Monday, September 29, 2014

Cloisters Demo

Sometimes you don't know why you are doing a thing. Demos are great fun but they are odd. You are often fighting for a different purpose--to please an audience and put on a good show--than you would normally fight for. I have tried recently to treat demos a bit more like a small tournament, one in which I may goof around with odd weapons or techniques I would not normally use, but in which I am still trying to best my opponents and not playing so much to the crowd, but that with varying results. Cloisters demo is one of my favorites. It takes place at the Ft. Tryon Medieval Festival every year in Manhattan. It's a one day ren-fair that, like every public festival in Manhattan, draws an unbelievable crowd of people--theofficial number has been 60,000 people the last five years, that's in a park that has only one main road coming and going, is served by only two subways stops and those on the same line, one of which requires walking down a steep stairs for several hundred feet and the other to take a big freight elevator down to the platform, and for which there is like all things in New York almost no parking. The whole  fair is laid out on either side of a road about 1 mile long that runs north from the park entrance and then loops around the Cloisters Museum (probably the Best Medieval museum outside of Europe). For most people (those who don't want to brave the stairs down to Dyckman Street) There is only one entrance to the park, so what you've got is 60,000 people milling about up and down one short stretch of road. But, like a midtown sidewalk at lunch time, it is kind of thrilling--the greatest sight in nature being man in all his infinite variety.

It also means we get a great audience. For years the SCA has shared a tourney space ont eh south lawn with other sword play groups while the big choreographed shows and mounted jousting go on at an arena. Fort he second year in a row that included our friends from the Armored Combat League. This is both frustrating (because, let's face it, they draw a bigger crowd than the SCA does) and relaxing (because, let's face it, it takes some of the pressure off of the SCA). There is, of course, a lot of cross over between the two groups, and a couple of our regulars were unavailable because they were fighting in the ACL tourney and were committed to that. Their show was excellent, by the way, and they had a team come down from Quebec and a few people come in from Russia for the event. I continue to believe that ACL represents an existential threat to the SCA because they put on a more violent and athletic competition than we do and are siphoning off many of our best fighters into their game while, at the same time, presenting an option more attractive to many who are interested in the sport combat activity that has long lain at the heart of the SCA structure. The thing is, I'm content with that. While I would like to fight ACL my main focus continues to be training for crown, and I only have so much time and so many knee ligaments to give to any one art. I don't believe in fighting progress and that is what the ACL is--the next logical step in medieval style combat. The ACL has the opportunity to grow the SCA a bit as well since they have nothing to offer but the fighting, and they currently have nothing like Pennsic. Many of the dukes who have been doing ACL have kept up their SCA participation. Lucan in particular is doing great things for the SCA with The Knight's Hall. On the whole I love the ACL,

In addition to the ACL and the Knights of Avalon (a kid show) we also shared the space with Sword Class NYC, a HEMA group. I was actually as impressed with their fighters as I was with ACLs.

Anyway, it was a really good day.

It's only bee two days since my last post. I've done one Yoga class and my push ups.

I went to Cloisters planning to work on my Long Sword and my pole arm technique. I wanted to use two of the German Longsword  seen in Ken Mondschein's video below in my longsword this weekend. Did not work one bit.

I fought mace and shield, long sword and pole ax. I never use the rubber headed mace or ax heads in serious competition because, although they look good, I ahve trouble striking a telling blow with them. The just bounce off. But in Demo's i'm happy to use them. I hit a few people blows with the mace that they did not take, but I got a few kills with it. My mace technique comes from Rolf the Relentless, the best Mace fighter I know, and involves no only wraps but rising snaps, dropping face shots, and--especially--figure eights.

I also fought a few fights with the pole axe. When I do that I normally use a thumbs opposed grip (like a kayak paddle of a movie quarterstaff) and fight the technique employed by Duke Visivald of fighting in close and mostly chopping at the head with short almost punching strokes. It's pretty effective, and I even got one person to count that ax head with it. I also was victorious with my disengage thrust discussed in the last post. Mostly, however, it was an exercise in futility.

I was very unhappy with my longsword. Although I've worked the stuff I was doing on the pell I was not doing it properly in armor. I was also very indecisive. I was kind of in between using Vom Tag or Alber and using the high center version of Vom Tag common in the East (mostly thanks to Gregor). This is a totally bogus SCA technique, since it relies on the invulnerability of our hands. In it you hold the sword cocked with the hands basically in front of your face and use short chops mostly at the head and shoulders. I did not use any Bellatrix technique at all.

My two best kills were my first longsword fight, against Avran, and my last fight of the day, against Auzur. In the fight against Auzur I used a Zornhau Ort, probably the most common technique seen in  HEMA competition. In it you strike a diagonal downward strike and then thrust quickly at the face. It's the most basic technique in longsword because it works, but I don't think Azur had ever seen it. Of course, this being the SCA, there was really no footwork involved.

The other fight I was very happy with was against Avran. It's up as a video on Facebook here:

As I note in the comments, this fight started out terribly for me. I start out in long pint but leave that quickly. You can see that I want to fight in Alber or in Vom Tag and in both cases I wont commit to either, though mostly becasue they aren't drawing Avran in. Avran, meanwhile, is doing what I told him to do six years ago and using the classic Bellatrix technique. (Paul's stuff, although he developed it himself, is all found in the German manuals and it all begins either in the plow with a right foot lead or in Vom Tag). I end up in a stupid ward, fighting with the SCA version of Vom Tag but without my sword cocked the way it should be. I win this fight by going back to where I started in long point and just beating him on timing. The whole time I should have been taking a right foot lead and I didn't. The technique I won the fight with is probably my favorite cut, though, a simple downward timing strike.

It is 33 days until Crown. My next time in armor will be at Nutley practice on Wednesday.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Grant's tomb and Wantagh

I started this bog on Sunday 9/14, right after the Beau Geste at Grant’s Tomb practice, but I didn’t finish it that night and for a lot of reasons (work work work) I’m just getting back to it. Too bad, because I have a few interesting things to say.

So here is a simple truth: most SCA fighting is based on the broadsword. Impact weapons aren’t fast with that second shot, but they are really good for rising snaps and high wraps. Some of the best Florentine fighters use the same sword work that sword and shield fighters use. I learned a long time ago that a great sword is just a big broadsword, and I can throw lots of the same fakes with it that I would with my broadsword.  That is the basis for the Bellatrix greatsword style: with the variation of a slightly wider stance, it uses the same body mechanics as broadsword, and the right hand travels in pretty much the same arc.

 I left my shield at home for the Beau Geste.  The biggest reason was I’ve had a mild tendonitis in my elbow. It started at the feast last Satruday after Barleycorn. I have a strong suspicion that it’s because I was using my steel arms and not my leather ones (my bauzbauds are with Torvaldr getting shortened, but I just found that I have my old leather arms downstairs. I thought they were in California. However, with elbow pain I decided that 5 pieces 16 ga elbows were just a better idea to I stuck with those). Also, I intend to have to fight with greatsword at Crown.

I also went out to Wantagh practice last Thursday. I hauled my gear to the subway, took that to the LIRR, from Wantagh station I packed my armor over to the church where practice is held (only about two blocks). Unfortunately, Tycho had forgotten his helmet and the only other person in armor was Bob Fox.

It’s been really, really hard to get workouts in. It’s not that I don’t have time, it’s my new schedule I have a 5 AM alarm Monday and Wednesday (it should actually be 4:30, but I’m trying to stay a bit sane), a 5:30 alarm on Tuesday and a 6:30 alarm on Thursday. I’ve got lots and LOTS of time to work out—Monday and Wednesday I’m done by 9 AM-- and a gym that’s open from noon till 9PM four days a week at school. Trouble is, I’m barely able to stay awake. I only have an afternoon class on Friday, so I slept in, but I *still* slept 12 hours Friday night. So it was 50 push ups every day, Indian club workouts, one kettle bell workout, and one nice bike ride on Friday (7.5 mile commute each way).

Since the 14th my workouts have picked up. I’ve been to two Yoga classes, I’ve been to the gym twice, I’ve been doing pushups every morning and Indian clubs most nights. Sunday I did a bench press WOD and pressed a personal best of 205—not a lot, but a lot for me. I also got in some cycling and a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.  Yesterday I did the same gym workout, only instead of bench press I warmed up with dumbells and then did a clean and press from the floor with a 50 pound dumbell, ten times each arm, which is another personal best.  Those pushups are working.  

I was trying to return to my roots with the Bastard sword—the Kenjitsu based techniques that Elric taught me long ago, the Belatrix based techniques that I studied for a long time. That went out the window as soon as we laid on.

At Wantagh I was just fighting to fight, with no real plan for working on any technique.

 There were only four fighters at Grant’s Tomb—Brian (the Brian from Loch Laven, not Avran), Nikolai, myself and Gui. I was fighting with my two handed sword. (a lot of people call it a bastard sword, but to me a bastard sword is about four feet long and this is five. It has a handle about 16 inches long, which is way longer than a bastard sword). 

I warmed up against Nikolai. He got me once. I hit him using what is essentially a Kendo technique: stand in long point with my right foot forward and, as he throws, raise my sword, pass off line to the left, and hit him in the shoulder. I got him once more on a short chop to the head.
I found that most of the day I was passing back and firing,

We fought  a modified bear pit format. We each took turns holding  the field against the three others, meaning each of us got six fights total, but wins and losses only counted when you were holding the field.  Theottetically, we could have ended up with a four way tie. But we didnt’. Gui won handily.

I won both my fights against Brian and split my fights with Nikolai (although I beat him when I was holding the field). I found that I was not using any of the Bellatrix technique. I did kill Brian once with the disengage thrust I made up thirty years ago (Fake a thrust to the face, circle down toward the right and back up, then thrust to the face of neck). Gui just destroyed me.

I had a few sword and shield fights with Nik and also , after his shield broke and he took the one I had been borrowing, I did that silly thing with the upside down greatsword in lieu of a shield. On instinct, I used it to thrust him in the chest once. I fought those fights pretty well.

I had more to say ten days ago.

Thursday against Bob Fox I learned a valuable lesson. Bob has a snap that goes straight down. Usually when someone throws a straight down shot it’s a chop. It follows a wide arc, and I just move off line to the left and throw an off side, and they are usually open: but Bob’s isn’t a chop, the way most people throw it, it’s a snap. It’s a snap that comes straight down. This means that I can’t tell if it is going to be a regular flat snap or one that will travel downward until it breaks, which is too late to step around it and, besides, I run the risk of walking into it if it is indeed a flat snap. The important thing that I learned was not that, it’s that this technique eats my A Frame up. It’s really hard to defend against. When I fought a high closed style, when I fought a Bellatrix style, when I just grabbed the initiative and attacked, I won nearly all of those fights. But when I fought my A Frame, the way I would if it were a crown, Bob beat me up and stole my lunch money. It’s a very valuable lesson. Any center line attack is going to be effective against that A frame/boxer style.  Because I don’t have a downward shot in my repertoire, I’d never figured that part out. Inside line thrusts I was aware of—both throwing them and the need to defend against them—but not that downward snap.  

It is 35 days until Crown. My next time in armor will be at the Cloisters this Sunday.      

Monday, September 8, 2014

Grant's Tomb and John Barleycorn.

After John Barleycorn.

Crown will be November 1, opening day, which sucks. It will be in southern New Hampshire, which is almost as close as it could have been this time since it had to be in the Northern Region. 

I managed to fight twice last week, and Grant’s Tomb on Sunday and on John Barleycorn on Saturday. We had thought Barleycorn was going to be a disaster. Rain was forecast, we didn’t know if any fighters would show: but it turned out to be a great event., especially for fighting!

I managed one Yoga workout and one Kettle Bell workout last week, plus I did pushups every day. I have to kick that up a notch.

I was really trying to work on distance. I wanted to fight mostly at my max range. This was good in all my fights but especially important against Gui.

There were four of us in armor: myself, Sam, Tycho, and Gui. Two lefties, two righties, two knights, two unbelted fighters.

I was in training mode fighting Sam. I warmed up against him with some slow work then we did some situational drills. We did a few straight up fights,  then block and strike drills. Then a few more fights. Sam is getting much better but he is not good for me. I have a tendency to fall into old fun habits against Sam because he is not good enough to beat them, and because he is trying to learn a Bellatrix style and that’s the old habit I like most.  The result is that I get a bit of indecision in whether to fight my current A-Frame style, where I need to work, or to fight the fun fight, which is what he is fighting, and do stuff that I don’t do against the better fighters. Of course I usually go for the fun fight.

Against Tycho I was nice and tight. I got him (he’s a leftie) with a shot where I wrapped to the body and, when he blocked it, I turned it into a thrust. That’s the one blow I really remember.

I fought two passes with Gui.  He had been watching Duke Branos’ fighting video  viewed here:
So he was fighting an A Frame, which he never does. Totally freaked me out and he clobbered me. I mean it was embarrassing.

Our second pass I did much better. I fought him well in both the A Frame and the high guard. When he went into a high guard I stabbed him in the belly behind his shield. When he went into the A frame I threw thrusts at his inside line. It worked a lot better than the first time. I found that, for the first time ever, I was timing his leg shot. He would throw it and I managed to block and throw in half-time a wrap to his head.  I hit him with it three times.

So there had not been a lot of fighters showing up to Barleycorn lately.  Last year I think there were four of us. This year Gui and I had made a big push to get more fighters there. Tormundr made a really cool bar mace as a prize for the tourney, plus Sir Edward’s Unbelted Challenge was also taking place. It turned out people wanted that bar mace. There were eight fighters taking part in Sir Edward’s tourney. Six of those fought in the second tourney, plus five knights: myself, Sir Balin, Duke Conrad, Duke Keneric, and King Brenan. Umm, yeah. Top heavy!  J

The list was a double elimination fight, best two out of three, with a challenge round. In the challenge round I was the last fighter left and was picked by Avran.  He wanted to fight great weapon, so we ended up using His Majesty’s matched Danish axes (no thrust, which saved my bacon in our first fight). The first fight I used it the way I normally fight Great Ax, thumbs opposed and fighting like it’s a pugil stick. This worked well. Second fight I used it like an ax, short grip at the bottom of the haft, longer swings. That was more satisfying, as I used a good technique to win, avoiding Avran’s blow and hitting him on the head from Vom Tag.

My second fight I drew Brenan. In our first fight I started out in an A Frame but switched quickly to a high guard and he showed me right away why I don’t fight that style out here—hit me in the face with that little flick from the A Frame guard that travels right down the top of my shield and into my nasal. My second fight I went into an A Frame and we fought for some time before I killed him with a hook thrust. The third fight I got sneaky. Jade has this this thrust that is like Bruce Lee’s  floating punch. It’s designed to look like it’s not coming. It’s kind of an attitude/no attitude technique. You circle to the right, out of range, relaxed, shield and sword  at your side. You step with your left foot to just outside range, then pass on your right into range, raising your sword from your side but, instead of bringing it up to a guard position, you extend it into a face thrust , turning the knuckles slightly up so that the tip drops a bit as it comes over the shield.  I put it right into his left eye.  It’s the fourth tourney in a row that I’ve beaten Brenan.

Next I fought Duke Keneric. In one of our fights he took my leg and then I put a thrust up the inside of his shield as he hit me, so we double killed. The other two fights he did what he usually does, took my leg (once by switching from a sword foot lead to a shield foot lead, changing the angle and getting a deeper passing step), then killed me with that wicked deep off side that is almost a butterfly shot. They were good long fights and I managed to take him off his game a bit with my thrusts, but in the end he got me.

Next I fought Tycho. I was really proud of my second kill because I changed the angle of that shot. I was throwing a shot that could have been a wrap from slightly to his right but, on the fly, I pulled my elbow in, pushed my shoulder up, and hit him with the true edge in the face.

My last fights were with Balin. Those were awesome. He is one of the top two sword fighters in the kingdom but he hasn't been active for several years. But he was at Pennsic and has been getting back in, and he is still pretty amazing. I think we double killed but I’m not sure. He took my right arm and I took his left at the same time, then we got into a single sword fight until he took my left arm. Our last fight he took my leg then got me with a body/head combo and landed them both. In that last fight I almost got him with a  thrust, but in my single sword fight I had picked up Gui’s sword to guard my right hand and afterward kept hold of it. It’s shorter than my sword by more than an inch, and with that extra length the thrust might have counted. I always feel with Balin like I just need to improve my timing and I can beat him. He creates a lot of slop. His sword blocks are so crisp and he’s got some nice sabre technique, and it’s a really fun fight.   

At some point during dinner my right elbow, inside, started to hurt. I may take it easy this week. I’ll still do my pushups.

To illustrate what I was talking about regarding fighting Sam, Here’s a video of me fighting Arn. Arn is a talented fighter, but new. He doesn’t have the experience to know what to do against a style he’s never seen. I described this fight back on June 10, ( . That stands out to me in this video is my indecision as to what style to fight. You can see me switch back and forth from a high open form to an A Frame. If Arn had thrown shen Iw as in that transition he would have pasted me.

It is 54 days until Crown. Unless I feel really good on Thursday, or end up going to River War in Iron Bog, my next time in armor will be Sunday at Grant's Tomb.