Worf and Squeak were back in class last night, freshly jet lagged from visiting Austria and Poland. It says something about dedication to training to be hitting class less than 24 hours after touchdown. I fell asleep last night reflecting on the odd dedication we all have to our class. If someone misses a week or so of training, they don’t talk about missing class, they talk, with almost fear, about losing their edge. It’s as if each and every single class yields a palpable gain to each student. Taking two weeks off leaves you feeling like you have to put in a ton of extra work to catch up.

It’s not like we have any concrete way of measuring progress. We don’t record number of wins or how long you held a handstand or L-sit, or how many cartwheels you did. We don’t count submissions for or against. There is no bar to aim for, aside from how we each perceive each other. Which seems to be enough of a driver to keep us pushing hard in each class…not to excel, not to be the best, but perhaps not to fall too far. Maybe the drive is just to keep up, to maintain with the ever-better pack.

The performance level is certainly high, and getting higher. Last night was the first class where I don’t recall winning a single fight with rapier. Every student beat me more than once. I could make excuses…I was still recovering from an epic Saturday workout, I’d suffered a wardrobe failure early (ripped shorts) that was still making me self-concious, etc etc etc…but the truth is I was fighting at my normal level, on cruise control. Which is usually more than good enough to win at least half of my fights. Cruise control lets me enjoy the scenery…watching my students game to find things to improve on them later. But not last night. Last night I was just collecting one shot after another. Subtle shots, strong shots, shots I’m told were delivered with masterful precision and setup against me.

Good day to be the teacher, I suppose. Harrumph. We are certainly coming up against the first big hurdle of any martial arts school. The first big test…we are starting to settle into the beginnings of  a school style, which is both a good and bad thing. It’s good because it represents our identity, and will be the identifiable source of all our future strengths and weaknesses. It’s bad because we are hitting the first real risk of developing an inbred fighting style, of breeding big fish for a little pond.

Our future growth is now dependent on the larger community. It’s crucial we get out and fight with our brothers and sisters at other schools. We need to start making regular treks out to Academie Duello fight nights. I should have arranged this sooner, but I’m not the best organizer. I’ll get it done. I’d think about trekking out to the SCA practice, but the rules would be a tad off-putting for most of my students. Hopefully we can all find a common ground at AD’s open Friday night fights. I think some of our Saturday outdoor classes will be open fight practices, as well.

I was reminded of all this by looking at the present Squeak and Worf brought me back: the lovely museum book from the armoury in Graz. The armoury is an amazingly thing…a collection of arms and armour that has been sitting on it’s racks waiting for the militia to come in and make use of, to repel invaders. It’s been sitting in pristine condition, waiting for it’s war, for centuries. In the opening two pages is a spread of knights in armour charging with lances lowered, into the Eastern foe on ponies, with moustaches and doubled arrows in their bows.

The arts we study were arts of war, born from a land of violence. Kingdom against kingdom, duchy against duchy, barony against barony, until invaders came and they could turn against them. When the invaders stopped, they turned on the world and here we are today. So much of the world that started that chain, we don’t want any more. But the one little part, the martial arts that were born in that world, we few cherish.

No good martial art is born alone to live untested. The horrifyingly efficient armour in graz is ugly and functional, and has a certain beauty. It was born of battle, born to battle. It’s the product of centuries of conflict, and designed to meet the final conflict of east and west, along the borders of what we now call Eastern Europe. Our arts represent different periods of that same conflict.

We are in a special place now, living in a time of relative peace and prosperity. East for me is now Europe as a whole, and I’m happy to continue the ancient war, in the spirit of sport and camaraderie. I will test my students against each other, and then against the best our city has to offer. Then our city can face our country, and then the world. And then we can all drink afterwards, and train together, until Ragnarok, zombies or space travel finds us new opponents. It’s as good a reason to swing a sword as any…