Wednesday, October 9, 2013


This is a post that was supposed to go live a few months ago, but was forgotten in the rush of my return from the trip.

I'm in Kamloops for NCCP training as I write this.  The day was long.  So long that it started not on Saturday morning, but on Friday night.  I caught a nap before going into work, busted my hump on the job, got home, showered, and then I was in the car picking up one of the youngest apprentices of the bunch.  At 3:30 in the goddamn morning.

The drive was uneventful; the roads were clear, and traffic was minimal.  We made good time to Kamloops.

Holy god, Kamloops.

What a gorgeous city.

This city is 9 parts in ten gorgeous vistas and hills that say "Explore meeeeeeee".  The other part is inexplicably difficult to navigate.  This town is laid out at least as confusingly as Thompson, Manitoba.  There are streets on a grid in the small downtown, which occupies about 5% of the city.  The rest?  WINDY TWISTY ROADS THAT LEND THEMSELVES POORLY TO MAP READING WHEN YOU HAVE BEEN UP FOR 16 HOURS ALREADY WORKING AND DRIVING.  My abilities at puzzling out a map on a minimum of sleep aside, I have nothing but nice things to say about the city.  Specifically about the vistas.  They are stunning.  This city just begs and pleads for you to go on Sunday drives.

Anyways, to business.

Sterling and I were the first to arrive at the clinic.  A brief introduction to Ron and we were set to work immediately by placing tables around the room's lonely projector screen.  After some coffee and doughnuts, we took our seats, and I personally learned nothing about coaching and the mechanics of shooting, but more about ethical decision making and the ethical and legal ramifications of my decisions as a coach.  All told- ultra dry material.

But it's another step on the road to legitimacy, if not mastery.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

VISS Thoughts: Workshops and Self Abuse

Things that I apparently do: write posts and forget to hit "publish"

It's the day after the Vancouver International Swordplay Symposium.  My body aches, my mind is wiped, and I, lacking the sense that God gave a goose, went to another class that was chock full of high intensity training and then shuffled out to meet a friend for drinks after.  Before VISS, I spent three days training hard in preparation for my blue cord exam.  And during VISS I fenced and stretched my mind all day, worked all night for two nights, and on the last day, spent all of my energy in grand fashion during the after party and free fencing.

What I lack in sense, I make up for with my hunger for knowledge.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

1 for 30

Devon has been running an event this month called the 30 for 30 swordplay challenge. The premise is simple, do 30 minutes a day reach day in June. Have I been doing it? A little. Have I kept track of it? Not even a little bit.
No tone like the present though, right?
Days 1-4 (actually day 17)
-two hours with Randy working on overall fitness and le canne
Days 5-10 (actually day 18)
-1 hour spent learning the introduction to Marozzo's first assault
-2 hours in class working on wrestling, rapier drills, and learning part one of the first assault
Days 11-18 (actually day 19)
-30 minutes practicing the introduction and part one of the forest assault; learning part 2
- 1 hour in sidesword focus class
- 2.5 hours in class covering general fitness, wrestling, line drills, refining the first assault, and longsword slow work/playing with shiny new toys
It's unreal how easily and quickly I have found myself caught up. A little sore, but still hungry. 10,000 hours seems smaller and smaller when I remember how much damned fun the art holds.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

It Hurts

Monday was my first outdoor class with Randy.  In fact, it may be the first big outdoor workout that I've had in years.  The last time I really pushed myself outdoors was over two years ago when my older brother and I used to run together at a high school in Burnaby.  There's a viking that looks like Satan in front of the school that has purportedly driven down property values, if anyone knows what school it is, leave one in the comments.

I had a half cooked idea about joining the VPD, and in order to do that I needed to meet the basic physical requirements.  Run the obstacle course in I-can't-remember-how-many minutes, and run a mile and a half in less than 12 minutes.  I did those runs with my brother twice a week for two months.  My best time was 10:13 around the track.  Then we ran tobattas (did I spell that correctly?  doubtful) on the track; sprint as hard a we can for 30 seconds and rest for 30 seconds, eight times.  Then a brief set of body weight exercises that I could go through with reasonably little difficulty.  The sprints always ground me into dust.  I was always strong out of the gates, and on those occasions when my brother would bring another member of his ultimate team out, they'd always seem impressed that I could keep up, or outpace a few of them in the sprints.

I wasn't in incredible shape at any point, but I was passable, and it made me feel impressive being able to throw around a number around that was competitive to get on the VPD.

But I digress.

Monday was Randy's class.  Monday was an outdoor class.  Monday was rainy.  Monday destroyed me.

Sprint 2/3 of a block(ish) and walk back to the starting line.  Stop at a filthy pair of shirts that have been left on the ground.  Do it ten times, or until you can't anymore.  Alternative when you're bagged: Sprint a shorter distance with a nice steep uphill.  I made eight sprints, and thought I was going to die.  My legs were tired, my lungs were burning, and my tongue and jaw hurt from running and breathing so hard.  The last two sets up the small hill had me parking my ass on the unused kiddie pool and wondering if the sprints had left me too tired to vomit.  Class continued; as did the rain.  The gymnastics exercises were almost too much.  The cartwheels and handstands have gotten easier.  And then came boxing.  A whole class of boxing because no one wanted to bring their swords in the rain, except for me.  The drills have all blurred together, starting with a simple jab cross 2x2, and finishing with a spinning back elbow leading to a combination chokeslam and hip throw straight out of my favorite martial arts movies.  No lie, it made me feel like I was living a scene out of the Blood Sport director's cut.  The class finished with slow work sparring.  No gloves, no pads, just the implied trust from your partner, and the knowledge that everyone is there to make each other better.

I went home, showered, had some adventures that night, came home again, and went to bed. 

I awoke sore.  Sore to the point where my muscles wouldn't respond to my commands; sore like I was the first time Patricia put me through the archery stretches; sore like I was when I worked out with my brother. from my ankles to my neck was sore.  Unbelievably sore.  To the point... well, if you're reading this, you're either a facebook friend or a fencing nerd (probably both) so you probably know the feeling of the morning after a grinding workout.

And while I grumble and grouse about it, I know that the greatest change in my physical ability has always been accompanied by sprints.  The days on the track with my brother, wrestling in grade 12, and now twice a week, maybe thrice, with or without Randy, sprints and gymnastics.

It hurts, and I hate it, but the physique to pursue mastery awaits me on the other side of this threshold.

If I run fast enough, maybe I can just blitz through it...

Monday, May 6, 2013

Catholic Athleticism

Born on November 2nd, 1987 at 11:52 P.M.  My mom has reiterated this detail more than a few times during my life when talking about my birthday, because the only way I've ever remembered my best friend's birthday has been looking at the calendar for MY birthday, and sliding my finger up a week.  October 26th.  Thank God, remembered again.  My covenant with God was established shortly after my birth, and baptism came reasonably soon after that.

A bunch of stuff happened after that, and here I am today trying to make it work as a swordsman.  Oh, and I stopped believing in God shortly after I dropped out of university, because music school turns you into an unwashed liberal savage.  It was kind of hard on my mom, so I offered her a compromise:

I won't be religious, but I'll still be motivated by shame, guilt, and self-loathing.  Still basically Catholic, right?  Or if Robin Williams is to be believed, the anti-Episcopalian (same religion, half the guilt; none of the religion, twice the guilt).

And abandoning religious belief led me to view the world relative to how I could specifically change, shape, and control it.  I don't get bent out of shape about the weather, or other drivers being jerks; I get bent out of shape about being too broke to clothe myself for the weather, about not getting out of the house early enough to avoid or not worry about other people's driving.  Most of the problems are my problems, and the only means to fix them is to position myself so that they're not problems.  Get out the door early enough that you have time for supper before shift, bring extra clothes, prepare yourself with knowledge and practice so that you're equipped for whatever nonsense you have to deal with. 

And that certainly includes my classes, but this view has led to a few problems recently.  Martial arts training is the first thing that I've ever been SERIOUS serious about.  Like, willing to abandon all semblance of rational career choices because if I don't, I'm going to wake up someday and hate everything about myself.  An old professor of mine put it best, he sat me down one day and called me on two semesters worth of nonsense, and after giving me my forty lashes he told me why he does what he does.

"Aaron, I got my degree and practiced my ass off because I knew that if I didn't, I was going to wake up one day with a house in Halifax, a job that I'd hate, and a contant state of misery.  I need music in my life; it is incomplete without it."

The sword is what makes me complete.  I feel whole when I have a sword and a scabbard belted on.  Every day that I pick up a sword is a good day.  When I look back at it.  And I don't think about my fighting.

I hate my fighting most of the time, because of a few things that Randy talks about in his blog.  From my own perspective, I see that I have been given the rules to win.  And that an inability to use those rules to my benefit is a real and direct failure on my part.  There's one guy in the class whose fighting looks like a monkey whose limbs were amputated and replaced by pool noodles.  Everything I've been taught tells me that this guy is an easy mark.  And almost every time we fight I get tagged in the arm.  And it makes me furious.  Because he isn't fighting wrongly.  I am.  Victory is the only thing that determines rightness and wrongness in a fight, and my defeat makes me wrong.  And I have to expend energy just staying in the mindset of "don't fight to hurt" after several bad passes, and then my body is tight and tense, and then I'm spending more energy on controlling my breathing and my mental state, and it all detracts from the fight.  And all I can do is walk away with this overarching feeling of shame and self-loathing.  Because I can't control my ego, and because I'm not good enough, and because I'm not fast enough, and because I'm a miserable failure and what the fuck am I doing with myself anyway?  And then I'm getting changed and feeling myself get changed mechanically, and there's only a steep downward spiral after that.

I have had one night of good fighting in the last month.  I had scrounged workout clothes: shorts and a thin hoodie, no shoes, no gloves, and no gorget.  Randy told me to wiggle my hips.  Then my shoulders relaxed, and I realized that I looked ridiculous, and that made me giggle.  And then I was on fire for the whole rest of the night.  I was fast, and accurate, and agile, and holy SHIT I CAN'T BELIEVE THAT LANDED.  That landed, right?  That wasn't just a touch?  Wow.  DAMN what a nice hit.

And then it was back to the badness.

I'm told that I'm stronger; that my game is getting better.  But I don't believe it, and I won't until I'm either the best in town, or I reprogram myself.

Now to learn more about sport psychology, and meditation.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Improvement; Advancement; Growth

I've been training with Randy for months now.  I go in (usually) twice a week, grind my body into dust, pour beer on it after so it doesn't blow into the breeze, sleep, whimper softly upon awakening, and steel myself to do it again.  Three months with that small, close knit group.  Twice a week with Tyler, who is strong, and fast, and a long time student of Randy's; with Jordan who is a dear friend and introduced me to the master; with Kaja who is lithe and graceful; and Troy the wrathful pirate.  Good men and women.  Good partners.  But only fencing within the same pool of people who all fence in an approximation of the same style can stagnate.  No, that's a bad word.  I haven't stagnated with Randy, I've become strong and fast.  But more on that in a minute.  I suppose it would be better to say that I have trouble measuring myself against my fellow students, because we're all improving together, and at much the same speed.  I once heard Devon talking about advancement in Duello, and he said it wasn't a good idea to measure yourself against a fellow student, because they're not going to slow down and let you catch them to measure yourself.  I'm inclined to disagree.  No one worth fighting will ever stand still and be my control, but they're all worth measuring myself against.

To that end, I had most of a Friday night off last week, and decided to spend it at the Academie for fight night.  I fought for three glorious hours, and against people I remember fighting many times in the months leading up to November.  I fought the green cords, and found myself able to exert complete control over the measure of the fight.  I fought the blue cords and where I was once left confused and bewildered by the new adaptive plays they were taught, I had a few tricks of my own to throw against them.  I fought with a few of the red cords and while I'm not at their level yet, I move swiftly enough to fight them; I landed clean, solid blows against Mattheus and wasn't surprised by it.  I landed a number of blows on him that were less clean, and he on me.  The biggest change from the last time I fought him was that I wasn't afraid of combat with him any more.  I stepped into his measure without fear, but instead with hunger.  He and the other red cords.  They are the mark which I am measured against as a student, and for the first time, I feel as though I'm up to the task.

And then I fought Devon.  Where I was hungry and joyful while fighting Mattheus, my demeanor changed while fighting Devon.  Victory is the measure of my skills against the other students; the feedback I get is the measure of my skills from Devon.  My fighting was erratic, most of my cuts struck with the flat, and I was flaily.  "Chaotic" was the word that Devon used.  He agreed with my assessment that my control of measure had improved, but my control of the center line has fallen on the wayside.  The fight was humbling.  I've learned much, but there's still much in the manner of basics for me to improve.

I left for work that night exhausted.  But exhausted by three hours of combat.  I can last longer, fight harder, and move faster.  I'm better, stronger, I'm....

Oh god, I've become a Daft Punk song.

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

An Interview with the Scrapper

In keeping with a previous post, I conducted my first interview.
On December 3rd, 2012.

The link to the interview is here.  I don't know if blogger will let me embed the file properly, so bear with me.  It's kind of a long listen.  I recommend a cup of coffee or tea, and I hope you'll join me as I explore interviewing.

I've been sitting on the interview for almost two months, pondering what to do with it.  I thought about direct transposition, and decided against it due to a lack of patience.  I thought about just putting the interview up with name, date, and particulars, but that felt rather lazy, like something would be necessarily missing from the experience.  For now I think my best course of action would be to post the audio file, and my thoughts and reflections on the content.  As a postscript, I will try to give a few thoughts on the process of the interview.
The interview began with an introduction, and a small bit of gushing over how cool Claire is.  I started the interview proper with a question about her background in the martial arts, and she suggested I amend that to "forms of movement" because her history in combat actually began with taking dance classes to try and make her less of a scrapper as a small child.  I didn't think much of that at the time, since I was still fairly new to Randy's classes.  Recently however, this has started to make a measure of sense.  I've been looking at the movements that I have to undertake in Randy's class, and asked myself why they're useful.  Personally I have a sneaking suspicion that everyone in class is going to wake up a year from now and realize they've been Miyagi'd, but I digress.  And since she made a point of including her background as a dancer, and thinks of martial arts as movement as much as combat, I was naturally curious as to how that has informed her fighting.  Because moving one's body is a skill, and the more you know how to move your body, the more you can do with it.  From a much more literal viewpoint, specific styles have brought something to the table for her fighting.  Belly dancing was focused on isolating single muscle groups and learning how to move her body, break dancing was about learning to interact with the space around her, and with the space of the people she was dancing with and against.
After talking about dance, and her early years in combat I wanted to know about her teachers, and some of the faces she had encountered.  Outside of dance, her first teacher was a man named Ryan who plays in the SCA, who taught her a lot about fighting in armor, and the basics of how to attack and defend.  It's an interesting similarity between the two of us that we both started in the SCA, though we went in very different directions with our fighting and training.  While she's one to really look at movement and fighting styles, I personally don't have much of an eye for it.
The interview continued with some anecdotes about Sean Hayes and teaching; the points Claire made on connecting with students via low impact motions, and the development of a rapport and physical echo felt important.  I wonder, what manner of theory theory there is to accompany that observation?  The statement and wisdom gleaned feels like the logical consequence of a deeper concept.
I asked her to close off after a bit of discussion on the society, and who her heroes are.  That she included me among people she really admires in the WMA community is one of the most singularly flattering things I've heard since deciding to pursue this dream.  And if any of you bothered to listen to the whole interview, with awkward stammering and slightly scratchy audio, I hope you'll follow her recommendation and try it out. 
Because so far, there's been nothing but changes for the better.