Monday, December 26, 2016

Practice Report, and also Dealing With the Winter Dark

In the absence of digging through rapier manuals (because life has been a thing lately) here's a quick check-in for a practice report.

At the Thursday practice, we've been taking about half an hour each night with interested people to work in a study group format - nothing really deep, but just going through specific skill drills in a more structured way. Usually around three or so separate drills each week, with a good amount of repetition from week to week for retention. I'm not sure about anyone else's opinions, but I think it's going pretty well. Yay structured learning and also period rapier actions!

I haven't been focusing on much in particular up until now - just doing the actions and concepts that I've been drilling, but doing them better. Which is fine, and it's been going fairly well. I've started to focus more on striking in one of the four tempi of opportunity though, and that's an interesting exercise, and has some really helpful drills to build awareness of them. Additionally, I've decided that I need to expand my single game again; I've been working a lot of attacks in opposition, but working things that aren't from a bind would be, y'know, helpful. I'm not sure how to work those actions in a structured way, but I think that after the new year I'll have been able to come up with something.

Speaking of the new year, I've been noticing that the last couple of weeks that for myself and some other folks, it's been rough starting up at practice. I've been sluggish, both physically and mentally, and my warmup bouts have been kind of trash - and it's hard not to let that start to put a damper on your practice, if you start off feeling like you're in a slump.

The Solstice has past us, and the days are getting longer, but January and February tend to be ridiculously cold up here - and that combined with the still very short days and early sunsets have been doing a number on me some evenings. What's been working for me - and what might help other folks who're experiencing similar things - has been a couple things which, let's face it, I should have been doing anyway. First, take more time to warm up - both literally and conceptually. Get into your practice space and take a couple extra minutes so you're not starting while you're still cold. After that, take a little more time for some warmups and mobility exercises. You don't need to stretch (I still think that serious stretching is best done at the end of practice) but just loosening up the joints and getting the blood flowing a bit before picking up a sword has helped me get out of that environmental funk by a lot.

The other thing that's helped is not just jumping into serious free bouting. I try to start off with some basic drills - not things I'm trying to learn from scratch, but just things to keep the edge on, or ongoing work type things. If I can't do drills, I'll do some slow work, or super casual warmup fights. Again, mostly just to get the body moving and engaging the brain with swords in an easier activity that is explicitly not going to hit any "my performance is trash" buttons right at the start of the night.

This afternoon is a Special Boxing Day Practice, running for five hours, so I'm looking forward to some extended fencing and teaching and learning, and probably a lot of hanging out and chatting, which will be a nice thing at this point in the holidays.

And hey, if I don't post again beforehand, everyone have a great new year!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Manual Reprint Update!

In lieu of a real entry (though I'm sorting through some thoughts about attacking in the correct tempo and how best to train that, because I noticed while fighting Kenric at practice last night that I was being pretty trash at it), I thought I'd point out that Greer's translation of Thibault seems to be getting a reprint and will be available come March 2017.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Back at St. Elegius and ahead to A&S Champions!

Wow, I never wrote anything on St. Elegius! Let's take a few minutes and fix that now.

While I had never competed in it before, the A&S competition at St. Elegius has long been a favorite of mine. Each competitor chooses what level they will compete at, ranging from Novice (<3 years in the SCA) or Novice (<3 years working at the art you're competing with) through the experienced and Laurel level. Competitors are judged by other entrants who are competing at that level, and experienced artisans and Laurels are on hand to help the folks who are judging. The fact that your fellow entrants are judging your entry really lends an air of camaraderie to the experience, and rather than keeping you in your chairs all day behind your entry you end up getting to talk to all the other entrants about each other's art and science, and it can really bring about a giant pile of people enthusiastically going on about their area of study to folks who may or may not know much about it at all. (As a bonus, it also introduces newer artisans to the idea that someday, they may well need to evaluate candidates for an A&S Order who Do An Art that you have no real experience in.)

Originally, I'd only intended in competing in the Art of Fencing side competition that our newest OGR (as of Court at the end of the event, and congratulations to him!) Don Christoffel had put together. There was a bit of organizational confusion at check-in about who was taking signups for that, so I was encouraged to enter the primary competition of the day while everything was sorted out. I wasn't expecting to do this, I didn't feel prepared, but I had an essay and my manuals with me because I'd decided to wildly overdo it for the Art of Fencing competition, so I let myself be peer-pressured into it. I decided to completely throw caution to the wind and compete at the Laurel level, filled out my entry forms, and found a table.

I was lucky enough to be able to save a seat next to me for Lorenzo, who I understand was also convinced to compete in the primary competition at the Experienced level. I forget who else was sitting around us, but at least we'd have our little Martial A&S Corner between the two of us, and worst case we'd just talk to each other about swords all day, right?

It turns out that there was only one other entry at the Laurel level - Galfridus was entering with from-scratch couscous, made in a period clay vessel for doing so. It was really, really great! (Both the presentation, the cooking vessel, and the food.) It was set up similar to a modern double boiler, with the stew steaming the couscous. I had no idea what couscous really was in a from-scratch sense, and I think that food as an A&S entry is always a favorite - being able to directly sample the entry is wonderful on a number of levels. Frankly, I loved Galfridus' entry.

Beyond Galfridus, I spoke with a couple other Laurels who were filling in as extra judges, and they seemed to enjoy what I had to say. Lots of questions and answers and swordchatting happened, and it was a really good time.

The Art of Fencing competition happened after the primary competition wrapped up; we had five entrants who walked the judges and an audience through a plate of their choice. There was a range of skill, choices, viewpoints, and interpretations, and discussion around the plates, and I think it was a really enjoyable and educational time for everyone. While the contestants were sequestered away for the judges to talk, we had some really solid discussions about how to work on the visibility and understanding of martial arts and sciences, and also what some of us had for ideas going forward to learn and try out. (Spoiler: I should make myself some poleaxes sometime. Also, longsword fun!)

In the end, I ended up winning the St. Elegius competition at the Laurel level (and I posted the paper I put together here - it lacks any of the discussion I had, but you can get that basically any time just by asking), and I came in second to Lorenzo in the Art of Fencing challenge - his discussion about the process behind his interpretation of the plate he chose was excellent.

Looking ahead to A&S Champions, I think I'm going to be poking at something that doesn't require as much immediate physical demonstration (though it can still have some if we decide to go outside) and also involve things that we can in no way do under our rapier rules. Which is to say, I think I'm going to crack open some Fiore. I'm pretty excited about this; I've loved a lot of his armizare, and don't get to really dive into it very often, so this should be a lot of fun.

For a slight topic switch, I've been enjoying the stage fighting videos by this Czech group. The longsword fight has been making the rounds recently, and it's got a lot of material in it that's clearly taken from actual manuals, and that's pretty great to see being used to help stage a really well done and entertaining fight scene!

Monday, November 14, 2016

I arted a thing!

While I need to put together a Real Blog Post about St. Elegius and some thoughts on martial A&S in the East (and how awesome it is!) I wanted to take five minutes and be super excited that I Arted A Thing!

So a couple weeks ago, Martin was going to fight for me (again!) in Crown Tourney and this time There Was Going To Be A Real Favor, Dammit. And one had been lingering half-done for ages, but let's be real here; nothing motivates like a deadline so this finally got made!

It's a badge on a belt flap! Yay!
I didn't use anything like Specific Period Materials - I used a piece of white fabric that was sitting around in the craft room, and Anastasia found the red felt for me. She also taught me the Two Whole Stitches that I used - a blanket stitch and a back stitch. Hems were shamelessly machine done.

I realize that this is ridiculously simple and all, but I'm super tickled that I Arted A Thing and did something ridiculously new to me, and I'm going to do the equivalent on this blog of hanging it on the refrigerator door.

And in a day or so, a St. Elegius Post!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Actual Sharp Swords

So last week, I was up in Vancouver learning a whole lot about rapier, longsword, teaching, and learning. It was a fantastic time - I learned a whole lot of stuff. Tweaks to my technique, new ways of thinking, better concepts to apply, efficient ways to learn motor skills and perception. A lot of these things will probably appear in blog posts, show up in classes I teach, and more. I still need to sort through and re-categorize my notes though, and really integrate a lot of that knowledge into my brain. So instead, I wanted to post an entry containing my thoughts on using an actual for-reals sharp sword, across from another actual for-reals sharp sword.

It was really, really cool.

It was also terrifying.

It is also an experience that I recommend to everyone who fences. It was enlightening in a number of ways.

First, I want to stress that this was done in a highly controlled environment. The two people with sharp weapons had a very wide space around them, and observers were keeping an eye out just in case. The floor was clean to begin with, but it was given a quick glance to make sure there were absolutely no tripping or slipping hazards. At no point was any movement made by either fencer towards the other with the feet - only an extension or a lean, and without foot movement, there was no way to strike the body of your partner. Every movement was done quite slowly and especially precisely, and with prior discussion. Safety was an extremely high priority.

That said, this was done without any protective gear. The reasoning for this is that people have a tendency to assume that if they are wearing protective gear that they are completely safe. This would absolutely not be the case in this instance, and highlighting the seriousness of what these weapons were capable of was part of the exercise.

Safety being handled, I want to move on to my reactions and takeaways from this experience.

What struck me the most was how much more difficult it was to get a real visual sense of the blade position. We have these giant blunts on the end of the swords we use, and I never really noticed how much they stand out in my vision until I was standing across from a blade without one. Without that bobbing point in my vision, and with the overall thinner blade, it was much harder to get a real sense of blade length and position just through visual cues. At certain angles, the blade very nearly vanished from sight, which was deeply creepy. It was almost comedic how much I reflexively wanted to constrain my opponent's blade, even knowing that he wasn't going to hurt me, just because it made me feel safer. (The comment was made that some of the senior students will do some slow work with untipped, though blunted, swords just so they get used to not relying on the visual cue of the blunt. This seems like it could be really worth trying sometime.)

The other thing that the lack of blunts impacted was the size of the disengages. It was possible to slide your blade along the other, and then up the other side. Doing this with our simulators doesn't work nearly so well, with the blunt and tape catching on the blade as you try. Also, it felt like the blade was a bit lighter than I expected - if the edges were truly sharp, the geometry would by definition be different than the simulators we use, with that much less metal on the edge.

Speaking of sliding the blades, what you may have heard about edges catching on edges is absolutely true. It isn't predictable or consistent, but when you're sliding edge on edge, there are catches that happen which absolutely impact the movements that you're making. If you can utilize it quickly when it happens, you might be able to save your life! On the other hand, it really made it more important to have your edge on their flat if you're trying to displace their blade with an attack.

Finally, hand shots. It was very clear that while it may still be a low-percentage shot, that the tip of a blade isn't going to bounce off as readily as a blade with a bird blunt on top would. Rather, it seems that if someone really wants to take the shot, that it would be very possible for the blade to skip into the guard, and into your hand... and along it, through it, and into your wrist and arm from that angle. Super problematic for continuing the fight.

Having had this experience, if you have the opportunity to do the same, I really recommend it to a serious student of historic swordsmanship. It highlighted a number of reasons we really do what we do, and gave a very tiny and controlled taste of what it meant to be across from three to four feet of sharp steel.

So! That was sure a thing. Soon I hope to have more Good Historic Material up, now that I've got a bit more free time and brain space.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Rapiers and Katas and Such Like That

Some of the things I try to pay a lot of attention to are ways to expand my solo practice. I have people to drill with at practice, and occasionally around the house, but a lot of my time doing drills at home is spent working on things by myself.

It can occasionally be difficult to work on skills solo, and this is coming from someone who is happy to just keep grinding on the same small set of actions because I find it calming. Working individual actions, guards, and conditioning via postures are all possible, but let's be real - we can all get bored just working repetitive things again and again.

I was mulling this over, and I was reminded recently about how much I miss kata from back when I did Eastern martial arts. They were great for working on transitions, and interpreting what's actually going on, and putting your own spin on things. Classical fencing has them in the form of etudes, and Don Christian de Launcy has written two of them for rapier in the SCA that I know of.

What really got me thinking though, was this old video of a student at Acadamie Duello in Vancouver going through a progression of Fabris' rapier and dagger guards. This hit pretty much all of the levers in my head - kata, transitions, movement, and Fabris. (As a note, I know that we could spend time criticizing the guards themselves, and the postures, and whatnot of the person performing them. That's not what this entry is about, so we're going to not do that. I have a couple comments about how some of the positions make it hard to interpret what the guard is, outside of the sequence, but I'm not trying to harsh on Adam's performance here.)

In the video, Adam works through Fabris' rapier and dagger guards in the order of the manual, with the lunges included in the same places as they appear in the book. Let's take a look at the progression, and consider which changes we might want to make to this depending on what we want to get out of it.

Adam starts with Prime guards, beginning with plate 49, then to 50, and then plate 51 for the lunge in Prime. The transitions between these are all done with passing steps forward - plate 49 and 51 have the right foot leading, and 50 has the left foot leading.

From the lunge in Prime, Adam moves to the guards in Second. Adam recovers back from the lunge into plate 52. From there, he shifts into plate 53. He then passes back with the right foot into plate 54, passes the left foot back to plate 55 again and immediately pivots on the balls of his feet to take plate 56 and through into plate 57, both two rarely seen guards in Second, and moves into a lunge in Second from plate 58.

Recovering from the lunge, Adam takes what I'm assuming is the guard in plate 59. (The edition of Fabris that I have puts the guards here in a different order than the scans I'm linking to; I'm not sure what's up with that but in what I'm using, plate 59 is illustrated in that link on the right. I'll note the other changes as they happen.) He then moves into plate 60 (on the left), brings his body up for 61 (on the right), and lowers his body back down for 62, along with the requisite blade mutations. He passes forward with the left into plate 63, and then steps off to the right with his right foot to assume plate 64. Finally, he brings his left foot in for the very uncommon plate 65 guard, and finally lunges into Third as shown in plate 66.

For the final stretch, Adam recovers into a guard in Fourth, plate 67. He extends his arms into plate 68, passes forward with the left foot into plate 69, and then passes his right foot forward to lunge as in plate 70, finishing the sequence.

This sequence covers all the rapier and dagger guards of Fabris. The primary purpose it serves is helping the fencer memorize all of them, though it can also help with some transitions between the guards. But if we change this up a bit, can we focus on different things?

The easiest thing to do would be to add a lunge after every guard. This would increase the length of the form and make it much more of a stamina exercise, but it would also let us practice attacking out of every guard without changing the order of the guards we're doing - so it would be an easier adaptation to make.

Once all of the basic guards are memorized, the order of them could be shifted around. This would let us work on smooth transitions between very different guards, and as a thought exercise we could try to figure out why we'd be shifting from guard to guard, possibly with attacks in between.

Does anyone else do solo forms similar to this? I'd love to hear about it and kick around more ideas.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Post-Pennsic Post and Bonus Practice Report

It's a little late, but here's a quick and messy What I Remember About Pennsic summary, followed by a Monday night practice report.

As with all Pennsic summaries this year, I have to open by saying: So, how about that weather? It sure was awful; the loss of the woods was sad, and the field closures were also sad, but when the heat index is (I was told) 106* or so, yeah, I can see just closing things to prevent idiots from hurting themselves. (Though the folks in the By The Book tournament all were hydrating and doing so well!) Still and all, I think we avoided a number of heat injuries with that decision, so props to Fraiser for making the difficult call and putting up with people being cranky. (Which I admit I was one of, but he was super reasonable and great.)

Weather aside, there was some great fencing to be had. Champions was blessedly early in the week, a trend which I'm very fond of. We had some delays build up over the course of the day, but I actually rather liked Sunday being All The Sword Champions Stuff all one after the other - belted, unbelted, rattan heroics, rapier melee, rapier heroics... the whole bundle of it all.

I got to fight in two of my usual favorite tournaments this Pennsic - the Ansteorran tournament and the By The Book tournament - which given my otherwise bonkers schedule was both lucky and necessary. The Ansteorran tournament was run well, with tasty tasty food and excellent fencers. I lost to Tora Taka (again - but I've laid blade on him before and I will again. Next year! Neeeeext yeeeeeear!) and another gentleman that I can't recall. I felt fine about most of my bouts, but the second loss just bothered me; I felt like I fell out of my head and I suffered because of it.

The By The Book tournament was amazing - I always love the crowd that turns up for it, and the sideline conversations are helpful, enlightening, and insightful. We ended up with pools of like styles, which meant that I got a few good Capo Ferro and Fabris bouts in before it was called on account of heat. I left feeling like I was in a pretty good place with my Fabris. Not fantastic, but pretty good.

(For non-fencing things: Seeing friends get well-deserved awards is always amazing. Sorcha and Lupold are now members of the Order of the Golden Rapier, which is fantastic. Dio and Doroga are both Silver Rapiers now, Eon has his AoA, and Meggie has an Augmentation of Arms. I was lucky enough to get to read Ruslan's Tyger of the East scroll in English, which was a blast. I also got Court done on Wednesday in under two hours, and had a number of very able assistants for that, without which I would have lost my mind.)

Of note, I was able to get in some bouts and conversation with Master Miguel from Ansteorra as well as Trey from the Chicago Sword Guild, and unsurprisingly I walked away from all of that with some thoughts on what I should work on; combined with practice this past Sunday and Monday, I'll have a pretty good list of things to pay attention to for a while.

On to practice thoughts!

Sunday practice was in the good Doctor's backyard. Did some slightly (but only slightly!) slowed down fencing with Meggie, which was great. Also worked on some more upright postures with Rowan, and Moar Fabris with Anastasia.

Monday had me feeling a little off, though. I don't really have a good sense for why; I've been stressed about some unrelated things lately, and maybe I just had too much in my brain. Either way though, I at least walked away with some confirmation of Fabris thoughts that I've had, so it was still very useful time spent!

Here's where I'm at, then. Besides all my usual stuff - footwork, smooth movement, balance, voids:

  • I'm being very deliberate in my guard transitions. Fine for drills, bad for fighting. Speed them up.
  • Stay more relaxed, and snap tight at the end. (I think of this as similar to how I was taught kata.)
  • More mobility. Play with measure like I used to.
  • Practice moving from a lunge to a pass.
  • Stop relying on binds (or opposition with blade contact) so much. Go reread some of Fabris' plays; there are lots that rely on tempo and not contact.
  • Remember that when I'm using an extended guard, action is going to start from further out.
And now I know!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


Having just gotten back from Pennsic, I'm going to touch on a topic that was deeply meaningful for a number of the grossly hot and humid days spent fencing there: Conditioning. Seriously, it's a thing. It's important, and it pays dividends in terms of your fighting.

I'd wager that most of us are fencing for one or both of two reasons: we like being competitive and kickass at swords, or we like doing sweet recreations of period manuals. Both of these have solid reasons for conditioning behind them, in their own ways. Let's take them one at a time.

Competitive combat. What we do out there with swords is an athletic activity, to be sure. If you think of yourself as a competitive athlete, why not treat yourself like one? Anaerobic exercise for individual bouts. Aerobic exercise for long tournaments. (Cardio. Always more cardio.) Strength for being able to move your weapon around quickly, smoothly, forcefully, and well. Flexibility for moving your body around and avoiding injury. These are all really important, and just going to practice isn't really going to work them all.

Look at any Olympic fencer, and think about how much they drill and practice - and on top of that, they still find the time to keep working conditioning exercises. If just raw practice and drills were enough to get the body built up, they sure wouldn't be doing any other conditioning - they are ridiculously efficient with their time and effort, and if there was a better way, they'd be doing it. For something closer to home, take a look at the armored combat people who are the serious contenders for Crown and ask them how much they work out when they decide to go fight. I bet most hit the gym pretty regularly.

Practice is absolutely necessary, but it doesn't work the whole body particularly well at all. (Compare your off-hand to your primary hand. Yeah. That's a thing.) Yet you need that whole body to fence really effectively. At least work some cardio in. Stretch regularly - every day, if you can. Consider strengthening exercises. It won't feel like much as you go, but based on the fact that I was still able to fight at the end of the melees this year, despite the crushing heat? Yeah, I blame having spent some real time actually exercising regularly. (If nothing else, we're all getting older, and exercise helps hold off the impact of entropy just a little bit longer. I'll do a whole lot to squeeze out one more year of fencing in my life.)

Let's move to recreation of period manuals. I could talk about how it's still athletic, and it still takes effort, and that's all true. But you're here for the manuals, so let's go look at two of them - specifically Fabris and di Grassi.

Fabris notes of his particular postures, "In order to properly learn how to keep your body low in this manner, you will need a fair amount of practice and hard work." Of his extended guards in general, he notes that they "can be fatiguing" and of particular ones "keeping the arm in this position for a long time is tiring." These are all good arguments for spending time growing stronger and more flexible.

Looking at di Grassi, though, is amazing. At the end of his manual, he has a section entitled, "On Training Alone In Order To Acquire Strength." He literally has a section telling the reader to go exercise. You can't get any better than that. One of the masters felt it was important enough to write down. So I guess if you're going to be working on recreating a manual, you should go work out. Giacomo di Grassi says so.

In all fairness, I get that most people aren't fencing as a lifestyle choice. It's a hobby, and people are going to make perfectly reasonable choices about how best to spend their time. However, I do think that if you're working hard on trying to get your fencing to the next level that spending some time to get the meat-car you live in tuned up to make it that much easier to properly perform the correct actions over and over again is very likely time well spent, and it'll end up showing in your fencing.

And that's what I wanted to get off my chest about conditioning. Next entry, we're back to Fabris!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Fabris and His Dagger Guard Concepts

In our last post, we looked at Fabris' extended single guards, and the reasoning behind them. Now let's take a look at his dagger guards, which in general have the dagger quite extended with the sword much more withdrawn.

Interestingly, Fabris points out that you should be careful about extending your sword forward because your "opponent can find it with his dagger and attack you." He also notes that this weapon combination is more difficult because "you must pay attention to the position of your two weapons and the two of the opponent." In short, Fabris assumes matched weapon forms. While it may be a reasonable assumption that you could well use a sword extended guard with the dagger held back at the hilt if you were fighting someone who was using only a single blade and stay true to Fabris' teachings, there are some advantages to the withdrawn guard that Fabris feels that you wouldn't be taking full advantage of.

Fabris begins by describing the dagger postures such that the dagger arm should be held at shoulder height, and the dagger pointing at your opponent's sword. You should extend at least one fifth the length of your sword past your dagger, and join them at the points to prevent your opponent from attacking between them. (I'm assuming that Fabris is considering the hilt of your dagger the point your're moving the sword past, otherwise if your blade is past the point of the dagger, by definition you can't join them at the points.) Should you extend your sword, you should join the dagger to it at the hilt, for the same reason. He repeats this through the section, underlining the importance of it. If you leave space between your weapons for your opponent to attack, you are leaving yourself vulnerable. (Or making an invitation, but that's a different topic.)

When it comes to engaging your opponent, Fabris warns that if you extend your sword to find your opponent's withdrawn blade, you run the risk of allowing them to find you with their dagger. Rather, you should remember that you can effectively find your opponent's weapon without contact, and simply place the forte of your sword on the line created by the point of your opponent's sword and your body. (Alternatively, you can replace the sword with the dagger while you attack with the sword, which Fabris thinks is particularly good when your opponent's sword is withdrawn.) Likewise, you don't want to creep so close as to find their withdrawn sword with your dagger, because you risk moving too closely into measure without finding their blade.

If your opponent's sword is extended though, Fabris recommends finding it with your dagger. He notes though, that you should already be positioning your dagger such that its height is appropriate to your opponent's sword. You shouldn't have to raise or lower your dagger to find your opponent's sword, nor to defend yourself if they cavazione over your dagger. In the case of your opponent holding their sword "somewhat" low, Fabris naturally says that you should lower your body such that you don't need to move your dagger down to find their sword and are still covering yourself. If their sword is lower than that, you can cover them with your sword, albeit differently if they're working towards your inside or outside - working from Third to Second towards your outside, and into Fourth on the inside - but always keeping your sword and dagger joined, so as to prevent them from performing a cavazione over your sword and between your weapons.

While Fabris goes into some more detail about specific counters to specific guards, all of his advice really finds its way back to the core information here. He closes though, by noting that "other masters" decry his core advice that "you may always find your opponent’s sword with yours, provided that you place your dagger so as to require little motion to defend any target your opponent may attack." These other masters, according to Fabris, say that you should work your weapons separately - if one is attacking, one should be defending, and vice versa. "They say that since the sword and dagger are two distinct weapons, they should be used for distinct purposes, instead of being both used for only one end." Fabris strongly feels that using both weapons in unison will allow them to better support each other, be less disjointed in their movements, and be better able to position yourself to wound your opponent while keeping yourself safe from harm. (To add to this in modern terms, I'd say that you're reducing your cognitive load and the need to timeslice between your weapons, making your fight overall easier and better.)

That's our overview of Fabris' sword and dagger concepts! I'm not sure where I'll go for my next post. Possibly going through the invitations that Fabris scatters through his plates, or some other interesting trends in them if they jump out at me.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Extended Guards - What Is Fabris Thinking?

Let's pick this blog back up again by starting with a topic that was cued by a comment at a fencing practice I was at this past weekend. Namely, what is Fabris thinking with his single rapier guards being so extended?

That's a pretty fair question, I think! Let's take a look at what he has to say about this and kick around why he espouses this idea. (In subsequent entries, we'll look at his ideas for rapier and dagger guards, and contrast them a bit.)

Fabris describes three broad ways to hold the sword. First with the sword held at an angle and the arm "not much extended," and the hand in third, over the right knee or in second just to the outside of the knee. This is, essentially, the generic fencing guard that many new people fall into out of habit. Second is with the arm "quite withdrawn" and the sword in line with the elbow.

Third though, is with the arm extended and the sword extending from the shoulder. This is what Fabris focuses on, especially with his single rapier guards (Approximately half of Fabris' single guards could be described as extended; it's a higher percentage if you discount his examples of "poorly formed" guards.) However, he does immediately note two issues that the fencer will need to be aware of. First is the fatiguing nature of the guard, and second is the fact that the sword will be easier to find when it is held - meaning the fencer will need to be much more on the ball to keep it free. At this point, Fabris really goes into why he prefers the third variation at good length.

The first points that Fabris makes about an extended guard really have to do with distance. In effect, your point will be closer to your opponent, meaning that he needs to begin dealing with it sooner than he otherwise might, if the arm were not so extended. Your openings will be small, and if he wants to gain a large degree of control over your blade (or as Fabris puts it here "places his forte to your debole and goes for the attack") you will be able do readily defend yourself. Additionally, the extension of your arm means that you will have somewhat more time to defend yourself if he tries this, because he will need to pass his point well beyond your forte before he reaches your body. Despite needing to pass so far to reach you, Fabris does again note that it is "laborious to maintain your point in line," and even a small motion in your hand could create a large enough opening for your opponent to capitalize on. Finally, he points out that you need to "restrict your step" and keep your lower body out of range, which leads to the very distinctive postures that Fabris is perhaps most well known for.

(As an aside, I just want to point out how much it amuses me that Fabris will consistently keep pointing out how difficult some of his recommendations are. The extended arm, the stances, everything. He keeps saying that they're hard and require practice and can't be kept up for long. On the other hand, he's very clear about why he recommends them, what the alternatives are, and especially in the case of stances says that if you can't do them yet you should practice but that upright stances are just fine as long as you know the pros and cons of your posture.)

Fabris then moves to noting how best to lunge with this style of guard. He is very clear that your arm should remain still and let your body and feet carry the blade to the target. In effect, as long as your sword is pointing where you want it to go, "point control" as it is usually practiced in the SCA becomes far less relevant; rather, you just point and lunge and as long as your blade and arm haven't wavered, you strike where you want. Removing the extension of the arm from the lunge and strike process does a great deal for improving targeting, provided you keep it still, but it sure does take a whole lot of effort to remain in that guard.

Finally, Fabris spends the bulk of the chapter discussing angles of the blade. He begins by noting that people who hold their sword at an angle, typically in Third or Second, above or just outside their leading knee, do "fortify their sword" but at the cost of distance and in giving larger openings. He goes on to note that angled guards in Third make for larger (and therefore slower) cavazioni. Second is better for that, but not as good a guard against people who know how to avoid your forte.

He summarizes his thoughts on angles by saying that "angles are good for the offense but poor for the defense." Angled blades can work well against other angled blades as well as straight blades, but it is more difficult for straight blades to defeat one another. If you are attacking against an angled blade, he cautions you to have the advantage of not just the sword, "but also of body and foot," otherwise the dreaded double hit is at risk.

Fabris takes the time to say that "it is profitable to utilize all of these techniques as the occasion requires; he who is familiar with all of them has the benefit of knowing their nature and the effects that can derive from each." No technique is universally effective, and you should have a broad understanding of as many as possible. Sometimes you need a withdrawn blade, or a very angled one, despite the fact that in general, Fabris feels that a more extended guard is better. General rules are a sound guideline, but specific situations trump general rules all the time.

Fabris wraps all of this thinking up up by saying, "In order to be safest of all, you should hold your sword arm not quite extended, but more extended than not, with the sword directed straight toward the opponent or just out of line as the opponent's posture calls for." The forte of your sword can protect your body, and require small motions at most to do so. It's less fatiguing than being completely extended, but you can still derive most of the benefits from it as though it were. Finally, it's a bit harder for your opponent to "sneak an attack under your sword" because you'll be more mobile with your blade.

The chapter closes with Fabris reiterating that all stances have shortcomings, and that you need to be able to adapt to the opponent and the situation as necessary.

There we have it! Fabris presents his opinions very well, and I think it's difficult to argue with them. Granted, I do agree that "this is a very tiring stance" isn't entirely a bad reason to not work with a more extended guard, but conditioning is part of fighting and solo work is a fantastic time to work on strengthening stances and guards.

I find though, that using an extended guard really does require you to be very on the ball in almost every way - and in ways that you can get away without doing if you're in a more withdrawn and angled guard. The very moment that your opponent gets their blade on your debole, you must deal with it. Granted, you can deal with it using a very small motion, but you cannot hesitate. Similarly, the moment you do this, or see an opening in general, you need to pounce. While you can withdraw your blade while stepping off-line somewhat to counter your opponent if they decide to quickly close past the point of your blade, frankly, it's better to just not give them that option in the first place. Parrying from an extended position is difficult, and Fabris isn't a fan of parrying in any case. Rather than engaging in prolonged back and forth exchanges, this will tend to make you want to move in and execute your opponent cleanly. While that's simply better overall, I think it's telling that the body mechanics itself support that far better than anything else.

Next, we'll take a look at Fabris' dagger guard concepts! He has a trend, I think, of having the dagger far more extended than not, and the sword held somewhat back. Once we go through those concepts, we can throw them up against the extended single guard, and see what's what.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Breaks, they happen.

I should make sure to write something in here before it gets dusty, huh?

Sickle work is still slow - getting time with Doroga to work through them in pairs is hard lately; rapier practice has us working on our various areas there, with not much time left over for other things. (I encourage you to read his stuff for Spanish rapier thoughts, though!) Events have us squeezing in whatever we can get before Court, too. Weirdly, I'm looking forward to Pennsic for catching up here - hanging out in camp together means that we'll nerd around with sickles for sure. Also, I'm going to have a practice or two when I can't fence, but maybe super-slow sickle work will be okay, and I'll catch up then. I haven't forgotten! I want to finish working through those plates.

With Pennsic fast approaching, I'm focusing on practical application of good Italian rapier over nearly anything else, though I do still work some C&T work for warmups and occasional bouts. (I'd like to do more, but limited time and limited folks who do it. That said, I'm doing some gear shopping at Pennsic!) Transitioning through good lunge technique is still a major part of my daily practice, as is moving from steps to passes, cavazione, and voids. Why get fancy? I work on opposition and also Capo Ferro's hierarchy when I have a partner, for sure, but working basics is what's really going to keep me on track when it's just me, a sword, and my pell. (Also, it's good to keep working those for when I start teaching newer people.)

It's interesting seeing how different practices fall out, and how people at each of them work. My usual Monday practice has turned into mostly a combat practice, and Thursday is mostly a drill practice. (Though there's sometimes a little drilling on Monday and a little combat on Thursday, that's really how it seems to end up.) Watching the compositions of each practice and how various folks at them are approaching fencing and improving at it is really, really interesting to me.

Somewhere in the mail, I've got a copy of a new di Grassi translation coming my way, which I'm really excited to get a chance to add to my Italian Rapier Library Shelf and pore over. Additionally, I have a copy of the reprint of Tom Leoni's Fabris coming as well, which I'm looking forward to for a lot of reasons - having a copy of the book which I'm willing to let leave the house will be a good thing to have, but also a copy that I can mark up. Marginalia are love, and I'm planning on covering this with highlights, underlines, bookmarks, and marginalia and turn it into a solid and growing functional resource for me. Sitting around at Pennsic, taking notes, and being a swordnerd with people is going to be fun.

With the pause in sickle work, I'll take some time next week and go back to working through portions of Fabris. We've missed you Fabris, and your seemingly improbable body posture!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Tom Leoni's Fabris Translation available on Lulu!

Just what the title says! Tom re-released his 2005 translation on While he says it's missing the introductory portion, all the illustrations and translated material is present.

Tom has said that a second edition is "in the works, although it may take a while." Until then, folks can get this!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Yet More Practice Report

The Lochleven Spring Practice was this weekend, which meant Sunday had a lot of time being outside, watching melee practices, and getting in some good singles practice for me.

I approached it more as a functional practice than a purely manual practice, and it worked out pretty well. I felt a little off during the day, but that's probably just because I wasn't super focused for a number of reasons.

I noticed that being able to flow smoothly between a more upright Italian stance and down into a Fabris guard was working pretty well for me. While I'm still not as explosive as I'd like (especially from a lower stance), being able to shift between them really opened up my options (as well as being super period, so go me!) and when I was using a dagger, it let me deny my sword to people who were either being very proactive with a dagger or other offhand in terms of molesting my blade, or just letting me close off differently. In particular, I think it was helpful against the good Doctor Deth, who has a particularly vicious gliding beat with virtually no telegraph.

Working case into my Italian game went fairly well. While it'll never be a major form for me, it was working well as a counter-pick to Deth's case. I've been using an off-hand cane for a while there, which let me close off enough area that it let me work more safely, but being able to actually threaten more with my off-hand changed things up much more.

(It also led to some interesting thoughts about how various case fighters use case, and how I'd much rather just use dagger out of stubborn principle. Sometimes - I think the majority of the time, really - I can, and it works out well. Deth though, hits enough problem areas for me that counter-picking a weapon form gives me much more leeway.)

I need to work more on keeping the tip of my sword free. More disengage/yielding drills, including working on disengaging over the dagger. I need to be much, much more responsive there. I should also fight more single rapier, just to really dial in on these things as well as forcing much more opposition practice. These should also help against beats - either disengaging them or yielding and collecting them.

Explosive footwork and aggressive responses are things that have been problems for me for too long, and I need to dial those in. (Also, once again, making passing steps more instinctive.) There's going to be some focus on that with drilling for the coming Mondays, which will be super good. Likewise working those offline steps and more body voids (and general body English in general - Edward and Malocchio both are good examples of that for me) which is also a reminder for me to stretch more. Some of that I can work on in my own backyard, which is convenient.

Finally, gonna have to pull out the sidesword and start in on basic cutting patterns. I'm happy to use my rapier in C&T, but broadening my game into a solid Bolognese footing (and eventually Italian longsword, which reminds me, go get one) will be fantastic fun.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Quick Practice Report

I'm doing this mostly to keep myself thinking and accountable. So!

The big things I took away from last night were:
  • Keep drilling opposition. Work up to opposed drilling regularly. Make sure I'm doing everything right. Details matter.
  • Keep practicing open and closed dagger guards. Test them.
    • Work both of the above together. Opposition while using a good closed guard. All at once.
  • Mobility. Work on it. Both pure foot-based movement as well as just getting my body to be willing to move itself around. Body English.
  • Lunging in good order. Also, diverting into passing on the lunge.
  • Merging everything together. Cavazione while stepping in, leaning, forming a closed dagger guard. All at once, and all.
Which is basically just "practice fencing," I know, but still. Breaking it down like that is super helpful for me. Plus, I can at least do some of that solo.

Two sets of bouts really stood out to me, though!

Working with Malocchio brought a very different fight from our usual out; we were both working on very specific concepts from Devon's workshop, and it led to some really interesting exchanges. I wasn't contesting opposition to the degree that I usually do, instead moving to cavazione instead. He was committing a lot more and using a very different posture with the cane. It was all around really great.

I found myself unable to land any solid attacks on Kenric in opposition to my outside. Given that he's a lefty, and that my outside is his inside, this makes some sense to me. Still, the mechanics of my movement in from finding felt off, so I want to work on that next Monday. (Or possibly this Saturday, but probably Monday.)

Nothing huge, but worth putting down to keep me honest!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Mair's Sickle, Plate Four

Time to dust this off, keep on going, and just add to the backlog of things to work through with Doroga and post followup entries on!

Since it's been a while, I'll mention that I'm using the translation here. Wiktenauer has a picture from a different manuscript of the plate here.
The action once again begins with the fighter on the left initiating. Fighter A is standing straight up, legs together, right hand holding the sickle above your head, and your left hand on your left hip. Fighter B awaits in a lower stance, with the right leg leading, the sickle on the inside of the right leg, and the left hand on the left hip.

First Variation
  • Fighter A steps forward with their right foot, striking downward onto B's head. Done!
Second Variation
  • Fighter A steps forward with their right foot, striking downward towards B's head.
  • Fighter B parries upward and outward to the right. B then steps in with their left foot and strikes A's right leg.
Third Variation
  • Fighter A steps forward with their right foot, striking downward towards B's head.
  • Fighter B parries upward and outward to the right. B then steps in with their left foot and strikes at A's right leg.
  • A grabs B's right elbow from the outside with their left hand and pulls it towards them, interrupting the strike. A then strikes B in the right shoulder.
That's it! Hopefully between Courts at Coronation on Saturday, Doroga and I will have a little time to work through the third and fourth plates, as well as touch up the first two as well. Thoughts will be posted about that, and once they settle, we can move on to the fifth plate, where it seems like the initial setup is a bit more complicated!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Functional Mnemonics!

If you follow any of the fencers who are semi-local to me on almost any social media, you'll probably have noticed that this past Sunday, we were lucky enough to have been able to catch Devon Boorman of Acadamie Duello in Vancouver out in the Boston area for nearly six hours worth of historical rapier teaching.

(Brief shout-out: in addition to the physical Acadamie, Devon also runs DuelloTV, which has a giant mess of instructional videos available. Setting up the basic membership is free, allows access to a number of the introductory videos, and only gets you one piece of email sent to you a week - letting you know which of the advanced videos are rotating into free access for the week. I cannot recommend this resource highly enough.)

There wasn't much in the workshop that was completely, 100% brand new to me, but I always love getting a full review of the fundamentals from the ground on up. Fixes to technique at that level almost always have a ripple-through effect to the rest of my fight in ways that are kind of hard to quantify but are absolutely there. Even little things like adjusting my hand or foot can have a long-term impact in that every little bit of increased efficiency will reduce the wear and tear on my joints, meaning that I get to keep doing this thing for that much longer in my life. Which, in something that won't shock anyone, is really important to me.

The other reason that I will always happily work through fundamental workshops is because there will inevitably be some turn of phrase or tiny little technique that will have an impact on my fencing out of all proportion to the time spent on it. This entry today is one of those little snippets - a couple turns of phrase and ways of thinking or describing an action and how to think of it just all clicked together into a thought which led to writing this up.

While I'm hoping to do a couple shorter follow-up posts about rapier specific things that were really important that I picked up on, I really wanted to note a couple broader mental concepts that kind of hit my brain on Sunday. Specifically, something that I've noticed Devon doing in his instruction that I'm terming "functional mnemonics." Now, I have absolutely no formal education in either the practice of teaching or learning theory or anything like that, so it's quite probable that this concept has a name all on its own already, and is well known in the field, but it's new to me so I'm noting it because I think it's super important. In practice, I think that using functional mnemonics will impact two parts of fencing - cognitive load and good technique.

One of the things that was mentioned as an aside is that people don't truly multitask like many folks think. We can't parallel process - we really can only do one thing at a time - but we timeslice really well, and jump back and forth from thing to thing quickly. That's fine most of the time, but you really don't want to be timeslicing while fencing. You want to minimize the cognitive load that you need to carry - you absolutely want to minimize the number of things that your mind will need to jump between to track. The usual way this comes up in practice is when a student first picks up a dagger, and the instructor points out that they don't want to create a third line of attack between the sword and the dagger, because that's one more thing to track, and can dramatically increase the cognitive load that the fencer needs to deal with. Remove that line, and the number of cycles in the brain dedicated to jumping from line to line drops a lot, and you can focus on other things. Win!

So relating this to functional mnemonics came up in the workshop terms of foot/knee/leg positioning. Typically, newer fencers are taught to keep their lead foot pointed along the line of action, and to be sure that their knee is extending along that same line, bending over the foot and toe. While this is structurally sound and worth practicing, it's also a lot to keep track of. Foot position, leg angle, knee tracking - that's really a lot. On the other hand, if you think of it in terms of keeping your knees out as though you were doing a squat, not only do you end up with a more structurally sound stance overall, but if you're used to the feeling in the knee when you're in such a position, almost by definition your foot will have to point properly and your knee will track over it correctly. You don't need to keep track of the individual components like we typically instruct people, it just falls into place. Knees out, recognize the sensation, everything else just happens. Much less cognitive load, more free cycles in your brain to pay attention to things your opponent is doing!

This also relates to the second way that functional mnemonics comes up - thinking of an action differently (and generally more simply) leaning to performing proper technique. This came up in three separate instances, but they all clicked together really well.
  • In using opposition, from the first finding of the blade all the way through the gain and the strike, students were encouraged to "keep your mind on your point" and not thinking of the action from the perspective of the hand at all. This really does end up preventing a lot of the problematic hiccups in the action.
  • When striking from opposition, thinking of it as a forward motion, and don't worry about the deflection at all. If you're moving forward into a good Seconda or Quarta, the sideways motion necessary for deflecting your opponent happens coincidentally and well, and doesn't go too far.
  • When recovering your arm after a lunge, thinking of it as tucking your elbow in, not withdrawing the arm, prevents the elbow-out chicken wing that happens sometimes.
None of these really have any changes in the actions themselves, but just thinking about performing the action using a particular mnemonic leads to performing it correctly solely because of the mindset or focus that the thought process leads to. Additionally, and related to the first point, thinking of the action in that way tends to summarize a lot of other little parts or makes it unnecessary to think about them actively, which also reduces the cognitive load you're undergoing as you're working on the actions.

I hadn't ever encountered this type of summary or thought process of teaching precise physical actions before, but now that I've been struck by it, I can see a lot of it cropping up here and there through Devon's instruction. It strikes me as supremely useful, both in terms of instruction and in terms of actual training and performance for myself, and I'm very likely going to be trying to work those into teaching when useful, and into my mental processes while I'm drilling and working on new techniques.

Finally, as I mentioned at the beginning, I have about zero formal training along these lines, so if anyone has any more information or thoughts about this - either in terms of instruction or performance - I'd love to hear them.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Yet Another Practice Report

Remember when this blog also had cool period rapier content? It'll come back, I promise. For now, my practice report for tonight.

We had an out of town MoD show up, and man, I've missed having someone just roll into a practice and kick me around hard from out of the blue! I lack lunch money now! It gelled a lot of things I've been thinking of lately, and let me solidify plans for myself.

  • Movement continues to be a thing - it feels like stepping, body english, and explosiveness is being lost in Fabris. I know that all of these things are sure possible there (Logos is proof!) but it's way, way hard.
    • It's harder when it feels like my body is fighting me! My wind was gone, and a lot of aches and actual pain were happening. My hand and elbow were up to their old tricks. Anastasia assures me that when you really start exercising there's a period of things getting worse before they get better. So I live there now, until I don't!
  • I was biting way hard on feints. In retrospect, I felt like a lot of my attention that should have been on the fight was being eaten by the aches and pains and being in form, but that is what it is.
  • Measure! Pay attention to it! This was something I was good at once. When people keep pressing in, I should do a thing about that!
  • Multiple intentions! Ugh, come on! Also, change lines, idiot!
So yeah. Frustrating in terms of my body noping, but super useful in terms of really gelling a lot of things.

So I'm gonna keep working my Fabris - because I love Fabris - but also now that I can use my pel again, keep working more general combatives. (Or to put it differently but still accurately, remind myself that I have, and work on, a broader Italian rapier skill set.) The Fabris will continue to work its way heavily into my broader Italian repertoire, but I think upright work will help my back out and my mobility out. (Also, training deeper and fighting higher is stil really a thing.) Stand up, shake it out, and work those lunges and movement and everything. Work on transitioning from upright through the lean into Fabris and back out! Yeah.

Also, I should cut myself a little slack. Not much, just a bit.

Looking forward to the gym tomorrow morning, though. That'll help kick the rest of this. (I might try and re-juggle my schedule with the jogging to spread it a bit, that might help my fencing some.)

There's going to be a rapier workshop on Sunday though, and I'm deeply looking forward to that. It'll almost certainly help settle things, reinforce fundamentals, teach me new things, and just keep this ball rolling.

Next up, something from Fabris!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Some Rambling, and a Short Practice Report

So I'm sitting on having only the last entry for Mair's Third Sickle Plate; I don't really want to dig farther until Doroga and I get a chance to run that in person; we're just behind on that because life got in the way. I'm hoping to get a chance tomorrow at practice, though! If by next Monday's practice we don't get a chance to work through stuff I'll just forge ahead and we can backfill with information from trying them out as it happens.

Still, I want to get something up here, just to keep my momentum rolling. Tomorrow I may do something on Fabris, but tonight I want to get out a quick practice report just to keep myself honest.

Monday night I noticed a big difference working smaller, tighter steps against Dr. Deth. He still rocked me, but it was clear from the fighting and from talking after that I need to work on a few things:

  • Measure awareness. Linger just outside, and use that to put pressure on my opponent.
    • I'm still working on being able to bring the fight to people and not just be reactive (primarily by taking a tempo from them by claiming the initiative). I could just revert to trying to flush a movement (ie, making my opponent give me a tempo and capitalizing on that) but I'm trying to work a much more proactive fight against him.
  • When I want to move, I need to explode. Work a better explosive attack from Fabris.
  • When I parry with the dagger, I should be extending my blade, if not outright lunging into a committed attack. This can (and should) be drilled.
  • Lateral movement. Voids. Rolling off of Agrippa's ball. Stuff like that.
  • Dropping from an upright posture, through a lean, into an attack. Nothing new here.
(Anything I can work solo will be easier once I can do more regular work in the backyard and not the basement, too.)

Deth continues to force me outside my comfort zone while at the same time letting me work a lot of core fundamentals, and I'm really happy that he's regularly there on Mondays.

I fell off my five minutes a day minimum, and I damn sure need to get back on that train, no matter what or where I am during any day. Frankly, I've been feeling a little disengaged from fencing mentally and physically in general, which isn't good at all. I've had a lot of bad crap taking up space in my head for a little bit, so I'm hoping to get that flushed and then take up the free space with more swords. Get back to re-reading me some Fabris, writing about it more, and just doing more visualization throughout the day. Couple weeks of that and I'll be right back to normal.

That's that!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Practice Report

Since I haven't had time to turn the draft Fabris post into a real post, I'm going to do another practice report while I can still remember what I did and talked about last night!

  • Warmup fights with Anastasia went well. Decent energy, and I was rotating through guards pretty well.
  • Fighting Lupold went less well; it felt like I was stuck in an "I'm working on stuff" rut but I wasn't really working on anything in particular? Lower energy, disengaging mentally, and I think it showed hard. Also, my offline steps and dynamic body movements were basically nonexistent, and I had zero transition from an upright stance into a lean. Ugh.
  • Worked some with Meggie; I felt like this went really well for both of us. I kept trying to work on good disengages, cavaziones, or just turning over into a good crossing, but my debole just kept falling into her forte, and my crossing was nonexistent. Boo.
  • I picked back up a lot when fighting Malocchio; it's hard to stay low energy there, and I was going off-book a lot there too, but generally in ways that had to happen? Still, I felt a lot better mentally after those.
  • The night ended with some bouts against Wil Deth, and I got my clock cleaned. Fortunately, I got some great feedback after! He felt that while my steps might have been really clean, they were also very deliberate, big, and obvious. He's sure not wrong; gotta tighten that up a lot. Smaller, smoother steps. Also, I need to work on my passing steps more; they're fine in drills, but I never use them in practice.
Not sure what to do about general energy levels. Stay hydrated, eat a bit more before practice, and do some jumping jacks to wake the hell up between bouts? No idea, but I'll take what I can get there.

Most of my technical issues I'll be working on with drills. Remy and I were doing opposition work and the Capo Ferro hierarchy last week, and I think that'll help with the bladework issues. Going to focus more on my feet while I do solo drills, too. I'm thinking my usual set of precise lunges, steps, and passes should be followed by ones done at speed to get that moving in my head, and finish with slower ones to double-check technique. Also voids still, because I want more dynamic body movement, along with doing upright extension-lean-lunge both slowly and at speed, similar to footwork.

So a solid night of practice, and a good selection of items to work on for next week. Good deal!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Practice Report

In the absence of a real meaty entry, I'm just dropping this quick practice report here.

Worked through basic opposition and also Capo Ferro's hierarchy with Remy. Good to get back to more fundamentals! My outside line opposition is still pants, but I've got some thoughts on that. Also, when we're working the hierarchy, I think that it'll be a good idea to work each step slowly and then again at speed, just to make sure that the actions are correct. Also, to make sure that each partner is doing their actions with real intent to strike - I think both of us were getting a bit lazy on that at points, and that doesn't do anyone any good at all.

Once we tweak those, I think it'll end up being really helpful to crunch on the hierarchy for a bit. It lets me work on a few things that I've decided still need fixing - voids, extending when I cavazione in one tempo (dammit, self), getting a good extend/lean/lunge in - and fundamentals never go badly.

Freebouting went really well and left me feeling great. Effingham commented that while I was doing Fabris that I'd seemed to have incorporated some very me aspects into it, which gives me hope that it'll all become natural at some point. Fighting Kai was also fantastic, and forced me to keep moving, circle, and not let up the pressure but keep it on with passing steps.

Good stuff, A++, will keep practicing.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Poor Scholarship or No Scholarship?

I know, I promised Fabris next. And I'm drafting that entry now, but a couple discussions came out of some thoughts I had earlier, and I figured they were worth putting up here.

Out there on the internet, someone had posted a link to John Clements' book on rapier combat, saying that it's a super great resource. These days though, it's really kind of worse than no resources at all in a lot of ways.

This led me to start to wonder - what's worse, poor scholarship or no scholarship?

When Clements published this book in 1997 (if I'm not wrong), there was a huge lack of commonly available resources for rapier combat. Wilson's The Art of Defence came out in 2002, I believe. Windsor's The Duelist's Companion was out in 2006. (I'm pretty sure of those dates, after some digging. If I'm wrong, please correct me.)

Today, there are any number of excellent resources available for rapier combat. Even discounting online communities, blogs, and self-published ebooks to focus on traditionally published works, we have Wilson's book in a second edition, Windsor's take on Capo Ferro, Leoni's translations, and more. Venturing online, there are a huge number of quality blogs, Dante's self-published ebook, and the Acadamie Duello website and DVD. There are so many high-quality scans of the original manuals, and various translations of them. The Wiktenaur site is amazing. We're really spoiled for choice in many ways.

So because of the time it came out, Clements' book was really the only game in town, and I'd venture to say that the sweeping majority of people sure didn't know how to really judge the contents. That's fine, though - we know better now, and have more and more available resources to us.

The thing is, I think that just because it's been around for so long, some of the early bad scholarship has entered our long-term DNA. Clements' book keeps getting brought up on occasion. Weird little snippets of bad technique keeps reappearing. I'm certainly guilty of this - very early misinterpretations of concepts appeared, were taught, and while they've since been corrected, it seems like the corrections are playing catch-up to the spread of the original poor technique.

How do we excise the existence of what we know to be bad resources or bad technique? Is it even possible, with books and papers just being out there? A friend compared it to Kudzu - it just spreads, and when someone rolls in from the outside to try and correct what a group has been taught and keeps teaching, there's a risk of being seen as That Terrible Reenactor/Scholar/Whatever.

On the other hand, some of that early bad scholarship led to good scholarship and led to what we have today. It got people interested, and learning. It helped bring about what we have now.

Even today, newer people can have ideas based on poor understanding of the work, but the community is generally such that it's caught, taught correctly and in a generally helpful and encouraging way, and we all move on better for the experience.

How do we give due credit to the scholarship of the past, which helped us form the community we have today, while acknowledging that the scholarship was poor, and not letting the erroneous conclusions of it become ingrained any further?

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Mair's Sickle, Plate Three

Plate Three is entitled, "A cut against a way of pulling by the opponent." Wiktenaur's image for it is here. (Though I admit to preferring the image in the translation here, I think it's interesting to see the slight differences in how the combatant on the right is stepping. Huh. That seems like it might be important here.)

The action starts with the fighter on the left initiating, continuing the trend. Fighter A then, stands with the right foot forward, and the right hand stretched out high in front (the hand seems to be in front of the face, and the sickle extends from there), and the left hand placed back on the left hip. Fighter B stands similarly to A.

First Variation

  • Fighter A steps forward with their left foot and strikes B in the head. Done!
Second Variation
  • Fighter A steps forward with their left foot and strikes at B's head.
  • Fighter B parries the sickle towards their right side, and then hooks A's right arm and pulls them in. (I admit, this is an action I'm not sure about, and this is something that's going to get a lot of error testing with Doroga. It feels like cutting directly to the arm might well work here, but I'm not sure. I want to say that intercepting the sickle first is more technically correct, but moving from sickle to arm without controlling the weapon hand might not be right.)
Third Variation

  • Fighter A steps forward with their left foot and strikes at B's head.
  • Fighter B parries the sickle towards their right side, and then hooks A's right arm.
  • Fighter A grabs B's weapon hand, pulls them to the right, strikes the left side of B's head, and pulls backward. (This is another part of why the parry and then hook seems correct, albeit untested - if it was a real strike to the arm out of the gate, it would already be messier?)
Fourth Variation
  • Fighter A steps forward with their left foot and strikes at B's head.
  • Fighter B parries the sickle towards their right side, and then hooks A's right arm.
  • Fighter A grabs B's weapon hand, pulls them to the right, and strikes at the left side of B's head.
  • Fighter B pulls back to avoid the cut.
  • Fighter A follows B, passing the right foot forward, and strikes at B's right hand.
That's it! This is going to get some serious error testing the next time Doroga and I are in the same place, which will be great. Then I'll post thoughts, reactions, and very likely corrections!

Between now and then, I'm hoping to do a bit on Fabris, because we never forget him around here.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Mair's Sickle, Plate Two Followup Thoughts

Part of the fun of making the trip down to King's and Queen's Arts and Sciences Championship was the fact that Doroga and I would be stuck hanging out for a large chunk of the day.

With our A&S displays.

And sickles.

So the inevitable happened, and we worked on Plate Two! We had a few immediate takeaways from it that I wanted to mention here, and I'm sure that we'll spend more time on both Plate One and Two at practice tonight so we'll end up with more. (I'm hoping to get Plate Three written up tomorrow, and get some work done on it as soon as we're in the same place at the same time again.)

  • We both found Plate Two to be a good deal simpler to work through than Plate One. Granted, it was a full step shorter, even considering the decision point at the end, but it just clicked better for us.
  • The decision tree was a really interesting one, and something that I think comes up a great deal in that kind of close combat; how does it fall out when combatant feels that they're pressing a point that they really shouldn't and decides to bail vs. when a combatant doubles down on the position that they're in? In either case, it's absolutely possible to capitalize on your opponent's decision if you're in the right position, and Mair points that out to us.
    • Yes, this does mean that you can be pulled into a position from which there is no good exit. The best answer to this is to not get into that position in the first place, however...
    • ...the lack of a good exit relies on the combatant knowing how to capitalize on the situation that they're in. You can get away with bad positioning if you sufficiently outclass your opponent's skill, but that's absolutely not a winning strategy long-term.
  • The final strike in the play if the opponent presses ("If B presses the engagement, A pushes B's arm off to his left [this is the opponent's weapon arm, which A has grabbed moments before] and strikes B's left arm with his sickle and pulls back") was a really interesting moment to work through. As we read it, you are striking the arm of your opponent as they continue to hold your weapon arm with their hand. This was something that I did without thinking, which caused Doroga and I to go back and examine the movement fairly closely, since it didn't seem to be a motion that was as natural to him. (Doroga, if I'm wrong, you should tell me!) It really seemed to be something which relied very heavily on the properties of the specific weapon in use here - this wouldn't work with a dagger, or a blunt object. The wrist-roll involved can either catch the point of the sickle in your opponent's forearm (potentially even the crook of the elbow depending on where on your arm you've been grabbed) or loop the entire curve of the weapon around their whole forearm. In either case, when you pull back sharply, there's going to be quite an effect on your opponent.
  • The height differences between Doroga and I were an interesting problem. For instance, when the text for Plate One specifies that he is to push my am back to my ribs, he found it easier to be able to fold it across my body. That made the final step of the play a little more difficult, but not impossible. It's interesting to have to reconcile the text vs. the reality of the situation. For now, the text takes precedence, but in the long term being able to investigate other possibilities could be interesting.
I'll hopefully have more thoughts after tonight! After I post any that we have, I'm looking forward to a post on Plate Three, and then I want to ramble out some thoughts I've been mulling over about Fabris' extended guards compared to his more withdrawn ones, and the pros and cons of each. (Because we never forget our Fabris around here.)

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Practice Report

I was going to do this earlier, but I really wanted to get that sickle play up beforehand.

Monday night I was trying to work Fabris a bit more than usual. I had my usual amount of trying to make things more reflexive and feeling correct, but that's the usual now and is pretty okay. I need to try more extended guards; they feel insecure to me, and that's unfortunate. Also, I need to improve on my lunge-or-pass decisioning and balance. Finally, if I lunge I need to either get better about dagger placement or getting my elbow up for better profiling or both.

All of that is more or less ongoing though, and that's fine. On the other hand, there were a couple new things that were pointed out to me or that I realized! (This is good! I love having new things to work on that aren't, like, immediate Huge Problems.) Wil Deth noticed that while I was fencing one particular person using Fabris, that my rear foot would kick back a bit before I lunged. This was interesting - it doesn't come up when I drill from what I've noticed (and I didn't feel like I needed to pay special attention to it when I was doing my footwork last night) so I think it was a defensive flinch. Seems like I need to trust my defenses more, ensure that they're solid, and not lose that little bit of measure.

The other thing that I recognized when I was fighting Wil later (with Fabris and a stick, so that's still a thing that I think I'm making work!) was that I have a tendency to settle into my Fabris and become very immobile. I think this is really just due to the stance and the effort it takes, and the best thing for me to do is to be mindful of it when I fight, pay attention to when I'm stepping vs my measure, and also... to do more footwork drills at home. (Because we all knew where that was going.)

Still need to work on my voids, because I want to be able to do them really cleanly, but that's an ongoing process of training my body and remembering balance. (And also doing them from Fabris' stance as well as Capo Ferro's.) Also, I want to reread Fabris' guards and keep internalizing them to a greater degree.

So yeah! Very good practice. Stuff to pay attention to, but I felt like I've been making useful forward progress.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Mair's Sickle, Plate Two (and more followup thoughts on Plate One)

It's time for Plate Two! We're doing this! Once again, the translation I'm using is found here. I'm going to talk a bit about it, present my initial attempt at a modern interpretation of it, and there'll be testing at practice next week! After that, I'll mention a couple other followups to my Plate One interpretation that Doroga and I came up with last Thursday at practice while we were working through it again.

Plate Two is titled, "A low and a high cut." Here we go! First, take a quick glance at the illustration that Wiktenaur has for this plate.

The action starts with the fighter on the left initiating, which was how Plate One began. A quick skim of the next few plates bears out this trend as well, so I feel safe assuming this until the text says otherwise.

Therefore, Fencer A begins in the position shown by the left-hand fighter in the plate: Right foot leading, with the sickle in the right hand in a thumb down position, tucking the left hand underneath the right elbow. Fencer B also stands with the right foot forward, the sickle held outward in the right hand, and the left hand tucked under the right elbow.

First Variation
  • Fencer A passes the left foot forward and cuts upward into Fencer B's right arm.
Again, a very straightforward opening attack.

Second Variation
  • Fencer A passes the left foot forward and cuts upward toward Fencer B's right arm.
  • Fencer B parries A's sickle down and to B's left. B grabs A's right hand and cuts into A's neck from his left side.
Third Variation
  • Fencer A passes the left foot forward and cuts upward toward Fencer B's right arm.
  • Fencer B parries A's sickle down and to B's left. B grabs A's right hand and prepares to cut toward A's neck from his left side. 
  • A grab's B's right hand with their left.
    • If B presses the engagement, A pushes B's arm off to his left and strikes B's left arm with his sickle and pulls back.
    • If B pulls away, A follows to cut B's head.

While a step shorter than the first plate, this already looks more complicated at the third step. There's a branching option, but that's not too hard to work out. What I'm really looking forward to figuring out with Doroga will be how the mechanics of the cut will work when both fighter's weapon hands are grabbed, and the play doesn't note that any hands are pulled free. It might be that it'll make itself very clear once we start working through it with some intent, but that's really the fun part of all this!

Which reminds me, the major followup we had to the first plate was that you really need some weight shifts for the final step of the play. Dropping your weight through the back hip and twisting your torso absolutely lets you both push your opponent's weapon arm into their body as instructed, as well as pulls your hand free of your opponent's pretty readily. As an added bonus, it loads your whole body to throw the final shot in a very definitive way. It's like body mechanics work!

I'm hoping that I'll have the time on Friday to post a quick followup for Plate Two, based on what the initial run-throughs show us. If I don't, it'll show up on Sunday after Birka.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Mair Sickle, Plate 1 Followup Thoughts

Since I posted my original thoughts on Mair's first sickle play, I've gotten a chance to work through it live a few times. Initially, I worked with Doroga for a good chunk of time at practice. (With the able assistance of Grim the Skald holding my phone for the notes and offering color commentary!) I specifically wanted to work with Doroga at the outset because of his pre-existing martial skill, specifically Arnis. I knew that I could work with him with a reasonable amount of speed and intent, and trust that we could do so without injury. Also, we could call upon his experience in Arnis for some frog DNA if needed due to the weapon similarity as well as the similarity of technique. Finally, I wanted to work with him because he was so freaking enthusiastic to get to play with sickles - how can I say no to that?

Answer: I just can't.

We went in with the idea that beyond the first fighter's initial pass with the left foot, that there was no further footwork involved; Mair doesn't mention anything in particular but he does mention that initial step. That leads me to believe that if there was any meaningful movement of the feet that it would be important enough to merit mention in the play. This really only became relevant in the final step though, because there's a break of a wrist grab at that point, and it was pointed out that a number of martial arts would involve a step back with that.

Speaking of that last step, that's where a lot of our discussion centered. (Specifically, "Fencer B pushes hard on A's right hand (the text has A use his left hand to "push the right elbow of the opponent more inwards") and pulls back his own right hand to strike B on the side of the head.)  It seemed possible to successfully perform that action with simply arm motions, but it was far more optimal to include the torso in the action. Dropping the weight of the rear hip and turning the torso into it dramatically increased the force of the sickle hand to break the opponent's grip on it, as well as giving more push to your left hand to shove away the opponent's weapon hand. It also has the happy benefit of loading for your finishing blow.

If we were running the play at full speed with full intent, I think that the torso movement would become less pronounced, but it really worked well for us in a paired kata type of format, and it was absolutely a valuable part of learning the play overall.

On top of that, at 12th Night yesterday I was rolling around with the sickles and a printout of the translation. It got some great responses from people, and a few very different folks from what I was expecting asked me to work through the play and teach them. I was really excited by this, and it's certainly giving me the get up and go to work through the second play before practice this week and prep a poster display for K&Q A&S based on the first two plays and some initial reactions to them.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Mair's Sickle, Plate 1

Or in other words, let's do this thing! As a reminder, I'm using the translation available here to base things on. If you want a quick look at the plate, wiktenaur has a version here. (Wiktenaur's version is from the Dresden version and the translation is using the Codex Iconografico 393, but it should work well enough for a quick glance reference.)

This is my first attempt working through a new manual, a new weapon, and a very different way of structuring the instruction in the play; I'll almost certainly post revised versions of this as my understanding grows, and I work through this more in person. I strongly suspect that working through this in person is going to lead to some fairly important clarifications in terms of body mechanics, how the torso is going to twist, and things like that. I'm really looking forward to those updates.

I'm going to try to preserve how I see the structure of the play set up in the text, and include the break points as I see them. For a first attempt, I'm going to be scaffolding up each variation of the play as I go, rather than trying to do it all in one big sequence.

The plate itself is helpful for understanding the opening position of the play. One thing that does jump out at me is that while each figure in the plate is in the same general position, it's worth noting a couple differences in arm and foot position. The figure on the left has his right foot leading, while the figure on the right has his left foot leading. Their arm positions are slightly different as well, varying by which hand is in front, though the sickle remains withdrawn by the left side of their head, regardless. Both starting positions are correct, depending on where you start with the play.

Here's my first run at a breakdown, then.

Fencer A starts with his right foot forward, his sickle on the left side of his head, and leaves his left hand free and ready to reach or grapple. (This is the fencer on the left in the plate.)
Fencer B starts with his left foot forward, his sickle on the left side of his head, but his left arm behind his right, ready to brace or bolster it. (This is, surprisingly, the fencer on the right in the plate.)

First Variation
  • Fencer A passes forward with his left foot while cutting his left to right into the right side of his opponent's head.
That's it. That was simple!

Second Variation
  • Fencer A passes forward with his left foot while cutting from his left to right towards the right side of his opponent's head.
  • Fencer B cuts left to right, while bracing his right hand with his left, to deflect A's sickle off to B's right side. As he does this B grabs A's right wrist and cuts to the right side of A's head.
Third Variation
  • Fencer A passes forward with his left foot while cutting from his left to right towards the right side of his opponent's head.
  • Fencer B cuts left to right, while bracing his right hand with his left, to deflect A's sickle off to B's right side. As he does this B grabs A's right wrist in preparation to freeing his sickle and attacking with it.
  • Fencer A uses his left hand to grab B's right. A pulls backward on this, and cuts B's leading left leg.
Fourth Variation
  • Fencer A passes forward with his left foot while cutting from his left to right towards the right side of his opponent's head.
  • Fencer B cuts left to right, while bracing his right hand with his left, to deflect A's sickle off to B's right side. As he does this B grabs A's right wrist in preparation to freeing his sickle and attacking with it.
  • Fencer A uses his left hand to grab B's right. A pulls backward on this, and prepares to cut B's leading left leg.
  • Fencer B pushes hard on A's right hand (the text has A use his left hand to "push the right elbow of the opponent more inwards") and pulls back his own right hand to strike B on the side of the head.

That's it! I'm hoping to get a chance to run through these on Saturday, if I can find a willing partner. If not, I'll take some time at a fencing practice to sort through these before I get back to swords. If anyone has thoughts, I'd love to hear them!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

And now for something completely different - the sickle plays of Paulus Hector Mair!

We've survived the holidays over here, so it's back to cool historic combat stuff. I'm trying to work on a second poster display so I can go sit in the friendly non-compete area of King's and Queen's Arts and Sciences Champs ('cause I don't think the setup for the competition area really works for me - I kind of rely on being able to talk to people rather than set up a physical standalone thing, y'know?) that'll be More Fabris, and hopefully that'll be a lot of fun.

So instead of doing More Fabris in two places at once (though I'll no doubt talk about the poster display contents here) I want to do something a little different. Sickle plays!

A while back, Wistric did a series on Mair's sickle plays over at the Weekly Warfare. They looked really fun then, and they still look really fun. For the Winter Giftgiving Holiday I received a pair of Purpleheart Armory's sickle simulators from my wife who wants me to get into trouble, so let's take a look at this thing!

For a translation, I'm using the translation of the Latin text by Reinier van Noort and Saskia Roselaar, available here. Naturally, wiktenauer has a great page on Mair as well. Finally, Wistric has posted a translation by Rachel Barkley with commentary by himself. (I've skimmed that one a while back, but I'm not consulting it closely yet, mostly because I want to see what I come up with for modern commentary as compared to him. Also, I'm leery of not copying work, accidentally or not. That said, he swears that there's an underlying system here, so I'm going to enjoy looking for that and piecing it together.)

My plan is to work my way through the sixteen plays post by post, and also work through them in person, with intent. (And with protection, yes.) I should be able to have at least one or two looked at and able to be slowly worked on and taught by Birka, which should be a good time.

Before going into detail on the plays, I've already given them a quick readthrough, and I've come up with two quick reactions:
  1. The artwork is gorgeous.
  2. Mair builds out the plays in a way very reminiscent of how I've been taught in some WMA classes.
I don't really need to expand on the first point, but the second one is really interesting to me. To summarize, it generally reads like this:

  1. Set up like so! Do this thing to your opponent. You struck them, excellent.
  2. If your opponent tries to do that to you, here's a response!
  3. If your opponent responds like that to your original opening, here's the counter!
  4. If your opponent uses a counter to your response to the original opening, here's what you do!
On first glance it's a bit complicated to parse, but I think that once it's put into a more modern formatting that this will be really great to work with. It lends itself to building out the play step by step, and seeing how the whole thing evolves as you go. This can let you work up to the whole play at full speed step by step, and still feel accomplished at each step, because each step is either an ending (someone is struck) or it can continue (there is a response). It shows a number of situations that come out of a single opening, and the responses to each, which should make it easier to tease out underlying principles (which is to say, a system).

This is gonna be really different from my usual Italian rapier focus, and I'm looking forward to digging through something new for a little change of pace here. (While I continue to work on reading, learning, drilling, writing, and fencing Italian rapier in the background, because let's be serious here.)