Slow work

Some of my favourite moments when fencing have been in slow work. Moments of sublime joy, and surprise, can come out of the steady pace. It’s a place of insight into your fencing and your thinking, the kind of learning you can only do in those moments when you drop the pace of your fencing game down to one tenth speed. It’s hard. Physically, it can be a challenge. If you move honestly, you are trying to maintain some of your awkward fencing transitions for a period of time, while slowly moving the weight that is the sword. It’s a reliable way to get good sweat going. At speed, I can do lunges all day. They are an easy, thoughtless movement for me after so many years of practice. A passing step is like walking, completely subconscious. I am not a champion fighter, but I’ve had more than my share…

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Hanging upright

A good class of deep work last night. Variated the workout a little to key in some new muscles in the back, to help us fine tune some things. The boxing portion was spent working combos of hooks and crosses, with ducking and step-over counters against cut kicks, and finishing with a stomp kick. Fun stuff. I like hearing the crack of the pads echoing through the hall. Swordplay tonight was rapier, half an hour of non-stop body void work. Wrapped with a half hour of free sparring, and everyone was drained by that point. It was a challenging class. One of the strength building exercises we do is variations of the Planche, known as planche progressions. A planche is a pretty simple exercise. Take the normal Plank position that’s so popular as a core exercise these days, and pick your feet up until you’re in a horizontal position supported…

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Talking things out

Language can be a complex issue in martial arts teachers. What you say can be easily misinterpreted by students. In my earlier days, a visiting Shotokan teacher from Japan was running a weekend-long workshop. I wasn’t there, but the story always stuck with me. Part way through the day, he offered the instruction to the students to “touch toes.” It seemed an odd request, a bit out of the context of what they were doing at the time, which was a motion that had them temporarily standing upright. They knew the next move, and it had nothing to do touching your toes. They looked confused at each other, and the instructor. Sensei got a little grumpy, and shouted “Touch toes!” Okay, fine. Can’t argue with the boss. Everyone bent over and touched their toes. Much screaming from Sensei. “Touch toes! Touch toes!” …Well, shit. We must have done it wrong.…

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Strong enough?

I’m not sure when strength became a swear word to the historical fencing community. The knee-jerk reaction is to comment that weights slow you down. I’ve been told a few times online that strength training would ruin my fencing, making me into a lumbering beast, presumably with shortened arms to match my primitive approach. I sometimes feel like I’m alone in actually taking the time to keep up with sport science. The usual refrain is that speed, finesse and control are the hallmarks of good fencing, and those are things that can only be destroyed by lifting weights. Which is total nonsense. You cannot be fast without muscles to make you go fast. Speed is nothing other than the result of an intense contraction of muscle. Strength training is training a muscle to contract as quickly and strongly as possible. Weights are most commonly used for this, but they aren’t…

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Pruning for correct growth

The art we love is on the verge of tremendous growth, despite the best intentions of some in the community. Wherever I go with my sword, I run across interested people. Mostly they just whisper off to the side, but it’s a rare day when someone doesn’t come up and ask me if that’s really a sword I’ve got. I’m always a little surprised by that, since Vancouver is a big WMA city. Devon and I planted a solid seed with Academie Duello, but Devon has since taken that seed and made it into a powerful force for WMA good. He’s used his considerable talents to promote the art to great success, both within and outside the community. It’s no longer surprising to see AD mentioned in the popular news…so it does still surprise me that people have no idea that the rapier on my back is for actual martial…

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Athleticism and the comfy couch

Martial arts is an athletic pursuit, but few of us are athletes. At least, we don’t have the work ethic of a serious athlete. Two or three workouts a day, five or six days a week? That’s a little too rich for most of us. We don’t have the funds to live that life, or have other things that make demands on our time. Working out two or three hours a week is a big thing for most of us. Six hours a week of training makes us feel pretty badass. It’s a long way from there to twelve or twenty hours…or more…of workout in a week. I like a tough class. I regard my students as amateur athletes, and hit them with a workout that challenges their ability to adapt. Twice a week is just at the limit of what most people can handle. If they all had unlimited…

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