Preparing for my “A” game – Dante   1 comment

Ed: With Ruby Joust this weekend, we thought we’d give a little insight into tourney mindset, starting with Dante di Pietro’s discussion of his mental state before, during, and after a fight.  Good luck at Ruby, everybody!


First, let me define what I mean when I am speaking about my “A” game. I think of this as, “I am winning this fight” mode, which is not how I approach 99% of my fighting. Most of the time, in tournaments or sparring, I am trying to adhere to a set of principles that govern Italian rapier, I am trying to move smoothly and cleanly, and I am trying to land my shots with the minimum necessary force for my opponent to accept his or her defeat.

The “A” game only comes out once in a while, because the “A” game is for when I consider knifing you five times in the ear to be just as acceptable as a clean contratempo lunge in quarta. This is a thing that happens. There’s video.

Exempli gratia:

That was a good fight. There was more to it than that at the start, which led to that being the third and decisive pass. Slow-motion around 0:14 and 0:46 show most of the action.

And again. (Before, actually):

In any case, I call these to your attention because you can hopefully tell that I’m relatively calm during all of that, despite there being some pressure and despite the action being fairly explosive. As I understand it, my opponent was chosen to be able to out-violence me in a brawl.

Plan B?

However, about four or five minutes after that was over, I had such a severe adrenaline dump that I literally soaked through all my clothes with sweat (yes, even *those* pants) and had to shed most of my armor to cool off. There hadn’t been enough violence to get it all out of my system effectively. That’s a big part of why I don’t fight like that all the time: Don Antonio was a tough, tough fight, and though I was victorious, I cannot sustain that level of intensity through a day.

What I actually do, under normal circumstances, is ignore my opponent almost entirely. They exist, sort of, but only as an object that I move around; a thing that creates the negative space that I will then occupy and dominate. I perform my technique. I feel no pressure or anxiety, and if I perform it as I have been training myself to perform it, I usually win. “B+” game, if you will.

For something with more pressure or higher stakes, I become increasingly calm. At rest, my heart rate drops to about 45 beats per minute, and I feel as though I could fall asleep. I might take a quick sprint to get my blood flowing again, but right before the fight begins I slow everything down. I take long, deep breaths, and as I walk onto the field I run my tongue over my teeth, feeling their edge. When the marshal signals for me to take my guard, I feel 80% of my weight settle on my rear leg, and I see everything.

I haven’t ever had those “everything slows down” moments; I feel as though I perceive more, instead. My visual processing index has been measured at the 99.9th percentile, which, to put it in perspective, means that I can read and understand about 28 words per second if I am pushing myself. If I am ramped up, I can see your hips shift half an inch before you lunge. I can see your fingers tighten in anticipation. I can see you breathe.

I used to have to pace around and work myself up like a caged animal, but I’ve left that behind. What works for you today may not tomorrow, and what works for me now may no longer some day. The key, I think, is to pay attention to when you have your very best days, and to spend time actively thinking about what was going on at that time. How it felt. What you thought about. The smell of the air. Everything. Once you find your path, you can walk it at will.


Posted May 22, 2014 by Wistric in Musings

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