The week that everything clicked

This has been a huge week in terms of personal growth and improvement. As I mentioned last week, I’ve been working with the new fencers at the Settmour Swamp practice on Tuesday nights. Last week, I ran footwork drills and, in one word on how it went, awkward. I had no idea what I was doing every though I had participated in the drill so many times before but I struggled to do the opposite of the commands I was calling out plus I made the mistake of adding left and right to the mix which just made things really complicated. This week went a lot better. We had 3 brand new fencers plus about half a dozen beginner/intermediate fencers (most of which are up to slow bouting but not full speed yet with a couple recently authorized fencers).

This time, with Orlando’s supervision of myself as well as the new people (it’s hard to watch 6-8 people during footwork drills and correct any mistakes without losing the tempo of the drill). Things went according to plan and we were able to fix some mistakes people were making especially involving overshooting one’s knee when lunging and/or having their front foot slightly off (both of which will cause knee problems later on). Then I remembered that half of our new fencers have never worked with their non-dominant hand at all so I told everybody to switch hands. They looked at me like I’d lost my mind but, thankfully I had Orlando (who is known for his ability to fence well with both hands equally) spoke up saying he always starts training with his non-dominant hand and then switches when he gets tired. I also pointed out that there are going to be times (possibly a lot of times) that they lose their dominant hand and have to fight with their other hand or  concede the fight. They seemed to take all of this into mind and switched. We moved on to distance drills in pairs where one person leads and the other maintains distance. Rachael and Kelly decided to take it a step further and whenever Orlando (who was watching the clock so that I could pair off with Wulfgar) called “switch” they also switched hands so that, in the 4 times the drill was run, they each led with both hands and followed with both hands. I felt really good about how was progressing as a teacher (though I got some very large shoes to fill) and I felt really good about how everyone was progressing in their learnings. It feels really good to see people get better and know that I played a part in it (even if it was a very very small part).

So after drills, I did some fencing with Kelly (one of our new fencers who is getting close to authorizing) and she fought really well. She accidentally came in with a percussive shot to my funny bone (sadly, it’s the third time I’ve had that happen) and my arm pretty much went limp. She felt horrible about it but I assured her that I was fine and that accidents happen and just to be careful. She’s starting to notice openings I was leaving and caught me off guard a few times which is really awesome to see. Afterwards, I fought Malcolm which is always a blast. Malcolm is one of my favorite people to fight because I can’t get in my head when I fence him. If I start trying to over-think things, he’s already jumped down my shorts (no, not literally), stabbed me and spun away. I have to fence him at a fast pace and fight completely on reflex and it is a blast. Just like Owynn mentioned last week, Malcolm told me that I was making him work a lot harder to kill me. I go into every fight trying to kill my opponent and, if that isn’t going to happen, I’m going to make them work to kill me. The fact that the two of them (who know my style because they fence me every week) have to work even harder now to kill me makes me feel really good about my fencing.

Yesterday, I drove out to Bhakail (I’m loving how it’s close enough that I can go every week) while Rachael was seeing Alton Brown with her mom. My first fight was with Berrick who fights with curved swords (which is a very very different game). Long story short, it was a blast. I don’t get to fight against curved swords often especially a pair of them while I fight with a dagger and it was a ton of fun. At the EK Rapier Academy a few weeks ago, Berrick taught a class on fighting with curved sword. I took it with two intentions: learning to fight with a curved sword for when I can eventually afford one, and to learn how to fight against one (know yourself, know your opponent). I used this when I fought him and made sure not to let him get blade contact and to not let him close distance. At one point, he closed and we ended up grappling a bit (holding each other’s guards) and I somehow managed to slip lose and catch him in the head.

After catching my breath, I fought a fencer named Eric who I’d never met or fenced before. At one point, he asked me if I was trying not to kill him because I’d parried and had openings to just extend my blade and kill him but I didn’t. I didn’t realize it because I didn’t notice the hole until after we broke back apart. I assured him I wasn’t purposely not killing him and was just slow to pick up on the opportunities and we continued fighting. Next, I fought Melchior with single (his height and long arms give him a serious reach advantage) but I managed to hold my own fairly well and managed to kill him a few times. I started to notice that, somehow, I’m able to bend my arms in ways I didn’t think possible really and managed to throw shots that were beyond what a normal parry could catch. I’m definitely going to keep this in mind and make sure that I can still defend myself with my off hand while throwing shots like that. My last fight of the night was with Declan with rigid parry (in both our cases, a cane/stick). Cane is my second favorite form behind dagger (I like having a variety of range options that dagger gives me) and I tend to fight more aggressively with it than I do otherwise. Last night was no different and I surprised myself with how well I fought with it. Everything slowed down and I was able to think three moves ahead and plan things out that worked beautifully.

Everything this week just clicked into place and I can’t believe it. I fought with a level of confidence that I’ve never been able to manage thus far in my fighting career and it really paid off. I’m so excited to fence in Atlantia this weekend on Night on the Town and then at Southern Region Sunday practice in Iron Bog. This is going to be fun.

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Archery season is coming

After a long winter of coldness plus several weekends on events and rain and more coldness, Rachael and I finally got to go back to archery again. In retrospect, pants were probably unnecessary. In order to not end up getting shot in the ass for not wearing pants at archery, next time I’ll go with shorts. After some general socializing and whatnot, we inspected our bows (Ray inspected Rachael’s since he’s in training to be an archery marshal), grabbed our quivers and got to shooting. I forgot how much I’d missed shooting. It is one of the few times I can actually focus all of my attention on a single train of thought (the rest of the time it’s like someone put Ozzy Osbourne in charge of Penn Station). Over the winter, I made a new set of arrows (soon to make another dozen once I finish at least a dozen of Rachael’s bolts) an inch longer than my old set so I can’t shoot both in the same round (different lengths and weights will affect flight path and [insert physics explanation that sums up to the arrows will go different places]). I was considering just putting my old set in with the loaners but it turns out Kerry’s arrows went missing/broke/are no more so I gave her my old ones and am going to teach her and her fiance, David how to make their own (they both really want to learn).

So I finally get up to the line and start shooting at the 20 yard target and I try to continue what Phillip had me working on in counting down from 2 so that I don’t take too long to aim and end up missing when my hand starts shaking. My first few rounds weren’t bad, I was shooting in the high teens which is a decent start for the season (for those who may not know, you shoot 6 arrows at 20, 30, and 40 yard targets and as many as you can get off in 30 seconds at the 20 yard target for an official royal rounds set so when I say I shot a certain score, it’s out of 30). Then I did something I’ve never done before (but have photo evidence that it did happen which I’ll post with this). I completely zoned out (or zoned in I guess) and shot 4 golds, 1 red, and 1 blue (gold=5, red=4, blue=3, black=2, white=1) for a score of 27! I was so excited with it that I took Ray’s advice and wrote it in as the start of a royal round (you can shoot them in any order you want as long as you shoot all 4 rounds consecutively) even though I hadn’t dialed in on the 30 and 40 yard targets.

Instead of changing distances (and aim points), I decided to shoot my timed end. I usually only carry 6 arrows so that I don’t have to count how many are left or how many I shot already. I’m supposed to make each shot the first shot as per Phillip’s instruction (see, Phillip? I do listen) For a timed end, I usually add an extra arrow or two in my quiver just in case I can get into a rhythm and get off more than 6 arrows. Ray counted me down (a marshal or MIT has to count you down with a stop watch) and I got my first shot off in the gold but I started to rush and fumbled an arrow or two. I still managed to get 17 points with 7 arrows (I missed with 2 which is bad for me but I’ll get back into my rhythm and do better next time). What I took away from this is I got off 7 with a bit of stumbling which makes me wonder if I can get off 8-9 in 30 seconds (and this is where Phillip yells at me for trying to shoot faster instead of better). My goal is to get better shots off but if I can get 7 in the red and gold and maybe an extra arrow in the blue or black, I’ll take it. My 30 and 40 were pretty bad (6 and 9 respectively) but that just means there’s lots of room for improvement. Overall, I shot a 59 which is by no means my best (my average of my top 3 shoots over the past 12 months is 73.33 with my best being 77) but it’s way better than I was doing at the beginning of the season last year by probably double. I won’t get the chance to shoot this coming Sunday (going to Southern Region Sunday practice in Iron Bog instead) but next week I’ll be back and shooting again. I got to get started on designing targets for Quest since I’ll be the archery Marshal in Charge (as a back up in case something happens with what the barony’s champion comes up with) because time flies like an arrow (looks straight but if you take a close look it’s really all wibbly-wobbly).

 

Archery shoot 4.17.16.jpg

Map of Fencing Practices in the East Kingdom is Officially Live

I am very excited to say that my personal project- an interactive map of all of the fencing practices (or as many as I could find information for) in the East Kingdom- has now born fruit or at very least flowers.

Let me start from the beginning. A few months ago, Duke Timothy of Aethelmarc created an event,  that was essentially a massive practice for fighters and fencers alike so that we could learn and grow from people all over the known world (I believe there were over 300 people from 12 different kingdoms there). It was an amazing weekend (Rachael had just started fencing, as had Lucy) and all of us got to learn a lot and fight a lot and had so much fun. On the way home, Rachael and I were talking and I came up with an idea. What if there was a way to see all the practices around a person. I also know a few people who travel (either within their own kingdom or to other kingdoms) who may have some time to kill and want to go to a local fencing practice so I figured why not make a map?

I went on to google maps and started putting pins down for the practices that I knew about. I decided that just the locations may not be a ton of use so I decided to add information like time and day of the practices, if there are any fees associated with the practice (to help keep the lights on and offset the cost of the site), location (sometimes just an address is hard to find when the name of the building would be a lot easier) and who runs the practice. Me being the stickler for details that I am, I decided to color code the pins based on what day the practices were on (red for Mondays, orange for Tuesdays (yes I did follow ROYGBIV intentionally for those who noticed)).

I then found a list of all of the baronies, shires, and cantons in the kingdom and went to each’s personal website and checked if they had information about their local fencing practices. After that, I sent out an email to each baronial fencing marshal (or seneschal if I couldn’t find a marshal) and told them what I was doing and asked if they had information and/or corrections that could be added to the map. I didn’t get as many responses as I’d hoped but I was able to find a ton of information on my own.

When I started feeling confident that I had a decent draft, I posted it to the East Kingdom facebook page and asked if anyone had any information to change/add. I got a ton of compliments and enthusiasm about this as well as a bunch of people contacting me with information for it. After talking with the Kingdom Fencing Marshal, Master Frasier, he told me how proud he was of me for doing this (which I cannot honestly expressed how much that means to me. Master Frasier, you are one of my role models for fencing and someone I aspire to be like as I grow.) and suggested I contact Brian of Stonemarche who is the kingdom webminister. After sending him an email last night with a link to the map, he responded that it is an awesome idea though I forgot a practice, his. Oops! I immediately used the info he gave me and added it in (and apologized profusely for missing it). I woke up this morning to find an email with a link with my map on the East Kingdom Rapier website and Rachael can attest to my squealing with joy over this. Months of work all coming to be made publicly available so that it could be used to help people. I am so excited that this can now be viewed by anyone who may be looking for practices around them or is new to fencing and wants to know what’s around.

My dream of this map coming out to help people from all over has now come to light. My goal with this, though, was not JUST to help those in the East Kingdom fencing community. I want to inspire others to take this idea and maybe do it for other activities (heavy fighting, archery, A&S, dancing, etc) as well as in other kingdoms. Maybe one day we can make a site with all the practices in the Known Worlde! And that is why I am posting this here. I know my following is very small as of right now but I’m hoping it will grow. I’m hoping people will see this and not only use it but also add to it, learn from it, maybe expand it into other disciplines or kingdoms. That is where you come in. Please please PLEASE (pretty please with sprinkles on top) tell your friends about this. Spread the word. I don’t care if you mention me at all. I didn’t do this to look good, I did this because I want to help others and I want this to become a thing. Spread the word, let’s get this to take off and make it happen in other kingdoms too! Let’s show those who have been fencing for a while and those who are just thinking about getting into alike what is around them. Help build the fencing community into something the likes of the SCA has never seen. Make new friends, fence new people. help those around you, teach, be taught, never stop stabbing (and parrying), never stop learning and most importantly of all, never stop having fun. Thank you all.

Yours in Service,

Ciaran ua Meic Thire, proud fencer of the East Kingdom

P.S. here’s a link to the map. If you’ve got ideas to make it better, information to change or add, or general comments, please don’t hesitate to let me know. Thanks!

Practices

Fencing lesson of the week: Just Keep Swimming

So yesterday took a rough start. Completely unrelated to fencing (and the SCA altogether). On my way to my second day of work, I tried to stop short when the car in front of me slammed on his breaks and I ended up hydroplaning and crashed into him. Luckily, nobody was hurt and the insurance is taking care of everything. This however, left me spiraling downwards pretty fast. For those who are unaware, I suffer from depression. I tend to go through periods of normalcy interspersed with days/weeks of being a self-loathing hermit. The SCA has helped me handle it a lot better than I used to and has given me a sense of confidence that was unknown to me previously. If there’s interest, I’ll write a post about how the SCA has helped me through some very dark times but for now let’s talk swishy-poke.

So I wanted to stay home last night (Rachael was going to Carillion after work and I didn’t really want to people (yes that is a verb). The fact that I didn’t want to go see friends and/or fence tells you just how crappy I was feeling but that’s why I decided that I needed to go. So I went and was put in charge of running footwork drills with our beginner fencers. While it could have gone a lot smoother, it seemed to go over well with everyone and I’d like to think I was able to help them progress but only time will tell. After footwork drills, I worked with Lucy on her dagger work. Her dagger finally arrived so she was itching to use it (especially itching to stab me with it). Her defenses with it are getting good though she can be a bit eager to parry with the dagger instead of her sword (I know you’re reading this, don’t forget your homework). Next step is going to be getting her to use it for offense as well. We worked to fix this by putting the swords down and fighting with just the daggers. The goal was to get her to see the dagger as an offensive weapon as well as defensive. As was pointed out to me afterwards, it looked like we were using them as mini rapiers instead of daggers but that’s just something to keep in mind and work on in the future. One of benefits of our dagger fight was it did get her to start moving more. The beauty of SCA fencing vs “olympic fencing” is that we can move in more directions than forwards and backwards. Sometimes thinking laterally is the best way to kill your opponent.

On the topic of thinking sideways and killing opponents, after working with Lucy, I got the chance to fight Owyn. Unlike every other time I’ve fought him, I actually managed to hold my own to some degree and killed him on a few occasions. I was moving, parrying, and fencing better than I ever have against him and was finally able to stop thinking and just fence him. Afterwards, he told me that I made him work too hard though I’m pretty sure this was a compliment (it’s hard to tell sometimes since Owyn likes screwing with me whenever he can). Overall, it turned into a great night that really helped everything.

So, it turns out that that forgetful little fish was onto something and not just when you’re feeling blue. Standing still just makes you an easy target for your opponent to stab you. That isn’t to say standing still will automatically get your killed or that it’s bad. We fencers strive to be the epitome of efficiency in killing our opponents with the least amount of movement/work required. At the same time, not moving at all is a good way to get dead. A fencer’s first line of defense is to parry their opponent’s shot but their second is to not be where their opponent’s sword thought they’d be. Your opponent can’t kill you if they can’t hit you and they can’t hit you if you’re out of range. At the same time, getting stuck in your head will just bring you down and when life’s got you down, what should you do? Just keep swimming.

Rule 1 of dagger: Stab them with it. Practice report 4/5-4/6

This week involved practices in Settmour Swamp and Bhakail, the two practices I work to go to every week when I can. First up was the Swamp practice on Tuesday night. I started the night off fencing the newest baron of the kingdom (congrats again by the way, your excellency), Yehuda. It’s been a while since I’ve fought him and, instead of my usual tactic of retreat until the opening presents itself (and at times make him yell at me to stand still so he can stab me), I only backed up half the time and was a lot quicker to notice openings and get in to stab him. I got some good shots in on him and he had some good shots on me and overall it was a lot of fun. Afterwards, I took a break and fenced E (the littlest fencer of not even two years of age who loves to fence with my dagger) with foam swords and lightsabers. Fencing him always brings a smile to my face as well as everyone who watches (it’s hard not to smile at such an adorable toddler fencing) but then it was back work.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been working with Lucy (Berenika) and been teaching her some tricks that have been used on me over the past couple of years so she’d learn not to fall for them too. She wanted to start learning dagger so I borrowed Malcolm’s, handed her mine and started teaching her the general basics of fighting with a dagger. She gave me a look when I told her the first rule of fighting with dagger is that you can stab your opponent with it and that the second rule was not to parry your own sword. It seems like it shouldn’t need to be said but I’ve watched so many people forget that their dagger is for offense as well as defense and I’ve seen a few people (myself included) parry their own sword when they started out. I told her to practice at home with a ruler in her off hand (her dagger hasn’t arrived yet) to get used to moving both weapons independently without binding oneself. She picked up the idea of parrying with her dagger really quickly (it turns out she’d worked with Garrick on it previously) so I moved on to teaching her about using both weapons together to “pass” the opponent’s sword out of the way and close the distance. We started sparring a bit and made sure to keep her focused on which weapon was a threat (the dagger isn’t a threat at distance and the sword is not much of a threat when you are an inch from your opponent) so I could wave my dagger all day long at her when we were at normal distance and she shouldn’t get too worried about it unless I stepped in. She took my hand a few times and had the chance to take advantage of her two blades against my one and it was really heartwarming to see her having so much fun and picking it up so quickly. Afterwards, I talked to Malcolm and told him what I’d worked with Lucy on and asked if I could help out teaching the new fencers so I could learn how to teach. I feel that part of becoming a good fencer is being a good teacher so that I can pass on what I’ve learned just like my teachers have passed on their knowledge and experience to me.

Last night, Rachael and I drove out to Bhakail (which is awesome because it’s only half an hour away so we can go every week. I was asked to dance by Morwill so we brought our daggers and got to playing. We went back and forth the whole time trading shots but neither of us connecting with a kill. Honestly, that’s the kind of fight I prefer where we get to go back and forth a bit and have to work for the kill instead of spending the whole time killing someone with one shot. He was fighting left-handed so our daggers didn’t really do much until someone closed and then we went back and forth parrying blows and having a blast. When we broke apart at one point, he mentioned that he was slightly distracted listening to the story from a fencer on the side. I laughed and breathed a sigh of relief because I was in the same boat. Does it count as a advantage/disadvantage if both fighters are equally distracted? We continue going back and forth, he took my dominant hand a few times, I took his, it was a stabby good time.

Lastly, I got to fight Melchior whom I’d only ever fought a couple of times before, the most recent being when he was a lava otter (East Kingdom’s agents of chaos) in a woods battle last November. For those who don’t know him, imagine a man six feet tall with a sword in their hand standing in the woods with their face hidden behind a mask. Now imagine that you don’t know if he’s a friend, foe, or non-combatant and anytime you ask him, he says nothing and just stares at you or starts giggling. I have to say, hearing talk at practice at first threw me off. We got to fighting and fighting we did. By the end, I was winded, poked, and had a blast. He pointed out to me that whenever he threw a shot, my immediate response was to counter-attack with my sword and hope my dagger parried his shot. Sometimes it did, sometimes I got stabbed. He suggested I work on using my sword for defense more and dagger for defense less. I’m going to take his advice and work with single more so I can focus on my sword parrying. On the one hand, I do need to use my sword more to parry and my dagger to attack and I’ll definitely work on it, but on the other, I realized that I was fighting more aggressively than I used to which is something I’ve been working on. It’s a step in the right direction and shined some light on what another step should be down the road and all with the fun of stabbing and getting stabbed.

As I told Lucy and every new fencer I work with, in a fight it’s never about winning or losing. It’s about learning and having fun. Whether you killed them or they killed you, everyone can learn something from their opponent and as long as you have fun doing it, you already won. Yeah, it sounds like something we tell kids in little league but this is a hobby and what good is having a hobby if you can’t have fun with it? More to come soon. Until then, keep stabbing, keep learning, and keep having fun.

-Ciaran Ua Meic Thire

Blue Tiger of the East- Mudthaw 2016

Blue Tiger

This is my first post on here so let’s see how this goes. Last weekend was another of many firsts for me; it was the first event I was a deputy autocrat (supervisor) an event under the eye of Master Alexander and the first time I had entered an Arts and Sciences (A&S).

Now, onto the arts. As many people may know, I sometimes do cut paper art but never in the period correct style. The style I tended to do was more around using multiple sheets of paper of different colors to create images like the ones above (the templar knight, Odin and Fenrir based on a Viking stone carving, and a horse triskelion as the symbol of the Celtic goddess, Epona). I learned this style back in high school and got into doing it in college when I got bored in my dorm room. Several people in the SCA told me that I should look into doing some pieces for A&S but I never felt like I could because 1) it was a completely different style, 2) I didn’t think I was good enough to do it in the period style, and 3) I never could find any information or extant pieces. The Chinese who had originally created the cut paper art could do intricate works of art and had been doing so since the creation of paper. I started looking into paper cutting history but couldn’t find a site that had credible information and was in English. I tried looking for the Chinese term for paper cut art (jian zhi) but it turns out that Jianzhi is also a Chinese name. Eventually, I checked wikipedia and checked their sources. I hit the jackpot and found a research paper that led me down the rabbit hole that is A&S.

Now filled with a new found excitement for the art I had been working on for years, I decided to do a piece for Mudthaw representing the thawing of the mud. I looked into Chinese mythology and found out that there are five celestial tigers, one for each season, and the last to oversee them all. I took this and ran and found that the blue tiger represented Spring and the earth element so I decided to go with this. Most traditional jian zhi is done on red paper because it represents good luck and prosperity but I couldn’t really do a blue tiger in red especially because the red tiger represented fire and summer. I was so excited that I completely overlooked the fact that the blue tiger represents the east kingdom as well (ok, it’s a blue tyger, not a blue tiger but still). I spent some time finding the perfect piece to create and found one from an amazing artist with ALS who made jian zhi by holding the knife in his hand and pressing his face to the end of the knife to make the cuts. I wanted to do the artist justice and used his piece as inspiration to create the blue tiger that I went on to enter. As I cut away the pieces, the image of the tiger started to come through and I started getting really excited as the tiger took shape. It has become one of my favorite pieces of all time. I finished the piece and set it aside so I could focus on smoothing over the remaining details of the event.

The day of the event was finally upon us and Rachael agreed to set up my piece as part of the display for the event. I left a small book and a pen next to the piece so anyone who wanted to could leave comments. When the event was over and I collected my piece and book. I could not believe the feedback I had received and had never expected people to react to it as well as they had. I can’t wait to figure out my next piece!

-Ciaran Ua Meic Thire