Start of year musings…

If you read my titles, it would seem that all I ever do is endlessly muse over things.  While that is true, ocassionally I do actually perform an action or two.  The beginning of the year has been no exception.

First off, I’ll take a few moments to welcome our newer students.  Five at last count, counting three youths.  Not bad.  We’ve also semi-officially moved away from a ‘semester’-based program to a progressive entry, where people can join at any time and we will be able to integrate them.  This has been largely because of some reorganisation of the class structure, which while mostly transparent to the students, has been quite good on my end.  In essence, the first part of our Wednesday class has become “fundamentals” where we work on fundamental aspects of Fiore’s art – stance, footwork, mechanics, poste, basic grappling, basic dagger and set-plays, basic longsword and set plays, etc.

After this first portion, the second half of class is for slightly more advanced work, alternatively being sword in one hand (I’ll get to that in a moment), free training (where there is supervised training of whatever students want and/or need), study groups (for Bolognese, for instance) and light freeplay.  That last part is something we have not focused on, since it is my feeling (and mine alone) that sparring introduces artifacts and deforms technique to the point of unrecognisability.  The fact that our students are appreciated wherever they go and make a fine showing of themselves is testament to the fact that training works.  It may be slower, it is definitely more methodical, but it works while still preserving form.  I’m happy with the way we do things, but feel that a bit more play is necessary from time to time to pressure test technique and form and for students to get a feel for how they perform outside of a drill.  And note that by freeplay, I include controlled dills at speed with decision-making, etc.  It doesn’t always have to be a fight.

These past two weeks have been once again a return to grappling basics.  Grappling is, at least for me, a very very complex subject, and one I find hard to build a solid curriculum for.  There are so many things to contemplate, that it boggles the mind.  Do I focus on only Fiore’s techniques?  Do I introduce a full grappling system filled with frog DNA from other systems (western wrestling, greco-roman and even judo and aikido come to mind)?  Questions questions, always questions.

My answer is to well, wing it.  Yes, you heard me.  I think everybody needs a solid foundation in the basics – breaking structure, balance etc.  This is what we practiced.  We also integrated those principles into some throws and takedowns.  Fiore’s grappling has the added complexity of being done at different measures.  It’s not always about the clinch and the pummeling.  Takedowns occur at several different measures, for instance the canonical gambarola takes place from close body contact, but the first master of dagger has a gambarola that is done from the cover.  A reverse takedown (or diving throw ) is done from differing measures and using different weapons.  So when approaching grappling, there is alot of ground to cover.  fortunately, we have years and years to practice all this.  But I digress.  I wing it.  Every time we practice, I try to identify a weakness in our fundamentals and work on it.  This means that we practice less the canonical plays than we likely should, but it also means that students will have a better grasp of the concepts once we do.  Everything is a trade-off.

So with that in mind, I borrowed a kuzushi drill from judo, basically paired walking.  The aim is to create an unbalanced situation by following the movement of our partner.  We then add to the drill by putting hands on (did I mention we did this with our partners holding us only?) and accentuating the unbalance.  This alone can sometimes lead to a fall.  To complete the exercise, we then moved on to variations of the gambarola, whereby you can do it moving back, sideways and forewards on both sides, always in response to your partner’s movement.  We then did it again using variations on grip: double collar grip (posta frontale), belt and elbow grip (porta di ferro), and then a neck and elbow grip (posta longa).  And I must admit, it went marvellously well. I think they’re getting it!

Last week, we did something similar, but with a shoulder throw.  I wanted to go in a slightly different direction with what is essentially the same drill as above.  Instead of varying grip, I had students vary foot placement in relation to the Companion.  Placing your feet in between the Companion’s legs yields one throw, while placing it deep to the outside yields another.  Finally, placing one foot in between the feet and the other to the close outside yields more of a takedown than a throw, more a “half hip” shoulder takedown.  Foot placement invariably leads to positioning vis-a-vis our partner, and so takedowns and throws of different amplitudes result, as well as different directions.  Instructive all around, I think.

Finally, we began our sword in one hand curriculum in the second half of class.  Since most of them already have a good grounding, it went well.  Initial things like poste were easy to get through, as well as their tactical usage and the differences from their 2 handed counterparts.  Basic mechanics for attacks were covered, both thrusts and cuts, which we will revisit later.  I mostly wanted to get into the meat of the subject: the universal parry.

We worked the parry versus a fendente mandritto, both with and without a pass and both to the inside and outside of the sword in response to pressure and/or positioning.  We then incorporated the same precise parry versus a roverso.  I illustrated the descending roverso versus the fendente roverso, but preferred they continue to practice the rising sottanomezano cut as a parry, placing the point in their partners’ face while controlling the hand or elbow.  The beauty of the roverso is that he gives you his outside at the outset.  Dumbass.  In short, the defense versus a mandritto finds you underbound, and transporting his blade to an overbind, whereas the defense versus a roverso generally should result in an overbind from which you work.  If he’s really hard in the bind, and tries to set you aside, you can still yield to pressure and go to the inside line.  The key to much of the sword in one hand (as in the sword and buckler of I.33, as my understanding goes) is the control of the weapon hand, either with your own hand or with the buckler.

Next week, I think we’ll continue with the universal parry against all manner of cuts and thrusts, as well as do it from all the poste on the left.  This should get most of the students functionally capable of defending themselves versus all manner of attacks in short order.  Then the real work will being – the rest of the material, and there is much of it.  I am of the firm belief that the spada a una mano section is simply what you can do in addition to what you already know about the sword in two hands.  And let’s not forget the equestrian section, folks.

More later.  Happy New year.