Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Few More Video Links

Here are some links to some interesting and fun videos about daily life in the Middle Ages.

Link the First

Link the Second (w/ subtitles)

Also, another good thing to come out of the National Geographic show the other day is that it made me look up the 1459 Talhoffer and re-introduced me to this image:

Yes, a take-down poleaxe WANT!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Reviews, Observations, and Ramblings

Today will be a jam-packed entry featuring observations, reviews, training updates & bitch sessions!  Woo-hoo!

In case you missed it, this week the National Geographic channel aired a show called “Medieval Fight Book” all about Talhoffer's 1459 fechtbuch. The show, sadly, mostly focused on bits from the rest of the hausbuch that featured designs for war machines, etc. rather than the actual fighting plates.  The show features Terry Jones (yes, THAT Terry Jones) and Mike Loades as experts, and also features John Clements and Aron P. from ARMA. All in all, I thought that this is one of the better medieval documentary out there between the Discovery Channel, National Geographic, and the Channel. I just had a few quibbles (other than the lack of focus on the fighting techniques):
-The tone of the show was more “The DaVinci Code: Talhoffer style” rather than a serious documentary.  Descriptions of the manuscript as being “violent, secretive, spiritual and packed full of knowledge, an obscure and mysterious manuscript called the Fight Book”. Sigh.
There is a scene featuring a potential device to approach a besieged wall, and the device is made of boiled leather. Mike Loades testes this by having somebody fire a “VERY heavy 80lb draw bow”.  Now, while I could barely draw an 80lb bow , describing an 80lb bow as heavy is simply exaggeration. A 120lb or 160lb war bow is heavy.  Just saying.
-The gents from ARMA did a very nice presentation job, including Aron running, vaulting, and somersaulting in harness. They film a scene featuring an unarmoured man (JC) fighting an armoured man (Aron P). First problem, people who know a heck of a lot more about Talhoffer than I do say that that is not what the plate is actually showing – the artist simply didn't want to have to draw a bunch of harness over and over again (kind of like another Talhoffer where you have unarmoured guys fighting with the poleaxe). Second problem, Aron is using half-sword techniques. Against an unarmoured opponent. *blink* *blink* Why in God's name would you do that? The only reason to half-sword is because your opponent is wearing armour – if he isn't then hit him like normal.  Third problem, when JC throws his Murder Strokes he does so by gripping the flat of the blade and flicking the hilt toward Aron P. Seriously, it looked like something you'd see in an Olympic fencing bout. Nevertheless, it connects hard. Which brings us to the my biggest problem with the whole production – Aron gets hit so hard by the pommel that it dents his helm and makes him sick to his stomach. Ever look up the symptoms of a concussion? Yeah, nausea is right up there on the list. I accept that what we do is dangerous (it is a martial art after all) but still, national tv and someone gets a concussion. Awesome. I know that this is an over-reaction on my part, but  just worry that for as many people as were attracted to HEMA because of this show, some were turned away because of that one shot.
Here is a link to the show on youtube (it's in 4 parts) and to Clements' blog about the production. Oh, and I had forgotten about those funky poleaxes in Talhoffer with the crescent hooks on the queue end. I want one. :D
Just look at those things...brutal...and pretty.

An observation I wanted to make about the community in general is that there seem to be a lot of threads of various forums regarding how to execute moves that are “basic” to the Liecthenaur tradition – the Zornhau, Shielhau, etc. This has also led to discussions on Silver's “True Times” and simply put, what is the proper way to attack. I have mixed feelings on these posts. First, I feel that these types of questions are important to an individual's understanding of the manuscripts. I know that I have, and still do, ask serious questions regarding the basics of Armizare. The difference is that I usually pose these questions to a few folks via e-mail, not on a public forum. The reason I do this is that when I asked my first real question, I was too shy to post it online, so I e-mailed it to a few instructors. They told me that it was great that I was thinking critically about the manuscripts, but that these questions had been hashed out long ago. While I still e-mail out questions now and then, I accept that there are others who have come before me and that there is no reason to re-invent the wheel. Second, the negative reaction I have is because a lot of these issues have “accepted” answers within the majority of the community. Unless there is new, radical manuscript evidence, why re-hash how to form the guard Posta di Donna? We will never know exactly how to do it, we can only take our best shot, and I am content with that. The cool part is that we will all take slightly different shots at the same thing. This is our evolutionary mutation to HEMA, I may not do things exactly like my instructor, nor will my future students do things exactly like I do. But there is a funny thing about mutations, they can be beneficial and harmful. In thinking about writing this, I decided that in my opinion, a healthy mutation in a martial art is a change that remains within the system. An unhealthy mutation is a change that pushes outside the system. For example, if my instructor finds that he fights better out of front-weighted Posta di Donna and, perhaps unconsciously, primarily teaches front-weighted Posta di Donna to all his students (including me). Now, I find that I fight better out of rear-weighted Posta di Donna, so when I go on to teach my students I mostly teach rear-weighted Posta di Donna. That is a healthy mutation because both versions of Posta di Donna exist in the system. Instead of Posta di Donna you could use depth of stance. Both a low, deep stance and a high, narrow stance are used in Armizare (in Fiore and Vadi, respectively). If I teach a high stance that is still a healthy mutation. Now if I decide that Fiore's stances make no sense, so I will substitute a karate cat-stance for all high guards and a horse stance for all low guards, that is an unhealthy mutation. And guess what? Mutations within the tradition have historical precedent in HEMA. I've already used Vadi and Fiore as an example, so I'll use them again 'cause I'm lazy. Vadi is regarded as a student or successor of Fiore's Armizare and I use him as a source and place him firmly within the Armizare lineage. Yet some of his guards and plays are either slightly changed or entirely brand-new. Bu they still follow the rules of the system. Similarly, the German tradition evolved and changed over the 200+ years it was being practiced. Kind of like a martial version of the telephone game.

Last weekend, January 9th, I finally got down to Eugene to train at the Academy for the first time since October. Far, far too long. To my surprise, and delight, Devon Boorman of Academie Duello was in town. During the morning session, the three of us played with a plethora of things; a poleaxe posta dance, abrazare drills, traded dagger flow drills, and Devon showed us some really, really cool f├╝hlen exercises with dagger and sword. The second half of the day the majority of the Academy's students showed up (which was just cool to see honestly) and we played with the 1st Remedy Master of dagger, then moved on to some zogho largo fun. All in all, it was a great day – it was great to see Devon again and it was absolutely awesome to see so many students there!

The problem, however, is the mind-numbing realization that 3 months of little to no physical training with sword in hand means one thing – I now suck. I suck hard. I feel like my understanding of the manuscripts is much better than it used to be but now my physical implementation has suffered. It is akin to not playing a musical instrument for a long time, then picking it up again. Your brain knows exactly what to do but your body is unable to keep up. It's frustrating and depressing, especially when you are holding yourself (and being held to) a standard. Oh well, time to shut up and train I guess.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Book review - "Meditations on Violence" by Sgt. Rory Miller

"Meditation on Violence: A Comparison of Martial Arts Training & Real World Violence", written by Sgt. Rory Miller, a veteran corrections officer in the Pacific Northwest, is an excellent look at martial arts training and the preconceived notions about violence that inhabit almost every school, system, what-have-you.

The book is broken up into seven chapters: the Matrix, How to Think, Violence, Predators, Training, Making Physical Defense Work, and After.
  1. The Matrix introduces the idea of using a matrix to "describe and analyze a multidimensional event in a multidimensional way" (Miller 2).  Miller explains that a fight can arise in four different ways: you were Surprised, you were Alerted, Mutual combat, & you are the Attacker.  There are also three levels of force: No Injury, Injury, Lethal.  What you wind up with is a 3x4 "Tactical Matrix" for examining techniques, arts, etc. in abstract situations.  He also gives you a "Strategic Matrix" which is an 11x7 grid showing different arts vs the different types of violence.
  2. In How to Think, Miller challenges you to attack your own assumptions about violence and pay attention to the four common sources of knowledge: Experience, Reason, Tradition, & Entertainment and Recreation.  Miller explains that the quality of the learning gets worse as you go down that list.  Experience is the best teacher - I know that if I punch a person in this spot, they go down, so why should I listen to this "expert" who is telling me that they won't? etc.  This chapter is also where Miller discusses strategy - you need to decide, now, before the shit hits the fan, what will or will not make you "flip the switch" - and when it is time to "go" you go and you go hard.  Also discussed in this chapter is the "Observe, Orient, Decide, Act" (OODA) loop by which we make decisions, and how to exploit your opponent being caught in it.
  3. Chapter 3, Violence, breaks violence into two main categories: the Monkey Dance and Predatory Violence.  The Monkey Dance is the hierarchy establishing violence that is seen throughout nature and is, by design, non-lethal - think about two elk "fighting" for the right to mate with the head, lots of noise and head-butting, but no life-threatening injuries.  Predatory Violence, however, is a very different ballgame.  In Predatory Violence, the victim is not seen as human - they are seen as a resource and Predatory Violence almost always happens as an ambush - think lions taking down a wildebeest.  Miller dissects the various aspects of violence, including the various chemicals that effect the body, and gives the reader four basic truths about violence that should impact our training: Violence happens Closer, Faster, More Suddenly, and with More Power than people usually train for.
  4. Chapter 4 examines Predators - why they do what they do and how they do it.  Kind of difficult to describe, you just have to read it.
  5. Chapter 5 is what I considered to be the meat-and-potatoes of the book - Training.  This is exactly what I, as a martial artist, want to read about.  Yes, I am intrigued by the the "Why's", but get me to the "How to Train for It".  The first section describes the flaws that exist in drills - when the drill sets an unrealistic expectation about violence (see chapter 3), when the drill allows unsafe techniques (punching with gloves, etc), and when the drill is based on the flaw - using medium speed techniques to counter slow speed attacks.  His most interesting complaint that hit close to home - training to pull your blows is training to miss.  The second section of this chapter discusses some of the benefits to solo and two-person katas - specifically that solo kata are wonderful for training your body to move as a unit, and that two-person kata, when done with intent & allowing the uke (player, "bad guy") to do one very counter-intuitive move, allow you to practice at a very high level without protective gear.  The remainder of the chapter deals with how to respond to the challenge of the four basic truths about violence (chapter 3).
  6. The penultimate chapter is based around the five stages to defend yourself - Movement (blocking the movement), Opportunity (blocking the opportunity), Intent (blocking the intent), Relationship (altering the relationship), & Terrain (the use thereof).  Other gems include Miller reiterating his discussion that you need to set parameters upon which you will flip the switch, the Golden Rule of Combat ("Your most powerful weapon/Applied to your opponent's greatest vulnerability/At his time of maximum imbalance"), and the 4 effects you can have on your opponent - move him (or part of him), cause pain, cause damage, & cause shock.  
  7. The final chapter is perhaps the most important chapter in any martial arts book I've ever read.  Miller describes, in detail, how to handle the aftereffects of real world violence - your own feelings and worries, dealing with other's perceptions of you, etc.
It is really, really hard to write a decent review of this book.  My only suggestion is to read it.  Then read it again.  Then wait a few months and read it again.  I know I will.

Here is a link to Sgt. Rory Miller's website, including his blog.