Winnipeg Knightly Arts

Historical European Martial Arts School

Winnipeg HEMA swordsmanship school focused on the Lichtenauer school of combat.

We study Historical European Martial Arts and currently focus on German Longsword. In the future we plan to expand into Langes Messer, Dagger, Wrestling, and Pollaxe.

Practicing Guards

I was recently asked about how to practice guards for longsword, which brings up a series of related questions to answer the first one fully.

The most important part of training is to remember what your goals are, and how your actions help you accomplish those goals. Our goals in swordsmanship should always be 1) avoid death, and 2) eliminate the immediate threat to your safety. These two goals usually combine into the advice that is most generally useful; get your strong on their weak, and your weak aimed at their body.

A guard helps you to accomplish this by eliminating some potential opening attacks in the Zufechten, the opening phase of the fight, without creating additional openings. In other words they eliminate some of  your opponent's options and do a little bit to simplify what you can expect.

There are two main ways that a guard will help close an angle of attack, the first is through creating a physical barrier such as in Ochs or Pflug. Your blade is aligned along one of the four diagonals such that any cut against you to that Peak (quarter of your body) will be funneled onto your strong, the part of your blade with the most amount of leverage, allowing you to trap their weak while keeping your own point free to attack them, thus accomplishing your goal.

The  Second way that a guard helps you control your opponent's actions is through the threat of counter attack. The guards of Vom Tag and Alber use this by keeping your blade free of any contact until you opponent decides to move against you. In Vom Tag the essential aspects include keeping your hands close enough to the body that they do not become an easy target for a long ranged cut, and the point be back enough that you do not cock back before a cut. I cannot stress how important it is that you do not create unintentional openings for your opponent, especially during the early phases of training. Alber allows you to keep your point nearly fully extended and out of contact so that it cannot be knocked aside, allowing for you to aim your point at them in the time of the hand alone, while they will have to move in time of hand body and foot if you are keeping proper distance.

Now to address the original question: how do you practice the guards? Quite simply other than returning to them after a cut and experimenting to see what kinds of options you have from them, all you can really do is learn their names and make sure that you do them correctly each time you adopt one.

I don't especially advise changing guards a lot in the Zufechten unless you are well out of range of your opponent, as each time you change while within striking distance you create an opening for your opponent since it does nothing to threaten them or create a useful physical barrier.
 

Some freeplay from Jan '17

Hey all,

Sorry I haven't been posting anything recently, we haven't stopped training and I've been working hard on my interpretation of Leckuchner's Messer. Due to some changes in work I've had to dedicate extra time an effort towards that so I've neglected to post much.

I'm excited to announce that I will be making much more video in the future and posting regularly, specifically on much of what we've been working so hard on in our club.

Here is the footage of our freeplay which unfortunately is a bit outdated now. I've edited it to focus on the actual swordplay. You can change the youtube settings and set it to half or quarter speed to review any specific part in slow motion as well, which is why I haven't edited in the slomo.

The point of competition

Competition is fun and exciting, but you have to have the right mentality for it to be useful.

When new students get a chance to do freeplay they are often surprised to find it isn't what they expected. The nice clean techniques we drill in class suddenly disappear into wild thrashing just to fend off the opponent, and no matter what they do they can't seem to hit the other guy.

This is normal. As soon as you get even a moderate amount of stress in a fight most people break down back to instinctual fighting, which is easy for a calm opponent to pick apart. 

The stress is usually amplified by the fact that no matter what you do your opponent seems to hit you constantly but you can't land anything on them.

And that is the heart of the problem.

 Instead of trying to win, use freeplay as a test to figure out where you need to improve.

In this day and age we aren't about to fight a duel to the death with swords, so losing doesn't mean death. Calm down and pay attention to what you opponent is doing, look for the openings you recognize and stick to a basic game plan.

A good place to start is the plays. Pick one and try to stick to it. Intentionally confine yourself to a small set of actions until you learn it inside and out. You need to master those moves until you can instantly judge range, timing and what your opponent is likely to do without thinking.

And when you notice you mess something up regularly, go back and drill it until you get it right. There's no shame in going back to the basics to fix a problem. Then work on incorporating that action into freeplay again, and keep fighting until you find the next problem.

The point of freeplay isn't who wins, it's about testing yourself and improving. If you just focus on making your art better, eventually you will end up winning as your skill improves, but let it happen naturally. Freeplay is a valuable tool if used properly, but otherwise is a waste of time that will degrade your technique and frustrate you. 

Studying Your Opponent

Information gathering is crucial in every form of competition, from distance running and chess to business and martial art. Ignoring your opponent is in fact the height of arrogance and stupidity, and demonstrates a poor attitude towards your practice and sportsmanship in general.

Some argue that it's a shady practice, however those people are wrong. If simply knowing what an opponent can do gives you an unfair advantage, then they are relying on gimmick, and after a short period of time this will show. Studying their style however shows a respect for both their practice, and their ability leading to better competition on both sides. It is your ethical duty in a competitive setting to find the flaws in your opponents game and attack them until they are forced to improve. This demonstrates skill on your end, and forces them to elevate their own practice.

When two parties interact, they both have equal opportunity to learn and improve from their experience. It is your responsibility to adapt based on these exchanges and leads towards better art overall. If you share what you have gathered from these with your peers, then again, it only serves to elevate your art, and you can be certain that if your opponent is competent then they will certainly be sharing their experience with their group.

The other side of the argument is to say that you shouldn't adapt to your opponent, essentially learning nothing and changing nothing from any experience. This is ridiculous, especially because we as humans are incapable of doing this since it occurs on a subconscious level. It also follows that you must keep silent about anything that you have encountered, and allow others to continuously repeat the same set of mistakes without warning or preparation. If your are a coach or instructor this is doubly unethical, considering that this is your explicit duty.

We live in an age where the idea of 'secret tactics' are becoming laughably outdated, and relying purely on something novel can't cut it for more than a couple months. If the new tactic is sound, then it will continue working beyond that. Otherwise it will spread across the internet, and people will be able to watch videos or talk about it, and form counter measures to defeat it. This is the natural way that competition and conflict weed out ineffective methods. This is why every coach who is even half competent watches videos of their opponents before hand. It isn't underhanded, it is in fact the only sensible and respectable approach to competition, demonstrating dedication and respect for the spirit of your art and sportsmanship alike.

Why Practice Swordsmanship?

Why should we bother to study the art of swordsmanship today?

In short, because it teaches lessons that are becoming more and more rare in modern society. There is an ethical aspect to martial training that naturally arises when learning any combat art, and they help to make better, more civilized people.

It helps to look at a warrior's role in society. On the most basic level, we all need to feel safe to pursue our goals in life. Without people dedicated to helping create this situation society breaks down as everyone works to secure their own survival by any means. In a group where there are no protective warriors, the strongest and most ruthless take whatever they want, and nobody can stop them.

To prevent this collapse, we need people who have the skill, and the motivation to stop these tyrants from taking over. Thus we have organizations such as the military and police who were created to protect us from external and internal threats.

This however can lead to a situation where only those groups learn how to deal with intense situations, and unfortunately, they aren't able to be everywhere at once. Not to mention that I find government institutions to be inefficient at best, and self serving at worst.

Relying entirely on others to keep you safe is like telling kids that the only way to deal with a schoolyard bully is to tell the teacher. If the teacher is around, maybe the bully acts in a civilized way, but as soon as they aren't around the bullying will often get worse.

Studying martial arts in general represents an alternative approach. Instead of relying on someone else to protect you, it teaches you the skills and confidence to protect yourself. When you are able to stand up to a bully, or a tyrant they are forced to behave. 

When you are able to actually defend yourself, and you have been taught proper ethics, you become a civilizing force. Bullies and tyrants look for those who are weaker than them, who won't stand up or fight back. Just by standing up for yourself you greatly mitigate the need for actual violence, since they often will look to find an easier target.

If they do resort to violence, then they were going to at some point anyway, and having the proper skill to stop the immediate threat to your own safety, and the safety of others becomes critical. When you know what the appropriate amount of force is, you can use less and keep more people safe.

As you train, you begin to realize that you may get respect for your ability. Without proper teaching, this can create terrible people, which is why an ethical code naturally arises alongside any respectable martial school. The student must be taught that when they see violence happening, that they must work take action to protect those around them, or they become nothing more than a thug.

The reason why learning swordsmanship is timeless is because it teaches the courage, discipline and mentality needed to ensure the safety of the people around them. This is the basis for civilization and freedom. If every person was capable and willing to help others in need it would benefit society as a whole.

The reason I teach this art is because I believe in building strong people, and strong communities who care about each other. This just happens to be my way of doing that.

More videos of the steel league

Great job to everyone who participated in the Steel League on Oct 3 2015. Here are the first two rounds of the 3 round, round robin style tournament. The third will follow shortly.

I'm extremely happy with how everyone performed in our first Winniupeg HEMA competition, and how you represented Winnipeg Knightly Arts and our approach to HEMA training in general.

Making Good Decisions In Tough Situations

We never have enough information to fully understand our situations, and often we have to make good decisions under these circumstances. Here is an approach to making the best decision you can even when you don't have much to go on. 

First we have to recognize that we make up models that simplify our experiences, taking in only what we have learned to be the most important information.

When we see a series of dots we imagine a line. When we smell smoke we imagine a fire

When we see a series of dots we imagine a line. When we smell smoke we imagine a fire

Because we are using these simplified models we need to measure them by their effectiveness in the situation rather than their absolute accuracy to reality.

If you believe your house is on fire, it is likely you will try to escape, but in some instances smoke doesn't mean your house is on fire.

If you believe your house is on fire, it is likely you will try to escape, but in some instances smoke doesn't mean your house is on fire.

To make your models better, it is important to start out with the most direct path towards your goal.

If you believe your house is on fire, the best course of action is to evacuate it quickly.

If you believe your house is on fire, the best course of action is to evacuate it quickly.

As you gain more experience, you will begin to recognize more important information and formulate patterns. As this occurs your model will begin to become more complex. You shouldn't try to skip steps and rush this though, instead focus on getting the best information you can and then act on that.

After realizing that your house isn't on fire multiple times, you'll remember that you just left the stove on, and that you should turn it off before a real fire starts.

After realizing that your house isn't on fire multiple times, you'll remember that you just left the stove on, and that you should turn it off before a real fire starts.

The important thing is that you don't confuse your models with reality itself, and that you treat them as flexible. Since the model doesn't need to conform perfectly to reality,  you can change it to help you make useful choices faster and more quickly. This is extremely applicable to martial arts training as well.

Historical Combat League Tournament teaser

The Historical Combat League tournament video is out after much hard work. This is the first HEMA tournament we held in Winnipeg. Thanks to everyone who fought, or showed their support, you helped make the event a huge success.

If you're interested in participating, you can look up the Historical Combat League on facebook.

Understanding Art

We call ourselves martial artists when we study swordsmanship. Often without thinking about what this means, it's even hidden in HEMA. Historical European Martial Arts. But what does the art part of this all really mean.

From a technical perspective you could say in our case it is the ability to do what we want to others without having it done to ourselves. However I find it more useful to understand art as a whole. If you understand the whole the specific is obvious. This also helps answer the question of why I study swordsmanship.

A work of art is not simply the transmission of meaning through symbols.

A perfect transmission doesn't exist

A perfect transmission doesn't exist

The art itself occurs in the interpretation of something with a flexible meaning, or no specific meaning at all.

Ambiguous symbols can be seen as many different things

Ambiguous symbols can be seen as many different things

The artist creates, selects (or in some cases a combination of both) some symbol to represent the idea they have, or a feeling they want to convey, and people interpret it differently depending on their own personal experience.

Sometimes they repurpose existing symbols or objects and present them in a way that opens them up to new interpretations. Our brains are pattern recognition machines, so adding additional information, even if that's only the context, sets our brains on a hunt for meaning.

This image has no meaning other than that which you assign to it

This image has no meaning other than that which you assign to it

Sometimes entirely new symbols are created out of bits of other symbols combined together, sometimes by happy accident.

It's not always exact execution of a vision, sometimes it's seeing something takes shape and improvising. We recognize patterns better than anything after all.

It's not always exact execution of a vision, sometimes it's seeing something takes shape and improvising. We recognize patterns better than anything after all.

So if meaning is flexible, and interpretation itself is the artistic act, then where do art interpreters and critics fit in?

The important thing is that no single interpretation is correct, it's the layers of meaning combined and overlapped that give a piece it's depth.

The important thing is that no single interpretation is correct, it's the layers of meaning combined and overlapped that give a piece it's depth.

Interpreters and critics help us navigate the different terrains of meaning. They don't tell us the only valid interpretation just as a map doesn't tell you the only way through a territory. But they do help us to find our own way and explore the meanings for ourselves.

I've chosen to represent art as a picture here, but looking at art in this light allows for the interpretation of dance, martial arts, painting, music... really anything that you choose to see as a symbol for something other than the utilitarian purpose it may serve.

So I encourage you, go out and create art.

Come Compete With Swords Oct 3

We're extremely proud to announce that our inaugural competition will be held on Oct. 3 as part of the Lord Roberts Community Center Fall Festival. The competition will take place after 3:00 pm outside weather permitting.

Entry into the foam league is open to everyone and will cost $20

Entry into the steel league requires a membership to certify you are trained ($50) and the entry fee of $25

There will be prizes for the winners as well.

While you're there you should also check out the awesome Fall Festival which has all kinds of presentations including a talent show, games, and a beer tent.

 

 

What do you train for?

There are two main approaches to training, solution oriented and goal oriented. Solution oriented training starts with the answer, it can be a process, a technology, a tool, etc. that someone else has developed and then trains people to use that solution until they can reproduce it accurately and uniformly regardless of overall understanding.

Solution oriented training has it's place, especially when it's a high stress environment and you need to know what people are going to do. It is however inflexible, and not always the best approach, especially when complex decision making is required.

Goal based training starts at the other end and begins with a scenario, some resources (usually less than what is ideal), and some objectives for the student to accomplish. There is no specifically correct way to resolve the situation, as long as the goals are met. At this point the instructor must point out the weaknesses of the solution, and reject it in the larger context, add more criteria to the problem, possibly add or take away resources and get the student to do it again under increasing stress loads. This part is important, the answer the student came up with isn't wrong, but the goal is to get them to learn how to solve a problem multiple ways and learn to read the context of the problem and find the relevant restrictions themselves.

This method is useful for when decision making in complex situations is required. It develops mastery rather than immediate efficiency, however with enough practice a certain kind of convergence arises, which is more commonly called mastery. The down side is that this can take a lot longer and won't necessarily produce uniform results. The other important aspect is to ensure that there is enough practice that the student can perform in extremely intense situations (training scenarios should be much more challenging than expected environments).

The best way to speed up goal oriented training is to break the more complex problems into smaller ones and focus on training for those first until the student is no longer challenged by them, and from there add them to the larger body of training so it can stay sharp. Then you begin working on another series of problems and add those to the main group after the student gains some level of aptitude there.

I have a theory that most founders of martial arts begin learning in a goal oriented setting, and then students come to them and they teach in a solution oriented manner. They teach what has worked for them, a series of techniques, rather than teaching the student what problems to expect and allowing them the opportunity to create their own solution and master it. Then generations go by, and eventually the original spirit of the art is lost and the later students simply pantomime the actions without regard for what's happening. The contexts of the fight itself may even change, some tools are no longer allowed, laws change etc. and the past techniques become irrelevant in new contexts. This definitely happens with military, if you replace 'technique' with 'tactics' you can see how the cavalry charge became obsolete once the machine gun was developed, and yet rather than adapting, commanders simply kept ordering charges.

Understanding Context

I recently had a conversation with Gavin Cornelius, founder of the Young Entrepreneurs Society (international is in there too at the end) and we ended up discussing context at length, and just how important it truly is.

Gavin is a fan of the Myers Briggs personality test, and so are many business people. It seems great, it was developed based on psychology, measures multiple dimensions of personality and I find it almost completely useless.

Here's the problem, it ignores context. So let's examine why that could possibly matter when it comes to personality types, since surely we are who we are no matter what right? 

Actually no. The Stanford Prison Experiment  is possibly the most well known example of this, essentially concluding that the behaviors of an individual have more to do with their situation  than their personal characteristics. This is also the same with the Milgram Experiment

The important thing to get is that what we would normally think of as a self contained identity, the behaviors and concepts of 'who we are' are in a constant state of flux depending on our situation. In other words, our personalities are a emergent manifestation of our context, the way that lighting is simply the discharge of electricity, a wave is a movement in a medium, and wind is the equalization of pressure in the air. Looking at it another way, our context is inseparable from us, we are it and it is us, the way that there is no wind without air,  the two are interconnected.

This is really important for mastery of self and mastery of others. Sure each individual has different dispositions, which is to say they require different specific situations to register differently on the 'dimensions of personality' but there is almost always some conceivable way for someone to get seemingly contradictory traits to manifest in the same individual.

I can use myself as an example. In many circumstances people find me to be introverted, even to the point of anti social hostility, and others know me as an outgoing assertive person. The main factor is to whom I am talking. I find some people fun to talk to, and conversation flows easily, others I can hardly relate to at all, and as such I feel no need to try and force a conversation. 

If you are running an organization it is key to understand and use this to your advantage. Find out the dispositions of your team, and place them in such a way as to encourage the characteristics you deem most desirable.

Learn to feel the context as an extension of yourself and those around you. Feel it extending invisibly around you and learn to move it, alter it to the most useful configuration until what you want comes about of it's own volition, like a sailboat being pulled by the wind.

This goes the same for yourself as well. If circumstance dictates our persona and behavior then the only thing left is to master circumstance.

Game Theory in Combat

Game theory is useful for figuring out the best options in situations where your options are dependent on what someone else does, so it's only natural for me to think about applying it to combat. Here are some of the more generally useful concepts I use in swordsmanship to determine if an action is successful or unsuccessful. Think of game theory as a tool designed to solve a scenario in a way that forces either victory or a draw.

To be able to apply this first we have to figure out our goals to determine if we are moving towards them or not, and to understand our goals we have to understand the essence of our art.

As warriors, our role in society is to protect other people, to run towards the danger that threatens the ones we love, and neutralize the threat. However if we simply rush towards danger and die, then we have accomplished nothing. So we must have the skill required to deal with threats without becoming a victim ourselves. This is what originally lead to the development of the art of combat, that is a method of making speed and strength irrelevant in a conflict, or we'd be helpless against a stronger, larger opponent. This is also why weapons were developed.

The core of this becomes two main directives that inform all else we do.

  1.  We must survive.
  2. We must neutralize the threat.

In other words cut without being cut ourselves in swordsmanship. From these values we can begin to judge an action as enacting those ideals, or going against them.

Here's where we can begin using game theory to help us. There are four main aspects we need to cover, they're known as PAPI, or people, actions, payoffs, and information.

First I'll start with information since it's the simplest to discuss alone. This simply means that you understand what is going on in the game, which moves matter and which ones are irrelevant. In swordsmanship this is essentially the ability to judge timing, distance, and use of perception to determine what your opponent is actually doing rather than guessing. In terms of rock paper scissors, it would be as if your opponent chose their action first and you could see what they had chosen. It is unlikely to know what your opponent does before you act however, or we wouldn't need game theory to deal with the situation, but we'll get to that shortly.

Next let's look at actions and payoffs. Understanding this simply means that we know what to do in a simple situation to get the result we want. So in rock paper scissors we know that if our opponent plays scissors, we can play paper and lose, we can play scissors and draw, or we can play rock and win. It is also important to note when actions don't affect the payoffs in terms of our goals. So whether we decide to count to 3 or 50 before we choose doesn't really affect the game much. Whether we are breathing in or out when we reveal our choice is also irrelevant. By the rules of the game the only determining factor is which action we've chosen.

The aspect of people is the most challenging since it is the main variable. As I wrote earlier, it's uncommon to know what an opponent is going to do before they do it, so we need to get as much of an edge in this area as possible. Fortunately for us though, humans aren't unpredictable, but they are random. By that I mean that we can't predict any specific action that someone will choose, but we can determine trends and assign a probability to them. So in a 100 games of rock paper scissors we may find that one opponent throws scissors 80% of the time, rock 19% of the time, and paper 1%. We don't know what they will throw in any specific game, but there is a clear pattern that usually only becomes more accurate the more information we gather.

In that case we can start to look at how we should defeat this opponent, something like a plan to play rock 80%, paper 19% and scissors 1%. Now this won't ensure victory in every game, but it will greatly increase your odds of winning compared to playing each 1/3 of the time. An even better strategy may be to play rock 99% of the time and paper and scissors 1%, since there's only a 1 in 100 chance that paper will be played, but a 99% chance that either rock or scissors will be played, where playing rock against either results in a draw or win.

To gather this information you usually have to review footage of your opponent, or fight against them directly with the mentality of gathering information to build a better plan. Note though, that this shouldn't simply be a series of abortive attacks, but should be carried through with the intention of success. 

The part that makes figuring out your opponents trends tricky is that they will be attempting to recognize your patterns and adapt to them as well. The key is success adapting to them faster. If they realize you are always playing rock, and begin to play paper repeatedly, then change to scissors. The key is to predicting at what point your opponent will actually change their strategy, and this is something that takes judgement that can only come with experience.

The interesting thing about the Kunst des Fechtens is that we don't play in a way that only defeats one action. It would be like playing both rock and paper on one turn, so that the only option to avoid losing is to play paper. Forcing their hand is what is meant by obtaining the Vor, or initiative. They are in our control and we are dictating which moves will allow them to simply not lose. Then if they chose only to defend, the equivalent of choosing paper, we immediately play scissors to defeat them.

However a skilled opponent will also be attempting to get momentum back, and playing paper may be a trap, since they are waiting to reveal that that they've also chosen a rock. This of course is quite metaphorical for choosing one action that will succeed in a variety of situations, either from a defensive position or an offensive one so that you have a series of moves to deal with whatever your opponent does. As you hold the initiative longer, it decreases the options your opponent has until eventually they have none, and you win.

So at a high enough level, once you understand the situation, actions, and payoffs all that's really left is to play against the person. At this point it requires another person with a similar skill level to pose a challenge, since a lack of understanding in the lower levels of play will leave you with an incredible advantage. If you realize that your opponent doesn't know what to do in some situation you should  put them into it as often as possible. This is abusing a gap in their understanding of action and payoff, however we should also be prepared for the moment when they finally figure out what to do. This is often what scrubs complain about when they say something isn't balanced. Either they don't know how to deal with the situation, or they are so used to abusing it themselves that when they come across an opponent who renders the tactic useless they assume the game has become broken.

Here's a video that demonstrates brilliant use of game theory to force a mutual victory.


How to Improve

I've always been fascinated by the fact that some people, no matter how much they seem to be practicing something, fail to improve their skills.

I first really noticed this while playing fighting games. Games are a good place to look at learning patterns since you can have many repetitions in a fairly short period of time. This means you can easily watch the growth of successful people in comparison to the ones that plateau and then stagnate.

The biggest difference that I noticed between the successful crowd and everyone else was their mentality. The ones that continued to lose and got stuck in a rut usually got frustrated easily, blamed other people for being 'cheap', and complained that the game itself was unbalanced or broken. By comparison the successful people usually recognized the mistakes they made, took responsibility for when they lost, and whenever there was something that they didn't know how to deal with, they figured out ways to adapt.

We have a name in the fighting game community for the first kind of people who merely blame the game and don't take responsibility for their actions, expecting to use the same tactics repeatedly to win against every opponent. We call them 'scrubs'. A scrub can actually be a skilled player as well, however at some point they stop  honing their skill, usually far, far before they've reached the upper levels of play. Somewhere along the line they decided that they just want to win, now they're good enough that they should just be able to defeat anyone they come across without much effort and so they stop working.

I've seen this scrub attitude in martial practices as well, where someone decides that there's nothing new to learn and they stop working to improve. When this happens it's your job to break out of this, or if you are a coach/instructor to break your student out of this mindset. 

The keys to working through this problem are first to realize what is giving you trouble. This is best done with a video replay, be it in tennis or street fighter. Watch the plays that you fail at, and break down what happened and where you made a mistake, what kind of mistake it was, and come up with alternative actions to address the situation in the future.

Then go and practice it. You have to drill the areas that you are bad at the most until you get comfortable with them, practicing your predetermined actions to see what works and what doesn't. Eventually  you should be able to come up with spontaneous creative solutions in the moment that address the situation perfectly.

It is common that one of your basic skills is lacking if you are having difficulty in a more complex situation. If this is the case you need to go back and work on your fundamentals. This can be anything that you fail to execute competently, in the correct moment, at the correct distance. You have to go back and drill these skills in a more simplistic environment until you can do them at their basic level, then begin to add more variables until you consistently use that skill in an isolated manner. Then go back to the more difficult situation and learn to apply that skill as a part of the greater game. Often this can be very difficult, simply having the ability to execute something in one environment, say a spike in volleyball practice, doesn't mean you can execute that same spike in the stress of a game as the opportunity spontaneously arises. This is why you have to practice applying the new skill to your game in a training scenario, since temporarily your overall ability will be decreased as you focus on integrating your new ability into your game as a whole.

This temporary dip is worth it however, since it usually indicates growth, and is necessary for you to break through plateaus.

The Subtle Art of Psychological Combat

Often times I'm asked what practical value studying weapons based combat has. Quite honestly, in physical confrontation terms, very little. However the things that become ingrained in your mind have nearly infinite applications, just as Miyamoto Musashi said:

"The spirit of defeating a man is the same for ten million men... The principle of strategy is having one thing, to know ten thousand things."

Here are a few rough outlines on applying the philosophy, the values and decision making process, of combat to the issue of interpersonal conflict. 

With the application of the mental aspects of this you get a series of actions that affect the mind of your opponent rather than their body, yet still retain the same goal: "Avoid death, eliminate the threat", or "strike without being stricken", and we can begin to see why dealing with things like our ego and identity are fundamental to becoming competent as warriors.

The most simple concept is to attack the opponent when they are unprepared and keep them on the defensive with a series of planned actions. The idea is to force them to act in one of several predictable ways which do not threaten us and simply ward off our initial probing actions. These are easy to put together. In the simplest format, find something that you know they hold dear, and attack that in such a way that you control their out. "You aren't a real man unless you pay for the date". "You will suffer eternal damnation unless you believe in Steve, the great and mighty penguin." Essentially you attack a form of their identity, or stoke some sort of fear unless they follow whatever action you prescribe. "Only fascists eat pickles." You can get really creative with this one. Essentially you're selling snake oil by creating some problem that doesn't exist outside of someone's mind and then offering them the one solution, which just happens to come with several other stipulations (more attacks) designed to constrain and control them.

This is why it's essential not to cling to an identity blindly. Normally accepting alabel due to one aspect of it, say being a vegetarian, which is stipulated by the choice not to eat meat, will have several other attributes associated with it that you may not believe in. You can try to defend the label, but really that's a waste of time and energy, and something that your opponents will wear you out with. Or you can simply take the actions you would anyways and ignore the label. This is essentially the way that a voodoo doll works. You create something that the person identifies with such as a doll (or label), then you attack that thing, which is not them, and yet because they are identifying with that thing (idea, ideology, object etc.) they will feel pain.

In the Kunst des fechtens the most iconic type of action is the single time counter with opposition, that is a counter attack that simultaneously defends and attacks by displacing the attack of an opponent. This is an effective way to deal with an opponent who relies on the previous method of attack. Simply deflect their attack as you attack them. "Only a sexist would say something so outdated." "Vague immaterial threats are the tools of irrational religious zealots." You get the idea. This amounts to a type of advancing front under the cover of a counter attack.

It's really more important to recognize that at this stage you are not aiming to convince your opponent directly by confronting them, often this will actually double their resolve, however that isn't the goal. The goal is to come off better to anyone listening. You need to seem more composed, reasonable or untouchable than your opponent. You are appealing to whatever values your audience has, those are the avenues of maneuver that you must control to be successful in the long term. Normally the people you are dealing with are simply repeating the thoughts of others, usually the most popular, so the only way to alter their behavior is by changing what the popular social opinion is, and the best way to do that is to appeal to them as you appear to be debating with one of the mouth pieces. 

Then when you are confronted with someone using the strategy of the counterattack your best option is to either bait them out, or to out read their actions. Baiting them out is usually the most straightforward in most circumstances. Simply use hypothetical questions to draw them into a position where they make themselves bad. In other words, become an agent provocateur. If you create a smokescreen of possible beliefs or possible circumstances which you do not hold (ideally they are absurd, and the audience will understand this) and construct them in such a way as to cause the counter attacker to drastically overuse force on a seemingly innocuous problem. It is never popular to see someone abuse their power. "How do you think we should deal with religious zealots?" ... "you think we should burn simple peaceful penguin lovers at the steak simply because they hold a different viewpoint?"

If you can out read your opponents actions, that is you know what they will use as their counter attack, what areas they will target, then you can make this even more devastating by leading them into an even bigger trap. "How would you punish a sexist?" ... "No criminal trial? that's pretty harsh, but maybe they deserve it"... (let them go as far as possible without committing yourself to any position) ... "So what you're saying is that if a guy pays for a date he should be sent to a unlisted prison without a criminal hearing indefinitely without any notice?" and then if they backtrack simply attack them as changing their story, or being inconsistent.

The whole point is to force the opponent to make bad choices and attack the openings. If someone is too diplomatic and they don't create openings with their statements, then create situations where their diplomacy begins to work against them. While using this the point is to use this mental technology effectively, so it's up to the user to apply it in an intelligent and responsible manner.

Dealing with 'Self'

I've been thinking about this a lot recently, and Matt talked about something that I found interesting in one of his recent podcasts, so I decided to give my thoughts on this situation.

There is a common attitude these days that you should cultivate a personality that will lead to success as some form of self improvement. I quite disagree with this, though probably not for the reasons you'd expect. Quite simply it doesn't work.

This attitude focuses on trying to achieve the result by mimicry of the symptom, it's as effective as becoming a professional athlete by wearing some brand clothes. 

The word persona comes from the Greek word for mask, which is quite appropriate. Simply put it is a pattern of behavior designed to give others an impression of who we are, to seem consistent and so we build an identity around this. In reality this is more akin to the way an actor plays a role, only we have several roles that we play as part of our personae, swapping between them usually without recognizing it. I might play the teacher, brother, son, friend and several others all in one day. The important distinction between an actor and a regular person is that an actor is aware of their performance, and the average person is entirely oblivious to theirs.

This is important because in recognizing the roles we are playing we can play them better if we let go of the obsession to seem one way or another. The first step in this is simply to recognize that we are not our personalities, since they change and yet we do not cease to exist. The way that you are not your possessions, your clothes, your political preference, or your job, you are not your actions. 

This can seem terrifying to most people at first, letting go of the thing you identify as can seem like a form of death, but going through it will allow you to realize that you will survive such an ordeal and when you learn to stop constantly confusing things with the act of being, then you'll find inner peace.

For me this came through several moments in my life where the identity I had formed was utterly and irrevocably destroyed. Loss of jobs, relationships ending, moving, all kinds of different things can happen to end the whatever it is you base your identity on, and the only sensible solution I've found is to simply stop identifying as that thing, until eventually there wasn't anything really left. Life goes on.

In terms of martial training clinging to an identity can cause useless fear. Healthy fear is generally limited to a respect for what your opponent can do to you, more a recognition of consequence than anything. Most fear amounts to some form of identity crisis. Worry over humiliation, or failure doesn't help you accomplish your goals, and cause a form of hesitation that will manifest the very thing that is feared. With proper training these things become irrelevant, and only the desire to apply your art remain, you are freed up to solve the problem at hand rather than build anxiety over something that could happen.

In many ways, the heart of martial discipline relies on answering the question 'who am I?'. The problem is that it's become too common to answer this question. Just as a sword can cut, but cannot cut itself you experience, but you cannot experience yourself. That's why asking this question and leaving space to not know is important. Learning that not knowing doesn't mean non existence is a powerful place.

From here genuine action becomes possible. It's not guaranteed, but it opens the door a crack. The ultimate goal of classical training is always to create the possibility for intelligent appropriate decisions to be made in context, and classical martial training is no different.

Simply changing one form of persona with another doesn't solve the root problem of not knowing who you are, only facing that and accepting it can do that. Afterwards, the desire to practice and apply your art will become the focus, and other people may or may not recognize what you are capable of, but that becomes irrelevant, simply a label that they use to quickly identify and sort you, the same as 'son', or 'teacher'. However you will remain free to act appropriately to your situation without worry for those labels.

Relaxation and cutting

Initially I was going to write about something else, then I saw this video which sparked a fresh topic.

 

This is a test video by Thrand working with a concept that one of my favorite researchers, Roland Warzecha, has been developing. Interestingly enough this is something that I have been talking about for a long time now as well.

I suppose it's my background with Russian Martial Arts, but to me this was something that seemed so obvious that I never really gave it much thought other than trying to explain it to students. The general idea is that instead of tensing up or trying to strike fiercely, you simply give the weapon an impulse and allow it to do the cut for you. Once it is in motion you maintain only enough of a grip to steer it to the target.

This works for cuts and thrusts with a variety of weapons, and there appears to be significant evidence that it was known to warriors well versed with melee weapons. I've often demonstrated the difference to new students by striking their waster in a variety of ways that appear to be similar, but have very different results.

So since I believe that there is very clear evidence that this is a beneficial tactic, the problem comes down to the method of training this until it becomes second nature. My approach is to begin slow, and develop a good sense of feeling for it. We now do a drill that I call the 'relaxation drill' where we go through some basic cutting motions very slowly and without any footwork focusing only on when to tense and when to relax. I'd say this is very similar in some ways to developing a golf swing, since you must initially add momentum then relax and steer it at the proper moment. As a general rule, if the sword is being lifted into a vertical position, you should give it an impulse to get there, and once it's reached that point, or slightly before if you've gotten the hang of it, you relax your grip and arms. This should allow the blade to swing into position fluidly and under a very soft guiding hand, more of a brace than a grip.

As you do this more and  more at a slower speed, the slower you can go and keep the natural rhythm, the better, the easier it will become and the more you will develop the ability to feel what is happening. That is you develop a sense of Fuhlen necessary for adaptation to your opponents actions. Eventually with enough practice you should get to the point where you do this naturally under stress without thinking. I've taken this idea from musicians who learn music by going slowly as long as the timing is kept proportional, and then eventually they get the new piece down, and eventually can improvise on the original work. From my teaching it would appear that this method also works with swordsmanship and martial arts in general, so as I see it, why reinvent what you can steal and repurpose something that's already great?

Here's another video demonstrating another application of these mechanics in a way that is more familiar to me, explained by my friend Matt Powell of Pramek. He has a really great style of teaching the core mechanics and how they mesh together and create the overall style of movement I've attempted to describe.

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