Practice Log, 6/9

After a month of demos, meetings, and events eating up my Sundays, Elvegast practice resumed yesterday. As usual, most of my time was dedicated to teaching. This is fine; I’m learning enough on my own time.

What’s Good Enough?

First, a question for all the other longtime teachers out there: at what point do you consider your student to have sufficient mastery of a skill or concept to profitably move on? Obviously the fundamentals of fencing (guard, footwork, lunges, finds, cavazioni …) are something that we all can constantly work on honing, and it seems unreasonable to expect constant (or even consistent) perfection from a relative newcomer. But leaving specific instruction and analysis of those fundamentals too early can cause bad habits to persist and calcify, and lead to further errors down the road. Finds, cavazioni, etc all require a fairly solid guard before they can be performed correctly.

Because the SCA tends to spend too little time on the basics (I still have some awful, awful habits I internalized years ago), I think I might be overcorrecting with my own students. Is there a good measuring stick?

Giganti’s 9

This is the framework we’re building from for our students: once we’ve gotten them in a good basic guard (usually with stick drills, which will come in a later post) and moving reasonably well, we tackle Giganti’s first nine plates (lunge, gain inside/outside, cavazione inside/outside, contracavazione inside/outside, and feint inside/outside).

After five months of close instruction, our students are beginning to reach the feint, after which we may move on to more complex things. But I don’t think we’ll ever stop doing these drills – they are the fundamentals, after all. I anticipate devoting at least 15 minutes of every practice to one or two of these, perhaps allowing students to build up to choice drills once they perform consistently.

Yesterday we focused on a simple variant: agente finds, patiente cavares and lunges. As agente I added resistance quickly to be sure that the student was properly counter-finding with the cavazione.

Footwork Drills

Our usual approach to these sorts of drills, in the SCA, is to have everyone get in a line and follow the instructions of a single caller. One wonders if this hails from strip fencing. I’m not sure I like this. Playing around with Fabris’ 4th has made it obvious to me that we can’t think of footwork as monolithic (any more than any other action is monolithic). We must be ready to turn an advance into a lunge, or a pass, as the situation dictates – otherwise there’s not much point to the back-weighted stance.

I think I’m going to try something different: keeping the basic structure intact, but giving commands in mezzo tempo (so shouting “lunge!” halfway through their advances). The response will be either to complete the footwork, then perform the next step, or go straight into the next step if balance permits.

Experimental Tip

I put a new tip on a loaner blade yesterday – a small strip of mild steel folded over the point, wrapped in leather and taped on. Legal by all the rules. It has about half the surface area of the usual bird blunts or Darkwood tips.

– Does not easily get tangled in guards or clothing
– Cannot be used to arrest attacks by stop-thrusting at guards (a chumpy, ahistorical tactic)
– Can be drawn from a narrow, period-looking sheath instead of the ugly PVC pipes some people use

– Hits slightly harder

Less so than you’d expect, actually; strikes to the head and neck are actually lighter (the point does not stick as much on rigid armor). To the body, the extra stiffness was quite noticeable when taking static hits, but the shots I took in active sparring were barely harder, if at all. I’m not sure if adrenaline is to blame.

I’m going to continue to experiment with these.

16 comments to Practice Log, 6/9

  • Tibbie Croser

    Please keep us updated on your experimental sword tip. I’d like to hear the senior marshals’ (and Giacomo’s) opinions on it. As an RMiT, I want to know when and how it fails, how long it holds up, how easy failure is to recognize and predict, how easily the tip can be replaced, etc. Does it make any difference in blow recognition (easier/harder to feel valid blows)? I’m concerned about shots landing harder, especially in a melee when calibration rises anyway.

    I’m personally always interested in easy-to-make alternatives to the standard tips, especially since my tip often gets caught in my opponent’s guard.

    I hadn’t heard of fighters stop-thrusting at the opponent’s guard to arrest an attack. I presume that would work only against a closed guard.

    • Ruairc

      “Experimental” is a bit of a misnomer – not only is it 100% within the rules, but other people have done something very similar. I’ve yet to see something quite as low-profile as this one, however.

      Tips like this one are pretty much fail-proof, in the conventional sense. Swords have been known to work through washers or punch through rubber, but no sword is going to penetrate 16 ga. steel. The most likely point of failure remains the tape, and this can be minimized in the usual way.

      The bird blunt tips are very broad, and this tactic works reasonably well against anything with a complex hilt. Even if your counter-time stop-thrust doesn’t halt his attack outright, you’re likely to strike the guard with enough force to throw off his point.

      My initial feelings are that, for well-calibrated blows, these tips are no worse than the usual. Stiff shots to the head and neck are actually less painful or stunning. To the body, they’re likely to be moreso. Still too early to tell for sure.

      • Gawin

        “no sword is going to penetrate 16 ga. steel” – That’s not quite correct. The 16 ga mild steel you are using is actually softer than the sword, so penetration may occur over time (just like the washers).

        Likewise, your leather can get cut by stuff, usually your opponent’s sword.

        I think you need to differentiate blow “comfort” and stiffness. It doesn’t hit any harder than would occur with the bird blunts, but I think its smaller cross section makes the hit less comfortable. Maybe we should crank out a couple more, stick them on our usual blades and have at it?

        • Ruairc

          That sounds like a terrible idea. We should do it.

          Might want to redesign the tips as a T-shape, folding each tab over the blade, to keep it in place a little better.

          I was thinking about thicker leather, but “thicker” defeats the purpose …

      • Donovan

        What’s the weight of the leather you used? Any tips for taping it on right?

        Basically, moving to something like this is something I’ve been mucking with Up Here in the East for me, but I’m maybe overthinking things.

        • Gawin

          He used rather thin leather. He actually put duct tape over the leather and used a contrasting color to hold the whole thing in place. That last bit I’m a little less sure about (letter of the rules-wise).

          • Dante di Pietro

            99% sure you can’t run tape over the tip like that if I read you right.

          • Ruairc

            The duct tape was partly to hold it together, partly to make the visual contrast stronger.

            It’ll be sewn next time.

      • Terasu

        I have been experimenting with leather recently as well. Couple of Pros and Cons I wanted to mention.

        Pro: Most leather will be lighter than the typical bird blunt. It will affect your balance slightly by usually pulling it more toward your guard. I say this is a pro because the average fighter prefers less tip weight.

        Con: Leather rots and corrodes. Water and humidity affects it’s integrity and can cause it to reach failure without even being used. I have considered boiling the leather to harden it and make it less affected by weather. Waxing may cause it to melt and rub off on other people’s garb, which they may not be keen to.

        I have been using a plus shape to cover my weapons. My katana turned out perfect, but I haven’t been able to duplicate it since. I am still working on it but I have been inconsistent with my work.

  • Wistric

    What part of your form/fight/etc were you working on practice? How did you go about working on it? Was it effective?

    • Ruairc

      This is really meat for another post but I alluded to it above. Mostly, I’m working on fighting from extended fourth while in larga. My lunges are bad, owing partly to guard, partly to the form of the lunge, but mostly to mental readiness.

      Part of it is, if I’m honest, “teacher-mode”. But it runs deeper. I think of fighting very theoretically, as a series of movements and responses, and thus as a sequence of discrete decisions/actions, almost turn-like in nature. This is fine, even necessary, for theory, but means that I can’t “flow” in the moment of the fight. I’ve struggled with this for awhile.

      Most of my work now is just practicing the motions in front of a mirror – and not as “advance”, but as “lift toe, extend foot, transfer weight, move other foot forward”, so as to make the act of advancing less atomic. I’ll move to contratempo choice drills soon.

      While I’m usually the passive “guy who gets stabbed” at practice, I try to hone everything I can within the context of the drill – smaller finds, strong guards, staying in guard constantly, etc.

      • Dante di Pietro

        Adam has the same problem of breaking everything down into tiny, complicated things and getting buried under the weight of it. His version of getting into guard might be “knee bent just so, hips back, shoulder back, arm in place, toes pointed there and there, spine straight, head back, swordarm to the right a bit… gah!,” whereas the way I have him conceptualize it is “narrow profile”, which we use to encapsulate all of those other ideas. His brain knows to *do* all of those other things, but only has to think two words.

        IMO, “good enough” is when the person can do X well enough that things that build from X are not hindered by flaws in X. X need not be perfect, just good enough so that X+Y doesn’t fail.

        • Ruairc

          One of our students is very much the “perform eighteen sequential steps to get into guard” type. This was necessary when he started. Now that his guard is passable, and remains decent throughout footwork, I’ve told him to work on falling into guard in a single motion.

          • Dante di Pietro

            That’s a good transition to make.

            A lot of these things won’t be set in stone in any axiomatic way, however nice that might be. The teacher ultimately needs to be expert enough to recognize what the student needs to hear. Sometimes it can be very subtle stuff; recently I had to determine that the problem someone was having was conflating “off line” with “out of presence” and was consequently over-correcting. I probably wouldn’t have picked up on that years ago.

            One of the best things I’ve done is abandoned the idea that people understand what they read or what I say as intended, and instead actively look for how they have misinterpreted the concept. It saves a lot of time, since usually the physical ability to do a thing isn’t the problem. Anyone in decent shape can tackle 90% of what’s asked of a fencer without a serious problem, even if in a limited way.

  • Giovan

    Speaking of “shouting “lunge!” halfway through their advances”: my first coach was insistent that this was a bad idea. You don’t want to train people to cue off of sounds; you perhaps want to train them to cue off vision. So if she wanted us to convert into a lunge, she’d drop her guard. If she wanted us to convert into a pass, she’d convert into a backwards pass herself.

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