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.