Sunday, March 1, 2020

Struggles with Synthesis

Most assume that growth, either physical or intellectual, happens on a graceful curve. As both a martial arts instructor and a professional educator let me simply say:


Whew! Glad I got that out of my system. 

Actual growth happens in a repeated pattern of massive growth and seemingly never-ending plateaus. You have these glorious "AHA!" moments of understanding, where another piece of the puzzle clicks right into place, then....nothing. Days, months, years of hard work with no noticeable increase in understanding or skill. Then you have another "AHA!" moment. This is then followed by another period of wondering why you are wasting everyone's time trying to learn this stuff. 

Understanding that this is how growth occurs lets you give yourself some grace; allow yourself to wallow in the plateaus a bit because you know a spike is coming.

What happens to these spikes and plateaus as your understanding of your art progresses? Follow my thoughts here as we look at the three major stages of studying an art.

You know nothing, Jon Snow

When you first begin studying an art, any art, you spend all of your mental faculties on learning the basics. Just like being a baby again, you need to learn gross motor movements before the fine motor movements begin to click. As the fine motor movements begin to click, you can start stringing movements together to create movement patterns.  You are fitting the pieces of the puzzle together, beginning to see the picture, but you still have to spend mental effort to figure out if/where a piece fits. But you only really think about the art while actively practicing it.

Mountains are no longer mountains

As you move on in your study of your art, you eventually feel you have a solid handle on the basics. You may even acknowledge that you have mastered them. This doesn't mean you stop practicing them - oh gods no! - just simply that you have moved beyond needing to think about each individual movement pattern before using it. When the instructions say to cut a fendente while stepping off the line you can do it without needing to break it down into individual pieces. Instead of individual puzzle pieces, you have an entire chunk of the puzzle. Moving beyond the basics  sets you up for on the biggest jumps in studying martial arts - beginning to understand the underlying principles of your art. Not just what the text/instructor says to do in a particular situation, but WHY that is the answer. You are no longer going through the motions of learning an art - you are living the art. It is probably in your thoughts quite often outside of practice. You might even begin to notice those newfound principles of yours affecting your way of viewing the world. Personal example: Fiore being a fan of moving into a strike before it has a chance to really develop power has translated in my life into recognizing oncoming issues and positioning myself in order to limit it's effects. 

This is the place a lot of people get to and stay. That is fine. That is their path. But what if I told you there was another step?

Go West young man! 

Understanding the principles of your art sets you up for the final frontier of studying a martial art - Synthesis. Universal applications. Not just of the art you study but YOUR Art. All the little ways you've adapted the art to fit your style of movement. Those minor little nuances that you've added over the years.

There are two sub-steps in synthesis: Universal application and Universal Understanding.

Universal Application is your ability to apply your Art - it's principles and movement patterns - without regard for specific weaponry or specific setups. Can you apply your longsword principles when defending yourself with a hardback book? Can you use that nifty collar choke when you are standing (as opposed to being in guard on the ground)? Can you get dropped into a mythical gladiatorial arena, handed a random weapon of some bygone age or alien civilization, and be able to defend yourself? That's Universal Applicability. When I was a kid I remember Black Belt magazine being filled with books and tapes on learning improvised weapons. There was an instructional method, it seemed, for each individual thing you could pick up - pens were volume 1 while a rolled up newspaper was volume 3. That's just silly (not from a money making standpoint though. Perhaps that's what I'm doing wrong...). Once the principles of your Art become as much a part of you as that mole on your left butt cheek, anything can be used according to those principles.

Universal Understanding is a bit murkier. You start with this question: What don't your principles cover? What's missing from my Art? This can be a big request for the Ego in all of us. We've spent decades learning this martial art and now I'm telling you that it's missing things! Every martial art on this planet is a product of it's dominant culture at the time of it's creation. There are assumptions made by the founders of the art that are unique to that time and place. For example, Fiore does not discuss slashing attacks made with a knife because in his context a man at arms would be carrying a dagger optimized for stabbing. Slashing knife attacks just weren't a huge concern for him. One of my old instructors, Maestro Hayes, would tell a story about talking with a modern knife fighting teacher (I think it was Bram Frank) and he admitted that he taught very different defensive moves based on where he was teaching. In colder climates he would teach more blocks with the forearms because the assumption is there would be clothing over the top. In warmer climates there was a lot more evasion rather than blocking. Context is king. 

So one question to ask yourself - What doesn't my Art cover and why? Going back to contextual discussions, Fiore tells us about strikes in two places in the Getty manuscript: in the Introduction he gives us a list of targets to strike and in the dagger section he tells us what to use to "go after" someone attacking us with a dagger. In addition, "strikes" and "striking" appear both in Fiore's list of 8 things you need to know and in his list of what to do against a dagger attack. We are told what to use and where to hit but we aren't given instructions on HOW. Looking at the imagery is faulty in medieval manuscripts as the images are not supposed to be photo-realistic but they do give hints. We see arms raised in hammerfists, we see arm positions that could be straight punches, and we see what could be uppsercuts. We see low kicks and even knee strikes. But there is still a gap in our knowledge here. There is the contextual issue of wearing armour, but in the Introduction Fiore specifically mentions that the strikes are to be done against someone NOT wearing armour. So how do we fill this gap? Much digital and real ink has been spilled debating the validity of "frog-DNA". I am all for it; I just make sure (as should any instructor) to be explicitly clear about where my information comes from.

The follow up question to what is missing is then one of focus - do I care? There are many fine people doing great work with medieval martial arts and Fiore's Armizare in particular who know what's lacking and that's fine by them. Their goal is to recreate the martial art as it would have been practiced by Fiore. 

I've been feeling the pull to go beyond that. I don't just want to recreate Armizare as it was practiced in it's heyday. I want to bring it back into the world of living martial arts. I will often navel-gaze and wonder "What if these medieval combat systems (Armizare specifically to me) hadn't died out due to societal restructuring and changes in warfare? After all, elsewhere in the world martial arts were able to survive the transition from a system of war to a system of practice. Assuming an unbroken lineage of teachers, what would Armizare look like today? How can Armizare handle modern situations where martial arts are needed? 

Following on from Fiore's career preferences and comparing the techniques & principles to modern systems, I think Armizare would have developed in such a way that it would look and behave similar to many World War 2 era combatives. The primary weapon (excluding firearms - I simply haven't figured that out yet) for teaching the system would most likely have switched to the stick, similar to Filipino martial arts, and more specifically the collapsible and non-collapsible batons seen in law enforcement today. 

My Struggles with Synthesis

This idea of synthesis is not freaking easy. It has been on my mind for at least 5 years now, but I've only been able to articulate it within, honestly, the writing of this post. My struggles with synthesis fall into two categories: betrayal and hubris.


The idea of changing, of adapting Fiore's art has caused me to question whether what I am doing really counts as HEMA or WMA. By adapting, by adding in other pieces from other arts, am I destroying the H in HEMA? Am I ignoring the idea of history that seems so essential to the study of these arts?

Another betrayal that rattles in my brain is the idea that by adding in snippets from other arts, by focusing on them rather than Armizare, I am betraying both my first instructor and somehow Fiore himself. I don't know where these worries about betrayal come from but they are real. They have held me back from fully pursuing training in other arts. They have legit kept me up at night. I know that Fiore himself studied under other masters and synthesized their ideas & teachings with his own. But...


 I also struggle, in choosing to add and adapt and shape my practice of Armizare, with hubris. Every now and again I will stop because I get this overwhelming sense of "Just who do I think I am...?" After all, there are plenty of perfectly good "modern" martial arts to study so why drag Armizare into this? I'm not some Bruce Lee figure - creating a new expression of martial arts out of the pieces of others. 

All I am doing is trying to take the principles laid out in Armizare to their fullest potential. To play around. And where those principles or I fail, that is a place of learning. A data point; a chance to see if adding this one thing will help.

In the end, we are all just trying to make our art our Art.

"It is important to draw wisdom from different places. If you take it from only one place it become rigid and stale." ~ Uncle Iroh, "Avatar: The Last Airbender"

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Ressurection: Movement Patterns in Martial Arts


Holy crap. It had been so long since I'd updated here that I was certain I'd deleted this blog. Turns out I hadn't so...yay? I'm going to try to be uploading more stuff here (until/unless I find a better platform). I make no promises about frequency though. Most of this will just be my explorations of various deep dive navel gazing sessions about martial arts.

Movement Patterns:

Specific patterns of movement are fundamental to the learning and practicing of martial arts.  Whether this is a beginner practicing footwork over and over again across agym floor, or an advanced practitioner going through a solo form, patterns of movement shape the Arts at their most basic level.

For some Arts the movement patterns are very basic. Think of modern Western boxing. You learn the mechanics (patterns) of throwing a jab, cross, uppercut, and hook. Add in some footwork and level shifts, throw that all in a blender, and you get your own personal style of boxing. You develop your set of tactics from experience.

For other Arts, movement patterns are codified.  Think kata in Japanese arts, assaulti in the Bolognese traditions, or even Tai Chi as practiced today. These longer forms provide not only basic movement sets, but embedded tactical advice for those with the eyes to see them.

Neither of these approaches is wrong, and honestly they are both right (look at me being brave and taking a stand haha). I do think that they represent different way-points on the journey of your Art, but that's probably a post for another day. Let's talk about a few specific Arts that I have experience with.

Maghrebi sabre and stick fighting

I have only about a year of experience with this Art. I was introduced to it by the esteemed Da'Mon Stith of Historical African Martial Arts Association (HAMAA) and Austin Warrior Arts. The way he taught us the entire system was by breaking the strikes down into three sets of 4 blows. Each set below is described from the Feeder's point of view:
  • The first set makes a plus sign (+) aimed at the head - horizontal from the right, horizontal from the left, upwards at the chin, downwards at the top of the head..
  • The second set makes an X aimed at the head - diagonal down from your right, diagnoal downward from the left, diagonal upward from the right, diagonal upward from the left.
  • The third set is aimed at the hips and feet - right hip, left hip, right ankle/foot, left ankle/foot.
That's really it. The basic parry for all of the blows is simply to get your stick between their stick and your body. Footwork follows a rhythm, a dance (Maghreb is mostly practiced as a dance today). Da'Mon taught us each set of four and their parries, then had us start stringing them together as back-and-forths. [For those with a musical bent, this felt very much like trading fours in jazz or trading verses in a rap battle]. Then we started exploring with level shifts, aiming our blows at different targets, how to break tempo, and how changing the weapon (to a kopesh or an axe) changed things. An entire day's workshop based off of nothing but horizontal, vertical, and diagonal movements of a stick. We had learned the Movement Pattern of Maghreb and could then play.

Kartuli Parikaoba

I started studying this Georgian (country not state) Art from my friend Mike Cherba as he was translating it. Developed and used by those living high in the Caucus Mountains, Parikaoba is an Art designed for settling disputes in the village, but also defending oneself on narrow mountain trails while out tending your sheep/goats. This Art, as I've learned it, primarily uses a sword and a buckler (though prior to being adult enough for a sword, training was performed with a stick and a woven wicker buckler). These are held together in a way that, at first, seems foreign to most HEMA folk familiar with buckler usage. The stance is very squared on and low, because in order to keep your buckler and sword together you can't limit your target area by profiling, so they limit it by shrinking the vertical target area. In Parikaoba your footwork tends to move forward or rarely to the side (but not too far. Narrow mountain passes and all.) but almost never backwards. Elashvili, the Soviet researcher who wrote the primary text describing this system, notes that "[t]he Khevsur find the concept of retreating shameful; therefore do not train any special steps or jumps back as is done in (classical) fencing. They do, however, use one or two step retreats in order to obtain space after a close action". From my own experience, retreating more than a step or two during a bout with a trained practitioner leads to being completely overwhelmed by their attacks. One way the Khevsur avoid attacks is by level shifting, suddenly dropping their weight. In fact, a lot of time is spent training from a low squat or kneeling position.

So what movement patterns do you see in Parikaoba? Well I'm honestly going to spit-ball a bit here as I am not as familar with this Art (even though I love it). We already talked about footwork patterns of forward, slight side, and drastic weight shifts. In Parikaoba you spend a majority of the time with your wrists acting as if they are tied together; many practitioners (myself included) will literally link their thumbs together in order to keep sword and buckler together in the event of a heavy impact.. This takes some getting used to but this way your buckler completely protects your sword hand. Blows are mostly thrown from the same position, so learning to move both arms to strike. In ethnographic footage of bouts, we often see another attack - an attack where the buckler and sword split for a moment then rejoin. This, in addition to two very profiled guards (buckler hand in front and sword held behind the body) adds some interesting twists in how to play with this unique style of sword and buckler.  The more I learn about it, the more I refine my understanding and discover just how fun it is!

Italian sabre and Guissepe Cerri's bastone

I was fortunate to begin my martial training with Maestro Sean Hayes. Maestro Hayes is a master in the classical Italian school of fencing. From him I first learned foil, then a little epee and sabre. I continued my sabre studies from my good friend Jim Emmons. The classical system of fencing has its own movement patterns - codified footwork that tends towards linear movement, parries that protect quadrants of the body, and attacks that all follow a progression of arm extension to rear foot extension to final hand/wrist movement to finish the attack. I am constantly amazed at how useful my brief time studying foil has been in helping my sabre fencing improve. Not surprising considering French smallsword's influence on Italian military sabre.

Cerri, an accomplished sabuer, wrote his manual on the use of the bastone (a 54-56" stick) in 1835. In it he first outlines 42 molinelli (rotations) - solo movements both simple and complex designed to get you comfortable moving the stick. When it comes to the practical defense part of the manual, he simply grafts his molinelli onto the existing sabre patterns; allowing quite a bit of tactical crossover between using the sword and the bastone. These patterns, specifically the parries, are extremely similar still to modern classical fencing. Attacks happen with a rotation and extension of the hands then the rear foot. Parries are made with solid footwork, or a slight backwards retreat. I have no doubts that someone trained in sabre could pick up a bastone and understand Cerri's system very quickly.

Xing Yi Chuan

I have only looked at the Chinese art of Xing Yi Chuan through the lens of a book I picked up at a used bookstore.  Xing Yi Chuan (typically translated as something like "Form Intention Boxing") has a long and storied history, most of which is shrouded in conjecture. Many assert that it was developed in accordance with the use of the spear. There are two main practices I've observed of Xing Yi: Animal forms and the Five Elements. The book I picked up only deals with the Five Elements so that I will refrain from discussing the Animal Forms.

The Five Elements constitute five movement patterns in Xing Yi practice. They are as follows:
  • Downward; Chopping Fist; Pi Chuan
  • Upward; Drilling Fist; Zuan Chuan
  • Forward; Crushing Fist; Beng Chuan
  • Outside; Exploding Fist; Pao Chaun
  • Inside; Crossing Fist; Heng Chuan
These also accord with the Taoist five elements (metal, water, wood, fire, earth respective to the above list) and have health benefits associated with them. The training form, as espoused in the book, is to train one element, moving forward in a training space, turning around and coming back the same way. Then another element and so on. Each element has a unique method of turning (some include low kicks). In my observations of the Animal Forms, I noticed that all of the movements, to my eye, could be traced back to one of these Five Elements. So that got me thinking...

The final nutshell: Armizare 

I have been studying Armizare (the art of Fiore dei Liberi) for over a decade now. Embedded in his four guards of Abrazare (grappling/wrestling), Fiore shows us six movement patterns:
  • Thin Linear; Posta Longa; Long/Extended Guard
  • Thick Linear; Posta Frontale; Frontal Guard
  • Up & Down rotation; Posta Porta di Ferro; The Iron Gate
  • Inside & Outside rotation; Posta Dente di Chinghiaro; The Boar's Tooth
Fiore also specifies later in the text (for this I am primarily using the Getty manuscript. The other copies contain the same information without the benefit of explanation) that footwork and the sword have three turns:
  •  a stable turn; Volta Stabile; feet remain stable, body rotates to the inside.
  • a half-turn; Mezza Volta; one foot moves forward/backward, body rotates outside.
  • a full turn; Tutta Volta; one foot remains stable, the other inscribes a full circle.
These turns can be seen as extensions, sub-layers, of the Rotational movement.  If we consider Thin (profiled) and Thick (squared up) Linear actions of be sub-sets of a Linear movement pattern, then we are left with three sets of movement:
  • Linear - the body moves forward or backward along the centerline.
  • Up/Down - the body rotates on a horizontal axis
  • Inside/Outside - the body rotate on a vertical axis
Every action in Armizare, unarmed, with the dagger, sword, spear, or axe, is comprised of these movement patterns, either alone or (more commonly) acting in concert.

So what? 

These three patterns of Armizare line up nicely with those of Xing Yi, Cerri, Khevsur fencing, and Maghrebi stick fighting. Every martial art is built upon movement patterns and those three are as simple as I could reduce each Art down to.

Think about it. A boxing jab, cross, a side or push kick, and thrusts are all examples of Thin and Thick Linear actions. Uppercuts, Fiore's sottani, rising blows, knee strikes, some kicks, and some elbows are Upward actions. Axe kicks, hammer-fists, elbow strikes, Fiore's fendente, and throws are all Downward actions. Hooks, roundhouse kicks, Fiore's mezzani, and most sabre & stick parries are all Inside/Outside actions.

But no action is comprised of just one of these movement patterns. Even in the examples given above, all of them require at least two movements. A jab is thrown linearly, but needs the hips to rotate in order to generate power (and if we are talking about modern boxing, there is a downward rotation to the fist itself at the end of the punch).

Fiore's mandritto fendente - a downward descending blow from the right (Angle 1, Cut 1, etc.) is Linear (Thick to be specific as the body and sword typically move forward and the hips are squared up to the target), Inside Rotational (the blade moves from the right shoulder to the left hip), and Downward (the blades descends from the right shoulder to the left hip).

Another example is Fiore's ligadura mezzana (Middle Key - a shoulder lock). This action is Linear (Thin because one arm does 90% of the work as your arm extends over their elbow joint), Downward (your arm drapes over and behind their elbow), then Upward (you bring your arm back up with their arm trapped in your elbow). The lock is solidified and exacerbated by rotating to the outside as you bring your arm back up.

So why break it all down like this? Every Art has training methods - individual actions, short combinations, or long sequences. Why bring it all down to three (six) things?

When you understand both the tactical principles of your Art and the basic movement patterns, then you open up an entire world of options.  This knowledge allows you to adapt your Art to new situations and new weapons with ease. Instead of worrying about what specific technique to attempt, you simply know that in order to defend against a horizontal attack to the head, you need to Rotate your body and bring your weapon Up.

Breaking it down like this also aids in teaching. I often have students from other Arts. If I'm lucky I know the terminology for that Art and can "translate" what I want them to do into their own "language". Often, though, I don't have access to that technical terminology. So I revert back to the movement patterns. It sounds so simple seeing it written out here - "So instead of telling someone to do a volta stabile you just tell them to rotate to the their inside line?"


Technical vocabulary within an Art is very important but if you are trying to teach someone who lacks that vocabulary, either new to your class or you are teaching a workshop at an event, you have to be able to make yourself known.

To put things into an analogy from another walk of my life; long training sequences are pieces of music. Beautiful and full of a lot of information. Shorter sequences are musical phrases that you can drop in whenever the time is right. Movement patterns? Those are your individual musical notes. With those notes you can improvise and create any piece of music on the planet.

Learn the techniques of your Art but delves deeper, dive past the HOW and into the WHY.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


My mind spins from pole hammers to swords of every shape and size to maces and war hammers to spears to daggers and back to pole hammers.  The mind only pauses for a moment before the circle begins again.

Round and round it goes, where it stops nobody knows.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Mine or His?

It's like an episode of "The Walking Dead" - I'm back!

For now.

Thing is I am in the middle of graduate school - getting my Master of Art in Teaching and it is swallowing all of my time.

But that doesn't mean I am ignoring HEMA and Armizare.  It just means that I am not being as active as I used to be.

Today, however, I decided to post about something that is a question that has been buzzing around in my brain for some time now.

Who decides whether or not I use armoured fighting techniques - me or my opponent?

Let me explain.  I see the armoured fighting techniques displayed in Fiore (halfswording, etc.) are clearly designed to beat your opponent's armour.  That's why you grasp the blade of the sword - so you can use the sword as a level, use the sword as a short spear, etc.  There are a number of videos, including a documentary a few years back featuring a famous, if controversial, man in full harness fighting an unarmoured opponent.  The problem was - he was halfswording and his opponent wasn't.  This is where I got confused.  In my mind, the man in full harness should have using the longsword like "normal" and the unarmoured guy should have been halfswording.

But that leads to the question again.  Armoured techniques are designed to defeat armour, so why would I use them if my opponent is not wearing armour?


Thursday, September 5, 2013

DVD Review: German Medieval Martial Arts, Volume 2: Sword, Buckler, & Messer

"German Medieval Martial Arts, Volume 2: Sword, Buckler, & Messer" is the second offering from Speaking Window Productions (Christopher Valli's production company), featuring Selohaar Fechtschule.

It covers the German tradition's techniques with the single-hand sword. This single-hand sword can either be a classic arming sword or the messer, a weapon that seemed particular to German (Holy Roman Empire) lands. It is very similar in appearance to the falchion. There are numerous theories regarding the messer, falchion, dussack, and sabre - none of which I want to get into at this point because in the terms of this DVD, it doesn't really matter. I'll explain later.

The DVD explains all the techniques in the context of a system - any technique you can do with the arming sword can be done with the messer. The buckler can be added in and is the icing on the cake. Just like their Poleax DVD, all techniques are presented in a very clear manner, including the partner drills and Litzinger's Six plays with sword and buckler. Interviews with Christian Tobler and Dr. Jeffery Forgeng round out what is, just like the axe DVD, an essential must for those practicing German medieval martial arts, those interested in sword & buckler, and even those just generally interested in Historical European Martial Arts. Two thumbs way up!

By the way Christopher - I loved the Easter Egg ;)

Friday, April 19, 2013

After Action Report: Bob Charrette's Armoured Combat Workshop

  "That's okay, I'm in armour." - Bob Charrette

  On April 16th, 2013 the Northwest Fencing Academy hosted the esteemed Bob Charrette for a one day workshop on fighting in armour. While the focus was on Armizare (I mean, he wrote a book on it after all) I believe that the lessons taught could be easily assimilated by a practitioner of the German systems (There was a KdF practitioner there, alone amongst 20 "Italians", poor guy haha). I was happy to be able to make it over to Eugene as I haven't had the opportunity to train as much as I'd like.

   The day began with the armouring process - there were at least 4 separate armouring areas with everyone helping squire for each other. We warmed up by Bob introducing us to his personal friend, Mr. Stick. Mr. Stick is a lovely gentleman, approximately 3.5 feet in length and about 1.5 inches in diameter (Bob - please feel free to correct me). As I was being reminded that "head student = head squire" I was still getting my own armour on during the initial warmup I don't know exactly what was going on, but it looked like a mini-relay involving running across the salle, spinning 2 or 3 times with Mr. Stick planted on the ground & your forehead on Mr. Stick, and then running back. Then we were split into size-matched pairs and we each took a grip on Mr. Stick, palms down & hands approximately shoulder's width apart. Then we worked on giving and experiencing pressure in different ways, each student taking turns to lead the other, without footwork and making sure to keep our Center of Gravity solid - we're in (or pretending to be in) armour after all; not too much bending at the waist. After this we did the same exercise, but utilizing footwork as well - which was not easy because we were packed in pretty tight.  Another key to this exercise is that it taught us to use both ends of our "weapon".

  In all honesty, some of the concrete timeline is, well, less than concrete in my head, so I will simply talk about each weapon and leave it to someone else to put all into proper timing.
  Abrazare/Dagger - A good part of the discussion on Abrazare & Dagger plays was on the effect armour has on the plays. For instance, armour gives you all sorts of lovely hand holds as well as allowing you to be less precise in plays like the 3rd Master of Daggers arm-bar because the arm harness itself helps you to lock out the elbow. As one of only 3 participants with full(ish) arm harness, I got to be on the receiving end of a lot of arm-bars. Also discussed was proper targeting with the dagger, the defense and plays of the 2nd Master of Dagger and the 6th Master of Dagger.
  Spear - After a brief discussion about what kind of spear we were dealing with, we ran through Posta Finestra with the spear, becoming accustomed to the unwinding motion & clearing your pedale past your body in response to a thrust.
  Sword - This was the primary weapon of instruction (begging Mr. Stick's pardon) for the seminar. We learned the guards of the sword in armour, their purposes & attacks, and began playing from Breve la Serpentina, Vera Croce, Serpentino lo Soprano, and Bastarda Croce (Short Snake, True Cross, High Snake & Bastard Cross). Drills were very simple - one basic attack from each guard, a basic defense from each, and a play, depending on pressure, from the defense. The basic attacks being thrusts, either with point or pommel. The defense was a crossing: From the Snakes (Short and High) it involved using the angle of your gauntlet/arm harness and point to catch their blade, from the Crosses (True and Bastard) the crossing happens more at the mid-blade. As with all fighting in armour, the completion of these plays focused on A) placing your point in an unarmoured location (elbow, palm, armpit, etc.) or B) unbalancing your opponent. After running paired drills, we split into four groups of 5 students and performed a King of the Hill type drill - each King was to stay in Bastard Cross, each attacker could take Short Snake, High Snake, or True Cross and attack accordingly. The emphasis was on controlled movements (didn't always wind up that way) and skill over power. If the King made it through their entire line, then they retired to the back of the line & the next person became the King.
  Axe -Ahhhh! After a short discussion about what the pollaxe is and how it was used (and why even our best simulators don't quite cut it) we learned the guards of the axe: Short Snake, Woman's Guard, Bastard Cross, Boar's Tooth, Window, and Long Tail. We started with the same drill we did with the sword (Short Snake vs Short Snake) just to see how the axe would play differently than the sword. We quickly saw that the head of the axe causes quite a bit more "confusion" at that crossing. We were then allowed to play around with the same play - experimenting with hooking, pulling & pushing actions with the axe head. Personally I could have spent the entire day playing with the axe (and by understanding the nature of Armizare, we actually did!) but that shouldn't surprise anyone! I took notes especially about how Bob presented the axe and his purposeful lack of instruction at the beginning to allow us to discover the axe's differences on our own.
  Slow Free Play -The final work of the day was slow, coached free play. Due to gear restrictions, unfortunately not all the participants could participate. Before any crossing of swords, however, Bob and Sean Hayes explained the culture of the Deed of Arms: That is not about winning, it is about gaining renown, which is done through the application of skill & chivalry. While some may disagree with this approach, I find it refreshing from the typical American "Win it All or It didn't Count". I was lucky enough to fence Mike Cherba first and Joann Socash for my second bout - who, by the way, caught me right in the armpit with a wonderfully deceptive attack from High Snake that caught me anticipating. It was great! The honor of First Among Equals (the person who, in the eyes of the judges [or a field vote] showed the most renown & skill) went to Kimberleigh Roseblade (better known as Master Roseblade) from Academie Duello - and it was well deserved!

  Armour Discussion - After de-harnessing ourselves, we all sat and listened as Bob explained how to go about getting proper armour, including what to prioritize in purchasing armour. It was incredibly informative and a great way to wind down after a great day of training. A big "Thank You!" to Sean Hayes of the Northwest Fencing Academy and Bob Charrette  for providing this opportunity. It was great to meet lots of new faces and, as Tyler put it, it was also great to put the band back together.

  TL;DR : Bob Charrette is awesome & knowledgeable. If you ever have the chance to study with him, do so. Armour rocks but pollaxes rock more ;)

* Any errors in descriptions of itinerary or drills are mine and are in no way reflections of Bob's teaching.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Somewhat Cathartic Ramblings

My most common response when someone inquires about a skill-set of mine is:

"Kinda sorta"

I have always been a Jack-of-All-Trades personality. It probably started with Boy Scouts. When I turned 18 I had 30 some-odd merit badges, ranging in everything from emergency lifesaving to weaving baskets out of reeds. The idea behind merit badges is to promote the maxim of "Be Prepared" - this is done through shallow to mid knowledge across a broad spectrum of skill-sets. It also is there to give boys a teaser for a skill-set, allowing them to delve deeper on their own. Somehow I guess I never out-grew the broad-range knowledge set.

Can I juggle? Kinda sorta (I can do 3 balls at a time for a short period)
Can I do card tricks? Kinda sorta (I know one that I can do off-hand)
Can I play the harmonica? Kinda sorta
Can I fight with a rapier? Kinda sorta

This "Kinda sorta" has, unfortunately, become a mantra in my life - to the point that my wife never believes I'm actually interested in something unless I am still interested in it 3 months from now. To be fair I come by this honestly, my father is the same way. This self-assessment as a Jack-of-All-Trades is what I believe causes me so much discomfort over the idea of beginning to learn a new sword art. Because I know myself, and my tendencies, I fear that it will be very easy for me to then "give-up" on Armizare and embrace this new art, only to find something else new and shiny in a few months or years. Most of the people in WMA that I've talked to about this do not seem to share my concerns. They have what I honestly consider the healthier mindset - that all the arts are worth studying and there should be no worry about learning more. I love learning. I mean, I LOVE learning new arts. I am just trying my best to stay dedicated.

The other cause of my "Kinda sorta" response is who I compare myself to. So the above question about skill with a rapier - can I fight with a rapier? Yes, but not as well as Sean Hayes, Puck Curtis, Tom Leoni, Steve Reich, Bill Grandy, John Sullins, Pamela Muir, and many, many others. Therefore my response is "kinda sorta". Can I draw? Sure, but not nearly as well as my friends who are professional artists. "Kinda sorta". I need to be more willing to focus on myself and gauge my skills based on how I did yesterday vs. how well other people are doing.

Some of these feelings also come, I think, from ego. I am not really an ambitious person. In most areas of life I want to be one of the best, but I don't need to be the best. For some reason, WMA is different. It's not that I need to be the best, but I desire to become one of those names that gets connected with a certain style, manuscript, or weapon.

"Oh, you're interested in ________? You should talk to Alex."

I think I have somewhat succeeded in this as most folks in WMA know of my love for the poleaxe. So what if I decide in a few years that I no longer really want to study the pollaxe?

At the end of all this is the last bit that bounces up in my mind - that it is stupid of me to worry about this stuff. I should just just up and train.