Journaling

With almost every contributor and potential contributor to the Warfare I’ve urged them to maintain an active, visible journal of their practice so that others can observe and learn from their progress in learning the art, and those who’ve experienced the same challenges can provide feedback. Journaling and the detailed thought and reflection, and post-hoc visualization, it requires reinforce concepts in the mind and improve one’s capacity to learn from an experience. Eventually the skill develops into real-time analysis and learning. This is spectacularly useful and necessary for a fighter. You can journal in private but, as noted, journaling in public provides feedback and aid in your analysis which can help you avoid dead ends and make

Few take up the challenge. I’m not sure the reason (perhaps those who’ve elected not to do so can explain?). I recently had cause to do exactly this sort of retrospective analysis of my fighting and figured I’d share it here.

During my time in Meridies I’ve been able to skate by on my lunge against the majority of opponents. Very few in this kingdom lunge so the concept of “fighting range” is narrowed to that from which an aggressive passing attack can be launched. This means I can hang out at measure and pick my tempo. On top of the differences in tactics, I have a height advantage over most and am on the higher end for athleticism in kingdom.

Dom and Davius both punished me for over-extending my lunge when I’ve fought them in the past month. I lost the Pennsic champs battle with an over-extended lunge, too.

Talking with Toki on Saturday or Sunday, she said “Dante told me how to beat you.” I already knew what he’d told her, and just laughed when she continued, “Something about your lunge and hitting you running away?”

So, time to break that habit.

At Kberg practice on Thursday (1/15) I shortened my sword by three inches to rob myself of the nuke-from-orbit lunge. The results were interesting – I played against Cailin, who has an inch or two on me and also a massive lunge, mostly focusing on how to beat somebody who relies on the same crutch as me when I can’t rely on range. I also fought Torse (also big lunger), focusing on myself this time. He pointed out that in addition to my lunge I have the bad habit of not bailing out of measure immediately after my lunge. Again, this is a bad habit people let me get away with.

Sunday was the “A Game” practice. Being about the “A game”, and not a regular practice, I went back to the full length blade for most opponents. Among the fourteen fighters were three who, when faced with me short three inches, were to varying degrees able to counter successfully when I over-extended. I used my passes with them to work on shifting from the sniper mindset to providing them the bait they wanted rather than one of my typical invites; lunging shorter with a plan to proceed from there; and maintaining strong blade control while moving into measure.

One of the up-sides of the shorter blade is that I’m feeling more secure in my gains(*) and was more willing to enter measure sedately.

I’m still not happy with the number of times I ended up in a lunge with no plan for continuing forward if it came up short.

This is The Thing I’m working on these days, and will be for the foreseeable future. I need some tactical advice:

Everybody’s figured out that I have a big lunge. Closing measure is difficult. People seem to like to run away. I’ve got my bag of tricks for it, but those all have their inherent risks and weaken form to one degree or another. So, how do you close to attack range against an un-obliging opponent?

(*) There may be an injury issue which weakens the gain. Checking it out with a doctor in the near future.

17 comments to Journaling

  • miguel

    So this may sound super silly coming from me, but patience (Still a work in progress, but getting there). I also fight with a shorter blade (35 zen warrior) and I find I am often required to close hard. I do this typically through a few solid somewhat forceful parries and tempo change from fairly lazy to coming at you. It has its own host of problem though ranging from getting getting pegged if they can get their point back in line to “Fleeting and Incidental contact” from closing violently, which bothers some more than others. Some other strategies I have tried personally include playing a distance game where you move in small enough increments that you literally inch in to your opponent (Very much, like many modern fencers) and have had some success with it, but it requires a lot of movement, and works better I have found in the faster pace of strip fencing then SCA fencing. Finally, I’ve been focusing on hitting closer targets (Sword hand/arm, front thigh) instead of going for the deeper kill shot, which doesn’t entirely eliminate the problem but lessens the severity. Either way distance is a big problem for me as I refuse to use a longer blade, mostly because I haven’t found one I like better than my current blade.

    As far as focusing on my fights I typically do that after practice with the person I was fighting (Since I only get 1-2 fencers down here currently), I often times mis-remember what happened in a fight and need to talk about it with them. I think possibly filming my fights may correct this problem and show other glaring problems in my game. Never thought of publicly journaling, but I often reach out to other fencers I respect to ask for aid, advice, or just to blow of some steam.

    • Wistric

      Definitely film. And then post here where we can provide advice. Far better use of a camera than reviewing malt liquor.

      What’s your footwork on the hard close?

      • Miguel Mono de Hierro

        Recently since I have been trying to make sure my feet are under me and my body posture is correct, which results in me slowing down a bit, but is better for my point control and presenting a smaller target area. In the cases where I’m focusing on fixing body posture I use quick advances (think olympic sabre fighters but significantly less coordinated) or cross over steps (I don’t really like cross over steps in measure though for some obvious reasons). If I am really booking it I square my shoulders and pretty much run full force at my opponent with the idea of either passing by them or getting so up it their grill that it causes them to pause for a tempo and then I either pass by or draw cut if I have missed my point attack. I know squaring is bad and I lose points because of it, but if I need to close distance that is my quickest way (Currently). To mitigate the potential dangers when I do run I typically try to drop 2-4 more inches in my stance so I am shorter and have more spring to react to situations. Yet another thing now that I think about it, I use my body and my sword to kind of herd my opponent, which opens lots of openings on both fighters, and as the aggressor I can typically capitalize before my opponent.

        Really examining it I also do a lot of things to get my opponent to change direction / close distance if I am chasing them. I’ll go 2-5 quick advances and if there is no hope of me catching them unless I run them into a wall or barrier (I’ve had this discussion with you about my opinions on using the ropes in a list field to your advantage), I stop and just stand there seeing how they will react. The second they stop backpedaling and attempt to change direction or capitalize on an opening I continue my attack, if they keep back pedaling I don’t do anything and wait for them to move back to a neutral fighting measure. Blade control during these engagements is also a crucial factor in how I think your opponent will respond. If I maintain blade contact through out the advances my opponent is more likely to run until they are safe (Or against a wall at which point it is unsafe of me to continue to fight them), but if I gain the blade on the initial advance then relinquish it after say 2-3 advances I can typically get my opponent to change direction and attack or be so focused on retreating they forget about their blade, which allows me to capitalize on the situation. Also during these situations I try change tempo on my advances (and have different tempo between my sword arm, off hand, and feet), so my opponent doesn’t know when the attack is coming.

        (It is important to note I think that we practice in a gym where there is almost unlimited space, and my opponent knows this. He will retreat to an extreme degree that couldn’t occur in most list fields. Also his style of fencing is based around measure and tempo. He doesn’t often use traditional lines or parries favored by strip fencers, instead choosing to use measure and tempo to safely throw oblique angles)

        Most importantly and I can’t stress this enough, Malt liquor is delicious, cheap, and gets the job done. If I help just one person avoid that crap with my reviews then they were totally worth it 😉

        • Wistric

          You talk about all these things you do that you acknowledge cost you fights. Why do them?

          Your whole fight sounds exhausting and somewhat painful. You recognize a few keys to success, but then you don’t focus on them and actually impair them with your fight.

          • Miguel Mono de Hierro

            Singularly the only problem I see (From the above post there are plenty of other holes in my game) is the squaring of my shoulders. Did I miss one or is there something you see as a problem that I do not? My response was mostly thinking of all the ways I close distance when I am trying to move to an extreme measure, or chasing down a runner.

            That being said I have been actively trying to work on body posture and foot work. I do this mainly by taking my off hand out of the equation. It has been slowly changing things. Also on a separate note if I change my main blade to my left hand it is much much easier to keep posture, mostly because I don’t have any ingrained bad habits yet. Over the next week or so I am going to see if I can’t get some video (my phone is to crappy I have to borrow my gf’s phone) of a few of my fights and link them here. I’m hoping my plan is to take a few every month or so, so I can have a record of any progress.

          • Wistric

            You recognize “Blade control during these engagements is also a crucial factor” but don’t maintain it. If you control their blade, you can make openings. Why relinquish it? That just gives them the chance to hit you (“getting pegged if they can get their point back in line”)

            Your footwork (“Olympic saber”) is jerky, leaving lots of moments where you are absolutely frozen in space and vulnerable to be struck. Add that to giving up control of their blade and squaring up, you’re making it super easy on them. Why do you not like crossing over? The reasons are not obvious.

            Don’t chase runners. Remember one of Walter’s rules about their feet?

  • Dante di Pietro

    IIRC, my actual advice was to invite at distance and strike on the retreat.

  • Ruairc

    Re: Why No Journaling?

    Formerly, because I lacked the discipline to do it regularly. Today, because transcribing my notes will take too long, some of them aren’t appropriate for the Internet, and the majority of points for improvement are “I need to do X better” rather than “how do I X?” Sans video and context, the former is harder to address.

    Re: tactical advice:

    I believe your analysis for why you’ve come to rely on the lunge is spot-on. You’re good at setting it up and good at landing it, so you rarely need to consider the next tempo. So you don’t, and it becomes habitual.

    You know fighting. Why not explore? Take it out of sparring and run a few slow drills – see what’s open to you after a missed lunge and use that to guide which options are most feasible.

    From a structural perspective, I think the most mileage will be gained in reexamining your deep lunge (ideally with slo-mo video). It works, it’s familiar, there’s no need to throw it out – why not make it better? Something is robbing you of stability, almost certainly in the core or hips; a well-targeted strengthening regimen won’t address the mental game, but it will help prevent you from overextending in the first place.

  • Dante di Pietro

    I don’t journal in a physical sense, but I do a ton of replay and visualization in my head, and I cycle things over and over until I’ve picked them clean. Most of it is optimization at this point; most of my losses are failures in discipline, not mechanics.

    Long blades and deep lunges work best against people who are either moving forward or who don’t adapt the geometry of their defense to account for the length of the line as well as the angle. You struggle against people who make themselves too distant or who counter your straight line with angles. Positioning.

    Looking at this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXh7ZCwdO20&feature=youtu.be , you seem to be doing the “tall guy” thing of trying to sneak the angle around the other person’s defense (he is, too) instead of finding and attacking in opposition off a tempo. Your rear foot comes off the ground in nearly every instance because you are propelling yourself forward in a speed-based strategy; you struggle to move off that because your weight is 100% committed to the lead leg. The “next tempo” is spent regaining your balance, so an opponent who can entice you to lunge and defends against it has a free action while you gather yourself.

    This is the “working too hard” version of lazy, and is mostly made possible because you want to win in particular ways, regardless of their contextual tactical validity. The length of the blade will make you change things up, but if you really want to outgrow this, deny yourself the circumstance: lunge only during the opponent’s advance, after a feint, or during a stesso-tempo counter (there are many varieties, including the girata). Consider it a failure if your rear heel leaves the ground, and when you feel as if you have satisfactorily resolved that, consider it a failure if your rear heel leaves the ground and you don’t transition that into a step, either a pass forward or girata and return to guard.

    • Miguel Mono de Hierro

      When you replay and visualize in your head are you 100% on the actions that occurred? I often find myself having seen the fight differently than my opponent. Not the outcome that is, but the methods of getting to that point.

      • Dante di Pietro

        I’m atypical, but my visual processing speed has been measured at the 99.9th percentile. I see more of what’s in front of me faster than most people. I doubt I can be 100% certain, but I’ve got a pretty good track record.

        • Miguel Mono de Hierro

          So how would you suggest that a person without that ability approach becoming better at this skill?

          • Dante di Pietro

            I’m not sure. At some point, everyone’s brain hits a limit.

            However, I think that making a point after each strike to recap and compare notes with an opponent would help. That could put sufficient emphasis on the recollection to reduce letting it leave short term memory.

            Strategically, fighting in a way that maximizes control and minimizes chaos would help as well, as it involves fewer steps. Very few, if any, of my strikes involve more than 3 total actions, and usually only 1 or 2.

          • David Twynham

            Honestly, learning the rules of priority and practicing foil (or foil rules) is helpful for this, and especially judging. Those rules require you to be aware of what you’re doing in a fight, at least enough to say if you were attacking, riposting, or counterattacking, and help tremendously with being able to visually replay portions of a bout.

            One thing worth trying for rapier: Have two people fence and one person “direct” after each hit, have the director briefly describe the actions that led to the hit, and then have each fencer confirm if that’s what they thought happened. Once you get used to it, people will usually be in agreement. Sometimes though, the fencers will have a very different perspective of what happened (for instance, one thought they were making a beat, the other thought they were parrying) which can lead to interesting discussion about what each of you perceives vs what actually happens.

          • Wistric

            Echoing Dante on this – If you keep your plan and actions simple, you can start from “what was my plan and where did my point/their point land?” and start filling in the blanks.

  • Cailin

    When you were fighting me at practice you were relying entirely on your measure. You were bringing your blade off line (ish) and inviting the attack. You were trying to make a hard parry and collapse the distance from there. With this strategy the game is reduced to a competition in speed. Did you close the line with your parry before your opponent was able to take the line by extending to the point your parry comes into contact with their fort rather than their foible?
    I have been attempting to add the same dimension to my game that you are working on so, here are my thoughts. In my experience you can use the same tactics used to set up a lunge to collapse distance. Obedience is obedience and, I have not been able to safely lunge without an opponent already in obedience. (If you have a way, I would love to hear it) Just change the footwork. If your opponent is running away, extend, advance, and collapse distance with the line found.

    • Wistric

      You’re right about the tactic I was applying. I was indifferently attempting to combine it with the “just-enough” retreat to exploit your over-extended lunge, but as noted I’ve lost a step in the part of my game.

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