Monday, 23 January 2012

Class Structure, 23/01/12

Okay. Here's the plan. It's Garry's last session for a while, and I think that we should give him an opportunity to spar/free-play everyone. It'll be entertaining. Still, the beginning of the session will have a bit more structure than that.

I like free-play. I think it's great. Branston pickle and red Leicester cheese sammich levels of good. But I also don't see it as the end of what I do - getting good at freeplay isn't what I'm training towards. It might happen as a side effect of getting better at Historical Fighting though.

Now, let's consider what we normally free-play at to to be the 'Standard model'. Not fencing at maximum intensity so we can try out new things. Kitted out with gloves, mask, for-arm protection and perhaps some extras, but not swinging at maximum force, because we're not gits. It's good, fun and helps. But it isn't all it could be in terms of improving you different levels of "freedom" and intensity.

On the one hand, you can change the force levels people use, from tippy-tap fencing to Conan-swinging. Another variable you can adjust is the intensity - from T'ai chi free-flow stuff to 'Swordfish finals' intensity. Adjusting those in training allows people to practice and test themselves to a greater degree.

Another thing that you can change are the options open to each fighter - forcing them to focus on one aspect of the fight. From the simple 'No closing to grapple' to 'Begin the fight with a Schielhau'. The epitome of this would be the 'robot fencing' drills on the HEMAA forum. The opposite end of the spectrum would be sharp-longsword-fight-to-the-death-with-sharps scenario.

Finally, the value of freeplay with a wide open choice table is greatly enhanced by having people watching/videoing and coaching actively what's going on. Let's incorporate that. I wish people did it for me more often! If you're in a 'coaching' role, then please video everything that you can.

10 mins: Meet, Greet.

10 mins: Warm up. Hopefully led by the great Gazza.

10 mins: Stretch. Discuss what the plan.

5 mins: Minimum intensity, minimum force fencing. (10%/10%) With no protection what-so-ever. No hits to the hands or the head. No thrusts above the shoulders. Be bloody sensible. I trust you guys.

2 mins. Regroup. Feedback. Discuss.

10 mins: Put on masks and gloves. Now, form into groups of three, with at least one 'experienced' or motivated guy in each group (JP and Dan should be good at this.) Begin 'standard' sparring at exactly the same intensity as before. Take the guys out and give them advice. Then increase the intensity, but not the force levels. End up at something like 40% intensity, 10% force.

5 mins. Re-group. Discuss what we've noticed.

10 mins. Now, let's change everyone around, and increase the levels somewhat. People can try more protective kit if they'd like. Something like 60% intensity, 40% force. More coaching. Go back in there!

10 mins. Now, the final burn. Let's ratchet the intensity up to the most that people can muster at this stage. 100% effort to win the fight. The coach's job is to keep an eye on how much the fighters' skill is degrading, but also on the force levels being used. If they creep too high (say, above 50%), then get them to tone it down again. If needs be, do a Mikael and jump in there with a rear-naked choke.

5 mins. Now, this is where we mind fuck with people. Remove all the kit. Now, reset back to the minimum intensity, minimum force levels we talked about before. You can only Vorschlag with an Oberhau. See how well people do.

That's what, an hour and a quarter of physical activity? We can do this guys.

Rest of Session - Beat on Garry with Sticks. The rest of the room coaches the guy fighting Garry. Not only looking at the fighter's weaknesses and how to overcome them, but also for any holes in how Garry is fencing, and how to punish him for them.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Approaches to HEMA.

This is a re-post from the HEMA Alliance forum, of a post by Michael Chidester for the private email list of his old group, True Edge Academy. I'm re-posting it because it highlights some differences in people's approaches to historical European martial arts - I laid out my own thoughts when I began this blog. It's certainly food for thought:
My perspective on this issue puts Mike Cartier and Mike Edelson very much in the same category (something that will probably infuriate them both to read, since there's no love lost there). Michael E., as many of you know, sees a serious problem in the methodology of modern HEMA instruction--across the board, from raw recruits to champion fencers, our cutting technique is atrocious. His message is 'If you can't cut properly, if you treat your sword like a cruciform baton and consider any forceful touch with it to be a "kill", then I don't know what game you're playing but it's not fencing.' Very simply, if you can't attack cleanly and effectively, you're not a martial artist.
Not wanting to be a crank, he offers us a solution to this problem: cut early and cut often. While most people treat test cutting as an occasional tangent from real training when we feel like having a bit of fun, he advocates making it a core component of training--and not just cutting against easy nothing-targets like pumpkins and water jugs, but against durable, resilient targets that properly simulate people-stuff and will actually make you work for the cut. He's been accused of introducing alien concepts of Japanese Swordsmanship into HEMA, but as more examples of test cutting in Medieval and early Modern Europe pop up, it's clear that this is a practice that is quite appropriate for all of us.
Mike C.'s article, to me, represents the other side of that complaint. He also sees a serious problem in modern HEMA instruction--we really like to armor up to train unarmored combat and feel unsafe without our gear. His message is 'If you can't defend yourself, if you need to wear armor in order to feel protected in a fencing match and have little or no confidence in your ability to defend yourself with your weapon, then I don't know what game you're playing but it's not fencing.' Very simply, if you can't strike without being struck, you're not a martial artist.
Not wanting to be a crank any more than Mike E., he also offers us a solution to this problem: get used to training with minimal gear (eye-protection is the only thing he really advocates). Ditch the armor at times and learn to fence without it. A lot of people do this from time to time, but Mike C.'s advocating this as a core component of training and even the ultimate goal of training. He rightly points out that this requires two different kinds of "getting used to", mental and physical. Mentally, he says that we need to learn to trust our weapon and fence without fear--something that masters from Liechtenauer and Fiore all the way down to Joachim Meyer and George Silver clearly advocate (I'll pull quotes if anyone doesn't want to take my word for it). Physically, he says that we need to not only learn defensive techniques better and drill them hard and often, but also that many of us will probably need to adjust our general styles of fence to something that is less reckless, less exposed, and more stable and controlled (these attributes are also praised by many masters).
Mike C. then takes it a step further; just as Mike E. has been calling for cutting competitions to separate those who can use swords from those who only know sticks, Mike C. wants to see more time and energy spent in reconstructing the historical art of school fencing and more attention given to historical tournaments (which differ greatly from our modern sport of HEMA tournaments in a number of ways). In doing so, he expects that we'll start seeing a separation between those who train real arts of defense from stick-jockeys who train to win points in the ring. He might be accused of an ulterior motive here, since the teachings of Joachim Meyer are both his passion and uniquely suited for such competitions, but there's nothing wrong with that.
I support both of these men in their respective endeavors, and I hope that their experiments outside the HEMA mainstream will feed back into the group and raise the level of us all.
 Suggestions on the back of a post card, please.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

16/01/12 Session - Krumphau

Well, I took this session to get back into the swing of things after the festive season. I felt like someone who had eaten too many roast potatoes lately.

The basic plan for the class was to introduce the Krumphau to the newer people, and to get more experienced people used to the positions, pressures and opportunities that arise in the bind after the krumphau is struck.

At the beginning of the session, Garry led the warm-up and stretch side of things. Which was very nice of him, and a good alternating pattern of jog/footwork/sprint/footwork/jog etc.

After that it was on to the Krumphau. We don’t tend to use that secret-strike very often. Partly because it’s a situational technique, but partly because we’re not comfortable using it yet.

Introduction:This is the krumphau. It’s a downwards cut that falls along the plane perpendicular to the centre-line, and from the right ends in crossed wrists. That’s a definition. You can do it by waggling your sword from Schrankhut to Schrankhut. Want more information than that? Come here and let me show you...

When do you use it? Well, when the other guy is thrusting, or in Ochs. You spring out to the side and let the weight of the sword fall on his hands, or on his blade. Or you can do it if he cuts are you. Theoretically it’s what I should be doing when I get hit by rising cuts up the centre-line. It doesn't work so well against Pflug, because Pflug is structurally strong in that plane.

Practice it against a standing still target. First, practice throwing the point at their hands from a standard Vom Tag, hitting with the flat. Then try hitting them on the blade with the edge of your sword. Remember to spring out to the side and get used to not forcing the blade...

Okay, we've started on dead foundations. Let's start things off by building from that. Mask up. Start well out of distance, and then begin with the Agent entering from the guard of their choice with a thrust to the head or body. Do that ten times, getting used to the movements.

Stage 2, as the thrust comes in, the patient krumphaus, getting used to krumphauing (krumphewing?) to the blade. The agent gets used to the different pressures. Hard and soft. Equally, the patient gets used to the feel of it, whether or not they managed to break their opponent's structure.

Stage 3, mix it up. Game it up. Introduce the concept of tempo to it. When do you want to be beginning the movement of the krumphau? Where on their blade do you want to strike?

Stage 4, introducing decision trees. Just like in a 'standard' bind, there are a lot of different options depending on the circumstances, ie the distance, the pressures, the movement of the fighters. For the Agent, these are mainly either sticking in the bind or leaving it. The basic decisions aren't too different to any other bind - if the opponent is too strong, duplieren behind their blade or leave the bind. If the opponent is too weak, push on through immediately. If the opponent is structurally sound and threatening you, wind like a windy thing. If you're both rushing in, grapple and disarm and throw like a ninja. Simples, eh? He's an example of Pete's old decision tree for the krumphau:
Mine was a mess of lines on a page, all leading to 'Zwerchau like a boss'.

Stage 5 - Show the guys this video:
So yeah - there's the krumphau. Being demonstrated at fairly high intensity. Can we get working up to that speed, if only doing constructive freeplay, if only for five minutes?

Damn right we can. You guys made me proud!

And then some people sparred, and I had a chat with a new person. The End.

No idea what to run next week. Suggestions (and any videos from this session) on the back of a post card please.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Happy New Year!

Well, this is just a quick update to let you know that things aren't dead at IDC. Although we've taken a break for the mid-winter festivities, some of us did get in some fun with sharps last week (although sadly I think that we didn't record any of it). Normal sessions will resume on the 9th.

That said, I'm starting a new job in the morning. Hopefully I'll be back in time. We'll see.

And as for New Years Resolutions, for HEMA I have: