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Every evening, before class, the salle is cleaned by the students. Usually this entails just a swift floor-mopping, done more for show than effect. Last night I arrived early and was cleaning the bog. It seems that none of my students are really bothered by the gradual accumulation of filth, and so it tends to be me that clears the drains, cleans the toilet etc. That by itself doesn't bother me so much, but I was amazed by the way that as they arrived, almost none of them got the idea that the salle wasn't clean enough and not even the usual floor mopping got under way without my  pointing out that it needed doing. I despatched a senior to get the downstairs hall floor done. The eight or ten students left just milled about doing nothing. So when 6pm came, and the guys downstairs cleaning the hall weren't finished, I delayed starting class till they were. And made some remark about teamwork. Cue a mad dash to the door, followed by a steady trickle back as they realised that it was just a two-man job.

Swordsmanship is a solitary pursuit. There is no team in the duel. You're on your own.

But this doesn't mean that we as a school don't need each other, and should be better at working together. So I ran a fairly hard warm-up, emphasising exercises done in pairs (shin pushes, leg swings, push-ups where one lies on his back with his hands up, the other clasps hands and they alternate- the one above does a push-up, the one below a bench-press type action). We then did sit-ups as a team- all together, in pairs with ankles lonked, all together in a double line, doing them in synch, clapping palms with the partner, and introducing a medicine ball passed back and forth up and down the line. I then devised a whole lot of dagger drills done in small teams (of 2, 3 or 4), such as dagger collection- only strikes with the dagger to the mask count, and cost a push-up when hit. You also lose your dagger. One member of each team held the collected daggers, but could not strike (the “armoury”). If the armoury is holding multiple daggers, and is hit, the team loses all of them. The team that ends up with ALL the daggers wins, and assigns push-ups to the losers. So the best teamwork lead to the least push-ups.

The sit-up exercise introduced the idea of rhythm, so the rest of the class was spent looking at tempo, and especially setting up an expectation of a certain timing in your partner and then changing it to catch him wrong-footed. We started with simply repeated attacks, with varied timing, then altering the timing of the parry, then a parry-riposte flowdrill with changes of rhythm, then looking at counter-selection as regards timing (some actions take longer than others- after your attack is parried, parrying the riposte takes less time than entering for a pommel strike, for instance).

So, a bit of a crap start led to a pretty good finish.

I'm sure you have an opinion: do share!

One Response

  1. As an aside, I don’t think you’re correct that swordsmanship is a solitary pursuit. Swordsmanship is always practiced with a partner, whether cooperatively in training or antagonistically in a duel (or competitative bout). Can you really call yourself a swordsman without having faced another?

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