Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Today's Rabbit Hole To Fall Down Into - Fabris Book 2, and an Accompanying Video

So at the Western Martial Arts Workshop, or WMAW, there's a big Saturday night dinner for everyone. At the dinner, there are typically a number of martial displays that happen. Generally, these are really high quality displays of combat, and I love watching them just to enjoy two very high level practitioners celebrating their art.

This year, there was one that wasn't a timed free bout. It was different, striking, educational, and is going to end up being something I watch a lot, with my copy of Fabris in hand, because I'm That Kind Of Nerd:

Fabris Book 2, Single Rapier

This is super good stuff.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Mid-November Update Time!

Right, so, it's been a couple months and I figure I should ramble for a bit about what I've been up to.

Mostly, I was trying to go from "outline" to "actual real paper" for a paper on (shock!) Fabris. I entered it in the competition at St. Elegius last weekend. It was scored in the "okayish" range - I have a very scientific and technical scale here - and I did get some feedback. I'm planning on reviewing the feedback, thinking about it, and using some of it to revise the paper for A&S Champs in February.

That was a lot harder than it really needed to be - my focus has been pretty shot lately, so buckling down to write was hard. Still, I got it done and edited and submitted, and I'm pretty proud of that. I lost in the research paper category of competition to Elena, but her research kicks so much ass and we were both super excited for the potential to lose to the other.

I also competed in Christoffel's Martial A&S challenge at St. Elegius, using some of Fiore's dagger plays to illustrate the structure of the manual. (And to get a chance to show off some plays that are flagrantly illegal for use in SCA rapier, which is always fun.) Jean-Michel won that with his sweet Lichtenaur play, though Christoffel was really excited to grab me later and tell me about how close it was, which was very nice of him to do.

Other than that, I'm primarily working on trying to Get Good at Fabris' single rapier. I think the biggest issues I keep running into are maintaining good opposition, more dynamic body movement, seizing the tempo, and breathing.

Yeah, breathing. Anastasia keeps pointing out to me after every couple of passes we fight that I need to remember to breathe. I don't think I do this when I'm doing Tournament Fights, just when I'm thinking too hard when I'm practicing. Still, it's worth fixing and isn't too hard to work on. I figure that I'll go back to working on guard transitions during my evening drill time, and remember to breathe during them.

Outside of that, I keep spending time with cloak! Besides needing a longer and heavier cloak (and given the weather lately, that would be nice to have for not-fencing reasons!) it's really all about getting used to the movement of the arm and trusting the drape of the material to protect me like it should. It's a ton of fun though, and I really appreciate why Fabris loves it so much. (Besides the fact that they were ubiquitous and never outlawed, unlike daggers in some places.)

I'll probably pop back up on this after Rapier Champions, unless I have more thinks before then. Which I might, never know!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Thoughts From A Class - Formulating Second Order Principles

Last weekend, I embarked on an utterly ridiculous trip to an event - I flew out to Chicago on Friday to attend the Middle Kingdom Academy of Rapier on Saturday, and returned home (late) Saturday night. I did this primarily because Sir LOGOS had said that he could be convinced to do a three hour class on Fabris, so there we were.

I took a bunch of notes which I'm about done transcribing from my notebook to the computer, at which point I'll edit, revise, and reorganize them into a format which will be more useful to anyone other than myself. They may find their way here, or into class handouts (with credit, natch!) because certainly one of the broadest things I learned from the class was how to better organize and structure a class on Fabris, which is excellent.

However, I wanted to spend some time here kicking around some thoughts that I had around a couple key (for me) points in the class. The specific points aren't deeply important - rather, they're examples of a broader concept in terms of really growing to learn and internalize a period combat system. (Also any combat system, really, but some of my thoughts are pretty specific to working from manuals.)

I think that for a lot of people, when they're working from a manual and want to really internalize and utilize a specific master's fight, there's a lot of "do what the plates show" and "look like the plates" happening, while at the same time you're trying to understand and embody the theory of combat that's described. That all makes sense, and is kind of a first-level understanding. It helps that generally the plates reinforce and demonstrate the theory, so if you work through those plays you can see the theory in action. At that point, you can probably start to extrapolate - What Would Fabris Do Here territory.

What really struck me though, was when points were made that weren't explicitly described in the text - but were no less true for that. They were small things, usually. Placement of the feet, movement of the offside shoulder, and the outsize impact they can have on a fight. They're not described, but they're still there. Second order principles.

It was cool, because if you were really doing everything correctly - I mean really, truly, 100% correctly - you'd be doing all those little things, right? But when you're learning and extrapolating from manuals, it's really interesting to see those realizations happen. To suddenly just get, "oh, wait, I'm turning my hip a little when I do this, and that means..." and there's a sudden wow moment, and usually the conscious realization of one tiny thing just has this massive impact.

So that's just a thing I'm kicking around, and how that can really help measure the real understanding we can have about the fighting arts described in these manuals.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Some Notes From a Fencing Student, 1657

I've got a couple more half-written drafts for Pennsic-related posts, but a sudden explosion of awful real world things ate my head. I'll get them up this weekend.

In lieu of this though, I was just pointed at this HROARR article from 2013 which contains a translation of notes from a student who was learning from one of Fabris' students.

I'm really, really amused by how many of those notes look incredibly similar to notes I've taken from things like VISS and WMAW.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Journals, Letters, and Travelogues - Primary Source O'Clock, a post-Pennsic Post

This is the first of a series of post-Pennsic blog posts. Yay! This is mostly me working through an inspiration that Pennsic gave me, as well as collecting a bunch of resources that folks gave me elsewhere on the internet. So, onward!

One of the things I've been inspired to start doing is journaling as Donovan. I've seen this done before by a few people; notably Master Luke Knowlton's journals, but as recently as this Pennsic by Master Adam Comyn of the Middle Kingdom.

As a point of difference, Luke's journals are written as if by a purely historical Luke Knowlton - in and around historic real world events. (And they are amazing.) Adam's writings are written in a historical style, but by the SCA persona of Adam, Baron Comyn.

I'm planning on beginning this as an exercise in thinking more like Donovan would have or should have, and so to begin I'm going to be taking Adam's track on this - writing journals, letters, and so on as Donovan the persona, as opposed to Donovan in history. This basically means that I'll be referencing SCA occurrences, but tweaking them to get them to work better as though they were actually happening in a more period context. I mean, let's be clear - I don't have the masterful grasp of the time period and events as Master Luke does, so I don't want that to be a barrier to getting this project rolling - I can always start writing Donovan's Journals from the Low Countries later on! Beginning steps are just fine, and I think I'll still learn a good deal from this. Also, it's a good penmanship exercise, though I won't always be using a pen with a nib, just for practical reasons.

Master Adam has four rules that he uses, and I think they're pretty good:
  1. Try to write about the day on that day.
    1. If nothing else, this will let me keep things straight in my head.
  2. No editing once words are on the page.
    1. I'm going to be physically writing! I may cross out a thing and re-phrase it, but the crossed out section should still be legible. (If nothing else, this is some real opportunity for comedy.)
  3. Allusion and allegory are always allowed.
    1. Basically, I can always reference other bigger stories, but they may not be what they sound like.
  4. Be the persona, more or less.
    1. Donovan in this sense is a historic character, and I'll be trying to sort out some attitudes he may have had through this, as well as better fleshing out his actual historical persona. Also, it's about trying to write as though he would have circa 1600, and that means removing modern references and making it work.
    2. This also means that I get to start playing with ideas as to how my more amusing associations and such in the SCA may or may not actually make historic sense in some ways, though for these writings I'll still be writing as a resident of my local Shire with these neighboring Baronies, in my Eastern Kingdom.
To help with this, I asked on Facebook if anyone had suggestions as to journals and letters that I could read, so as to get a better idea of the writing styles of the time, as well as daily life and the like. And oh man, did people deliver! Here's what I was given (and at least one of these is winging its way to me even now):

England, or England in the Low Countries


Spain, or Spain in the New World, also Spain in Southeast Asia


More Travelogues
  • Coryat, Thomas. Coryat's Crudities. 1611
  • Moryson, Fynes. An Itinerary: Containing His Ten Years Travel Through the Twelve Dominions of Germany, Bohemia, Switzerland, Netherland, Denmark, Poland, Italy, Turkey, France, England, Scotland and Ireland. 1617. 


Early Exploration of New England
  • Gabriel Archer and John Brereton writing about Gosnold's 1602 expedition. 
  • Pring 1603
  • Waymouth, and others 
  • David Quinn has edited some excellent books on the subject.
Thanks to Jehan, Luke, Niccolo, Elias, Aildreda, LOGOS, Rufinia, Aubri, Christian, and Tacit for supplying all these recommendations! I'll keep editing this post with links to where they can be found as I dig them up.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

KWAR Times!

So it looks like an announcement was just made - the Known World Academy of Rapier will be held on Labor Day Weekend in 2018 in Northshield.

No idea about anything else, but at least you can mark your calendars.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Still here!

Well, it's been another long break between updates. So what's been going on?

Not terribly much that's new, really. I'm still working on piecing together a research paper on Fabris; that's fleshing itself out slowly - mostly, I just need a couple good stretches of uninterrupted time in front of the computer with some manuals to pull references from to get cranking on it. I'm hoping to get it done in time for St. Elegius this year, and then probably enter it into K&Q Arts and Science champs in the winter. So that'll be cool if it comes together.

I'm definitely teaching an intro to Fabris at Pennsic, which is pretty terrifying. I don't think it'll have a handout, but I could change my mind on that.

Practice has had ups and downs; I've been feeling more immobile lately, heavy on my feet without much body motion. Also, getting into Just Fighting for Pennsic is running up against Working Specific Things in my head. Fortunately, I can practice the former on my own and fling myself into fights for the latter and it'll get shaken out readily enough.

I'm really looking forward to Pennsic, though. There should be a giant pile of good historic swordplay there for me to throw myself into, and I'm hoping to learn quite a bit.

Finally, it looks like Alfieri's La Scherma will be seeing a translation by Piermarco Terminiello in the near future, and I'm really excited to be able to get my hands on that!

That's it for now; hopefully I'll be able to get in a pre-Pennsic update with some real progress on my paper.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Ongoing Project Thing

This entry is mostly just a reminder to me to Keep Doing Good Art (and also Science), and also just throwing a couple questions out to the crowd.

I'm in the very early stages of a couple A&S papers/projects/things. I think they'll start as papers and be primarily based in that kind of format, but could well explode into including poster displays and whatnot, just because I can see that sort of thing coming from here.

I'm starting to outline what's basically an extrapolation of Fabris' principles - basically, "based on what he says about single, dagger, and cloak, how would Fabris have you fight with X, Y, or Z item" which I think will be interesting to me, if not too many other people. I'm a fan of taking an underlying system and applying it to see what falls out.

The other idea isn't even in the outline stage - I want to do a comparison of visual depictions of Fabris' plays and his stances. Specifically, I really want to look at the 1601 version of Fabris in the Copenhagen library, but I can't find any scans or photographs of it yet. I know that the folks at Wiktenauer were hoping to get high-res photographs of it up online, and I have an email in to them to see how that's going, but until then I think I'm stymied there.

Practical fencing is coming along. Mostly mindset, but I've got a new set of drills and things to focus on for the next few weeks, which will probably help me out a pretty good deal.

Also, I've committed to teach an Introduction to Fabris class at Pennsic, so I'm busy hyperventilating about that, too!

That's about it this week; hopefully I'll get that first outline set up to the point where I can kick around thoughts here.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Practice Report: They can't all be winners.

So practice Monday night felt overall kind of crap. That said, I'm going to ramble on about it for a bit because, well, gotta talk about the bad ones, too.

Mostly, my head was just not in a good place. It had been a weird day, I was late, I forgot some armor and had to improvise. So not a super great start, y'know?

My Fabris single game is giving me a whole lot of trouble. I think I keep engaging from too close, which generally means that my debole is sitting right in my opponent's forte. This is, as you might expect, sub-optimal. From there, I can't really cavazione, try to control their blade, or do much of anything. I wasn't paying attention, so it happened, and then I was just cranky at myself so it kept happening, and there we go.

I think I can fix it - I'm going to spend some time reading key parts of Fabris' manual, and work on engaging from farther out and being willing to commit hard to close distance. I'll also try a couple more non-extended guards just to try and counter with an angle as well, because I think that might let me find their blade more readily. I'll end up sorting these out with both practice and drills, I'm sure. It's just irritating.

I've been working on cloak in Fabris' system lately, and while it's too early to say that I've had success with it, I'm very hopeful. It's also very educational as to seeing how more of his core principles show up with a different off-hand item. His section on cloak is short, but very to the point and understandable. I feel more than a little clumsy, and I think I need to make a wider and somewhat longer cloak (which would be nice to wear when it's cool, so there's also that!) but it's a really interesting process. My fights with it Monday went well-ish, but I get that this is absolutely a work in progress.

Finally, it was interesting to see how much more mobile I was fighting rapier and dagger, as compared to single, cloak, or buckler. I'm sure that with all of these I was too busy concentrating on many other things, and let's face it - with some of them I was fighting Will Deth and if I'm already uncomfortable with what I'm doing, diving in on him doesn't seem great, and moving around a bit doesn't let me focus as much on the big heavy cloak. Still, it's something to make note of and work on.

On the other hand, I've got the entirety of Fabris' rapier and dagger guards in my head in the form of a kata, which is an amazing amount of fun as well as being helpful. Now I just need to perfect them, and then really dial in my understanding of how he wants them to be used. (Also breathing, but isn't that always the way with kata?) I think I'll always be able to turn to that to at least give me something to focus on if practice is going off the rails for me, too. I'll try to have an entry about this up in the near future, as soon as I formulate more thoughts on it.

In other much better news, it's warm out so I can jog again, and I got my lucet in the mail so I can learn a skill that I can do in places like Court where I need to keep my hands busy and where I don't want to fall into reading a rapier manual and miss something. Sweet!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Thoughts on structuring solo practice time and kata. (Also, a quick practice report.)

You know, I keep meaning to update here, but I haven't had the time to focus for much. Weirdly, a new kid eats tons of that attention! But I have some space now, so let's get this entry done.

Last week's first practice - first since the times of sleep deprivation began - was shockingly good. Will Deth messed me up something awful, but that's just how it goes. (Also, I'm working my Fabris dagger game harder there, and not counter-drafting with stick or case, so that's just going to happen until I can figure it out.) My later bouts with Kenric and Lupold were tons of fun, and each had a couple moments of actually doing Fabris for real. The real trick will be replicating it, of course, but it's good to see things that I'm practicing start showing up in bouts. (As a note to me, I still need to work on preferring single tempo actions over dui tempi actions - I think it's just a drill and trust myself thing, but goddamn were they working ridiculously well when they happened.)

Later last week, drills and teaching were good. (Though it's better when I get in more drill time too, boo.)

This past Monday's practice was mostly a wash for a bunch of reasons, so I'm trying not to dwell too hard on that.

What I really came here for though, was to talk about structuring solo practice time. In particular, structuring solo practice time working from a manual, and how kata can be a generally useful tool for imposing that structure.

It's a truism that practice time spent in a structured way with specific aims will be more successful than time spent faffing around with a sword. Just going to "do some lunges" or whatever is certainly better than no time spend with a sword at all, but there's a huge difference between that and "perform 10 lunges from Terza into each of the four guards, paying particular attention to my balance."

I find solo practice to be particularly difficult to work with in a structured way. It's easy to slack off, it's hard to get feedback throughout the practice session, and you're quite simply limited in terms of what you're able to work on - no running through plays and working on specific actions in them!

So before I get into the thinky and rambling parts of the post, let's mention a few things that we can do to help get the most out of solo practice.
  • Use a timer.
    This really helps keep your mind on task - there's no "am I done yet" happening here. Just keep doing what you're doing until the timer goes off. I like having a visible clock just for a quick "how long have I been doing this/do I have left" check, but that's not for everyone, and it's gotten in my own way before. 
  • Decide on clearly defined actions.
    Like I mentioned above, don't just "go do lunges." Instead, "I'll work through standard lunges through all four guards for five minutes." 
  • Metrics are awesome.
    Metrics are necessary for any kind of progress determination, but are especially necessary for solo practice. In paired work, your partner can readily test your actions and give you feedback on the progress you're making as you go. You don't have that immediate external feedback in solo work (though you can use a mirror or take video) so working with some kind of definable progress is pretty important.
  • Focus on things that solo practice is good at.
    So like I said, it's hard to work through plays by yourself, but you can still do a ton of things. Body mechanics, conditioning, and repeatable actions that don't require an opponent are all great to focus on.
What I find interesting though, is that there are two things that can really help impose structure on solo practice - manuals and kata.

When it comes to using a manual to apply structure my solo practice, I can take it in one of a couple different directions, but they really come down to looking like the manual. If there are specific actions described that I can do by myself, I'll focus on them. Otherwise (and especially since I've been working from Fabris most often) you can't really go wrong trying to Look Like The Plates. This isn't a substitute for reading the accompanying text and making sure that you understand the plates for sure - and there's going to be some conditioning involved as well - but the more you can take on the postures depicted, the more you'll be able to work through the plays.

Kata, though? I love them. What's really great is that they're absolutely not solely part of Eastern martial arts! Bolognese swordplay has assaults, which are basically kata. Spanish montante manuals have rules, which can also be used as kata as well. They're intended to be used in solo work, and let you focus on any number of things, as you like - cutting mechanics, footwork, balance, flow, or considering what your opponent is doing to cause you to move like you are.

I'm still going through all of Fabris' rapier and dagger guards in order as though they were a kata, and it's doing so much to keep me focused when I'm working with a limited practice window on my own. As a bonus, they'll really be stuck in my head and I'll have a grasp on how to move in and out of them when I'm going back to the manual again and making sure I grasp how they're intended to be used.

In short, solo practice is great. Stay focused, have a structure, and work what's really workable in that format.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

VISS 2017 Trip Report And Thoughts

So I made it out and back to this year's Vancouver International Swordplay Symposium. It was, in a word, amazing. Just like last time, I walked out with a whole lot more than I walked in with.

I've been to a couple different Western Martial Arts conferences, and so far, VISS takes the cake. It's well planned and organized, located conveniently (once you get to Vancouver, anyway!), welcoming and inclusive, and packed ridiculously full of teachers and students and knowledge that's just waiting right there for you to engage with it.

It's remarkable, and I love it. I can sum up my excitement about VISS by comparing it to this corgi:

Classes I took included two intensive tracks:
I also took some one-off workshops, including:
  • From Salle to Street, Grappling and From Salle to Street, Rapier with David R. Packer and Kaja Sadowski from the Valkyrie Western Martial Arts Assembly in Vancouver
  • Dealing with Physical Asymmetries with David Coblentz and assisted by Devon Boorman from Acadamie Duello
  • Tactical Asymmetries with Devon Boorman and David Coblentz
That's a lot of stuff, and I'm still sad that there were workshops I couldn't hit - a panel on Gender in Martial Arts, a workshop on barehand vs knife, body mechanics and movement training, and others. Frankly, if I have a single complaint about this conference, it's that I'm physically unable to take every single class that I'm really interested in.

(As a quick side note for the SCA people here, David Coblentz is David Twynham OD from Meridies, Matthew Howden is Gregorio Cristovalez de la Vega OL OWS from An Tir, and Devon Boorman is Prospere de Montsegur OWS from An Tir. There were also a few other SCA folks attending as students, which was great to see both from a cross-pollination stance as well as just making it easier to open conversations.)

Every single class that I attended had me taking copious notes, and picking up all sorts of ideas to bring home. Even in the cases where there weren't Grand Revelations, simply the way the material was structured and presented helped me make connections that I didn't have before and gave me ideas to chew on. More often than not though, there was a pile of brand new material to figure out, drill, and explore in one of the most collaborative working environments that I've been in.

While every single rapier class I took was excellent, the standout classes were the From Salle to Street workshops. (Or as I'm calling them in my wise-ass way, Adrenaline 101 and Adrenaline 102.) They left me with a lot of things that I learned about myself, a lot of areas to explore, and the tools with which to do that exploration. I'm very happy to talk about my experiences in those classes with folks, and discuss how I think they're very applicable to what we do in the SCA, both for tournament performance as well as general sound martial practice.

Shockingly, my time out there also gave me ideas for some other classes to put together. Among other things, I'm thinking that an overview of Disarms With Rapier could be fun as hell. (Spoiler: all the disarms that came up were great on any number of levels.)

I was ridiculously sad to have to leave this environment and fall back into real life, but I'm already looking forward to VISS 2019.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Yup, this thing is totally still on!

It's been a bit of a break. Not as long as some that have happened here, so there's that!

Mostly, I've just been caught up in (good!) Real Life Stuff, and also feeling super drained by other (bad!) Real Life Stuff. But anyhow, let's move on. This is just going to be a short update with what I've been up to, and also just getting myself back into the habit of regular updates here.

Most of my writing time has been going into a paper for A&S Champions next month. Rather than writing about rapier, I'm focusing on some combat that we really can't safely do competitively in the SCA - sickles. I'm not sure I'm completely satisfied with the paper, but submission deadlines wait for no one, and I can always make revisions later on after the competition. Despite this, I'm really excited that in addition to all the other awesome stuff happening that day, that I can stand around and talk to people about what Mair felt the proper method was for us to kill each other with farming equipment!

Next month I'm lucky enough to be going out to VISS again; I'm looking forward to some fantastic classes, and being able to bring a bunch of new knowledge back to people to share.

Practice is still going strong! I both enjoy and am frustrated by the continuing practice to work on good period technique on its own, and then begin to integrate it combatively. Fortunately, "good period technique" is also just "good technique" so it all works out well. Lately, I've been having trouble with acting in the right tempo; too much thinking about what to do and paying attention to doing it exactly right as opposed to just doing it and letting it get more right over time. Fortunately, drilling this is a super helpful thing!

Speaking of, I've been doing more solo practice lately and I've got some thoughts kicking around on solo drilling, what it's good for, what it's bad for, and useful directions to take it in. I think that'll be my next entry, which should be up very soon.

That's that!