Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Couple Thoughts on Invitations

...or "how to construct invitations for yourself."

So as I was sitting around in a somewhat sleep-deprived state on Saturday evening in the KWAR bar, I had a thought which really summed up my understanding of invitations and how to work with them in my own head.

Phaedra summed up Fabris' dagger invitations very, very well. In the manual, they're scattered around a number of different plates, but she lined them all up in a sensible way - high inside, low inside, high and low middle (they're both really a single invitation), high outside, and low outside. As you might expect, they're all modifications of a single initial guard posture. They also work super well straight out of the box - both Malocchio and I, as well as Lupold, ended up using them over the next couple of days to great effect.

Two beers in though, it clicked for me in a total moment consisting of me saying, "Oh, duh" and then trying to explain it to a couple distracted people.

Some of Fabris' invitations are more obvious than others. (Though I'm sure that to someone unfamiliar with Fabris and his postures, things that I think of as obvious might not be, just due to the fact that all of Fabris' postures look weird.) Some are really subtle though, and still super effective. Some can vary in how obvious you want to make them. They all share one key aspect, though - take a really good and solid guard and tweak something which makes it less good and solid in one line.

All that an invitation is, really, is a guard that's broken in one line that you've studied specifically. That's it, the end.

Fabris presents some invitations, and when you look at someone doing it in front of you without context, yeah, you just want to say, "Ugh, you're leaving this open, what the hell" and hit them there, which is exactly what he wants. He tells you how to react to someone attacking there, so you follow those instructions, and you're good to go. But after that? Aside from those? Go forth, and extrapolate!

How best to do this, though? Because I'm me, I tend to want to start the process by thinking of things in a considered way, and in a way that can lead to structured practice of them. (Which is to say, drills. Nobody is surprised.)

By yourself, you can do this in front of a large enough mirror. Assume a guard that you know is a nice solid one - preferably one you use a lot. Tweak something, and then examine it honestly. Is the tweak opening up something that an opponent could try to exploit? Is it a change that you could vary the degree of? Does it open up too many options for your opponent? You really only want to open up one line, or you're not making an invitation, you're assuming a terrible guard. Is it a change you almost look like you're doing by accident? Finally, is it a position that, when your opponent attacks that opening, you can make a good response from? Visualization can help a lot here.

With a partner, it's much the same except that you can immediately test responses, and that leads quickly into drilling them. When you really sort out one invitation, work on another.

Eventually, I think you'll assemble a broad library of what you might consider your standard invitations. More importantly though, the more familiar you are with them means that the more you'll be able to improvise them on the fly and make good invitations that aren't really putting yourself in a bad spot. Additionally, you'll probably be better able to read your opponent and figure out if that's really a hole in their guard, or if they're just hoping you'll try to hit them there.

There we go. Probably obvious to a lot of people, but the way that it lightbulbed for me led to this train of thought that I felt others would appreciate.

KWAR Rundown! (Also a note on when we'll see Fabris back in print.)

So this past weekend, I and a few other Easterners rolled out to Chicago to go to the Known World Academy of Rapier (also a costuming symposium, but let's be clear on our priorities here).

It was, in a word, fantastic. Also, Anastasia ended up blogging about her experience over on her site, which I note up front because there may end up being a lot of repetition and "she already said it" happening here, at least until we get into our respective details and unpacking about what was taken away that was super useful for each of us.

This post isn't so much an overall trip report (summary: it was great) or a really deep look at stuff that I learned and need to deconstruct and work through (I think that will happen with some more topic-specific posts in the next couple of days) but just a series of notes on what classes I took and things I did, what I definitely picked up from them, and cues for me to expand on later.

Friday night had some freebouting (which spellcheck is trying to change to freebooting, which seems reasonable) with Devon from Academie Duello. There was some shuffling around looking for space - the first room was Too Small. The pool area was Too Humid. The outside was dark but otherwise great, so we rolled with that. Despite the lack of light impacting my fencing somewhat negatively - I lost a lot of my depth perception - the reliance on tactile input from my blade did highlight a lot of the things I need to work on! Basically:
  • I was still leaning away from the blade in my attacks in opposition in Second. I have solo and paired drills which will help this, but this comes up again later.
  • Find my opponent's blade from my elbow, not from my wrist. (Or to put it differently, with the arm and not the hand.) Otherwise my forearm opens right up something awful.
  • Don't commit to bad positions! Devon felt that this was because of poor order in my attacks - gotta go with hand then body then feet; I can use hand and body times to realize that my position is bad and bail out with relatively low commitment.
Saturday had the Fabris 101 class with Phaedra to start, which was really great. She works with Tom Leoni every week, so there was the occasional "He's pretty sure it works like this, but let's be real, this or this is an option if you can't do it like that because Fabris is hard," which I think a lot of people appreciated. Having someone confirm how I was standing and moving based on my reading of the manual and my practice of it was really vindicating. (Guys guys I have a clue!)
  • I got a lot of touchup on Fabris wanting you to lunge and strike very very close to the opponent's sword, so pretty much straight into their armpit. I was doing that thing that I do where a lot of my shots were going just past the arm on the outside when I was lunging into Second or Fourth with opposition, and then I noticed that Phaedra was consistently weaving her blade over the opponent's blade on one side and back around their quillon on the other. Working that precisely instantly fixed my problem! I don't think I'll be able to rely on doing that exact action in combat, but that sort of blade mechanic independent of the existence of a quillon should be something I can definitely work on duplicating reliably.
  • Oh hey seriously, it's okay to Train Deep and Fight Higher. Just get some bend in and more will happen over time and with a strengthened core and quads. Like, I knew this, but it's nice to hear someone say it to me.
  • When you're lunging in Second, tuck your head by your bicep and look just under your sword. Magically, this means that you cannot be leaning away from your sword! HEY LOOK AT THAT!
  • Invitations are magical. I have thoughts on the overall topic which will be their own shortish blog post, but they're great. Fabris has six (seriously) dagger lines - High and Low inside, middle, and outside, and there's an invitation for all of them (though he doubles up on the middle lines). They are great and I'm going to be really working them a lot.
  • Do footwork drills with Fabris and check your weight distribution. Also, similar to Anastasia, I pass so often in that stance that my regular advances and retreats need a lot of work.
After I went to an Order meeting, I got into Devon's teaching/learning class a bit late. After getting caught up, I mostly watched and took notes.
  • It's interesting to see how two people implement the same pedagogy very differently. One does so in a way that immediately clicks for me, and the other does so in a way that instantly sets my teeth on edge. This is worth remembering for a lot of reasons.
  • Drills have three key parts - a stimulus (or a cue), a response, and consequences (for each partner).
  • Remember goals! Your first goal is Not To Be Struck, so even if you don't do a drill perfectly, you can still achieve partial credit.
  • Dividing into teacher/student roles for each side of the drill is a good mental thing.
    • Also, each side can be working on and learning something. For instance, in a generic opposition drill, the student is learning How Good Opposition Works and Feels. The teacher, in the course of providing Consequences, is learning how Good and Bad opposition feel, and this has obvious practical applications.
  • Start basic with drills, then add depth (add stepping in and gaining as opposed to just starting there) and refinement (smaller disengages).
  • Use positive statements to correct. "Bring your sword higher" vs "Don't keep your sword so low."
  • You can always isolate a single action in an exercise, focus on that for a bit, and then go back to the exercise.
  • Have clear statements about drill structure and stick with them! I tend to tangent a lot, and I need to be better about noting those ideas to get to when we are done with the current drill.
  • Set timers! It's much easier to stay focused and not start chatting or whatever when there's a timer going for "we will do this drill for 5 straight minutes." When the timer goes off, there's permission to chat, grab a drink, whatever, but when you're working before the timer goes off, it's Work Time. The timer makes it easier to not fall out of that. (Using a timer for the run/walk sessions of my c25k program, this makes total sense. Without it, it's easier to fall out of a run into a walk. With it, it's easier to stay focused on running until it goes ding.)
  • Cognitive load is a thing. Manage how much a student needs to learn at once. If they keep doing a thing they shouldn't, they may be hitting their load. Remove that aspect of the exercise (like removing footwork and have them stay still) and continue.
  • Choices! In a 3-option drill, go through it like so:
    • Do option 1 three times. Then option 2 three times. Then option 3 three times.
    • Do option 1, then 2, then 3.
    • Then allow the choices.
  • Do more slow fencing. Also the stickysword drill.
Finally, Devon was kind enough to spend an hour on Saturday night working with me, Malocchio, and Anastasia on opposition. I wasn't able to take tons of notes at the time (because, y'know, focused instructor attention) but my major takeaways are:
  • Finding is downward suppression. Transitioning through gaining becomes sideways coincidentally, as you turn fully into Second or Fourth.
    • The key to taking over is being able to get your edge to their flat.
    • Also, the thing to do when counter-finding is try to aim for their opposite eye. That encourages the right movement.
  • Keep your mind on getting the tip of your sword to the target. The motion of the attack is to bring your hilt to where your blades initially crossed. Do not think of pushing a blade sideways. That is bad. Think of the action in these terms, and everything else just happens.
  • If my opponent is shorter, my target can totally be higher on their body. That's fine.
  • The response to pressure upon finding is a forward motion. Not sideways. Forward to target. The sideways action is coincidental and not a force vs force thing.
  • Don't go too far to the side with a Second or Fourth. Just go barely far enough, otherwise you're very vulnerable to a cavazione or a mezzo-cavazione. Again, the sideways motion just coincidentally happens.
    • On the other hand, if you actively choose to make a very wide Second or Fourth, consider lunging into their sword when you do, and striking from a very wide angle.
      • This is part of a concept about hiding behind your forte. You need to have you, your forte, and their blade all in a line to do this. If you take a very wide opposition and don't step into it, you're not behind your forte anymore and things break.
  • If you're passing while in opposition, be sure to keep your leading shoulder in front! It's very easy to rotate your torso to bring your off-side shoulder forward when you pass forward, and that breaks the skeletal structure which you need for good opposition. This is really done just by not rotating your torso, and by keeping your rear foot pointed to the side as you pass with it, and your front foot pointing straight ahead as it remains stationary.
Sunday there was the MoD Salon and I did some teaching. There was also good Lobby Chat, in which I discovered why Devon and I disagreed on one of Fabris' plates, which was really interesting. (Translation choice on Tom's part!) This meant that now I'm looking for a couple Italian-English dictionaries (and have been offered a couple already) so that rabbit hole might be a thing.

That's that! It was a fantastic and educational time. A++ would KWAR again.

As for seeing Fabris back in print? This is a thing people might care about.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Voids and drilling and all that good stuff!

First, some quick notes mostly for my own accountability: Doing the usual sets of drills but using Fabris' postures is going well. I tend to do the receiving side in a more upright stance to give my back a break (and for some variety) but hopefully over time I can shift more to Fabris full time. It certainly lets me pay attention to keeping the posture through the whole action, which is key.

Also, voids. There was a lot of void talk last night, and I figured that I'd throw my rambling thoughts here.

(Fabris likes voids. He even says that it's preferable to just void your opponent's attacks, especially with single rapier. So that's good, too.)

Anyhow, I tend to think of voids as slipping the sword in one of a couple directions - to the inside or outside. (Yes, underneath is also an option but it's a bit advanced. See Plate 40, on the left. It's absolutely doable, but starting easy is a thing. You can also legitimately pull back your lead foot, suck in your abdomen, and fairy godmother over the top, but I just don't care for that.) Breaking it down, you have two feet. Each can move to either side. (With gradations, for sure. You can step a full 90* perpendicular off the line of attack, or only 45* off, or whichever.) So you can sort out if you want to step to the outside with your left foot or right foot, or inside with the left foot or right foot. Mess around! Try things!

Things to keep in mind include:

  • How you angle your foot and your knee. Consider Plate 18, on the right. Note how the lead leg is turned so that the foot is no longer pointed at the opponent. This is really important given the lean in the torso, because it lets the fencer really sink into that leg to drop further off line without making the knee bend unnaturally. That last bit is super important. If you're doing a void and all you need to do is lunge a bit offline such that the majority of the force is forward? Cool, lunge offline and you're good. Stepping off the way Fabris illustrates here? You need to make sure your knee can take the weight as it is designed to do.
  • You should still have some forward movement, even if it's mostly a full body twist. The safest place for you to be is to the side of the blade, true, but also past your opponent's point
  • If you can void in such a way that you can continue out of it in a productive manner, awesome.
  • If you can do it with minimal torso lean, good. Center of gravity is your friend. What helped me with this is remembering that rather than leaning, I can get comparable results by rotating my torso along the line of my spine
  • Along the lines of that last point, remember that the hand is faster than the body which is faster than the feet - and that you're really trying to get your body out of the way. Rotate your shoulders along the line of your spine, and that rotation will feed the movement of your feet. It'll flow down from there, and your squishy organs will be out of the way faster.
  • Minimal (or total lack of) blade contact with voids is awesome. You tend to not have the body structure to support strong opposition, and a mezzo-cavazione is usually faster anyway.
You can mess around with void ideas and drill solid ones with just a blade pointed at your chest. Start with your hand just by the point (under, to the side, whichever) and perform your void. Repeat as needed.

There! Practical applications of theory. Good stuff.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Practical Thoughts and Some Bonus Semi-Philosophical Rambling

Last night was a practice that wasn't immediately productive, but it should end up helping out a lot in the long run. It was mostly a "Donovan really just grinds Fabris instead of Just Fighting" night, which is fine. I need those, too.

Warmed up with Malocchio. He was on, and I was warming up. Went predictably, but I could see what I could do instead, so that was pretty great. I was focusing more on moving forward more than anything else, and when someone is as ready to keep retreating and be as noncommittal as he is, it messes with my Fabris work. Working against his cane is also pretty hard right now, especially with how removed his blade was. I'm sure I can figure out What Fabris Would Do given a little time though, and then apply the hell out of it.

More passing steps! More timing my extensions better, and more bladework.You know, the usual. (Which isn't to say that it wasn't a solid reminder.)

The bulk of my fighting was with Dr. Deth. He's great to throw myself at, because he's completely unconventional - we call him our local swordboxer for a reason. He's also taller than me, has more reach, and uses case of longer blades.

I've been starting to take a cane against him, because I think it gives me a lot more room to work with than dagger. (That said, I may take a 35" in my offhand soon, and see if I can apply the same principles - except with a thing I can kill with. I feel like I get more snap off of the cane though, which is a thing.) My go-to Plate 60 guard worked solidly (even with a cane and not a dagger), in that it protected my core really well. That said, he was able to chew me up outside that cone, and my hands and forearms took a lot of punishment. My foot did too occasionally, and that was super irritating because I know that I should have just stepped in. He's damn fast though, so I'll just need to get better.

I switched things up though, and worked on variations of Plates 54, 67, and 68 - guards in Second and Fourth, and trying to work oblique lines to keep both of his blades on one side of me. Second worked out a lot better, partly just because of how we ended up circling, and partly because of blade mechanics. The closest analogue I can come up with was that I was trying to sort out what Kenric calls "zone defense." If Deth had been fighting single or dagger, I would have been a lot more comfortable, but that off-hand sword of his just allows him to access a number of different lines.

Sure, I could have just ended up doing the usual "hang out, hand-snipe a bit, get a tempo and then fire" thing that works pretty well, but I may as well practice what I preach - I go to practice to work on things I'm bad at, and die a lot.

I need to just work on passing steps and lunges from that nice low stance - passing steps especially, since I've been reflexively lunging from it and coming up short when a pass would have let me follow someone out and still land a good shot. (Also off-line movement, because yeah.) Hooray explosive movement. Yet more gaining the blade, because there's never enough of that. Working postures in front of a mirror. So all the usual stuff.

Relearning reflexive movement is hard, but I can see how awesome it'll be.

What kicked my brain into thinking though, was when I was done fighting with my cane, and I wondered "so how many Fabris purists would I send off on a rip if I said that I was using my Fabris, but with a cane." Probably a few, I'm sure. That said, I think it's still solidly Fabris. I'm using his principles, and modifying my guard to take advantage of things like more reach and a stronger defensive off-hand, but not so much that they're unidentifiable compared to the plate.

Similarly, Anastasia's been working Fabris a lot. Mostly dagger, but also quite a bit with her buckler. Fabris didn't write about cane, and he didn't write about buckler, either. It's still very identifiable though, and she's clearly taking the original dagger plate, sorting out what to do from there, and then figuring out what, if anything, to change to make it work with the buckler. It's really great to see, on a number of levels.

So I guess I'm really just trying to sort out how far I can go from the source text and still be able to think of it as "I'm fighting Fabris." Single, dagger, and cloak? Totally, they're all in there. Cane or buckler? Maybe. Case? That seems like more of a stretch, but I also think that I can fit it into the wider angle picture. Maybe not "Fabris' fight" but more "fighting in the tradition of Fabris."

It occurs to me that this is really one of the ways to sort out how much you've internalized the principles of a system. Not just the plates, but the core concepts - being able to figure out "how would this master have you fight with this weapon combination that wasn't ever described as such." That comes up a lot in the SCA (hooray for rotating weapon forms!), so it's probably worth thinking about a little.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Ongoing Adaptive Fabris!

That's a fancy-sounding title for a entry which is basically a little bit of rambling about my ongoing "transform my fight to be More Fabris to the extent that I'm comfortable doing it in high pressure situations" effort.

(As an aside, it occurs to me that the lack of good empirical milestones is making this difficult. I should probably work on that. Eventually.)

The big thing I'm noticing when I'm fencing is that I have a tendency to rise up out of the forward lean when I'm doing more than one thing coming forward. If I'm passing forward in more than one movement, if I'm doing lots of bladework, that kind of thing. Sometimes even on a lunge, I rise up when I take the step. Weird.

I suspect that this is just a Drill More sort of issue, and that's fine. I try not to spend all my drill time in that forward lean - partly just because of my back, and partly because he does espouse guards that don't have it. Also because hey, I might need to demonstrate knowledge of Capo Ferro too, right?

(I know that Fabris does outright say that any guard can be a good guard if you know the ins and outs of it, but given that the guards illustrated are the ones he thought worth illustrating, let's work really hard on replicating and using those in practice and drill, and we'll all understand that fighting is fighting and sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. Also, I don't want to lean on that line as an excuse to not do one of the most visually distinctive and interesting parts of his system.)

Circling using his Second and Fourth is a little odd, but I find circling to be odd in general. Also dealing with people who are ridiculously afraid of committing to their attacks.

Finally, especially with his dagger guards that refuse the right arm, making sure I extend, stay leaning, and step.

Still and all, more practice is better, and things are starting to click.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Fabris' Guards in Third

We're back, for the next in the Fabris' Guards Series! Third is the guard that most everyone will be most familiar with; it's neutral, natural, and what most people fall into when you tell them to hold a sword. it's simply the palm facing inward, as though you were shaking hands.

Granted, most people don't use Fabris' postures with it, but that's beside the point! Fabris describes three guards in Third, shown here and here (on the left; the right is a lunge in Third). Let's dive in.

Up front, the first guard in Third shown is noted by Fabris as not being very good. He feels that because of the angle of the blade you cannot perform good cavazioni, because the angle of your sword is such that you will need to circumscribe a large motion with your blade. Additionally, it leaves many openings, and will need large movements to cover them. On the other hand, Fabris notes that this guard can be useful because not every fencer knows all of its strengths and weaknesses, and if you do know them, you can use voids and mezzo-cavazioni and the like to counter the attacks you are inviting your opponent to make. All that said, he notes that the second guard in Third is much safer, so we can turn our eyes to that.

The second guard presented is what Fabris considers a proper Third guard, and is also probably one of the most iconic plates from the manual. The body posture is somewhat different and thereby safer, especially with the sword covering the upper body - the closest to the opponent. Also, with the blade presented as shown, you can perform cavazioni with a much smaller motion. Compared with the blade position in the previously shown guard, that is certainly true - and even a mezzo-cavazione will be much smaller from this position than from the previous.

Fabris also notes that since your point will be reaching farther out than your opponent's "that you will always be able to keep his blade under yours." I see what he's saying here - that you will be able to penetrate your opponent's blade sooner than he will yours, but what Fabris isn't saying (possibly because he sees it as being self-explanatory) is that you need to be very proactive about keeping the point of your weapon clear of your opponent's debole. If you're not on top of (or in an otherwise mechanically advantageous position over) your opponent's blade, it's very easy to see your opponent gaining your blade out of the gate here. Against someone who's going to play with that kind of thing, or who keeps their debole up and away while getting their forte onto your blade, I don't know how long you'll stay in this guard in an unmutated form, but it does feed right into a couple of the early wounds Fabris describes, right up to and including someone who plays that kind of game.

Speaking of people who try to find your blade, the last guard in Third is one that you can use to directly counter someone doing that - it "may be formed when your sword is in danger of being found or in other circumstances." This posture also refuses more of your body, making it harder to wound. Related to that, Fabris notes that it can (to paraphrase) mess with your opponent's sense of measure, with the sword being so low and your body leaning back. If they try and find your blade, they may well be placing themselves in much more danger than they otherwise might because of these two aspects of the guard. Finally, the simple lean back might be enough of a void for your opponent to not be able to reach you before you can counter.

The last guard isn't really so much a guard to place yourself in for a prolonged period, but more a position that you find to a very specific purpose. I've used it to good effect, but it does require you to have a very solid grasp of your opponent's measure as well - if you're off in one direction it doesn't really have much of an effect or use at all, and in the other direction, you die before you can bring your sword back on line or manage to move your body. One's more problematic than the other, but neither are particularly desirable.

Next up, my plans for the next day or so include working a lot of Fabris' dagger guards at practice (and heck, I may go through some single guards as well). Beyond forming them and attacking out of them, I'm not going to be able to do much solo, but even increasing my comfort with them will be very helpful. I'm sure I'll have some kind of collection of thoughts or other feedback from this though, and I'll inflict that on you here.

Monday, October 12, 2015

King's and Queen's Rapier Champions Thoughts and Such

It occurs to me that in addition to just kicking around pure manual stuff here, I should really be using this as a place to kick around my fencing from a practical perspective. (Or if I want to be fancy, the practical application of the stuff I study and teach.) So y'all get to put up with that now, which is nice.

Elsewhere on social media, I had the following thoughts about my fencing on Saturday:
Clearly, it was sufficient to see me to victory, so I don't really have any massive complaints. I lost focus a couple times and paid for it. I need to remember active coverage with the dagger when my sword is in another line. (That would have saved me from every lost bout I had that day.) I need to not screw up distance. I need to put a little more care into my hand defense. (Ugh.) I should fight more single rapier, and pay attention to closing lines and attacking through my opponent's blade. All of this is doable given a little effort at practice, and fencing a few very specific people at them. 
Finally, I need to really work my Fabris. I'm uncertain of it when I'm fighting single, and beyond plate 60, I'm not secure enough of any of his guards to use them in a pure tournament situation where It's All On The Line. Happily, Anastasia has recently Seen The Light Of Fabris, so I'll hopefully have someone to work on them with at practice. (Hint. Hint.)
 I've been really working on attacking in opposition with my blade and using my dagger to support it, keeping it joined with the sword. This is good (though ugh, my opposition remains terrible) but hey, independent dagger defense is still a thing and I should drill that. Fortunately, that's easy to work on.

I'm hoping to be able to make it to the Wednesday practice this week, in no small part because of the Wall Of Mirrors that they have there; that'll make working on guards a lot easier.

Basically, I think I just need to throw myself into doing Fabris in a ton of practice bouts and it'll sort itself out, as long as I'm drilling things and working on expanding my repertoire on the side. It doesn't all have to be really low and bent over, after all! Still, I was feeling pretty comfortable doing these things in practice, but I reverted to old form in a tournament. Pressure does that, and it's a reasonable thing to have happen. If I increase my comfort level though, I hope to be able to roll into Pennsic and fence a much more identifiable Fabris in high-pressure tournaments.

Next entry should end up being about some more guards - single sword guards in Third, I think. I'll end up sorting through those and the guards in Fourth, and then we'll hit the dagger guards!