

At MSR practice on Thursday my main goal was to fight everyone who was in armor. My secondary goal was to try some off side leg shots. I did, and several of them worked. I also fought at Acheron on Sunday, which isn't really last week, but this blog is late. 

At MSR practice there were five other people in armor: Caitlin, Servit, Baldwin, Bob, and Geofry the Younger. I had a good time, but this was where I was getting sloppy. I've been sticking to my A frame for a long time, but it was boring me and I started breaking out a more aggressive offense--the type of fighting I'm more comfortable with and have the most fun with. I fought a bit more old-school Bellatrix style, a high open form. It meant I presented a few more targets and lost a few more fights. My best exchanges were with Geofry. He has one of the most interesting thrusting games around. He takes a cue from the Talhoffer guys he knows and keeps his point on line no matter where he sets up. He has this stance with his hand way out to the right but his tip on target that nobody else uses, and it find it very effective.  

I also fought Sunday at Acheron. This was mostly a teaching practice. There were five of us in armor: me, Gui, Andrew, Zack, and Samale. I fought all of them. I found everything was working well, but this is where I was starting to get a bit outside myself. I fought a lot of different wards: high open form, goofy foot, A frame, my sword in plow. (Sword hand at hip level tip pointed toward the face). Most disconcerting at one point, after attacking Andrew with a really aggressive attack and losing,I tightened up and went on defense, but instead of using an A frame I went to a more standard high-closed form, standing as tall as I could and sword blocking everything coming to my head. It felt totally comfortable and he could not touch me, and my counters worked. I got him with some good shots, ncluding the offside leg fake/off side head blow and a butterfly. Trouble is, I'm supposed to be working on my A frame, not channeling Brion Taragon--even if that style does feel more natural. 

As I said, this was a teaching practice. Much of what we did was watch the three unbelted fighters fight, stop them critique them, correct their problems, then drill them in the corrections. Then Gui or I would fight them to see how they attacked. This was very productive. One problem with our fighting is how much everybody loves to fight. Nodoby wants to do drills at practice because helmet time is so valuable and the reason we put the helmet on is because we love fighting so much. But fighting is not the same thing as training. The two martial arts traditions that we employ have standard teaching methods. The Asian tradition uses repetition of unarmored drills, such as Kata, to ingrain techniques into muscle memory. This is often done in a class. It is how Belkatrix teaches. The other method is one-on-one instruction concentrating on situations and how to react to them with various techniques. The teacher launches an attack and teaches the student a counter. This is the European tradition. It is how Sagan teaches. Most of us do a little bit of the second and almost none of the first. Mostly we fight. But when you get good is not at practice. When you get good is the days in between practice, when you do pell work or mirror work or footwork drills. But most of us just want to fight. I tried to explain this to Andrew on Sunday. I hope he got it. 

It is 67 days until Crown Tourney. My next time in armor will be Wednesday at Nutley. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

MSR Practice on 2/27/14

What kind of goal do you set for yourself at fighter practice? Do you have a plan? I asked that of everyone I fought Thursday night. Most of them could not tell me. One person said "to press you and bring the fight to you." That person has a future. The others had nothing definite. One person said "I never plan my fights out, I just react," but that is not what I'm talking about.

I used to carefully plan my attacks. Following the traditions of Radnor and Paul, I would work on certain techniques and plan to use those in my fights: a wavy rising snap, a butterfly, a seven-blow combination. I never would have won crown if I didn't have a deliberate plan on how to deal with Alfred of Carlysle. Now a days I try not to plan my fights out. When dealing with defensive as opposed to offensive fighters, fancy offense doesn't do much either than get you killed. I throw just a few shots and pull out whatever technique seems like a good idea at the time. I don't plan most fights out--except with lefties.

But I still set goals for practice--techniques I want to use, limits on what I can do, wins versus losses (not a good one for practice), things I should try. If you don't do that you never advance in our game.

Last week was a good one. Counting push ups (50 every day) I did 14 workouts. A couple of those were doubles on the same day, and it includes fighter practice, but I'm happy because it also includes a nice 4 mile run, a really tough aerobics class, and some wicked lifting with the Tabata timer. Now I have to have a better plan for recovery!

I put a lot of limitations on myself for this week's practice. This is partially because I was the only knight, so much of what I would be doing would be training but I still wanted to accomplish some stuff for myself, but also because drilling and focusing is good practice. My goals were to concentrate on my A Frame defense and just a few attacks-- a head/body combo (the figure 8 kind, where you pull your shot through and then back hand the body, not the pseudo butterfly, where you throw a looping shot from above into the arm pit), and thrusts off of cuts--snap, off side head, and wrap. As these things go, I did end up throwing a few leg shots as well, and I didn't always follow through with the thrusts because I was killing people with my straight snaps a lot, and with a few wraps as well. The goal was to tighten up my defense, counter punch, and work on a very simple and limited offense.

There were four other fighters at practice: Servit, Conrad, Kaithlin, and Zach. Against the first three I had good timing shots working. I would kill them with straight snaps as they started their attacks, or perhaps with wraps. Kaithlin has a strong defense but no offense. She has a coffin lid shield, so once I got the angle down I was hitting her as soon as she moved. I explained the technique to her and gave her some defenses to use against it. Servit was not moving his body through his shot at all, and had his long shield strapped so that it exposed his leg too much when he tried to close it to block body shots,  We did pell work with him to fix that. Conrad still has a very tight defense. His one real technique is very silver like. With his short heavy sword, he tries to cut your arm whenever you throw a wrap. the key is, don't throw wraps.  Zach, of course, required me to throw all my plans out the window because he's fast and left handed. I just tried counter punching with him out of several different defenses. I won about half of our fights.

It is 77 days until Crown Tourney. My next time in armor will be Nutley on Wednesday (unless I can make the Monday practice in Haslet).