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!