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Thursday, August 22, 2019

How did I get interested in Martial A&S?

I had a wonderful time at Pennsic this year.  That is the large 10,000+ person SCA festival that happens  in Pennsylvania that I have been attending for the past decade.  I was able to teach a La Verdadera Destreza (LVD) research class, hold an LVD meet and greet, and I placed third in a 20+ person “By the Book Tournament (one of my personal high points).

One of the more interesting things to come out of this year was a conversation I had with a person who attended both my class and the meet and greet.  Topics included the history of Destreza from the 16th century up until the current revitalization of the style, as well as a very interesting question they asked about why people chose to study historical fencing and martial arts in general?  I think there are some overarching answers that can be given, such as for challenge and curiosity, but I also think that everyone has a personal journey.  Sharing these experiences, like I am about to do below, can hopefully help others navigate their own learning experience and find inspiration.

I have also been working with my Laurel (think SCA mentor/teacher in my art and research) on how to communicate my thoughts and passion for LVD in the best way.  This blog post is a result of both the conversation I had at Pennsic with my class attendee as well as my work with my teacher.  My hope is by sharing my story I can show how interest, growth, and passion for historical martial arts and sciences can be sparked.  Enjoy !

How did I get interested in Martial Arts & Sciences (A&S)…. the Doroga Story 

Part 1: Interest and practice

Prior to my interest in fencing I practiced several styles of martial arts for many years.  I dabbled in fencing in order to hang out and play with my friends within the context of the SCA.  I did very well for an amateur and in fact won the Pennsic 42 novice tourney due to my athletic ability and previous martial experience, but I did not go beyond a certain point due to my lack of practice, which in fact stemmed from my lack of interest.  How I found my interest in fencing also ended up being how I found my passion for Destreza and Martial A&S.

After fencing for several years as a “Pennsic fencer” (show up in April and practice a few months before war, then disappear after war until the following year) several of my friends were beginning to receive awards and accolades for their skill and participation in the SCA.  This piqued my interest and at this point I asked 2 friends who were well known for their prowess what I could do to get better… other than show up more.   I was told the answer was to study and practice a historic style.  This made sense to me on a personal level as practitioner of martial arts.  Studying something in an organized way with structure, drilling, and repetition will in fact make you better than the person who is just messing around, which is what I had been doing up until then.  I realized this was solid and practical advice so I decided it was the direction I needed to go.

I was left with the problem of what style to choose.  With my limited knowledge of historical fencing I had only so many options.  The Italian styles never called to me personally and always felt far too linear for my tastes.  The German styles just didn’t connect for whatever reason as well.   As far as I was concerned that left me with the Spanish style of La Verdadera Destreza (LVD) which I had only heard of in passing, but it had caught my interest for 2 major reasons. 

The first was that I was a huge fan of the 90’s TV show Highlander and in Season 5 episode 14 “Duende” they supposedly practiced LVD.  Years earlier prior to doing any fencing at all I had purchased 2 instructional DVDs that were taught by Maestro Ramon Martinez and produced by an actor and fight choreographer for this Highlander series. I had never watched them, but they sat on my shelf for years gathering dust.  Simply put the first reason was I thought it looked cool.

The second reason I decided on LVD was one of the martial arts that I practiced and taught for a long time was Arnis, which is a Filipino stick fighting style that depends largely on angled stepping and entry.  From my limited knowledge of LVD I saw similarities in the footwork and thought that it would fit with my already existing martial experience and style of moving.  I thought that the fewer poor behaviors I had to un-train the faster I would learn this new style.  So, the second reason pretty much boils down to it looked familiar and like something I already had an interest in.

You could say that that was how I started martial A&S, but I don’t think that is 100% true.  Yes, you can practice something (like A&S) without knowing you are doing it, but I believe that you also need intention.  My intention at the time was to only get better at fencing, not do Arts and Science.  My further adventures and research are what took me down that road or rabbit hole.

Part 2: The accidental A&S entry

                So I began with my research.  I watched the Martinez DVDs to start with and I found Puck Curtis’ manual on the basics of the style. My thoughts were that I needed the language and modern understanding of the style before I could read more period manuals.  This starter research also was my first A&S drug in a way.  I somehow began caring and became curious about not just about how to fence, but also more about the weapons they used and if the Spanish were the only ones using cup hilts (short answer no they were not).  I started looking at maps and searching out who the rulers of Spain were during the period in which the style was practiced once I learned one of the founder’s students (Pacheco) became the fencing master for King Philip IV (spoiler alert, it was the during the time of the Hapsburg Empire).  I began not just wanting to know about how to fight, but also more about what they fought with and what class of person was actually doing it.
After practicing LVD for about 5 months I heard about a tournament being held at the SCA event of St. Eligius.  Based on my readings it was going to be a “by the book” tournament where people who practiced various historic styles would compete against one another.  I figured this was a chance to see if I could stick to the movements I was practicing and not just fall into my old more bouncy and athletic/ free form ways.  The day of the event arrived and I was quite excited to see how I would do. 

It didn’t work out quite the way I expected though. Maybe it was the cold weather, maybe they didn’t find someone to organize the tournament, most likely though I just read the description of the tournament wrong.  It turned out that the event was not in fact a physical tournament, but instead we were supposed to select a portion of a manual and demonstrate one the sword plays from it.  It just so happened that in being a giant geek I had a bag of the manuals I had been studying with me in the car with my fencing gear.  I decided that I did not drive all that way just to sit on the sidelines and watch other folks have fun.  I grabbed one of my books, my sword, and picked out a play to reenact.  Another twist occurred and it turned out that I was the only fencer to enter this portion of the competition so I was grouped with a number of non-martial artisans and put into the category of performance art.  I ended up winning an honorable mention for entering my first A&S competition that day and it was quite the learning experience to say the least and an unexpected challenge that made me want to keep exploring this art further in different ways.

Part 3: Conclusion

                The answer to what inspired me to study martial A&S is not a simple one.  It was my passion for martial arts in general, my desire to get more involved in the SCA like my friends, and my wish to get better at fencing.  It was the advice I was given on how to do that, my interest in a very awesome 90’s television show, the similarities I saw between a historical style and my own martial experiences, and a set of strange circumstances that showed me there were ways to compete in A&S and share my passion with others.   The story goes on further of course and there were more crossroads, questions, conversations, and rabbit holes I went down in my A&S research.  I think that an important take home message is that people should realize that the inspiration to begin something is not always the same as what inspires you to continue exploring it.  Continued inspiration to research and share our passions is what keep us going no matter what art we chose. 

Thanks for reading!

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