Sunday, October 19, 2014

MSR Practice 10/16/14

I totally hogged out at 7-11 after practice last night. This is a bad thing. Must maintain weight, 

It's important to have good equipment. I'm a generally sloppy, lazy person (just ask my lady). Like a lot of people who live in their heads (to borrow a phrase from my dissertation advisor), I'm always thinking about something: my next writing project, tomorrow's lecture, something stupid that I said on the internet --usually with such concentration that I will forget the thing I thought I should do this morning, or not notice the thing right in front of me (like that pile of laundry in the corner). Compounding this is the fact that my knight, though he taught me the value of looking good, it was only through covering up. Underneath a nice tunic, leather jerkin, and harem pants, his armor was a rat bag of gear put together from whatever bits of scrap metal, foam pads, and used sports gear he could lay his hands on. And to him, a sword was just a stick of rattan. It was not planed, it had no thrusting tip, and no basket hilt: just a bit of whittling to form a handle and a short rattan cross hilt. 

I am a bit more thoughtful about my gear, but I'm only handy when I think about it. I know what I like in a sword but I rarely put the effort into building it (the fact that I live in a Brooklyn apartment without a shop is also a factor). Usually, I don't put the effort into building my swords that they deserve, and I use my swords much past their useful life. I've also never found a basket hilt I really like that I can afford (I fought for ten years with a cross hilted sword, and I don't like them very much). Right now I'm using a Baldar cup hilt which, when combined with a fairly light stick, provides good results. The best baskets I've found for weight and balance are Iron Monger hilts, but I own half a dozen basket hilts right now, and whenever I'm at Pennsic I have better things to do with the $75 they would cost me. I just don't feel like buying one. So I stick with what I've got, and I can still kill with it. I'm kind of like Kevin Mitchel, the one-time Giants slugger, who could never find a bat he liked but he could hit home runs with anything. 

The stick I'm using right now is a broom held together with too much tape. It is way too tip heavy for the techniques I'm using these days, and it only lands a good blow one out of three times it lands. This is ok for practice, but probably explains why my arm is so tired this morning. 

This has been a good week: Push ups every day, two long hikes, and two good workouts: Wednesday was a good kettle bell workout, and yesterday I went to the gym for 20 minutes of yoga and 20 minutes on the treadmill. I did not have time to lift, but it was still effective.  

I am so beat up from practice on Thursday. I went there mostly to work on my great sword techniques, tough I planned one or two sword no shield fights as well. The two people I knew I'd be fighting great sword against were Gui and Zack, both of whom are left handed, marking them odd fights. Since I was fighting without a shield I wore my kendo breastplate. Unfortunately, both my shoulder pauldrons are blown out, and so I was without them. I've mostly fought without pauldrons for the last 35 years, but you do pay a price. My main project was to go back to my roots and use Rolf's bastard sword style, the one where I hold it in front of me, diagonally up and back guarding my head, body, and both arms. Problem with that is that against left handers that opens half those targets up, of which my right shoulder was eventually reminded. As a result I also used a bit of Gui's horse stance technique. 

Gui likes to fight in close and I like to fight at range. Usually I try to beat Gui at his own game and I get crushed. I do, however, get to practice all those cool backedge techniques he uses, and I used them to take his leg and double kill with him. My one good kill was in our first bout, where I used that straight cut/thrust, which is becoming my go to shot. 

Against Zack that shot worked very well. I got him with it from both wards (mine and Gui's). I also got him with it from my knees, as he was stepping in after taking my leg, which was particularly satisfying. As long as I controlled the range I was doing well, but when we closed distance we were more or less even. 

I fought sword and shield against Tycho. I was told I circled too far behind him after taking his leg. I was using the "One step" convention, so that surprised me. I have a technique that I use with a legged opponent (no comments about how the answer is to get rid of fighting from our knees because I have no problems with that convention). I show him my thrusting tip, slide to one side and then take a step forward. Normally, I go to my right, but against Tycho, who is left handed, I've been experimenting by going to the left. I think he thought i was "behind him" because I had gone to his shield side, so his shoulders were turned away from me. As far as I can figure out the technique is legal, but both he and Gui thought it wasn't. 

I also fought Brad and then went through the field in a bear pit. 

It is two weeks to crown. My next time in armor will be this Wednesday at Nutley.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Grants Tomb October 5th

Gui had an interesting thing to say about my fighting yesterday. He says my problem is that I push myself in ways and places that I don't need to, that instead of finding my weaknesses and shoring those up I try to learn new techniques or develop new shots that I really don't need. I think that was more of a criticism eight years ago than it is today. That is when I made a conscious decision to switch from being primarily an offensive fighter to primarily a defensive fighter. I simplifed my style, abandoned nearly all of my offense, which was based on molinee's fakes, and combinations, and went to a very pared down simple style that was mostly counter punching: so I see what Gui is talking about, and I probably need to move further in that direction.

Sunday at Grant's Tomb was awesome. I got to practice several different things. There were three knights in armor--Myself, Gui, and Luis--as well as five unbelted fighters--Avran, Torvrikr (sp), Samale, Nikolai, and Tycho.  I manged to fight everybody, and Samale twice. Not only that but I got some good weapons practice in. I fought sword and shield against Luis, Samale, Tycho, Nikolai, and Gui, I fought polearm against Avran, long sword against Samale, and single-sword against Torvrikr.

Just Yoga, walking, and push-ups.

Building on what was working at Nutley on Wednesday Night, I wanted to work on aggression and movement in my sword and shield fights. In addition, I wanted to use two specific techniques in my longsword fights that  I had not used at Cloisters--a horse stance technique with the edges held outward and the first Bastard Sword style I learned from Rolf, which is cocked with hands about chest high. In my polearm and my single sword fights I wanted to run through every technique I have.

Against Gui I won two fights and got creamed six or seven times. I had a real problem with my fights against Gui, which I discussed with him at length. I usually have pretty good footwork. Yesterday I was trying specifically to throw Gui's leg attack, which involves repeatedly throwing wraps and snaps at an opponent's leg while moving around their shield to their sword side in kind of a waddling movement (it's similar to the movement Belatrix uses when fighting agaisnt great weapons with sword and shield). I was doing it either without footwork, in which case he didn't have to move his shield to block, or I was doing it with lousy footwork, with the same result. Normally, even against left handed fighters, my footwork is good enough to win me fights. Against Gui it's terrible. I don't step into my shots enough if at all. Part of it is that he's defending it well because it's a technique he uses, but part of it is I'm not executing at all. I think I'm afraid to come out from behind my shield against Gui and so I'm not stepping out to get around his defense the way I need to. Against Tycho I had no problem with that.

Against Samale, Tycho, and Nikolai my offense and defense were both good. I was trying to be more aggressive--especially against Tycho, and that was working well. I am using a lot more movement and body fakes, so that my A frame is not as static as it has been in the past.

I like to say I have five tricks with a polearm. I used all of them against Avran. My favorite one is to hold the pole like a kayak oar and swim with it. If I can catch the fore of his pole between my hands I will usually kill him with a short chop. If he comes over to my off side and I can knock his attack down I'm on top and will kill him. This worked pretty well. All of my other techniques are more standard, with my thumbs in line not opposed. I also got him once where I just grabbed his pole, choked up and stabbed him in the belly.

My long sword fights against Sam were great. I adjusted my ward so that I was using the Bastard Sword style I first learned from Rolf 35 years ago, with the hands held at about chest level, the blade cocked back and at a slight diagonal toward my right shoulder to that the blade offers cover to both my forearms. I tried a couple of techniques against Samale--Zornhau Ort, Hanging Parry--at which he laughed and said "Ha! I read your blog!" which was pretty affirming. I got some good kills on him with countering shots--parrying and passing either under or over his blade and striking him. Then I fought three fights using Gui's technique, where he adopts a horse stance and holds the sword straight up and down in front with the quillions going parallel to his shoulders-side to side. The idea is that you can use either edge of the sword equally by turning the blade in your hand, I won all three of those fights: once with a thrust, once by blocking and countering to his right side helmet with the true edge, once by blocking and striking his leg with the false edge, then using a technique I'd forgotten about for a legged opponent, where I move my hand above the quillions, strike to the off side, wind, pass on the left, and pull back then short stick him.

Naturally, it was in single sword that I got hurt. This is because I was getting fancy, and the fancier you get the more risks you take. Single sword might be the pinacle of our art--it is certainly the hardest and riskiest thing we do. I have a very well developed single sword style based on techniques from Firoe di Liberi, George Silver, and Dukes Rolf, Paul, and Radnor. I use four wards normally, and I have been working on a 5th, and they all flow one into the other: Right foot forward, weight 70% on the left foot and sword at your left hip (Liberi); weight evenly distributed, sword in a hanging "saber parry" (Sliver); left foot forward, sword above your head (either straight up, as in Silver, or cocked for a snap as in Bellatrix/Radnor), sword cocked in front of you, held diagonally toward your left shoulder (Rolf--same has his bastard sword above), and the one I'm working on now, a fencing stance with the sword held at the right hip, point toward the opponent's face. I'll post some pictures of all of these later. The main goals are to either get above the opponent's sword to make a true edge cut; get a parry 6 (window parry) below your opponent's sword and get a back hand cut; or beat them on timing. You can also use the silver technique of, from the high guard, passing back and striking their arm when they strike at you ("This art is about the lopping off of hands, arms, legs, yea, and even heads."--G. Silver, Gentleman). I did all of this in my fights against Torvrikr. I got hurt when I ducked and he bashed me right on the crown of my helmet while I was bent over. Jammed my neck a  bit. I'm all better now.  Here is a picture on FaceBook of me just starting a technique I learned from Duke Radnor. It caught me in motion, as I've started to strike. I'm going to swing under his blade to draw his defense down, pass on the left and back hand him. If that doesn't work I just come back across his face with a forehand.

This was a great practice. I got in lots of good work. I limbered up my long sword and my polearm. I worked hard on my footwork vs. left handed fighters. I was strong and aggressive.

It is 26 days until Crown Tourney. My next time in armor will most likely be Thursday Night in Hawthorne.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Nutley Practice, October 1 2014

I’m too much of a chameleon. It’s a theme you find in this blog all the time (in fact, it’s in the description). I mention this because Duke Gregor brought it up at Nutley Practice Wednesday night. He said he reads my blog and he sees me writing about this style and that style, identifying them with the people I learned them from, and he asked “when am I going to hear about Val’s style?” I need, in his words, to fight my own fight. It’s a fair criticism. He also said that he is amazed that I can analyze a fight I had in Crown and know exactly what happened. He says he never really knows exactly what he just did, especially in the fights that he wins. He just does it. The implication is that I am thinking too much about what I am doing.
I know what he is talking about. Every fighter seeks to find that place where he is fighting without thought, where he or she is reacting without thinking, where muscle memory and reaction just take over and the lower brain functions are in control. I call this “fighting from within the void” borrowing terminology from translations of Musashi—mostly because it’s cool and makes me sound totally Zen when I say it. But it is true—the best fights I’ve had and the best days I’ve had have always been when I was fighting without thinking. I can still often say what I did, but it was like I had observed myself doing it, not like I had told myself to do it—if that makes any sense. I certainly felt that way in a few of my fights in the Queen’s Champions tourney this summer. I felt it in one or two fights Wednesday night at Nutley too.

But Greggo’s larger point was that I don’t have my own style, at least I don’t write about my own style in this blog.  The truth is that I had a style. It was a distinct style and it was mine. It was not truly unique—it was a Western flat-heater style, based on techniques developed by Radnor and Paul, but with a slightly larger shield than they used. It was identifiable as being similar to all the right handed Western Knights who used heater shields in the 80s and 90s—Duke Christian du Glaive, Count Obadiah,  Steven MacEnruig, William of Houghton, etc. I used combination blows, misdirection, and especially molinee’s (a lot of molinees). In that regard, if it was like anybody else, it was probably closest to Steven of Beckenham—except that Steve being student of Wulf Sagaen von Ostense he was a counter puncher and I am not (most of the people who won crown in the 80s or 90s were Sagan’s students—he occupies a place in the West and now Artemesia similar to the place occupied by Farrel von Halstern in the East and that Eichling von Arum once occupied in CAID, the trainer of kings).  The only person who really fights like me in the East is Duke Ronald, because we were squire brothers and were greatly influenced by Houghton—but he had altered his style radically by the time I moved out here. Regardless, I had a style, and my style was not anybody else’s. It was mine. I had blows and techniques that I had developed for myself. I did things with my sword that nobody else did. When I moved to the East I found that my offense could not get past the longer shields used by the Northern Region fighters and my defense could not cope with an off-side face shot that came from in front of the head (Thorsen in particular destroyed me with that). I tried all sorts of things to compensate—different shields, learning a sword forward style—before finally settling into the A Frame heater style I use now, and to which I am now committed. (Yes, I should have spent a year with Ronald learning how he had coped, but even though he was in South Jersey I didn’t see him much). The A Frame still doesn’t feel like *my* style. My style is the Bellatrix influenced heater style that I fought for 15 years in the West and 5 years here in the East, but which I’ve now mostly abandoned.   

Since last I wrote on Monday night, all I’ve done is fight and push ups.

At Nutley I just wanted helmet time. I wanted to jump into the deep end of the pool and trade stripes. I wasn’t working on anything and, in fact, was specifically trying *not* to have a plan in any of my fights.

I fought Breeder, Duke Kelson, Tseitchel, Duke Gregor, and a fighter I did not know. I’d brought my old leather vambraces because since I started using my splint arms with the 5 piece elbows my neck, back, shoulder, and elbows have bothered me, and I’m pretty sure it’s the vambraces. Unfortunately, I pulled the vambraces out and then forgot to put them on, so I fought without them most of the night. I only realized they were missing after I fought Gregor. I lost my arm twice, but thankfully nobody hit me on the elbow.

Beating someone at practice doesn’t matter, but how well you execute at practice does. It feels good to kill fighters who are good at practice, but it doesn’t mean a lot. Still, I had more success against the top fighters than I am used to. I rarely kill Breeder, I killed him twice. I never kill Kelson, I killed him twice. I rarely kill Gregor, I killed him twice as well. But the better thing is that kills on all of them were basically unplanned. They were shots that I threw in combinations or they were reaction shots. I was fighting from within the void.

Against Breeder, the difference was that I was much more active. I have morphed my A Frame style into a bit of a boxer style. I am moving more. I am switching between a right and left leg lead—even against good lefties. When I killed Breeder the first time it was with a face shot in the middle of an exchange, in which he clearly thought I would be farther to my right than I was, but in which I had stepped off line to my left and got in behind his block. The second time I killed him was just  a blind shot I threw to break up his combo that ended up hitting him.

Kelson beat me handily in our first tow bouts, and I only beat him because he got tired and sloppy. But I still felt good about both my kill shots. The first was a straight down the middle head shot that hit him as he moved off line to his left. The second was a thrust that went straight up the face of his shield and into his grill. Both of these were reactions to what he was doing and I was not conscious of a decision to throw them in either case.

Agaisnt Tseitchel I was getting fancy, but of course the fancier I get the sloppier I get. I had some good fights with her and won a bunch of them.

Against Gregor we started with a very long, intense fight that involved several exchanges and ended with me hitting him in the face as he was disengaging. I killed him once more, but he killed me three or four times. Nonetheless, he said later that I was fighting better than normal: he had been unable to control range with me, and that I had a very tight defense the whole time.

My shield strap broke in my last fight and I ended up borrowing Avran’s great sword and using that as a shield. I fought pretty well, and outlasted my opponent, killing him at least twice. That was mostly for fun, and while it allowed some offensive work it really was not serious practice.   

Another thing I discussed with Gregor is that Farrel taught him, as Bellatrix taught me, that you should train your offense to the point that it is automatic so you can use all your focus on your defense. This is worth thinking about.

There are 29 days until Crown Tournament. The next time I will be in armor will be this Sunday, most likely at Grant’s Tomb.