Thursday, February 11, 2016

Mair's Sickle, Plate Two Followup Thoughts

Part of the fun of making the trip down to King's and Queen's Arts and Sciences Championship was the fact that Doroga and I would be stuck hanging out for a large chunk of the day.

With our A&S displays.

And sickles.

So the inevitable happened, and we worked on Plate Two! We had a few immediate takeaways from it that I wanted to mention here, and I'm sure that we'll spend more time on both Plate One and Two at practice tonight so we'll end up with more. (I'm hoping to get Plate Three written up tomorrow, and get some work done on it as soon as we're in the same place at the same time again.)

  • We both found Plate Two to be a good deal simpler to work through than Plate One. Granted, it was a full step shorter, even considering the decision point at the end, but it just clicked better for us.
  • The decision tree was a really interesting one, and something that I think comes up a great deal in that kind of close combat; how does it fall out when combatant feels that they're pressing a point that they really shouldn't and decides to bail vs. when a combatant doubles down on the position that they're in? In either case, it's absolutely possible to capitalize on your opponent's decision if you're in the right position, and Mair points that out to us.
    • Yes, this does mean that you can be pulled into a position from which there is no good exit. The best answer to this is to not get into that position in the first place, however...
    • ...the lack of a good exit relies on the combatant knowing how to capitalize on the situation that they're in. You can get away with bad positioning if you sufficiently outclass your opponent's skill, but that's absolutely not a winning strategy long-term.
  • The final strike in the play if the opponent presses ("If B presses the engagement, A pushes B's arm off to his left [this is the opponent's weapon arm, which A has grabbed moments before] and strikes B's left arm with his sickle and pulls back") was a really interesting moment to work through. As we read it, you are striking the arm of your opponent as they continue to hold your weapon arm with their hand. This was something that I did without thinking, which caused Doroga and I to go back and examine the movement fairly closely, since it didn't seem to be a motion that was as natural to him. (Doroga, if I'm wrong, you should tell me!) It really seemed to be something which relied very heavily on the properties of the specific weapon in use here - this wouldn't work with a dagger, or a blunt object. The wrist-roll involved can either catch the point of the sickle in your opponent's forearm (potentially even the crook of the elbow depending on where on your arm you've been grabbed) or loop the entire curve of the weapon around their whole forearm. In either case, when you pull back sharply, there's going to be quite an effect on your opponent.
  • The height differences between Doroga and I were an interesting problem. For instance, when the text for Plate One specifies that he is to push my am back to my ribs, he found it easier to be able to fold it across my body. That made the final step of the play a little more difficult, but not impossible. It's interesting to have to reconcile the text vs. the reality of the situation. For now, the text takes precedence, but in the long term being able to investigate other possibilities could be interesting.
I'll hopefully have more thoughts after tonight! After I post any that we have, I'm looking forward to a post on Plate Three, and then I want to ramble out some thoughts I've been mulling over about Fabris' extended guards compared to his more withdrawn ones, and the pros and cons of each. (Because we never forget our Fabris around here.)

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Practice Report

I was going to do this earlier, but I really wanted to get that sickle play up beforehand.

Monday night I was trying to work Fabris a bit more than usual. I had my usual amount of trying to make things more reflexive and feeling correct, but that's the usual now and is pretty okay. I need to try more extended guards; they feel insecure to me, and that's unfortunate. Also, I need to improve on my lunge-or-pass decisioning and balance. Finally, if I lunge I need to either get better about dagger placement or getting my elbow up for better profiling or both.

All of that is more or less ongoing though, and that's fine. On the other hand, there were a couple new things that were pointed out to me or that I realized! (This is good! I love having new things to work on that aren't, like, immediate Huge Problems.) Wil Deth noticed that while I was fencing one particular person using Fabris, that my rear foot would kick back a bit before I lunged. This was interesting - it doesn't come up when I drill from what I've noticed (and I didn't feel like I needed to pay special attention to it when I was doing my footwork last night) so I think it was a defensive flinch. Seems like I need to trust my defenses more, ensure that they're solid, and not lose that little bit of measure.

The other thing that I recognized when I was fighting Wil later (with Fabris and a stick, so that's still a thing that I think I'm making work!) was that I have a tendency to settle into my Fabris and become very immobile. I think this is really just due to the stance and the effort it takes, and the best thing for me to do is to be mindful of it when I fight, pay attention to when I'm stepping vs my measure, and also... to do more footwork drills at home. (Because we all knew where that was going.)

Still need to work on my voids, because I want to be able to do them really cleanly, but that's an ongoing process of training my body and remembering balance. (And also doing them from Fabris' stance as well as Capo Ferro's.) Also, I want to reread Fabris' guards and keep internalizing them to a greater degree.

So yeah! Very good practice. Stuff to pay attention to, but I felt like I've been making useful forward progress.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Mair's Sickle, Plate Two (and more followup thoughts on Plate One)

It's time for Plate Two! We're doing this! Once again, the translation I'm using is found here. I'm going to talk a bit about it, present my initial attempt at a modern interpretation of it, and there'll be testing at practice next week! After that, I'll mention a couple other followups to my Plate One interpretation that Doroga and I came up with last Thursday at practice while we were working through it again.

Plate Two is titled, "A low and a high cut." Here we go! First, take a quick glance at the illustration that Wiktenaur has for this plate.

The action starts with the fighter on the left initiating, which was how Plate One began. A quick skim of the next few plates bears out this trend as well, so I feel safe assuming this until the text says otherwise.

Therefore, Fencer A begins in the position shown by the left-hand fighter in the plate: Right foot leading, with the sickle in the right hand in a thumb down position, tucking the left hand underneath the right elbow. Fencer B also stands with the right foot forward, the sickle held outward in the right hand, and the left hand tucked under the right elbow.

First Variation
  • Fencer A passes the left foot forward and cuts upward into Fencer B's right arm.
Again, a very straightforward opening attack.

Second Variation
  • Fencer A passes the left foot forward and cuts upward toward Fencer B's right arm.
  • Fencer B parries A's sickle down and to B's left. B grabs A's right hand and cuts into A's neck from his left side.
Third Variation
  • Fencer A passes the left foot forward and cuts upward toward Fencer B's right arm.
  • Fencer B parries A's sickle down and to B's left. B grabs A's right hand and prepares to cut toward A's neck from his left side. 
  • A grab's B's right hand with their left.
    • If B presses the engagement, A pushes B's arm off to his left and strikes B's left arm with his sickle and pulls back.
    • If B pulls away, A follows to cut B's head.

While a step shorter than the first plate, this already looks more complicated at the third step. There's a branching option, but that's not too hard to work out. What I'm really looking forward to figuring out with Doroga will be how the mechanics of the cut will work when both fighter's weapon hands are grabbed, and the play doesn't note that any hands are pulled free. It might be that it'll make itself very clear once we start working through it with some intent, but that's really the fun part of all this!

Which reminds me, the major followup we had to the first plate was that you really need some weight shifts for the final step of the play. Dropping your weight through the back hip and twisting your torso absolutely lets you both push your opponent's weapon arm into their body as instructed, as well as pulls your hand free of your opponent's pretty readily. As an added bonus, it loads your whole body to throw the final shot in a very definitive way. It's like body mechanics work!

I'm hoping that I'll have the time on Friday to post a quick followup for Plate Two, based on what the initial run-throughs show us. If I don't, it'll show up on Sunday after Birka.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Mair Sickle, Plate 1 Followup Thoughts

Since I posted my original thoughts on Mair's first sickle play, I've gotten a chance to work through it live a few times. Initially, I worked with Doroga for a good chunk of time at practice. (With the able assistance of Grim the Skald holding my phone for the notes and offering color commentary!) I specifically wanted to work with Doroga at the outset because of his pre-existing martial skill, specifically Arnis. I knew that I could work with him with a reasonable amount of speed and intent, and trust that we could do so without injury. Also, we could call upon his experience in Arnis for some frog DNA if needed due to the weapon similarity as well as the similarity of technique. Finally, I wanted to work with him because he was so freaking enthusiastic to get to play with sickles - how can I say no to that?

Answer: I just can't.

We went in with the idea that beyond the first fighter's initial pass with the left foot, that there was no further footwork involved; Mair doesn't mention anything in particular but he does mention that initial step. That leads me to believe that if there was any meaningful movement of the feet that it would be important enough to merit mention in the play. This really only became relevant in the final step though, because there's a break of a wrist grab at that point, and it was pointed out that a number of martial arts would involve a step back with that.

Speaking of that last step, that's where a lot of our discussion centered. (Specifically, "Fencer B pushes hard on A's right hand (the text has A use his left hand to "push the right elbow of the opponent more inwards") and pulls back his own right hand to strike B on the side of the head.)  It seemed possible to successfully perform that action with simply arm motions, but it was far more optimal to include the torso in the action. Dropping the weight of the rear hip and turning the torso into it dramatically increased the force of the sickle hand to break the opponent's grip on it, as well as giving more push to your left hand to shove away the opponent's weapon hand. It also has the happy benefit of loading for your finishing blow.

If we were running the play at full speed with full intent, I think that the torso movement would become less pronounced, but it really worked well for us in a paired kata type of format, and it was absolutely a valuable part of learning the play overall.

On top of that, at 12th Night yesterday I was rolling around with the sickles and a printout of the translation. It got some great responses from people, and a few very different folks from what I was expecting asked me to work through the play and teach them. I was really excited by this, and it's certainly giving me the get up and go to work through the second play before practice this week and prep a poster display for K&Q A&S based on the first two plays and some initial reactions to them.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Mair's Sickle, Plate 1

Or in other words, let's do this thing! As a reminder, I'm using the translation available here to base things on. If you want a quick look at the plate, wiktenaur has a version here. (Wiktenaur's version is from the Dresden version and the translation is using the Codex Iconografico 393, but it should work well enough for a quick glance reference.)

This is my first attempt working through a new manual, a new weapon, and a very different way of structuring the instruction in the play; I'll almost certainly post revised versions of this as my understanding grows, and I work through this more in person. I strongly suspect that working through this in person is going to lead to some fairly important clarifications in terms of body mechanics, how the torso is going to twist, and things like that. I'm really looking forward to those updates.

I'm going to try to preserve how I see the structure of the play set up in the text, and include the break points as I see them. For a first attempt, I'm going to be scaffolding up each variation of the play as I go, rather than trying to do it all in one big sequence.

The plate itself is helpful for understanding the opening position of the play. One thing that does jump out at me is that while each figure in the plate is in the same general position, it's worth noting a couple differences in arm and foot position. The figure on the left has his right foot leading, while the figure on the right has his left foot leading. Their arm positions are slightly different as well, varying by which hand is in front, though the sickle remains withdrawn by the left side of their head, regardless. Both starting positions are correct, depending on where you start with the play.

Here's my first run at a breakdown, then.



Fencer A starts with his right foot forward, his sickle on the left side of his head, and leaves his left hand free and ready to reach or grapple. (This is the fencer on the left in the plate.)
Fencer B starts with his left foot forward, his sickle on the left side of his head, but his left arm behind his right, ready to brace or bolster it. (This is, surprisingly, the fencer on the right in the plate.)

First Variation
  • Fencer A passes forward with his left foot while cutting his left to right into the right side of his opponent's head.
That's it. That was simple!

Second Variation
  • Fencer A passes forward with his left foot while cutting from his left to right towards the right side of his opponent's head.
  • Fencer B cuts left to right, while bracing his right hand with his left, to deflect A's sickle off to B's right side. As he does this B grabs A's right wrist and cuts to the right side of A's head.
Third Variation
  • Fencer A passes forward with his left foot while cutting from his left to right towards the right side of his opponent's head.
  • Fencer B cuts left to right, while bracing his right hand with his left, to deflect A's sickle off to B's right side. As he does this B grabs A's right wrist in preparation to freeing his sickle and attacking with it.
  • Fencer A uses his left hand to grab B's right. A pulls backward on this, and cuts B's leading left leg.
Fourth Variation
  • Fencer A passes forward with his left foot while cutting from his left to right towards the right side of his opponent's head.
  • Fencer B cuts left to right, while bracing his right hand with his left, to deflect A's sickle off to B's right side. As he does this B grabs A's right wrist in preparation to freeing his sickle and attacking with it.
  • Fencer A uses his left hand to grab B's right. A pulls backward on this, and prepares to cut B's leading left leg.
  • Fencer B pushes hard on A's right hand (the text has A use his left hand to "push the right elbow of the opponent more inwards") and pulls back his own right hand to strike B on the side of the head.


That's it! I'm hoping to get a chance to run through these on Saturday, if I can find a willing partner. If not, I'll take some time at a fencing practice to sort through these before I get back to swords. If anyone has thoughts, I'd love to hear them!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

And now for something completely different - the sickle plays of Paulus Hector Mair!

We've survived the holidays over here, so it's back to cool historic combat stuff. I'm trying to work on a second poster display so I can go sit in the friendly non-compete area of King's and Queen's Arts and Sciences Champs ('cause I don't think the setup for the competition area really works for me - I kind of rely on being able to talk to people rather than set up a physical standalone thing, y'know?) that'll be More Fabris, and hopefully that'll be a lot of fun.

So instead of doing More Fabris in two places at once (though I'll no doubt talk about the poster display contents here) I want to do something a little different. Sickle plays!

A while back, Wistric did a series on Mair's sickle plays over at the Weekly Warfare. They looked really fun then, and they still look really fun. For the Winter Giftgiving Holiday I received a pair of Purpleheart Armory's sickle simulators from my wife who wants me to get into trouble, so let's take a look at this thing!

For a translation, I'm using the translation of the Latin text by Reinier van Noort and Saskia Roselaar, available here. Naturally, wiktenauer has a great page on Mair as well. Finally, Wistric has posted a translation by Rachel Barkley with commentary by himself. (I've skimmed that one a while back, but I'm not consulting it closely yet, mostly because I want to see what I come up with for modern commentary as compared to him. Also, I'm leery of not copying work, accidentally or not. That said, he swears that there's an underlying system here, so I'm going to enjoy looking for that and piecing it together.)

My plan is to work my way through the sixteen plays post by post, and also work through them in person, with intent. (And with protection, yes.) I should be able to have at least one or two looked at and able to be slowly worked on and taught by Birka, which should be a good time.

Before going into detail on the plays, I've already given them a quick readthrough, and I've come up with two quick reactions:
  1. The artwork is gorgeous.
  2. Mair builds out the plays in a way very reminiscent of how I've been taught in some WMA classes.
I don't really need to expand on the first point, but the second one is really interesting to me. To summarize, it generally reads like this:

  1. Set up like so! Do this thing to your opponent. You struck them, excellent.
  2. If your opponent tries to do that to you, here's a response!
  3. If your opponent responds like that to your original opening, here's the counter!
  4. If your opponent uses a counter to your response to the original opening, here's what you do!
On first glance it's a bit complicated to parse, but I think that once it's put into a more modern formatting that this will be really great to work with. It lends itself to building out the play step by step, and seeing how the whole thing evolves as you go. This can let you work up to the whole play at full speed step by step, and still feel accomplished at each step, because each step is either an ending (someone is struck) or it can continue (there is a response). It shows a number of situations that come out of a single opening, and the responses to each, which should make it easier to tease out underlying principles (which is to say, a system).

This is gonna be really different from my usual Italian rapier focus, and I'm looking forward to digging through something new for a little change of pace here. (While I continue to work on reading, learning, drilling, writing, and fencing Italian rapier in the background, because let's be serious here.)

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Drill time!

(Note: I edited this on 1/6/16 to clean up the description and add a dimension that I'd forgotten.)

Earlier this week at the Monday practice, Ken Mondschein showed a couple of us a really interesting drill. It stuck with me as really worth adding to my regular rotation for a few reasons: because it happened to focus on some foundations that I've been trying to work on anyway, it scales in scope, and you can potentially focus on a few different things if you want.

Essentially it's a decision drill, but after we see it in it's basic form (at least as I remember and/or perform it), we'll start to add breadth to it!


  1. Fencer A and Fencer B start just outside of measure. Fencer A approaches and finds B's sword to the inside.
  2. As A finds B's sword, B extends toward A to cue the action. As B extends, he also does one of three things:
    1. Nothing - this cues a normal lunge in Fourth from A.
    2. Steps out - this cues a passing step and a strike in Fourth from A.
    3. Steps in - this cues a girata and a strike from A. (Blade position can vary based on a few elements here, but try to be consistent.)
That's it! To start off the drill, I really like doing each one of those three possible options three times each, and then one of each in sequence, and then starting to mix it up. It'll help get things settled into your head before you just dive in.

Pretty simple in theory, but I've found that when you're paying that much attention to doing the correct action in response to the cue, all sorts of mistakes will just start showing up. Overthinking does that; it'll work itself out. Things to keep in mind include:
  1. Take your action in the tempo of the cue. Don't wait for B to Completely Apply All The Pressure, or to take a full step before you move. As they apply pressure and start to step, you should be reacting.
  2. Good blade position is important.
  3. Don't over commit on that last step with the finding; you'll need to react out of it, so keep it small.
  4. When you're first doing this drill, you'll make mistakes. Concentrate on the things you do right - if you do an incorrect action in opposition and yet survive? Great! Just do the correct one next time.
  5. Slowing down to start is a good idea. Just do it in the right time, and it'll work out. If you do this, slow down the cue as well; it'll make it easier to keep things consistent.
To add breadth, you'll want to start by working the outside line just as you do the inside. You can switch it up on the approach, and just find on that line instead.

From there, you want to expand to Fencer B cuing with a cavazione, and have A respond in that tempo with a contra-cavazione, strike, and footwork as normal. Then work the other line with a contra-cavazione.

Finally, Fencer B can cue with pressure on A's blade, and A responds in that tempo with a cavazione, with all the footwork as normal.

Then mix them all up, and go to town! You can focus on moving in tempo to start, and also good opposition, clean steps, balance, different girata or voids, stepping into the blade instead of away, working from different stances or guards, whatever you like. It's a framework to work inside. You can keep it limited to work on things, or expand it to a full 3 measures, 3 actions, 2 lines drill. 18 options! All at once!

I think that the explanation is pretty straightforward, but if you catch me at an event, I can run through it (or any other drill I've gone over) in person pretty readily.