Friday, June 27, 2008

Fiore seminar bitchin'

I'm extremely annoyed not to be able to attend the five day Fiore seminar that is taking place at the school. So it is with a mixture of evil pleasure and honest disappointment to find that all blogging participants seem to be too tired to blog about it.

Links added

I added some links in the left column.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Lady Global Celeb

Today I had the pleasure to properly meet Tome. When I told him my name, he went "Oh, the Lady at the Gate!" (And I went something like "Um, [giggle] [false-modest shrug] yes, that's me.") It turns out I have a Singaporean audience, too :)

It does make me think, though, that I must be more careful to note how much of this blog is just my confused mutterings and yammerings and distorted reports of class dealings quoted out of context... I wouldn't want anyone to think I actually know anything!

Received wisdom

In Fifth Drill, remember to execute the first counter early enough and aim far enough to the side; avoid the temptation to wait and strike a wedge with your sword along the fendente line, because it won't have enough of an angle.

To cut from posta di donna into bicorno, it's best to make the balance point of the sword move in a straight line towards the target and rotate the sword into place around it.

If your sword vibrates annoyingly after you beat another blade with it, you're hitting with the wrong part of the blade.

Don't become so infatuated with how nicely your cutting exercises are going that you hit your own ear with your sword. (Gaah.)

Use your iron door

How's this for a weird statement: put your crotch through the other guy's head.

I suppose that needs a bit of explanation.

When using a weapon, be it sword, dagger or fist, or whatever, it's important to allow it to become part of your body and sort of infuse it with your awareness. Once upon a time Guy described the phenomenon of beginners' awareness being limited by their skin, and then, as they advance, they become more able to sense things through the blade, first in the handle only but gradually flowing down towards the tip of the blade. As that awareness dribbles down towards the tip, so does control and the ability to transfer power through the blade.

The iron door is, for me, the point of balance in my body, in terms of body mechanics. The name is just a signal of where that balance point is: the crotch, or more specifically the place where the hands rest in porta di ferro. That's where the bow I talked about earlier ends (although interestingly the last time I had reiki treatment done I felt for the first time how the bow extended all the way down to my feet).

My most successful cuts (or actions in general), those that are the most focused and the best controlled, happen when I'm able to use my bow to its full extent and get the power from the crotch end to the sword end. It is easiest to conceptualise as hitting my target with my iron door.

Beginner no longer

The beginner's course is over. Ilkka made some sort of obscure point in handing me a SHMS membership form, too. (I've been a paying member for five years straight; I even paid my training fees during my sabbatical...)

We beginners got to do a fair amount of reps of the dagger disarm flow drill and First Drill. The ratio of re-beginners to actual beginners made for better training for all of us, I think, because the actual beginners had models to copy from and reminded the re-beginners that they actually already knew a fair amount.

Now I'm faced with a scheduling problem. To train on three times a week, I need to go to the salle on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, as there's no training on Tuesday and Friday during the summer. Unfortunately, there's no babysitter service on Mondays (read: my mother is busy having a life of her own). Any ideas are appreciated. As are training partners for Fridays :)


Lately I've been prioritising sleep over blogging. Sorry, folks, but that's how it's gotta be sometimes.

What's not so good or commendable is that I've also been prioritising sleep, leisure and work over training and research. Bad Auri! And it wasn't even that much work, to be honest. I need to get my ass back in gear.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Learning, maybe

Heikki, my husband, asked me yesterday how my swords thing was going and if I thought I was learning anything. This really gave me pause. How is it going, actually? Well, I'm having fun, and life feels balanced and worthwhile; but how is the swordsmanship coming along?

I do feel like I'm learning things, and relearning. Certainly much of my progress is a matter of improved physical conditioning and increased strength, but even so, there are a few things that I can think of just off the top of my head that I've learned (again) or that have improved since my sabbatical:
  • More stable in volta stabile
  • Improved stance
  • Footwork more mechanically sound
  • The new posta di donnas
  • The new drills (just went through all of them today with no huge, major hiccups!)
  • The idea of balancing purpose with responsiveness, or the importance thereof
  • The syllabus form
  • The accressere - passare - passare - tutta volta exercise
So yeah, I am learning. Cool :)

Is my face falling?

Funniest exchange of the day:
A scabbard spontaneously falls off a rack during a cutting exercise, making a noise.
Ilkka (leading the class): "Be careful! That could have been someone's face!"
Orava: "Nobody touched anything, it just fell off."
Ilkka: "It still could have been someone's face."

Bad knee, good training, great food

Ilkka's Monday warm-up failed to kill me, perhaps because my busted knee still prevents me from executing some moves. The knee still can't take much sideways pressure, in other words, putting my weight on it "crooked" can cause it to pop out of place. This means that star jumps, many leg stretches and some footwork exercises are out of the question, as is doing many squats in a row (although slow ones are fine). I'm also overprotective of the joint, which is perhaps better than not being so, but it makes me jump a little every time the knee twinges and/or straightens completely.

I don't know if my brain is getting better or if the training was fairly simple, but the fact is that there was nothing really difficult about the training session and no new things to learn. Even the Gruelling Drill, in reality called the stability exercise, wasn't very gruelling and certainly not complicated. In spite of this, or perhaps because of this, the session was enjoyable and boosted my confidence somewhat.

After training we sat down to an excellent meal of curry prepared by our resident salle chef Ken whom we tried to persuade to relocate to Finland permanently :)

Abs, abs, abs

Building core strength through ab and back exercises has an amazing effect on training efficiency. When my lower back is mobile and painless, I can assume a proper guard position, which in turn allows me to be properly grounded and to generate power appropriately, leading to decreased tiredness and increased focus on the training task at hand. Thus my training is improved overall by a few simple ab and back exercises every day.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Wahoo, my muscles are growing! A minute and a half in plank tonight, other ab and butt exercises on top of that, ten scoops without trouble, then ten push-ups on top of that. It sounds measly, but it's a big deal for me. I haven't been as out of shape as I was three weeks ago since high school (and that's saying something!), but now my quick-healing, quickly accumulating muscles seem to be getting me back on track.

This is not all to the good, of course. The last time that I restarted swords training (three years ago... my goodness, has it been that long?!?) I ended up over-muscled and under-skilled, compensating with brute force for lack of technique in things that I had known but forgotten.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Close your eyes and think of England

My cuts have gone all wobbly all of a sudden - or maybe they've always been wobbly and I'm only noticing it now. What seems to help is, firstly, only paying attention to the start and end points, i.e., the guard positions at either end; and secondly, thinking of the motion as a cut instead of just moving the blade. In other words, keep intent and line true. Alas, doing this pretty much removes the blade from my control, and so I can't do it during pair practice because the end position is almost always inside my partner's silhouette...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Pleasure in training

Kevin's comment on my image or focus problem inspired me to note that I actually seldom feel pleasure during training. (During training, here, refers to class time or focused training time.) Lately, since my sabbatical, it's happened about once per session, perhaps half a minute at a time, but that's just a fluke - I went through about three years of training when I felt good during training about a total of one minute in all those years, dispersed over three or four separate occasions. Mostly it was just plod, plod, plod, and is it time for the end salute yet.

I did learn new stuff all the time during those three years, which is a pleasure in itself and the thing that kept me coming back, but I didn't get that feeling of "Yes!" or "This is so cool!" when looking at demonstrations or, heaven forbid, actually doing the stuff demonstrated. I certainly didn't get that quiet tingling in the stomach that signals deeper, more permanent pleasure. (No, not that kind.) I wonder if the people who read this blog (there are at least five of you!) get that.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Salle visitor

We have a visitor staying at the salle: Ken from PHEMAS in Singapore. Hard to find a nicer guy and a better training partner, so we're glad to have him :)

Better Life Through Abdominal Muscles

The world will be saved by doing abdominal exercises. When the abdominals are weak, the back seizes up and hurts. This makes one cranky. The crankiness and pain make movement and concentration difficult, resulting in more crankiness and pain. So if everyone would only train their abs, the world would be a better place with more sixpack stomachs.

And I actually did conditioning exercises today after class: abs, wrists, push-ups, head lifts (for throat and neck muscles), but mostly abs.

Purpose of cutting

The pithiest exchange of the day:
Orava: "Is the frontale supposed to be a beating action, or...?"
Ilkka: "It's supposed to keep his sword from hitting your head."

Aim yourself

In an ideal world/swordsman, every instance of each guard position is identical; that is, you always take frontale/fenestra/donna/etc. in the same place, in the same way. The result is that the cuts you make from and to said guard positions will also always be identical.

The logical conclusion from that is that you don't so much aim your cuts as you aim yourself. If you are facing the right way and the distance is right, the correctly executed cut will be the one to hit the opponent; if an incorrectly executed cut hits the opponent, then you're not positioned, i.e. aimed, correctly.

This is why you don't actually need a target for cutting practice: you're not practising how to hit a target, you're practising how to execute your cut from one guard position to another. The target is merely there to give you an idea of the line your cut is supposed to travel in, in order that you don't build up bad habits.

When I asked Guy to confirm this brainwave gained during cutting practice, he used the analogy of a spear: you are the spear, the sword is the spearhead. Note that you=you+sword; a spear without a spearhead is just a big stick.

Focus problem

My image problem is actually a focus problem: given too much thinking time and too wide a view of the salle, I start focusing on outside things instead of on myself and my own training. We figured this out today after training with another student who also has difficulty concentrating.

Her solution is to train so that there are fewer visual distractions, i.e., face the wall. This is absolutely right for me, too. So what if standing in the corner to do cutting exercises looks a bit odd.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Image problem

I had that broken-apart feeling again today as described in an earlier entry. A sure early sign of it is when I start to have an unhealthy concern over my image and instead of concentrating on learning I concentrate on how others might perceive me (and on how I perceive others, but that's an ugly can of worms, let's not go there). I start comparing myself to everyone else present on every scale imaginable, from skill in swordsmanship to attitude, from shininess of sword to coolness of hairdo. Aaaaaaaaaaaaargh! And not only to other people, but even to myself at various other points in my training career! Only to find out if I'm fulfilling the expectations I talk myself into believing Guy to have. Double Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh! Talk about image problem.

Things that don't help:
  • Being angry
  • Indulging myself
  • Phasing out
  • Being tired or hungry
  • Having low self-esteem (though there's not much I can do about that)
Things that help:
  • Relaxing (especially the stomach and back muscles)
  • Refocusing on destinations rather than the road to them
  • Ignoring other people
  • Telling myself I'm being stupid, then relaxing
This blog is intended not just as a record of the swordy stuff I do and think but also as an honest record of the emotions and thoughts that pass through me or that I pass through. Hence entries like this. My hope is that perhaps they can help someone with motivational problems, not by telling them what road to take to get over it (of course) but by sharing: you're not alone. Of course, in order for these entries to actually be helpful and inspirational requires me to become a master swordsman, loved and admired by all... ;D

Disarm wrap

On today's menu, Disarm Wrap: from posta longa against posta longa, hook your partner's blade with your pommel and do a tutta volta to bring the whole sword into your hand. It made me go all to pieces because, well, there were lots of reasons not all having to do with the technique, but partly because the damn complex series of movements turned by brain inside out. Actually, though, it's not a complex series of movements, it just looks like it from the outside.

I finally figured it out, I think, after class: it's the same thing as the arm overextension against a roverso (dagger) attack, only with the sword used like your right hand is in the dagger drill.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Plain training

I'd like one training session, plain, well-done, please. Actually, I'd like a brace of them.

Guy ran us into the ground today with fast-paced, simple exercises first and then by slow, simple exercises, to finish with brisk simple exercises. Ah, we loved it!

The first exercise involved us arranging ourselves into two rows facing each other; the folks in one row then attacked their partner in the other row with a mandritto fendente, and the defenders countered with a takedown. After two attacks, the lines shifted by one place. Guy took his place in the lineup, allowing him to "cross forearms" with each student. After mandritto, we covered roverso with an elbow lock in the same manner. And so on. Guy praised yours truly for her takedowns, only pointing out that I could use my left hand more actively to pull my partner down. The roverso side elbow lock didn't go so well as I initially didn't remember to control my partner through the elbow.

I especially liked the Gruelling Drill with the longsword, sister to the Gruelling Drill with the rapier. (I forget what they're actually called but that describes it pretty well.) Everyone stands still for one minute in tutta porta di ferro; one minute in posta longa; one minute in fenestra; and then longa again, fenestra on the other side, zenghiaro, donna, bicorno, donna on the other side, coda longa, and finish with porta di ferro la mezana. (I probably got the sequence wrong, but you get the idea.) By the third transition, if your arms aren't exploding, you're either pretty good or doing it very wrong.

The training session closed with First Drill, again each getting a go with Guy. I kept forgetting my accressere and hitting his blade with my flat when defending. Another biggish problem was my habit of turning a volta stabile during the elbow thing which turns out not to be a limb destruction but a holding action to allow one to hammer one's pommel into one's partner's face, so a volta stabile is not required.

Amusing exchange of the day:
Pirkka: "What's that [left] hand doing? What guard position is that?"
Me: "The arse end of zenghiaro, of course."

Attack of the Spaghetti

When thou attackest or defendest, be thou not boiled spaghetti, nor be thou uncooked spaghetti. Nor shalt thou be as the butterfly that blindly struggleth to reach the deadly lightbulb. Nor shalt thou be as the rabbit that boundeth off at the first sign of trouble. Thou shalt be as a tree that groweth wheresoever it will, or thou shalt be as a rock that stands firm.

So what I learned today: be purposeful, direct (Audatia, remember?) and assured whether attacking or defending, and choose your actions; for example, when you attack and your partner counters, you must not choose to execute a counteraction if the drill does not demand one but instead must choose to fall - not be thrown but to choose to go down. If it's your own choice, you retain a set of further choices; if you're thrown, you're out of choices. And when defending by counter-counter is called for, as Guy said, you must occupy the space, break the partner's structure, execute your own actions as you choose rather than let your own actions be dictated by the partner's.