Gulf Wash XXV: Spin Cycle – Wistric’s Wednesday

Armored Ravine Battle

Wednesday morning I woke up feeling like I’d spent about three hours in the sun in heavy armor the day before. Because I did. In other words, I wanted nothing more from life except to drink coffee and eat bacon and watch everybody else go off to fight. Then I armored up anyway, because it’s not like there was anything else to do. I figured even if I only fought for ten minutes before falling out I’d have done what I could, and the ravine at least had shade

It turned out it also had room to move, with the lines in more open order, so I could do my fencer-with-a-spear thing. It was great. Gone was the uselessness of the day before, and I had a blast. It helped that we had some great archer support, so when a couple of particularly tough knights with spears appeared on the other side of the line, I could just call in artillery. I love combined arms. Love it so hard.

Overall it felt like Meridies brought an entirely different army from the day before. Maybe its natural state is that open order sort of fight. It was much better coordinated and effective even at the grunt level. Shields would move to protect me against spearmen shooting at me from an angle, and would give me room to work when we had spear superiority.

Thanks to the rez walk not being goddamn awful, Kynric was able to form larger units with greater punching power. At one point one of these overran the center flag, which snapped off. By the end of the battle only one of the three flagpoles was still in tact. Strangely, it was the two Meridies was fighting over which died.

Atlantia for this battle was on the far side of the ravine, so I didn’t get to kill them.

Meridies held its flag almost the entire time. The total time-held difference between the two sides was under two minutes, with Trimaris winning because of Meridies.

I’d been worried I’d have to hot-swap gear between the ravine and the rapier field battle, but as it turned out that was not the case. It was only an hour, and started almost on time (so, if the GW MiC and the Pennsic MiC could gift each other a bullhorn and a watch, that would be great). I was able to go back to camp, drop my armor, dress leisurely, get food, and then go do the thing I’d been looking forward to for, oh, five months, at least.

 

I HAZ SCHOLAR!!!!!!

I’d been hoping to do it on the actual field, a little more formally and with a wider audience, but Their Majesties Atlantia had to go and elevate Dominyk to the OD during the time I’d been planning to do it. Damn them (congrats Dominyk!)  So immediately after that we went off to the side, with a not-too-shabby audience, and His Majesty Meridies and Their Majesties’ Atlantia in attendance. Zhao read the contract, Toki gave her oath (in Japanese), I gave my oath to her, talked about the collar, put it on her, and we signed the contract. Now I have a Scholar/Pet Samurai/Valet (with a hard ‘t’). Except she objects to me using those last two terms. She is no fun.

Toki wondering if it's too late to run for it.

Toki wondering if it’s too late to run for it.

 

Then came the only Rapier Battle of the war:

Rapier Field Battle

His Majesty Meridies took the field with us, which may be the first time that’s happened for the Meridian Rapier army. Also, it was the first time that Meridies had an army – 30 people. Usually it has 5 or 6. A lot of that credit goes to Gauge and Natalya who trained up Bryn Madoc, including a good chunk of crossover heavies, and brought 15 fighters to the field.

Still, despite Gauge’s prodigious unit, Trimaris and her allies were outnumbered by about 50% (number I heard was 190 to 130).

For the first run, Meridies was placed on the far left. I was told to form up with His Maj, who, along with Master-Sir Morgan and a clutch of MOBs, was at the core of the hammer. Then Ximon mentions “Oh, yeah, His Majesty’s color blind and can’t see that orange line on the green grass.” That orange line which you step one foot over, you die. I checked with His Majesty. “I can kinda see it,” he said, “Don’t worry about it.” Luckily, the solution already fell in with my own personal plan.

[Melee lesson time!] I picked up a trick from watching the Dragoons fight that, these days, I employ whenever possible. “Your Majesty,” I said, “My foot is going to be on the edge of the world the entire time. You stay on my right shoulder.” See, if you’re clinging to the edge of the field, then half of the world is no longer a threat to you. You only have to worry about the person in front of you, and the person to their side, but that’s where your whole army is, so really you have a single person to worry about. And so long as you don’t retreat they can move one of three ways: Step off the edge of the world (die), retreat (give you the ground you want anyway), or step away from the edge of the world (give you their flank). This was the thing I would do, and as a bonus it made sure Our King didn’t step off the edge of the field.

The downside was that I’d wanted to have Toki, and her shiny new collar, running on my right wing. But, droits du roi and all that, so she was running behind me (And now she knows what it means to “be on my six”).

There was a hay bale we wanted to stop them at: it was on their half of the field, technically outside of the edge of the world but a good visual marker for organization and edge awareness, and an ever so slight bit of terrain advantage (a rightie shooting a lunge along the edge would be obstructed). Also, if we could secure that point, our line would form a cup that the rest of their army would bulge into. Hey! Local numerical superiority!

So at “Lay on” I ran like hell for it. And almost made it.

Is it too late to negotiate?

You and what army?

They came to a halt just past the hay bale, I moved to engagement range as the rest of Meridian hitting unit came up and filled in next to me, and we got to work.

First Wave

Also, I got to have Toki at my side after all!

They fed into the line and we munched them and moved forward:

Notice the significant decrease in white cassocks not standing on the sidelines.

Notice the significant decrease in white cassocks not standing on the sidelines.

Pictured above is the first wave of reinforcements.

And here’s a picture of the second wave of reinforcements filling in:

Third Wave

After the second wave of reinforcements my body asked for a pause in the killing to catch my breath, at which point somebody from the THIRD RESERVE walked up and poked me.

That guy, there, on the left. Kanly for reals.

That guy, there, on the left. Kanly for reals.

Fighters from the enemy side have told me that that third reserve was sent from the complete other end of the field.

I wasn’t the only one gassed, and by the time I died a good chunk of Meridies had attrited away. When I looked up from the edge of the field, Atlantia was marching down the far end of the line, rolling up the flank and a rapidly disintegrating Trimarian army. The center of the field had buckled, splitting the field into two pockets that were slowly crushed. But the left, damn, we didn’t just hold, we took ground, outnumbered 3 to 2 or not.

 

For the second round, the enemy (in this War with no Enemies) decided to balance the sides. They sent six fencers over. One had a white scarf. So, 184 to 136!

We lined up across from Northshield again and were getting into position for the fight when Corbin (our Watch Commander) yelled “Meridies, up the hill!” I looked up the hill. Atlantia was at the top of the hill. “How far up the hill?” I asked. “Up the hill!” I was told. And so, giddy, I ran up to the top of the hill and proceeded to do my best “HI GUYS!” dance at Atlantia. Also, I was wearing a black and white boa (because the Atlantian blood never goes away) to make sure I was highly visible.

We fell in in the same order (me on the left, His Majesty under orders to stay to my right, the rest of the hitting unit around us). Across the field from me was Gardiner’s and Atlantia’s cross-over knights. I admit, Atlantia’s hitting unit kind of outnumbered ours, by a bit (Per Caitilin, Atlantia had 50 fighters. Meridies had 30).

Looking forward to a target rich environment, I crouched into my vague approximation of a runner’s stance, and across the field Terasu waved at me and did the same.

At “Lay on” we ran… cups out at each other, met in the middle of the field, and completely failed to do any awesome samurai one-lethal-cut-on-the-fly attacks. Instead we pretty much set where the lines would form up, and a little while after they arrived, Terasu legged me. Then I legged him. I took a moment to wonder why I was not looking up at the sky with Giacomo’s knee on my throat and Alan pretending not to hear my death gurgles. I realized that the fighter to Terasu’s right, between him and the edge of the field, was not one of their hitter squad. The Atlantian hitter squad was stacked up behind them or sliding off to the left to fill in further down the line. Atlantia’s flanking action was dead.

And then Terasu stabbed me, and I was, too. My whopping contribution to the fight was taking Terasu’s toe, and also forming a highly effective speed bump in the way of Atlantia’s momentum.

Meridies held the ground really well. In the center of the field, the Mid got a little too eager, pushed forward, and opened a gap between the Mid and Meridies. The Dragoons, on Atlantia’s left flank, punched through that gap and swept down on Meridies’s backfield while the rest of the center dissolved. Maintaining line integrity is a Good Thing (it doesn’t have to be a straight line, but it does have to exist).

In the last phase of the second battle the numbers had fought down to almost even. There was a line fight going on in the center (with Trimaris facing back towards their rez line) and a small unit skirmish going on in Trimaris’s backfield (with the Atlantian fighters’ backs towards Trimaris. Cunning and I stood on the sidelines asking each other “Are you seeing that?”). In the end, though, the numbers and the battle went in Ansteorra’s favor.

Ansteorra had won the first two battles, and therefore the warpoint, so a lot of fighters trickled off the field. I stuck around for the third, because I like fighting, at least that’s what the business card says.

 

For the third round we put Meridies’s runners – that unit of fifteen that Gauge trained up – out front. They train melee on a regular, and know each other well, but I’ve always wanted them to get an idea of Atlantian unit coordination and tactics, so they could steal them and improve upon them. They got a closeup view of those tactics. I was in the second rank, and as we trotted up to fill in a huge gap in our line opened up in front of us. I have no idea how, really. It probably didn’t help that they were against a high end White Scarf and two high end Free Scholars. There was just suddenly a gap with some guys trickling out, and the Atlantians in front of me were turning to face the exposed edges of the hole. So I killed them while they weren’t looking. I zippered the line, recovered back into position, saw Sinclair out of the corner of my eye, and realized he might want some revenge from the day before. He lunged, I extended, and we doubled.

 

Then it was time for more beer, this time including sitting around the dining fly with Morgan, Sir Aiden, David, Gauge, Brendan, and The Ladies talking until around midnight. That was the second best part of the day (see the above picture with the red neckgear for the best).

Gulf Wash XXV: Spin Cycle – Wistric’s Tuesday

This year saw Wistric’s return to Gulf Wars, and perhaps the gods were unhappy about that. Really, though, I think the gods just think there are too many MODs: Damiano (Glean Abhann) and David (Meridies) got postponed due to the weather (more on that later) and Caitilin nearly did.

Having finally managed to Iron Man Pennsic last year, I decided I would do the same, as much as possible, at Gulf Wars. The Rapier Rose Tourney and a planned Saturday morning departure meant I really wouldn’t be able to do it, but I figured I’d get what I could.

This year, Meridies allied with Trimaris, the Mid, and Gleann Abhann, against Ansteorra, Atlantia, Calontir, and the East.

First things first, though: the ritual of the Monday New Orleans trip!

Except it went poorly. I am allergic to everything that grows, and it turns out mid-March is when everything grows in Mississippi. I spent four hours in New Orleans sneezing and wiping at my nose and eyes, and called it a day. Next year we’re spending the weekend and I’m double- or triple-dosing zyrtec.

Monday night was a MOD get together. I got to meet a lot of people I only knew online or by reputation and had a generally fun time hanging out.

 

Diamond Tourney

After Opening Ceremonies the Diamond Tourney was held. I swapped out of the Suit of Great Pantsness for my fencing garb, and trotted over to the field. It took a little while to get going, but when they announced the pairings Meridies was the first, against Athelmearc. For the Diamond Tourney, the queens pick a heavy champion and a rapier champion (I was subbing in for Her Majesty Thorkatla’s rapier champion, since he couldn’t make it till later in the war). The kingdoms’ teams fight each other in a best of three passes, alternating forms: armored for the first pass, rapier for the second, and armored for the third if needed; or rapier-armored-rapier. Which form would have the first and third pass was decided by coin flip. Our set went armor-rapier-armor.

The armored fighter, Lord Jochi, fought really well, trading legs and then having a ground fight that lasted three or four minutes. It was great to watch, but ultimately he lost his first pass.

Aethelmearc’s rapier fighter was Mistress Illadore, which meant all of my range advantage was gone. I held my guard low in Giganti’s invite to the left shoulder, and she tracked it down with her own, leaning her head forward as she did so and advancing a bit squared up. I retreated a bit to bring her forward more and get her leaning in more. She circled to my left, creeping into distance as she did so. When I judged she’d come close enough that I could hit her with a clean lunge, I lunged up the gap between her sword and dagger into her exposed chest (see: my whole theory of sword and dagger from Giganti, somewhere on this blog).

And realized I am now of an age where I need to warm up before a tourney fight. Instead of throwing a clean lunge that would end up just pressing against her chest, it was a kind of ugly shot that would have ended up six inches out her back. Don’t feel too great about that, and it is a big ol’ lesson learned for me.

Unfortunately, Jochi wasn’t able to take the third pass, so Meridies lost and was out of the tourney. Thus did I have my one single tournament pass of the entire war.

 

Armored Town Battle

After that I went back to camp, picked up my spear and not-so-magic helmet and headed off with Sir Morgan to kill the wabbit, or at least the enemy.

This was planned to be two 45 minute long halves, swapping attack and defense roles in between the two halves. I learned last night that they decided to make it two hour-long halves sometime after lay-on. Because heat stroke is a Good Thing!  And why did they do this insanity as the FIRST battle? Were they worried they’d have too many fighters for the rest of the war?

So it was that we mustered up, in the sun, in the heat, in our armor, and did the dance of standing and waiting for fighting start.

Since my very first rapier warpoint at Pennsic 11 years ago, I’ve formed up with Windmasters, or when I shifted into the command structure, Southern Atlantia. On the armored field, it was Windmasters or the Queen’s Spears. Last year at Pennsic I fought with Atlantia on the rapier field. On the armored field I fought with the Spears again, or hopped over and fought with the Meridian army, which was small enough to operate as a single unit.

When I arrived at the armored field for this battle, though, I realized I had no actual unit. It was odd. I felt significantly less effective because of that lack of familiarity with those around me – scratch that, I felt damn near useless. I’m already discussing with His Excellency South Downs and some of the local knights having a monthly baronial unit training day. We’ll see what comes of it.

I can’t find a map of the town, but it was basically six objective buildings scattered on the banks of a “Y” junction of two rivers, outside the fort. Defenders started inside the fort, attackers outside. The rivers had to be crossed knee-walking, or by one of a few bridges around the field. Knights, being on horse, could “ride” through the river standing up. I modestly inquired if this might apply to other peers, or at least other martial peers. It did not. Oh well. One day we’ll have a rapier melee and make the knights knee-walk. (Kidding… maybe? It would be funny! But it would go over like a lead cluster bomb.)

Meridies started on the defending side. At “Lay on” we exited the main gate, crossed the river, and turned right to hold the left side of the field and one of the objective buildings there. The space between the river and the edge of the field was narrow. We ended up compressed into a three- or four-deep rank, and it turned into a meat grinder.

I swear the attackers’ rez walk was shorter by half. I know it was shorter because I fought the second half of that battle and did that rez walk, too. We attrited hard just on the differential in numbers of fighters doing the rez walk. That guaranteed numerical inferiority, which is always going to be shit. There was a lack of rezzing as a unit, so we didn’t get much temporary numerical superiority to exploit for gaining ground and holding, though Kynric, the commander, did do a good job of holding people at the traffic cop checkpoint and sending them in as a burst. However, the constant immediate urgency of demand kept it from being a significant punching force (usually no more than a half dozen).

We had a preponderance of shieldmen to start with (double ranks usually), and they were not so good at giving spearmen room to move side to side or back up, so there was a lot of “try to void back, find a shield stopping you, get hit in the face,” and not a lot of room to support each other, so our spears got hit hard. Despite our numbers of shieldmen, we did not do a whole lot of crunching their spears when they were exposed in front of their shield wall. That would have helped our spears’ survival rate a lot. The combined shield-and-spear tactics could be worked on. It’s on the list.

Ultimately, with the numbers the way they were, and the heat and the length, people started falling out, and it seemed spears were especially hard hit. After a while I felt like the only spearman, or one of just a few, while the line commander was hollering for spears to fall-in. At the fifty minute mark I started feeling chills running through my body. I grabbed shade, water, and popped my top for five minutes until I’d vented and hydrated, then jumped back in and fought the last five of the first half.

In between halves I shed every single unnecessary thing I was wearing (shoulder pads gone; coif gone; underarmor shirt gone; surcote gone) and evaporated for a while. And here’s where I found out a thing – the MiC doesn’t have a bullhorn, unlike Pennsic. I was putting my now-reduced kit back on when I heard somebody yell “Lay on” and everybody started charging across the field. Oops.

I fell in at rez and followed the army up to the same side we’d been fighting over in the first half. This time, though, we had the short walk. Also this time, we were against Calontir and Atlantia. This meant FRIENDS!

With the reduced armor I was moving much better, and my body had finally acclimatized, and could actually pay attention to what was going on and who I was fighting. Also, I think the attrition had thinned our ranks enough that we weren’t packed like sardines and I ended up with much more room to work.

I got to stab Sinclair in the eye, found out that Gawin has the same tell with spear as with rapier (your right shoulder rises), and was reminded that Alric’s range is two inches longer than mine.

I also found out that Sir Daemon has been taking his glucosamine. He danced around and popped me a couple of times. It was pretty. At one point the non-Meridian fighter next to me was trying to nudge Daemon’s spear out of the way, and kept waiting for me to take the shot, and I kept not, because I knew Daemon and can see a trap when there’s one. Finally, my wingman took a shot, and when Daemon came back with the return into the tempo of their recovery, I landed my shot. Then the wingman tried to explain what had happened (“See, you just have to close the center-line”), and I realized my collar was hidden under my chain mail. That was fixed later in the war (just in time for my white collar to get mud all over it), and a permanent solution is in the works.

I almost got to spear duel with Ragnar Rainbowthighs, but as I was waiting for him to approach our line two Mid knights pushed me out of the way. That happened more than once. The river was under-manned with spears, and yet these guys were on the bank pushing me out of the way. They could have been in the river, and then we’d have a nice little cup of spears for Atlantia to attack into, but nah, they wanted one-on-ones. And they lost. *sigh*

After two hours of fighting, plus holds, it was done, and all I wanted was to sit down and drink a beer. So I did. Because I was camped in Al Mahala which is really convenient to the battlefield, unlike Atlantian camp, which isn’t convenient to anything at all except parking.

Gulf Wash XXV: The Spin Cycle – How was yours?

Reports!

(And, yes, that’s the official title here at the Warfare)

Announcement: Scholar ceremony of Lady Toki Ima

Master Wistric Oftun, OD, and Lady Toki Ima, request the honor of your presence as she becomes his Scholar, to study the art of combat on her path in our Society. Please join us if able for a brief ceremony to be held at the Rapier Field Battle at Gulf Wars, on Wednesday, March 16th. Thank you!

A plan in four parts

This year I am looking at 15 years in the SCA, 8 as a White Scarf, 4 as a Laurel, and 1 as a Master of Defense. In that time, I think I’ve figured a few things out, though mostly a lot later than I’d have preferred. More on that below!

I have been thinking about what I want to do from here, and I finally hit upon the last piece of the puzzle yesterday. I’ve been more than a bit dissatisfied with my neck of the woods, but rather than go into that too much, I want to mostly talk solutions and direction. I’m not sure if I can do that without contrasts, so we’ll see how well I manage. Some of this may seem a reversal from earlier positions I have had, but I am herein talking about what to do as a fencing peer: not what the White Scarf should be, or what a candidate for the Order of Defense should look like. I’ve also had to sort this out as I’ve gone, and attitudes are evolving.

Saturday was Kingdom Arts and Sciences Festival, and there was a Laurel meeting. In it, we had 40 members all poll positively for Kat Ferneley, and TRMs made the decision after some consulting and debate to elevate her after announcing her as the winner of the KASF competition. I volunteered my medallion to the cause, having been elevated at that very site and event 4 years prior. I thought it fitting.

On the way home, everything clicked into place for me. I described my goals as a now double peer to my wife:

Teach people to fence well.

This really seems as though it should be obvious, but all told, it’s an underrepresented goal in our community. When I say “well,” I not only mean fence well enough to win tournament bouts and perform well within our ruleset, but to have a deep enough technical knowledge that they can train other fencers to use sound fencing theory, applied in the manner of their choosing. One thing I am very happy about is how the Stierbach practice I initiated now has more or less uniform instruction in the fundamentals: not everyone is perfect, but everyone learns the same core concepts and uses the same lexicon so that all new people receive the same message. Fencing is a science as much as an art.

Moreover, someone who has the ability to instruct and is too old or injured to compete is still a vital, productive member of the Kingdom. I aspire to be an old, broken down fencing instructor some distant day!

Get newer fencers involved in the Kingdom.

It’s pretty well established here that the White Scarf has a substantial, mandatory service component to one degree or another. I have recently characterized it predominantly as having been a leadership award in the past more than anything. I think that’s a fair statement, and your mileage may vary. There are a variety of reasons for why that happened, and it was ultimately a good strategic decision.

I think that modernly, we have to look to a new model. The Masters of Defense are going to start taking personal students sooner or later (if not already), and those students are going to get direct guidance in a way that doesn’t exist much in our current model. I think we need to move away from “do service if you want this award” to “follow me; we’re doing this thing now.” That’s a bit of an unfair simplification, but not overly so. The Masters of Defense need to guide the newer people onward and upward and create a culture where good citizenship is present because that’s how the game is best played and everyone knows it.

We will probably lose some people by holding them to that expectation with no tangible reward (except, you know, those whole peerage paths for service and art!). Oh well.

Connect newer people with the Crown.

We do a lot of service, but struggle some with the idea of being a servant or subject. Getting direct contact with the Royals is a really good way to support the kingdom in general, and to also become invested in its health. Moreover, it reinforces the idea that fencing isn’t an isolated pocket activity happening on the periphery– we’re not physically off to the side, but we’re not fully integrated at the entry level, either.

The Crown is also where everything happens. It’s a polling, not a vote! We make suggestions, and the best way to have influence over the direction we head is to be someone the Crown wants to hear from. Awards do not give that. Awards are a suggestion of characteristics, with no guarantees. There is one table: it is called high table, and you get there with a crown, a coronet, or an invitation.

Essentially, if we do this right we become the people the Crowns ask; we don’t make demands of them. Not because we wear some regalia, but because we have built a genuine connection.

Help give people stories to tell.

This is the final piece that cemented in my head at KASF. This is the core of why I find the attitude that competition, performance, and tournament victories don’t matter to be loathsome and toxic: people get invested in the kingdom when they leave an event having participated in or witnessed something they thought was special and worth talking about later. Mistress Kat had no vigil, but she has an amazing narrative that is worth retelling a decade from now!

When we say tournaments aren’t important and that doing well in them doesn’t matter, we undermine everyone’s potential to have a special moment. I still remember my first tournament win back in 2003 because it felt good and was treated as a big deal. I was hooked, more so than ever before. When we denigrate those kinds of moments, we denigrate the experience of our rising stars– our possible future peers! If tournaments don’t matter, if the finals are just another fight, and if we don’t do our best to be our best, then we devalue all of it… and why even bother? Things matter because we decide to care about them; apathy is poison to our kingdom.

The atmosphere matters, and it’s fun and serious all at once if it’s treated as such.

What now?

A few things. First, I will continue to do the best I can as I leave my physical prime and as the next generation begins to take over as the fighting force I still try to be. My knowledge and experience are resources at their disposal, should they want it. I’ll also continue to participate in tournaments and do the best I can in them at all times, because people need the chance to defeat me legitimately, with no excuse to take away from their success. The next generation deserves its chance to build its renown partially off mine.

Since there is no new height for me to attain, I will try to be the best peer I can be. I intend to focus my energies on the lords and ladies who are still at the beginnings of their journies. I think the job of a peer is to ready the next generation for their future elevation.

The best possible outcome is that everyone look both above and below themselves on the Order of Precedence, and think about what they can do to help others reach their level, how to be the best example of their level possible, and how to be undeniable as a candidate for elevation to the next. This can never be about your own emotional needs: care first for the kingdom and the rest of it resolves. It’s not about you, but if you do it right, everyone’s success is your success.

If every fencer in the kingdom set their sights on becoming an undeniable Master of Defense, we would have the finest group in the world. Even if we cannot all achieve that end, to borrow from an older Order: a person can be knightly without being a knight.

Priest Drill

Priest Drill

This is another one stolen from Walter Triplette. It can serve a couple of goals – training good lunge form (and the resulting ability to hit your target, also called “point control”); quick, tight disengages; fast and clean lunge-recovery; and passing attacks. It’s a fairly quick one to pick up, so both partners can coach the other through it.

It’s called the Priest Drill (my name, not Walter’s) because the Coach’s hand makes the motion of the cross that accompanies a priest’s blessing (up, down, right, left). If you have a sword with a simple guard, use it for coaching so that there’s less protection on the hand.

As with all drills: Start slow. Give big openings. The goal is 80% success. If the success rate drops, go bigger and slower. If it gets higher, go smaller and faster.

Work each step before advancing to the next.

If your disengages are getting caught in the quillons, you’re too close to each other.

After you have this down solidly, add footwork before Step 1 to train maintaining measure and a good guard while performing footwork.

 

Basic Form:

Start: Stand where the Student can hit the Coach’s hand with a lunge. Start in guard each time.

Step 1: Coach raises his hand to present an opening on the underside of his forearm.  Student lunges and strikes, remaining extended.

Step 2: Coach brings his sword down to cut through Student’s sword.  Student disengages and strikes the top of Coach’s hand (a slight, SLIGHT relaxation from full extension followed by a re-extension, or angling of the blade, may be necessary to apply pressure with this touch, but any larger motion should be avoided). Coach should break up the rhythm on his parries so as to prevent the Student from anticipating.

Step 3: Coach parries Student’s sword to the inside, Student disengages and strikes the back of Coach’s hand (again, avoid falling into a rhythm).
(NB: This parry can also be performed the other way, but the inside of the forearm is a deeper target than the hand, making it difficult to land that touch)

Step 4: Coach extends on outside and lunges at Student’s sword shoulder.  Student recovers from his lunge while parrying, then counter lunges to strike Coach in the arm (below elbow if possible).  

End: Reset, repeat.

 

Italian Variations on step 4:

Var. 1: Coach extends across the debole of Student’s blade to start his attack, forcing the Student to cavazione.

Var. 2: Coach performs a cavazione, lunging on the inside line, forcing Student to counter-find, counter-cavazione, or parry-riposte).

Var. 3: Coach extends to Student’s guard, Student lunges (deflecting Coach’s blade)
(In the video that accompanies the Drill of N things, Walter mentions that anytime his point goes to his student’s guard the student is trained to attack immediately).

 

Variation to train lunges and recovery:

Instead of disengaging, student recovers and immediately re-lunges.

Variation to train cavazione:

Coach performs parry in the tempo of the lunge. Student recovers, re-lunges to target, and Coach again performs parry during the tempo of the lunge.

Variation to train redoubles/passing attacks

Step 5: Coach recovers and parries Student’s counter-lunge.  Student disengages and redoubles or passes forward (Drill can end here)

Step 6: Coach retreats, raises his sword presenting the underside target.  Student redoubles and strikes underside of the hand, and now you’re back to Step 1.

 

Winter War Maneuvers

It has been a long time since we posted anything about melee, so for a change of pace, I thought I’d provide a recap of a melee training that I ran recently. I was not initially planning on attending the event (5 hour drives are the new normal for event travel, but it’s a bit much every other weekend…), but I found out at Twelfth Night that it’s 1) a major event for war prep 2) that my wife’s apprentice brother, Killian, was the C&T MiC and 3) that the KEM and KRM were ok with us doing heavy rapier melees (which are usually verboten). So, I volunteered to run some melee training.

The day started with what is, I think, the most universal aspect of the SCA; namely that we spent the first part of the morning for people to arrive, get armor on, and then were immediately called to court. I was pleasantly surprised during this period, however, as people actually started the day by fighting pick-ups. I got a few passes in with Killian where I tried to use some Bolognese technique. It went OK.

After court, we got everybody gathered together and started the melee practice. Given that Calontir is C&T default and doesn’t usually do melees, the obvious first topic of discussion was to talk about the rules. We focused on 3 main aspects:

  1. No cuts – This one’s probably my biggest worry for Gulf Wars. Most of the Calontir Steel fighters really want to deliver cuts all the time, so this is going to pose an obvious problem for heavy rapier melee. I had to scold a few fighters throughout the day about delivering cuts.
  2. Engagement/Front 180 Degrees – Mainly this involved telling them to step in front of people before hitting them. There isn’t DFB in the Gulf Wars war point melees, but we went over them anyhow (Pennsic exists too). Unfortunately the published conventions for Gulf Wars seem to be self-contradictory about whether they’re using the Society definition (engaged with everyone at lay on, only hit in front 180 degrees) or whether more complicated rules for engagement are in place (like rattan). I’m not sure why the Gulf Wars convention makes a specific note about not hitting people in the back of the head and makes references to “having engagement”, for instance, as this is *already* part of Society rules.
  3. Behavior – Most of the fighters have only done melees as part of the in-kingdom C&T melee experiment, so they really haven’t had exposure to the finer details/unwritten rules of behavior in melees at large events. This part included explaining how to indicate that you’re dead, dying defensively (the taking a knee variety, not the lay down and get trampled version), not dying to the ground (because it will cause a hold), echoing a call of “hold”, avoiding words that sound like “hold”, taking a knee when a “hold” is called, how to use holds to cool down (mask & glove removal), not touching other fencers (even pats on the back and likewise, especially when they’re on the other side), etc.

After this was done, we moved into the “meat” of the class. I prepared a handout that is available here.

Part 1: Being a Pawn

To put it bluntly, novice melee fighters are much like the pawns on a chess board. They aren’t going to rack up a massive kill count and they have limited offensive capabilities, but they’re highly useful for forming defensive lines and controlling territory, especially when you provide them with an appropriate support structure (like each other). By planning on using newer melee fighters in this way, it is possible to greatly restrict the amount of information and number of tasks that they need to consider at any given time (and keeping things simple for novices is really important). One result is that a truncated version of Wistric’s Rules of Melee that includes only rules 1-4 (Don’t die, Don’t let the guy next to you die, Kill the enemy, Remember the objective), can serve as a perfect template for prioritizing the tasks that individual novice fighters need to accomplish.

Essentially, fencers should focus on these “rules” in order such that if they can only accomplish 1 thing, then that thing should be to stay alive; if they can accomplish 2 things, then they should try to also defend their friends and so on. The advantage of this approach is that it simplifies melee into a small number of simple tasks for novices. In general, they defend themselves, support their friends,  and try to exploit chance opportunities to kill the enemy (They’re not going to be creating such opportunities yet). Ultimately it is important to be aware of the objective, however the objective is usually aligned with staying alive and killing people and novices can generally rely on their commanders to keep the objective in mind for them at larger wars. The elegance of this system is that, as fighters improve at melee, they are able to make the basic tasks more automatic and can therefore add additional more complicated tasks (including the rest of Wistric’s rules which are largely related to being in command).  Ruairc and I used a similar framework a few years ago when we were providing <5 min melee classes to new fencers at events.

Each rule was paired with a demonstration performed by having the fighters form two lines that were at light engagement. Rule 1 was illustrated by demonstrating that you can focus on parrying in order to stay alive. Rule 2 was demonstrated by showing how to parry blows coming at your neighbors and how by virtue of standing next to your teammates, you are controlling an area of space that protects them. The transition between Rule 2 and Rule 3 was demonstrated using the “zipper” drill, which was also used to illustrate how attacks are usually performed on the diagonal (like pawns in chess). Rule 3 was additionally demonstrated by pointing out that attacking is the riskiest behavior, and so novices should focus on attacks of opportunity (opponents lunge, unit turns a flank, etc). I explained rule 4 and provided an anecdote about an army that killed the other side but failed to capture the loot bags and who therefore lost. The demonstration for rule 4 occurred later in the day.

We then divided the group into two teams and ran a sequence of 4v4 (ish) fights in rapid succession. Initially the teams had a lot of trouble forming and keeping themselves in line. Some fighters would retreat, others would move forward aggressively. In order to counter-act this, I appointed a commander for each team whose job was to stand behind the line and keep them in order. After about 10 run-throughs, we discussed what worked and what didn’t and took a water break.

Part 2: Unit Commands

After the break, we moved onto the next topic of conversation. Many of the people who read this blog are familiar with the typical list of commands that are used in rapier melees (advance, press, stand fast, charge, step, fall back, rally); however I restructured these in order to simplify the list of commands that a novice fighter needs to know (as shown in the handout). Specifically, charging and skirmishing are relatively difficult skills to train a unit to perform and so I removed those from the list of “basic commands.” Similarly, advancestand fast, and press were removed from the list of basic commands. All 3 of these are relatively intuitive, however they are ultimately just reminders for things that the fighters should already be doing. The advance command isn’t typically given when a unit is engaged with the enemy and it’s fairly intuitive to just follow your unit at lay-on, so there’s no need for fighters to memorize or practice it. Likewise, both stand fast and press are commands that should be something that fighters do by default. When these are needed, there is rarely sufficient time for the commander to notice, relay the command, and have fighters respond. Instead, these commands primarily serve as reminders rather than as core commands on their own. As a result, the basic commands can be reduced to:

  1. Fall Back –  Because rules 1 and 2.
  2. Rally – Because rule 2.
  3. Step –  Because rules 3 and 4.

After explaining and demonstrating each of these commands, we went back to 4v4 melee fights. Each unit continued to have a commander who tried to use these commands. Each commander was in charge for ~3 run-throughs. Periodically we convened to discuss what was working, to correct misunderstandings about the commands (like say, using the step command at lay on to move to measure), cool off/take a short rest, etc.

At one point while we were resting, the king opened court and gave out an AoA for C&T (Stile Fyrd) to a fighter named Mikhail.

At the end of this section, I added resurrection to the 4v4 melees. We did two ~5 minute rez fights before I added an objective (other than kill people till I say to stop), which was to reach the opposing team’s rez point and touch it.

At the end of this melee, I asked them how many of them forgot the objective at least once during the fight (all of them raised their hands).

We then took a longish break for lunch. Many of the fighters were pretty tired at this point, since they’ve never really had to fight continuously for several minutes. After lunch, there were more pick-ups and the KRM ran a run-through of the C&T melee experiment. This involved 3 run-throughs each of 1) 3v3 no rez 2) grand melee and 3) 3v3 capture the mcguffin (the KRM) with rez.

After a water break and a bit of re-arming on the parts of people who weren’t allowed to take part in the C&T melee experiment, we reconvened to continue the melee training when court was called on the rattan side of the field to give out an AoA for rattan combat (Iren Fyrd).

Part 3: Basic Tactics

The third section of the melee practice was focused on how to make tactical decisions during a melee. We discussed how a unit can be at an advantage while the overall army is at a disadvantage (and vice versa) and we discussed different kinds of advantage. I pointed out how the combination of global (army-level) advantage and local (personal/unit-level) tells you what you’re supposed to be doing at any given time. I provided a table for this in the handout as shown below:

TacticalTable

Part 4: 2v1 Drills

The discussion of advantage/disadvantage transitioned into a discussion of how melees can be broken down into a series of 1v1 and 2v1 fights (parity, advantage/disadvantage). I had them line up in a mock 3v3 fight and then I showed them different ways that the unit could be divided (3-0, 2-1, 1-2, 1-1-1 splits) and had each fighter tell me whether they were ad an advantage, disadvantage, or parity and what they should be doing in that situation.

From there, we performed a series of 2v1 exercises. We started with fencers out of armor without swords at a walk. The focus was on having the 2 move together while pursuing the 1. We rotated through this exercise for about 20 minutes and discussed what worked/what didn’t work between trials.

Then we put masks on and grabbed swords and ran the same exercise, with each fighter rotating through the different positions. After a few cycles through the line, I started counting the time that each pair took to kill the 1. Earlier in the practice, the fighters had balked at the idea that it could be done in <10 seconds, but in practice, they were killing them in 3-5 seconds.

We wrapped up the melee portion of the day with a 4v4 resurrection melee. The objective was to capture a mcguffin (my hood) and carry it across the field to the other side of the field (where their opponent’s rez point was located). Afterwards, we discussed the melee and reviewed the key points for the day. Pick-up fights resumed afterwards.

Observations:

Overall, I think that the melee practice went well. It helped to highlight some major deficits in fitness/endurance, but I expected that it would. There’s a big difference between tournament fighting and fighting continuously in a melee. I tried to mitigate this as much as possible by having regular rest periods, by delivering the “talking” parts of the class during these rests, and by specifically having the fighters walk to rez and during some of the drills. On the positive side, the fighters were relatively quick to figure out how to work together in a line, follow the commands, and press when necessary. I think that performing the 2v1 drill without fencing gear first was a useful addition to the training as by making the movements slow, it was easier for the fighters to see what had happened and to focus on using their numerical advantage rather than individual skill to beat the 1. Furthermore, focusing on moving as a group is easier to do when you don’t have to worry about swords, etc. The drawback to this approach is that it trained the 1 to be initially compliant, but this was easily corrected once we repeated the drill with swords.

If I can get the same group of people for a future training, I’d like to practice the 2v1 drill some more and then use it to transition into training the fighters to perform the “skirmish” role.

 

SEVEN YEARS!

 

The first posts (the justification of existence and Wistric’s Weekly Warfare #1) of the Warfare posted Jan 27th, 2009.

Happy birthday you beautiful, beautiful beast!

Current average post rate: 1.25/Week.

Thoughts on my Elevation

 

Tibbie asked me to discuss my thoughts on my elevation (separate from the thoughts relating to peerage in general). I started writing this in November, when my mind was still very full. I’ve let it simmer for a while to see if things sort themselves out and if I can find better words, because I realize some parts of it sound a little dickish.

From the day the MOD started looking like it might be a thing, when I got my writ, planning my elevation, standing there in front of the crowns being so honored, and now continuing on as a MOD, a few themes have stuck out. The course of history which led to this point, my deep love for fighting and the community formed around it, and my own quest to get here.

 

Our History

First and foremost, this is the fulfillment of a dream I didn’t dare wish to dream. When I joined the SCA eleven years ago in Atlantia there was still a “fencers are second class citizens” attitude, and Atlantia was one of the better kingdoms. My first post to the Merry Rose may have been me telling a heavy fighter to go fuck himself, though slightly bowdlerized. I chafed when other heavy fighters would talk shit about rapier. I felt shame for my kingdom when my student expressed the same pain five years after I joined. Always I knew whatever we did, we would not be peers.

Alejandro explained that the White Scarf served “as close to a peerage as we’re going to get” since it was recognized in most kingdoms. Christian told me the story of how he got made a peer, including Prince Val reminding the White Scarves of the uncomfortable truth that they aren’t a peerage.

Time passed and faster than I’d have guessed princes and kings were consistently taking the field with the rapier army at wars. I heard kings say “If you want a job done, find a provost.” And I started to think that things could change. The census came out in 2010, and in 2011 the results came in – the populace of the SCA was in favor of a rapier peerage. The sad fact that most knights weren’t in favor was disappointing, and seemed like an insurmountable hurdle (knights make the rules). The esteem that the Atlantian White Scarves had earned was not universal.

Also in 2011 I was honored with a White Scarf, and could stand with the Provosts and bear the trust which kings and more and more of the populace placed in them. That was the end of recognition, except for the vague hope of a peerage now being dangled. Then the peerage progressed, and I could hope a little more that all of the effort and time I put into developing as a fencer and a member of the rapier community could be recognized as equal to the efforts of the best in other endeavors. It also meant I couldn’t go focus on art and service as much as I’d planned to. Dammit.

About a year ago ago a sitting king called fencers pussies in a very public setting. As we stood on the brink of having our own peerage, being his equal, he called us pussies. The rage I felt was beyond anything I’ve felt in years. My reaction was unpeerlike in the extreme. It’s never far from my mind (and Master Lorenzo reminds me about it, gently, on a monthly basis). But even now the thought still sparks rage in me. We have a peerage, and yet…

Sunneva mentioned that I’d experience “peer deference,” a very different sort of treatment, and it would be weird. I haven’t experienced yet (only been to a few events, though). I think the idea of the MOD, and how to recognize them in a crowd, has not yet sunk into the collective consciousness.

We have a peerage, but we’re not actually done earning it. There’s always another job.

 

My People

Fencers are my people. I sincerely believe my people are not separate from the Society or their Kingdoms. They are part of their Kingdoms, their efforts are for their Kingdoms, and

if you are a fencer and you mess with my community and the good it does for the Kingdom, I will cut you. Now that I have this collar, the only time I can see bringing down the Peer Hammer is on a fencer who damages rapier. It’s basically the only time I brought down the Scarf Hammer.

If you are not a fencer and you mess with my community and the good it does for the Kingdom, I will not cut you. I will point out, bluntly, the disservice you do to your kingdom. I’ll just try not to use bad words this time. Because PLQs.

I am proud of the Atlantian Academie d’Espee, and organizations like it, because it concentrates the rapier community’s efforts to the benefit of the kingdom – heavy fighters don’t have that, they operate under a much more self-centered system, and I wonder if they and their kingdoms would be improved for developing a community identity beyond themselves.

Without those strong rapier communities and the work they’ve done over the past thirty years, there’d be no peerage. I invited the rapier fighters present at Castle Wars to be part of my ceremony because I would not have a collar without them and the fencers across the Knowne Worlde and its history. If the court space were ever big enough, I would have had them stand (or kneel) with me in front of court. That they were willing, instead, to form a sword arch for me to progress down made me choke up before I even got to the thrones.

 

My Path

I was asked recently “How did you do it?” There is a crucible in northern Atlantia that churns out high-end fighters because of the vast amount of knowledge and opportunity to train concentrated in one area. The number of active WS’s within a two hour drive of anybody living in NoVa is ridiculous – something like 20. The number of active WS’s within a two hour drive of Durham can be counted on one hand, and they all live in the same barony. So the question was how, in relative isolation, did I become what I am?

The answer I came up with was equal parts a shrug of the shoulders and informative but unhelpful.

My favorite commentary about me in the archives of the WS email list is “Wistric throws himself into everything 120%. This is not necessarily a bad thing.”

I think it sums up nicely everything else that can be said about me. If there was a thing I might be able to do I threw myself at it fully (I have five GOA level awards not because I was trying to Pokemon this game but because I made the mistake of starting down multiple paths simultaneously). The “Because it’s there” mindset seems completely natural to me – not as a glib throwaway line but as an expression of the feeling of compulsion to push further. George Mallory had to climb that mountain because it was there – he looked at Everest, and he shrugged to himself and started walking towards it (metaphorically speaking), even though it killed him. Like him, I could not hold back; I invested fully in the doing.

When I’m not “doing anything”, I’m meditating on exactly how far I can go, exactly how far to move the goalposts for myself, figuring out if that mountain is taller than I thought it was, or building it taller myself.  This sounds like a disciplined mind identifying goals and processes and then moving forward in a dedicated manner towards their achievement. It wasn’t.

Here’s where good teachers come in: It’s not like I knew which way to start walking. I definitely didn’t know the easiest path. Dame Roz, and Alejandro, and Percy, Christian, and Walter, and pretty much all the White Scarves and Free Scholars I looked up to and learned from, all kicked me down the right path. Though, with that much input, there were disagreements as to what that path was. This is the reason to have a primary teacher – they can tell you which of those alternate paths are really bad ideas, and which are just different. So Roz kicked, and I walked (teachers can’t do the walking for their student, they can can only do the kicking).

So, I was the dedicated mind pushing myself to keep walking down the path my Dame pointed to? Well, no. I instigate none of this.

Here’s where my advice gets probably useless: I’m not sure what other people’s brains think about while they’re falling to sleep. Much of my friend’s list posts memes about being about to drift off to sleep and their brain doing something that scares them or reminds them of that stupid thing they did when they were twelve. The first part resonates, the second part doesn’t. Those things happen, too, but they aren’t the bulk of it. What I think about as I drift off to sleep is fencing and fencing-related activities. For six weeks before November 21st, almost every night as I drifted off to sleep my brain said “Hey, wake up, I just had a really awesome idea for your elevation. Write this down.” Six yard banner! A collar carrying more symbolic meaning than a Hieronymous Bosch painting! Write faster!

If you haven’t noticed at this point in the article, I do an excessive amount of thinking. For the past eleven years just about every night as I’ve drifted off to sleep my brain has said “Hey, you know that event you’re RMiC’ing in, like, six months? Here’s all the scenarios you should run.” Or, “Hey, you know that guy who fights this way? These are all the different counters you should try.” My limbic jerk is usually the result of a lunge in that thought process.

Jenny has learned that, if I’m not participating in a conversation and my hand is twitching, I’m  fencing. This happens unbidden.

I have an intricately organized and robustly populated Google Drive, most of the contents of which were written by my brain without any prompting, and I just scrambled for the keyboard or a notepad or my phone’s dictation program (which is my favorite feature on my phone). On long drives with no passengers I talk at my phone and it takes dictation.

My brain insists on walking, I just hope it goes the right direction.

This is what a well-managed, well-regulated bipolar mind looks like, and it took a long time to get to this point (34 years so far). It’s not dedication or discipline, it’s riding a lightning bolt and trying to steer it in the right direction. I don’t always succeed. That lightning bolt doesn’t always go in a productive direction. 120% is not always a good thing.

Passion achieves greatness. Dreaming big, pushing hard, you end up where nobody else has yet been. Passion also results in emotional and personal investment in goals beyond the comprehension of those around you. “Why’d he throw his mask?” “Because he couldn’t DFB that line he just wrapped.” That is, no shit, the spark for that incident. I had wrapped a line, I was DFB’ing it, and the marshal told me he hadn’t allowed DFB so it didn’t count. It escalated (there was a significant amount of dickery from both sides, and a feeling of unfair play, which is a special trigger for me), but it started because of that seemingly insignificant issue. But I wanted to kill those people. 120%. It was in the rules (we’d been using DFB all day), it was legit, and they had to die.

That’s how I feel in a tourney fight, too. You have to die, I have to defeat you (and that’s the key thing: if I cheat, if I rhino, I didn’t defeat you. See Ymir 2013. The thought that I might possibly not have defeated my opponent even if I won gnaws at me).

I kind of recognized this early on. It’s why I didn’t fight in a tourney for two years after authorizing – defeat in the only tourney I entered in collegiate fencing had been so discouraging I almost did not return to the sport (it took months to go back to practice). I wanted to enjoy the SCA, so I held off on tourney fighting. I fought in my first tourney on a lark because it was small and low pressure. I finalled. I still don’t fight all that many tourneys (approximately zero in the last three wars I’ve been to).

Everybody has their something to overcome. When everything else is taken care of, Their Something is the reason they haven’t been recognized, and it’s been the focus of almost every discussion of candidates in the White Scarves, MOB, and MOD in which I’ve participated. Mine was controlling a disease and making it productive. That may in some form be developing self-discipline, but it’s not self-motivation. Your thing may be developing that self-motivation instead. I’m not one to be able to speak to that (Dante, though, probably can. Though he may have just been programmed with the discipline and motivation sub-routines out-of-the-box. Maybe Dominyk?).

I’ve had a couple of mottos, some less serious than others. The one I usually go to is “Poena stultus corpore digrediens est” – Pain is stupid leaving the body. It’s a variant on a super macho motto “Pain is weakness leaving the body” that I think is a great way to injure yourself permanently. Being less weak is not all that much of an improvement. You’ll just end up doing the same thing that got you hurt, but worse. Growing knowledge and understanding is far more important.

I bring it out in times of humor (“I’ve got five bruises all on my right nipple from fighting you!” “Poena stultus corpore digrediens est!”). It has an underlying serious message: Our failures and our defeats help us get better. Accept defeat, seek it out even, and learn from it. A win doesn’t teach much, unless you had a second-tier victory condition (e.g. “A hero would win with a passata soto!”). Losing is okay, just learn from it.

In the past year, though, I’ve adopted a new motto. It coincides with taking Toki as a Student. “Strive.”  In all things push yourself to do better. You don’t have to push yourself to do perfect, just better. Not just in fighting, in all things – strive.

The Latin translation I went with, “certo”, means “I strive”. It also means “I struggle” and “I fight”. Every one of those possible translations is accurate. 120%.  Across my shoulders my collar says “Certo”. It is a reminder to always strive, to be aware of my struggles, and to fight. Because fighting is so goddamn fun.

How did I get here? Certo.

 

I am overwhelmed

If you follow my Facebook, you might have seen the number of people who contributed to this awesome awesome day. Who made my garb awesome, who made my banner awesome, who made my hat awesome, who made my procession awesome, who made my prize awesome, who made my vigil awesome. Who made my journey awesome. Who, in a hundred smaller ways, made this day better than I could dream.

A long time ago Alejandro sat me down and explained that I must behave myself, but not for just my own good. Those around me are judged for my behavior as much as I am. My teachers and my friends. Most of all my lady. To have so many friends, to feel their love and support, is overwhelming. It is also terrifying. Those are the people I will disappoint if I stumble. I know their love means their forgiveness is already promised, but the weight is daunting nonetheless.

 

A Cold Day in January

Today marks the 2-year anniversary of one of the most formative days in my study of historic Italian rapier fencing. Initially, I didn’t write about the day because it always seemed that I’d have even more insight about the day in the near future. This continued until months had passed, then years and it no longer seemed timely to write about. However, Dante has started bugging me about it again and, well, despite the first duty of a Free Scholar being to take every opportunity to disappoint your primary sponsor, I figured I’d use the 2-year anniversary as an occasion to provide a write up.

It all started on a cold weekend in January 2014. Ruairc and I were bored, so we drove to Dante’s in order to attend an Italian Rapier fencing practice that he had advertised on Facebook. When we got to the park on Saturday morning, we had expected that there would be at least a few other fencers in attendance, but apparently they had been scared off by the temperatures in the mid-teens, so it was just Dante, Benjamin (who served as Dante’s teaching assistant for the day), Ruairc, and me.


Lunges:

The first thing we worked on that day was our guard and lunges. Dante made 3 specific corrections in order to:

  1. Align the sword with our forearm: This one has since become my pet peeve for Italian rapier instruction, however simply put, the sword should be held such that the wrist remains in a neutral position and the blade aligns with the forearm. There should be either no angle, or a very slight angle formed at the wrist between the sword and forearm. Holding the sword in this way closes an open line to the right upper chest and makes it far easier/efficient to perform a cavazione.
  2. Place our weight on our heels rather than the balls of our feet: This adjustment changes the way that you apply force into the ground when moving (forward or backwards), ultimately providing better alignment with your skeleton such that you can generate more force when pushing into the ground. Changing this in my guard wasn’t particularly difficult, but it was fairly difficult to maintain this during the lunge, as my weight wanted to “roll” forward onto the ball of my right foot during the landing. The benefits of this weren’t immediately apparent because of some other form issues that I needed to fix and weakness in my core and leg muscles. After about 6 months of continued work and focused drilling, however, I was able to make this automatic and was able to use this change in alignment in order to better propel my lunge forward and propel my body backwards in the recovery, retreats, etc.
  3. Move our left hip back such that our bodies were more profiled: Simply put, we weren’t keeping our hip profiled despite doing so with our shoulders. I have since observed this problem in lots of fencers, as they are generally conscious of their shoulder placement (which they can get profiled), but are less conscious of their hip placement. Fixing this was actually quite difficult and required about 3 months of focused drilling in order to make it automatic.

Overall, I was able to make these changes “well enough” to continue the day, but I ultimately spent the next year making a lot of these things work. There were a few additional “key lessons” that I ended up discovering over that year that were also important to making it all work.

  1. Ideally, all movements are performed by pushing with one leg or the other. This is in contrast to throwing your body weight forward and falling and/or pulling yourself with one leg or the other. For example, to move forward, push with your back leg, don’t pull with your front.
  2. In order for “pushing” to work, it is necessary to maintain a “rigid frame” through your pelvis and trunk. I recently demonstrated this to my students by putting my buckler and a pillow on the floor. I then pushed each of these objects with a stick and noted that the buckler moves immediately, but the pillow gives way before it starts to move (I also shouted “SQUISH!” as the pillow did so, which has since become a bit of a running joke and also a great way to remind them to keep their frame rigid when drilling). For me, this required several months of focused training involving things like planks, mountain climbers, squats, and such.
  3. As a result, weight should be held over one leg or the other. There isn’t really a “middle-weighted” stance in the Italian rapier tradition, and allowing your body weight to be placed between both legs means that you can’t take advantage of most of the benefits of the Italian rapier stance/lunge.
  4. The movement of the body through space (displacement) is performed with foot work. The movement of the upper body (leaning, rotation) is performed with the trunk muscles independently and generally keeps the center of mass in the same place. This became intuitively apparent as I built up my “rigid frame” and gained better control over my body placement. However, I came across a similar idea in my recent study of Agrippa. Briefly, Aristotle’s ideals surrounding motion hold rotation (movement in place) to be more perfect than displacement, which Agrippa echoes in his emphasis on the cavazione and void as methods of avoiding attacks rather than parries, cuts, or movement backwards.

The Drills:

After completely re-inventing our guard and lunges, we then proceeded to work through a series of drills. We were required to perform each drill until we had performed it correctly 20 times in a row. After doing so, we were allowed to move onto the next drill. The drill progression was roughly the same (as far as I remember) as the progression that is presented in Dante’s book as shown below (in most cases, the teacher begins the action):
Drill Progression

Performing any of these drills by themselves wouldn’t have been a problem for me at the time, but there were two big factors that made things quite difficult. First, it was about 15 degrees out, and second, performing even one of these drills until you have performed it correctly 20 consecutive times takes a lot of repetitions. Doing 7 of these drills in a row led to significant fatigue in both my arm (from holding the sword up) and in my legs (from all the lunging). It didn’t help that we had changed pretty much everything about my stance and lunge just before we started. In any case, I found that for each of these drills, I generally performed it about 10-15 times (with some incorrect trials mixed in there) before I’d start to build a streak. Frequently I’d get to about 15-18 in a row and then I’d make an error (usually due to fatigue) and would have to start again at 1, which was super-frustrating. Sometimes this would happen more than once in a single drill. Breaks were allowed, but we had to perform 10 lunges sparring passes when we took one, so I don’t think I did. Eventually we managed to perform 20 correct repetitions of each of these, but it took us several hours (did I mention it was 15 degrees outside?).

 

Reflections:

Overall, the drills were pretty basic stuff in the Italian rapier system. The first drill is the gain-lunge exercise that I’m still working on with my current batch of students. However, the temperature, attention to detail, requirement for consecutive correct repetitions, and the inclusion of all of these drills in the same session made it a pretty grueling day. At the time, Ruairc and I had been studying Italian rapier for about 2 years, so we were disheartened to learn that there were major flaws in both our stance and lunge. However, we also had the benefit of at least 6 months of regular drilling that, albeit partially incorrect, had at least given us some baseline conditioning and a good understanding of what we were trying to accomplish. Dante sent us a curriculum in the week following this event that outlined an ~500 hour training plan that worked through each of the drills that we performed that day with the end-goal being that each drill would be trained up to the point of being able to perform 20 correct repetitions in a row. So, ultimately we had completed all of the “mid-terms” and the “final exam” in a single day for a training program that is meant to last for several months, so it isn’t surprising that such a day tested the limits of our endurance. That being said, despite being relatively new fencers at the time, we had a number of advantages that made such a day possible.

First, of course, is conditioning. Ruairc and I were (are) relatively young and had been regularly exercising and drilling. This contributed significantly to our ability to endure the sheer number of repetitions that we performed that day. Had this background not been the case, I don’t think that we could have completed such a test and the jump from zero to hundreds of repetitions would have been an excellent way to injure ourselves. So, if you’re interested in trying something like this, keep in mind that you need to build up to doing so (preferably in a more systematic way than Ruairc and I did).

Second, and perhaps most important is attitude. You have to be hungry to put yourself through something this grueling. The weather alone was a good enough reason for most people to stay home, but again, it takes quite a bit of gritting your teeth and working past being tired to pull off similar numbers of repetitions with seriousness in a short period of time. In my own personal training, I find it very easy to take breaks for too long, to avoid pushing myself etc, and certainly to spend too much time talking about how a motion *should* be performed rather than simply performing it. Pushing past muscle soreness is also something that I have difficulty training my students to do. I have generally attempted to break practices up, alternating between arms and legs in order to allow them to keep fencing, but I think that this may have been a mistake to some degree. There’s a point in time where training needs to get more difficult in order for students to progress, and pushing past the mental blocks in order to do so takes a certain attitude and determination.

There were also a number of lessons learned from that day. I noted the specific corrections to my guard and lunge above and added some lessons that I learned indirectly as the result of training myself to make Dante’s changes automatic. That list isn’t complete, however, as many of those lessons could be posts by themselves (and I have or am in the process of writing several of those posts). Ultimately, the real value was that those changes caused a dramatic “shake-up” in the way that I trained and once the puzzle pieces of putting my guard and lunge together correctly started falling into place, everything got a lot easier.