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In the beginning was the (s)word, part 4

So we are now half way through the beginners’ course, with no drop-outs. Fully half the course showed up for the basic class on Thursday last week as I mentioned in the previous post, another excellent sign. And though we never require a student to buy a sword, the fact that two of the beginners bought their own brand new and shiny swords this week is another very good sign for their long-term interest.

I try to illustrate the process of learning through continually referring to the base already established, then adding to it. This in the macrocosm, of the material covered in each class, and in the microcosm of each specific technique. And this applies as much to the warm-up exercises as anywhere else. This week we included kicking squats, to revise last week’s new material, but also added one armed push-ups. I think I’m the only one of my colleagues that has beginners doing one-armed push-ups, but it’s really not that hard, if you show them how to build up to it and don’t expect a full, perfect iteration at the first attempt. It’s ok to keep your wight on your feet and use your legs to do the work, so long as you are gradually building up the amount of weight on the arm. Eventually the legs do no work at all. Eventually…

We then reviewed falling in pairs (without a demonstration), before going on to revising the four steps, four guards, and 2 turns that they already know, with only the very briefest demonstration of the components. Memory gets better if you use it – and recognition and recall are two separate processes. We want recall.

I then carefully demonstrated the volta stabile, and we all did them together. After they had done them on their own, we went to the four guards drill. I walked them through it then let them practice. The out came the stick for the stick exercise.

From there we revised the first two plays of the first master of the dagger, before I taught them the roverso disarm as shown in the Pisani-Dossi MS. This took a while as it has a lot of moving parts, but when most of them had it, I took them to the book and Lo! It wasn’t there. Oh no! Am I making shit up? This brought up the fact that there’s more than one copy of the manuscript, and they are different. So I showed them the P-D, and the first two plays of the third master of the dagger therein, and had them do it again.

This brought us to 6.55, and we took up the swords. I had them work on the mandritto fendente finishing in posta di dente di zenghiaro, returning up to longa with a thrust or a roverso sottano. Then the same thing on the other side, so creating tutta porta di ferro. Then we did some basic grip exercises: first, writing your name with the point of the sword, then shifting the sword in the hand, from point on the ground to point up, without flexing the wrist, just using the fingers. Then I had them repeat the cutting exercises, with the image of drawing the lines of the blows in the air, rather than striking. Sure enough it got a lot better pretty quickly!

We then revised the first two steps of first drill, and added step 3, the pommel strike. I then took them to the book to show them the pommel strike done as a counter-remedy- they already knew to look for a master wearing a crown and a garter. But there wasn’t one! The pommel strikes were being done by scholars… so we turned to the mounted combat section and found the 8th play of the sword on horseback, and there he was, wearing the right bling and described as a general counter-remedy. This emphasised to the class that the Art is represented by the whole book- you can’t just stick to one section.

So they did it all again, having seen it in the book, and we were done.

After class, Ville Henell got them all cleaning their swords (good man!) and afterwards no less than four of the beginners came and asked for help with a warm-up exercise. Outstanding. The one they wanted was the whisky and cigars drill (sitting down on the floor with your legs in the air, as if reclining on a leather armchair with a whisky (single malt, natch) and cigar (hand-rolled cuban, of course), and your feet on a silken footstool). We got them all to realise it’s about skill, not raw strength. And guess who’ll find it all much easier next time in class. Fully half the class was still training half an hour after class ended, and I tried to spend some time with everyone.

All in all, they are coming along nicely!



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