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New Beginnings parts 5 and 6

I’ve been rushed off my feet with a plethora of interesting projects, including a card game version of Fiore’s art of arms, an upcoming trip to Oulu, and finding out the hard way that my youngest child is lactose intolerant, so time for blogging has been severely curtailed. I hope that the next few weeks have more free time!

First up, last week’s beginners course. This was week 5 out of 8. We are proceeding apace, and got them through to step three of first drill, as well as introducing the dagger disarm flowdrill. The class ran like so:

In the warm-up I introduced them to the plank, and as a couple showed up late, we reinforced the 20-pushups rule. I ran them all through the 4 guards drill, then the 4 steps and 3 turns, then added the stick. It was a slaughterfest, so I retaught them the aim of the game, and we did it again.

We then rechecked the correct placement of weight on the feet, using pressure, and had them pay attention to it in free footwork practice. Then I introduced them to their tailbones, using the same pressure test to establish the correct orientation of the tailbone relative to the pelvis to most easily transfer incoming horizontal force into the ground. Then I had them pay attention to either that or the weight distribution on their feet while moving around. I like giving students a sense of following their interests, and being engaged with the process of their training.

From there we reviewed the 3 disarms that they know, from 1st, 3rd and 9th masters. Then we put them together into the flow drill. THis went pretty well, and most students could see straight away which was the weakest link, so I then had them train that in isolation. Either the weakest individual technique, or the overall choreography, as they saw fit.

This lead us to 7pm, and swords, straight into the cutting drill, part one. Note that we have now dropped many of the preceding exercises, as a rocket discards empty fuel tanks. After letting them practise for a bit, I stopped them and demonstrated the negative effects of tension when striking, using the tyre. It tends to open their eyes to the Art when they see me strike hard with the sword, without closing my hand on the hilt. The mantra then: “long and low and smooth and clean”…

After some more cutting practice, we went over first drill steps one to three, and then to the book to show them how we justify step three academically. They finished off by going over steps one to three again. I promised them step four next week….

And delivered. Week 6 was a chance to review progress, and make sure last week’s lessons were still in place. After the warmup we did the four guards drill, then reviewed how to find the correct tailbone placement, and then back into the drill, paying attention to the tailbone. I then introduced them formally to our drill (for which I must invent a proper name- if you have any ideas let me know) in which you stand opposite a partner, and with minimum force make him move a foot, while he is trying to do the same to you. The point is to control his force and direct your own. After they had been doing it for a while I demonstrated with a young beginner, who was much smaller than me— and asked the question, how do I get useful training in that set-up? The answer being by using the barest minimum of effort, and letting her push me to the very edge of balance— and running it so close that I would sometimes be forced to step. Then had them seek out smaller, weaker opponents to practise this idea on.

From here I shamelessly plugged my new dagger book, a shipment of which arrived last week, by reading out the instructions for the flowdrill from it, which they then practiced. After which we reviewed the 2nd and 3rd plays of 1st master, then had them break the flowdrill with them.

I then showed them the 4th play, countering the 3rd, in the Book, emphasising the turn of the dagger to counter the lock.

This all took us only to ten to seven, but I figured their arms are getting strong enough for 40 minutes with the sword. Straight into part one of the cutting drill, then we stopped and went over the guards tutta porta di ferro and dente di zenghiaro in some detail, then returned to the cutting drill to practise them in situ. Sure enough the guards were much better.

Then 1st drill, steps 1-3, emphasising that it is “always my turn”: just because it is the partner’s turn to strike does not mean that we stop practising. In step one, if he is attacking with mandritto fendente, I am working on a perfect tutta porta di ferro.

Then the promised step 4, which I demonstrated with a champagne flute. Yes, really. It gave them a familiar mechanic to apply to the unfamiliar technique. Working on steps 3 and 4 took us to time. Only two weeks left, but I expect to have them through the first 7 plays of the first master of dagger, and all four steps of 2nd drill by the end. Watch this space!


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