Archive for October, 2008

So, Saturday, I helped Chris give his German longsword seminar at University of Mary Washington. It was an all-afternoon affair, from like, 1300 to 1700. So we did get some training time in.

All-in-all it was fun, and I think I had met or seen all but one of the participants before, from Fencing Club. Everyone was pretty zonked by the time we were done, but it was a satisfied exhaustion that comes from a long session of doing what you really like doing.

One of the nice things about coaching/teaching, and this is something I learned long ago, is that it helps you actually learn and internalize what you’re learning yourself. So I almost never balk at an opportunity to give someone instruction if they request it. Whether at physical activities for play, or at work on the job.

And that’s one of the reasons I help out at Mary Wash. That–and I have the pleasure of volunteering my time to a good cause. An added bonus is it’s just cool to hang out with people who have some of the same interests.

Although I probably will never have the same level of interest in being a re-enactor in period dress as most of the people who are really into it (whether classical Roman, Barbarian, Medieval, Renaissance, Civil War, etc.). Not that there’s anything at all wrong with that, it’s just that I approach most of this stuff as a martial artist, rather than a re-enactor. And so that’s how I train.

And note–the warrior arts of Europe had thousands of years to develop, and are quite sophisticated and potent. The definite decline in the need to train the sword arts occurred in direct proportion to the increased use of firearms.

If anything, though, my personality is less about era, and more about type–the “swashbuckler.” So, whether that’s “pirate-y,” or maybe “Three Musketeers,” or Napoleonic-era Hussars, or, perhaps most like (of all things), Simon Templar (The Saint)–then I swing more to the idealized versions of the roguish but gallant knucklehead who loves to fight, but treasures human life. Who will treat a prostitute like a Lady, and a Lady like a prostitute. Who gets the mission done, but has fun on the way!

P.S. It perhaps should be noted that Simon Templar, too, was more about the “being” rather than the re-enacting of the idealized swashbuckler. The author specifically writes in one of the Saint stories that Templar didn’t feel the need to affect the actual costuming and speech patterns of the earlier times in order to live the life of the romantic swashbuckler. Rather, he simply chooses to follow his own strict moral code and sense of adventure, and never to bow to societal norms or the pressure to be “ordinary.”

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After a… smashing workout tonight (fast-paced kettlebell snatches, followed by hard thrashing of the heavy bag, followed by LCCJs), I settled down to recover by watching a couple of episodes of The Muppet Show on DVD.

First I watched the episode with Liberace. Enjoyable playing and a lot of humor. As a kid watching him on variety shows such as The Muppet Show, he always stuck me as a bit strange, though he seemed gentle and kind-hearted (though I would never know what went on backstage, of course). And for some reason, it was always a treat to see him on a TV show, somewhere.

The next episode I watched was with Loretta Lynn as the guest star. Now–in spite of all that Hee-Haw I watched growing up (I’m still convinced my dad watched ‘coz of the gorgeous girls on there… 🙂 ), I was never much of a country music fan. However, every now and then something catches my ear, such as John Anderson, or of course Johnny Cash, or Roger Miller.

Never paid much attention to Loretta Lynn, though. However, hearing her on The Muppet Show was really enjoyable. Her heavily accented, clarion voice was perfectly suited to powerfully belt out peppy, up-beat (even when whinin’) country ballads. Such that I hadn’t appreciated before, but do now.

Witness her hamming up the country-folk stereotype of “One’s On The Way”:

Wow. Now that’s a voice.

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Awwww, yeaaahhhhh…

As I stated below, I got a new waster from Hollow Earth Swordworks–a side sword trainer, as it happens.

So, with some time on my hands, I went below and proceeded to beat my pell. *Ahem*… if you are unclear on what I mean, please follow the link (and get your mind out of the gutter 😛 ). In this case, the pell is one of my mobile heavy bags, the type that have a base that fills with some heavy substance, such as sand or water.

Immediately after I had gotten the waster and brought it home, I had wondered if having the index finger over the cross guard would inhibit the power and/or accuracy of my cuts. Oh, nooooo, indeedy, it did not. If anything, it increased the accuracy and didn’t seem to affect power at all.

Now, I wasn’t going full tilt (so to speak), but the cuts were hard, fast, and powerful. If I ever get a pressure meter it would be interesting to whack at it with both grips (hammer and finger-over-gruard). But for now, I’ll just be practicing both ways.

But man, it is fast! And quick to manipulate–the point goes just where you want it, almost without thinking. Funnily enough, I pulled it out briefly at Mary Wash Fencing Club practice Sunday and without even trying, hit the suspended-golf-ball-on-a-string target with a thrust and lunge. Huhn, maybe that’s why I hit it–I didn’t really expect to that easily…

Also, being one-handed, and the blade just slightly shorter than my longsword, I was easily able to keep from battering my downstairs walls and ceiling… mostly. 🙂

Much more easy to handle in confined space, but yet with plenty of reach. And I found it quite usable to wrap my off-hand on the pommel for two-hand work, as well.

I played with simple cuts and thrusts, combinations, moulinets, etc. Even half-swording. Great fun. And picked up my old sabre mask as a buckler for a while. As usual, when I get a chance to have targeted free play with something for a few minutes, it teaches me very quickly what makes sense, and how it wants to be most effectively used. Neat. Now I reaaallly want a buckler.

Light, fast, and powerful. What more could you want? I had my doubts at first, but now I understand why this was such a popular sword form, for so many years. Just makes sense.

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Well, all things being equal, the trip up to the Renaissance Festival wasn’t a total loss. This in spite of the fact that everyone–and I mean everyone, that jumped up and down and exclaimed how much they really wanted to go with me to the Faire totally bailed on me, and that I couldn’t find a single one of the Mary Wash fencing crowd (nor could I reach them by cell phone), and the awful traffic and long drive to get there.

It was as packed as I’ve ever seen it, with long lines and people everywhere. So, there I was, ironically alone in a sea of thousands.

But, as stated, though disappointed at not being able to share the experience with friends known to me, all was not lost. There were still the standout acts that I enjoyed, such as the Pyrates Royale, of course, and Puke & Snot, et al.

The variety of human expression in dress and paint was, as always, arresting (not that I’ve gotten arrested–I’m much too careful for that 🙂 ).

I found a waster I wanted to try at the Hollow Earth booth. Having been playing with both the longsword and rapier, I’ve been toying with the idea of finding a good side sword, and learning technique with it.

I was wondering how each of the sword forms and their techniques would inform the transitionary weapon, the side sword, also known by some as a “cut & thrust sword” (the girl at the booth, for instance). From my understanding, the side sword was a direct descendent of the arming sword, and developed into more and more rapier-like forms. When rapiers were finally the weapon of choice throughout much of Europe, the side sword remained in parallel development. Whilst the rapier was considered almost exclusively as a civilian weapon, for self-defense but especially for dueling, the side sword was still considered militarized, but was also carried for civilian dueling and defense.

Sort of like how there are civilian handguns developed primarily for concealed carry, whereas some folks are just fine with a Colt 1911A1 as a carry weapon. The Colt is the famous “.45 Auto” that people refer to, and was developed as a military sidearm (“side arm”… “side sword”… “arming sword” 😉 ).

Like the sabre, the side sword is primarily a one-handed weapon; it is more or less equally at home with both cutting and thrusting attacks (hence the nickname). The sabre, though also a cut and thrust bladed weapon, actually comes from a different lineage. I’ve enjoyed fencing sporting sabre for years, incidentally. I’d like to find a good sabre waster, but I haven’t really seen one.

In any case, just a little bit of play with the side sword now that I’m back home has already enlightened me on some things. The feel and the balance, and how threading the finger over the guard changes the mechanics of how your hand and arm moves, for instance, and how that shapes the guards you take.

In longsword, parrying is done almost exclusively with the flat of the blade, with the thumb pressing against the flat opposite the side taking the blow. (This is more easily shown than told, it makes more sense when you see it, or try it.)

In rapier (and in sport fencing with all three weapons), however, parrying is done almost exclusively with the edge of the blade. How this developed has to do with the mechanics of leverage.

When using one hand, keeping a “natural” position on the hilt with the finger through over the cross leaves little flexibility with hand position–to be stronger, you end up parrying most of the time by necessity with your knuckles towards the pressure of the opposing blade. Which happens to be where your edge is on a rapier.

The use of two hands on the longsword allows you change your grip more, so that the thumb is supporting the flat of the blade and the knuckles are still facing to the opposing blade’s pressure.

There are other factors as well, that contribute to flat-or-edge parry usages, such as the rapier blade is longer and thinner and typically not as stiff as a longsword blade, so again you have more strength along the edge to parry.

The side sword, however, you have a wide, stiff but light blade, that allows you to parry with the flat, and the option to thread your index finger over the guard–or not, as it suits you. For some actions, such as when you want delicate tip work, it may be preferable to thread the finger over, and manipulate the sword nearly as a rapier.

For other actions it may be more suitable to keep all fingers on the hilt in a hammer grip and cut that way.

Anyway, those are just some examples–and I have to admit, as a martial arts geek, I’m fascinated. Here’s a picture from the Hollow Earth website of the class of side sword wasters like mine (the middle one is most like). Mine is pretty, though I still feel the hilt may be a bit small, especially if I have gloves on. But at least I got to try it out before I bought it. That’s one of the nice things about going to a Faire, as opposed to just getting something off the web.

Well, as much as I like my waster, I may be done with the whole Ren Faire thing for a while. Time for my next adventure.

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To all those drivers out there I “met” today: “Go, or go not; there is no dawdle.” (In Yoda’s high, rumbly voice, natch.)

Grrrrrr. Totally like quaalude day for 99% of the knuckleheads I encountered on the way up, then back, from work. So glad to be home. It was like everyone was so… tired, that they couldn’t muster the energy or concentration to be aware of anyone around them, or to worry about keep a speed that might be at least 10 miles an hour below speed limit.

Then again, maybe I was working on really quick clock cycles because of my morning workout. I did have a good one, but that doesn’t explain the two people baaarrrrreeeeellyyyy taking off from the traffic light then creeping all the way up to 35 mph in the 45 zone. Man was I glad when one of them slowly pulled into a turn lane and let me pass. Golly gee, thanks for being considerate, guys… (*sarcasm* intended).

But on to the workout. I’ve been several days since the last PT session, due time and such concerns. So I was really looking forward to a hard workout last night, but I didn’t get it going. So, this morning, I headed downstairs and did what I’ll call the “step ladder.”

Those of you familiar with Pavel Tsatsouline’s work, as well as a lot of the fitness world now may have heard of the “ladder.” The basic idea is that to get volume, you do some sort of linear progression with one of your training variables.

For instance, a typical routine might be where you’d do, say, 10 push-ups for 3 sets, giving you 30 total.

To contrast, for a ladder you’d do 1 push-up, wait a moment as if you were waiting for a partner to do theirs (or if you have a partner, let them do theirs), then do 2, wait for your “partner” (real or imagined) to do 2, then 3, wait for a count of 3, etc. By the time you get to 10, you’re looking at a total volume of: 55. With the slight recovery pauses, and the fact that you actually only have done 10 in a row, for the last set, the perceived effort is less, but you’ve achieved more volume.

You can basically do this with any variable of your training. So, doing say, biceps curls, you could start off with 5 lbs, for 10 reps (which feels like nothing, right?), then 10 lbs for 10 reps, then 15 lbs for 10 reps, etc. This is varying the weight but not the repetitions. And, of course, you can also vary it for time. Note that this is not a “pyramid,” where you’d go up to say, 10 reps, then start progressing down.

In my case, what I’ve varied is the weight, but left the time alone. Today’s workout basically just consisted of the two kettlebells, 16 and 24 kg, which makes a mighty short ladder, hence the term, “step ladder.” Get it?

Anyway, for my step ladder, I went very simple and did snatches on the 16 kg for two minutes each arm, followed by two minute rest, then snatches with the 24 kilo bell for two minutes each arm. A two minute rest, then long cycle clean and jerk (LCCJ) with both arms, 16 kilo for two minutes. Two minute rest, then, you guessed it, the two minutes LCCJ, both arms with the 24 kg kbell. Then lay down and recover…

It looked, as you can imagine, like this:

– 2 minutes, each arm, snatch (16 kg)
– 2 minute rest set
– 2 minutes, each arm, snatch (24 kg)
– 2 minute rest set
– 2 minutes, each arm, LCCJ (16 kg)
– 2 minute rest set
– 2 minutes, each arm, LCCJ (24 kg)

And then some stretching, breathing, etc. Doesn’t seem like much, though does it? However, understand, I set a (literally) blistering pace with the snatches right away, and I paid for it. Felt really good with the 16 kilo bell… when the 24s came along, both times I ended up having to put the bell down before the end of the set. I was getting grip burnt (as in the grip was starting to give out), so I put the bell down before failure (and launching it through the sliding glass door… 😛 ).

Anyway, and hard and wonderful workout that I had been missing for a few days. So nice to crank up the heat on it and feel the fire!

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Yup–going to the Maryland Renaissance Faire again this year, with the Mary Wash Fencing Club. There’s a lot of overlap with the Renaissance Club so we usually band together and head out that way for the last weekend of the festival. This year it’s the 18th of October.

They’re headed out at like, really early in the morning–I think I’ll wait and go at a slightly later time.

Should be a fun time, and hope to see you all there! What could be better than: sword fighting, awesome music (including the Pyrates Royale), comedy, tragedy, and everything “on a stick?” Including meat, cheesecake… cheesecake? Yup.

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Mmmmm… de islands, mon… it’s irie..

So, I stopped at the Palm Tree Cafe, here in Fburg, on the way home from work this evening.

Tiny little place, but the girl from behind the counter with the latte skin had a big smile and a fun, friendly manner. No accent, but she assured me she was indeed, from Jamaica–Dad had coached her and her siblings out of that local dialect and into “standard” English, American-style.

I’m familiar with that, as my mom wanted to make sure my brothers and I had decent diction, enunciation, and little trace of hillbilly twang. Did a good job of it, too.

In any case, she (naturally) recommended the Jerk Chicken. I wasn’t sure though, that I wanted to light up my mouth too much. I wanted to try the Ox Tail, but they were just out–the guy who walked over from the bus station across the street got in front of me and got the last serving, so I went ahead and ordered the Curry Goat.

Big nummies! With red beans and rice, of course, and a D & G Genuine Jamaican Kola Champagne to go with. Mmmmmm!

As a bonus, she let me have a sample of the Jerk Chicken to try out. Man! That was yummy, and not as hot as I worried about. Next time, I’m thinkin’…

Highly recommended. Next time you’re in town, stop by!

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