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!