Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Making Plans for Training


A while ago I posted about taking a hold of your training. This was designed to get people to realise that the only person who was going to make it all work was you. This is more or less a follow-up on that one, examining the next step in the process and one that should be considered by fencers at all levels.

Making plans for training is a good thing as it provides advantages, but it needs to be done right. The advantage of making a plan for your training, rather than just filling in holes where they are perceived is that it gives a plan for the future. This provides a direction for the training and a simple process to follow. This particular plan can provide a reason for going to training, and going on a regular basis especially. Where it is filling holes then there is motivation to pick something, where there is a plan, it is just the next lesson in the plan. This provides things to do at training, especially where the motivation may not be there to figure something out to do. This also means that the training is directed at a target.

Targets are important as they give us something to aim at. For some, they can be non-specific, but for most they need to be specific about where it is all going. As far as overall targets are concerned "I want to get better at my fencing." is a target which we all have as who does not want to get better at their fencing? This target does not provide particularly much direction. In order to provide direction, it is useful to be somewhat more specific, this is achieved by dividing goals up into long term and short term targets or goals.

Long term targets are those which will not happen soon and will require a lot of work, and are something to strive toward. These are often hopeful goals of where a person may want to end up sometime down the track. In many ways this is some what "cloud shooting" dreaming about the day that you will hit the top of the ranks in your particular form of fencing. Of course for some, this will be out of reach so this needs to be tempered a little with sensibility. These long term goals should not have a time limit on them anything under a year or even more.

Short term goals are those which will happen sooner than the long term goals, but they may not happen in a couple of months or possibly even a couple of years. These goals need to be realistic in order that you can work toward them in an active fashion. It is these goals that the plan for training is written to actively pursue. Each short term goal should be achieved with a plan. Each one of these short term goals should build to fulfil a long term goal. In this way there is an overall plan and more specific ones as well. The short term goals may or may not have a time limit, or date of completion on them. For some the introduction of a time is useful, for some it is not. Just remember to be at least a little flexible.

Being flexible in your plan is always useful. Things will happen in life which will interrupt the progress of your fencing plan. This can be major life-changing things or even simple things such as the flu. Due to these particular factors it is important to be flexible in your plan in order to take into account the unexpected. This means that if you propose a date, make sure that there is room in there in order to make changes as they are required. If one week off due to being ill will mess up the plan, then you need to be more flexible about it. Of course, simply putting things off because you don't feel like it is a way that will cripple the plan, so you also need to temper this flexibility with motivation and control over yourself.

Once all of the goals have been decided and dates set for the completion of the goals, next it is important to look at the lessons themselves. Most of the time these lessons will be able to be taken from the standard training program. In most instances it will be a simple tightening of the expectations of these lessons. Often it will be an increase in the performance aspect with regard to form. There will also be those lessons which will have to be modified to suit the training program and the goals set. In these particular instances tailor the lesson to suit what you want to achieve out of it. Use what works. Sounds silly? Use those techniques which have worked for you in the past in order to learn. For some it is simple repetition in drills, for some it will be to put the skill into a more active situations such as bouting.

Remember this plan is being tailored to suit you. Make sure that the lessons build on one another. The lessons should be connected in some way. One lesson should attach to the next in order to get to the one after that. Parry + Thrust = Riposte is a simple example of two lessons combining to result in a third. In this way the lessons should build on one another in order to get you to your goal. Think of this like building a wall. Each brick lends its strength and the wall would be faulty if it was missing. This needs to be one of the most important considerations in your plan.

Plans help us to achieve goals. Some will muddle through and find their way through other means, but a plan is always a useful thing. The plan will set simple goals for the fencer for each lesson. Each lesson will built to assist in achieving that overall goal. It is direction which a plan most supplies and often gives a person the motivation to do what they need to do in order to achieve their goal.

1. Establish goals.
2. Make a plan.
3. Find lessons to suit the plan, or make lessons to suit the plan.
4. Stick to the plan.
5. Expect to have to change things as you go.



Monday, November 1, 2010

Musashi for the Rapier Combatant: Adventures in Cross-Training


Musashi for the rapier combatant? What is he on about? These are the first two questions that I would expect to be asked with regard to this particular topic. The idea of this blog is to get people thinking about other resources that they might find useful in their study of swordplay. I have actually already written an article entitled "Musashi for the Rapier Combatant" and I was tempted to simply re-print that article here. Instead I have decided to go through the approach that led me to such a conclusion and the article that resulted.

"Let the Gaze Be Broad" is one of the most used sayings found in Musashi's book Go Rin No Sho, or The Book of Five Rings. From Musashi's point of view it is about being aware of the opponent and also aware of your surroundings when facing an opponent. For the purposes of this particular discussion it is also about being aware of the resources available to you in your research.

People tend to approach the research of fencing and swordplay in general from one of two points of view, a narrow view or a broad view of things. Each one of these approaches has advantages and disadvantages. They are also useful for different things depending on the desired outcome of the particular research.

For the narrow view, people get caught up with the importance of a culturally-centric, weapon-centric, or even "school"-centric approach in their approach. The advantage of this is that they are totally focused on their material and will go into all of the finer details in their particular approach. One problem is that if they are hampered by the source material, being a translation issue or an availability, then their research will stop. Every researcher has been here, "I could really do with studying "X" but it is a) written in a language I don't speak or b) simply is not available." Another problem is that they do not experience swordplay from a broad point of view and thus miss the overall picture. For the researcher with a broad point of view, this is less of an issue.

The broad point of view looks at all of the source material that is available and thus has much more to look at. The wealth of information can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. The advantage being the quantity of material available and the disadvantage being that there is so much of it that research on a particular topic can last forever and never really finish. The advantage of the broad point of view is that this researcher is able to compare and contrast, and get a view of topics from an overall perspective rather than a focused one. The researcher with the broad point of view is able to use resources from different places in order to build his research and this can lead to using some resources of unexpected usefulness.

There are resources out there which on the surface look like that they will be of no use to the researcher of swordplay. One of the obvious examples for the researcher of rapier combat is the usefulness of sport fencing materials. The movements expressed in these texts can be quite useful, but the real value is in the drills and concepts which are most useful. From an even broader point of view, you need to look at things from a broad point of view in order to realise the usefulness of different texts. This is even to the point where seemingly differing weapon systems can be used to assist one another. The trick, of course, is to find these resources in order to be able to use them.

In order to find other resources it is first important to ensure that you are looking at things from a broad point of view. In order to do this you need to look at your topic for study from an over-reaching point of view. Examine it for the key elements which the particular topic is based upon and look for these. If you limit your searches to only one type of material that is all you will get. If, on the other hand you broaden your searches to include different types of materials and different subjects you will find a great deal more.

The next thing that you need to do is to have a broad outlook in your research and research topics. If you choose "A study of Salvator Fabris" for example, then for the most part, you will only really be looking at a single manual. On the other hand if you choose "A study of the use of 17th century Italian rapier" then you are going to be able to use more materials. If your topic is even broader you will be able to use even more materials. Even with the topics suggested, depending on your approach, there are also other additional materials that you might find useful in order to completely understand the topic.

In order to increase the different places where you can look for materials you must first have a broad point of view. One of the more obvious places to look for material is art and documents of the appropriate period. These are useful as they give background and can also give depictions of the weapons "in action" from a certain point of view. Documentation about the actual weapons used is surprisingly useful to understanding a particular weapon form. Understanding the characteristics of the weapon can be most useful. Another thing to consider is body movement.

The human body, for the most part, can only move in a certain number of ways and to and from a certain amount of positions. When a weapon is added to this, then the number is further reduced. This is one of the reasons why it is possible to do cross-cultural examinations of combat systems. One of the prime examples of this a comparison of the longsword and the katana. This is especially useful in the use of the weapons and the tactics involved in their use.

When further looking at the movements of the human body, a researcher should not ignore an area which has previously been the purview of physiotherapists and fitness instructors, and that is bio-mechanics. This investigates the use of the human body and how it moves most efficiently. This is most useful especially to the modern martial artist, both eastern and western, in order to utilise the body in its movements most effectively and safely. This something that the theorists of the Renaissance period knew and this is one of the reasons that the figures are often depicted naked, in order to see the muscles in movement.

In our research of swordplay, it is important that we do not lock ourselves too much into a single subject, this narrows the vision of what is possible to be found. Of course where a particular topic is specific it is important to stay on the particular topic and thus use appropriate materials. This being said other materials can be used to explain things which are not in the primary source material. This all being said, a broad point of view with regard to the research is useful to the researcher in order to gain an overall view of swordplay.