Sunday, December 09, 2007

The New Salle

This is why took the camera to the salle in the first place :)


Saturday's class was great, only Topi, me and one other student. (I hear there is talk of making the Saturday classes disappear again next year, which would be a pity; not only because Saturday is one of the few days of the week when I can actually train if I've missed Monday's or Wednesday's training, but also because training in a small-to-tiny group is so much more effective.)

Because our mezani roverso (roversi?) were so "sketchy", Topi had us cut at a tyre. I haven't done that in ages, for at least a year and a half, so I was quite surprised at not spending all my time doing push-ups (lightly touch the person holding the tyre -> 100 push-ups), but my blade still bounces off the tyre like a rubber ball even in fendente mandritto cuts.

Cutting with a step proved incredibly difficult and timing the cut right, i.e. starting with the blade rather than the foot, seemed to rob the cut of all power, not to mention the devilish difficulty of just maintaining that timing. Interestingly, taking a micro-accressere before the step (passare) helped with the timing but would be a bad idea in real life because you'd be walking your face forward into a point or at the very least signalling your intent with the foot movement.

The mezano roverso cut was every bit as difficult on the tyre as it was without. I was able to generate some power there but lost my aim completely, the cuts landing all over the tyre and once narrowly missing Topi. What is required is - need I say it? - more practice.

Nice video, shame about the swordsmanship

I found myself and my camera alone at the salle and took the opportunity to shoot some video of myself doing the Syllabus Form. NO, I'm NOT inserting it here, in fact I've already deleted it from my hard disk ;)

As awful as it was, the video was also illuminating. For one thing, it revealed that I have a problem with seeming to tiptoe and prance rather than moving in a solidly grounded way, which is odd because I actually feel pretty solid most of the time and others often don't have an easy time of trying to unbalance me. However, I tend to overbalance a lot more than I thought when cutting. My guard position is too short. My elbows are all over the place so that my shoulder joint turns in a very weird, inefficient way. My hands and arms wave around waaaay too much. My wrists flop and my ankles go bendy. I move in a hesitant manner with many nervous gestures.

Beginner's Disease comes in two varieties, cooked and uncooked, depending on the kind of spaghetti your limbs turn into. The uncooked variety is more commonly seen at the salle, I suppose, people responding to pressure and the unfamiliar weight of a sword in their hands by going stiff, resisting and controlling. Those of the cooked spaghetti variety go all limp-wristed and yield like hell to anything resembling pressure, including the weight of the sword. Apparently I'm not as free from Beginner's Disease (cooked) as I thought.

The remedy to Beginner's Disease is of course more training in the art of swordsmanship. The cooked variety also benefits from more strength training and breathing exercises.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Thinking, knowing, understanding and doing

I was going to reply to Ilkka's comment in the Comments, but this is turning into a novel with some points that might interest others, too, so I made it into an entry.

Ilkka spent a lot of time explaining to me that I should pay attention. Yes, I already know that :) He also pointed out that if I don't understand something, I should ask. But you see, the problem isn't that I don't understand, the problem is that I either don't remember to watch or I don't remember to, well, remember.

Most of the things instructors instruct us to do make sense to me, and if they don't, I ask. Of course I do, I got over that ego thing about 4,5 years ago. Usually, though, I *understand* the instructions perfectly well; so well, in fact, that my brain feels free to forget the actual words because it thinks that the crucial content has already been assimilated. This is especially true if the instructor has tried to shed light on a concept rather than just show us what to do. I retain the concept and forget the actions.

Often I don't even realise that I've failed to watch the entire demonstration. But when I try to start practising, I find that I have no clue how the exercise started, or how it ends, or both.

To remedy these problems, for each exercise I try (I do try, I really do try!) to articulate the demonstration to myself with the aid of, e.g., the dagger ex checklist above, and then I repeat it to myself over and over from the time the demonstration stops to the time when I'm supposed to start doing it: "attack roverso, defend to the outside, go to hyperextension" etc. (Actually, with me, that becomes "roverso (roversoish handwave) - outside (grabby, sort of longa handwave) - hyperextension (pdffy handwave)".) If I've missed the first part of the demo, usually without realising it, I try to reverse-engineer the beginning from the ending; and vice versa, if I've forgotten the end. Unfortunately there are quite a few techniques that can lead to / ensue from any technique.

A more general point is that I don't understand why Guy and apparently Ilkka, too, think that just because a person understands a technique (the principles behind it), they can then both instantly recall it at any given time and execute it correctly every time or even most of the time. I sure can't. For example, I know why Third Drill (or whatever its number is now) on the mandritto side starts from dente di zenghiaro and not porta di ferro mezana: because you have to move the blade across the line to cross your partner's descending blow. This doesn't mean I always remember to stand in zenghiaro the first 1-3 times each time I start doing the drill: either I forget about it or I don't realise I'm not doing it. The same goes for things like the correct height and blade position for frontale, stepping in rather than away...

(My life became a lot simpler with the introduction of the accressere-passare combo, because now if I fail to recall the footwork I can always do that and most of the time it works. I keep trying to find similar crutches to fall back on for blade actions.)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Thinking about doing it

I dare confess, because I'm not the only one it happens to, that sometimes it's hard to concentrate on the instructions of the Guy or other instructor. He'll be there demonstrating and explaining, even asking no-brainer questions to keep us awake, and I'll stand there thinking how nice striped curtains would look in the living room or whether I should have chosen to rapier today instead or if my butt looks big. And then the line breaks up, I find a partner and we stand there staring at each other, each willing the other to be the first to ask: What were we supposed to be doing?

It doesn't even have to be that drastic. All it takes is a little slip in concentration at a crucial moment and I realise I've missed the demonstration and now have no idea which exercise/drill I'm supposed to be engaging in. In fact, I may have known it perfectly well only seconds ago, but my memory being what it is...

So I grope for what I do remember and try to figure out how to get to the end result I see happening all around me as others practise. And then Guy, thinking I'm actually doing the technique, comes over and reprimands me because a) I'm doing the technique wrong, b) I'm doing the wrong technique or c) I'm not really doing the technique at all. Only because, in a whole-body equivalent of my lips moving while I think, I've waved my arms and moved my legs while trying to figure things out. I do that because I'm so kinesthetically stupid that I can't think about physical actions without performing them. Okay, when stillness is needed, I can get by with a minimal tensing (or activation) of the muscles involved, but not at the salle where I can't concentrate and where standing still and twitching would be equally likely to bring a reprimand.

I also managed to explain to Guy that needing to think about it didn't mean I don't know the techniques; it means that I have to figure out which one, out of all the techniques I know, I'm supposed to be practising.

But really, I'm not remembering the techniques at all, just the principles. My checklist for, e.g., dagger techniques is this: Inside or outside? High line or low line? Roverso or mandritto? Lock, break, takedown or disarm? Crank or hyperextension?