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.