Thursday, January 23, 2014

Cross-Training Not Cross-Purposes

On our old website, a couple of "generations" ago, we had a compilation of articles about fencing. The plan is to resurrect these articles and post them here, for anyone who may never have seen them, since they are no longer accessible through the current website.

Here is the first that we will be "reprinting." Originally written and published... some time ago.
Written by Maitre Crown.

Cross-Training Not Cross-Purposes

Judging from the inquiries I've received about it recently, "cross-training" seems the hot topic at the moment.
All kinds of athletes are praising the virtues of engaging in some activity other than their specialty in order to complement or enhance their principle sport. Usually, the cross-training activity has some specific transfer value, that is, it develops the same muscles or uses the same or similar movements as the cross-trainer's principle sport. 
This is nothing new. Conditioning programs of all kinds are based on this idea. That's why boxers do roadwork and athletes of all kinds lift weights.

First, cross-training is irrelevant to the beginner. Beginners should concentrate on fencing itself. But advanced fencers who are training at a higher level and are making greater demands on themselves in terms of training volume, duration, frequency and intensity, may find it useful.
In order to be beneficial for fencing, the supplementary activity should do one or more of several things:
  • it should improve the foundational elements of fencing: balance, line, focus and distance
  • it should enhance the appropriate energy system, matching the metabolic demands of fencing
  • it should develop your muscular strength and endurance
  • it should enhance your fencing-specific skills -- or at least, it should not contravene them
  • It should provide you with a "change of pace" from your regular routine in order to avoid over-training and stagnation.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
If you want something that transfers precisely to fencing, that's easy: fence! Fencing is a skill-based activity and nothing will make you as skillful at fencing as fencing itself. But I'll share with you a little training and conditioning secret of mine: interval training. This is for advanced fencers only. Here's how it works:
First, warm up thoroughly.
Then, set a timer for a specific period -- let's say 30 seconds. I use an interval timer so that I can set it to sound a signal at specified periods. 30 second intervals and a 3 or 4 minute round. Then a 30-60 second rest period.
Do 30 seconds of, for example, advances, slow, precise and easy.
The next 30 seconds do advances hard and fast as you can -- still as perfectly as possible; don't through skill out the window -- but keep pushing the envelope of speed/intensity.
You can do various kinds of footwork this way, first slow and easy, then hard and fast. You will be improving your conditioning while improving your skill at the same time by using fencing actions instead of, say, going out for a jog.
Jogging, by the way, is almost worthless to a fencer.
It doesn't match the metabolic demands of a fencing bout, it doesn't simulate fencing movements and it pounds your ankles, knees and lower back into trash. If you must run, run intervals. At least you'll build your anaerobic capacity and that's what you need in fencing. 30 seconds easy jog/30 sprint and repeat 3-15 times.
You can do bladework intervals, too.
I alternate handwork alone with handwork and footwork combined. For example: 30 seconds, straight-thrust followed by 30 seconds straight thrust-lunge-recover. 30 seconds parry 6te-straight riposte a pied firme, 30 seconds riposte by lunge.
Depending on how I feel I might rest every second, third or fourth interval.
I've done a tremendous variety of actions this way and it's become one of my favorite practice routines.
HIIT is VERY demanding and if you do it too often you'll probably over-train -- and that's the worst thing you can do. Use it as a spice not as a staple.
Okay, how about some real cross-training activities. Here are my recommendations. It may not be what you expected.
My top choice.
You will learn an incredible amount from your equine mentors. You'll re-define "balance" and have a better understanding of the importance of remaining "centered." You'll develop your sensitivity, enhance the lightness of your hand, increase your self-confidence.
I have found so much of horsemanship to be directly applicable to the sword (and, to be fair, sometimes vice versa) that it's like rediscovering the basic principles new and fresh all over again. Plus you get to spend time with some of the most beautiful beings on the planet. If you don't do anything else, do this one.
Learn to play a musical instrument. Learn it well enough that you can read music and play what's written. And learn it well enough that you can get together with other musicians to play.
This will be a great deal of fun, which is reason enough to do it.
But you will also enhance your ability to focus your concentration, to feel rhythm and tempo, to understand what other people are expressing, to read their emotions. All of which comes in quite handy in a fencing match.
Dancing is fencing without bloodshed. It is about connectedness and intimate communication, feeling not thinking.
The main difference between dancing and fighting is that when you dance with someone you are trying to communicate truthfully and when you fight you are quite often lying.
But whether you tell the truth or a lie, saying it clearly in movement is fundamental to swordplay.
Much of magic is based on misdirection. So is combat. Direct your opponent's attention to one line then hit in another. Presto.
Boxing is fencing with both hands and a few more band-aids. Until you've worked out as hard as a boxer works out, you have no idea what a tough workout is. Boxing will hone your fighting spirit to a razor's edge and teach you more than you ever though you'd know about committment. You will also learn about cherishing your opponent and a lesson or two about the transient nature of victory.
The sword is based on the same natural principles as sailing. It's awe-inspiring to see them at work on a grand scale, a little fencing match between you and the wind. Your boat is your foil, the water the president du combat. Sailing will teach you that the shortest distance between two points is not always a straight line.
Weight lifting
No doubt about it, stronger is better. The stronger you are, the easier it is to do everything. As an extra added benefit you will improve your health, too. Weight-training also provides you with a great boon to your spirit because you have measurable and undeniable proof of your progress.
Be sure you get some expert guidance planning your program though. Gyms are full of guys with all their brains in their biceps just waiting to hand out worthless advice to the novice -- especially if the novice is a woman.
Give of yourself
Work in a soup kitchen. Plant some trees. Adopt a stray. Teach someone how to read. Visit someone who's alone. Protect someone in danger. Comfort someone in pain.
Remember that strength means nothing unless you use it to help those who are not strong.
The soul of the sword is benevolence. Stand up for truth, justice and mercy.
Be sure those muscles get plenty of exercise.
Be sure to schedule in some time off.
I mean really off. Time to do nothing in particular. Sit in the sun and watch the breeze blow. Stretch out and read a book. Watch an old 3-hanky movie.
Listen. Love. Laugh.
Even if these things didn't improve your fencing one whit, they would still be well worth doing in and of themselves, so you have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain. The worst that can happen is that you will inadvertently become a more well-rounded and interesting person and enjoy life more while doing it.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

David & Goliath

Periodically re-examine what you think you know. 
Including your most basic assumptions. 
Your core beliefs. 
You might just learn something. 


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

One Tin Soldier Rides Away

"Billy Jack" is the story of a half-breed Indian, a (Vietnam) “war hero” who turned against the war, and abandoned society to live somewhere on the Indian reservation, studying ancient medicine ways, while defending the wild horses from poachers, and kids at the Freedom School from the violence of some of the townspeople.

Its naturalistic filming in parts, made it seem uncontrived and honest. It has some terrific martial arts action sequences, and a brilliantly poignant scene featuring co-star Dolores Taylor.

When policemen break the law, there is no law – just a struggle for survival.
-- Billy Jack

The film stars Tom Laughlin – who passed into legend this year at the age of 82, a stand-up guy all the way, and an ass-kicker to the very end.  He also wrote, produced, directed and made the coffee in what was clearly a labor of love and an expression of some deeply held beliefs (in that regard, reminiscent of John Wayne’s "The Alamo").

This film made a big impression on me. To start with, I’m a half-breed Indian, too. I was heavily into martial arts at that time, and I was also strongly against the war --- and I had something of a short fuse.  Like Billy Jack, for a time I tried to be a “pacifist” --- and like Billy, I found that it just wasn’t in me.

For young people today, "Billy Jack" provides a window into the late 60”s—early ‘70’s, and a chance to glimpse a small slice of the heart of the anti-war/hippie/generation. 
And the message of "Billy Jack" is just as vital today as it ever was:  that good people must band together against oppression and corruption, and that sometimes it is necessary and proper to use force against violence.



Sunday, December 15, 2013

Songs of the Sword

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I first learned how to give lessons from Professor Warren Simkins, my voice teacher, back when I was a freshman in college.
As a voice major, I got together with him several times a week and each lesson followed the same format. First we’d chat a bit, the purpose of which was to get a read on where I was on that particular day, and to focus my attention and energy on the lesson. Then he’d take me through some “vocalizes,” exercises to limber and strengthen my chops.  After that we’d work on a song that was challenging, dissecting it into small sections, working on each section, then gradually reassembling the sections. That was followed by a song that I knew well, and sang well, something solidly under my command. We’d wrap up with a chat, re-capping what we’d done, going over practice suggestions, and some general chat about my life, gigs, girls – and, of course, the war.
Mr. Simkins had a real talent for knowing exactly when to push and when to go light. On days when I was “in good voice” he helped me stretch. On other days, like after a long week-end gig when my pipes needed some rest, we’d sing a little and talk a lot.
Keep in mind that the music I was doing in these voice lessons was quite different from the stuff I was singing to make my living. Clubs I played, I got very few requests for Handel or Tschaikovsky. And the only Martini requests involved an olive. But the work we did built up my voice, my breath-control, all kinds of things that were foundational to ANY kind of singing, and I found that that classical technique transferred quite readily to the folk/rock/jazz/blues genre of my gigs.  It helped quite a bit that Mr. Simkins, in addition to being a knock-out classical vocalist, had been a Big Band Crooner in his youth. So he understood that kind of performance dynamic.

I was also in a voice class that included non-music majors, and there were a couple of people in that class who couldn’t carry a tune in a suitcase. Sometimes I wondered why they signed up for the class. Their efforts were tense, tight, self-conscious, choking attempts to find a key, any key. Nevertheless, Mr. Simkins always found something praiseworthy in their performances --- not false, charity-praise, either, but things that I, myself, had neither the ear nor the heart to notice.  Years later, horses would teach me about this master teaching skill. It’s called “rewarding the try.”

Like all good teachers, Mr. Simkins was a great story-teller, with great stories to tell. There’s one in particular that has stayed with me and I think he wouldn’t mind my passing along. So I’ll share it with you, because I think it’s worth sharing...
Like so many other young men, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Mr. Simkins, in a fit of patriotic fervor, headed right down to the US Army recruiting office to sign up. He was hardcore, too. Volunteered to be a Ranger, I think it was. Some elite-type unit, anyway. Hoo-ah.
Turns out, for a musician, he was a talented killer. Excelled as a marksman, in hand-to-hand, demolition. Had a flare for both Italian and German languages (there’s that classical singing connection), and rose to be a squad leader. 
Like so many other young men, being yet unfamiliar with the reality of war, he was chomping at the bit, eager to get into action. Spent his free time cleaning and oiling his rifle, sharpening his bayonet, conjuring up heroic exploits in his imagination.
At long last, word came down that his unit was shipping out to fight the Nazis in Europe. He made preparations. Checked his gear. Said his good-byes. Wrote his will, just in case.  He was ready to rock and roll, and was looking forward to personally kicking Hitler’s ass.
Then, an odd thing happened. Something that he was never able to understand, not for the rest of his days.
The day before his outfit was  to ship out, Mr. Simkins received orders transferring him to the Chaplain Corps.
Out of the blue, no rhyme or reason. After spending big bucks to turn my man into a lean, green, nazi-killing machine destined to adorn recruiting posters everywhere, he gets side-lined just before the big game. It just didn’t make any sense, even for the Army.  And he was pissed. It had to be a snafu. He inquired, he protested, he begged, and he pleaded. But you know what they say in the Army? “Orders are orders, Pal.”
And so it came to pass that Mr. Simkins’ buddies went into battle without him. And when they hit the beach in their very first action, every single man in his platoon was killed. No survivors.  Not one.
Except him.
He spent he rest of the war dealing with the remains of the fallen, writing letters of condolence, delivering folded flags, medals and bad news to their families.
And, much as he tried, he was never able to ascertain where those transfer orders came from, who had originated them, or why.

For all the days that came after, I think Mr. Simkins felt that he had an unspoken tontine with his dead friends, and that he, having been inexplicably spared, now had a particular obligation to live a good life.
I believe he fulfilled it.

I'd like to do the same.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

"In Ferro Veritas"

The slogan “in ferro veritas” was coined by me, back in around 1978-1979.
I was reading a bit of Latin at that time, just for fun, which gives you some idea of the range and character of things I consider “fun.”
“Ferro” literally means “iron.”  It’s Latin slang for “sword” the same way we say “cold steel” or “hot lead” or “shootin’ irons.”
I frankensteined together two phrases I liked: “Omnis in ferro est salus” (Virgil) meaning “the sword is the equal protector of all," and the popularly known “in vino veritas,”  which means “never trust a man who won’t get drunk with you.” (my own translation).
“In ferro veritas” means “in the sword is truth,” or, more loosely translated, “studying the sword will smack you face-first into a lot of truths you’re not going to like.”
We refer to our unique training method as the IFV method, with IFV standing for guess what? (If you said “in ferro veritas,” move to the head of the class).  Indeed, our not-for-profit educational corporation is named IFV, Inc.

It seems that I came up with a motto that’s a pretty good one, because since I created it, a lot of other folks have plagiarized it, used it for themselves, and without so much as a by-your-leave.
According to Wikipedia:   
Plagiarism is the "wrongful appropriation" and "purloining and publication" of another author's "language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions," and the representation of them as one's own original work
Now, if people dig the "in ferro veritas" concept, I’m cool with that, daddy-o. All I ask is that they properly give credit where credit is due.  Unfortunately, at least one so-called “fencing master” has plagiarized not only our motto, but has taken some parts of our unique practice method and claimed them as his own creation. That, I regret to say, makes that particular gentleman a liar and a thief, and if he had any integrity at all he would be deeply ashamed, apologize and make amends.
But, of course, he won’t. If he had integrity enough to apologize, he’d have had integrity enough not to plagiarize in the first place, wouldn't he?

Anyway, let word go forth that “in ferro veritas” belongs to us. We have used it in “business” since 1979. It is our intellectual property, our servicemark and our trademark, for which we reserve all rights. It is NOT in the public domain.
I’m glad if you like the slogan. But please, if you wish to use it, ask us for permission first, and give proper citation when you do.
Or just come up with something of your own.

Much appreciated.



Wednesday, December 4, 2013

To Live by the Sword...

Lately, I've been working on a lot of computer-based stuff, dealing with the internet and so on. Not typical for me, and not my field of expertise by a long shot.
But there is one benefit: it reminds me anew of how much I cherish the sword.
Others, older and wiser than I, have already noted that the sword never jams, never has to be re-loaded and is always ready.
To that I would add that it never freezes, never crashes and never has to be re-booted, either.


Saturday, November 2, 2013

To Live by the Sword

Not when you think you know everything without questioning,
but when you question everything you think you know.