We were at VISS (and it was awesome)!

VISS 2015 Poster

At the end of March, we wrapped up our participation in the 3rd Vancouver International Swordplay Symposium, hosted by Academie Duello. Two of our instructors and one senior student were in attendance, and we presented two workshops and a lecture, along with attending as many other instructors’ classes as we could manage.

VISS is an incredible event that brings together instructors and students from across North America (and one or two from Europe) for 3 intense days of hands-on workshops, lectures, discussions, and socializing. It’s become an important touchstone for the community, and a way to connect more strongly with our fellow practitioners. This year, Randy and I had the additional pleasure of attending a 2-day instructors’ summit before the main event. We spent 7 hours each day in round-table discussions about everything from the practicalities of running a martial arts business (marketing, student retention, instructor certification, etc) to the pedagogical and philosophical underpinnings of our work. Everyone had a lot to contribute, and our group of over a dozen professionals at varied points in their careers brought a great breadth of experience to the table. Many of us differ in our practice and approach to our teaching material, but we were all in agreement that our goal as instructors is not just to make better martial artists, but to make better people. I’m proud to be part of such a diverse community with such important shared values, and am looking forward to growing the friendships and working relationships that began during these brief 5 days.

Our first workshop was my “Hollow and Arch: Structure for Martial Artists”, which was a 1.25-hour exploration of our two core body positions and how they can be used to improve your martial arts training. The shorter workshops were a new addition to this year’s VISS schedule (previous offerings were all pegged to 3-hour slots), and they tended to be smaller, seminar-like affairs that really allowed students to work closely with the instructor. This format worked well for our class, as I got to walk a focused group of 6 students through some very detailed body awareness and structure exercises, and guide them through the beginnings of their own independent study at the end of the class. There were a number of “lightbulb moments” as we began to apply the new mechanics we’d introduced to students’ existing martial practice, and I think we built a strong foundation for future development for everyone in the group.

Randy hosted an engaging lecture on sport nutrition for martial artists that quickly took on the shape of a comfortable seminar, with attendees scooting in close for an intimate discussion on everything from the best uses of protein powders to the effects of various popular diets on energy output and athletic performance. Randy led a large and very curious group through a wealth of information, and gave them some great beginning advice for improving their own nutrition and performance.

Our main 3-hour workshop on Marozzo’s knife defense techniques was very well-attended — so much so that we had to be moved to a larger room — and was an excellent test of our new material. We’ve spent some time working on re-framing Marozzo’s defensive plays into a modern tactical context, and this was our first chance to share this project with an outside group. The students responded very well, and their energy, enthusiasm, and willingness to step outside of their comfort zones made for the ideal classroom environment. The workshop’s structure bookended the technical instruction with tactical and psychological work on targeting, striking with intention, and the realities of dealing with an opponent who seeks to harm you, and not just win a sparring bout. We finished with a round of brief, stressful scenarios that allowed student volunteers to test themselves in as realistic of a threat situation as we could safely set up. The debriefing afterwards was particularly illuminating, and we got some excellent feedback from students on their experiences as both participants and spectators. Inspired by the success of the workshop, Randy and I will be developing this material into a longer, full-day course that Valkyrie WMAA can offer to future students. It was wonderful to see students respond to it so well, and we’re very excited to continue our work on one of our favorite historical masters.

We’d like to extend our warmest thanks to everyone who made VISS possible: to Academie Duello, for taking on the challenge of organizing and hosting such a large event, and for carrying it off beautifully for the third time in row; to the volunteers who kept everything running smoothly, and who did a great job of making everyone feel welcome and prepared for what was coming next; to our fellow instructors, for their knowledge and camaraderie, and for reminding us of just how much our field has to offer; and to the students, whose curiosity, energy, and passion for our arts was the driving force behind this entire event. Thank you, everyone, and we’ll see you at VISS 2017!

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