November 18th, 2010

rapier-Touche Turtle

Have you studied your Agrippa today?

Inigo Montoya: [Both characters are engaged in a sword fight] You are using Bonetti's Defense against me, ah?
Man in Black: I thought it fitting considering the rocky terrain.
Inigo Montoya: Naturally, you must suspect me to attack with Capo Ferro?
Man in Black: Naturally... but I find that Thibault cancels out Capo Ferro. Don't you?
Inigo Montoya: Unless the enemy has studied his Agrippa... which I have.

Well, some people decide to cook through the entire Julia Child Cookbook. Some of us decide to go through the entire Agrippa fencing manual. Guess which one is me?

Why Agrippa? You may ask.

Why not Agrippa? I reply. I have found that his manual, particularly the excellent translation by Ken Mondschein, is extremely user friendly. Besides, it is the first time that I approach rapier fighting in a methodical way, which has been a total eye opener for me. Just translating words and pictures into actual movement has been both challenging and rewarding. And I am just starting...

No, I cannot say that I have made any great progress on this manual in terms of volume. I am still slowly working my way through the attack and defense in prima, and only the very first two drills at that. Luckily, I have two partners in crime, namely Marcellus (aka ballistabob) and alricthemad, so there is plenty of fun to be had and leasons to be learned.

So what have I learned so far?

First of all, I have had to empty my mind of any pre-conceived notions regarding rapier fighting. Agrippa's approach is rather counter-intuitive to everything I have learned through my years of experience in the SCA. For one thing, he favors a prima guard over anything else, which is mind boggling until you actually put it to work. And here I was thinking that prima was an outmoded, useless thing that belonged in history books and had no practical application in SCA fencing. See how much I know.

The thing is, the queen of all guards in most SCA rapier fighting is terza or any variations thereof. What I have learned is that while terza is as good a guard as any other, prima is not something that should be discarded out of hand.

The second lesson is that, as weird as it may look in a manual, one must try using that guard exactly as the manual describes it. The past couple of weeks have been an exercise in frustration just trying to get the darned thing right. Last night, however, I had some sort of epiphany: I have been trying to make prima into what it's not, meaning by that trying to still hold myself in a traditional stance while forcing it into looking like prima. It wasn't until I had Marcellus hold the book in front of me, and me standing besides the mirror, and making sure that my spine, feet, etc, were aligned just so, that I actually was able to do what I was supposed to do.

Moreover, instead of feeling just totally weird in that stance, the whole movement felt right, almost organic. And I know, the term organic in rapier sounds very much like chunky Granola, but that's exactly how it felt. Especially since I started nailing that drill over and over.

The most challenging thing will be to a) remember today what I learned yesterday; b) continue drilling until I get it right; c) learn this by heart until I don't have to think about it; and d) be able to explain to others in order to teach it.

The latter has already proven a bit challenging as well. Trying to teach folks something that is radically different from what they have learned is something that is not always welcome by said folks. But once I get it right, and I can explain it correctly, I will be more than happy to teach it to anyone who has an interest in learning it.

And I have accomplices ... (Hi Marcellus and Alric).

But this is going to take a while. There are at least 15 drills or so that I need to figure out before I can use it full on -- and that's only the moves in prima. Just wait till I get to the rest.

I am having lots of fun with this, and it has rekindled my enthusiasm for rapier (like it needed any rekindling, but you get the drift).

Now, if I can just figure out that darned longsword ...