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Friday, December 14, 2018

Competition Headspace for Fencing and A&S

Hello again, I know it is kind of crazy that this will be my 3rd month in a row of posting something.  I need to thank my teacher and Laurel in the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), Mistress Elysabeth “Lissa” Underhill, for the motivation and the kicking in the butt to get back to doing this on a regular basis.


As you can tell by the title, this post won’t be strictly about Destreza, but more about competition in fencing and in Arts and Science (A&S).  Specifically I wanted to talk briefly about my experiences with getting into tournament headspace for different types of competitions, as well as what I have seen others do.   If you have competed in fencing or just about any sporting event, you are most likely intimately aware of this state of mind.  There is an entire field of sports psychology built around this topic and I hope to do more reading in the coming year to get better informed and prepared.

Tournament headspace can be generally defined as the way that the mind influences the performance of the participant.  Think about when you were in school and you had to take a test.  You were done with the studying and preparing and it all came down to how you performed that day and how well you did on the test.  I know some people that were awesome at taking tests and others that would just freeze up and do horrible.  Tournament headspace is very similar with how an athlete or artist spends countless hours perfecting their actions and art before they get to the competition.  All of that physical prep will play a role in how they do that day, but how they prepare their mind for the test/fight/tourney will also influence the outcome and how they feel about their performance afterwards.


I can not cover all of the different ways to prepare your mind for a tourney as there are entire books and classes taught on this subject.  Instead, I will mention a few different categories or techniques that I have witnessed and how various people use them.  As you read, try and think about how these methods relate to different types of competitions, be it a fencing round robin tourney or perhaps and Arts and Science entry where there is a need for more social interaction:

  1. Personal Space: Some prefer to not have contact with anyone when they are getting ready to compete as it will distract them from their performance, while others like to talk and use casual conversation as a way to relax.  
  2. The Adversary:  This is how you see the competition.  Some prefer to see the world as an enemy that must be beaten and some of the best fighters out there use it.  I personally like to get into a “FUN” headspace by bouncing and thinking about how much enjoyment I am going to get out of the tourney regardless of my wins or losses.  I discovered this works for me by reflecting on a quote by the founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, where he wrote about practicing in a Joyful manner.  I have personally found that counting my wins and losses will really mess with me BIG TIME and this is something I fight with all the time in my head.
  3. Visualization:  This is a classic technique that many professional and Olympic athletes use.  A VERY simple description of this is that you visualize or meditate on their techniques being applied.  You see them working in your mind and perhaps see yourself in the winner’s circle getting the award.
  4. Patterns:  This one can be summed up as, what you do at practice is what you should do at the tourney.  Do you wear the same shoes or gear at practice as you will wear in a competition.  I personally have a footwork drill that I do before every practice.  In order to get into my headspace at a tourney I step away from folks and do this same drill to get into a good mind. 
  5. Rituals and superstition:  You hear it made fun of sometimes, but it is 100% valid.  Maybe it is a lucky pair of socks you always wear.  Personally, I have this goofy ritual with my lady, where she shoots all the bad thoughts around me in a funny “pew pew” fashion.  Yeah, it is goofy and crazy, but it also helps me stay in my fun headspace.  These behaviors and habits are similar to the previously mentioned patterns and in the end they give the competitor a sense of comfort and familiarity.  


As well as thinking about these techniques and categories I mentioned, you should also reflect on what the format of the competition will be and how that might influence your mind.  I find the bear pit format that involves 3 hours of non-stop fighting many different people requires a much different headspace than say a round robin tournament where the competition is smaller and the time more focused.  Even more different than those is a “one and done” tourney such as Pennsic Rapier Champs.  There is A LOT riding on a single fight and that can really mess with you.  There are also small group battles and melee fights that require a different headspace and level of cooperation or social interaction that might be more similar to a basketball team.

To add a different layer of complexity to the format idea, take all of that and reflect on how this could relate to an Arts and Science competition.  It might not be a one on one fight, but there are similarities. You did all of your work (substitute for practice) before the competition and you must take time to be social with folks and explain your art and answer their questions.  It is more like a job interview in ways, where you must show your work as well as yourself and your knowledge of the topic.  Similar to a fencing tourney, there is a lot riding on it and you want to score well and win. 


While there are many things lacking in the training methods of SCA competitors, one of our biggest advantages is the fact that we have so many opportunities to enter competitions.  In my section of the SCA world (East Kingdom), if you are willing to drive, you can find a fencing tournament almost every single weekend or every other.  In Sept. alone I participated in 3 different tournaments and actually could have done a 4th at an event I was attending.  I realize how lucky we are in the SCA as other sword sports like HEMA do not have quite as many opportunities to compete.  You can practice as much as you want, but if you have very little chance to experience the stress and pressure of a competition you will most probably not be prepared and not have a chance to figure out what works for you and your mind. 


To summarize all of this information I will say simply that it is a personal journey that takes time and experimentation.  What works one time to get you in your headspace, might not work the next.   You must come to grips with the fact you will not win every tournament you enter and understanding your reactions to loss is essential to your growth and the development of your mind game.  Also, remember that no matter how good your headspace is you need to still Practice, Practice, Practice and perfect your art or you are simply wasting time.  Visualizations without practice are delusions.  

Here is a good blog post Lissa sent me about fencing tournament headspace that folks might be interested in.


My personal goals for the coming year include:
  • Practice more and get my skills to a higher level.  
  • Get a pair of shoes that I will use at both practice and in competition to create a better pattern for myself.  
  • Attend and enter more A&S tourneys to  reflect on the similarities and differences between my two passions (research and fighting).  
  • Lastly and perhaps most important, I want to look at headspace a bit deeper to educate myself on this topic to improve my game.

Next month I will try and update the Destreza Resource list.  It is been almost 6 months and I have a few extra things to add to that.  Until then...

Thanks for reading!

Friday, November 16, 2018

What is Martial Arts and Science (A&S)?

The title of today’s blog post kind of says it all really.  When competing to be a Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) Arts and Science (A&S) champion earlier this year, I was asked what I would do if I won.  My answer was that I wanted to promote Martial A&S.  That sounds like a great idea, but I have spent much of my time so far as the East Kingdom Queen’s champion trying to determine what that actually means.  My goal now is to introduce the idea that Martial A&S is a much broader topic than you first might think and by understanding its depth as well as breadth we can encourage a greater number of people to study these arts and categorize what they are studying as being Martial A&S.

Arts and Science in the SCA is a very large topic that permits a great deal of creative flexibility on the part of its members. It can encompass weaving, embroidery, costuming, scribal arts, woodworking, cooking, dance, brewing, glass making, blacksmithing, research, and so much more.  My own study and paper on Spanish fencing falls into the category of “research”, but due to the topic being on a period style of fencing it also falls into the category of Martial A&S. 

Each of the other topics listed above can have many subcategories that fit within their group.  If you look at blacksmithing are you referring to armor smiths, jewelry makers, or sword makers?  If you say someone is a woodworker are they making chairs, tables, boats, or spoons?  Is a glassmaker creating beads, cups, or stained glass?  Don’t even get me started on the category of “Fiber Arts”. 

Through conversations with other people in the field as well as by running a Martial A&S panel at Pennsic, I realized that the topic of Martial A&S was similar to the other arts mentioned above.  If I want to encourage people to study Martial A&S  I believe I should start by spreading the message that Martial A&S is open to many areas of study and only restricted by the creativity of the individual doing the research. 

I will admit that when I first heard of Martial A&S I thought that it had to be a recreation of a period manual or martial art. This was how I started my A&S journey, by entering a competition where I acted out a passage from a fencing manual.  Also included in what people usually consider Marital A&S is the research and practice of fighting styles that the SCA might think non-typical or experimental such as grappling or fighting with a weapon like a sickle or scythe. 

Martial recreation ideas are what first hooked me on research.  The recreation and mastering of techniques from period manuals is very much Martial Arts and Science, but the topic can have more depth and should not be limited to martial movements.  I know of one member of the order of the Maunche (an SCA A&S grant level award) that has looked at dueling practices within period and has also researched what it took to make a living as a fencing instructor.   It is easy to see how A&S projects revolving around not just martial techniques themselves, but the historical context in which they were performed falls under the Martial A&S umbrella.  For example, if someone researched battlefield tactics of period conflicts there is a direct connection to the Martial arts and sciences.

We can look at the Arte De Athletica, a combat manual by Paulus Hector Mair, as an example of how a person can delve deeper into the field of Martial A&S.  This manual has a series of plates that explore typical martial weapons like pikes, halberds, and swords.  He also details fighting techniques for what are sometimes called peasant weapons, like the scythe, sickle, or flail.  An artist could focus solely on the mechanics of these peasant weapons to recreate their techniques.  That same artist or another could write a paper on the societal context of these weapons and how a book like this was possibly written due to the German peasant wars and revolts that occurred in the early 16th century.   Both the recreation as well as the research into the historical context of the material can fall into the category of Martial A&S. 

I believe that not just the topic, but the intent of the researcher can make a piece Martial in nature.  If an artist is recreating a pair of breeches from period, it is evident how that can fall into costuming or fiber arts.  Let us say the same artist is recreating those breeches because they saw them in a fencing manual.  Perhaps they are now looking to document how those specific pants influenced the movement of the fighter or style.  Does the style of pants allow for greater flexibility of movement than other period examples?  Does the fit make one hypothesized movement more or less functional when recreated while in garb?  If that were the case, I would argue that the intent of the research could also fall within the framework of Martial A&S.  

A similar argument about intent can be made for woodworking a shield.  Is the artist looking at how the straps for the arm were functional on the battlefield?  Are they looking at the effectiveness of the material against various types of weapon blows it might have taken?  The Martial context of the art and the intent of the project is only limited by the creativity and research of the artist.

The word “Martial” indicates something that is suited for war or a warrior.   Without a doubt, the techniques and recreation of martial actions fall into this category.   I would also say that that if you are studying martial philosophy, armor smithing, fiber arts, the historical context of weapons, as well as a much wider variety of ideas than I can list here, it is possible you are also practicing Martial A&S.   Within the SCA and the very broad and deep field of Martial Arts and Science we should welcome all of these well researched ideas under our umbrella and encourage the continued exploration of our passions. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

La Verdadera Destreza Seminar with Ton Puey

Today’s Post will cover:

An update on what I have been doing
A summary of a Ton Puey Seminar
What I hope to be covering in future blog posts


Hello,  It has been a little while since I put together a blog post and not just a La Verdadera Destreza resource list or Spanish circle update.  I am sorry about that, but I hope to get back to posting about things that might prove valuable for those studying La Verdadera Destreza (LVD), as well as folks interested in researching the martial Arts and Sciences (A&S).

Even though I haven’t posted in a bit, I have been anything but bored.  The Pennsic War happened over the summer where I taught a Destreza footwork class and hosted a martial A&S panel, I have been involved in multiple fencing tournaments, and in early July I was very honored to be inducted into 2 different orders within the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA).  Those are the Order of the Golden Rapier (OGR) which is given for excellence in fencing, and the Order of the Maunche which is given for excellence in the arts and sciences (specifically my Destreza research).  I am humbled beyond words to be inducted into these orders, which contain some insanely talented and amazing people that I admire.


Now to get to the heart of what inspired today’s post.  As you can guess by the title I was very lucky to attend a Destreza seminar this past Sat. and Sun with Ton Puey, who is the head of the Academia da Espada in Spain.  The seminar was held at The Athena School of Arms, which is a Boston area HEMA school.  They are a great group and I know some of their members as they have hosted visiting instructors in the past, such as a seminar I attended with Devon Boorman in June.

If you do not know Ton Puey you can find out more about him from the resource list (see link in first paragraph or at top of page).  I would say there are a handful of modern masters that are very actively teaching and researching the art of LVD.  Some of them include Ramon and Jeanette Martinez, Sebastien Romagnan, Alberto Bomprezzi, Tim Rivera, and Puck Curtis.  Near the very top of this list is Ton Puey.  He is the head of his fencing school in Spain and recognized for his skill in Destreza as well as his scholarship, as he has also co-authored / translated multiple books and papers on the topic.

Sadly, there is no way for me to summarize everything that happened in 2 days /12-14 hours of seminar and lessons in a short post.  I have attended and taught a number of martial arts seminars over the years.  Even with taking notes (which I always try to do) I tell people that you are lucky if you can absorb between 1-5 concepts (varies with length of seminar) to work on at home. I will give you an idea of what was covered and some of my personal take home messages.

Saturday morning was Destreza basics.  We did not pick up a sword at all that morning and worked entirely on footwork and sensitivity.  OMG it was AWESOME, lol.   I picked up at least 2 new footwork drills along with an expansion of several that I had been doing.  I am a firm believer that footwork is the heart of all martial arts.  While the paint and molding in a house might look nice, it will do you no good if the whole thing is built on a poor foundation.  I think this is doubly so in LVD since we are constantly moving on angles and curves, crossing our steps, etc. 

The other part of the morning was spent practicing a drill I would describe as being similar to Tai Chi sticky hands or Wing Chun’s Chi Sau.  If you don’t know what these are I suggest googling it.  The idea behind this was to help us understand what is called “tacto” in LVD.  It is this style's method of contact and blade control.  We also combined the footwork drills with this concept and it was very much LVD training gold for me.

If you watch any videos of Ton you will notice his use of distance, rhythm, tacto, and footwork are very distinctive.  These drills helped me better understand how he is moving and not only confirmed I am on the right path with my self-training, but they also gave me a type of mental permission to expand on what I am doing.

On Saturday afternoon I had a private lesson where Ton covered the Atajo with me in relation to my own body.  A couple of my friends also took privates and we were very lucky to be able to watch each others’ sessions.  I can only say that if you ever get a chance to train with any modern master I suggest you TAKE IT!  Training on your own only goes so far and the type of advice and feedback you get in terms of refining your movements is priceless.  You can of course train on your own, but without a doubt it will take you longer to find your way along the path, than if you have a professional guide who has been there before.

Sunday morning’s seminar was intermediate Destreza and this was where Ton covered the basics of blade control.  He went over Atajo and cutting with the group and he had us practicing the application of that along with our footwork from the day before.  We also briefly went over the 4 LVD General Techniques (a link to a blog post I wrote on them a while back) and how they can be incorporated, but to be honest I might be combining some of my memories from the private lessons I watched the day before.  In the afternoon he taught a buckler class which was great as well.  He drew connections to both the larger Rotella (a link to a shield I personally own) as well as how to use these same concepts with a dagger. 

As I said, in any seminar you should try and absorb as much as you can, but there are limits to what is possible.  A few of my personal take home lessons from the weekend include:
  • New footwork drills (transverse, curve, foot crossing, etc.)
  • Proper flow is a combination of good footwork, distance, and tacto while being mentally flexible
  • Refining of my atajo and the angles needed to apply it properly
  • Quicker and more explosive movements are ok on occasion
  • Use the cup/hilt to block on upward angles while also stabbing at the same time

Finally, one of the greatest things I got out of the conversations and time I spent with Ton was that I think I am on the right track with my studies and applications of LVD.  I have a long way to go on this journey, but it is great to speak to a guide that can help me along the path.


I am hoping this is the start of a trend for me posting more frequently.  Some future post topics I hope to cover include: 
  • Tourney and competition mindset in both A&S and in fencing 
  • Use of historical techniques and concepts when fencing
  • What is martial Arts and Science (A&S) and how does it relate to what we do

 Until my next post thanks for reading!

Bonus photo of me with Ton Puey :-) 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

King's and Queen's A&S Championship LVD Paper

Hello again,

So I have some very interesting and exciting news to share with you in this post.

Last Saturday Feb 10th, 2018 I entered the the King's and Queen's Arts and Sciences  (A&S) Championship for the East Kingdom.  I submitted a research paper I wrote on La Verdadera Destreza.

If you are interested in reading the paper you can click the title:

I will jump to the conclusion very quickly to avoid any stupid suspense and just tell you.... I Won!  

For people not familiar with the SCA A&S championship it goes like this.  There is a competition held once a year and the winners hold the position for a year.  There are 2 champions selected, 1 King's and 1 Queen's.  In some of the East Kingdom championships the King's is considered the overall winner, but in the Arts and Sciences competition the Queen's is the overall winner.   Well, not only did I win Queen's A&S, but my Lady Elena Hylton (who has helped me with my work more than you can imagine) won King's Championship.... yup, speechless.

It is an insanely difficult competition to judge to say the least, as you are not just comparing apples to oranges.  You are evaluating scribal art, fiber art, leatherwork, painting, research, brewing, blacksmithing, and another dozen or so types of SCA period artistry.  There were about 37 entries I believe and each one was beautifully unique.  The Minister of A&S, his deputies, and last year's champs have done an amazing job of standardizing the judging rubrics, but I do not envy that job in the least.  

The quality of the works at the competition left me in awe and beyond humbled.  I loved so much of what I saw and was so excited to talk to people and not only learn about what they did, but to see the joy and excitement in their eyes as they geeked out with me about the thing that they put SOOOOO much time into and that which gave them joy and passion.

I want to, but will not spend this post thanking everyone that made it an amazing day, but I did post a G+ thank you  that got some of it across I hope.

One thing that should be mentioned, and many folks in the rapier community are very excited about, is that this is the first time a Martial research project has ever won champs.  It is an amazing thing to have this recognized as an art worthy of the name and study and just so COOL!  It is a testament to all of the martial researchers in the East who made this possible, such as Master Donovan and Don Lorenzo and all of the other fencers and fighters who shared their passions for period martial research with each other. Thank you!

Part of the job of being one of the kingdom champions is to represent the East in the coming year and spread the message of A&S.  I will be working hard with Elena to do this together.  Her intelligence and passion for A&S is beyond compare and she will also be getting her well deserved Laurel in just about a month.  Her mind is boiling over with ideas on how to get more people involved and we are both so excited.

The main message I personally want to get out this year comes down to:
  • More people should and can study the Martial Arts and Sciences in ALL forms
  • Spread the joy of ALL our A&S passions to others and remember THIS IS FUN!
  • A&S is a process and takes time so just try something and learn

If anyone wants to see more about the process and falls I went through to get this paper to its current shape, I made 2 other blog posts in the past year to try and document my journey.

A&S LVD Research Paper Experience  3-28-17 (contains an older version of my paper)

Remember that we are doing all of this because we find joy in sharing our crazy geeky hobbies.  This isn't our full time job, but it is a full time passion that we must all cultivate by sharing with each other.  

Thank you!


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Importance of Drilling a Research Paper

Hello Again,

This past weekend inspired me to get another post up a bit quicker than usual.  Since this isn't a catch up post like my last one it will be a bit more focused I hope.  I will be talking about what I have been learning in the process of writing fencing research papers and compare that to the act of fencing itself.

First, at Barony Beyond the Mountain (BBM) Yule on Saturday I was honored with the East Kingdom Silver Brooch for my fencing research and teaching of La Verdadera Destrea (LVD).  I was extremely surprised and left speechless.  I do what I do in LVD because I have fun.  The combination of learning history and another mindset, placing it directly into action to see if it works, and getting other people excited about the same thing, gives me a sort of child like glee. Having this research and passion recognized as being useful to other people is beyond awesome.

The Future Paper:
Next, as I mentioned briefly in my last post I have been reading Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics in preparation and research for my next paper on Destreza.  Specifically I am looking to discuss how the ethics and Catholic religion of Carranza was responsible for how LVD was created.  There is no doubt that if you have a Catholic lawyer who writes dueling books during his free time, there is a very good chance that his fencing style and philosophy will have some heavy outside influences.

The Past Mindset:
That being said I have been going back and forth in my head about how I should move forward with my A&S activities.  While I WILL be writing the ethics paper soon, I have been considering if writing a NEW paper is the right thing I should do for Kings and Queen's Arts and Science competition in February.   I wrote a paper last year for KnQ, but due to some bad stuff happening in my life I was unable to enter it there. I did get feedback from some judges who read it and I also submitted it to the Laurel's prize tourney a month or so later and received some awesome feedback from Mistress Lissa on how to improve my paper in the future.  Here is a blog post I wrote in March about that great experience: LVD Research Paper Experience.

After that last event I thought I learned what I needed to from that paper and pretty much shelved it and started thinking about my next work.  After several discussions with my Lady Elena and after getting some great advice and consultation at the A&S research table last weekend, with Master Magnus and Lady Raiza, I am now rethinking things a bit. 

In my education and research paper experience prior to the SCA, once you submitted them and received a grade, you moved onto the next work.  Sure, you can get some advice and have reviewers help you before you submit the paper and make changes then, but you didn't submit the same paper to two different classes and that is how I think I have been viewing my work. 

The Advice to Drill First:
Based on feedback and wisdom from the folks mentioned above, that mindset does not need to be the case when writing papers for the SCA.  Most crafts people will submit their work to multiple competitions to get feedback and figure out how to improve their craft.  In fact, as I was reminded, it would be considered very rude to not listen to advice you were given and show how you incorporated it into your future work or how you took that into consideration as you moved forward.

This is where the comparison of the process of SCA research papers to Fencing competitions and drills came into the consultation conversation with Master Magnus.  When you enter a competition and/or fence someone better than you, they will sometimes give you advice on how to improve your game.  You then take that information and alter what you are doing, practice/drill , practice/drill, practice/drill and try and put it back into action in another fight or tourney.  For those that don't know, fencing drills are repeated movements, frequently done with a partner, that you do to train your brain and body to learn how to fence better.  If you value the opinion of the person who gives you the advice you do not just ignore it and go about your business making the same mistakes over and over again.

Now to bring it back to the paper.  It would be possible, but not very efficient to enter a tournament (read: A&S paper), receive some good advice, and then just move onto another tournament (read: new paper) without practicing and drilling the previous material first to make sure that what I learned is ingrained in my brain.  Sure I could do it, but the more that I thought about it, if I want to get the most out of that original paper I need to change my previous mindset and see my research paper and tournament entry as more of an opportunity to drill my academic skills and paper writing abilities to get the most out of them.  This way, when I do get to my Detreza ethics paper, I will have that much more time with the pen/sword in my hand and brain.

SO, what I will now be doing is breaking out the previous paper and drilling the you know what out of it.  I want to get the most out of that experience and also try and get it out to as many people as possible to share the fun that I have with Destreza.

I hope my insights and experiences as a fencer and fencing researcher in the SCA can help other people.  Each path is unique, but it is very much a journey and a fun one if you take the time to look around and listen to folks.

Thank's for reading.

Bonus picture of my Silver Brooch.  Squee!!  :-) 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Catching Up: Seminar, Tournaments, Teaching, Injuries, and Have Fun

Hello Again,

I have returned and I am trying my best to get back on the fencing blog horse, which I seem to have somehow fallen off this year.  I have still been active with my Destreza even though my blog might not be the best reflection recently.  I hope to use this post to catch everyone up on what is going on  since the last big post on my LVD research paper.  I will also continue my trend of trying to use the blog as an educational tool to share some of the lessons I have learned while walking this path.

To break down what I am covering to some bullet points:

  • Attend Seminars on fencing whenever you get a chance, they are pretty rare and awesome
  • Challenge yourself and Fence in Tournaments, you will always learn something
  • Share the joy by Teaching and Talking to Others about La Verdadera Destreza 
  • Injuries Suck big time, but there are lessons to be had in those as well
  • Have Fun with what you do since that is what will make you want to do it again
A bonus point that I will also cover briefly something that means a lot to me personally is:
  • Research is the Key to what we do, so go out there and learn and study
Let's begin!

Attend Seminars
In May I had the amazing opportunity to go to a Spanish Martial Arts Weekend in New York hosted by the Martinez Academy of Arms.  Classes in LVD as well as the Spanish knife called the Navaja were taught by Maestro Ramon Martinez, Maestro Jeanette Martinez, Maestro Jared Kirby, and Maestro James Loriega.  They host this event every 2 years and I just missed the one in 2015.  Thanks to a friend of mine who studies at their school, Matt Pius, I did not miss it this time around.  

I could write a whole post on just this and not have enough time or room to cover all of the things I learned.  I can't do that though so I will say that one of the greatest highlights for me was to have the opportunity to not just learn new things, but also to have the things I have been doing on my own, without a professional's feedback, corrected and refined.  I have been unable to attend some of the larger fencing conferences and seminars like KWAR, VISS, WMAW, Destreza Days, etc. for various reasons and to have a chance to study with some recognized Masters of this art was awesome. 

All of the Masters and students at the seminar were wonderfully welcoming and open about sharing their knowledge.  What I found staggering though was how I believe I was the only person from outside of the academy to attend the seminar.  There were only 8-12 different attendees there which also confused me.  Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised, since I know that LVD is a very small sub group of the historical fencing community.  As someone that has had difficulty finding and attending events, I know that time and money do not always align with the stars to make such things possible.  That being said, I can not express with enough emphasis without writing it in all caps, ATTEND SEMINARS WITH THE MASTERS WHEN YOU CAN!!!!  The value of their knowledge and time is beyond compare.

Fence in Tournaments
This one is pretty simple and I have always been an advocate of challenging yourself through competition to assess your progress and the effectiveness of what you are studying.  Over the summer I had the opportunity to have this experience kicked up to a new level when I was chosen to represent the SCA East Kingdom at Pennsic to be on their single champions team.  

For background, there is a very large (12,00 or so people) SCA event held in PA each year with 2 armies.  One of the events pits a group of chosen champs against another.  There is a melee fencing battle and singles champs battles.  For the singles, there are about 10-15 chosen, they pit you against a person from the other team for a single bout, win or lose.  To say the least it was a HUGE honor to be chosen to represent the East Kingdom in this tournament as a fencer and even more what I felt was a representative of LVD. 

I will summarize some of highlights/lowlights and lessons learned from this.  
  • My opponent was a Master of Defense and thus has more experience than I do, but the ones who selected my opponent for me felt I was a good match.  I did not know my opponent and had never fenced him before and he had not fenced me so we were on equal ground there.  I had little knowledge so I went with the game plan of patience
  • The good:
    • I stuck to my game plan of patience and did not rush things
    • Tournament head space for a single bout is much different than a longer tournament, this was very new to me and I kept my spirits up and kept in a good mind so this was a huge success under this kind of first time single champion tourney bout pressure.  I taught an LVD class that morning and also Heralded for the heavy list fighters right before my fight.  That could be wrong for some people, but was perfect for me.  Lesson learned is find what works for you and stick to it.
    • I fenced my game with good control of distance
    • I was freaking chosen for the team as a practitioner of LVD.... That is a win right there, lol.
  • The bad/ lessons learned:
    • I lost, lol.  Yup, but according to folks that keep stats first time singles champs only win about 20% of the time.  I wanted to win, but not this day and that is ok. :-)
    • I was possibly too patient and there were opportunities that I could have taken advantage of it I was more aggressive
    • I need to watch the pattern of my feet as well as my blade.  Some folks said that after such a very long bout, I dropped into a footwork rhythm that my opponent possibly took advantage of
 So overall I kept my cool and stuck to my plan.  I lost but learned.

As another tournament note, I also participated in the By the Book Tournament a few days later where there are a bunch of fencers that fight only historical styles.  I was one of several LVD fencers in there.  I won my sub group and over all I tied with another person for Second Place.  That is seriously a huge honor and win for me right there.

So, get out there and compete and put yourself and what you do on the line. You might win and you might lose, but overall you will learn and hopefully have fun doing it.

Teach and Talk to Others
At Pennsic I taught another class on Destreza.  This is the third year I have taught there and this year it was a research class designed to teach people about what is out there to read on LVD and where to find it.  It was 2 hours long and the audience stayed the entire time and seemed pretty engaged in the material and what I had to talk about.

Do I know everything there is to know about LVD? Hell no, but I have learned enough in the years I have been studying and writing about it, to be able to share some of this passion with others in an organized way.  I have high standards for teaching (I have a degree in it) and think that if you are doing it, you need to prepare, prepare, prepare and know what you are going to share.  You also need to be willing to admit that you do not know everything since spreading lies because you are too prideful and want to appear all knowing is much worse than not knowing at all. 

The main message I have about this is that if you are studying LVD and you are excited about it, don't be afraid to talk to people about it.  You do not have to teach a class to spread the good word of what we are doing and the fun we are having.  Education comes in many forms and you can educate folks by teaching a practical class, teaching a research class, or just by talking one on one with someone about Destreza and what it is.  The more folks that know what it is the better, and maybe a few of them will decide to drink the historical fencing juice and come and join us. 

Injuries Suck
In April I sprained a finger doing another martial art.  In June I sprained the thumb of that same right hand.  All of the above tournaments were fought with a wrist brace and with my first 2 fingers taped together.

You heard about my spring and early summer, well after Pennsic my life has been full of injuries.  I hurt my back in a minor way moving stuff just before war.  At Pennsic I seriously hurt my back to a very bad degree with sciatic nerve and leg pain that put me on the side lines for most of that war week.  After I got back I had a limp, numb feet, and something that is called foot drop.... let me just say that it is not good and kind of scary.  I stopped fencing for a couple of months and went to physical therapy, got an MRI and I am now healing up slowly.

BUT, around mid Aug. my shoulder started hurting pretty bad too.  I ended up getting that diagnosed as an injured Biceps tendon which can possibly be torn or if I am lucky it is just tendinitis that will heal.   I loved when the doctor said the movement that causes this isn't that common and went on to show me that is was in fact the arm extended right angle position that is required for the practice of Destreza, lol.  Yup, I am seriously left wondering if I have in fact come down with a 100% period injury to my style of fencing :-) .  

Have I let these stop me, no.  They have slowed me down a great deal and depressed the heck out me though.  I am back to fencing practices, but currently using only my left arm with my right arm behind my back to avoid any accidental misuse.  I am getting stabbed in new and unusual ways each week, but I am also learning so many things as if it was the first time.  I am hoping to fence in a couple of weeks in the Kings and Queen's SCA rapier championship with my right arm, but we will see how things go.

My message to everyone is that getting the momentum back to fence has not been easy, but it is very much worth it.  Sadly I think getting injured is almost an inevitable if you study any kind of martial art.  You need to care for yourself, but not let it stop you from moving forward or at the very least circling around the problem like a good Diestro.  

Have Fun
As I said I am now fencing at practice with just my left hand for the past few weeks.  I can honestly say that this is perhaps the most fun I have had fencing in a very long time.  It is a little frustrating and also humbling, but I am not afraid to get stabbed as that is what learning in this martial art involves.  I have fenced on an off with my left over the years, but this is the first time I am ONLY using it with no exceptions.  As a friend said it is kind of cool because your off hand does not have all of the bad habits that your right or main has developed, so it is a blank slate.  

One of my tattoos is the Japanese kanji for Shoshin or "Beginner's mind".  This is a term from Zen Buddhism and it refers to an attitude of openness, and lack of preconceptions when studying or learning.  I got it as a tattoo years ago to remind myself to always have an open mind when learning as there is so much joy in that.  I seriously think that all of the body pains and mental pain that I have gone through during the past year, and the current use of my left arm have helped me remember that I need to clean my slate and just approach things with this attitude.  Maybe I am overthinking and rationalizing all of the crap I have had to deal with, but either way I am going to make the best out of it and try and remind myself and everyone out there to just HAVE FUN doing what we love to do.

Bonus: Research is the Key
This one is short and more of a teaser.  At dinner after fencing last night some of us were chatting about what we are studying and doing with our styles.  Well, it was kind of fun to tell folks that I am now in the process of reading Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics.   I felt like such a proud geek to tell my friends this and then have them get so excited when I said that I hope my next Destreza paper will be on the development of certain techniques within the style and the ethical reasons for their creation.

I guess where I am going to leave this post is that historical fencing is a VERY deep pool in which you can swim.  There are so many directions and depths that you can go to.  I really just want to encourage folks to learn more and have fun with what they are doing and swim as deep and as far as you want to.

It is good to be back and thanks for reading!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Arts & Sciences: La Verdadera Destreza Research Paper Experience

(If you stick through to the end you get a peek at me in my epic period Elizabethan kit that makes me look like I stepped out of a Spanish painting, hehe) 

"Life pleasant, the enemy a strong man, danger ordinary, defence natural, the science to achieve it infallible, its study obligatory and practice necessary."
Don Luis Pacheco de Narvaez, Nueva cienicia

This past weekend I had the privilege of entering a La Verdadera Destreza (LVD) research paper into an SCA Arts and Sciences (A&S) event.  The event was called the Laurel's Prize Tourney and involved more than 20 challenges that were issued by the Laurels of the SCA (peers of the A&S community).  The challenges included those in weaving, brewing, heraldry, performance, and many more crafts.

The challenge that I entered was called "Research, Research, and then Research Some More" offered by Mistress Elysabeth Underhill.  It involved submitting a research paper on the topic of your choice, as well as displaying and presenting this information to those at the event in a creative and informative way.

The paper I submitted was originally written for King and Queen's A&S Championship that was held in February, but due to some things in life beyond my control I was not able to attend that event.  I was thrilled to have the opportunity to enter my paper into another event that I could actually attend, where I could receive additional feedback, learn how I could better myself, and hopefully spread the good word of La Verdadera Destreza far and wide :-)

If you would like to just jump to the paper I am providing a direct link below this paragraph.  Beware though that it is 13 pages of research paper and 27 overall with all of the extras.

by Doroga Voronin

Other than giving you the link to my paper I wanted to do a little bit more here.  Similar to how I have told folks who read my blog what I have learned from applying LVD in practice and tournaments, I will do the same thing regarding my research and display.

It is a fine line I will walk though because while I don't want to beat myself up for what I feel I didn't do, I DO want to be honest and share with everyone what I learned from this event, how I am going to use this knowledge to move forward, and most importantly show that there is a process of growth that occurs from A&S experience like there is from fencing drills and competition.

To Begin:

To paraphrase a conversation and discussion I had with Mistress Underhill, I did not spring fully formed from the A&S womb into what I am today to compete in this competition, lol.  This was not my first Destreza related A&S event and I have been building up to this point with more than 2 years of research and slightly less than that entering events.  In the fall of 2015 I entered and won honorable mention at St. Eligius for a demo of a period technique (old blog post on that here).  Last spring I displayed an annotated bibliography (link to that older document here) at KnQ A&S champs that taught me a ton about displays and gave me a bunch of ideas for my research.  Last summer at Pennsic I hosted a Destreza meet and greet, and taught a class on footwork and theory that incorporated much about the history and context of this period style (lesson plan and blog post linked here).  All of that lead up to me writing and displaying this paper.

The Display:

Part of the competition was to "think about how you can present your work to those who are at the event and who may not have the time to read your entire paper"  Here is what my display looked like.

Sadly I forgot to take a picture of it at the event, but I recreated it for you on my kitchen table :-).

My display at last year's KnQ was much different.  One thing I learned from that was to use WORDS, lol.  My display last year was nothing but a board with various Spanish circles on it, along with my annotated bibliography printed out and displayed below.  What I found out was that the Spanish circle can in fact be used as a Rorschach ink blot test.  People had a hard time figuring out if I was showing examples of celestial navigation, map making, alchemy symbols, or fencing.  Those were all actual guesses that came up when people stopped by to look at my work.   So this year I made it clear with a title, summary points, and some fun quotes from my paper, such as the Pacheco quote at the top of this post, along with the plates I used and cited.  I also used as my table cloth the folded up full size replica Spanish circle that I created this past year (blog post on that linked here).  I actually got the idea to pursue and create that circle after a conversation I had with Master Magnus hvalmagi at last year's display.  That circle table cloth this year was't fully visible, but it was a really great conversation starter for folks walking by.

To summarize my A&S display growth, you can't share your passion with someone if they can't figure out what it is.  :-)

The Paper:

Let me say that I am so appreciative for the feedback that I received from Mistress Underhill at the event.  Not only did she take the time to read the paper and look at it with an academic's eye, but then she spent approximately an hour discussing it with me and how I can better my research and myself in the SCA.   I must also thank the judges from KnQ A&S champs who read the paper and gave me their feedback even though I was unable to come and speak with them in person at the event.  All of these conversations have helped me frame this and future research projects.

I am very proud of the work that I did.   There are many things that I did well, such as the quantity and quality of the sources that I used (8 primary sources and 6 secondary sources), but I am also looking at it critically so that I can grow as an academic studying and sharing this art.  It was said to me that no one will know what I left out except myself.  That is very true, but I also want to help other people along this path by showing the process of growth that occurs through academic reflection.

Things I can improve upon:

1. A Better Purpose or Argument: 
I knew this was a weakness going into the paper, especially when I wrote it for the KnQ champs competition.  The main purpose of this piece was to help clear up what La Verdadera Destreza actually is, at least in a general sense.  I wrote this paper to be informative and to be a summary of the main concepts of the style.  One of the accurate and main points of feedback that I received from multiple sources was that I could have better tailored the paper to have a more focused argument or purpose rather than a general summary of the material.

2. Narrower Focus for the Topic
Simply put, the scope of what I was trying to cover was too large.  I could have written 4-5 separate papers or an entire book on the material I was trying to cover.  By being general in my informative paper rather than more focused I had to leave a great deal of information out and in doing so I might have left the reader with more questions than answers.  I am idealistic and hope that I encouraged them to study more LVD to find those answers, but I know that is the wrong way to do it.  Going forward I shouldn't be afraid to write a shorter paper that is a closer look at only a part of the art.

3. Don't Generalize
In my excitement and passion for LVD, it was pointed out to me that many times I made very general statements throughout the paper.  This might be permissible in another format, but in an academic research paper, these generalizations are very big holes.  Frequently I compared Destreza to the Italian styles of fencing and since my paper was not on those styles, at best I left the reader hanging and not fully understanding the comparison I was trying to make, at worst my comparison might have been inaccurate or full of research holes you could drive a bus through.  If I am going to prove a point I need to do it more clearly and with less generalization.

I will keep the main summary to the big three take homes for now.  There are other pieces of feedback I received that are just as valuable and that I will always need to be aware of in my studies.  These include:

  • Watching out for the over use of jargon or terminology that people might not understand.  
  • Do not use or overuse quotes without explaining the point they are proving
  • Be aware of my audience and not talk over them with my language
  • Use pictures, data, and graphs effectively to prove my point
  • Stay closer to SCA period when I am writing for this audience

I believe that these items are things that all researchers need to do as they study and write about their topics and I feel very lucky for the guidance and feedback that has been provided to me.  I hope that my reflection on this can help other folks that are interested in researching and writing about a topic understand that this is a gradual process of growth and refinement like the study or practice of any art.

My Reward:

Along with the education and feedback I received, the other take home from this event was a gift from Mistress Underhill.  She rewarded each person who entered one of her challenges with chocolate covered pretzels along with one of her amazing hand made beads.  I am keeping the insanely beautiful bead on my desk at work to remind me to keep chugging along in the art and science of Destreza. I should note that she did in fact give us more pretzels than the one in the photo, but that was the only one left.
Destreza research never tasted so good.  :-)

The Bonus Photo:

Huge thanks to Jeanne Clifton for my period Elizabethan Outfit.
I even have the angry dour period Spanish face going on and everything.
If you want to learn more about this outfit you can check out her write up at Elena's Threads.

Thanks for reading.