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Tag: exercise

In “Following my own advice” I described how I try to get something important done every day before checking emails. In that post I rather blithely referred to concentrating on ‘creating assets’, and loosely defined assets as “anything that adds value to your life. Value in this case is usually either money, or reputation, or both.”
I’ve had a lot of interesting feedback on the post, mostly through my mailing list (feel free to join below), and one point that came up more than once is that I didn't define ‘assets’ clearly enough, so I thought I’d go through in detail what I think I should be spending my time on.
You spotted how I carefully did not say “you should be spending your time on”, right? As ever, take my advice with a sceptical mind, and discard anything that doesn’t work for you. One big caveat: being self-employed means I have a dick of a boss who never gives me time off or a raise, but I can choose literally anything to work on. That's both a blessing and a curse.
Here is the Master Asset List, my top three assets, in order of priority.

1) Mental Health
Every experience you will ever have is mediated and experienced by your consciousness. There is no experience so blissful that you can’t be miserable during it, and no experience so awful that bliss is impossible. Perhaps the best single resource on this is Sam Harris’ book Waking Up, closely followed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book Flow. The key elements to my mental health are:
1. My relationships (primarily wife and children, other family and close friends, everyone else).
2. Meaningful work. Like writing this blog post. Or the next book. What makes it meaningful for me is its ability to transform other people’s lives for the better.
3. Meditation. I meditate every day, and have been doing so (with more or less regularity) for many years. The last year or so has been especially difficult (see here for an idea why), and one of my coping strategies has been to get a lot stricter about doing my meditation every day. It helps. I’ve written a short guide to getting started if you want to try it out.
4. Fun. Much underrated, but it is critically important to kick back and have fun often. Never underestimate the power of silly.

All the rest of these assets listed below are only relevant or useful because they affect my state of mind. It’s easier to be mentally healthy when you’re physically healthy and not worried about money.

2. Physical Health
“If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything.” Count Rugen was a villain, but he spoke truth here. Physical health rests on two foundations: what you eat and how you move.

Diet: I’ve written up my approach to diet in lots of places, including here, here, and here; and it can be summed up as:

  • learn to cook
  • avoid sugar
  • eat lots of vegetables
  • pay attention to high quality fats, and
  • fast every now and then.

That's a very big topic dismissed in a few lines, so do check out those links if you're interested.

Exercise: How you move… hmmm, I wonder what kind of exercise a professional swordsman would recommend… ok, start with looking after your joints (here’s a free course on knee maintenance), and carry on by finding any physical activity that you enjoy, and do it regularly. That could be walking the dog, ballet, rock-climbing, trapeze, anything. Some activities are better adapted for long-term health than others, but if health is your priority you can probably avoid most of the damage that might be done during the less conservative activities. I’m a big fan of breathing exercises, as you probably know; they are the foundation of my movement practice, and they are specifically designed and intended for promoting health.
An imperfect plan that you actually follow is way better than a perfect plan that you abandon, so it’s much more important to find something fun that keeps you moving, than it is to find the ‘perfect’ health-giving exercise. Moving your body should not be a chore.

Sleep: The best single source on sleep matters (and sleep does matter!) is Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep. In short, the more and better you sleep, the longer you live. Good sleep is really the ultimate time management strategy because it a) buys you more time because you live longer and b) makes your waking hours vastly more productive.  There are so many factors affecting sleep that it would take a whole book to go into them (like Dr. Walker’s!), but I’ll summarise the main things that have helped me:

  • Avoid caffeine for at least 12 hours before bedtime. Yes, 12 hours. I only drink coffee at breakfast. Caffeine kills deep sleep.
  • Avoid alcohol, or at least get it all out of your system before bed. Alcohol kills REM sleep.
  • Keep the bedroom dark, cool, and quiet.
  • Stop eating at least 3 hours before bed. A full stomach affects sleep quality.
  • Nap, but not too long or too late. eg 30-60 minutes at 2pm.
  • All screens off at least an hour before bed, and screens after 8pm are set to ‘Night Mode’, cutting down on blue light.

I could go on, but you get the picture. As with everything, experiment to see what works for you. I track sleep with the OURA ring, but you can use other tools, or just notice how you feel in the morning. Top tip: if you need an alarm to wake up, you haven’t slept enough.

 

3. Money
Once your mental and physical health are being attended to, then the next big thing is money. Money worries are truly toxic to your mental health, and can poison every aspect of your life. Think of those bankers jumping out of windows during the Great Depression, all because some numbers on a bit of paper were not the way they wanted them. Weird, huh? But real. Just choosing not to worry is an option, of course, but it's much easier for most people to actually do something to reduce expenditure and increase income. Incidentally, my favourite money blog is Mr Money Moustache. He's refreshingly unapologetic.
I should point out that I am by no means rich- I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of months since I became an adult in which I had enough cash in the bank to cover the next month’s bills in advance. This is because I have always, always, put time-rich ahead of money-rich, on the grounds that you can always make more money but when time is spent, it’s gone for good. My first salary as a cabinet maker was £6000 per year. I learned fast enough to double that in two years. Woohoo! And swordsmen these days don’t make much cash either.
In Finland, people’s tax returns are actually in the public domain- you can literally walk into the tax office and for a small fee get a copy of anybody’s. Let me save you the bother: here’s mine from last year in case you’re interested.
But, and here’s the big BUT. Since the beginning of 2015, I’ve been effectively living off passive income. My books and other assets generate about enough money to live on, month by month. People buy my books and courses while I’m asleep. And, given that I’ve never made a lot of money, I’ve never become addicted to a large and regular income, so it took relatively little time or effort to get to the point where my assets were generating enough income to cover all normal expenses. This means that I am now much freer to choose the things I spend my time on. Like taking all day Wednesday off this week because it's my daughter's birthday and she has stuff planned from dawn 'till dusk.

In short, my work priorities are:

  1. do I think it's important, in terms of serving the art?
  2. will it be good for my reputation?
  3. will it force me to acquire new skills?
  4. will it produce passive income?
  5. is it scalable?

Let's take those one at a time:

1. Serving the art: In my experience, every single time I've tried to be ‘businesslike' and put what should be a sensible business move in place it's gone horribly wrong. But when contemplating a course of action if I can look into my heart and say ‘yes, this will serve the art', then it's always turned out ok (even if it hasn't made any money).

2. Reputation: Not every asset generates income: some generate opportunity. When The Swordsman's Companion was published in 2004, it made me no money at all (there’s a story there, but after suing the publisher, part of the settlement included a mutual non-defamation agreement. Make of that what you will). But that book put me on the map as an instructor. I suddenly started getting invited to events to teach, which massively broadened my horizons. Students from all over the world started to get in touch, having heard of me because they found my book in a bookshop somewhere. My Singapore branch came into being because Chris Blakey and Greg Galistan stumbled upon my book in the Borders Bookshop there. And when the rights reverted to me in 2012, I self-published it, and now it pays the mortgage.

3. Acquire skills: Time spent working on skills is never wasted, especially skills that you learn for their own sake rather than for a specific objective. Because whatever skill you are learning, you are simultaneously learning how to learn, and, more importantly, if you’re learning for its own sake you are putting process over outcome. Let’s say I learned to speak German because I wanted a job in Germany. If I learned German but didn’t get the job, the time would have been wasted, and I wouldn’t take full advantage of being able to talk to Germans in their own language, to read German books and watch German films. But if I learned German for its own sake, and it happened to lead to a job, well that’s a bonus.
A skill become an asset when they add value to your life. I really cannot think of a single skill I’ve ever regretted learning. And I can think of several that I learned ‘just because’, that then turned out to be professionally useful. Martial arts being the obvious example- I didn’t even think of turning professional until 2000, and I had about 15 years of training under my belt by then!

4. Passive income: There is nothing wrong with being paid for your time. And nothing wrong with being productive. But even in the classic model of employment, you’re supposed to retire at some point and live off your pension. Your pension is created by investments that pay you a passive income. This is how people in professions like dentistry can end up retiring in comfort- they make a good income per hour, being paid by the hour, but use a big chunk of that active income to buy assets (such as stocks and funds) that produce a passive income.
A passive income is defined as income that requires no work on your part whatsoever. If you are packing and shipping your own books, that’s not passive income. If you have to be in a specific place, or awake at a specific time to get paid, that’s not passive income. When I am faced with a choice between producing something I can get paid once for (a woodworking commission, a writing commission, private lessons, seminars etc), or producing something that will generate a passive income stream, even a small one, then I will tend to choose the latter.
Perhaps the most outrageous examples of this choice comes from the original Star Wars movie. Carrie Fisher sold her image rights outright for a sizeable chunk of money. Over a thousand dollars, I think, way back in the 70s when that was worth something. Alec Guinness got paid royalties. Guess which one did better? There was a lot of luck involved, but if you don’t have passive-income producing assets that might go all Harry Potter on you, then it cannot ever happen.
Let’s put some numbers on this. The Swordsman's Companion makes about 10,000 dollars a year in income for me (it’s my best-selling book by a margin!). To generate similar returns, I would need at least 200k in traditional assets. Here’s an article on how that would work. If anyone wanted to buy that book off me outright, I’d therefore ask for at least 200k. Nobody in their right mind would offer me that much, so the book stays with me. Folk might stop buying it tomorrow. But folk might still be buying it in 50 years time. There is no way to know, and that is true of any asset. Stock markets crash like Italian drivers. There is no such thing as a perfectly safe investment- even cash loses value over time. My mother in law saved for a pension for 30 years- and just before she was due to retire, the fund (Eagle Star) crashed and she lost the lot. Nothing is safe, so the only sane course is diversification, which is why you can buy my books on any platform, in any format- so long as people still want to read about how to train with swords, they will be able to buy my books on the subject.

5. Scalable: A scalable asset is one which you create once, and can sell an infinite number of times. I have spent most of my working life producing non-scalable assets. Back when I was a cabinet maker, I would work for hours and hours on a piece of furniture, which was then sold. As a martial arts teacher, I would teach a class, which existed only in that moment. I got paid for that moment, but that was it. There is nothing wrong with this model if you have the energy to work full time forever, and never get sick. A non-scalable asset might produce passive income, but you can still only sell it once. A house that you rent out is a good example. It can be an excellent passive income stream, but you can only rent the house out to one tenant or group of tenants at a time.
A book is scalable- you write it once, and when it’s published people can buy as many copies of it as they want. You don’t have to write each reader a new book. An online course is scalable too; create it once, sell it as many times as you like.

Ideally, my most productive time is spent serving the art, building my reputation, learning skills, and producing scalable assets that produce passive income.

So, that's how prioritise my time; how do you prioritise yours?

This will be my last post this year, so let me close by wishing you a Merry Christmas, and a happy, mentally, physically and financially healthy New Year!

“If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything!”

Truer words were never spoken, certainly not by Count Rugen anyway.*

Way back in the dawn of time when I began training martial arts, I was enraptured by the idea of martial arts training being a balance between breaking people and fixing them, by the notion of the martial artist as a healer as well as a warrior. This is one of the reasons I was drawn to T’ai Chi; it is usually associated with healthy practice. And it’s why I was so taken by Tai Shin Mun kung fu (you can read more about that here). I literally owe my career to the not-so-tender ministrations of their instructor, Num, who fixed my wrists for me back in 2000.

This is the background behind my obsession with mechanics and correct movement. Not so much for martial efficiency, though it certainly does that, but more because I want to be able to train until I die (sometime in my early 100s). I am blessed with a crap skeleton, which creaks and breaks and sends lances of agony up my spine if I fail to keep up my practice, or if I practice just a little bit wrong. Blessed because it has forced me to learn absolutely correct movement, which has in turn allowed me to share that knowledge with my students, freeing many of them from long-term pain, and undoing, or at least halting, the damage caused by poor mechanics.

I cannot abide the idea of anyone who needs this knowledge not having free access to it, certainly not for such a poor reason as lack of funds, so I have extracted the essentials from my footwork course, shot some extra footage, and put together a short ‘keep my knees working forever’ course. The course is 100% free and without strings attached. I want you to be healthy. Go, be healthy.

http://swordschool.teachable.com/p/free-course-knee-maintenance

I am also planning a weapons-handling course, which will include forearm conditioning and maintenance. I’ll release the essential health component of that course free too, so you can keep your arms working properly despite the depredations of computers and couches.

It was my birthday yesterday, and I intended to launch this then (I approve of the Hobbit custom of giving presents on your birthday), but I was sadly too busy opening presents, drinking wine, and generally having fun, so it's an early Christmas present instead.

*if you don't know who Count Rugen is, you very badly need to drop what you're doing and watch the Princess Bride. See here:

safety-guidelines-cover

Safety Guidelines for the Practice of Swordsmanship

These safety guidelines come from my Recreate Historical Swordsmanship from Historical Sources Course and have been adapted from The Duellist's Companion, The Swordsman's Companion, and The Swordsman's Quick Guide part 1: The Seven Principles of Mastery. All of those books are included as downloadable pdfs in the additional course material.

Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nothing without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end.

Edward Whymper’s admonition, from Scrambles amongst the Alps, elegantly encapsulates the correct attitude to all potentially lethal activities. Substitute “practice swordsmanship” for “climb”, and there is the correct mindset for any swordsman, beginner or expert. Take it to heart before you start training with a partner.

When training with weapons you hold your partner's life in your hands. This is a sacred trust and must not be abused.

Disclaimer: I accept no responsibility of any kind for injuries you sustain while you are not under my direct personal supervision. During this course you will be taught how to create safe training drills, and I am certain that if you follow the instructions there is a very low likelihood of injury. But if I am not there in person to create and sustain a safe training environment, I cannot be held responsible for any accidents that may occur.

Principles

The basic principles of safe training are:

  1. Respect: for the Art, your training partners, the weapons, and yourself.
  2. Caution: assume everything is dangerous unless you have reason to believe otherwise.
  3. Know your limits. Just because it’s safe for somebody else, does not necessarily mean it’s safe for you. Never train or fence when you are tired, angry, or in any state of mind or body that makes accidents and injuries more likely.

Most groups that keep going for more than a year have a pretty good set of safety guidelines in place. Make sure you know what they are, and follow them.

My senior students routinely train with sharp swords, often with no protection. That’s not as dangerous as it sounds, when you remember that they have been training usually for 5+ years at that point, under my supervision.

Safety first: you cannot afford time off training for stupid injuries. Life’s too short. Whatever training you are doing must must must leave you healthier than you started it. You will not win Olympic gold medals this way, but you won’t end up a cripple either. The path to sporting glory is littered with the shattered bodies and minds of the unlucky many who broke themselves on the way. Don’t join them.

Every time I find myself teaching a group I don’t know, I tell them that the class will be successful from my point of view if everyone finishes class healthier than they started it. Most injuries in training occur either during tournament (highly competitive) freeplay, or are self-inflicted during things like warm-ups. In my school (and other classes) we have a zero tolerance policy on macho bullshit. If any exercise doesn’t suit you, for any reason, you can sit it out, or do some other exercise. If you are sitting it out, a good instructor will ask you why, and help you develop alternatives or work up to the exercise in easy stages, but will never pressure you to do something that might injure you.

This is also true of work-related injuries, like forearm problems from typing, or the ghastly effects of sitting all day. By avoiding the things that will hurt you, you will naturally seek out the things that are good for you. Hungry? Avoid sugar, avoid processed foods, and lo! there’s a fresh salmon salad. Tired? Sleep is better than barbiturates, no?

This requires good risk-assessment skills (I recommend Against the Gods, the Remarkable Story of Risk, by Peter Bernstein) and the courage to take risks that truly serve your overall aims. A safe life is not worth living, but foolish risk-taking will not make your life meaningful.

Try adopting these key habits:

  • Before any new activity, do a risk/reward calculation. How risky is it, and how
    rewarding?
  • Practice saying no to training suggestions: even safe ones. Most people do stupidly
    risky things due to peer pressure. Being able to say no to your peers is perhaps the most important skill in reducing injury rates. If this is hard, make it a habit to decline at least one suggestion every session, until it’s easy.

Equipment

Without doubt the single most important bit of safety equipment is good common sense. Fence according to the limits of your equipment, exercise control and respect the weapon at all times, and you will never have a serious injury. Minor bumps and bruises come with the territory.

There were some masters who believed that the safest course is to fence with sharp weapons and no protection. This is how it was often done in the past until the invention of fencing masks (though there are tournament records and declarations as early as the 14th century that record the use of blunt practice weapons; King Rene d’Anjou’s treatise of 1470 is perhaps the best source). Such masters are right in theory, in that freeplay with sharps is the best way for students to learn absolute respect for the weapon, and the importance of absolute control. There are a few contemporary masters with whom I will fence like this, and there is nothing like it for generating a perfect fencing approach. But try explaining that to the insurance companies, or in the event of a slip, the police or coroner. It was often said in the eighteenth century that you could tell a fencing master from his eye-patch and missing teeth. Never forget that even a blunt blade can break bones. When free fencing, or when practicing drills at speed, it is essential that you wear appropriate safety gear. You do this not for your own sake, though self-preservation does come into it, but for the bene t of your training partner. Your protection allows him to hit you safely.

Choosing protection is a very controversial subject. Too little, and you can end up badly hurt (even in practice). Too much, and you can’t fence properly. Firstly, it is important to establish what style of fencing you will be doing. If you are practising armoured combat, then buy the best fitting, best made armour that you can from an armourer who knows how you intend to use it and has seen what you want to do. This is the hardest style of fencing to appropriately regulate, because accurate technique requires you to go for the least armoured spots (throat, eyes, armpits, joints), but safety requirements obviously prohibit that.

As a general guideline, I recommend the following for most weapons.

  1. An FIE standard fencing mask. This allows you to thrust at the face (a very common target), and generally attack the head. This does have three major caveats. Firstly, it leaves the back of the head open, and you must be very careful not to strike at this target. An added apron of thick leather affords some protection. Secondly, it does not protect the head and neck from the wrenching force of over-vigorous blows. It is vital that you and your opponent learn control before engaging in freeplay. Thirdly it is designed to protect the face from high-speed, light, flexible weapons, not slower, heavier, rigid ones. So continually check them for wear, and make absolutely sure that your weapons are properly bated.
  2. A steel or leather gorget, or stiff collar, to protect the throat. Points can slip under the bib of a mask and crush the larynx.
  3. (For women) a rigid plastic chest guard.
  4. A point-resistant fencing jacket rated at least 500 newtons. Sturdy, preferably padded and/or armoured gauntlets, which should extend at least four inches past the jacket cuff to prevent points sliding up your sleeve. I have twice had fingers broken through unpadded mail gloves, and now use a pair of fingered gauntlets from Jiri Krondak, which cost about 150€.
  5. A padded gambeson, or a plastron. If you are making one yourself, bear in mind that it should be thick enough to take the worst out of the impact of the blows, and prevent penetration from a thrust. All openings should be covered. The collar should be high enough that thrusts coming under the bib of the mask do not make contact with your throat. A plastron must wrap around the ribs, and properly cover the collar bones and shoulders. I usually wear a fencing jacket and plastron (as pictured).
  6. A box for men (called a “cup” in the US). You only forget this once.
  7. Rigid plastic protectors for the knees and
  8. For the elbows, of the sort worn by in-line skaters (worn under the
    clothes for that period look if you prefer), will save a lot of pain, and some injury.
  9. Footwear: on the matter of footwear, few practitioners agree. In the longsword treatises, there are no heavy boots, and certainly no built-up heels.  For a completely historical style, it is necessary to wear completely accurate period clothing at least occasionally, because it can affect the way you move. It does not matter much what you wear on your feet provided that you understand grounding, body-mechanics and footwork, but attaining that understanding is much easier barefoot or in very thin flat soles. Excessively grippy soles can lead to joint injury as you may stop too suddenly, or get stuck when you should be turning (particularly in falls at close quarters). The dangers of wearing too slippery soles are obvious. In the salle I usually wear medieval shoes or ‘barefoot’ shoes (aka five-fingers, or ‘toe shoes’), and recommend a thin, flat sole regardless.

The Sword

Training swords come in three main types. Authentic sharp reproductions, which are used for cutting practice and some pair work with advanced students, blunt swords that try to reproduce the handling characteristics of the sharps, and fencing swords that are designed to make fencing safer. These all have their pros and cons, and you should use the sword that’s right for your style and the kind of practice you will be doing.

It’s perfectly all right to use a wooden waster or something similar to start with, but do not imagine that there is any such thing as a safe training sword. Even modern sport fencing blades engineered for fencing sometimes break and puncture people, and anything heavy enough to reproduce the handling of a medieval or renaissance sidearm is going to be able to do damage.

For specific details on choosing a sword, please see Choosing a Sword, which is included in the additional material on this course.

Looking after your weapon is largely a matter of keeping it dry, clean, and free of stress risers (a stress riser is a weak point, usually a deep nick, which encourages the blade to fold at that point).

Occasional rubdowns with a moisture repellent oil and steel wool or scouring pad, followed by a coat of microcrystalline wax, should keep the blade and hilt clean (follow manufacturer’s recommendations if you have a gilt, blued or otherwise ornamented weapon). Do not be afraid to file down any large nicks, and file off any burrs: this is important from a safety perspective, as the blade is most likely to break at a nick, and burrs can be very sharp. The edges of a blunt weapon should always be kept smooth enough that you can run your bare hand hard up the edge and not get scratches or splinters. Even the toughest and most cherished sword will not survive repeated abuse: the best guarantor of longevity for your sword (and yourself) is correct technique.

Rules of Engagement

Once you have agreed to fence with someone, it is important to agree on rules of engagement. This is partly to ensure safety, and partly to create an environment in which you can learn. The two most simple rules are these:

  1. Confine permitted actionss to the safety limits of your protective gear
  2. Confine permitted actions to the technical range of the least trained combatant. In other words, do not allow face-thrusts when wearing open helms, or throws when one of you is not trained to fall safely. The rules can be adapted further to develop specifi aspects of technique: for instance, you may not allow any close quarters work at all, or even restrict allowable hits to one small target. The idea is to come to a clear, common -sense agreement before facing off. You are only ready for no-holds-barred, totally “authentic” fight simulation, when you can enter such a fight with your judgement unimpaired.

Following the rules of engagement will not make you soft, nor will it dull your edge if it comes to the real thing; rather it it will develop self-control.

These rules apply to all fencing:

  1. Agree on a mutually acceptable level of safety.
  2. Wear at least the minimum amount of safety gear commensurate with rule 1. Confine allowable technique to those within the limits of your equipment.
  3. Confine allowable technique to the technical ability of the least trained
    combatant.
  4. Appoint either an experienced student or one of the combatants to
    preside over the bout.
  5. Agree on allowable targets.
  6. Agree on what constitutes a “hit”.
  7. Agree on priority or scoring convention in the event of simultaneous hits. Usually it is better
    to allow a fatal blow before a minor wound, but simultaneous hits should be avoided whenever possible.
  8. Agree on the duration of the bout either in terms of hits, such as first to five, or in real time.
  9. Acknowledge all hits against yourself. This can be done by raising the left arm, or by stopping the bout with a salute, or by calling “Halt!” and telling your opponent where and how you think she hit you.
  10. Maintain self-command at all times.

Safe Training

In my experience most injuries are self-inflicted. It is far more common for students to hurt themselves by doing something they shouldn’t, than to hurt their training partners. Here are a few simple guidelines for joint safety, which should be followed during all training. I am using the lunge as an example of a stressful action, but these principles apply to any physical action.

  1. The knee must always bend in the line of the foot. Knees are hinges, with usually a little under 180° range of movement. The do not respond well to torque (power in rotation). So whenever you bend your knees, in any style for any reason, ensure that the line of your foot, the line of movement of your knee, and the line of movement of your weight, are parallel. This prevents twisting and thus injuries. This one simple rule, carefully followed, eliminates all knee problems other than those arising from impact or genetic disadvantage.
  2. Whenever performing any strenuous task (such as lunging, or lifting heavy objects), tighten your pelvic floor muscles (imagine you need to go to the bathroom, but are stuck in a queue). This supports the base of your spine, and helps with hip alignment.
  3. Joints have two forms of support: active and passive. Passive support refers mainly to the ligaments, which bind the joint capsule together. This is basically set, and can’t be trained. When training your joint strength, with exercises or stretching, avoid any action that strains the joint capsule. Any action that causes pain in the joint itself should be modified or avoided, as it may damage the soft tissues (ligaments, tendons, cartilage). These tissues have a very poor blood supply and hence heal very slowly.
  4. Active support refers to the muscles around the joint, and these can be strengthened by carefully straining the joint with small weights and rotations. To strengthen a joint you must stress these muscles, without endangering the ligaments. Any competent physiotherapist can show you a range of exercises for building up the active support around your knees, wrists and elbows, where we need it most.
  5. Rest is part of training. Your body needs time to recover, and is stimulated by the stress of exercise to grow stronger. However, the body is efficient, and will withdraw support from any muscle group that is not used, even if for only a few weeks. So regular training is absolutely crucial.

If you can’t lunge without warming up, don’t lunge except in carefully controlled drills. Warming up is essential before pushing the boundaries of what your body can do.

 

If you find this advice sensible and useful, please feel free to share it as widely as you like!

If you would like these guidelines as a handy PDF, then drop your email in the box below and I'll send it to you.

 

Halloo!

 

I am 42 years old today. As everybody knows, the Meaning of Life is forty two, so a post on the Meaning of Life seems apt.

What then have I learned in 42 solar sojourns? (Other than to insert Monty Python, Douglas Adams and Blackadder references wherever possible?)

Pay close attention, because this is important. If there is ONE BIG THING I have learned, it’s this:

Love is not the main thing. Love is not the best thing. Love is not the most important thing.

Love is the ONLY thing that matters.

That’s it.

Love your spouse, children, family.

Love your friends. They’re the family you choose.

Work for love. Not necessarily do work that you love. That’s great if you can get it. But work for love. Work to get money to feed your kids. Work to get money to feed other people’s kids. Work because the work itself is worthwhile whether you enjoy it or not.

But do it for love.

Love yourself. The best way to do that is to show love to the people you care about. That will feed your soul like nothing else. But also look after your body and your mind. You deserve it.

It's probably better to do the wrong thing, from love, than the right thing from any other motive.

And tell me these pics made by my kids don't make you go ahhhhhh:

By Katriina By Grace

I am writing a short book at the moment with the working title “How to Live Long and Prosper”. (Star Trek references are good too.)

It will cover my best advice on how to live. It has five basic practices:

  1. Spend time with people you care about. (Love.)
  2. Do things you find meaningful. (Do them for love.)
  3. Think right. (Love your mind.)
  4. Eat right (love your body, part 1)
  5. Exercise (love your body, part 2)

And then a whole lot of ideas, principles, and practices to make those five easier. My go-to strength training exercises; my favourite meditations; that sort of thing. This will be backed up by the research I’ve done over the last couple of decades, much of it distilled from the works of better scholars than I. Studies of centagenarians, for instance.

I’ll also look at money, how to manage it, and what it is actually for. This has been a critical skill for creating a decent quality of life from a swordsman’s income. Because once you clear away the inessentials (anything that is not about love), then it becomes much easier to make good long-term financial decisions, which will indeed help you to prosper.

I will spend today with my wife and kids, also meditating and exercising, and eating good food, and in the evening I'll go to the salle and teach and advanced class. Following my own advice, in other words. Talk about a happy birthday!

And in case your day needed cheering up:

Arriving in Wellington

I travel a lot, and by the end of this year alone I'll have been to Finland, Germany, Canada, the USA, New Zealand, Singapore and Australia. That's a lot of time zones. Fortunately this is not new for me, and I’ve been working on solutions to jet lag for many years. Here are my top seven tips.

1. Morning routine

The blogosphere abounds with morning routine advice. Really, from Tim Ferriss (it’s a question he asks every guest on his really interesting podcast) to this great article on BrainPickings  it would seem that all the major players have a set routine.

The problem has been that my days vary hugely. From the times that my kids have to be off for school (0745 some days, 0840 on others), to the amount of my energy it takes to get the little beasts fed and dressed, every morning is different. I have found that having a set morning routine made me fragile; if anything derailed it, then the whole morning (my most productive writing time) was shot. Instead, I have developed a more flexible approach, and can switch on productivity mode pretty much instantly. However, this autumn, having to operate professionally after a 30 hour trip on a 10 hour time zone shift has made me create one.

The point of a set morning routine is to make my body associate specific stimuli with a certain time of day. My current morning routine looks like this:

  • Wake up, and immediately go into a new breathing exercise, which I got from Wim Hof (the Iceman). It starts with 15 deep slow breaths, then 30 hyperventilations, then hold empty for as long as possible, then breath in and hold for 15 seconds, then breath out. I usually do 1-3 sets, and some gentle push-ups and stretches, often during the hold-empty phase.
  • Then I do a few kettlebell overhead presses with either my 16kg or 24kg bell.
  • This is followed by a nasal rinse and teeth brushing, then a cold shower (yes, really). Either a cold-only shower, or if I'm feeling a bit delicate, a cold-hot-cold shower.
  • Then breakfast, including coffee. This is the only time of day I drink coffee (it keeps me awake otherwise), so that by itself is a clear indication that it’s morning.

As you can see, that’s a pretty strong set of stimuli, none of which require special equipment except the kettlebells. I am also pretty strict about the rest of the day; Earl Grey at about 4pm, for instance. Lots of little triggers that tell me what time it is, and trick my body into believing it.

2. Naps

The problem with jet lag is fatigue, which is best cured by sleep. It doesn’t matter so much what time of day I’ve slept, so long as I’ve had enough in the past 24 hours. One of the privileges of my job is that I set my own schedule, and I almost never work in the afternoons. They are for playing with my kids, reading, or naps. I usually nap at least twice a week. This means that I can sleep in the afternoon at the destination without it telling my body that it’s night time, so it doesn’t interfere with my time adjustment.

3. Get ahead of the curve

The moment I get on the first flight of the trip, I set my watch and all other clocks to the destination time. Then I am careful to follow the proper routines for the time of day. So dinner on the aeroplane might be called “lunch”, or even “breakfast”. And sleeping on the plane, which I’m not great at, is either done at “night”, or is an “afternoon nap”. This means I’ve been adjusting to the new time zone for at least a full day before arrival.

4. Noise cancelling headphones

Oh my. These make such a difference. I was deeply sceptical until a friend of mine in Singapore (Chris Blakey, top chap), suggested I try them. They massively reduce the background noise on the plane, making sleep much easier, and reducing fatigue (again, the real problem of jet lag). I wore out my first (cheap) pair in about 7 years, and bought myself a pair of the Bose QuietComfort 25s in Sydney. Something about the exchange rates made these half the price there that they are in Europe! And the sound reduction is STELLAR. They also make watching movies on the plane much nicer, as you can really hear every bit of the soundtrack. Quiet and very comfortable!

Sorry! Can't hear you!

 

5. Melatonin supplements

I tried these for the first time on a trip to New Zealand in 2015, and they were great for getting me to fall asleep at the necessary time. One of the curses of jet lag is waking up too early, after not enough sleep. These seemed to put me right back out again, in about 10 minutes, without any of the side-effects or other problems of sleeping pills (which I never take). At 13 euros for 30 pills they are not cheap, but they paid for themselves in sleep on the first day.

6. Eat early

I got this idea from Dr. Rhonda Patrick on Tim Ferriss's podcast. Basically, your muscles have a metabolic clock in them, which is strongly affected by the timing of your meals. Eating early, and leaving a solid 14 hours between last bite at night and first bite in the morning, co-ordinates the metabolic clock with your circadian rhythm. You know the feeling of being awake, but your body seems to be still asleep? This knocks that right on the head. I was astonished at the difference it made the first time I tried it.

7. Sunlight.

This is so obvious I left it out of the first version of this post, but I shouldn't have. Get sunlight in your face in the morning of your target timezone, and avoid it in the afternoon and evening. It makes a huge difference; the slowest t jet-lag recovery I ever had was after a return from Seattle to two weeks in the UK where I didn't see the sun once, it was cloudy the whole time. It was awful.

I hope you find this useful, wherever and whenever you travel!

One of the great advantages of being a professional swordsman in the 21st century is that nobody can reasonably expect you to be normal. As you might imagine, I engage in all sorts of odd behaviour, in the name of good physical and mental health, above and beyond simply swinging swords around in a historical and martial manner. Of course I do meditation and breathing exercises, nothing unusual there. And all sorts of physical jerks, push-ups and whatnot. That’s not odd, really: million of people do those. But these three habits are the ones that our current culture is most skewed against, and so by that standard count as weird.

My top three bizarro practices, from a 21st century perspective, are:

1) Avoid sugar.

Reading up on the effects of refined sugar has lead me to believe that after smoking, our addiction to the sugar high is probably the worst thing we do to ourselves. Why is it that we can control and tax alcohol and tobacco as legal luxury drugs, and not do the same to sugar?* Since cutting the sugar high out of my daily routine and relegating it to occasional treat status, I have tightened my belt by two notches, and most importantly, have stopped crashing in the afternoons. It used to be such that when teaching all day, I would have to dose up on sugar in mid-afternoon to function. Now that does not happen; nor do I need a sugar fix to teach in the evenings. We just got through the week-long Fiore Extravaganza, the most exhausting seminar of the year, and I went from start to finish without ever getting seriously physically tired. That’s absence of sugar for you. It was my one most serious cause of chronic fatigue. And it’s in everything! Read the labels on your food; maltodextrin is one of the very few chemicals with a higher glycaemic index than glucose; high fructose corn syrup does not belong in the human body at all; sucrose, dextrose anything with -ose on the end, it’s all poisonous shit.

And starch is sugar too, sort of.

About 5 years ago I found out that I am allergic to wheat, which lead me to naturally cut out a lot of starch; (until I found all these excellent wheat free breads, beers, pastas etc.). It is very hard to eliminate wheat from the modern diet; our entire economy has been based on wheat for three thousand years or so (much like the USA’s is based on corn). Simply cutting wheat did wonders for me, if not for the ease with which I can find food I can eat. Cutting out all other starch sources (pasta, rice, potatoes etc.) has also been hugely helpful; I don’t avoid them the way I have to with wheat, I just don’t eat them that often; about once a week or so. Starch breaks down very quickly into glucose, and thus behaves much like ordinary sugar. I eat enormous amounts of proper vegetables instead, usually fried in olive oil and garlic, often with bacon…

Recommended reading: Gary Taubes; also Tim Ferriss on the Slow Carb Diet.

2) Squat.

Squatting on a rock. Note, not actually having a crap.
Squatting on a rock. Note, not actually having a crap.

Really it’s astonishing when you think about it; about half of all my beginners cannot squat on their haunches. In other words, can’t take a dump properly. For millennia, mankind have crapped in the woods and fields, and squatted down to do it. Now we enthrone ourselves in porcelain splendour, and grunt and strain to do what should be easy.

Squatting should be a natural rest position. The human body is built to stand, lie down, and squat. I often squat down to play with my kids, read a book, wait for a bus, whatever. Any time my legs or back are tired, I squat. People look at me funny. I don’t care. Chairs are a recent, very welcome and excellent in their place, invention; but healthy they ain’t. Inability to squat is a modern phenomenon, with hard-to-measure consequences. But I always find a bin or a block to prop my feet up on when having a crap; it puts my legs in a much more natural position. One of the advantages of having little kids is that  there are standing blocks in our bathroom anyway, so the kids can reach the tap; these do double duty as footstools in the bog.

Recommended reading: an amusing article in Slate magazine

On a related note, I have played around with flat-soled shoes for years; heeled shoes are needed for riding with open stirrups and not otherwise. Though they can be gorgeous, modern heeled shoes are simply bad for most peoples' back, legs and feet. Barefoot is better. And on a recent trip to Verona to see my friends fight in the Tourneo del Cigno Bianco, I tried out my medieval shoes in the medieval town, and found them to be a perfect compromise between the ghastly modern barefoot shoes, and decent leather ones. With thin flexible leather soles, they are now my normal footwear in all non-freezing weather. I have yet to find a good flat-soled winter boot, and this being Finland, WINTER IS COMING. Any advice?

3) Unplug.

Outside. You can't beat it.
Outside. You can't beat it.

When I was working as a cabinet maker, and more so now as a hobbyist, I use machines to do the grunt work, and hand tools for the interesting and enjoyable stuff. Machines get the job done; tools make the work a pleasure. For some people, using an electric drill is a step too far towards mechanisation (see Tom Fidgen, for example); for others, they love the roar as the planer starts up. I am making the distinction not on the grounds of the machine itself, but on the user’s relationship with it. Machines to save labour, tools to enhance it. Can you imagine a woodworker who allowed remote access to his table saw? To allow his customers, or friends even, to determine when it’s on and when it’s ok to turn it off? No, me neither. So why do we feel that our friends, co-workers, or clients should have any say in when our own personal pocket phones are to be on or off? Or how often we should check our emails? It’s madness! When I feel like my phone is a tool, a pleasure to use and a thing that is making it easier for me to achieve my ends, I have it on. Otherwise, I turn it off. I check my email when I feel like it; every hour or so when I am eagerly awaiting a message from an old friend about something I care about; every day or so just to check in on whatever things other people might want from me. But sometimes not for a few days, or even a week. And you know what? As nobody’s life depends on my work, nobody has yet died for want of an email from me. Your situation may be different, but ask yourself this: what's the worst that could happen?

There are some people for whom I am always on call. My wife, my kids, my siblings and parents, and maybe five or six close friends. They can demand my immediate attention at any hour, though with the exception of my kids they wield this power with commendable restraint. The rest of the world, even those lovely people who buy my books, come to my classes, those on whom my livelihood depends, of which group I assume you, as a reader of my blog, are likely a member? Nope. Sorry. There is nothing truly urgent in the world of swordsmanship. By all means contact me, I'm happy to hear from you. Just don't expect me to reply immediately.

Recommended reading: none. Go outside and play instead. Or pick up a real book.

So, there are my top three. Bear in mind though, that these are habits, not laws. I don't expect hosts at a dinner party to cut sugar for me; I do sometimes wear my utterly fab and lovely heeled shoes; my favourite armchair has an imprint of my arse deeply worn into it. And I have been known to check email when I should not. Part of my approach to life is the idea that habits have deeper consequences than one-off or rare occurrences; in swordsmanship training, in health matters, and in general. One cigarette won't kill you, but smoking probably will. I never follow any training routine religiously. For some people, whatever behavioural changes they try need to be thought of as laws, or they find they slip back into bad habits too easily. Do what works for you, and let healthy habits be their own reward. I don't know who's reading this, but I'm pretty sure you're a decent person who deserves to be healthy.

You can’t make a living by cutting sugar, squatting, and turning off your phone. You can just make your life much, much healthier. Which makes for a better living.

So, what are your top stay-sane-and-healthy tips?

*In Finland, sugar in candies is taxed as a luxury, but not in doughnuts, cookies etc. And taxed at the point of sale, not at the point where the food companies buy it. I'd like to see sugar-containing food of any kind sold separately, and all taxed like single malt or cigars. It would be too damned expensive for food manufacturers to get us hooked with the white stuff. We'd all be healthier for it. And the taxes would pay for the insulin, cardiac resuscitations, cancer wards and other medical expenses that our illnesses from our sugar fixation require. Let sugar be the new nicotine!

I have just come back from teaching seminar in Oulu, a charming little town in the North of Finland. Friday afternoon was spent doing game development with our game designer for the new card game, which is coming on very nicely. I was asked to run a conditioning class before the intermediate class that evening, and it seemed to me most useful to skip the usual jumppa* nonsense, and actually teach the people present something useful. We ran through the beginning of the basic warmup, and then spent 25 minutes working on the basic push-up. We separated the push-up position from the motion, and took them separately. We used a spear or long stick to establish a straight line between heels, hip and head. The stick should touch the back of the head (chin tucked), the middle of the thoracic spine, the tailbone, and the heels. Having found the position, the trick is to keep it as you go down. For most people during the push up the relationship between body and stick changes. It should not. We did this in pairs, one person spotting the other.

Then it was time to look at the stabilisation of the scapulae. We established the correct relationship of the scapulae to the spine, for the purpose of generating force forwards, and then found that everybody was breaking that connection when going down in the push-up. We practiced the motion standing up, and established that everybody could do it properly when there was no stress on the system. So then we did it against a wall, again spotting each other. We then tried to do the push-up correctly, keeping the scapulae stable, up from start to finish. As expected, nobody could do it. But they all understood why they should train towards it.

Then it was time for squats. Mechanically, the squat is a lesson in the correct relationship of spine, hips, knees, ankles, and feet. Leaning forward has no place in a good squat. So we did them facing the wall. Knees should not go forwards over the toes. So we did them in pairs spotting each other. Chins should not come up, so we did them with plastic drinking glasses held between jaw and chest. To help with this we also did Pythagoras stepping. By the end of the 45 minute class, everyone had a new understanding of the mechanical depth of our basic warmup, and seemed to be very keen to develop perfect push-ups and perfect squats.

This was followed by an intermediate-level class. I think it came as something as a shock to most of those involved, throwing them in the deep end as it were. But while many of them may have had trouble keeping up, none drowned. We started with the cutting drill as usual, and then worked some of the approach variations using the pell. This broke them out of the set-drill mentality, and set them up to work on the first couple of steps of first drill.  Entering into measure to strike, without leaving an opening of your opponent to exploit, is tricky. We train this by allowing the defender to enter with a thrust to the face if you leave the opening. Ideally, the attacker will either leave no opening and force the parry, or deliberately invite the defender’s entry onto his prepared defence. We gradually increased the level of complexity to eventually allow the defender to enter, parry and strike, or counter-attack as he saw fit, and the attacker to either invite the entry, feint to generate the parry or the counter-attack, and in each case ideally to strike.  Of course they swiftly stopped paying attention to blade relationship.  So we threw that in there.

We used this escalating complexity to find areas of weakness in the group as a whole and in the individual swordsmen, and allowed time for the students to correct their own personal weaknesses, using their knowledge of the syllabus.  We also emphasised having one student up deliberately coach another, so it was absolutely clear who was training what, with what specific, measurable goal.

To calibrate the machine, or zero the scales, we returned to the basic form of first drill exactly as we would find it in a basic class. Of course, if first drill is done correctly, the set response to each step is the only correct one.  Which means that the attack must leave no opening, the blade relationship on the parry must lead naturally to the second play of the second master of the zogho largo, the pommel strike must be the only reasonable continuation, and structured such that the defender’s own pommel strike is the only reasonable solution to it.  Not impossible, just very difficult.  This prepared them nicely for the rest of the weekend, in which we covered much of the basic syllabus, returned to intermediate level training on Sunday morning, and ran through quite a bit of the basic sword and buckler syllabus on Sunday afternoon. I may write up my notes on this, but have last month’s seminar in Kuopio to do first.

All in all, I was very impressed by the level of training that the Oulu branch was able to absorb, with even the beginners doing a pretty good job of keeping up, while I beat the hell out of the seniors who seemed to relish the challenge. This was an exhausting pleasure, from start to finish.

*jumppa is a very useful Finnish word for general calisthenics, or jumping about for health and fitness. Something I do as little as possible, preferring skills that happen to make you sweat, like swordsmanship training, to mindless exercise.

One thing I have never done before is keep an exact record of what I (and others) teach over the eight weekly sessions of a beginners’ course at the Helsinki branch of my school. Of course it is never exactly the same twice; every group is different, and as we usually have only two such course a year, there is time for my opinion to change about what are the essential first steps. The two critically important things are these: that I show them a clear and accurate picture of the Art that I serve, and provide a safe welcoming environment in which to learn. That way, if someone comes to try this path, and finds that it is not their thing, then the Art has not lost a potential exponent, but gained one more person who has seen and done, and knows that this is real and alive.

This year’s Autumn course was fully booked; we cap it at 24, and thanks to two cancellations being matched by two late registrations, we were able to accommodate everyone. I always get there early for the first class, as one or two students, not wanting to be late and having made an unfamiliar journey, tend to arrive very early. Our first arrived at the same time I did, a full hour before class. All I tend to do is point them to the changing rooms, and if they start extending fingers towards swords they don’t own, gently steer them away.

At 6 on the dot (by the salle clock, which is and has always been five minutes early to discourage lateness), I called them together, and gave a short speech of welcome, in which I a) praised them for finding the place; b) pointed out that salle time is different to Helsinki time; c) told them what I expect and require from them: that they behave at all times as reasonable adults; and d) explained the one rule: EVERYBODY MUST FINISH TRAINING HEALTHIER THAN THEY STARTED IT. No macho bullshit allowed. If your knees won’t do squats, leave them out. Then we went for a short walk around the salle, where I pointed out things like the kitchen, the office, which rack they should take weapons from, etc.

This introduction took about 5 minutes. I then had them spread out for the warm-up, in which I went through everything slowly, and taught the more complex exercises (squats, push-ups, starfish, roll and up): I included a very brief demo, and one thing to watch out for when practising.

This segued nicely into the basic falling exercise, starting on their knees. We were very full so I had them pair off, with one student spotting for the other, and giving a gentle nudge to indicate a safe direction to roll into.

This was followed by “how to NOT fall”, starting with finding the best part of the foot through which to root the weight. One student stands with their weight on their heels, feet shoulder width. Their partner gently presses in the centre of their chest, to check how stable the position is. Then the weight is shifted a little forwards on the foot, and check again, etc etc. After five minutes everyone in class has some idea of where their weight should be for maximum stability. And the idea of checking everything, and finding what’s right for them, is established. I could just tell them where to place their weight- but this is much more effective at getting the message across, and the correct technique is learned without ever being taught.

From here we grabbed an imaginary Ken’s throat to create posta longa (I got to grab the real Ken’s throat, of course!), and passed back and forth across the salle. Then a quick trip to the book to see that this extended -arm position is “historical”; a short word about how the guards are the ways by which we define and measure movement, and I gave them the other three guards; first zenghiaro, then porta di ferro and frontale as a pair.

Having given them four guards, it made sense to give them the four steps; one they already knew, the pass, plus tornare, accrescere and discrescere. I spent very little time on the terminology, and plenty on having them actually do the steps.

I finished off this section (it was almost 7pm by now) by giving them 2 minutes by the clock to practice and remember what they had learned. A nasty trick, as it proved beyond reasonable doubt that they could practise on their own, unsupervised, for two minutes— and so could do that easily every day between now and their next class.

I then took them to the rack and showed them how to take a sword down without blinding anyone, and when they were all armed, lined them up and taught them the salute. From there, we split up into two groups, one watching and the other doing, and had them swing the sword from shoulder to shoulder, relaxed and easy. While they were doing this I directed them to swing the sword at head height. Once both groups had a few minutes of this, I took the first group four by four up the salle, swinging the sword and allowing a step to follow it. Pretty quickly this segued into the whole class swinging four by four up the salle. There was the usual mix of initial errors, of course. By far the hardest part of my job is to shut up and let them get on with learning, rather than badger them with corrections. It was rewarding to see some of them start out and get their feet mixed up… then correct it themselves without my intervention. I stopped the class to give them all one extra thing- the line the blow should pass through, slicing with the edge from jaw to knee. And then carefully did not make any corrections while they absorbed all this.

With about 7 minutes to go I brought them back to the book and showed them that they had been doing mandritto and roverso fendente, from posta di donna through posta longa. I saw a couple of light-bulbs go off. And noticed that the first time they had come to the book I was given a wide berth, lots of personal space; by this time they were more relaxed, and were crowding in to see the book. They then had another five minutes to go back to the swinging/cutting drill, knowing what they were actually practising.

We finished with the salute at 7.30, of course.

In all it went very well, not least as 23 out of 23 (the 24th emailed in sick and will join us next week) filled out their course membership papers and handed in our half of the form that very night. Several stayed and practised until about 8, the last one was out the door a full hour after class had ended.

A very promising beginning!

Every evening, before class, the salle is cleaned by the students. Usually this entails just a swift floor-mopping, done more for show than effect. Last night I arrived early and was cleaning the bog. It seems that none of my students are really bothered by the gradual accumulation of filth, and so it tends to be me that clears the drains, cleans the toilet etc. That by itself doesn't bother me so much, but I was amazed by the way that as they arrived, almost none of them got the idea that the salle wasn't clean enough and not even the usual floor mopping got under way without my  pointing out that it needed doing. I despatched a senior to get the downstairs hall floor done. The eight or ten students left just milled about doing nothing. So when 6pm came, and the guys downstairs cleaning the hall weren't finished, I delayed starting class till they were. And made some remark about teamwork. Cue a mad dash to the door, followed by a steady trickle back as they realised that it was just a two-man job.

Swordsmanship is a solitary pursuit. There is no team in the duel. You're on your own.

But this doesn't mean that we as a school don't need each other, and should be better at working together. So I ran a fairly hard warm-up, emphasising exercises done in pairs (shin pushes, leg swings, push-ups where one lies on his back with his hands up, the other clasps hands and they alternate- the one above does a push-up, the one below a bench-press type action). We then did sit-ups as a team- all together, in pairs with ankles lonked, all together in a double line, doing them in synch, clapping palms with the partner, and introducing a medicine ball passed back and forth up and down the line. I then devised a whole lot of dagger drills done in small teams (of 2, 3 or 4), such as dagger collection- only strikes with the dagger to the mask count, and cost a push-up when hit. You also lose your dagger. One member of each team held the collected daggers, but could not strike (the “armoury”). If the armoury is holding multiple daggers, and is hit, the team loses all of them. The team that ends up with ALL the daggers wins, and assigns push-ups to the losers. So the best teamwork lead to the least push-ups.

The sit-up exercise introduced the idea of rhythm, so the rest of the class was spent looking at tempo, and especially setting up an expectation of a certain timing in your partner and then changing it to catch him wrong-footed. We started with simply repeated attacks, with varied timing, then altering the timing of the parry, then a parry-riposte flowdrill with changes of rhythm, then looking at counter-selection as regards timing (some actions take longer than others- after your attack is parried, parrying the riposte takes less time than entering for a pommel strike, for instance).

So, a bit of a crap start led to a pretty good finish.

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