Thursday, March 29, 2007

Class leader's checklist

When leading a class and seeing a technique (pair drill) go wrong, check the following:
  • Are both starting from the correct guard position? On the correct side?
  • Is their approximation of the guard position more or less right?
  • Is the distance right?
  • Do their speeds match? Are they going too fast for either partner?
  • Is the attacker cutting correctly?
  • Is the defender using the right footwork? And doing it right?
  • Are both using the right direction, quality of contact and part of blade for their techniques?
  • Are they stilty (standing up on straight legs, moving stiffly, overbalancing)?
  • Are they bendy (bending over, going around rather than through)?

The usefulness of training

Ilkka commented that today's was a useful class for him and he learned a lot. I agree only halfway. For me, the class, particularly the intermediates portion of it, was useful mainly as that many minutes of handling a sword - the usefulness of this is undeniable, yet fairly unremarkable. I did, however, learn something. I learned that, while I now actually have a fairly good understanding of the very basics of the art such as direction, power, body mechanics etc., my specific techniques really, really suck. This is the exact reverse of the situation about three years ago, when I was able to execute most techniques but had no clue why I was doing them or how and why they were supposed to work.

Let's take as an example a technique that I really messed up today: Stand in coda longa; your partner attacks with a fendente mandritto; with your front (right) foot, accressere off the line to your right and beat away your partner's sword with your true edge ending up in... in... longa? and then hit your partner on the head. Now, I knew what I was supposed to do with my feet and why (accressere off the line because getting off the line is a good way not to get hit, and because doing so gives a better angle and openes up the partner's centre more effectively). I knew how to make my beating of the blade strong (aim to cross in the middle of the sword, use the true edge and support it properly with the forearm and the rest of you and the ground). And yet I messed both of these up and did not even notice how until Guy came up and explained it to me. Again.

(On the plus side, when told to come up with a technique to practise, I was actually able to think of a specific sequence and know how it was supposed to work, rather than making one up and waiting for corrections by Guy to give me something to really practise.)

What makes this depressing on many levels is that three years ago, I was able to instruct beginners better than now. I can no longer get inside beginners' heads like I used to, because it's been too long since I was one, so my instructions tend to sound vague and mystical. Rather than saying "move that foot further to the right" I tend to try to explain distance and angles of attack to them, because I can no longer think in terms of specific techniques - because I don't know the specific techniques well enough. (At least it's better than a year ago, when I was likely to tell them their weight was in the wrong place and not flowing from their back foot...)

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Busy - training

This week I was too busy to log training notes. The fact that I was busy training presents an interesting dilemma: to train or to blog? ...d'uh.

I had three classes during one week - 2 h last Friday, 3 h on Wednesday and Thursday each. (The first time in 2 years that my line on the attendance sheet sported four consecutive check marks resulted in my feeling that I "never" put my children to bed anymore.) Guy is back in the saddle, so Wednesday and Thursday were regular classes. I seem to have weathered my stint of class leadership without actually leading a single complete class...

For some reason I've taken to volunteering answers to Guy's questions to the class. I don't really want to always be the one with my mouth open, but somehow it always seems reasonable to answer just this particular question... like the three this particular questions previously. Probably everyone else is even more annoyed by it than I am, but at least I'm getting feedback on my comments and theories.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


I was supposed to lead a class again today, but opted for supervising a free training session. This was not, I would like to emphasise, due to a case of cold feet due to the cluelessness obliquely referred to above; it's just that with this Mother of all Colds and an almost sleepless night, I felt that leading a class might be dangerous. I feel dizzy and disoriented, and for heaven's sakes, I can barely hear because all sounds come to me as though under water.

There were some ten people present, two of whom were beginners and three of whom had never attended free training. I had Maaret do a directed warm-up (and for some reason I had her start at five to six... I mean, this is free training, you can start warm-up whenever you like, so... Hey, it made sense at the time. Maybe.), then I took the beginners in hand and told the rest to get on with it. And get on they did; not a single student left before eight, and at 8:40 there were still five people training. I didn't get to sink into a coma in a corner because everybody kept asking me stuff.

I only hope I didn't talk complete bollocks, because frankly, I hardly remember half of the session. One free scholar tried to point out that beginners never remember what they're told... but in my experience, they tend to remember exactly the wrong things and have a terrible time shedding them later.

Did I feel stupid to be consulted about sword&buckler exercises, the finer points of drillwork, or the advanced breathing exercise, all of which I know exactly nothing about? Yes. (Well, a caveat: I'm sufficiently well-grounded in the basics that at least I can say if something looks okay to me, and able to bluff well enough to just look mysterious and knowledgeable as I wait and watch the inquirers to figure it out for themselves. And everyone's so on to me and my bluff :D ) But sod it, I'll get better. Just as soon as I can attend class again more regularly. Much more regularly.

As is probably evident, I regained some of my balance and recollected some of my scattered wits during the evening, at least enough that next week I should be able to lead a class with something resembling confidence. I do know my stuff; and just because my stuff is a bit old doesn't mean it's useless. My not knowing a lot of other stuff doesn't reduce the value of the stuff I do know. And if the students are bored by my classes, well oh dearie me. They'll live.

Oh, and my plot has worked at least on the level of getting other free scholars thinking about leading classes, if all that talking about it tonight is any indication. Yes!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The things we do for keys

Man, I'm useless at leading a class.

I can't really instruct anyone in how to execute drills, except maybe Second and Third and even Third is in serious doubt. I can do them, just, but not guide people through them. The same goes for most other exercises.

As you can probably guess, that class I "led" yesterday didn't go too well. There were only four attendees: one re-beginner, one early basic level student, and two free scholars. Those two free scholars are much more familiar with the drills, forms and other exercises than I am, so I figured that leading a formal class for this group would be silly. Accordingly, after the warm-up we got into a loosely directed training session and did drills. I was literally useless, not just because I'm ignorant, but also because I was the fifth one out and couldn't find a natural way to join in the training which, after all, I was supposed to lead. After an hour and a half of this, I took some twenty minutes to bitch about balance and footwork. It continues to annoy me how people
  • don't bend their legs
  • lean forward and then wonder why they can't keep their sword extended
  • substitute disco dancing for volta stabiles by keeping their weight stationary
  • fall forward when stepping
So I had them doing volta stabile and meza volta exercises first while holding a sword and then while placing it (not cutting) from donna to longa. At the end of the twenty minutes, even the free scholars shuffled a lot less. Then I had them do Second and Third drills and focus solely on footwork, ignoring the blade. Lo and behold, the less advanced students' cuts were actually better then than during the first hour because they didn't have to struggle so hard to keep upright.

I finished the class at eight with a few minutes' lecture: It's important to bend your legs in order to give yourself a wider base on which to balance your tower, and also because it makes you more mobile. It's important to maintain balance because, among other things, it puts a greater strain on your shoulders and back if your spine isn't resting on the tailbone so to speak - I illustrated this point by calling to mind the Tower of Pisa. I pointed out that as this was Fiore, the balance should be slightly forward to maintain an attacking attitude (not managing a better articulation of what I mean by it) but that to begin with it would be useful to practise keeping the balance point in the middle of the elephant's legs just to discover where it is and how far forward it can go without compromising the tower's integrity. All in all, it was a really boring and confusing lecture, particularly coming as it did after half an hour of listening to me bark: "Bend your legs! Don't lean!" every ten seconds.

I really can't do this. I have never felt so totally ignorant and useless insofar as training is concerned. It's as if every last hint of clue had abandoned me. True, some may be due to very bad news I received just before class, some because I was tired after my second day alone at home with the girls while the husband was earning our daily bread. But at least part of it was that I really don't do well in non-structured situations (the instant I took some semblance of charge matters improved); and that I really don't know much about what I'm supposed to be on about!

Still, I'm allowed to lead classes, and class leaders get to hang on to their salle keys. If the other class leaders, and of course Guy himself, are stupid, oops I mean agreeable enough to let me in front of a class, well... If I keep doing it, I don't have to give up my keys to the salle. And my silly classes might lead some of those other free scholars to discover that they themselves could very well do what I'm doing, and better. In which case, we'd have more class leaders and everyone would win.