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In the beginning was the (s)word, part 6

I'm writing this blog post in Seattle, sitting at a table in my friend's house, with a gorgeous view over Lake Washington. Tomorrow I'm teaching a two day seminar for Lonin, then staying on to work with the CLANG team for a couple of days. When I arrived yesterday there was a boxful of my new dagger book, hot off the presses waiting for me. Hurrah! So, back to those beginners…
Last Tuesday marked week six of the beginners' course, and we had a full turnout. As I mentioned regarding last week's low turnout, sometimes that is just a concidence- it's rare for everyone to show up, and sure enough, this week we had 22 out of 24, with the missing pair dealing with a flood in their apartment block (a fair and acceptable excuse).
We began with the warm-up, including the swinging exercise as a way to examine initiation (what moves first), and our favourite three point push-ups. I also included the exercise in which you stand on your left leg, and move your right foot in a clockwise circle, and your right hand in an anticlockwise circle- good for establishing balance and coordination. I also had them go into a push-up position on their hands, then shift to their knuckles, and back to their hands (no actual push-ups yet, just the knuckle position). This establishes a reference point for the right wrist position for striking with the sword, without putting too much strain on them.
We then revised the 3 turns, 4 steps and 4 guards, and the four guards drill, before falling practice.
We then looked at making our partner fall to the ground from posta longa by simply turning their wrist: essentially extracting the mechanics of the disarm that they know, and putting it to use to create a (very artificial) takedown. From here we went straight into the first master dagger disarm, and then the fifth play of the first master (an arm break, where you grab the attacker's wrist and elbow). We then did that with one arm, aka the third play (ligadura mezana), and then applied the same mechanics to the takedown (7th play). By stringing the techniques together like this, the common mechanical thread is clear, and so picking up the techniques as variations on the same idea becomes pretty easy. we then looked at The Book, to see these techniques in context, after which the students picked the one they found the hardest to practice.
this allowed me to notice and correct a common, general error (as opposed to a technique-specific problem): the way they were doing the initial cover. They practiced that correction, then we finished up this section with the dagger disarm flowdrill.
All this took only 55 minutes. I remember teaching a comparative seminar with my colleagues Kaj Westersund, Ilpo Jalamo and Petteri Silenius, years ago, while they had decades of teaching experience and I only a few years. The thing that struck me was that somehow they could get their classes to do much more stuff in much less time than I could. I don't mean that they crammed their classes, just that the students were able to absorb and use more material in less time. It feels like I'm progressing as an instructor to see how much faster my students are picking up the material. It has a lot to do with how the material is organised and presented, I think.
Anyway, the class now picked up swords, we saluted and got started on mandritto fendente (donna-longa-zenghiaro), then roverso fendente (donna-longa-tutta porta di ferro). One round of each, and then part one of the cutting drill. Once the choreography was re-established, we did the series of grip handling drills that I taught them in week 4, and then went back into part one to practice keeping a relaxed grip in a set solo drill context, so using the drill as a place to go to practice a specific skill.
We then went through first drill, step-by-step. This was revision. What with all the new dagger material, I felt their capacity for new techniques was already stretched far enough.
This crop of beginners is remarkable for their training attitude- almost all stayed for a while after class, the last ones leaving at about 8.45 having spent much of that time actually training. Some even had the nerve to ask me for specific help, which resulted in me working one-on-one with them, not biting their heads off (rest of class take note).
As I'll still be in Seattle next Tuesday, Ilpo Luhtala will be covering the beginners'class, and I've asked him to spend much of the time on revision, but to include the 3rd and 4th plays of the first master of dagger. This to prepare the class for my taking them through second drill in one go in their final, eighth, session.

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