Saturday, October 31, 2015

How to run a practice. Or two.

I've been to a couple of practices recently that I haven't written about. Frankly, I didn't do much at either one of them. Still nursing my wrist injury, And fighting only with my short pole arm, I didn't want to push anything too far.

I have harped on this before, but I'm going to ask the question again: what's the best way to run a practice? Our natural inclination is to get out there and fight. That's what we do. It's what we love. We love the adrenaline, we love the competition, we love the contact. Real hard-core fighters; they love hitting and they love being hit. So the tendency is just to pair up with people go out and fight between three and eight fights. That's how we practice. It's been that way forever. It was that way for me 35 years ago, and it's that way for me most of the time now. 

But I trained quite a bit with the Duke Paul. If you read his article in the known world handbook, you know that he advocates training based on that you will find in martial arts schools. He used to advocate a year of unarmored training for new fighters, working just on form and movement for that year before ever putting on armor. Nobody wants to do that, but the guys who actually worked with Paul and trained for a long time without strapping up were hell on wheels the first time they put armor on. 

Every time I have tried to run a series of unarmored classes, I've been met with great enthusiasm on the first night followed by a steep drop off on the second night. Most people want to just go out and fight. 

Paul also has some ideas on how to run an armored practice, and I try to use these as much as I can when I'm dealing with less experienced fighters. In the past two weeks I've had the opportunity to run or participate in practices that were geared more towards training then fighting. Both worked well. 

our first McCarren Park practice in a long time was quite a success. There were four unbolted fighters plus myself in armor. Ervsld was there wearing some of his armor to do polearm drills, and Sir Gui was there to help train.

While people got an armor, slowly, I spent time training a new person who wanted to learn about fighting. We worked on stance and blow delivery for about 20 minutes. Hardly enough time, but I had a lot of things to do.

Because we had two right-handed fighters and two left-handed fighters, I worked with the right-handers and Gui worked with the left-handers. While Gui discussed numerous blow combinations with his pair, I did situational work with the two fighters I was training, using some of Paul's training techniques. 

We started out just doing blow drills in armor. You block with the sword, throw the same blow as your opponent blocks, repeat. The blow from the standard hanging guard, saber parry number five, and the reverse hanging guard, saber parry number six. Then we took a break.

During this break, I thought a few fights with Samale using my pole arm against his sword and shield. I discovered that I still cannot use the thumb supposed grip.   Fights were fun. 

We used Paul's offense/defense drill, where in one fighter gets to attack nonstop while the other fighter has only three blows, and the fight ends with that third blow his thrown. We did this standing a few times, then with each defending fighter kneeling. Then we took another break.

During this break I worked with Ervald on Palarm drills. I have about five or six Palarm techniques that I use I showed them each one and how to drill with it on the pell. 

Next we ran a simple bear pit. Each of the fighters had to fight it to the others once. Then we took another break. 

Last, to finish up, we did melees, because that's a great way for people to get in a lot of fighting with slightly less risk of injury. Since there were four fighters we ran multiple melees where in each person teamed with each other person at least once.

I ended the night doing some Fiore-based long sword technique with Ervsld. 

I maintain that in this type of practice fighters learn much more than they would in the standard bashing. The trouble is, bashing is so much fun!

this past weekend's southern army Sunday was a pretty good practice as well. There weren't that many fighters in armor, perhaps 12 or 13, but we did a lot of good work.

The only single combat I did was when I warmed up with my pole arm against sir Mord fighting sword and shield. I won all three of our fights, and felt pretty good about what I was doing. But my wrist was already bothering me. The rest of the day I stepped in and out of the melees with either polearm or spear. Spear didn't bother my wrist at all. 

We started out with a shield wall drill. This drill is kind of not fair to the shields, and it bothers me. We worked out a way to make it more fair and I think it works better. We put all the shields on one side, and rotated the Spears in two at a time on the other side. In the first part of the drill the shield are just supposed to stay alive as long as they can. If they are killed they step out and then step back in as the resurrected. This cannot go on too long, because it's sort of the fish in the barrel thing. That's the part that's really unfair to the shields. We solve this problem by giving the marshals the ability to call a charge at any time. When the Spears we're getting cocky or lazy, or it had just gone on for a little while too long, the marshals with yell charge, and the shields would charge forward and cream us. The second form of this drill that we did was an advancing drill. We set up a line and the shields had to advance across it against two or three spears at a slow steady walk. By the time we were done with these two drills, the shields were almost impossible to kill with just two or three Spearman alone. They were working together very well overlapping their shields and staying alive.

Next we did some situational work. We started out just using triads, with a random teams of three. Then we mixed it up a bit by doing uneven sides. We would add a fourth and the fifth fighter to the first triad, and have three on four, then three on five, then four on five etc. A couple of times we would stop for instruction about the best way to attack a superior force. (The answer is to attack a flank say that you can stack them up, crossing their T like Nelson at Trafalgar). 

After that we ran a set of several resurrection bridge fights. This is another way to get a lot of combat in, so people really enjoy themselves, and works very well at the end of the day. 

The point of neither of these practices was to fight. The point of both of these practices was to train. We interspersed situational drills with instruction, and in both cases there was a marked improvement just over the course of the day among the unbolted fighters.

I received a clean bill of health from my doctor and permission to resume normal activities with my wrist. Just in time. It is seven days until crown tournament, and my next time in armor will be a crown.

Monday, October 5, 2015


What do you do when you're injured? Do you quit fighting, do you work on parts of the body that are not injured, or do you find a way to keep fighting anyway? Mostly I have been nursing my injury by not fighting, but that doesn't always work. I have been so depressed not being able to put on armor for most of the summer.

Sometimes, all you want to do is put on armor and hit people. I have been in armor exactly 6 times since the last crown tournament and that includes the three days that I was at Pennsic. Last week I finally got in to see my orthopedist, who put a brace on my wrist and said wear it every day all day long for three weeks. It makes swinging a broadsword absolutely impossible, but I wasn't fighting anyway. I've been through this before: I broke the same wrist several years ago. More on that below.

I have gotten into the gym a couple of times recent, including once this week for a very good leg workout: leg presses, calf raises, leg extensions, leg curls, five sets of 10 reps on each exercise, building to max weight. Also did some yoga that day. Unfortunately, my gym has canceled yoga classes due to a mold outbreak in the classroom, with no clue as to when it will be eradicated. Classes at school conflict with my teaching schedule this semester. So mostly it's been 50 push-ups every single day, and 10,000 steps most days. The doctor said no more PT, so the Indian clubs have been set aside.

With my wrist in a brace I was fighting left handed and with a pole arm. That's about as deep as my technique got. 

I put armor on and fight. It's what I do. It's what I love. OK, it's not the only thing I love: I love acting, and singing, and teaching, and cuddling with my girlfriend. But mostly I love to fight. I also enjoy the cloisters them a lot. 40,000 people show up to the medieval fair and most of them walked past our field even if they don't stop. We always get a great crowd!

In other words, getting out and fighting made me feel about as happy as I've been recently.

My right wrist is currently in a brace, and I cannot break it over which means fighting with a broadsword in my right hand is extremely difficult. But I am from the West, and I have a certain history. One of my mentors was Sir William the Lucky, and he instilled in me the ancient western value that you always fighting crown. Only Dukes get a pass on that. Fighting in crown is what we are here for, and everything else is kind of a sideshow. It's prepping for fighting in ground, or it's what we do to perform as or for the king. Crown is how this game started, and crown is really what it's all about. So you fight in crown. When William didn't particularly want to win crown, and he won three even though he only uses the title count, he would fight left-handed. When I broke my wrist years years ago, I fought in both Cynagua coronet and the subsequent crown tourney with my wrist in either a plaster cast or brace and fought left-handed. When I broke my leg in the champions battle a few years ago, I fought in both the following Western and Eastern crowns in an air boot (they were both that October--I did pretty well too). 

I don't think I had fought left-handed more than once or twice in the last 25 years. And probably no more than 20 times my entire career. However, if there is one thing I can do left-handed it's throw a really good Bellatrix snap. I pulled my center grip Viking shield out of storage and went to it. My fights were all classic Bellatrix, only once did I bring my sword forward into a high closed form guard. I probably fought more fights with pole arm that I fought with sword and shield however. With pole arm I csn fight right or left-handed and do so with pretty much all of my normal technique. One thing I did discover was that the thumbs opposed to grip, (like the common, erroneous idea of quarterstaff), which is used by Duke Vissivald, and is what I like to use again sword and shield fighters didn't work very well -- or rather it was very painful. It involves a short very hard punch to the head, and that put a lot of shock on why sore wrist. But I still won two fights that way. 

I'm currently the rapier champion of Oatgardr, so I fought that as well. We did three shows and I split my time between rapier and heavy in the first half-hour show, I fought only heavy in the second show, and only rapier in the third.

A couple of things stood out. There were three unbelted fighters there, Owain, Ansel, and Ronan. I killed each of them with both my weapons forms at various times. I had a couple of great fights against Ansel where in he was using great ax and I was using my short pole arm. Against Ronan I had a really good kill with my pole arm. My go to technique for pole vs sword and shield for years was a three phase fake. I would fake a  thrust to the head, do a circle disengage so it looks like I was going for the leg, and then come back up with the face thrust. I often use this with a two-handed sword as well. Ronan is left-handed, and I was fighting him with a left-handed lead grip on my pole. I have never thrown that shot left-handed, but it works really well. Later, in a sword and shield fight against him I threw and upsilon leg shot, then another, then faked it and turned it into a rising snap. Rule of three. Faked him out of his jock. Owain was using lots of different forms. I took sword and shield against his two sword and pole against his shield. All in all I died a lot but I won more. 

I was really happy how I fought over all. We ended both shows with a grand Mellee, and I won them both.

I will be fighting in crown. Maybe I'll be fighting left-handed, maybe I'll be fighting with pole arm, but I will be fighting in crown. It's what I do.

It's 32 days until crown tournament, and I don't know when my next time in armor will be.