Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Thoughts on structuring solo practice time and kata. (Also, a quick practice report.)

You know, I keep meaning to update here, but I haven't had the time to focus for much. Weirdly, a new kid eats tons of that attention! But I have some space now, so let's get this entry done.

Last week's first practice - first since the times of sleep deprivation began - was shockingly good. Will Deth messed me up something awful, but that's just how it goes. (Also, I'm working my Fabris dagger game harder there, and not counter-drafting with stick or case, so that's just going to happen until I can figure it out.) My later bouts with Kenric and Lupold were tons of fun, and each had a couple moments of actually doing Fabris for real. The real trick will be replicating it, of course, but it's good to see things that I'm practicing start showing up in bouts. (As a note to me, I still need to work on preferring single tempo actions over dui tempi actions - I think it's just a drill and trust myself thing, but goddamn were they working ridiculously well when they happened.)

Later last week, drills and teaching were good. (Though it's better when I get in more drill time too, boo.)

This past Monday's practice was mostly a wash for a bunch of reasons, so I'm trying not to dwell too hard on that.

What I really came here for though, was to talk about structuring solo practice time. In particular, structuring solo practice time working from a manual, and how kata can be a generally useful tool for imposing that structure.

It's a truism that practice time spent in a structured way with specific aims will be more successful than time spent faffing around with a sword. Just going to "do some lunges" or whatever is certainly better than no time spend with a sword at all, but there's a huge difference between that and "perform 10 lunges from Terza into each of the four guards, paying particular attention to my balance."

I find solo practice to be particularly difficult to work with in a structured way. It's easy to slack off, it's hard to get feedback throughout the practice session, and you're quite simply limited in terms of what you're able to work on - no running through plays and working on specific actions in them!

So before I get into the thinky and rambling parts of the post, let's mention a few things that we can do to help get the most out of solo practice.
  • Use a timer.
    This really helps keep your mind on task - there's no "am I done yet" happening here. Just keep doing what you're doing until the timer goes off. I like having a visible clock just for a quick "how long have I been doing this/do I have left" check, but that's not for everyone, and it's gotten in my own way before. 
  • Decide on clearly defined actions.
    Like I mentioned above, don't just "go do lunges." Instead, "I'll work through standard lunges through all four guards for five minutes." 
  • Metrics are awesome.
    Metrics are necessary for any kind of progress determination, but are especially necessary for solo practice. In paired work, your partner can readily test your actions and give you feedback on the progress you're making as you go. You don't have that immediate external feedback in solo work (though you can use a mirror or take video) so working with some kind of definable progress is pretty important.
  • Focus on things that solo practice is good at.
    So like I said, it's hard to work through plays by yourself, but you can still do a ton of things. Body mechanics, conditioning, and repeatable actions that don't require an opponent are all great to focus on.
What I find interesting though, is that there are two things that can really help impose structure on solo practice - manuals and kata.

When it comes to using a manual to apply structure my solo practice, I can take it in one of a couple different directions, but they really come down to looking like the manual. If there are specific actions described that I can do by myself, I'll focus on them. Otherwise (and especially since I've been working from Fabris most often) you can't really go wrong trying to Look Like The Plates. This isn't a substitute for reading the accompanying text and making sure that you understand the plates for sure - and there's going to be some conditioning involved as well - but the more you can take on the postures depicted, the more you'll be able to work through the plays.

Kata, though? I love them. What's really great is that they're absolutely not solely part of Eastern martial arts! Bolognese swordplay has assaults, which are basically kata. Spanish montante manuals have rules, which can also be used as kata as well. They're intended to be used in solo work, and let you focus on any number of things, as you like - cutting mechanics, footwork, balance, flow, or considering what your opponent is doing to cause you to move like you are.

I'm still going through all of Fabris' rapier and dagger guards in order as though they were a kata, and it's doing so much to keep me focused when I'm working with a limited practice window on my own. As a bonus, they'll really be stuck in my head and I'll have a grasp on how to move in and out of them when I'm going back to the manual again and making sure I grasp how they're intended to be used.

In short, solo practice is great. Stay focused, have a structure, and work what's really workable in that format.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

VISS 2017 Trip Report And Thoughts

So I made it out and back to this year's Vancouver International Swordplay Symposium. It was, in a word, amazing. Just like last time, I walked out with a whole lot more than I walked in with.

I've been to a couple different Western Martial Arts conferences, and so far, VISS takes the cake. It's well planned and organized, located conveniently (once you get to Vancouver, anyway!), welcoming and inclusive, and packed ridiculously full of teachers and students and knowledge that's just waiting right there for you to engage with it.

It's remarkable, and I love it. I can sum up my excitement about VISS by comparing it to this corgi:

Classes I took included two intensive tracks:
I also took some one-off workshops, including:
  • From Salle to Street, Grappling and From Salle to Street, Rapier with David R. Packer and Kaja Sadowski from the Valkyrie Western Martial Arts Assembly in Vancouver
  • Dealing with Physical Asymmetries with David Coblentz and assisted by Devon Boorman from Acadamie Duello
  • Tactical Asymmetries with Devon Boorman and David Coblentz
That's a lot of stuff, and I'm still sad that there were workshops I couldn't hit - a panel on Gender in Martial Arts, a workshop on barehand vs knife, body mechanics and movement training, and others. Frankly, if I have a single complaint about this conference, it's that I'm physically unable to take every single class that I'm really interested in.

(As a quick side note for the SCA people here, David Coblentz is David Twynham OD from Meridies, Matthew Howden is Gregorio Cristovalez de la Vega OL OWS from An Tir, and Devon Boorman is Prospere de Montsegur OWS from An Tir. There were also a few other SCA folks attending as students, which was great to see both from a cross-pollination stance as well as just making it easier to open conversations.)

Every single class that I attended had me taking copious notes, and picking up all sorts of ideas to bring home. Even in the cases where there weren't Grand Revelations, simply the way the material was structured and presented helped me make connections that I didn't have before and gave me ideas to chew on. More often than not though, there was a pile of brand new material to figure out, drill, and explore in one of the most collaborative working environments that I've been in.

While every single rapier class I took was excellent, the standout classes were the From Salle to Street workshops. (Or as I'm calling them in my wise-ass way, Adrenaline 101 and Adrenaline 102.) They left me with a lot of things that I learned about myself, a lot of areas to explore, and the tools with which to do that exploration. I'm very happy to talk about my experiences in those classes with folks, and discuss how I think they're very applicable to what we do in the SCA, both for tournament performance as well as general sound martial practice.

Shockingly, my time out there also gave me ideas for some other classes to put together. Among other things, I'm thinking that an overview of Disarms With Rapier could be fun as hell. (Spoiler: all the disarms that came up were great on any number of levels.)

I was ridiculously sad to have to leave this environment and fall back into real life, but I'm already looking forward to VISS 2019.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Yup, this thing is totally still on!

It's been a bit of a break. Not as long as some that have happened here, so there's that!

Mostly, I've just been caught up in (good!) Real Life Stuff, and also feeling super drained by other (bad!) Real Life Stuff. But anyhow, let's move on. This is just going to be a short update with what I've been up to, and also just getting myself back into the habit of regular updates here.

Most of my writing time has been going into a paper for A&S Champions next month. Rather than writing about rapier, I'm focusing on some combat that we really can't safely do competitively in the SCA - sickles. I'm not sure I'm completely satisfied with the paper, but submission deadlines wait for no one, and I can always make revisions later on after the competition. Despite this, I'm really excited that in addition to all the other awesome stuff happening that day, that I can stand around and talk to people about what Mair felt the proper method was for us to kill each other with farming equipment!

Next month I'm lucky enough to be going out to VISS again; I'm looking forward to some fantastic classes, and being able to bring a bunch of new knowledge back to people to share.

Practice is still going strong! I both enjoy and am frustrated by the continuing practice to work on good period technique on its own, and then begin to integrate it combatively. Fortunately, "good period technique" is also just "good technique" so it all works out well. Lately, I've been having trouble with acting in the right tempo; too much thinking about what to do and paying attention to doing it exactly right as opposed to just doing it and letting it get more right over time. Fortunately, drilling this is a super helpful thing!

Speaking of, I've been doing more solo practice lately and I've got some thoughts kicking around on solo drilling, what it's good for, what it's bad for, and useful directions to take it in. I think that'll be my next entry, which should be up very soon.

That's that!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Practice Report, and also Dealing With the Winter Dark

In the absence of digging through rapier manuals (because life has been a thing lately) here's a quick check-in for a practice report.

At the Thursday practice, we've been taking about half an hour each night with interested people to work in a study group format - nothing really deep, but just going through specific skill drills in a more structured way. Usually around three or so separate drills each week, with a good amount of repetition from week to week for retention. I'm not sure about anyone else's opinions, but I think it's going pretty well. Yay structured learning and also period rapier actions!

I haven't been focusing on much in particular up until now - just doing the actions and concepts that I've been drilling, but doing them better. Which is fine, and it's been going fairly well. I've started to focus more on striking in one of the four tempi of opportunity though, and that's an interesting exercise, and has some really helpful drills to build awareness of them. Additionally, I've decided that I need to expand my single game again; I've been working a lot of attacks in opposition, but working things that aren't from a bind would be, y'know, helpful. I'm not sure how to work those actions in a structured way, but I think that after the new year I'll have been able to come up with something.

Speaking of the new year, I've been noticing that the last couple of weeks that for myself and some other folks, it's been rough starting up at practice. I've been sluggish, both physically and mentally, and my warmup bouts have been kind of trash - and it's hard not to let that start to put a damper on your practice, if you start off feeling like you're in a slump.

The Solstice has past us, and the days are getting longer, but January and February tend to be ridiculously cold up here - and that combined with the still very short days and early sunsets have been doing a number on me some evenings. What's been working for me - and what might help other folks who're experiencing similar things - has been a couple things which, let's face it, I should have been doing anyway. First, take more time to warm up - both literally and conceptually. Get into your practice space and take a couple extra minutes so you're not starting while you're still cold. After that, take a little more time for some warmups and mobility exercises. You don't need to stretch (I still think that serious stretching is best done at the end of practice) but just loosening up the joints and getting the blood flowing a bit before picking up a sword has helped me get out of that environmental funk by a lot.

The other thing that's helped is not just jumping into serious free bouting. I try to start off with some basic drills - not things I'm trying to learn from scratch, but just things to keep the edge on, or ongoing work type things. If I can't do drills, I'll do some slow work, or super casual warmup fights. Again, mostly just to get the body moving and engaging the brain with swords in an easier activity that is explicitly not going to hit any "my performance is trash" buttons right at the start of the night.

This afternoon is a Special Boxing Day Practice, running for five hours, so I'm looking forward to some extended fencing and teaching and learning, and probably a lot of hanging out and chatting, which will be a nice thing at this point in the holidays.

And hey, if I don't post again beforehand, everyone have a great new year!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Manual Reprint Update!

In lieu of a real entry (though I'm sorting through some thoughts about attacking in the correct tempo and how best to train that, because I noticed while fighting Kenric at practice last night that I was being pretty trash at it), I thought I'd point out that Greer's translation of Thibault seems to be getting a reprint and will be available come March 2017.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Back at St. Elegius and ahead to A&S Champions!

Wow, I never wrote anything on St. Elegius! Let's take a few minutes and fix that now.

While I had never competed in it before, the A&S competition at St. Elegius has long been a favorite of mine. Each competitor chooses what level they will compete at, ranging from Novice (<3 years in the SCA) or Novice (<3 years working at the art you're competing with) through the experienced and Laurel level. Competitors are judged by other entrants who are competing at that level, and experienced artisans and Laurels are on hand to help the folks who are judging. The fact that your fellow entrants are judging your entry really lends an air of camaraderie to the experience, and rather than keeping you in your chairs all day behind your entry you end up getting to talk to all the other entrants about each other's art and science, and it can really bring about a giant pile of people enthusiastically going on about their area of study to folks who may or may not know much about it at all. (As a bonus, it also introduces newer artisans to the idea that someday, they may well need to evaluate candidates for an A&S Order who Do An Art that you have no real experience in.)

Originally, I'd only intended in competing in the Art of Fencing side competition that our newest OGR (as of Court at the end of the event, and congratulations to him!) Don Christoffel had put together. There was a bit of organizational confusion at check-in about who was taking signups for that, so I was encouraged to enter the primary competition of the day while everything was sorted out. I wasn't expecting to do this, I didn't feel prepared, but I had an essay and my manuals with me because I'd decided to wildly overdo it for the Art of Fencing competition, so I let myself be peer-pressured into it. I decided to completely throw caution to the wind and compete at the Laurel level, filled out my entry forms, and found a table.

I was lucky enough to be able to save a seat next to me for Lorenzo, who I understand was also convinced to compete in the primary competition at the Experienced level. I forget who else was sitting around us, but at least we'd have our little Martial A&S Corner between the two of us, and worst case we'd just talk to each other about swords all day, right?

It turns out that there was only one other entry at the Laurel level - Galfridus was entering with from-scratch couscous, made in a period clay vessel for doing so. It was really, really great! (Both the presentation, the cooking vessel, and the food.) It was set up similar to a modern double boiler, with the stew steaming the couscous. I had no idea what couscous really was in a from-scratch sense, and I think that food as an A&S entry is always a favorite - being able to directly sample the entry is wonderful on a number of levels. Frankly, I loved Galfridus' entry.

Beyond Galfridus, I spoke with a couple other Laurels who were filling in as extra judges, and they seemed to enjoy what I had to say. Lots of questions and answers and swordchatting happened, and it was a really good time.

The Art of Fencing competition happened after the primary competition wrapped up; we had five entrants who walked the judges and an audience through a plate of their choice. There was a range of skill, choices, viewpoints, and interpretations, and discussion around the plates, and I think it was a really enjoyable and educational time for everyone. While the contestants were sequestered away for the judges to talk, we had some really solid discussions about how to work on the visibility and understanding of martial arts and sciences, and also what some of us had for ideas going forward to learn and try out. (Spoiler: I should make myself some poleaxes sometime. Also, longsword fun!)

In the end, I ended up winning the St. Elegius competition at the Laurel level (and I posted the paper I put together here - it lacks any of the discussion I had, but you can get that basically any time just by asking), and I came in second to Lorenzo in the Art of Fencing challenge - his discussion about the process behind his interpretation of the plate he chose was excellent.

Looking ahead to A&S Champions, I think I'm going to be poking at something that doesn't require as much immediate physical demonstration (though it can still have some if we decide to go outside) and also involve things that we can in no way do under our rapier rules. Which is to say, I think I'm going to crack open some Fiore. I'm pretty excited about this; I've loved a lot of his armizare, and don't get to really dive into it very often, so this should be a lot of fun.

For a slight topic switch, I've been enjoying the stage fighting videos by this Czech group. The longsword fight has been making the rounds recently, and it's got a lot of material in it that's clearly taken from actual manuals, and that's pretty great to see being used to help stage a really well done and entertaining fight scene!

Monday, November 14, 2016

I arted a thing!

While I need to put together a Real Blog Post about St. Elegius and some thoughts on martial A&S in the East (and how awesome it is!) I wanted to take five minutes and be super excited that I Arted A Thing!

So a couple weeks ago, Martin was going to fight for me (again!) in Crown Tourney and this time There Was Going To Be A Real Favor, Dammit. And one had been lingering half-done for ages, but let's be real here; nothing motivates like a deadline so this finally got made!

It's a badge on a belt flap! Yay!
I didn't use anything like Specific Period Materials - I used a piece of white fabric that was sitting around in the craft room, and Anastasia found the red felt for me. She also taught me the Two Whole Stitches that I used - a blanket stitch and a back stitch. Hems were shamelessly machine done.

I realize that this is ridiculously simple and all, but I'm super tickled that I Arted A Thing and did something ridiculously new to me, and I'm going to do the equivalent on this blog of hanging it on the refrigerator door.

And in a day or so, a St. Elegius Post!