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.