Atlantian Rapier Champions Practice

Two Saturdays back some 25-30 fencers gathered, of their own volition, in 40 degree weather with a 15 degree wind chill, to push each other to their top game. It was a great time.
The practice served a nominal and a secondary purpose: First, to train our fighters for champions fight settings with high pressure, high intensity, zero margin of error fights. Second, to offer more advanced training to our up-and-coming fighters.
It was an open practice: If you wanted to be there, you should be there, so the first test of the participants was “Do I think I belong there?” The turnout was approx. 10 White Scarves, 5-8 Free Scholars, and 12-15 Scholars. Which says a lot about those scholars. Cocky little bastards.
A number of other contributors to the Warfare was there, and I’d rather hear from them than do all the talking myself. So, Letia, Ruairc, Gawin, Tassin, spill.
And, yeah, you ferr’ners who read this: We’re coming for your souls.

Tibbie asked some questions which are probably worth consideration. I’ll get to them in my time, as well
How well did the format work? Did enough of the past and prospective champions attend? Was the practice productive? What were the thoughts of the rest of the Carolina crew (e.g., Letia, Gawin, Tassin, Ruairc)? Who had an especially good or bad day? Was the feedback helpful, even if brutally honest? Were there any aspects of the practice that could be adapted for training novice or intermediate fighters?

29 comments to Atlantian Rapier Champions Practice

  • Tassin

    22 fighters, not 25-30. And I don’t think there were more than 6-8 scholars, not sure where you pulled those numbers from.

    I wasn’t really happy with my day of fighting. Through roughly the first half of my fights I felt (and acted I suppose) like I was sluggish and gooby. The second half of the day was better, but still not as clean as it could have been, particularly towards the end.

    The mock champions battle at the end seemed mostly superfluous I went out and fought somebody I matched up poorly with, Armand, and lost. I think this might have been more interesting and more useful if the “Cocky little bastards” were determining the match ups for the never been champions side instead of Dame Rosalind and (master?) Llwyd.

    As far as the practice being helpful, yes, absolutely. Feedback is always good but a 1 fight sample size makes some of it less useful (“This is how you fight someone with a stick” good, “You stood in measure so I poked you in the head” I already know that). More importantly (in my opinion) having a lot of high level fighters bringing their best games and styles allows for a level of self evaluation that is difficult at practice when you fight the same people over and over again.

    • Wistric

      I wasn’t really happy with my day of fighting. Through roughly the first half of my fights I felt (and acted I suppose) like I was sluggish and gooby. The second half of the day was better, but still not as clean as it could have been, particularly towards the end.

      Any thoughts on why that was? Why were you sluggish/gooby at the start, and what happened by the second half of the day?

      Feedback is always good but a 1 fight sample size makes some of it less useful (“This is how you fight someone with a stick” good, “You stood in measure so I poked you in the head” I already know that)

      I had a thought of doing “This is what useful feedback looks like” and “This is what useless feedback looks like” but didn’t follow through. Maybe when it’s warmer.

  • Gawin

    Yeah, my count was 7 scholars, 4 free scholars, and 10 provosts.

    In any case, the cold ended things a bit early, but the fight one fight while relatively cold thing was definitely trick and is pretty much the exact type of fight I have a lot of difficulty with. I got a couple comments about not fighting like I usually fight which is probably related to some of the mental game stuff that Ruairc posted about a few weeks ago. I tend to switch into “thinking” mode rather than a more instinctual fight when paired against certain opponents. This was something I was aware of before, but the practice definitely highlighted it more clearly, so yes the practice was helpful (also I like fighting).

    I got some good pick-ups in at the end before we adjourned to BWW.

  • Gawin

    As far as the mock champions fight, it would have been more useful to meet with out group, discuss the possible strategies as a group, and then select a fighter.

  • Tibbie Croser

    Gawin, Tassin, Ruairc, you should all be leading discussions on Atlantian RapierNet. We need many more Scholars posting on there. You should start a discussion with your ideas on retention of novice fencers. Wistric, you should start some actual useful discussions on there, too. 🙂 I have the impression that more discussions happen on Facebook/the marshals’ list/the White Scarves’ list/the Free Scholars’ list.

    • wistric

      Free Scholars list is dead, Marshals doesn’t talk about fencing performance, and White Scarves, well, we keep our own counsel.
      Facebook is mostly limited-audience side conversations tangentially related to what may or may not be happening in the rapier community. Really, the ARN is what’s being discussed.

      But Wistric doesn’t start useful discussions. I’ve done my bit. Scholars and free scholars should step up and show themselves rather than waiting for a White Scarf to take the lead.

      • Brian

        I even tried stirring the free scholars list to action with a seriously trolling topic. I didn’t even get crickets.

        • Alric

          Yeah it was. And of course now I’m a bit embarrassed by the compliments.
          How do I know what the WSs are looking for? Now I do think it’s time we got some recommendations in. We have some really hungry scholars out there.

          • Tibbie Croser

            Alric, do you mean recommendations for Free Scholars or for White Scarves? I contacted Baron Flaithri, since he’s the Principal of the Order, with the names of some people I believed should be on the watch list for FS or WS. I’ve also contacted a couple of WSs directly with an FS recommendation for a guy who wears a blue scarf but (I think) otherwise looks, fights, teaches, leads, serves, and behaves like a Free Scholar.

            Have you asked the Provosts what they’re looking for? A number of them have posted their personal criteria on Atlantian RapierNet over the years. Wistric lists his criteria elsewhere on this blog.

          • Alric

            Tibbie, For me trying to figure out what the is used as criteria for ‘Ready to be a Provost’ would be maddening since once I thought I had it figured out I’d probably try to check off the boxes. That includes asking since there are now 51 of those out there and each has their own opinion. I’m going to keep doing what I am currently doing, including owning a list/tournament with my blade.

          • Wistric

            Also, don’t take what I’ve said on this website as absolute, even for me. I admit to a certain mercurial nature in how I think of Free Scholars and Provosts. Basically, I apply the Potter Stewart test.

          • Dante di Pietro

            What it takes to be a White Scarf:

            Prowess and citizenship.

            I’m fairly sure that 100% of us are looking for those two things. Here’s the catch: we value them to unequal degrees and define them somewhat differently.

            I freely describe myself as a 90:10 guy. I have a very broad interpretation of citizenship, so most people who contribute to the Society make that grade. I have a very high prowess standard, however, so “good enough” for me involves being able to consistently make the top 8 at a Gem Joust or Ymir sort of tournament, or to be a guaranteed finalist in a random round robin… and being able to speak knowledgeably about fencing technique and execute it smoothly and effectively. Winning isn’t enough for me: you have to win well, and be able to explain the nuances of how you did it.

          • Alric

            So there you go Tibbie. I’ll never quite make Dante’s list as my ability to describe how I win is very low on my list of things to work on. And right now I really don’t care what the WSs think unless it’s ‘Hmmm, Alric next, I better bring my A Game.’

          • Tibbie Croser

            You wouldn’t have to check with all 51 Provosts for their criteria, Alric, as some of them have moved or retired. You could talk to the Provosts who sponsored you for Free Scholar (they obviously believed in your worth); talk to those Provosts who are your mentors; talk to those Provosts who are most influential in the Order of the White Scarf; talk to the Provosts who are closest to Their Majesties and Their Highnesses; talk to the newest Provosts to get a sense of what the Order has recently been looking for in candidates. By talking to all these White Scarves, you won’t get a single checklist, but you may get ideas of what you most need to work on, both on and off the field.

          • Alric

            Tibbie, Did you read my last post. Honestly, I don’t care. I care about fighting hard and well and winning. Input on that regard works. How to become a WS, not needed.

          • Tibbie Croser

            My apologies for the misunderstanding. Good luck with your fighting.

          • Dante di Pietro

            Knowing how a thing happened makes repeating those circumstances more likely if the outcome is desired, and less likely if undesired.

            There’s a reason why Wistric was able to pull off the same gambit against me that he did against Aedan, and why that strategy has a shelf life of a few more events at most. Our top performers are in a constant state of evolution and refinement, and that cannot be discounted lightly.

          • Alric

            Dante’ not discounting it, just accepting the way my brain works. Right now dedicating a lot of thought to what is going on rather than letting better habits I’m building happen means I die because I am one beat behind the fight. Thinking will come.

          • Dante di Pietro

            Just be aware that the method you describe is contrary to directed learning and is a long, slow, arduous path that few people find success on, and even those who do often only get as far as what was already available to know.

  • wistric

    So I guess it’s my turn…

    I was looking forward to this practice for weeks, and in the days leading up to it was giddy. It is actually rare that I can cut loose and fight my top end fight against all opponents. Part of it is strategy: If I go all out against the newb I face in my first fight, that’s a little less energy I’ll have stored up for the quarters, semis, and finals. Part of it is kindness (“I want you to feel you are doing well. I hate for people to die unhappy”). If I can kill them with 75%, and give them a more enjoyable fight, there’s rarely a reason to go straight to 100% and crush them. Last Ymir (2012) I pulled a brand new fighter right before I knew I was going to face Dante. I couldn’t risk dialing it back against her and then having to ramp back up, so I one-shotted her, and apologized afterward and explained. But, mostly, I don’t do that; it makes me feel like a dick.

    Saturday was the day to one-shot everybody with no need to feel like a dick. Everybody could die unhappy, so long as I didn’t. That’s how I view champs fights: Saving bringing shame and dishonor to your king and queen, your job is to destroy your opponent utterly. Your opponent is likely to be (or at least really ought to be) the best the enemy has to offer, so your margin of error is zero, if not in the negative. And you likely have no information about this opponent before you take the field. Even finals at Ymir and Ruby, you’re fighting people you’ve fought repeatedly, and watched fight. So you have to execute your fight perfectly, and shut down your opponent’s perfectly executed fight, and drill them through the eyeball. All of that struggle happens under the eyes of two hundred people, including your royals and every other set or royals at the war. There’s nothing else like it.

    There’s not a whole lot of coddling of emotions and sensitive egos. If you’re fighting the champs fight, the expectation is that you can do the job, nobody’s going to bother trying to convince you that you can do it. So you should go do it already.

    I showed up with the plan to show the attendees what they should expect. Okay, really, I showed up with the plan to enjoy a day with all the limiters off. I did the shit out of that, and had some great fights with other fighters who had opened up their top end.

    I get the feeling not everybody had done so: Some fighters seemed stuck in learning/teaching mode, which… well, it wasn’t the goddamn point. A few fighters asked me for feedback immediately after our passes, which my brain was not in the place for. I had understood the plan was “fight, make notes, talk later”. The cold didn’t support the “talk later” plan, but I noticed a number of people talking during. That’s not champs fight, people. I think the next time around should make that a little more clear. But as a result I have all of these notes on each of my fights, and only one fighter has approached me for feedback. Out of 19 wins, that’s a little saddening. If anything, I hoped to be able to have a good discussion with what they saw in my game and the openings they hoped to exploit, even if they weren’t able to, so I could improve my game.

    My own thoughts on my fighting:
    I still have a tendency to get impatient. It got me killed against Dom.
    I’m over-reliant on my measure advantage. Against fighters of similar reach (Flaithri) or who know how to fight when out-ranged (Dom, Ben) my plan needs to extend beyond “I can touch your house from here!”
    My weight distribution is inconsistent, which leads to the “shameful lack of form” (also, lunging with extra spring off the back leg to immediately feed in to a passing step can end poorly for my form).
    I wasn’t quite getting lines closed as well as I thought (Caitlin tagged my sword arm this way, Flaithri landed a beautiful off-line shot to my neck, though I think he reached through an extra dimension to hit me from behind).

    75% of my kills came down to one attack: Extend center line low as a feint, cavazione to high outside. It’s how I killed Gwenevere. It’s how I killed Dante. I preach the gospel of simplicity and sloth because IT FRICKIN’ WORKS! One tempo good, two tempi bad! Also, extend hand before anything else moves, always and in all things.

    Thoughts on others performance:
    First, the raw standings
    Connor 10-9
    Wistric 19-2
    Llwyd 7-14
    Caitilin 4-17
    Dominyk 17-4
    Geoffrey 5-16
    Arghylle (unknown)
    Benjamin 19-2
    Letia 7-14
    Dante 16-5
    Brian 9-12
    Ruaric 8-13
    Tassin 8-13
    Gawin 5-15
    Gil 16-5
    Simon 6-13
    Gwenever 2-19
    Matheu 10-9
    Wayne 6-14
    Armand 17-4
    Rosalind 7-14
    Flaithri 17-4

    If you take out everybody who scored over 15 (7 fighters, one of whom was a scholar, Gil), the next closest fighter had 10 score wins. If you assume everybody lost to those 7, and subtract 7 losses from them (basically giving us the “How would these fighters have done if those 7 had sat the day out”), you get…
    Connor 10-2
    Llwyd 7-7
    Caitilin 4-10
    Geoffrey 5-9
    Letia 7-7
    Brian 9-5
    Ruaric 8-7
    Tassin 8-7
    Gawin 5-8
    Simon 6-6
    Gwenever 2-12
    Matheu 10-2
    Wayne 6-7
    Rosalind 7-7

    Anybody who has over 50% there is pretty damn impressive: Connor you’d expect, Brian did really well, Ruairc and Tassin the best of any scholars except Gil, Mattheu you’d also pretty much expect, though he’d have done even better if his sleep schedule were normalized.
    So, for the list of standouts, you get Gil, Ruairc, and Tassin from the Scholars. Ben and Mattheu performed pretty much to expectation, but Brian exceeded expectations (so now we expect him to do even better).

    • Tibbie Croser

      Regarding fighters who have not already been in a Champions’ battle, how do you convey the pressure? How do you train them to that level of mental and physical intensity? Is the Champions’ practice effective enough in doing this?

      • Wistric

        I think there’s nothing that can be done by an outside party to simulate the pressure situation of a champions fight. If you put that much pressure on yourself at other times (clutch situations in a tourney) your mind can get used to it.
        The Champions practice is as close as I’ve seen to an externally constructed simulation of that level of pressure. I think to anybody who isn’t familiar with it, their first champs practice should give a calibration point. Champs practices after that should get them used to operating at that level and still being functional, and pushing their intensity higher.
        I think Atlantia did a good job at the Pennsic champs of demonstrating that if you are mentally operating at a maximum intensity level you will destroy an opponent who’s just out there to show how good they can fight (See Caitlin, Dante, Armand, me, et al.)

        • Dante di Pietro

          Handling pressure, for me, comes from two things:

          1) You have to really *care* about winning. You have to hate losing so much that the thought of it is intolerable, and that losing will ruin your good mood for days. Losses should eat at you until you avenge them.

          2) You have to put in enough work so that you’re not afraid to lose, because you know it won’t happen.

          Most SCAdian fighters operate in the dynamic where mediocrity is psychologically OK for them because they’re not invested in success. If you don’t usually care about winning or losing too much, or get into a negative head space when you lose and fall apart because of it, suddenly having all eyes on you when it MATTERS is insurmountable. You have no defense mechanisms left because the “it’s no big deal” mindset is out the window.

          I got used to that as a wrestler. What we usually do is a lot less mentally taxing, most of the time, than someone trying to rip your head off and throw you. I’ve had my teeth smashed almost all of the way through my lips; most of the fencing stuff is small potatoes by comparison.

          • Tibbie Croser

            In that “champion fight” headspace, is it a challenge to train oneself to feel and acknowledge blows just as correctly as one would in a more “normal” fight? I suppose you have to go into a Champion fight with complete confidence in your own blow calling.

          • Dante di Pietro

            A lot of the time, it’s a clear, clean shot, or it’s a scramble. In the first case, no discussion or doubt factors in, and in the second, a few moments of conversation usually sort it out. If you’re not *trying* to cheat, you probably won’t make a mistake.

          • Alric

            Dante’ nailed the question about blow calling. You just have to accept that you may have missed something and occasionally, though you aren’t happy about it, you accept your opponents judgement, esp if you ask.
            As for the winning mindset, I beginning to see and implement this very necessary thing. I must take the field with the intent to win every time. Losing is not even a thought. It’s my will against my opponent. Every tournament I enter will be the same.

  • Tibbie Croser

    Thanks for your thoughts. Perhaps you or Dante should make clear on RapierNet that the Champions practices are for fighters who can achieve a champion mindset and that they’re not “practices” in the normal sense. I suspect some fighters saw this as another general training opportunity. Sadly, with Winter University being canceled, there seem to be few training opportunities outside normal rapier practices, at least until Gil’s Sergeants and Scholars event.

    Mental training for tournaments would make an excellent class subject for lower-level fencers.

  • Dante di Pietro

    Considering we were severely hampered by the cold, I think it went well.

    My big mistake, I think, was not eating or drinking enough and putting my hardest fights off until the end. Wistric beat me early on with footwork, impressively, and Gawin caught me by about a quarter inch. After that I won maybe 10 in a row without too much trouble. Then, I hit the didn’t eat wall, and dropped fights to Ben, Dominyk, and Flaithri in my last 4 fights. I made dumb mistakes in each, and those guys capitalized as they would. I was not happy with my record, but it wasn’t bad, either. I’m usually cleaner, and better at finding ways to win.

    I brought my tournament game. My champions fight is not sustainable through a day; after my last one, I sweat through my clothes 5 minutes later. My best is not something I can bring out without real stakes: I fight for the kingdom, and then I put down my sword for the day.

    I think we can make these better, and I think that we can make them a habit. Better weather will give us the time we need to talk after the fights. I consider it a success in general for a first attempt, with room for improvement.

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