While waiting for the snow to melt so that I can finally get around to shooting photos for the Jeu de la Hache book, I thought I’d get around to finally finishing up the curriculum guides for the school.
There are three basic guides for the Apprentices, the abrazare, daga and spada longa guides, respectively. Each one is focused on the respective portions of Fiore’s art that (and this part is important) I think are fundamental knowledge. Following in Fiore’s method, I build on each successive guide. Therefore the grappling guide comes first, followed by the dagger and sword guides. Spada una mano, lanza and azza guides are also in the works, and possibly a spada en arme guide if ever there is enough interest by the student body (which seems unlikely, given the prohibitive cost of armour). I think maybe a stretto guide would be a good addition as well. Damn. More projects. There is a Companion rank guide in the works, but it’s such a huge undertaking, it won’t be done in my lifetime.
This brings me to an interesting set of observations. These guides have been in the works for literally years. I’m sick of seeing the files on my hard drive! But that’s not really what I observed. What I observed is the evolution of the school and its curriculum through the various iterations of the guides. It began as one huge guide, then got splintered. I went from trying to put all relevant information into it to simply putting what was necessary as a memory aid, with the rest being fleshed out in class. I went from trying to replicate an entire grappling system from Fiore’s principles to simply including a few techniques and principles. I went from a bunch of techniques to simply using set play and flow drills that build on each other. 4 or 5 set play drills should showcase the entire core of the system.
So am I watering down my teaching? Perhaps, but I don’t think so. Am I simplifying it? Hell yes. The Companion rank is supposed to act as two things: a formal admittance into the ranks of the school members as well as an acknowledgement of having met certain basic requirements. For me, it means I know that people know what an acressere is and what a gambarola is. It means that they can adopt posta di donna when I ask them to. Does it make them fearsome warriors? Not in the least. Does it mean they can even fight? Not really. Ultimately, of course, the goal is the capability of fighting, but that’s not the be-all and end all of what we do. We train for the art’s sake in itself. The very practice of the Art is a physical, mental and spiritual exercise in which we should revel. Kicking butt just adds to the fun.
Returning to the question at hand, which was basically: did I devalue the curriculum and/or the ranks? Definitely not. Many different groups have many different methods of training, and I simply evolved from one to another. Instead of having students perform “play one” then “play two” etc., now we can string them together in series of plays, building up the drill. Different methodologies, not better nor worse. As an example, I had a student not long ago tell me we used to do much more footwork than we do now. I thought it was an interesting comment, since I disagreed, but decided to ponder it some. The answer isn’t that we do less footwork, we arguably do more, it’s just that it takes a different form. Rather than do dedicated footwork drills (as in put one foot in front of the other for fifteen minutes), I integrated footwork into other drills. Poste dances, dagger drills, etc. The footwork is implicit, rather than explicit. Sometimes the weapon serves as a distraction, other times a reinforcement. Different, not better nor worse.
In fact, I could systematically replace every drill in the curriculum with new ones that respect the mechanics of the system, but embracing a new training paradigm and the results would be largely similar.
So as I sit here, grasping my head in pain from the massive undertaking of once again going through the curriculum guides to update them and hopefully finally get them out, I can console myself in the fact that I continue to progress and change, rather than stagnate. The day I stop thinking about what we’re doing and the best ways to achieve those goals is the day I should put down my sword and go home. So while yes, we are in a constant state of flux, the core material hasn’t changed, only the manner in which we train it. That diversity is our strength, and should be embraced.
Now that I’ve put up this blatantly self-congratulatory post, I’ll go back to stroking my ego over the keyboard as I comb the guides for the umpteenth time.
Oh, and by the way, more dedicated footwork drills will be forthcoming, dear students. Patterns of footwork. You asked, I answered…