Everyone should have a vision of what they want out of martial arts training. It’s one of those rare things in life that you have a modicum of control over. You can lose your job, your family, wealth, reputation, home…uproot your entire life and start over, and you can still follow your dream of martial arts excellence. It’s such an essential human endeavor that it can match all the seasons of a life. It can teach an adolescent co-ordination to cope with growth spurts, a youth the value of sportsmanship and confidence, an adult can find respite from the stress…fulfillment in the depths that come from constant refinement of skill, the mature can reap the benefits of years of experience to teach, and the aged can use the lifetime of training to find new mysteries to explore in life.
I’ve had the opportunity to have it all and lose it all in life. The only constant in all of that has been my martial arts training. I had a strong vision of what martial arts meant to me when I was young…it was purely a thing to kill with, in defense of those I loved. That vision has grown and changed as I have aged. I am not who I was…I am a different man than I was five years ago, never mind what I was when I was eleven. My art has altered to fit my capabilities, and my vision has changed. The core is still there…that black and angry beast will never go away…but time has taken away it’s whip hand, and changed it’s voice to one of determination and encouragement when my resolve flags.
My approach to the art of the sword has changed over that time as well. I had a fiery passion for historical accuracy when I started, passing up opportunities to win in order to stick to strict manual re-creation in tournaments. I devoured every manual I could find, chasing even snippets of on-going translations, compiling everything into carefully worked spreadsheets, flowcharts, and re-wordings in the search for understanding. I travelled to study and learn, came home and worked my butt off to piece everything together.
When Devon and I started Academie Duello, we made the conscious decision to be a modern school of swordplay, informed by our (and others) studies of the historical manuals. We had a few reasons to make that decision, but one of the main reasons was that we wanted to make the focus of the school the students, not the re-creation. The WMA/HEMA world was still growing at that point, but we’d already seen far too many pointless and ugly discussions about the minutiae of re-creation to want to be involved in that world. We also knew we could teach the skills without forcing the students to learn all the background material we had absorbed…and at the same time, we could surround students with the material and encourage study of the source material.
When I split off, I maintained that vision, but modified it. I dropped the focus on Capoferro and rapier, and switched to teaching the i.33 and Liechtenhauer material that I had felt was being neglected. Meyer was a simple addition, his clean and easy two-hander material was a joy to work with. Which brought back my hunger for my mother art of Marozzo, and the desire to include that as well. I enjoyed having a laboratory of students to work with, changing and modifying teachings to find the best way to teach the arts of the masters. Fun for me, but not so enjoyable for the students. But at the end of that time, I had hit on a method I really believed in. When those schools folded, I used the time to reflect, and refine what I had learned.
Valkyrie is the result. My vision of martial arts has changed, as has my vision of teaching. And so has the environment, and community. Academie Duello is a healthy and vibrant school, and can boast not only excellent fighters, but excellent scholars as well. The local SCA rapier practice still survives…lessened from it’s dominant status, but still a powerful dark horse. Any one school can die in this city, and the art of historical swordplay will still survive. The triad of all three schools together can make something new, though…something more powerful than the sum of it’s parts. AD, with it’s excellent facilities and top-notch instruction, lives up to it’s name and provides the city with a true academy, a place of academic swordplay. The SCA covers the survival-of-the-fittest, Darwinian reality check of raw experience.
With those aspects covered, I’m free of my responsibilities to those aspects of swordplay. I can trust that our interactions with the community, in camaraderie and competition, will balance out my students. Free, my vision becomes a little grander. I aim to make my students not into imitations of the manuals, but imitations of the students of the manuals. I made for myself a vision of the idealized noble…cultured in appearance and manner, savage in the heart…the non-existent perfect warrior. Like Castiglione’s Courtier, they should be capable of almost anything, while giving the appearance of perfect ease.
I don’t think our modern world gives us the opportunity to start our training from the right basis. We are not our ancestors…we don’t ride, we don’t walk, we don’t dance, sing, wrestle, hunt or truthfully do much of anything other than sit. It’s hard to run, much less fight, when your life is lived with butt in chair. At it’s core, Valkyrie is a school that goes to war against the Way of the Chair. Martial fitness is our weapon.
Our swordplay is informed by my study and experience in more rigid historical swordplay. I teach by examination, creating puzzles for students to solve that should best be solved by what appears in the manuals. Constrained on the inside line at the correct measure in terza, the student should find the correct response lies in the cavazione and lunge in seconda…or quarta with the correct step. Bound at the cross, they should learn for themselves the winden, at the correct range they should grow to understand the power of entering with the strong false edge. When the drill is constrained tight enough, the correct result should happen: An untouched student who delivers a clean hit. It should happen with the manual technique, but sometimes it doesn’t. Historically there have been different answers from different schools to the same question…often different answers within a single manual.
We start with the desire to build the perfect warrior. Fit, strong, resilient, equally skilled at wrestling, boxing, and weapons work. Capable of drilling hard to learn or change their skills, capable of learning from their mistakes. Approaching everything with an open mind because they have learned the value of taking chances, and cherish the learning experience that losing can give.
The main swordplay lesson of Valkyrie is the only real judge of victory lies inside the self. Correct technique is a thing that can only be found between two fencers, and not in the eyes of spectators.