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
- Research is the Key to what we do, so go out there and learn and study
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
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.
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.
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!