This week I'm working on a song that's inspired by these events. I'll be sharing that for the first time on Sept 21st if all goes to plan... As for the the blog post... There didn't seem like any way to breach the subject without sound pompous, but here's my best attempt.
One day a friend asked me if I felt like learning how to fight properly with a sword.
His response to my witty one liner was "but what if you run out of ammo?" I pondered this a moment and reluctantly agreed to take the first lesson. I'd taken a single class of 'Bushido' swordplay in middle school and assumed that I knew everything there was to know about how rigid and useless fighting with swords could be. I couldn't have been more wrong.
The first lesson of many fighting systems is generally the same, footwork. The basics of being able to attack someone in close combat is being able to reach them, and the only way you can do that is with your feet so it seems like the logical place to start. I spent the better part of a week learning how to walk in a strong but fairly loosely interpreted stance. I quickly discovered that everything i'd be learning would be widely open to interpretation since the fighting system is based on the Liechtenauer long sword fencing system, and the only books on the topic are written like poetry with hidden messages contained within the old Germanic sub-context. Much of it is widely open to interpretation. Strong divisions even exist within similar schools that will claim to follow the same interpretations of Liechtenauer, such as which teachings are extraneous (some Italian guys in the 16th century added a bunch of fancy looking but pretty useless guards, called "Resting" guards), or how to interpret the ever-evolving depictions of 14th century art. If you're looking at an image like one of the ones below you need to ask if the figures stiff because the artist is bad, because the models holding the swords had to stand in a pose for great lengths of time, if the masters of the art wanted their exact stances to be kept secret (as there were many "rival" schools), or if the practitioners and masters of the art actually stood that stiffly? Many Western Martial Artists will agree that the drawings are generally more stiff than we're supposed to stand.
|Realest figures in perfect fighting form...ish|
As the week slowly trudged on, I learned how to properly hold a sword, the 4 basic guards of the Liechtenauer system, and a few basic hews [cuts]. My friend/instructor, Jeffrey, is also a full time bronze artist who often makes swords, so he also spent some time explaining the mechanics the sword like its effective center of percussion, the optimal parts to hit someone with, and the obvious reasons why you'd want to avoid destroying your sword with edge on edge contact. Over the next few months I learned more of the basics, some drills, and was slowly introduced to the secret "master" strikes. Because the class was effectively myself, Jeffry, and one other variable person (who would generally quit after two lessons), and because we were working alone off our own interpretation of the ancient manuscripts, cross referenced through a half-dozen sword forum groups, it took us awhile to figure out the "why's" of things. We started off using wood wasters [training swords] that Jeffrey made but slowly realized that they didn't bind [the reactions that follow when two swords impact] like steel ones. We then evolved through various high density polyethylene swords with steel cross guards until we finally found a density that didn't cause the swords to snap in half after a few hundred hits. This two sentence process took maybe 2 years to accomplish.
|Zwerchhau works well at a distance|
|"I challenge you to a duel!"|
|The Classic Anime Sword Stance, |
Drawn by Mr. Jack-O-Lantern
|Fight school art from Meyer|
Four busy months of training later we met in central Orlando, a 2-3 hour drive for each of us, at an abandoned tennis court off I-drive that happened to be a perfect rectangle of recently cut grass. We outlined the rules of the duel again as we examined each sword for things that could feasibly kill someone. "Just like real life" Nick said, "you fight until you'd be clearly dead from a cut... and there'll only one round of fighting because life doesn't give you a second chance." The best out of one round didn't seem like a fair judge of skill but I wouldn't object to his rules because he had invited all his friends show up to watch.
|One of the Secretive "Master" Strikes|
Without much ceremony or formality we walked onto the ex-tennis court and squared off. There weren't any bows or fancy gestures to indicate the start of the fight as his friends stood in silence. Just as i'd expected he just stood there in his strange anime stance that made no tactical sense for a few moments, sword pointed at my face as a distraction, extended far too much to be of use. It felt like an eternity but we were too far apart to act in what I'd known as the Krieg. One of us had to move to fight but all was going exactly as I'd planned. I was ready for this moment. I was well prepared and the sheer excitement I felt was almost overpowering all the training i'd gone through. I'm not even sure if I maintained the scowl I intended to make or if subconsciously my face worked up a goofy grin. As I tried to calm myself down my higher intelligence got to thinking about how to best overcome his guard without exposing myself, which steps to take. I was weighing the use of Krumphau against Sheilhau, which are different ways to attack, but before I could confirm my decision he made the first move.
|Another fairly modern duel|
|This pretty much sums up the fight|
After a few moments of silence I offered him a second bout, "just for fun" because we each drove more than two hours to the fight and it seemed a shame. He agreed and before I knew it we were back where we started, facing off in roughly the same position. This time my mind had enough time to make the appropriate decision and before he could attack I passed his guard and delivered a solid cut to the head that would have clearly been an end to the fight. At first he took the losses personally and asked for a few more "friendly rematches", but as I continued to beat him without taking any real hits myself he accepted the difference in skill without anger. I don't think he'd really trained effectively for the duel and the fact that I had trained was something he couldn't really be angry with me about, so his fighting methodology shifted and got more defensive. After a dozen rematches he stopped initiating attacks altogether [reactive fighting is an extremely effective means of bladed combat], but kept asking for another round. After 37 consecutive losses (I counted) he got a good hit in and admitted his defeat. I can't say that we became friends or even spoke to each other again, but when we parted he denied that he'd said the insults in the first place, which was close enough to the outcome I wanted. He was also extremely bruised and that made me smile.
Footnote: I'm not a good swordsman. At one point in my life, above, I would have considered myself perhaps a journeyman or some slight mark above amateur. Shortly after the above duel I realized I didn't have a goal and quickly lost focus. I tried to find a group that I could fight with, found a few political larping groups I wanted no part of, a few awesome foam fighting groups (which again, isn't really sword fighting but is awesome just the same), and got severely injured while fighting with a hardcore group of totally insane guys called the Tuchux. It was an intense fight and I would have taken a picture of the injury but not enough of my fingers were functional to take the picture.
|The mysterious "Murder" Strike|