Sunday, September 30, 2012

Why Should They Pick Up a Sword?

A few months ago I was in a demo team meeting and trying to develop a presentation for the archery program, and Devon asked me to say a piece on the program:  what it is, what we teach, what the focuses are, and why people should join.  The first four points were simple.  They're the meat and potatoes content of the program.  They're a part of my life, and how I'm developing as an athlete, and a teacher.

That last bit though... Well, I was kind of stuck (except for the "kind of" part).  I asked Devon for a bit of help, and not wanting to give me a canned line, he asked me why I did it.
My response was indicative of why I do it, just in a poorly articulated and flippant manner.
"I want people to look at my resumé and think I'm Link from The Legend of Zelda."
Devon smirked and told me to think about it more.

I wrote the original off as silly nonsense and set myself to trying to sell people on the idea of learning archery, without using buzz words, or sounding like a tool.  I eventually gave up because I was failing at my task, and set myself to learning some rapier choreography.

But lately I've been thinking about it.  Link was always my favorite video game character when I was much younger and more keen on gaming.  He was brave, agile, capable, a thinker, an adventurer, and always keen to help (if needlessly cruel to chickens on ocassion).  But above all of that, he was a hero.  An old school sword swinging, princess saving, monster slaying hero.  Hero.  The word carries power, and has a lot of different images and symbols associated with it.  My favorite of those images?  The sword, and to a lesser extent, the bow.

I want people to think I'm Link.  I want to be that brave, clever, agile adventurer. 

I want to be a hero.

Heroism is a curious thing though.  The sword doesn't make anyone a hero.  So why take the sword up?  Or the bow, for that matter?  Because the equipment doesn't make me a hero, but it has made me stronger, better, more confident, wiser, more attentive, patient, tactical, agile, and capable.  Through my learnings with the sword and the bow, I am coming closer with every lunge, cut, and shot, to being the hero I idolized through my youth.

Why should anyone take up archery or swordplay?  There are probably as many reasons as there are students of the arts.  Why did I take up archery and swordplay?  Because it connects me to my heroes, and to my own vision of heroism.  Everything else that has happened since pursuing my training is just the result of connecting with that heroism.

Am I a hero though?

No.  Not right now.  But heroism is a topic for another day.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Rank Exam #2

"Aaron, could you come here for a minute?"

I hate hearing those words.  They very rarely are portents of anything good.

I went over to see Clint and hear the fateful words.
"You didn't make it this time."

I like to be flip about it and say that it would have taken a miracle to pass that exam, and that I'd rather save that miracle for my silver cord or my gold cord.

I like to look at the positives, which was that my wrestling, which was my weakest point in my last exam, was my strongest point in this exam.

I like to make excuses too.  I spent all summer in knight camp, I hadn't trained in months, I was thinking about getting to work on time, I spent too long trying to check my form in the mirror, and a great many others. 

But the simple fact was that I wasn't ready. 

The biggest piece of feedback that I got was that my sword moved in a two foot wide circle, and that it needs to move in a three inch circle.

I waited a few days for the feedback form, and was more than a little crushed when I got it.  There are three grades listed on the feedback for each section:
1. Exceeded Expectations (EE)
2. Met Expectation (ME)
3. Did Not Meet Expectations (DME)

I exceeded expectations on my wrestling, and didn't meet the expectations on anything else. The feedback pointed out what was wrong, and to my frustration, there was a lot that I had been working on in the feedback that still hadn't improved.  The feedback is necessary to my growth within the Academie, within the art, and as a swordsman.

The last lesson I could take away was a fairly important one.  Failure is good.  It keeps me humble, and reminds me that I have a standard to live up to; that I need to continue my training; that I need to keep chasing that dream.

Cascadia and the Iron Waffle

The timeline for Cascadia and my specific experience with it was something of a long one.  It began in hypotheticals, half promises, and lots of confusion.  Was I volunteering?  How much was I paying to go?  What would my duties be?  How much running and stress was there going to be?
The last thing on my mind was lesson content.  I was only going to be a volunteer.  My duties (theoretically) included the same things I did in the city: set up the range, tear down the range, marshal the range when Jason needs a break, and make sure no one does anything crazy.

I booked the time off work.

I packed up the van and the trailer on Friday afternoon.

I rode out to North Van, unloaded the van, and hopped on the boat (still confused).

"Oh Aaron, you're teaching the Beginner Archery workshop."

"Wait, what now?"

Yep.  Teaching.  I was supposed to run the standard 2-hour workshop that I had spent a great many hours watching and assisting for the last several months.  A bit of a bombshell, but my options included getting Jason to teach the course, trying to teach it and crumbling to itty bitty pieces, or actually doing a good job of it.

I was introduced to the man representing Jubilee for the weekend and then I set myself to work.

Assess the facilities, determine how much equipment I would have, plot the lesson, talk to Jason during supper and get his thoughts, and then drink myself into a stupor and spin fire with Terri.  (by the way, fire spinning is stupid amounts of fun)

Then the next day was the lesson.  Up bright and early to stretch by the dock, then a big breakfast, then a bit of prep work on the Jubilee range, and then I went to fetch my students for the morning.

I gave the history talk to the late comers on the way up, had a short talk on the bow and it's technology and was terribly nervous through the whole affair.  Once the history talk and the preliminaries were done, I got into the physical component, and then everything got easy.  Helping someone's form is easy.  Eventually Jason got one the scene and started running a couple other lines, and then before I knew it, it was all done.

I didn't know what to think of it.  In all honesty, I still don't.  I've heard nothing but good feedback from everyone, including Rish, so I guess I can take that as a sign that the job was well done.  Well done, but not done to my own standards.  The goal for next time is to be able to deliver the whole spiel without appearing so obviously nervous, and to make non-awkward conversation for the first half of the workshop.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Knight Camp Pt.1

Let me preface anything to do with Knight Camp with this:

There is nothing in life that I've ever been more proud of than my work with Knight Camp.

It's everything special that I wish I could have done as a little boy, a teenager, and a young man.  It's a collection of every single thing that I wanted to do, and usually did with friends in my parents' back yard when I was little, except there were people around who shared in the joy of the sword, and adults who made it safe and fun.

There were games, there was sword training, there were ranks to climb, battles to fight, and a deeper level of involvement for the kids who were a little older.  There was a standard of behaviour that the kids not only adhered to, but a higher standard that many aspired to.  I saw acts of kindness from these kids that moved me to tears on more than one occasion.  I saw a spirit of comraderie, competition, and compassion that I didn't think was possible.  I saw punk kids come in on Monday mornings, and well mannered; virtuous young men and women leave on Friday afternoons (usually begging their parents for another week, or to be allowed to come back next year).

I saw teenagers give up a summer of making money for the chance to pass on the joy of Knight Camp to a new group of kids.

I could swear that I saw everything that was best in life in the two months I was there.

There were days that I wanted to string a few kids (and a few of my counter parts) from the ceiling, but in the final estimation;

I've never had more pride in anything I've done.

Training with Randy

Yesterday I got the privilege of training under Randy Packer over at box-wrestle-fence with a dear friend and old training partner, Jordan.
Let's start at the beginning.  I met the man for the first time, after much acclaim from Jordan and Kaja at CNAT.  I knew that he was Devon's former partner, that he was a white scarf, and that he had a beard.  Other than that, I could infer that he had a much different focus than Devon from how Jordan and Kaja's fighting had changed and developed since they started training with him, though I couldn't articulate what it was.  Outside of that, for all I knew, him and his (epic) beard could have been fueled by the blood of his enemies*.
* Jordan has not explicitly denied the possibility of this.  I remain necessarily curious and wary.
We arrived at his house shortly after 3:30, and after affixing my tips to my weapons, we set about to slow work.  He told me just to work on flow and to really try and get my joints loose, to try weird and goofy stuff, and to fight with my dagger unless I was exceptionally uncomfortable with it.
After that, he had me and Jordan mask up and fight a few full speed passes.
Then he recorded me lunging from a few different angles.
Then he inquired about my diet, and I earned a disapproving look from him for several months of poor choices.
Then there was more full speed sparring, some slow work woth just daggers, and yet further sparring, and then holy mother of god do I need some water, and it's already been an hour?  No way.  That's almost impossible.  I don't hurt NEARLY enough for that to have been an hour of training.
My classical fencing looks terrible according to him.  He made me stop thinking about footwork, and just focus on my fighting.  He did that in a fairly novel way, too.
He told Jordan to kick my ass.
He made Jordan set his dagger down so that he would be forced to be aggressive and high energy, and then after Jordan was moving quickly and aggressively and being fairly consistantly foiled by my dagger, he was instructed to take his dagger back up again.
Then it started to get furry.
The passes were intense, and combat flowed quickly.  Far more quickly than most combat at Duello.  There were cuts.  More than I've ever seen in any rapier fight.  And it felt almost like a dance.  I was shifting from a long guard into a refused guard and batting attacks away with my dagger and testing him with my sword and voiding my legs and body.  And through all of it, Randy was quizzing me on previous combat and sport experience, looking for a movement that I was used to that could be inserted into my fighting.
He was puzzled by some of my defenses and motions.  Not because they were bad, but because he hadn't seen anyone fight like me before; becuase my horizontal attacks and defenses were rock solid, and most fencers lack strength on that axis.  He was less surprised when I told him that I was an archery teacher, and that Patricia was training me.
He let me know what wasn't working.  What postures were bad, what was making me get hit, and what his fixes were.
He told me that I was good; that I was better than I thought I was.  That I have good reflexes, and that he can help me learn to fence comfortably.
It was an intense hour, but not uncomfortably so.  He's easy to talk to, very casual in his language, prone to cussing, and willing to explore the mechanics of my body.  It was enlightening, invigorating, and sweet god, it was FUN.
I look forward to training with him more in the future.

Back Again

Among other things, I have returned to the blogosphere, and boy howdy do I have stuff to say.  The first rank exam took it out of me; removed the wind from my sails as it were.
Knight Camp came shortly after, the Cascadia North Accolade Tournament took place, a bit of training on equipment maintenance has happened, and holy god there was another rank exam, and I've gone and expanded my training by adding in another teacher.
But before I get into anything about that, I have a thought on an eventual school:
There has to be hardwood floors.
Because aesthetics are important dammit.
Now that I have that out of the way, keep your eyes open, because there's much to catch up on.  It's all going to come out in a fairly unfiltered manner, but I hope the sheer volume will make up for the lack of polish.
Thanks for reading, and it's nice to get back into it.