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!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Actual Sharp Swords

So last week, I was up in Vancouver learning a whole lot about rapier, longsword, teaching, and learning. It was a fantastic time - I learned a whole lot of stuff. Tweaks to my technique, new ways of thinking, better concepts to apply, efficient ways to learn motor skills and perception. A lot of these things will probably appear in blog posts, show up in classes I teach, and more. I still need to sort through and re-categorize my notes though, and really integrate a lot of that knowledge into my brain. So instead, I wanted to post an entry containing my thoughts on using an actual for-reals sharp sword, across from another actual for-reals sharp sword.

It was really, really cool.

It was also terrifying.

It is also an experience that I recommend to everyone who fences. It was enlightening in a number of ways.

First, I want to stress that this was done in a highly controlled environment. The two people with sharp weapons had a very wide space around them, and observers were keeping an eye out just in case. The floor was clean to begin with, but it was given a quick glance to make sure there were absolutely no tripping or slipping hazards. At no point was any movement made by either fencer towards the other with the feet - only an extension or a lean, and without foot movement, there was no way to strike the body of your partner. Every movement was done quite slowly and especially precisely, and with prior discussion. Safety was an extremely high priority.

That said, this was done without any protective gear. The reasoning for this is that people have a tendency to assume that if they are wearing protective gear that they are completely safe. This would absolutely not be the case in this instance, and highlighting the seriousness of what these weapons were capable of was part of the exercise.

Safety being handled, I want to move on to my reactions and takeaways from this experience.

What struck me the most was how much more difficult it was to get a real visual sense of the blade position. We have these giant blunts on the end of the swords we use, and I never really noticed how much they stand out in my vision until I was standing across from a blade without one. Without that bobbing point in my vision, and with the overall thinner blade, it was much harder to get a real sense of blade length and position just through visual cues. At certain angles, the blade very nearly vanished from sight, which was deeply creepy. It was almost comedic how much I reflexively wanted to constrain my opponent's blade, even knowing that he wasn't going to hurt me, just because it made me feel safer. (The comment was made that some of the senior students will do some slow work with untipped, though blunted, swords just so they get used to not relying on the visual cue of the blunt. This seems like it could be really worth trying sometime.)

The other thing that the lack of blunts impacted was the size of the disengages. It was possible to slide your blade along the other, and then up the other side. Doing this with our simulators doesn't work nearly so well, with the blunt and tape catching on the blade as you try. Also, it felt like the blade was a bit lighter than I expected - if the edges were truly sharp, the geometry would by definition be different than the simulators we use, with that much less metal on the edge.

Speaking of sliding the blades, what you may have heard about edges catching on edges is absolutely true. It isn't predictable or consistent, but when you're sliding edge on edge, there are catches that happen which absolutely impact the movements that you're making. If you can utilize it quickly when it happens, you might be able to save your life! On the other hand, it really made it more important to have your edge on their flat if you're trying to displace their blade with an attack.

Finally, hand shots. It was very clear that while it may still be a low-percentage shot, that the tip of a blade isn't going to bounce off as readily as a blade with a bird blunt on top would. Rather, it seems that if someone really wants to take the shot, that it would be very possible for the blade to skip into the guard, and into your hand... and along it, through it, and into your wrist and arm from that angle. Super problematic for continuing the fight.

Having had this experience, if you have the opportunity to do the same, I really recommend it to a serious student of historic swordsmanship. It highlighted a number of reasons we really do what we do, and gave a very tiny and controlled taste of what it meant to be across from three to four feet of sharp steel.

So! That was sure a thing. Soon I hope to have more Good Historic Material up, now that I've got a bit more free time and brain space.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Rapiers and Katas and Such Like That

Some of the things I try to pay a lot of attention to are ways to expand my solo practice. I have people to drill with at practice, and occasionally around the house, but a lot of my time doing drills at home is spent working on things by myself.

It can occasionally be difficult to work on skills solo, and this is coming from someone who is happy to just keep grinding on the same small set of actions because I find it calming. Working individual actions, guards, and conditioning via postures are all possible, but let's be real - we can all get bored just working repetitive things again and again.

I was mulling this over, and I was reminded recently about how much I miss kata from back when I did Eastern martial arts. They were great for working on transitions, and interpreting what's actually going on, and putting your own spin on things. Classical fencing has them in the form of etudes, and Don Christian de Launcy has written two of them for rapier in the SCA that I know of.

What really got me thinking though, was this old video of a student at Acadamie Duello in Vancouver going through a progression of Fabris' rapier and dagger guards. This hit pretty much all of the levers in my head - kata, transitions, movement, and Fabris. (As a note, I know that we could spend time criticizing the guards themselves, and the postures, and whatnot of the person performing them. That's not what this entry is about, so we're going to not do that. I have a couple comments about how some of the positions make it hard to interpret what the guard is, outside of the sequence, but I'm not trying to harsh on Adam's performance here.)

In the video, Adam works through Fabris' rapier and dagger guards in the order of the manual, with the lunges included in the same places as they appear in the book. Let's take a look at the progression, and consider which changes we might want to make to this depending on what we want to get out of it.

Adam starts with Prime guards, beginning with plate 49, then to 50, and then plate 51 for the lunge in Prime. The transitions between these are all done with passing steps forward - plate 49 and 51 have the right foot leading, and 50 has the left foot leading.

From the lunge in Prime, Adam moves to the guards in Second. Adam recovers back from the lunge into plate 52. From there, he shifts into plate 53. He then passes back with the right foot into plate 54, passes the left foot back to plate 55 again and immediately pivots on the balls of his feet to take plate 56 and through into plate 57, both two rarely seen guards in Second, and moves into a lunge in Second from plate 58.

Recovering from the lunge, Adam takes what I'm assuming is the guard in plate 59. (The edition of Fabris that I have puts the guards here in a different order than the scans I'm linking to; I'm not sure what's up with that but in what I'm using, plate 59 is illustrated in that link on the right. I'll note the other changes as they happen.) He then moves into plate 60 (on the left), brings his body up for 61 (on the right), and lowers his body back down for 62, along with the requisite blade mutations. He passes forward with the left into plate 63, and then steps off to the right with his right foot to assume plate 64. Finally, he brings his left foot in for the very uncommon plate 65 guard, and finally lunges into Third as shown in plate 66.

For the final stretch, Adam recovers into a guard in Fourth, plate 67. He extends his arms into plate 68, passes forward with the left foot into plate 69, and then passes his right foot forward to lunge as in plate 70, finishing the sequence.

This sequence covers all the rapier and dagger guards of Fabris. The primary purpose it serves is helping the fencer memorize all of them, though it can also help with some transitions between the guards. But if we change this up a bit, can we focus on different things?

The easiest thing to do would be to add a lunge after every guard. This would increase the length of the form and make it much more of a stamina exercise, but it would also let us practice attacking out of every guard without changing the order of the guards we're doing - so it would be an easier adaptation to make.

Once all of the basic guards are memorized, the order of them could be shifted around. This would let us work on smooth transitions between very different guards, and as a thought exercise we could try to figure out why we'd be shifting from guard to guard, possibly with attacks in between.

Does anyone else do solo forms similar to this? I'd love to hear about it and kick around more ideas.