Thursday, February 22, 2007

Workout Day

I will never again complain of not having sweated enough in class if there is even the glimmer of a remote possibility that Ilkka might be in earshot. Having read in a previous entry about how disappointed I was with one class where I didn't sweat enough, he set about to remedy this. Of today's three-hour class, about an hour was spent doing conditioning exercises, such as running around with our arms in the air, pushing each other down and getting up, proceeding up and down the salle as, e.g., crabs, ducks, ducks going backwards, bears, bears going backwards, snakes (lie down on the floor and without using your hands and feet, move forward using your shoulders - the face-down version is a real lady-killer if the lady wears a DD cup bra)... The Spiderman imitation defeated me, but I was surprised to manage three sideways-jumping pushups. The class ended in a surprise bout of exercise consisting of push-ups, squats and sit-ups, 75 of each. Needless to say, I wussed out (or huffed and puffed out) before completing them all, but to my lasting surprise, I managed a total of maybe forty situps. FORTY! ME! Before today, I would have been dismissive of any claim that I could manage even one proper one.

The falling exercises were much needed in this quarter and for once I was glad to do it; I've started to thump alarmingly again on falling. Must cultivate that "the earth is your friend" -mentality more strenuously.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Comatose

Dreadful solo training session yesterday: it's That Time of the Month and I was exhausted and scatterbrained. I ended up only doing a little footwork and a few blade exercises, and then sitting down to compare the illustrations in the Pisani Dossi and the Getty versions of Fiore.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Oooh! Shiny sharp things!

Emil Strenge of Vass&Slipad gave a seminar at the salle on cutting with sharps swords. The seminar was for two days, or three if you count rolling up and soaking the tatami targets - I only attended on Sunday due to lack of funds and time.

Mr Strenge started the day with a crash course in the basics of sharpening blades, how to sharpen a sword, what to take into account before starting, what not to do etc. I learned to cut into the blade rather than away, because the latter gives a very sharp but fragile edge. This course should definitely benefit our kitchen knives as well! At the end of the day he closed with remarks on preventing rust and general blade maintenance. All of this was very interesting and the physical process of sharpening a sword was very satisfying in the way that, when you had the right angle and the right amount of pressure, you could feel in your bones the rightness of how the hone slid across the metal. Mmmm. It was the very essence of the word nice. (I have on occasion toyed with the idea of learning how to make swords, because they are such lovely objects in themselves and I'm fascinated by how they are made and how they work. Today's experience does not diminish the glow of such an objective.)

The cutting portion of the seminar was definitely useful and Mr Strenge is decidedly an expert in this area, even though he had to work with unfamiliar Western weapons instead of his trusty katana (he also showed us some cuts with that and the difference was crystal clear). When your cut did not work, he could tell you exactly what you had done wrong and how to fix it. Unsurprisingly, most of the errors were in basic technique and intention. I will list what I remember below; these are mostly things that I found lacking in my own cuts.

Get the ellipse going, because that's where the cut is generated: the ellipse reaching its apogee just before hitting the target. Do not pull your cuts.

The optimum angle for cutting is 35 degrees.

Don't focus on the target. Just cut through it like it wasn't there. Definitely don't let the target guide the path of your sword.

Go from posta to posta. They really work.

Check your grip. If the grip is wrong (for example, my hands were at too open an angle!), the blade starts to drift the instant it hits resistance.

Check your distance. Cutting distance is closer than Lady Classwork-Prissy distance. Make sure to use the right bit of the sword for contact, i.e., slightly towards the tip from the sweet spot.

Make your arcs wide enough at least to begin with in order to gather speed.

Don't make your arcs too wide, because the greater the motion of the body, the longer the distance that the object you hit will travel through the air. It's a very odd thing, because after all, the only point of contact is the sword - why should it matter whether it gets it motive power from your swinging left and right or doing a controlled cut? No reason I can think of, but it does. The bigger the swing, the longer the flight, and this had nothing to do with cutting power.

Note: This also answers a question I posed earlier about tutta porta di ferro. The Pisani Dossi shows the position (with sword) more towards the side, the hips and shoulders turned away from the opponent etc, while the Getty shows the position turned straight towards the opponent.Because the Getty version is more constrained and controlled, it would waste the least amount of energy in swinging and sending bits flying and focus the greatest amount of energy into the blade, because it wasn't being wasted in turning to the side. Or, to put it more accurately, it would be more stable and thus a better position to cut with/to/from.

Maintain balance at all costs. Sink low, relax, don't overreach.

Keep the hands forward and don't "underreach". For maximum cutting efficiency, don't finish in breve, cut through to a low/high guard depending on which way you were cutting. Definitely don't be in breve when the sword hits the target.

Aim. 'Nuff said.

Lastly, I absolutely have to rave about Torsti's sword. Uuuuh, it was sweet. At first we were making jokes about him having brought along a lightsabre instead of a longsword, thinking it was at least half his skill that was making the cuts, but... Well, to be fair, he is good, and definitely his skill played a big role. But oh, that blade! It was downright orgastic in its perfection. The general feel of the sword when cutting at air left a bit to be desired, but when cutting through tatami, the blade really came into its own. That first fendente mandritto cut I did with it that went through the target just right - I'll be replaying that cut in my head for the rest of my life. The combined sound/feel of steel slicing smoothly through the mat, the satisfaction of the well-finished cut into a good zenghiaro, the shiver that went through me just afterwards, all this will be with me for a long time. It was just a pleasure to cut with. And the last centimetre or so of the tip was sharpened so nicely, so just exactly right that honestly there is an erotic element in my reaction to it. Here's a close lookalike as far as the blade is concerned.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Technique or position

Do the illustrations in treatises (I'm mainly referring to Fiore's works, but the question certainly applies to others, too) illustrate techniques or positions?

If we believe that it's positions, we're home free, because that's how we mainly use them: we try to set ourselves up in a certain position and then peer at the treatise to see if it looks the same as the picture. This would mean that the artist had solved the problem of encoding an event in a picture by picking the most illustrative moment during the event and then drawing a picture of that.

But we could entertain the possibility that they might be encoding entire techniques; that the illustrations are not meant to be taken literally, but rather that the pictures include all the information needed to puzzle out what the entire technique is. The information would include things like:
  • Timing
  • Quality of contact (yielding, going through, resisting, avoiding)
  • Initiator of the action
  • Initial threat being reacted to (fendente cut, punta, hit with a fist...)
  • Who wins (ie., the technique that's supposed to work)
We already know that the garters and crowns worn by the participants do not refer to actual garters and crowns worn by Fiore and his students, but that the garter indicates the person who is attacking and the crown indicates the person who is supposed to win (the masters). This tells us that the illustrations are at the very least not solely pictures of positions, but that they encode information as well. (Unless we want to posit that before attacking, each Fiore student should stop to put on a garter, or that the subjects depicted in certain other manuals really fenced in the nude.)

Wouldn't it be cool if we could find a code in the pictures for the attack, quality of contact and timing, too?

The Nine Masters of Dagger

Here they are, straight from Fiore:

Master

Attack

Line of defence

Defend with

# of hands

Position of hands

1

mandritto

inside

hand

one

-

2

fendente

forward

hand

two

crossed

3

roverso

outside

hand

one

-

4

fendente

forward

hand

two

parallel

5

leftie grab

outside

hand

two

parallel

6

fendente

forward

dagger

two

parallel

7

fendente

forward

dagger

two

crossed

8

sotto

inside

dagger

two

parallel

9

sotto

outside

hand

one

-


I'm sure there's a way of making it more concise.

EDIT Aug 24, 2007: corrected mistakes pointed out by Joeli Takala.

To clarify: the table above is intended to include only the "prototypical" defense of the master in question, that is, the one that introduces the master. Certainly a number of techniques are available for each master by varying one aspect or another (inside/outside, one hand / two hands etc.) but as I see it, the "title picture" of each master illustrates the concept underlying the techniques that follow. (I haven't presumed to try to explain these concepts here :)

Small classes have all the fun

We had a great class tonight! For the first hour, we were three; then another three, all of them very new beginners (or equivalent) joined us. (Note: must tell webmaster to update the web pages to show the correct training schedules.) We did drills and the nine masters of dagger. Some of my Fourth drill got straightened out: don't step back and poke, turn and step in and get that point in his face! Then we intermediates made up our own cutting exercises (or rather, colpi exercises) and taught them to each other. Mine was zenghiaro -> punta w/ meza volta -> sottano to fenestra w/ volta stabile -> punta w/ volta stabile -> fendente to zenghiaro. And the same on the other side but starting form tutta porta di ferro. Guy liked it, and so did I :)

By far the most difficult bit was doing pressure drills with Guy calling out the numbers of the masters we were to follow. One person in the centre, two others attacking according to Guy's instructions, and the middle person defending with only the named master. While I was the only one who had to actually be shown how one of the masters was done (eighth), I still did better than expected: I absolutely thought I'd be standing there rigid, being stabbed at in the face. And I got one really good takedown from third master, which was nice.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Solo and not solo

Last Friday's free training session turned into a solo training session because everyone else was too tired (after only three hours of classwork! Tsah!). I went through my normal solo training programme and lo and behold, after half an hour I discovered that I had already finished it and then some, although it usually takes me about 45 minutes, and without getting tired. This is very strange.

Today's solo training session, on the other hand, turned into a directed training session because semi-unexpectedly Guy was there (we may have missed each other on Tuesdays for a while now, as my training has taken place during the early afternoon) to critique and help with exercises and drills. He gave a very helpful talk on the nature of tutta and meza guard positions (in brief, tutta and meza refer to how much of the sword will cross the centreline when cutting from each guard), resulting in my distinguishing between zenghiaro and porta di ferro mezana more clearly.

He also advised me on the correct way to do two stick exercises:
  • The exercise where you stand with the stick in your hands horizontal at the level of your shoulders, with the grips of each hand opposed; and then switch grips so that the hand that was palm down is now palm up and vice versa: it's not a hand switch at all, it's a stance switch, and you do it with your elbows. So relax into it, go low, and just shift the way you stand - even if the only shift occurs in your hands.
  • The one where you grip the end of the stick and hold it horizontally with your hand at your side, then bring the end of the stick to your chest, then out, then in, and back down to the side: everything is subordinate to keeping the wrist straight. Lift the point to keep the wrist in line.
In Third drill, the starting guards for the defender are zenghiaro on the mandritto side and tutta porta di ferro mezana on the roverso side. When wrapping the hands, it should be done "like you mean it", so that the partner's forearm turns aside, the balance wavers or similar.

On the plus side, Guy exclaimed "Good!" many times; once at my six lines cutting exercise and several times during drills. He also found no fault with my donna-longa-zenghiaro-longa-donna -exercise. And when I fixed a problem with my Third drill first defensive cut, I even got a "Beautiful! Do that again!"

After today's session, I had no cause to complain of not being tired and sweaty enough. I had forgotten how fast-paced, exhausting, tremor-inducing and frustrating Guy's one-on-one lessons were :)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Regarding the long stretch of bitchin'...

This isn't really the place for this mental dialogue, oops I mean monologue, but I'd just like to note that the post Who am I kidding? is only too typical of my pursuits: if I can't have it all, let's not have any. F'chrissakes, I'll just keep training and see what happens, I don't have to make swordsmanship my raison d'ĂȘtre or make my self-esteem conditional on fitting the role of Respected Master of European Swordsmanship someday. There are other roles, like The Woman Who Kept Coming Back or Local Troublemaker. Or even the tragic Lady Who Had To Quit And Now Knits Macrame Sheath Covers.

Ladies' Night

Class tonight was a regular ladies' night - we were four women and one man for the first hour, after which another (brave) man joined the fray. Maybe this was why it wasn't very physically taxing. Now, I never thought to read these words in my own blog, but I was actually a bit disappointed at how little Guy made us sweat! I was really looking forward to being absolutely knackered and beat at the end of the class. Maybe it's the long training break, or maybe I was just looking for an excuse to complain again.

Most of the other students were junior to me in terms of training time; perhaps this is why I got to be pleasantly surprised at how competent I felt. For one thing, Guy's quiz questions seemed to have obvious answers, and backsword, which I haven't really waved around for ages, felt natural and easy.

I actually learned to apply a skill I've taken hesitant steps towards mastering: using the power of my feet through my upper body. My back and stomach muscles are a weak spot that I need to fix by doing strength training exercises and paying attention to proper posture; they were doing better for a while when I was more conscientious about doing my morning and evening exercises but lately I've been lax.

The start of the 1st drill was a problem. Must remember to step into the cut - when doing mandritto, the defender steps into the fenestra going forward and to the right. I know this is correct now. I just can't visualise it at all!

My foot started to complain at the (very short) lunges during the backsword portion of the class, and I made the mistake of sitting down to massage it, after which it really started hurting. However, determined not to wuss out on my first class in much too long, I picked up my stick and rejoined the class, and after a while the foot subsided. It was probably just faulty technique, which improved after I got a rest and a drink and concentrated properly - after all, the foot was fine during the two hours of longsword.

It was good to see Orava back in training again :)

Friday, February 02, 2007

Actual drills again!

In today's free training Topi took me through drills 1-4. The session was very rewarding; no amount of solo practise can replace partnered drills.

Drills 3 and 4 have changed; the new 3 I had actually tried a couple of times before, but for some reason it's really difficult to visualise. So note: on the mandritto side, defender stands in pdf as usual; when the blade approaches in fendente mandritto, the defender steps to the right with the right (forward) foot, towards the cut, and executes a sottano to deflect the cut. Yes, mandritto side - I tend to start doubting myself as to which side it is. True, the roverso side is identical, so that may be it...

The new 4's a false edge sottano mandritto followed by a fendente mandritto feels very strange and wavy but with practice it will be a really powerful combination. Also, as Topi explained, a fendente roverso would be much easier to deflect with the false edge, whereas with a fendente mandritto you really need to work at it.

We also did first form, which to my surprise I remembered. No doubt it was awful to look at, but at least the mechanics were all there.