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!