Friday 27 March 2020

Training Solo, Part 1: The Thinking

We are all suddenly living in some sort of a SF story. All the mundane concerns and inconveniences aside, all our events and practices are cancelled. Most of us are experiencing gathering and movement restrictions, which leaves us to our own devices. If you're used to getting your training at a group practice, it can be difficult to figure out how to keep yourself going, especially if you are worried and under pressure.

Although the current situation is new to me too, I have spent most of my time as a fighter training alone. When I started fighting, the number of fighters in the shire and nearby was very small, and although our numbers have increased since, we don't have any knights or other senior fighters focused on armoured combat on the island. I've had plenty of time to get used to the idea of solo training, so hopefully some of my experiences can be of use to others.

Before anything else, you need to take stock of two things:

Thing 1: What do you want to achieve? (Particularly assuming that our current quarantined existence is temporary)

  • Option A: You are simply fighting for fun and are not too worried about the break, you'll poke your gear now and then and do some self maintenance, but mostly you'll be bingeing on Netflix. This is cool too. 
  • Option B: You want to maintain your level of fighting and fitness. 
  • Option C: You want to still improve your level, no matter what the circumstances. Yes, this is absolutely possible.
Thing 2: How much time do you have available? Do a realistic assessment of your time. Just because you're working from home or maybe lost your job to the virus doesn't necessarily mean that you have lots of time available. Chores still need to be done. Food needs to be acquired and cooked. Kids, animals, spouses and parents still need looking after. If anything, underestimate the time you have available, rather than overestimate it and end up disappointed and demoralised because you end up not doing as much as you had wanted to do. Allow also some buffer time for faffing, unexpected naps, small emergencies, existential dread, and the like. 

Next step is to connect Thing 1 and Thing 2 and find out what is realistic for you. Don't be discouraged if you want to improve but you only have very little time available. Obviously more time is better, but if you approach the time you do have available with intention, focus and logic, you'll be surprised by how much you can do. 

So once you have a sense of how much time you have in your hands in relation to what you want to achieve, the next thing to do is to identify what you need to focus on. Is it something like:
  • Footwork
  • Basic shot technique (for one or more shots)
  • Your shieldwork
  • Your strength (regarding, for instance, holding your shield up)
  • Your endurance
  • Your explosiveness (your ability to efficiently switch between low intensity and high intensity actions)
  • Overall fitness
  • Something else  
Try to go into as much detail as you can, because this will help you train smart and make the most of the time and resources available to you. 

Once you have a list of your own personal training needs - and keep it short, keep it manageable! You might even want to start with one, and three at any given time is a maximum - you need to think about ways to address them within your resources. At the moment in particular we need to be quite creative, because most of us only have access to our residence and perhaps, if we're lucky, our garden. Many countries are allowing outdoors exercise, so if running is your thing (and if it's not, could it be?) it's an easy way to work on your cardio fitness and overall endurance. If you do intervals, you can also develop your explosiveness. 

Make yourself a weekly plan, but here you need to conduct a fine balancing act. Follow it rigorously, BUT do not stop to beat yourself up if you miss days. If that happens, proceed as though nothing had happened. Obviously, if you find yourself missing days all the time, it's a good idea to stop and have a look at your schedule and consider whether you assessed your resources correctly, or whether some circumstances have changes meaning that you need to adjust. And remember that anything at all is better than nothing at all. 

I get bored easily, so I like to vary my workouts. I try to run at least three times a week, and have other kinds of workouts on the other days. I keep one rest day a week. I do my best to do at least some pell practice every day, but there are tricks on how to make that more palatable as well. 

I am not going to dwell in the concept of motivation - that relates to Thing 1, and I'm assuming that if you have read this far, you have enough motivation to keep you going. Still, making things easier for yourself will ensure that you minimise interruptions in your training plan. If you know you are going to go running tomorrow, find and set out your running clothes the previous day. If you intend to run at lunch time, wear your running clothes in the morning. Use the time immediately after your workday ends to decompress by doing your pell routine. If you have an outdoors pell, keep your sword by the door where you can see it and it reminds you that you have things to do. 

Next time, I will discuss tools that you have available for your solo training.  

Monday 30 December 2019

Training women, Pt 3: Recruitment and communication

If you want to diversify your fighter base, you may want to have a look at how you're advertising and marketing your practices, as well as how you communicate about them with interested people. It's easy to fall into thinking that all you need to do is to present the facts: when and where your practices take place. Maybe you will remember to add "Welcome!" in your sign-off if you're a people person.

For a moment, put yourself in the head of someone who may not have done any martial arts in their life, or may have done martial arts in a more typical male-heavy environment and perhaps had some unpleasant experiences through it. Let's assume that the notion of a rumble session, where a group of people turn up and muck around with bats/hockey sticks/branches/stones/swords is not something that they have ever engaged in. Imagine turning up for a craft lesson, where you're presented with a piece of wood or a lump of metal, and told to make something with it, with you not having a slightest idea of how to start or what tools you need for it. (That has happened to me, by the way.)

Most regular fitness classes that women tend to be familiar with are very highly structured weekly sessions, typically group classes where everyone is expected to do the same thing as demonstrated by an instructor, with possibly some variation in different movements according to individual ability level. There is typically very little physical contact between individuals (except of course in martial arts or team sports). Generally the participants need to provide little in the way of their own equipment; they might bring their own mats to yoga and pilates classes. In martial arts, participants will eventually acquire their own (usually fabric) suits or equipment necessary for sports like Kendo, which is fairly widely available. Typically, class advertisements will briefly describe what is involved and specify if participants need to bring anything.

Further, up until the past couple of years literally ALL of fitness oriented towards women has been focused on their looks, and that is still the situation to a very large extent. Just have a look at ads for gyms and fitness classes: get the beach body for the summer, get the body you've always dreamed of, with added pictures of beautiful young white ladies. Thankfully, lately women's fitness has become more orientated also towards strength and health - but still, particularly in terms of weightlifting, it is presented as a common concern among women that they might become "bulky". I have no idea whether this is a real thing that women worry about or not.

Unless women have done competitive sports in the past, they may feel uncomfortable with the notion of a situation where there is a "loser" and a "winner." Women are traditionally socialised towards working for a community, whether it be family, work community, social community, or society at large, and discouraged from striving for personal victories or things that they might do solely for themselves. (There is a twisted paradox relating to this that I call rivalry between women, but I will return to this in a subsequent post.)

Taking into account all of the above, why on earth would any woman want to take up heavy fighting?

Because despite all of it, there are women who dream about being able to be strong, to be able to fight, to be able to compete, to be able to win against others, to have crazy-ass rough fun, to feel the rush of battles, and to be a knight. Sometimes they don't know how to express it, and sometimes they don't realise that that's what they dream of until they try it out. The trick is to get them in to try it out, and doing it in a way that provides them with the least barrier possible.

I am going to use as example my shire's website, since we had had good success in recruiting women fighters.

1. Use pictures of female fighters. On our front page, the link to the "Armoured Fighting" section contains a photo of two women in armour grinning from ear to ear.

2. Explain what it's about. On our armoured fighting page, we include the following things:

  • Description of the activity written for people who know nothing about it
  • Emphasis on the safety: equipment, supervision, training, strict rules, safety test (=authorisation)
  • Specifically mention "all genders and we welcome everyone" - this shows that we are aware of genders beyond the usual two and that we are prepared to make all of them welcome
  • Mention that we train and compete together
  • Offer an immediate encouragement for all those who might not be thinking that this is not for them by mentioning technique is more important than size or strength
  • Different weapon forms and fighting formats available to whet their appetite
  • What happens at practices 
  • Practice times and details of a contact person
  • Emphasise that training is suited to all levels and complete beginners are always welcome

3. Diverse contact persons. We have a female name listed as the contact person, which may have helped with recruitment.

4. Enthusiastic initial contact coded in female language.
Here is my more-or-less standard response to an initial query about fighting practices, with commentary for the current purposes added in:

You will be very very welcome. We are always delighted to get new people joining us. (emphasis on welcoming the newcomer) Armoured fighting is great fun, very safe due to our regulations, a good way to keep fit, and our group is very supportive. (these are the great reasons why you should come along!) Aside from weekly practices, we organise weekend events now and again, and those who wish to, can compete. (Here's what we offer. You don't have to compete if you don't want to) Men and women train together and compete together, and women are not seen as lesser or weaker than men in the sport. (We not only believe but also practice the notion of equality - reassurance)

The venue is xxxx, and the practice runs from 7 pm. If you're driving, there is a small carpark behind the school. Park in the fenced off area right behind the primary school building, as they don't like us using the bigger carpark. Come to the main door at the top of the stairs in the front of the building and ring the doorbell, and someone will come let you in. (Clear instructions how to find us)

My phone number is xxx if you have any problems. 
If you have any questions, just let me know. (Making myself available to show willing and enthusiasm to welcome a new person in.)

As a trainer, never forget that you are there for your students. Your students' job is to turn up, to listen to you, to do the exercises to the best of their ability, and to make your job worthwhile by striving to improve themselves. But you need to enable that by building an open, trusting, comfortable relationship from the beginning, and you will need to go the extra way at first. Whether you want it or not, as your students' first trainer, you will become Mr or Ms or Mx Heavy Fighting for them until they get exposure to other fighters and other trainers, and start forming their own concepts of what fighting means for them. What you do is what they will associate with heavy fighting. If you are grumpy, unsupportive, sarcastic or sexist, they will link those qualities with fighting and the fighting community. If you are open, welcoming, available, and take interest in their comfort and wellbeing, they will form a positive image of our beloved art and are that bit more willing to keep turning up for practices. 

5. Ongoing communication. Your preferred form of communication will depend on the individuals in your group. You may want to use FB, Whatsapp, email, or something else. If you know practice will not happen at the usual time, communicate this as early as you can - this is particularly important for those women who may have childcare issues. If one of the group announces that they can't make it a particular week, never ever respond with snark, sarcasm, annoyance or anything similar. They are under no obligation to turn up. They may have work or family stuff going on, or a physical or mental issue may have raised its head. You will acknowledge their message and welcome them again the following week.      

Wednesday 25 December 2019

Training women, Pt 2: The body


You may be familiar with alleged differences between the male and female skeletal structures, finger length, centre of gravity, and so on. My understanding is that a lot of that is exaggerated in terms of significance, but I have little knowledge of anatomy beyond the basics, so I'm going to reserve judgement of such claims.

I know tall and short, fat and slim, male and female fighters, with a mix of all of these characteristics. Duke Drachenwald is not much taller than I am, and I am 164 cm/5'4. As we all know, good technique is superior to physical strength.

There are four features in terms of female physiology that make a difference in terms of training:

1. Females generally have a larger chest circumference in relation to the rest of the body than males, and the tissue is distributed in such a way, that unless the breasts are flattened through binding, the woman may have difficulty with certain movements involving bringing the arm across the upper body. Some women may have difficulty fighting with their head held up and their chest out, rather than curling their head and shoulders over their chest, because they have been told they shouldn't be having "their tits out". 

2. Females have wider hips than men. In the fighting system I use/am learning and developing, this makes little difference in terms of power generation. However, both the presence of more mass here, as well as the wider chest, may affect the woman's spatial perception regarding their position in an engagement. The shape of the female hip also means that the length of the female upper torso from the nape of the neck to the navel is considerably shorter than that male equivalent length. These kind of features have much more relevance in terms of armour construction (I will come back to this at a later stage) but they may have a relevance to the particular style you teach. 

3. As a rule, women have smaller hands than men. Again, an immediate relevance is armour, of which more later. However, another immediate significance is the grip of the sword and of the shield. If a woman is not quite able to close her fingers around a sword hilt, her sword mobility will be affected and she will be clumsier than a man with larger hands grasping the same sword - through no fault of her own but because of her physiology. Similarly, if she has difficulty grasping a shield, some of the energy she should be using to control the fight will be re-directed to managing the equipment.

4. Most women between the ages of 13 and 50 have monthly periods. An egg is released from the woman's ovaries around halfway through the menstrual cycle, which is called the ovulation. Her uterus will have been developing a thick lining, in case the egg gets successfully fertilised and needs to attach itself to the lining. If a fertilisation doesn't happen, this uterine lining is released from the body as menstrual blood (and yes, it can be lumpy). Women experience their periods and the lead-up to their periods in different ways. Some women barely notice it. Others suffer a great deal of pain. Symptoms include: low/aggressive mood, headaches, abdominal pain, nausea, sometimes a feeling of weakness. Most women have their heaviest flow in the first two days of their cycle, during which they may feel the worst.

Women athletes have only started to talk about their periods in the last year or so. Here is another link. And Here is a link to a recent study in Sweden concerning female athletic performance and the menstrual cycle. Some women can perform better in particular points of their cycle. Others can feel ill and are able to perform less well. It is possible that an important tourney co-incides with a bad day of the cycle. Or it may be that your female student is suddenly performing far less well in practice than she normally would.

Ideally, try to create your practice into a space where your female student can say, "Dude, I got my period, I feel shit," without anyone feeling embarrassed. They may choose not to. You may choose to not bring it up. That's fine. But if they feel they can, you're winning. How can you achieve this? Do not joke about annoying people being on the rag. Never challenge female fighters accusing them of being on their period. Talk about the experiences your female fighter friends have had, or other sporty female friends, in a neutral, informative way. If you want, you can put together a care bag for the practice, which includes pain killers, plasters, stomach medicine, tissues, nose spray - and pads and tampons, so that they are present there with the rest of the equipment as perfectly normal items. They will also thank you for the pain killers.


Yes, yes, not all men, and yes, you are not one of those men. But the number of those men is so great in the world that literally every single women has grown up in an environment, where they consider it normal to have to moderate their behaviour and movements under a constant threat of predators. Even the strongest, the most confident take-no-shit women are subject to this. If you truly want to make your practice and other fighting environments comfortable for women, so that they can feel themselves safe no matter what, you need to respect this. Some women may have had bad experiences with men and they may be particularly sensitive to male behaviour, presence and ways of speaking. If you follow the below advice, you are not doing so because you are personally suspect or because you're kowtowing to the PC-brigade: you are, in fact, demonstrating to the female fighter that you embody the virtues for which we strive: chivalry, courtesy, and respect - and you are in every way a sound chap.

1. When inspecting the armour for safety, inform the fighter what you are doing at all times, and ask them for permission before you touch them. "I am going to put my hand on your back to check for kidney protection, is that ok?" and RESPECT the answer. Get into the habit of asking even when you're inspecting your friends, who you know will not mind, in order to avoid forgetting the ask when you inspect someone you don't know.

2. If you have legged your female opponent and are fighting them from upright position, please don't shove your crotch in their face. That would be poor behaviour at the best of times, but it is particularly pronounced in a situation where a relatively new female fighter has to smell her opponent's box in a situation that mimics an intimate contact. And in any case if you know what you're doing you don't need to do that.

3. Do not make any comments about her body or her looks, no matter how positive. That is not relevant to the situation in which you are training together.

4. NEVER, EVER employ any kind of innuendo until you are 120% certain that the female fighter in the situation will not mind it. Yes, there are women who enjoy dirty jokes. But you need to identify them first.

5. As with #1, in case of drills and demonstrations, always ask the other person first, if you need to touch them. You can get a blanket permission in the beginning of the class, if it makes things easier, as long as you remind the attendees that they can refuse at any point. If you need to figure out another way to demonstrate your point, well - you are the trainer, that is your job, to think of a way to teach your student in a way that makes sense to them (and that includes keeping them comfortable).

6. If anyone else in the practice makes any of the mistakes listed above, you need to step in without hesitation and say, "Dude, that is not cool." If you as the trainer, the authority, don't call out bad behaviour straight away, you have effectively given it your blessing.

The above, of course, don't just apply to women - they are pretty decent guidelines for interaction with any gender.

Training women, Pt 1: Introduction

I feel very conflicted about addressing this topic that I'm occasionally asked to talk about, but recently I gave a class about this at a weekend practice and the reception was positive enough for me to expand on it here.


1. I strongly dislike the idea that "women", "men", "gays", "whatevers" are a homogenous blob who can justifiably be generalised under any topic. There is a vast amount of individual variation under any grouping, and what applies to example A does not necessarily apply to example H even if both examples are taken from the same group.

2. I have a female body, and I have largely no problem with that, but mentally I identify as what can best described as agender. I pay very little attention to gender in the day to day life, and I have little interest in typically "feminine" activities or aesthetics. I was brought up in a country with a strong tradition of equality, and I often have difficulty relating to the experience of women brought up elsewhere.

3. Rather than just focusing on training women and women's experience of fighting, I think we should consider the experience of anyone who is not what I call a standard fighter: a young to middle age white heterosexual cis man. However, that is a lot all in one go, and, the only aspect of this I am qualified to talk about is the experience of fighting and training as a woman. So that is what I'm going to do, based on my own experiences, those of my friends, those I have read about, and what I know and have experienced of female culture and socialisation outside the fighting area, in the mundane society. 

There is enough material in this topic that I am going to write it up under several posts, as a series. 

Why is this important? Whatever about other kingdoms, in Drachenwald the numbers of fighters have decreased, and much of fighting activities is focused on a few particular tourneys over the year, rather than the kingdom sustaining a balanced and active fighting community across the board. In Insulae Draconis, our participant numbers in the Coronet tourney have doubled over the past few years largely due to more and more women getting involved in fighting on a serious basis. If we want to keep armoured fighting as an important and inspiring element of the Society, we cannot afford to turn potential fighters away or neglect nurturing them just because they differ from the standard.

In my experience, Drachenwald is a very good kingdom in which to be a female fighter. I have experienced no (evident) prejudice due to my gender from other fighters, and I have heard of little such happening, at least in the recent years. I have no doubt that there are also other perspectives.

What I have encountered is, on the one hand, a strong willingness to include non-standard fighters in practices and tourneys but a certain degree of a lack of knowledge of how to best do so, and, on the other hand, practices developing into spaces that, inavoidably, follow the "masculine" paradigm in terms of social interaction and training practices. Such practices can be hard to break into, even with the best will in the world. It is particularly difficult to be more inclusive, if you're not doing anything wrong, but you have no concept that your particular practice mode doesn't necessarily suit everyone, and you cannot even imagine other possibilities.

The purpose of this post series is to ask you to consider how you run your practices and tourneys, how you treat your students and fellow fighters, and whether there are things you could be doing differently.   

Sunday 22 December 2019

Training with Depression: 10 things to do

I know many fighters who have issues with their mental health: I am one of them. I started taking a low dose of antidepressants in August, and while they have had an absolutely fantastic effect in allowing me to feel calmer, mentally stronger, generally more positive, able to set boundaries, and slow down to analyse how my mind works, they have also meant that I need far more sleep and rest, and consequently have not been training at my usual intensity since then. I have, however, been training, and I have been thinking about how hard it can be to get yourself out to your pell, to practice, to the gym, or out to run, when your own mind and the associated processes can weigh heavier on you than any iron. So today I want to talk a little bit about how to keep up training in such circumstances.

First and foremost: I'm not a professional. Please, talk to your doctor and try to formulate a plan. If you are prescribed medicine, please keep taking them. If you think you would find therapy useful, please seek out a therapist and work with them. Reach out to your friends and family: hopefully you have a supportive partner who is prepared to walk this journey with you. If you are friends and family, don't wait to be reached out to: ask how your fighter is doing, take time with them, don't shy away if they open up - and keep their confidence.

That out of the way, you, as a fighter, be confident that this experience will, in fact, enable you to emerge as a better fighter. On the one hand, yes, you are bearing an injury, which will slow you down, as any physical issue would. But at the same time, like a physical issue, your mental health issue will force you to step back, slow down, analyse yourself and how you do things, including how you can best adjust to working with your issue and improve from it. You will need to figure out what works for you, and what doesn't, rather than just barging onwards through sheer stubborness, and exhausting yourself along the way. Sound familiar?

1. Prioritise sleep and recovery. Things are tiring. Work is tiring. Social life is tiring. Training is tired. Struggling with your own mind is tiring. Allow yourself to be tired. Sleep will help you in all number of ways, so make sure you get as much sleep as you can. Downtime will also help. I have had to learn to take naps, but they are now an essential part of my self care.

2. A few minutes is better than none at all. If you're not able to do a full set or a full run, how much can you do? Often it's easy to fall into the false thinking that there is only two modes of doing things: (1) exactly "right"; and (2) not at all. But there are stages in between, and often our thinking can be overfocused on our perception of what right is. Every step you take, and every raise of a weight you do, is more than nothing at all. Everything counts.

3. Actions influence emotions. Just as you don't do a thing because you feel crap, doing things can also influence how you feel. Sometimes you are too drained to do anything at all, but if you have a bit more energy and can nudge yourself, you are likely to find that even a short period of activity will rejig things in your head and make you feel better.

4. Set small, manageable targets. Get a notebook, or an app, or a whiteboard on the wall. Write targets for yourself where you can easily see them, but keep them deliberately small and easily doable. When you're carrying a mental injury, you are not able to push yourself to the max. Do what works for you: a daily target, or a weekly one. Shorter target periods give you experiences of success more often than longer ones, which will contribute to your mental health. Try 10 minutes on the pell. If that's too much, do 5. Maybe 50 shots is the maximum you can manage? Set a target of 20. Run for 2 km. Run for 15 minutes.

5. Track your targets. When you're done with your targets, tick them off, again where you can see them, or give yourself a sticker, and this way you have a constant reminder that you're still getting things done. And, crucially, if you don't achieve the target, don't blame yourself. Think about it like each fight in an important tourney. When you face a new opponent, it doesn't matter if you won or lost against the previous one. Each fight is its own thing. Each training target is its own thing.

6. Why do you really want to train? Actually sit down with yourself, and analyse why you're training. Because I want to win Crown/Coronet/become a Knight. Okay, why do I want to do that? Because I like winning. Why do I like winning? Because I enjoy being good at something. Why is that? Because it makes me feel powerful. Why? Because my body feels strong and agile. Why? Because my body is doing things smoothly and the movements feel good. Ok, so I'm training in order to feel good about my body. Boring down to your actual motivations can help you get up and keep training even when you feel that your goals remain forever out of reach - or when you have already reached your goals and you may feel there's no longer anything to gain.

7. Try out new things. Try out new combos or techniques on the pell. Try out a new weapon form at practice. Choose a new running route, or try out a whole different form of cardio or a different sport.

8. Go back to basics. Maybe trying out a new thing feels completely beyond your reach. Work on the very basics that will always prove useful. Throw basic shots on the pell. Do footwork up and down the house or the garden. Practice shifting your weight.

9. Moderate your resources. You only have a certain amount of resources available during a day. It is likely that this amount has decreased since your mental injury kicked in. Accept and allow this. You will need to do a certain degree of prioritising. If you want to go for a run, you may not have the energy to work on that A&S project. Explain to your family that training will help you with your mental health and ask for support in enabling this. This may mean someone else cooking dinner, someone else dealing with school runs, or walking the dog, or many other similar chores. 

10. Be flexible. Consider a pool of different training activities that you can vary based on your energy levels. If you're not able to go for a run in the rain, can you practice footwork at home? If you're too tired to go to the gym, can you do yoga, pilates, or generic core exercises at home?     


11. Talk. As worn as this advice is, it does work for a reason. Talk to your Knight, your squires, your consort, your friends and family, anyone you know well and whom you trust. You may feel that you're a burden and that nobody wants to listen, but this is your depression lying to you. If people don't want to listen, or are not in a position to do so, they will make their excuses and remove themselves. If people stay, or check in with you, don't be afraid to talk about what you're going through.

If you feel like you have nobody else around who understands what you're going through, you can always reach out to me, and I will try to listen the best I can, or arrange a time to do so.

What you are going through is normal and common, and your awareness of it makes you better and stronger.

Sunday 25 August 2019

Raglan Fair 2: the training

At Raglan, my Knight and I continued certain ongoing projects we had more or less started at another event in the early summer. He has been concentrating on really deconstructing elements of fighting and how to train it to logical parts of a functioning system, and I have been leading on efforts to incorporate mental wellbeing and mental training into the sphere of the practice of fighting. There's a lot to be said about that, and I will most likely write several posts about it in the future. Enough to note for now that so far we have run two discussion classes at events, one at Raglan, and they have been well received.

In terms of physical training, we met on four mornings during the event, with me running a short pilates-style core workout, followed by my Knight spending some time talking about the principles of training. We had a couple of people who turned up to every session, but mostly the participants varied. Essentially, this set of sessions was a short series of linked classes on how to train smart in the context of deconstructed fighting. We hope that at some point a version of this series will make its way online in video format.

My endurance and strength have increased considerably over the past year. Not uncoincidentally, I suspect, a little over a year ago my Knight started me on a systematic training programme, which moves on in c. 6 week periods. As mentioned in the previous post, my power generation has also gone up in the past couple of months, although it's not yet consistent enough to my liking.

Main principles of training: cardio & strength

I don't do crossfit or powerlifting (despite the fact that I like lifting very much). Our principle is moderation: doing a moderate amount of training means that you're less likely to be sore the following day, and thus you're able and willing to do another training session. This leads to you training on most days of the week.

For endurance and cardio fitness, I run. I have gone through several 6-week cycles with differing emphases, but as a rule a week's programme includes one short run, one session of sprints, and one long or two longish runs. I am not fast by any manner of means, but I can do 10K in reasonable comfort. We focus on consistency, rather than speed.

For strength, rather than working with an Olympic bar (which I otherwise am very fond of), I do one session a week with dumbbells at the gym, and, if I have time and the relevant machines are free, some further upper body -focused exercises. Because I'm working on gaining strength, I alternate between a heavy set and a light set of weights. At my most recent session I used 2 x 9kg and 2 x 3 kg weights. I do three exercises, 3 reps of heavy weights and 20 reps of light weights each, 3 sets of each.

I also have a set of TRX straps, which I use for bodyweight exercises once a week.

Main principles of training: core

The first thing everyone starting SCA armoured combat is that power comes from the hips, but it seems to me that we should be actually talking about our core: the area of deep muscles around your lower abdomen, and, yes, hips. Engaging the core, activating the muscles of that area as though you were zipping up jeans that are slightly too small, substantially aids with strength and balance. When you engage your core, your hips will tilt slightly forward. Apparently Musashi mentions something very similar. I have found that engaging my core while training & fighting leads to much better footwork and better striking power. A strong core also protects from back and hip injuries.

I do at least one core workout a week. Pilates is fantastic, but due to their cost I don't attend classes at the moment. I strongly recommend it to any fighter, all the same.

Monday 19 August 2019

Raglan Fair 1: the fighting

Raglan Fair took place at Raglan Castle in the shire of Mynydd Gwyn (Wales) in the beginning of August. It is the Principality's major event with ten days of camping around a ruined castle, which is our playground for the event. Unfortunately, this time, on the last Friday the event steward made an informed and likely correct call to close the event early and advise those who could to leave due to some very bad weather rolling in. I, in the meantime, had allocated the first part of the event for non-fighting activities I enjoy: cooking, sewing, and camp life, and had intended to devote the second half of the event to fighting. As it was, I got only two days of actual fighting and four pretty intensive sessions of unarmoured training in.

Wednesday: I sponsored several tourneys during this Raglan. One of them I called the Path of Chivalry, which was adapted from the concept of Tournament of Chivalry from Double Wars in the Principality of Nordmark, which is less of a tournament and more of a large practice with knights. In the end, only two knights out of our very small chivalric population were available on the day, so the King, who was ill, was substituted by two of his squires, me and my brother. The tenans were arranged in different spots of the castle, where challengers could come fight them for feedback, circling between the locations on the evolving Path.

In the afternoon, I participated in small melees to amuse Her Highness the Princess, which was great fun. 

Thursday: In the morning, I took part in the Principality Protectors Tournament, which is an hour-long bearpit and one of my favourite tourneys. There's always a great, relaxed atmosphere, despite the victory of the tourney being prestigious. In the late evening, my very favourite tournament took place: torchlight Pas d'Armes, where tenans with closed face helms fight challengers in the castle courtyard lit by (gas) torches. This time, the misfortune that was the second weekend's bad weather already started on Thursday evening, so we all got soaked to the bone and eventually the King ended the tournament early. Usually I have fought this tourney as a tenans, but during the past year I sold my closed face helm due to being broke, so this year I was fighting as one of the challengers. As the conditions deteriorated, my invisible marshal hat sank deeper and deeper in my head, and I found it difficult to simply enjoy the fighting without being distracted by safety conditions. 

Analysis: I am reasonably happy with how I fought overall, although realistically I was only just about getting warmed up. The Protectors went the best of the lot - I think I got six points out of it. I had spent the two months previously basically practicing footwork out of armour, with very little else, and it seems to have borne fruit in that my footwork was better, even if still not great, and my power generation had improved considerably. As an important progress and success marker, I killed someone on their knees exactly the way Duke Gerhardt taught me at Double Wars. However, I need to keep working further on the footwork and start properly applying weight shifts to change angles and keep adding power. I also wasn't paying attention to range sufficiently well, ending up too close a lot, and failing to take much advantage of sideways and diagonal movement. I think what is happening at the moment is that I hold myself back too much, in an attempt to retain control of myself, my equipment and the fight, but by doing that I'm blocking my own natural flow. For much of the summer, I have felt like I have been right on the threshold of cracking the next level of movement and controlling the space of the fight, and I had had hopes that I could actually crack it Raglan. It was not yet to be.

I do seem to have got over the idea that I still need to desperately prove myself to other fighters, though. I felt much less need to fight on every single opportunity to demonstrate keenness, as I would have had in the past, even when there was something else on at the same time that I very much wanted to do. It seems that I am now pretty confident that other fighters know where I'm at, and I am comfortable with that.