Has it really been four months since my last post?
It seems that training has moved into a new phase for me. Of late, it's not been about flashes of insight or exciting new developments, but rather the slow, steady accumulation of training hours - refining what has been learned, going deeper in subtle ways that are difficult to describe and take a long time to show fruit.
Or perhaps I've simply plateaued, which is of course a common thing in any type of skill development.
Certainly I can't point to any dramatic development of late, but there are a few things worth sharing.
Firstly, a change to the SES interpretation of the play of punta falsa. As it stood, the original interpretation worked, with one caveat: it was done by the player. The Getty manuscript shows it as a scholar's play. Now, there are ways to argue around this, but Guy (on the plane home to Helsinki from a whirlwind teaching tour of Vancouver, Seattle and Toronto) has figured out how it works as a play of the scholar.
It starts with the player's opening blow being driven wide by the scholar's parry. At this point the scholar would usually riposte with a mandritto fendente to the arm, followed by a thrust. This can of course be parried by an alert player. If the player is indeed the sort, then the scholar may go to the play of the punta falsa by showing a strong mandritto mezano after his parry. This draws a strong parry from the player. The scholar then performs the play of punta falsa as before, except that it can now be done without a pass. The only footwork necessary is an acressere, and even that not always.
The new interpretation is therefore closer to the text, and even results in an end position more like the illustration, with the scholar further from the player than he would have if he had passed. It's convincing, it follows the text, it looks like the picture and it works. I'm sold.
The second interesting thing is freeplay. I've not been the biggest fan of freeplay. It's great when done right, but all too often it fulfills no good training goal, and ends up being either silly or dangerous or both.
However, the freeplay preparation seminar this last Saturday has changed my opinion. Freeplay is now merely one extreme of a spectrum of integrated training tools designed to diagnose, address and solve training problems.
The process is simple:
1. Basic drills, especially those one might be having particular problems with. Get them technically smooth.
2. Introduce degrees of freedom. Allow one party in the drill to have a choice of actions. The other must select and execute the proper response.
3. Competitive drills. Going back to a fixed drill, this time each party attempts to perform its action so well that the other is unable to counter it (so, to take 1st drill for example, one might do such a good parry-riposte that one's partner is unable to get his pommel strike).
4. Four-step freeplay. Free fencing, to no more than four actions in total. After the hit is scored, the participants and president reconstruct the hit, and figure out where any mistakes were made. Then the sequence is played out again, with the hit party correcting the flaw that led to his being hit.
5. Observe patterns of mistakes. This shows up specific technical and tactical problems that need to be fixed. Figure out how to address these problems.
6. Return to fixed drills to solve the problem, and continue the process from step 1.
This sequence is very useful to intermediate students who have basically learned most of the system and are able to execute the actions at a gross level. It's hard to get these things truly right and to get them to work under pressure conditions. Going through this process will help the student to improve, especially when there are other intermediates to work with.
The beauty of this is that it ties together all the drills that we do, and it gives us material to work with. Armed with our diagnoses, we can then go into basic classes and train with less experienced partners, and still train profitably. It's also very scalable; as long as there are two freeplay-qualified partners you can do it, but it works great if there are ten or twenty in a class as well - assuming sufficient space of course!
Anyway I had a very good session on Saturday just working on very basic stuff and getting it better. Special thanks to Mikko for pushing me hard. I need to get that kind of intensity in training and I rarely do, so it was a great opportunity to really get stuck in.