I have been in Australia for a week now, and enjoying the sunshine (why do I live in such a freezing cold country?), the warmth of which has been eclipsed by the generous hospitality of my hosts. In Melbourne Scott Nimmo and his wife and kids welcomed me into their home with enthusiasm, and here in Sydney I am staying with my old friend Paul Wagner and his wife Julie. It has been wonderful to make new friendships and refresh old ones. But to business:
I am here to teach a series of seminars, the first of which happened last weekend in Melbourne. I had been asked to teach a day of biomechanics followed by a day of syllabus construction. I wish every group would ask for a day of mechanics first! It makes everything else so much easier. The whole weekend was filmed for future reference.
We started by establishing my expectations (everyone finishes training healthier than they started it; if you have a question, ask; no macho bullshit) and introducing the idea of mechanics: grounding, power generation, efficiency, and going through a basic warm-up focussing on the point and purpose of each exercise. The usual 12 minute series took nearly an hour, and laid the groundwork for the rest of the day: take something you think you know and make it better.
We then walked through beginner's course mechanics: finding where your weight should be on your feet, tongue position, tailbone alignment etc. all tested with gentle pressure to allow for systematic correction.
From there we looked at footwork, and how the system is a means of taking natural actions and ordering them so they can be studied, refined and taught. This included the stick exercise and the four guards drill (or the first few steps thereof).
We then looked at holding the sword- I love that moment when a keen and intelligent scholar of the Art lights up with the realisation of two things simultaneously: I've been holding my sword wrong for years; and now I know how to fix it.
The rest of the day was spent analysing the tactics, source and mechanics of the first two steps of first drill. During that time I also went round and did some very slow and careful exercises with each student sharp on sharp, at the end of which they understood at a visceral level why I say “if you haven't done it with sharps, you haven't done it at all.”
The delight for me came from the avid, gleeful way that this group of students, many of them instructors in their own groups, absorbed and adopted what I had come to teach.
This class was all about the syllabus, why it is structured as it is, and how to use it and the tools I have created (the wiki and my books). Only two of the students present had not been there the previous day, and both were quite experienced, so I pressed on without much revision. After the warm-up (which is never just a warm-up) we began with the four guards drill and the first six plays of abrazare, in order and by the book: a lesson if ever there was one in how changing circumstances change your response. His other leg is forward? Then the lines of strength change and so does your exploitation of them.
From there we regrettably skipped the dagger, as no-one had them, and went into part one of the cutting drill, building on the previous day's work. It was necessary to teach from first principles the point and purpose of such solo work.
We then covered the four basic syllabus drills, creating each from first drill using the four-corners multiplier. I then taught the four crossings drill and we used that to create the 3rd play of the 2nd Master of the zogho largo, as another variation on first drill, and thence of course to the stretto form of first drill. We continually returned to part one of the cutting drill to create the memory palace in which to store the material.
With an hour to go I asked them what they wanted, and a few specific questions aside, they wanted more mechanics! That's my kind of group, really: depth beats breadth every time.
A flattering number of the students are making the trip to Sydney- I look forward to seeing them all again tomorrow. The plan is to present an overview of the main mechanics and tactics of Fiore's Art. No doubt I'll let you all know how it went next week.