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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!