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.)


  1. After practice, I have been doing a plus/minus/plus exercise. I say one thing that I did well, one thing that I need to improve, and a second thing which I did well. I tend to fight better and feel better about my fighting if I am positive to myself about it. As long as I am sincere about it, it helps me. It's also good to do in a group, which both helps other people and makes it less likely that I'm going to be sarcastic with myself. As an example:

    "I controlled range really well that practice. My opposition against left-handed opponents still needs work. But the offline steps I was taking against right-handed opponents were really effective in gaining strength on their blade."

    Usually it's not as easy as that, especially after a practice in which I have not fenced well. But a positive attitude means I will fence better in general, and also I will be a more tolerable human being to be around.

  2. I really like the sleeping on it advice a lot. For me, sometimes, it may take more than one night to “get over it”, but eventually it happens. I think all the idea presented are very good. Here are a few more, that may work for some folks.

    I think just not fighting or thinking about fighting can help. Throw yourself into something else that has nothing to do with fighting or competing for a few days and just let it rest to give you both a physical and mental break. Don’t pick up a sword or anything like one for a little bit. Then go back and start to dissect.

    Put the sword down. Do the drill or thing without a weapon in your hand. The weapon can add additional variability. If you are trying to dissect the problem, it can actually add to the frustration. Figure out how the body should move or how the footwork should work without the weapon.

    The mental aspects here have to do with self-confidence and a fear that almost everyone has which is the feeling of being helpless or inept. So, you need to find some way to regain that confidence again. It may not be fighting, so go do something else that makes you feel confident again for a bit.

    Stop trying to change what is not broke. Go back to what got you there in the first place and just do that. Don’t work on anything new, or different for a practice. Just go out with your solid, standard “bag of tricks” and see what happens. Techniques and actions you don’t have to think about. This may help to reestablish that confidence again where you are saying to yourself – yea, I can do this.

    Go somewhere else and practice against different people. If you fight the same people all the time, you can get complacent, then when you meet new or people you don’t fight that often you get smoked. Go somewhere where they may hardly know you. Take your standard solid fights there. See how they go. If they are going well, work on the issues or other things. If they are not, well then maybe it might be time for a break or try some other strategy.

    Talk to someone about it. Talking through a problem can help. Talk to someone other than your teacher/instructor/Knight/Don/Master. Get a new perspective. Your instructor may not be the best person if you are frustrated because they might be frustrated too. That can rub off and be additive to the situation rather than helpful.

    Write about it. Some people find writing to be very helpful as they have to think and really dive into the problem when trying to put it into words. Writing can make something abstract, concrete, and that may help to put things into perspective.

    Just my two cents