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.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Random practice thoughts

Practice was... eh? Fine, I think?

Things I need to keep working on:

  • Footwork. (Yeah, seriously.) When I do passes, I step farther than I want. I want shorter, more controlled passes. Same with girata.
  • Lunging in proper order. When I get rushed, I think I keep screwing this up.
  • Opposition - I keep running into problems on the outside, and I'm not sure what it is. Maybe it's easier for me to find the blade when it's higher on the inside than the outside? That seems like it could be right. Also, in general.
  • Fabris. Voids. Mezzo-tempo actions.
  • After all that, just fighting my fight.
I have a mad thought of trying to get people on board with doing a month of All Drills, No Bouting at practices. I mean, I can do that kinda, but it'd be inefficient in the extreme. Rather than asking around and halfassing it, I want to do full practices of just straight, focused drilling. With pre-planned drills and time and stuff.

I think it'd be amazing.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Fabris' Guards in Fourth

It's finally time to run through Fabris' guards in Fourth, found here and here. These are the last set of single rapier guards in Fabris. After these, we'll touch on his lunge and girata from Fourth, and then I'll pick some other interesting Fabris thing to start in on!

The first guard in Fourth is, as has become a trend for Fabris, described as not very good. From here, Fabris recommends simply passing underneath your opponent's sword and straightening your arm as you do. As another option, you can turn your hand to Second. If you leave the tip of your sword in place, you'll create a "considerable motion" with your hand - you can see the angle of the forearm in the plate if you squint a little, and rolling into Second will have a pretty wide area of motion - and in doing so, you can use that motion to your advantage if your point isn't moving.

On to the second guard in this series, which Fabris states is much better, and "safer one than any other without comparison." That's a heck of a recommendation! Note that the lean of the upper body is much more pronounced than in the former, and that it is directed much more towards the opponent than off to the inside; this is owed in part to the hips being more properly positioned, as well. You can see the fencer on the left has much more squared off hips, and the one on the right not so much, but note the feet and how he's stepping into the guard somewhat. Additionally, the left arm is brought back in a position that we've seen in lunges before, which will keep the upper chest more narrowed and safe. Finally, the sword is in a much more extended posture, which will help encourage your opponent to stay at a distance from you, as well as allow you to perform cavazione and other blade movements in a much more efficient manner.

Fabris notes that this guard keeps you safe on the outside line as well as the inside. Your opponent can try to move your blade, but cavazione are so tight here that this is very risky. He could try to pass underneath, but your blade is so extended that he'd have to use a lunge, which takes a long tempo.

The third guard that Fabris shows us seems to give up a lot of those advantages. The upper body is much more squared off now, and there's a line to the upper chest inside the sword and off hand. The blade extension suffers due to the angle of the arm, as well. However, Fabris notes that the feet are spread a bit more, so that they're on either side of that line to the chest. Because of this, you can readily move either foot to displace your body safely away from the attack on whichever side you prefer.

Interestingly, Fabris notes that while it appears open to the outside (due to that arm position that we noted earlier), it's a fine invitation as you can pass with your left foot and strike your opponent underneath his sword, or even over it if you increase the angle with your arm. Fabris goes on to say that the more strongly your opponent tries to parry, the more easily he will be wounded. I can only see this working because of the angles of the swords involved - note that he doesn't suggest turning your hand into any other position, but simply maintaining the angle of the blades.

If you pass to the inside and turn your hand in Second, Fabris specifies that you need to be close enough to be able to get your head past your opponent's sword simply by leaning, or you will not be safe - but that you can also get your left hand onto your opponent's hilt.

Finally, the last guard is one that has more strength to the inside, because of the blade angle. Fabris is including this "to show a good way to operate against an opponent who is situated in an angled Second guard and find his sword." He notes that it's hard to oppose someone who really commits to a deep angle in Second, so you'll need to remember that a straight line will get you to your target easier than an angled one, to void, or wait for your opponent to close and then strike.

There's some odd things in the guards in Fourth, to be sure. Some of it continues to emphasize blade angle over hand position in determining which line a blade is strong on, which works against common wisdom in the SCA but is very much worth investigating. Additionally, the emphasis on extended guards remains strong, but we'll see that change somewhat when we eventually look at dagger guards.

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!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Lunge and a Pass in Second!

Has it really been almost a month since I've posted? That's not cool! Where did you go, motivation? (Answer: work stress, duh.) Time to get back on the stick and do a quick post on Fabris' lunge and pass in Second! (Lunge on the left, pass on the right.)

As an aside, you really have to love a set of illustrations where (under the pass in Second) Fabris feels the need to remind us that it's "a drawing from life, as are all the others!" Yeah.

Let's look at the lunge first. Fabris notes that this can be done to either the inside or outside of your opponent's blade - this is due to the fact that you are endeavoring to pass yourself underneath your opponent's blade. Fabris warns to be very careful of measure, and that this is best performed as your opponent performs a passing step, as you're trying to get the bulk of your body past their tip as you wound them. If you try to do this at too wide a measure, your opponent can just lower the tip of their blade and strike you before you pass under it.

In a sentence you won't expect to hear very often in many fencing situations, Fabris also notes that your head and your knee are both protected by your guard and arm at once.

Fabris' pass from Second is very similar. However, Fabris points out that because you are passing with your left foot while your right shoulder remains in the lead, you have an extremely long reach with this attack. (You can see this with the lift of the right shoulder, and the bending along the spine. It's very clear in the right-hand figure.) Because of this, while it can be used when your opponent passes (as with the lunge above) it also works when your opponent takes any other kind of attack - or any other tempo, since you will pass under the tip of their blade so quickly.

As with the lunge, you can do this to the inside or outside - it doesn't matter at all because you're passing underneath and your blade will have no real need to oppose your opponent's. Finally, Fabris notes that your second step will be even faster than the first, thanks to your momentum and the drop in your body.

These two attacks are extremely low to the ground - to the point where it looks like your head can be lower than your pelvis in the pass, which just seems mad to me. That said, passing entirely underneath a blade is a really effective technique if you can manage it. I appreciate that Fabris makes it clear with the lunge that if your opponent is too far that it just won't work out well for you. With the lunge as wide and committed as it is, he points out that it's very hard to safely recover from it. It's because of that very fact that I'm trying to work more passing steps into my fight - I love lunges, but the action that we typically term a redouble (recovering forward and immediately lunging again) is slow, potentially dangerous, and is handing my opponent tempo after tempo in which to act. If I can stick a lunge, I'll absolutely use it, but adding passing attacks to my fight is both useful and a very period thing to be able to do.

If it makes people feel better, the lunges from Third and Fourth aren't nearly so low to the ground at all. Also, the lunges in Fourth include some girata, which are super great.

Next, guards in Third!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Fabris' Guards in Second

We're back from Pennsic, which means More Swordnerdery! Yay!

Before I start to kick around thoughts like "how accurate are the plates in Fabris, anyway" I'm just going to plow ahead with his guards in Second because I want to keep making forward progress here.

As a reminder, we can see his four guards in Second here and here, and his descriptions of lunging and passing in Second here. The first two guards in Second are pretty straightforward, while the second two are a good deal stranger upon first glance - so we'll dive through them in order.

The first guard in Second is what you end up with when you take the first guard in First (the imperfect one on the left), rotate your hand, and lower your arm. Fabris points out that it's easier to maintain that guard, and that the weak side is now the outside rather than on top. This is another highlight of the concept of the sword being stronger in the direction towards which it points - while we end up in Second while opposing towards the outside, this guard is initially stronger towards the inside. That said, you can parry toward the outside with the forte as it's still far enough forward even with the relatively wide position of the arm, and if you move into Fourth you can parry to the inside. Fabris does say that even though there are some good ideas with this guard, the wider step leaves your right knee somewhat exposed, and the next guard in Second "is much better than this one."

Looking at the plate of the second guard, we can note some changes immediately. The stance is narrower, and the arm is much straighter than the previous guard. Fabris notes that the arm change is important, because since a Second is weaker on the outside, you don't want your opponent attacking that line - even if, as he notes, it is the most covered.

Fabris feels that due to the sword placement and body posture in this guard, the only clear opening should be your head over your sword. Your lower body is safe due to your posture. Fabris does note that your opponent could feint toward your head and redirect to a line below your sword, which is always a thing to beware of if you've really only got a couple clear openings. If we ignore cuts for the moment, you can parry most attacks in Second. Inside thrusts should be parried in Fourth. Fabris notes that these defenses are easy due to the straight direction of the sword - something which also allows you to make very tiny cavazione and counter people trying to find your sword. Similar to guards in First, Fabris closes by noting that keeping your arm in this posture is tiring over time.

The third guard in Second is really one of the first guards in this manual that will make people blink a lot and wonder what the hell Fabris is thinking here. The big thing to note is that moreso than any other guard we've seen yet, this isn't something that you settle into without context. Fabris wants you to settle downwards into this guard as your opponent gets closer. When your opponent is within measure, your body should be as low as you can get it and your sword as far back as possible while still keeping it on line with your opponent. Fabris points out that you need to keep it straight so your opponent stays on the inside. Also, keep your left hand way back to help keep your lucky face safe.

The very moment that your opponent's sword penetrates yours, you should strike towards the inside in Fourth. (Fabris notes that "your right foot forms a transverse step" so that "at the moment of your attack, your body will be out of presence before you even move your feet." I admit, I'm still working on exactly how that sorts itself out.) If your opponent's sword is directed towards yours, your body should go underneath, and you should push in Second against their debole.

The last guard in Second is also one of those guards that makes people wonder what's up, but generally not nearly so much as the previous. Similar to the previous, this is also a transitional posture - Fabris states that you should really move from a Third into this guard to invite an attack by your opponent. If they attack you while you are transitioning into this guard, cover with your left hand and straighten your sword into them. If they wait until you have formed this posture, you can use a girata and strike in Fourth or parry and respond in Second.

Fabris does make it very clear that this is not a posture to hang out in; form a new guard without stepping (so that you can move backward or forward to parry or counter as you need).

That's it! The next entry will either be going through the guards in Third, or maybe going over the lunges and passes from First and Second. Probably the latter, just for a bit of a break before More Guards.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Transforming Your SCA Fight to a More Period Fight

I'm going to take a short break from Fabris (and the next entry on guards in Second is about half done, sitting in the drafts queue even now!) to kick around ideas about how to change your existing fight to a more period one. This is intended more for the existing SCA fencer who can generally perform pretty well in that context, but who wants to evolve their game to one much more rooted in historic rapier rather than the sport/historic/Olympic/raw athleticism mishmash that characterizes a lot of SCA fencing.

There are a couple ways that you can do this. The first way, and the one that I expect almost nobody to do, is to entirely stop free-fencing for a year, and do nothing but pick up a manual and work on footwork, body posture, and looking exactly like the plates. Do nothing but solo drills, and paired drills where you carefully go through the scenarios presented, increasing speed while maintaining accuracy. Do this for a at least two extended practice sessions each week and fill in the other days with some solo time. No freebouting. You're trying to completely rewrite how you fence from the ground up.

On the one hand, this will totally rebuild your fight from the ground up. If you seriously work at this, you'll become a terrific period fencer. On the other hand, a lot of people won't find this particularly fun - doing pickups and fighting in tournaments are where a lot of people find their enjoyment, and it can really suck going from competitive fencer to nonexistent for a year.

The second way to evolve your game requires a lot more attention to your time, and it can get frustrating at points, but you get to keep fencing through it so that's just a lot more fun overall. Plus, you get to see how your performance changes over time, so that's also pretty great. In short, when you're at a practice, drill period technique. Drill it a lot. Be sure to make forward progress, but don't neglect anything, no matter how basic. Footwork? Make sure you're doing it correctly. Guard postures? Check them. Blade contact? Do it or don't do it, but be sure you're doing it correctly. Build on each skill as you grow in mastery, and keep working on them constantly. Paired drills are great for this, because it lets you work in collaborative partner drills, adversarial drills, and everything in between. (It's also nice because you can keep checking progress with your partner.) Do this for a good chunk of each practice.

For the last part of practice - maybe the last quarter or so - shake off the drills, and then go freebout. Remind yourself how to just fight your fight. Don't try to force the period actions you've been working on. Do them if they work (and things like footwork and guards are always easy to work in) but I've found that it's really easy to try and focus far too much on doing whatever it was you were drilling earlier, regardless of whether it's the appropriate action. Just fight, and remember your fights and think about what actions you could have taken instead. Don't worry about being super period here, that way lies frustration. What you'll notice happening over time is that more and more of the period system that you're drilling with start to filter into your fight. You'll notice that your guards are just shifting a bit, or that your bladework is changing. A reflexive defense will look like a plate you were studying. As this happens, if you're deconstructing your bouts with your opponent, and you think about how you should have handled an attack that they landed on you, your solutions will start to look like the system you're working on. (Which is the best feeling - a few months ago, I thought about how I should have handled an attack deep on my inside by someone who's very good with his twohander, and when I got home that evening and cracked my copy of Fabris to write a blog entry, right there on paper I saw the response I came up with. Awesome!)

The more your fight shifts to become the period system, the easier it'll be for you to begin to actively adjust your fight rather than letting aspects filter in, and then the process accelerates dramatically.

For established fencers, I'm really a fan of the second process. It'll take longer, and it'll be messier, and it can be frustrating, but I think it's important for the community as a whole to be able to see this process happening. It shows that even experienced fencers can study, learn, and perform new skills. They can see how winning isn't everything (but it is pretty great and yeah, you saw me say that winning isn't everything), but developing yourself as a fighter, a student, and a teacher matters so much more. It can help other fencers undertake similar processes, and help everyone up the quality of their fight and also increase historic fencing's visibility in the whole community, which is all really great.

But mostly it means that you can keep fighting lots of people while you learn, and that's a really big deal.

Next up, getting that entry on Fabris' guards in Second out of the draft queue and posted!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Fabris' Guards in First!

Seeing First used is rare in the extreme in SCA fencing, at least from what I've seen. I'm pretty sure that this is due to a number of factors - it's not a natural looking or feeling guard, it takes a lot of strength and endurance, head cuts aren't typically an issue (save for C&T), and I believe it to be more useful in Fabris' fight than, say, the more upright fight of Capo Ferro or Giganti - but that may not be saying too much. If you're standing in Capo Ferro's upright and backward-leaning stance, denying your head and upper chest, taking a guard which defends those areas isn't generally going to be the most optimal action you might take.

(As a reminder, here are the visuals!)

We're going to speed through the first guard, mostly because as Fabris says, it's not that safe and it's imperfectly formed. He does note that the high placement of the sword will cause you to rely on your off hand if someone really tries to drive home a shot underneath it, unless you break measure as part of your defense. Attacking from this would be a two tempo action, and we all know how he feels about relying on those!

Looking at the second, properly formed guard though, gives us a lot more to work with. The blade is lower, pointed at your opponent, and the forte is better positioned to defend you. All good things! Fabris notes that you don't want your opponent coming in over your sword, since that's the weakest part.

Here's where we're going to take a slight tangent! Up until now, a lot of the focus on keeping your blade position strong has involved the hand position and the true edge; if you want to oppose your opponent's blade on the inside, you use Fourth, with your hand turned palm up and the true edge in your opponent's blade. Similarly, if you want to oppose your opponent's blade on the outside, you use Second, with your hand palm down and your true edge, again, in your opponent's blade. What we're seeing here (and what we'll see in future guards) is a an emphasis on the fact that the blade is stronger in the direction towards which it is pointing - and it's far easier to point the blade downwards. Additionally, in this (or any) situation, just having your blade physically on top is going to be a pretty huge advantage when it comes to displacing your opponent's weapon. (Devon Boorman's statement to me on finding the blade was something to the effect of "you can cheat a lot of the other requirements, but crossing on top is the biggest advantage you can get.")

Anyhow. Fabris says that you can just keep moving towards your opponent and find and remove his blade from your presence as you do so. You want to wound your opponent while you are over his sword, and on the outside. If he cavziones and tries to get on top of your blade, you can wound him underneath in the same way "by just lowering your body and widening your step even more, while still keeping the arm in the same position."

I can see a couple of ways this statement can be taken, and I believe that they are all accurate. If your opponent is below your blade, you can step in, lower your body, moving your forte through his blade, and strike him. If your opponent has performed a cavazione above your blade, lowering your body and passing underneath your opponent's point will keep you safe as you strike. If possible, you can pick up your opponent's blade to the outside, as he mentions earlier. You can see this concept illustrated here - on the left, we see our fencer passing cleanly underneath the opponent's blade with no contact, and on the right we see our fencer in First, with his hilt on the opponent's blade, pushing them to the outside, just as described here!

We'll close with Fabris' statement, "This guard would be just as good as any other if it were not so fatiguing to hold the arm in such a manner for a long time." Yeah, ain't that the truth. I'll be trying to do more with First, either as a guard or as something to specifically mutate my posture into.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Single Rapier Guard Overview!

I'm going to step back from Fabris' illustrated wounds for a little bit, and take a cue from having gone over his cloak guards to take a brief look at his single rapier guards. This is mostly a brief overview just to familiarize us with what we'd be seeing; I'll go into the guards in much more detail in subsequent posts. (It's the first in a series! Get in on the ground floor!)

First, let's go over what Fabris has to say about good counterguards. He begins that section by saying, "Forming a good counter-posture means situating the body and sword in such a way that, without touching your opponent's blade, the straight line between the opponent's point and your body is completely defended." Doing this means that if your opponent wants to strike you, they must move to another line, which is a longer tempo, which means you can better deal with the threat and also strike your opponent. He has more to say about counterguards, but it focuses mostly on measure and doing so in a controlled way, so we'll move on to examining his single rapier guards in earnest.

If we're looking at the guards, let me give you a quick index of the plates for his single rapier guards. He breaks them down by hand position (guards in First, guards in Second, and so on).

Guards in First: Just these two.
Guards in Second: These two, and these two. (As an aside, he illustrates lunging and passing from Second as well.)
Guards in Third: Two shown here, and one here (the right plate being a lunge in Third).
Guards in Fourth: Two shown here, two more here. We also see a lunge and girata here, as well as another girata and a pass in Fourth here.

Let's examine the guards in First. The first one (on the left), according to Fabris, is imperfectly formed. The point is out of presence, the sword is too far back, and it just looks sloppy compared to the properly formed guard on the right. This is because it's representative of what you'd be doing having just pulled your sword from the scabbard. While almost anything you try to do from here will necessitate a two tempo attack, your head is pretty well covered from the outside. The second guard in First is much cleaner - the sword is extended, the upper chest and head are well covered, the body is bent well forward, and there is a small step.

His guards in Second start off with two which look quite similar. Again, Fabris notes that the first one is weaker than the second. It is stronger to the inside as that is the direction toward which the blade points, but to really defend to that side, you'll need to turn your hand into Fourth. His second guard shown is slightly lower relative to your body, and the sword is much straighter. He notes that you can perform very small cavazione from this guard, and it is therefore hard for your opponent to gain your blade effectively, but that it can be tiring to maintain this guard for long. (Although not nearly so as the guard in First!) The second pair of guards in Second are really specialist postures - one sets up particularly well against the inside line (though certainly not solely that) and the last guard in Second is effectively an invitation to attack your head or chest.

Continuing the trend here, the first guard in Third is not what Fabris would call a good one. While it is certainly easier to form and hold, Fabris feels that there are a number of disadvantages which can be taken advantage of by the skilled fencer. He does admit that not everyone knows these disadvantages, so you can use it to trick your opponent. The second guard in Third is much tighter, and one that Fabris considers one of the most useful due to its ability to rapidly move into Second or Fourth. The last guard in Third is mostly a problem-solving guard. It can be used to free your sword, withdraw your body, and to play with your opponent's sense of measure.

Finally, the guards in Fourth. The first one covers well to the inside, but the bent arm will make your cavazioni cover more distance, and be slower because of it. As we might expect, the second guard here is much better formed, and in fact is one that Fabris considers the safest guard to take. The last two are intended to invite the opponent into specific attacks, and Fabris goes into detail with what to do from each of these guards in the face of the opponent's actions.

For the next entry, we'll take a much more detailed look at the guards in First, and probably ramble about the application of them in SCA rapier.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A quick and dirty summary of Fabris' cloak!

So this weekend at Sommer Draw (a nice chill local event that people should wander out to) one of the twists in the rapier tournament is that you need to spend the first half fighting with what you think your worst form is.

I bet a lot of people will take cloak. Frankly, out of the people who can take cloak in a tournament, I imagine that nearly all of them will end up choosing that as their worst form. So let's jump around in the manual a bit and see what Fabris tells us about cloak! (See, I'm helping.)

First though, here's what we've got for plates that you can feast your eyes upon!

Fabris shows some postures with the cloak here, here, and the left plate here. He shows wounds on the right plate here, as well as here, here, and here. Also, here are a couple more wounds with cloak that he describes later on. Note that the second one, while hilarious and effective, is not permitted in either SCA rapier or C&T combat, which is really a shame. (Fabris notes that the cape is both a defensive and offensive weapon - and it's specifically offensive in the sense that you can hit your opponent with it and throw it over his head or hand. We'll be focusing on how to best use it defensively here. For now.)

Before he gets into guards at all though, Fabris spends a good chunk of text outlining his general principles for sword and cape, which is where we'll be spending the bulk of our time today. (As an aside, Fabris notes that sword and cape is "a very noble weapon combination" and one well worth spending time on because carrying a cape does not fall under any legal restrictions, whereas carrying a dagger can be forbidden in some places. Neat!)

The first thing that we'll notice, both from the plates above and in the text, is that Fabris does not want us using a cape like you typically see it fought in the SCA. Generally in the SCA, you see people with a half-cape held in their off hand, and it's swirled and snapped around at high speed to baffle the opponent and intercept their blade. Fabris is describing how to use a much larger and heavier cape, such as you'd generally be wearing outside. It's much less swishy and flashy, and not so high energy.

Fabris says that you should hold the cape such that it's covering your arm from hand to elbow. It should hang at a level such that you can hold it at the level of your head and look over it at your opponent and still have it protecting your lower body, yet not hang so long that if you lower your arm you have a tripping hazard.

You commonly hear in the SCA that people would wrap their cloaks around their arms to use almost as bucklers against their opponent's sword. While this is true to an extent - the layer or two of heavy cloth was absolutely better than nothing when defending yourself - Fabris explicitly tells you not to put your arm in the way of a cut, because they could still injure you through the cloak. In fact, he says "even if you were to wrap the cape completely around your arm, you may still be unable to oppose a cut without injury to your arm, while leaving your lower body dangerously exposed." This is extremely relevant to SCA rapier and C&T, because whatever you wear explicitly does not prevent you from taking a blow to that area. Interposing your arm between your head and a cut will cost you that arm, regardless of how many layers of cape it has wrapped around it. On that note, be sure that you can calibrate properly through the layers of cloak you have wrapped around your arm. Calibrating before a fight is never a bad thing if there's any possibility of something like that coming up!

Right, then. You have your cape set and ready. How do we assume a good guard with it?

Fabris recommends keeping the edge of the cape directed towards your opponent. This is primarily what you use against your opponent's sword. You can deflect thrusts to either side with it, as well as catch cuts with it. He does remind you that the cape will have some give in it before it moves your opponent's point off-line, which is important to remember. If you hold your cape flat-on against your opponent, they could thrust through it and wound you. While our swords in the SCA won't pierce the cloak, they could reasonably push the cloth right up against your body if you're not careful, and that will work just as well.

In general, you should be joining the cape to the sword. Your sword will offer protection to your off hand, the cape bolsters the protection of the sword, and there's not nearly as much open along your body. Note in plates 97, 98, and 100 how the cape is acting in concert with the sword, and how the cape is joined to the sword relatively far down its length. If your arm gets tired, Fabris advises that you pull it back to the hilt of your sword, but to keep it joined with your sword there, to prevent people from attacking between them. You can see this in plate 99.

Now that you've got a good guard, on to actually using the cape!

If your opponent thrusts high, lift your cape from your elbow (rather than the shoulder), and push their attack up and out, as in Plate 102. As an aside, you can see that the hanging cape offers some additional defense to the side of your head when you perform this parry that you don't get with a dagger or open hand.

If your opponent thrusts to the outside, you can cover with your sword as you typically do, or you can cross-parry with your cloak as seen in Plates 103 and 104. Fabris is very clear that when doing so, you only move the hand, and do not raise your whole arm. This lets you keep sight of your opponent over the cloak, whereas if you lift your whole arm, you blind yourself. Again, this comes up in Plate 103.

This is getting pretty long, so let me summarize how you deal with cuts - you parry them with your sword as you typically do (because remember, interposing your arm is bad) but you support them with your cloak for additional defense. There are absolutely occasions where you're parrying with the cape, but in those situations you want to get the cape right to your opponent's hilt, where it's safer and you can effectively smother any blow they want to deliver.

You should consider cavazione over your opponent's sword, rather than underneath, to prevent your blade from fouling on your cape or your opponent's cape. Also, all of the above information is assuming a sword-foot forward stance, though Fabris notes that cape is very well suited to an off-foot forward stance, as the cape can protect the lower body very well.

There we go! Fabris on cloak. Now all the fencers who're going to Sommer Draw are all kinds of prepared! Helping!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

We're back! Fabris Plates 30 and 31!

Remember when I'd poke at some Fabris plates, and did that, and posted about it? Me too! Let's do that again, and roll in with Plates 30 and 31.

(Yeah, things got kind of crazy for me, and I lost a lot of free time in my brain. Now it's back, so good.)

Plate 30 has what Fabris calls "a wound of mandritto to the head against a third." For reference, a mandritto is a cut delivered from right-to-left. There are a number of sub-types, as you might expect, and Fabris only specifies the type of mandritto in one variation.

The first variation in Plate 30 has one fencer having found the other's sword to the outside. Fabris doesn't specify who has found who, and it really doesn't matter. The action really starts when the fencers both "lock blades" and our opponent starts pushing us to the outside. As soon as we feel that pressure, we yield to the pressure and deliver a cut from the wrist while keeping our hilt on top of the blade. Fabris notes that the opponent's blade will fall enough so that we can put our forte on their blade, holding it down, and thus prevent them from parrying the cut.

I may be missing some implicit information here, but I'm interpreting the delivery of the cut to be entirely on top of the blade - it's very similar to how Fabris wants us to avoid the blade entirely when a beat is delivered. Release your pressure, the opponent's blade falls, and you can deliver the cut while angulating your blade above theirs. Keeping your blade on top and your hilt by their blade is key, because you'll be using that to stuff their attempts to bring their blade back into play.

The second variation of Plate 30 is a good deal different, though. We find our opponent's blade on the inside. Our opponent performs a cavazione and pushes forward to strike from the outside. As they do this, we have turned our hand over to re-find their blade on the outside - but just "let the point fall" into a mandritto fendente, again keeping our hilt by our opponent's blade.

Sometimes it's just easier to drop a cut into your opponent's head than to bring your blade back into line and then push it that way, y'know?

Plate 31 returns us to what's probably more familiar territory for most rapier fighters, and more point work. The first variation starts with both fighters in Third, to the outside. We make an invitation to the outside, and our opponent takes it, moving into Second and striking while stepping with their right foot. Our response is to bail on parrying, perform a girata of the left foot while we cavazione to the inside (rolling our hand into Fourth), and striking.

The other way this wound could happen is if both fencers are on the inside. We move to find our opponent's sword, and they cavazione while turning their hand into Second (which is normally a really good idea). We continue our motion from finding our opponent's blade (and this is a really important detail - don't pause, just keep moving your blade) and perform a contracavazione with the girata and striking - all without touching our opponent's blade.

I really like Plate 31 - it's an interesting application of the fundamentals (Avoid blade contact! Don't pause! Strike in mezzo tempo! Your hilt to their blade!) but it reasserts points from earlier plates that you don't always need to be on top if you're doing things correctly. You want to be, sure, but striking with your blade angled downwards is fine if that's the most efficient way to close a line and to keep your point free of your opponent's blade.

I find performing a girata in earnest combat hard. That said, I think it's really one of those movements that you don't plan for, but just happens. It's worth pointing out how I see the differences in how Fabris illustrates it here than from how Capo Ferro illustrates it, though. Capo Ferro has a fairly extreme body twist, and the left foot is thrown way out there. Compared to Fabris, who doesn't have nearly as extreme a torso twist and keeps the feet much more together and under the body, it really seems to me like the girata of Fabris is one that can be much more easily recovered from. When I try to do it and actually succeed, it feels very much like I can continue to step forward from there and press my opponent. I don't remotely feel like that when I try to duplicate Capo Ferro's girata. I should try to see if it's a product of the opening body postures or what, because based solely on this, I really prefer how Fabris is doing them.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Cruddy Practices and Events and Getting Past Them

Pretty sure we've all had off events. Practice or event, pickups or tournament. I've been mulling them over lately, and I figured I'd toss out what's occurred to me, and people can chime in with what's worked for them, and we can all get some good ideas to try and turn cruddy times into productive improvement.

Besides, this might be old hat to a lot of people, but since I had to figure out how to deal with this more or less on my own, I figure that other folks might find it useful.

I think it's easier for me to do this when I'm coming away from pickups or practice bouts; I'm usually not nearly so dialed in as I am in a tournament with something on the line, so I feel like my brain has more cycles to pay attention to what I'm doing (or not doing, as the case may be). I'm probably the most self-critical fighter I know. In some ways, this means that I get to pay a lot of attention to a lot of little details about my fighting, and improve them. This is good! On the other hand, it means that I get really down on myself when things aren't working right. The bar I set for myself is, perhaps, unrealistically high. Oops.

Because of this, I think it's worth starting this discussion at the point where the fighting is going south, and it's starting to bother you. It's pretty easy for a feedback loop of frustration to start, and (as much as I'm terrible at doing this part) getting out of that is super important. Depending on the setting, I might take any number of actions to do this. Sometimes, I just call it a night a bit early. Other times, I'll armor down a bit and go do some teaching. I might even just go work on something simple that always needs attention, like footwork. In all of these cases, I'm making sure to just not do what I'm doing anymore. Give yourself a break, and eventually, some time to think.

The next part is the really hard part - if you're not fighting as well as you think you should be and you're getting frustrated, you have to figure out what specifically isn't working out for you. This can be more than one thing for sure, but be clear and concise. Examples might include:
- I'm not paying attention to distance.
- I'm off balance.
- My lunges aren't committed.
- My buckler isn't being active; it's just a stationary thing all the time.
- My disengages are huge.

These things don't need to be all encompassing, but you're looking for a number of the little issues which are adding to your frustration. I recommend nailing down some of these very quickly after you armor down, if you can. I find that when I'm getting deeply frustrated, the issues I come up with are either things that are ongoing issues that I'm already working on, or things that I know I shouldn't be having problems with but for some reason I'm just messing up. Write these down. If you have a teacher who's watching your fights, absolutely hit them up for their thoughts. Write those down, too.

Then - and this is the really important part - don't do anything until you've slept. No, seriously. Take that night's sleep and just let your brain work through what's been going on by itself on its own. This is super important. Your brain does a lot of work on things when it's not super active, and giving it time to do this is huge.

The next morning, take that list and come up with some drills for the next week. (You knew that drills would figure into this somehow, right?) They don't need to be expansive; you're looking to work on those specific things you wrote about. If the problems were things you've already been working on, you may already have drills that you're using for them. In that case, excellent! Make sure you fit them into your weekly rotation with a bit more prominence. If they're things that you just know you shouldn't be doing because you know better, then come up with something that you can do for five minutes in a drill session to remind your body and brain what's what.

Then go do them. Every day for a week.

Is five minutes a day for a week enough to train yourself a new skill? No, it really isn't. Is it enough to give yourself some progress on fixing a frustrating issue? Yeah, it really is. If it's still bothering you after a week, then you keep that drill in your rotation. If not, awesome, rotate it out and bring something else in.

So, yeah. That's what works for me. If there are better and more useful ways to deal with this type of thing, I'd love to hear them! (And I bet other people here will, too.)

Monday, April 20, 2015


In keeping with the trend lately of examining (or re-examining) fundamental concepts, I wanted to kick around some thoughts on tricks. Most of these are opinions I've held for a long time, but they've been put into a new context recently, so now I get to put these thoughts out here.

Usually when someone is describing a trick that they have, they're talking about one specific set of motions that they do that usually ends up with them striking their opponent. It's usually a set of motions that has a reasonably high success rate, or at least that the fighter perceives as a high success rate. It's a set of motions that they can train repeatedly, and can become very fast and smooth; they're basically setting up a macro that they can execute at whim.

If someone is describing a trick that someone else has, the definition is usually similar - a specific set of motions, a thing that they do, that works most of the time.

I think that both of these are problematic areas of thought to fall into. It's not the training that's the problem - most every fighter that I know has a number of go-to attacks or setups that they use, and a lot of those have turned into signature actions. This person's stutter step, that person's blade displacement on a lunge, that other person's wrist-roll on a cut. Those are all totally reasonable. The problem that I see coming up a lot lately is when the concept of the trick exists in a vacuum, and isn't based on sound fundamentals.

To put it another way, it's not the concept of a trick that I think is an issue, but it's the thought process behind it. If you don't understand what you're doing and why it works - if you can't describe how your trick is playing with measure, or deceiving the opponent, or whatever - then it's not adaptable. You're stuck with this one thing that you can do super well, sure, but it's not really adaptive if the situation changes. I think that the fighters I know who have a few bread and butter shots (and man, now I need a better term than "trick") but who really grasp the core concepts of fighting are insanely dangerous, because they can change up those shots on the fly.

Now that I've written this down, I'm not sure where else to take this (other than to say, "Hey! Learn your fundamentals and also be sure to drink your Ovaltine!") but I'll probably mull this over in my head more.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Economy of Tempo and Measure

It's time for more post-VISS rambling! Rather than talk about concrete technique type things, I'm in the mood to kick around some higher conceptual type things - specifically tempo, measure, the relationship between them, and what it means for the fighter.

I tend to work from the Italian framework of rapier theory. In general, this means that closer is better. If my opponent gives me a tempo to work with, I'm generally going to respond by closing. (Striking with my sword is closing of a sort, too. It's just a very final closing.) If I can't close safely, I want to set myself up to be able to do so. If I can ever avoid backing up, I will. (Ever notice how many actions in the Italian - and many other - manuals involve closing, and basically none involve giving ground? I heard some good theories about this from Tom Leoni - in short, if you're on a battlefield you don't want to back up because the ground is littered with tripping hazards and falling is death. In a duel, leaving the circle is losing. Not stepping into areas that you don't have eyes on can dramatically limit these issues.)

The problem with being close to my opponent - ideally close enough to strike with an extension or at most a "firm footed lunge" - is that any tempo I work inside gets shorter and shorter the closer I get. In terms of keeping myself alive, I don't like working inside a short tempo. I want more time to think, to react, and to respond to the attack. If I'm the one doing the attacking then a short tempo is awesome, but the first thing we need to be concerned about is defense, and only then do we consider offense, so there we go.

This leads to something which I've started to mentally refer to as the economy of tempo and measure. They seem to work on an inverse relationship; if you want more of one, you're giving up something from the other. There are some ways you can impact the exchange rate for specific actions, but you're still working against that relationship no matter what. We've all played with this, whether we really understood what was happening or not. Any time you lean or step back as you parry, you're selling off distance to increase the length of the tempo you're responding in. If you close with your attack, you're selling down that tempo to buy back some of that distance.

The more I mull this idea over, the more it gets increasingly clear just how much these two concepts encompass so much of the fight. This was pretty obvious to me before, but now it's become obvious in the way that the sun is kind of a thing that you notice in the sky.

Partly because of an increased mental emphasis on doing drills correctly, I'm looking at setting up exchanges to be what I want them to be. That's far from universally successful for me, but the point is that one of the keys to this is understanding how what you're doing will be impacted by the tempo and measure you're working within, and how it will impact them in turn. If I'm closing, I want to set things up so that whatever my opponent does will require a far longer tempo than what I plan on doing. Sure, realistically, there'll be people who just have insanely fast hand speed, and that's fine - but if you're able to play with the fundamentals really well, that doesn't matter because they just need to take such a huge tempo to strike you that even if they're speeding through the motion, you still have time to strike them safely.

This really feels to me like one of those Matrix moments. Once you've started to see the source code, you can't unsee it. This doesn't remotely mean that body mechanics, moving in good order, or any other fundamentals are unimportant, or even less important. Rather, it highlights the importance of training all of those things so that you can perform them so efficiently that you can shave down the tempo you need, or have a much more fine control over measure.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Best Practices for Drilling (The first of a series of VISS takeaway posts!)

Having just gotten back from VISS (which was awesome), I think that the next couple of posts here will be pretty heavily inspired by some takeaways I had. Not everything came right out of a class or a specific discussion; rather, a lot of things just kind of coalesced over the course of the weekend, and I get to talk about them here.

Rather than get technique-specific (or even more weird and esoteric) out of the gate, I want to start in with my thoughts on Best Practices For Drilling!

What struck me over the time I spent at the conference was how wonderfully collaborative it was. While a number of individuals there can be absolutely competition-minded (I'm certainly one of them), the atmosphere at VISS was one of communal learning. One of the places where this came out most was in paired drilling.  There's a lot that we can learn from the WMA community, and the work they do in paired drills is right up there, and I'm gonna share what I learned here.

Out of the gate, there was an emphasis on referring to the people doing the drill as "partners." You didn't have an opponent in your drill, you had a partner. This is a small change, to be sure, but I really think that it carries some really massive connotations. You aren't working against the person doing a drill with you, you're working with them, together, and trying to help each other out. No matter who gets struck at the end of the drill, you're both working and learning, regardless of relative skill levels.

There were some other, really concrete things that I took away, that I need to keep in mind for my own personal practice and teaching:

Being a good drill partner means that it's contingent on you to perform your techniques accurately and well. If you are delivering an attack, it must be an honest attack - on target, and able to strike your partner if they don't do something about it. There's a tendency in partnered drills to really let this slide - you assume the parry that your partner is supposed to do, so you don't make it a real attack that would actually land. This obviously doesn't help your partner learn to perform the correct counters, but it also teaches you to launch bad attacks. Nothing good comes of this.

On the same token, be sure to keep building up correct steps in the play that you're drilling. One thing that can really help this by working it out step by step from the beginning, and not jumping straight to the finished form. I don't mean doing the whole completed play slowly (though that's also good, and I'll touch on that later!) but rather building it up from the ground. For example, start with the most basic movement - generally, one fencer making an attack and striking the other. Do that. Do it well. Understand how the drill is starting. Then add the response to that. Do it a couple times. Then add the final counter to that defense. This way, you know that the whole drill is being based on solid techniques, and you have a better understanding of how all of them fit together, and why you might perform those actions in a real bout. This is a really good thing to do when you're just learning a drill, and is worth doing for multiple practice sessions in a row. Even when the drill is old hat, running through the buildup to self-check is a good call.

Related to this, you need to work on performing the technique correctly and accurately as prescribed by the drill. For some people there's a real desire to work outside the script, generally while saying, "Well, I can do this instead" or "I think this works better." Both of those might be true! You may prefer other techniques or you might feel like you get better results with them. That's fine, but it's also not what you're working on. Take the opportunity to work on a new thing for you, and remember that you're not helping your partner learn what they're setting out to learn if you're not giving them the correct techniques to work against.

Remember that even if you're the person being struck in the end, there's a lot that you're learning in the drill - don't just be a passive recipient of the final blow. The drill is still an opportunity to practice using the techniques that you're supposed to be using, but more than that, it's an opportunity to see how they work out. You get to see how a technique you're using looks and feels when it's countered; this is invaluable in a real fight, because you quickly learn when to bail to plan B, rather than press home a failed attempt at an attack. On the other hand, if your partner isn't sticking their end, you get to see how your technique feels when it works!

On that note, be sure to test your partner on occasion. You want to let them become familiar with the movements of the drill relatively unopposed, but you need to be sure to actually give them a good simulation of what they'll be up against. If they're supposed to find your blade as you attack, gain it, and strike you, and they perform a terrible gaining? Continue with your attack and hit them in the face! Don't do a counter to what your partner is doing, but just continue to perform your action if they can't stop you. Performing the correct technique poorly doesn't help anyone, but you need to be sure to have both of you troubleshoot why that happened. Don't leave your partner to figure it out on their own, but work together to fix it so that they can hit you like the drill calls for. Don't be a jerk about testing them - when there's a wide gap in skill levels this happens sometimes, and it can get really frustrating. Don't make it too easy, but keep pushing them to do it well, and you can work on your detail work and observation.

Drills are, in a lot of ways, performed in an "all things created equal" situation. You want to be sure that you're practicing them at the same speed as the slower partner. This ensures that it's the real technique being worked on, and not just throwing lots of speed all over the place. You can speed up the techniques as you get used to performing them properly. If they start to fall apart at all, slow it back down a bit. Work at the same speed all the time. Similarly, if there's a height or reach discrepancy, you can usually work around it without changing the core of the drill. One person may start a bit closer (for instance, if a drill calls for the attacker to start at misura larga, then they determine their misura larga) but the core sequence of the drill should be unaffected.

Finally, when drills offer the possibility of a choice, there's nothing wrong with deciding to limit the available options for a specific runthrough. It's amazing how much more complicated your decision tree becomes when you move from two choices to three, and that kind of added stress can distract from performing the techniques by a shocking amount. If in a drill one fencer can respond with, say, a push back, doing nothing, or a cavazione - and each of those requires its own response - it is absolutely fine to decide that for this set, that fencer can only choose between pushing back or a cavazione for the time being.

So that's that! The weekend was full of a lot of paired work, and over three days, all of this was my takeaway. I had the pleasure of working with a number of great partners of all kinds of skill levels, and being able to work with each other to help each other improve made such a difference in what I was able to take away from just one weekend of time.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Wiktenaur Donation Drive

It's time for me to do this quick driveby fundraising mention here for Period Combat Nerds! 

The good folks over at the Wiktenaur site are holding an Indiegogo fundraising campaign, to pay for ongoing site costs as well as access to more manuals to scan and post for all of us to use.

This site is a fantastic resource, and being able to see them post even more manuals would be really awesome.

The drive ends on February 17. They've already met the base goal and are well into stretch goals, but every little bit, right?

Let's breeze through Plate 26 and 27, and get to Plate 28 and 29!

Woo hoo, we're back! In the time since the last post, things got wild and crazy for the rapier community, and a little wild and crazy for me, and also some real life. Also, snow. Good times, everyone!

So we're just going to briefly look at  Plates 26 and 27. It's not that they aren't interesting (they are) or contain important information (they do, but it's really an application of the fundamentals, like a lot of plates), but they're primarily interested in dealing with what SCA would consider percussive cuts. As I'm mostly interested in working through what we can really do with historic technique underneath the SCA's limitations, they're not hugely applicable, but here's a quick and dirty overview of them anyway.

Plate 26 has both fencers starting in Third, on the outside. (I want to work through this slowly sometime soon with someone else to see how this works, because I can absolutely see how it's on the outside, but saying that you "find them in Fourth" doesn't make sense to me, but I'm probably wrong and Fabris is right. Regardless, though.) You find your opponent's blade and they respond by raising their weapon to perform a mandritto (a cut from their right side). When they do, you hit them. Since the cut is coming from your opponent's right, or the inside line, you want to strike with your hand in Fourth, so that even if the cut falls, you can just raise your hand a little to catch it.

Basically, your opponent takes a big tempo in raising their sword to cut from the shoulder, and you take a much shorter tempo in killing them. Fabris does say that even if they take a shorter tempo and strike from the wrist, you still do the same thing and just catch the cut on your guard as you strike them. This is a fundamental concept, and we've seen this illustrated constantly up to this point. 

Note that Fabris does instruct us to make sure to roll our hand into Fourth and cover our heads if need be. This is consistent with his previous plates as well, in that if we're striking in mezzo tempo when our opponent is taking an offensive tempo (as in Plate 23) we want to make sure we're defended against it. If we're striking when our opponent is taking a nonoffensive tempo (as in Plate 22) we just strike cleanly in, without covering for anything.

Plate 27 is really the same thing, but on the other side. We find our opponent on the inside, they move to prepare for a cut on the outside, and we strike them in that tempo, rolling our hand into Second to cover for the cut from the outside.

...huh, okay, that was a fair amount of time spent on Plates 26 and 27, after all. That's fine, let's move to Plates 28 and 29 anyway. It's snowing outside, I'm warm inside, so I'm going to keep writing!

On the surface, Plate 28 looks very similar to Capo Ferro's Plate 8, which I've referenced to a lot of people before. It isn't really, but it does still serve to visually remind us about distance, leg shots at range, and how a2+b2=c2 and how that can make some attacks really bad ideas.

Reading the text though, we can see what Fabris is really getting at. We start on the outside, and we're way out at misura larga. We start to find our opponent's sword, and they respond by rolling into a mandritto at our head.

Again, a mandritto is coming from their right, or our inside line. We're at misura larga though, so Fabris says we should lean our head back a bit, and let the cut just "pass harmlessly." Yep. No parry, no nothing. Not even necessarily something a lot of people would call a void. As soon as the cut passes, you lunge and kill them. No muss, no fuss.  Fabris outright tells us that he thinks it's better to just "let cuts fall without parrying" rather than spending a lot of effort parrying them.

Plate 29 is predictably a similar action on the other side. We find their blade on the inside, they roll to perform a riverso, which is a cut from the outside.

The two real differences here are that this time Fabris specifies that we drop our point a bit to avoid blade contact, and when the cut passes we strike, and that he specifies we should strike in Fourth to cover the side that the cut has fallen into. This may not be necessary, but perhaps if it was a smaller cut from the wrist, it might be important to keep in mind.

As I said at the start of this entry, if we're not doing Cut and Thrust, these aren't things that we'll really see in this form while we're using rapiers in the SCA. That said, these techniques are absolutely applicable to anyone who loves large blade beats. Earlier in his manual, Fabris states that we can use a cavazione to deal with someone beating your blade, and avoid contact entirely. This is absolutely true - but I think we've all seen people who will, at a very wide measure, wind up and deliver a heavy beat to your blade - and in such a case, the techniques in these four plates would also serve very well.

Again, he's being consistent in his principles of avoiding blade contact unless absolutely necessary, and striking in mezzo tempo whenever possible. He's not trying to gunsling against his opponent, but hit them when they're doing something else.