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Sleepless in Seattle

I have just come back from a very enjoyable and productive trip to Seattle, perhaps my favourite American city. The trip was organised around a weekend seminar for Lonin, and included some consulting work for the CLANG computer game.

I arrived at midday on Thursday, working on a 10 hour time difference. I was met at the airport by Eric and his two adorable little boys, age 2 and 4. Having duly inspected various lego contraptions and pronounced them without parallel, we went to lunch, where I got to not be in charge of the kids. So, all the fun of major kid chaos, and none of the responsibility. Lunch done, Eric dropped me at Neal’s, where my room was filled with cardboard boxes: a case of my new dagger book, a year’s supply of cigars from bestcigarprices.com, and a gigantic bit of Pilates kit for my wife.  I arrived in plenty of time for Neal’s book club meeting. The kitchen gradually filled with startlingly clever chaps, all bringing food and wine. This the kind of book club where, if you haven’t read the book, it really doesn’t matter- the book is just a starting point for conversation, liberally lubricated by the noble grape. My kind of book club, in other words. After a couple of hours of thoroughly civilized conversation and a glass or two, I crashed early, and was duly woken by the time difference at about 5am. This was all to the good as it meant I was up in time for Lonin’s early-bird Friday practice at their salle in SANCA. In this case, only Neal and Eric showed- I’m guessing the other students were saving themselves for the weekend. So Neal and Eric got some one-on-one, then we returned to Neal’s and I spent the morning catching up with emails and updating this blog, then lunch, a nap, and off into town to run some errands; notably finding a birthday present for my wife, posting off the dedicatee’s copy of my dagger book, and posting off the rondel daggers I made for Bob Charrette. I met Neal and his lovely wife Ellen for dinner at Sitka and Spruce, and thence off for a pint at the Pine Box, then reasonably early to bed.

Work began in earnest on Saturday morning. We loaded up the car with swords and were there at the community centre gym by 0930. Class started at 10 (while there were a few folk trickling in- I’ve never seen the slightest need to wait for late people- why should those who arrive on time be inconvenienced by those that don’t?), with a salute and a warm-up, then the four guards drill. The class was made up of mostly Lonin students, with four brave souls down from Canada; twenty in all. It was pretty obvious that though the Lonin students had seen the drill before, nobody knew it. This is normal, as until it is taught from first principles, most people who are using my syllabus but not under my direct instruction don’t understand the role of the solo drills. But 10 seconds of watching them work on it let me know pretty much exactly what we would be covering over the weekend. I spent much of the first morning on the first play of the first master of dagger, starting out in a set, formal, basic version, and building complexity into the drills gradually and systematically. We then moved on to the longsword cutting drill, and the longsword first drill. After lunch (an incredible feast organised by the redoubtable Eric) we went back to work on the cutting drill and the basic pair drills, first setting them up, then applying variations- especially looking at starting from way out of measure and moving smoothly forward without creating an exploitable tempo.

Class was followed by an informal dinner get-together at Eric’s (for which many thanks, especially to his delightful wife Michelle and the two rambunctious little pirates for giving there home over to a horde of smelly swordsmen), and quite early to bed (again!).

Sunday’s class began with the warm-up and a review of the dagger and longsword material from Saturday’s session, punctuated by a minute’s silence at 11am, to mark Veteran’s day (Remembrance Day in the UK). When a debt cannot possibly be repaid, all we can do is acknowledge it. I realised afterwards that two of the students present were veterans themselves, as they both expressed appreciation for the gesture. The rest of the morning was spent working on freeplay-type drills, as diagnostic tools and feedback mechanisms. By the end of it, everyone present could use freeplay to assess a weakness, find drills from the syllabus to address the problem, and return to freeplay to asses whether the fix had taken.

This lead us to lunch, after which it seemed that everyone (except me of course!) was knackered. Ideal circumstances for slipping in some serious mechanics training- finding and strengthening groundpaths, and finding more efficient ways to move. This included such stalwart favourites as the stability drill. What with questions, answers and revision, that took us nearly to the end of the allotted time- but I managed to squeeze in a few examples of reverse engineering any Fiore play from the syllabus- a student would pick a play at random, and I showed how to create it by discrete, syllabus-lead adjustments to first drill.

All in all, the seminar went extremely well, and I think everyone present got the training they were ready for.

That evening a few of the students, and the redoubtable Ellis Amdur (a terrifyingly good martial artist) and his super-glamorous wife Mageli Messac joined us for pre-dinner oysters, geoduck sashimi, and wine at Taylor Shellfish, before an absolutely first-class dinner at Terra Plata. I was pretty shattered by this stage, but had a marvellous evening nonetheless.

Monday morning had a blessedly slow start, before meeting the CLANG crew at 1030  to help them with their user interface for the game. Basically they wanted to spreadsheet the optimum guard relationships, and what could be done from each guard, and in which guard various blows ended up, and other Fiorean details. It was a very useful exercise for me, to have to think about Fiore in spreadsheet terms. We finished up for the day about 1530, giving me enough time to rest up before teaching the evening class at Lonin, where we covered part two of the cutting drill in some detail before sloping off to the pub.

Tuesday started with a two-hour private lesson for Eric, then back with CLANG for a few hours to finish off, not least going over the crossings of the sword. Class that evening was run by Neal (doing Victorian stick exercises and indian clubs, lots of fun) and Nathan Barnett (an old friend I had not seen for about 8 years, who now runs a fabulous little B+B) who ran a basic cutlass class. It was delightful to be just following orders, not having to think about what was coming next. Off to the pub again (of course!) then home at a reasonable hour.

Wednesday was basically free, so I met up with Ellis for a spot of duck in a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant that rivalled the ones I’ve eaten in in Singapore, and some martial arts chat, and then off to see Neal at Delve Kitchen, a simply incredible operation that is at the forefront of modernist cuisine. They were testing blenders- by blending golf balls. Yes, really. I don't think I've ever seen so many astonishingly intelligent young men in one place before, having so much fun wrecking stuff. It was a blast!

A little last-minute shopping, and home to pack. Not a small operation, given those blasted boxes. Some down-time and then my last class for Lonin, where we went over the dagger disarm flowdrill (see p125 of the book) and part two of the cutting drill again, this time as a circular drill. Lots of fun. Then, you guessed it, off to the pub, but a different one this time, more of a beer-gourmet-bar. Heavenly IPA to ensure a restful slumber.

Thursday morning we just had time for a one hour private lesson for Neal, and then off the the airport and home on Friday morning.

In every respect, personal, professional, culinary and cultural, an excellent trip. Thanks are due to all the students who made my classes such a pleasure to teach, to Eric for organising the whole thing, and to Neal for putting up with my turning his home into a post-office.

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