Thursday, November 19, 2009

Class review: 19th of November

Tonight's class was a good review for everyone who showed up; since only a few students showed up last week because of the "November Reading Week" (two days, really), it had been two weeks since anyone had picked up a sword. We went over all of the basics, refined some of our motions (particularly in relation to the correct tempo), and went as far as option three, creating motion.

One thing I mentioned tonight that seems to have frightened a few people was that I would be giving the first rank examination next Thursday at the beginning of class. This is both a formality and a necessity: formality because everyone already knows very well what I'll be testing them on, necessity because no one can free fence without passing this small hurdle. What I'm really aiming for with the examination is to make the commitment to Capoferro's system, which necessarily means abandoning anything that does not belong in it (the actions described in the plates are exceptions to this rule), and improve our skill in that system until we can take on anyone from another school, be they Spanish, Italian, German or self-trained. It's not enough for us to be good fighters; we need to be exemplary fencers. Only then can we begin to branch out and begin to examine other methods of performing the same kinds of actions.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Class review: 12th of November

Things are progressing along very smoothly, now that we are two months into the new curriculum. Since UT students experiencing the first ever November reading break (a whole two days...), only three people showed up to class tonight, but that was perfect for what I wanted to do: run through all of the plates of the single sword in Capoferro (save two). Normally, this is not something I would in class, because it essentially means training the wrong thing, which is a bad thing to do, but it was useful in that it shows some excellent responses to someone doing the incorrect move (i.e. attacking out of tempo).

First, a few generalities:
1) If my opponent and I are point high (i.e. at the throat or face), and my opponent performs a cavazione to strike to the head, I respond by passing in either seconda (plate 9) or quarta (plate 18). In plate 9, a pass in prima is also possible, especially if the person doing so is shorter than his or her opponent.
2) If my opponent and I are point middle (i.e. at the chest), and my opponent performs a cavazione to strike to the chest, I respond by either striking with a firm footed lunge in either seconda (plate 7) or quarta (plate 16).
3) If my opponent and I are point low (i.e. at the flank), and my opponent performs a cavazione to strike the flank, I respond by either performing a scannatura di punta (plate 13) from the outside, or press down his sword from the inside (plate 12).

So, considering the inside and the outside, as well as the height of the point, we already have six contratempo actions to the opponent attacking out of tempo. How many other ways can the opponent strike? Not too many.

If for some reason my opponent attacks very low, in this case with a riverso to the leg, I simply void the threatened leg and thrust right to the face. (plate 8) Throwing a mandritto to the leg is just as, if not more crazy.

Finally, we have gli scansi, the voids. Although I love performing the scanso della vita (plate 19), I find the circumstance in which Capoferro describes very difficult to pull off. Granted, as I discussed with Aldo at the end of class, all of these are moments in time, typically four or five moves into the engagement, so "doing" the play should feel stilted. The two instances Capoferro shows are against a thrust to the inside, either to the chest (plate 17) or to the face (plate 19). More on this to follow, because I would actually like to post some video of this up.

Class review: 11th of November

Wow, what a class last night. I've taught some pretty good classes in the last two years, but last night's class definitely was near the very top of that list. For the first time in a long time, I covered everything I wanted to in the allotted time, and even managed to build on the already complex sequences we were going through at the end of the class.

Because we always warm up with the same drills (cavazione di tempo, the perfect and inperfect spirals, etc.), I'll only mention what was new about last night: more cutting, and their follow-on.

1) Throw a mezzo mandritto (i.e. from quarta) or mezzo riverso (i.e. from seconda) to the opponent's sword to create motion from stillness. As the opponent performs a cavazione to come back on line, exchange guards to either seconda or quarta, depending on which side you started, and thrust in opposition.
2) If the opponent decides to step back with while performing the cavazione, strike with a passing lunge.
3) If as the defender the aggressor passes in seconda, this is an opportunity to peform a scanso della vita, or a scanso del piede dritto if he lunges with a firm foot.
4) If however the aggressor passes in quarta, we'll be looking at a counter-beat followed by a pass in quarta.

Tonight I'll be going through the plates with a smaller group tonight, to figure out the context for each; more on this later!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Class review: 5th of November

Although a bit late, I have the review materials for the class at UT this past Thursday. Despite the peculiar habit of people showing up whenever they want to - class does actually start at 5pm, people - we managed to get through a great deal of material, so much so that we will be ready to fence starting not this Thursday (the 12th), but the following Thursday (the 19th).

So without further ado, here are some of the things we discussed last week:

1) The tempo window: as with every other weapon, be it fist, foot, sword or whatever, there is a good and a bad time to attack the opponent, particularly if the opponent is wielding the same or a similar weapon to the one you are. Dall'Agocchie and Capoferro mention five specific instances in which I can safely strike my opponent. For the sake of simplicity, these five instances can be distilled into one, easy to remember rule: I can only safely strike the opponent when they're busy doing something else, be that changing hand position, stepping backward, performing a cavazione or opposition, cutting, etc. With a thrusting weapon, such as a rapier or smallsword, this window of opportunity is very small, and with an experienced fencer, the window will be almost imperceptible, due to the size of the motion.
The two main drills we have been working on in class, the perfect and imperfect spirals (the former being a strike via a contracavazione, the latter a strike via opposition) work on the assumption that our opponent wishes to defend himself by closing off the line, and it is during this action that we strike. Our two motions together make one tempo, though my contribution to the tempo will be far smaller than his, because the proportion of our actions has changed significantly, provided I have stringered his blade. But...what if the opponent doesn't react? As we saw in class, if I attack out of tempo, my opponent has a contratempo action immediately available to him. Hmmm....
2) Creating motion in the opponent: the simplest answer to our quandary is to make our opponent move, in this case by removing their sword from the equation by way of a mezzo colpo, or half cut, either from the "true side" (a mandritto) or from the "riverse side" (a riverso). I make an angled cut downwards to my opponent's sword to bring it offline, and during his recovery, I perform a cavazione and strike to the other side; simply striking straightaway is actually quite risky, as we have seen. Needless to say, the rapier fight is one of great patience!
3) The cuts: to wrap up this review, I think it would be worth it to discuss the names of the cuts, and diverse angles. There are quite a few of them, and unfortunately, the direct English translations don't flow very well, so we need to learn the Italian for each one.
- Fendente: a downwards, vertical cut.
- Sgualimbro: a downwards, diagonal cut.
- Tondo: a horizontal cut.
- Ridoppio: an upwards, diagonal cut done with the true edge.
- Falso: an upwards, diagonal cut done with the false edge.
- Montante: an upwards, vertical cut, usually done with the false edge.
- Tramazzone: a downwards cut done from the wrist.
In other news, Saturday's class may be moved to 12-2. More details on this later in the week.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Class review: 4th of November

Last night's class, for one reason or another, did not turn out the way I had planned. I had written down a number of things to accomplish - getting through all of the attribute building drills, practicing and perfecting the spirals, beginning the cuts - but we only managed to get through the incomplete spiral drill, with a very brief introduction to cutting.

Since I have already discussed in previous posts the drills that we do in class, I won't repeat them here, but I will make a comment on a little something I realized last night; an extremely obvious little something, but it bears mentioning it for the newer people.

1) Guadagnare: placing my guard opposite my opponent's threat, thereby closing that line of attack. Does not imply an offensive action at all.
2) Stringere: directing my point at the appropriate target (i.e. front shoulder in quarta, rear shoulder in seconda), all while having guadagnare. In this way, my offense is backed up by my defense, and my defense is more effective because an offense is attached to it.

Interestingly enough, each guard offends the opposite target it defends: seconda threatens the rear shoulder while defending the near shoulder, and conversely, quarta threatens the near shoulder while defending the rear shoulder. For whatever reason, people are still under the impression that the near shoulder can be defended in quarta; yeah, not going to happen, because there is no opposition.

More to follow on this after tonight's class at UT.

Three years to the day

Guy Fawkes Day has a very particular meaning for me, despite the fact that I've never been to England, have never burned a Guy (effigy or otherwise), and thought that V for Vendetta was just a decent film; three years ago today, I started fencing at Academie Duello. It seems like such a long time ago, because so many things have happened since then: I became an assistant instructor, got my master's degree at UBC, moved out to Toronto for my PhD and started up a rapier programme at AEMMA. I think it's pretty fair to say that I've been a busy, busy guy in the past three years.

So what does this have to do with anything? People have a tendency to attach a certain amount of importance to certain days of the year - birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and so on - and I am no different. Recognizing that I've fencing for three years has got me thinking about how far I've come, how far I want to go, and how I plan on getting there. So...where exactly do I want to go with this? It has always been my goal to learn the various disciplines of which the Italian school of fencing is composed, starting with Fiore, passing through the Bolognese masters, and finishing up with Capoferro and Fabris in the early 17th century, and that is the goal I am working towards. Being at AEMMA this past year has been a tremendous boon in my understanding and subsequent application of Fiore's art, and I feel much more comfortable now than I did before I came, so much so that I feel ready to challenge for the rank of Free Scholler next September, provided life doesn't get in the way. I've spent a lot of my own time reading, analysing and re-analysing Marozzo's and Dall'Agocchie's treatises, and have achieved a very high level of understanding of them, I believe; I just wish I could find the time to work with someone on them. As for rapier...I'm teaching three times a week, so I'd say I'm doing pretty well.

However, in order to get to where I'm going, I need to really improve my training regimen, which for the moment consists largely of improving my athleticism through weight training and running, as well as perfecting the actions of whatever weapon I happen to be using; I'm missing the key element of a good training partner, whom I can push and who will definitely push back. So...let's go find someone.