Saturday, June 08, 2013

KDF: Round One

My first KDF class was, I feel, an unqualified success. My lesson with Sword Class NYC (which I only name because I was so impressed) was held at a dance studio in the garment district of Manhattan, which in retrospect makes a lot of sense as mirrored walls are a very useful tool for anybody attempting to improve their technique in an athletic discipline that involves relatively large motions. My thoughts:

I happened to arrive on the first day of a recurring three-week introductory series, which was nice. I was immediately surprised that we got access to training weapons (Knightshop nylon wasters, if I'm not mistaken) on the very first day. My only previous fencing experience is a quarter of foil fencing I took at Stanford, during which we were taught feet first. In fact, as I recall, it was several weeks before we were allowed to handle a foil. Which method is superior pedagogically I couldn't say (or perhaps each is equally appropriate for its respective discipline), but it was pretty cool to get hands on a waster straight away.

The reason we had wasters right off the bat is because apparently the first class in the introductory series is cuts. We went through six, which as far as I understand covered three of the five so-called KDF "master cuts" - the krumphau (left and right - at least, I think it was the krumphau [EDIT: Pretty sure the krumphau is a different technique]), zwerchau (left and right), and scheitelhau, with the addition of a straight oberhau. I call those cuts by their German names partially because that's the way they were taught, partially for my own edification, and partially to highlight the fact that Tristan (whose name I also mention only because I was so impressed) did a really good job using the German terms. They were not used to show off, and very little was made of the fact that German was being thrown around the studio, but I think it was pedagogically useful. It is already clear to me that the cuts we were learning have a lot of fiddly little components that go into them, and associating them with a compact German word creates an efficient jargon - code words that are not only quick to say, but that we can fill with our understanding of the technique.

I was quite pleased with the whole class' practicality. One of the things I most liked about learning from the Dance Master was that he always explained technique in terms of what we were trying to accomplish. Usually the objective in social dance is pleasure - one's partner's pleasure first, but also one's own. He taught us points of technique that directly furthered those goals, and when he mentioned a point of technique that was something else - merely decorative, say - he always made sure to label it clearly. This class worked the same way. Although there was no explicit discussion of objectives, all of the points of technique we were taught were brought back to some practical martial point. For instance, my zwerchauen (high horizontal cuts) tended to end too low - about the level of my shoulders. Tristan corrected that, but he did so by explaining why I would want my hands higher (because otherwise my sword is too low to guard my head). I appreciated both the fact that he corrected me for that reason (as opposed to say, "Because that's how Talhoffer taught it"), and that he told me that reason explicitly. There were several other times during the class that sort of thing came up, and that is exactly the sort of practical, objective-based approach I was hoping to find.

My actual experience of the class was also nothing but positive. The wasters we were using were light (about 1.73 pounds - more or less 50% as light as the real thing), but manipulating them for even an hour with the arms properly extended (there is a tendency, I gather, for newbies to try and cut with their arms too close to their bodies, because, you know, holding up even less than two pounds of nylon at arm's length gets tiring) left my arms with a pleasant burn and my chest feeling full of vital breath. I was also left feeling like the arm work we were doing would make a lot more sense if paired with footwork - even the limited amount of hip rotation we threw into the mix made things feel much more natural. I think this is cool, because it indicates that I am interested in putting together more pieces of the puzzle.

So ... there we have it. My first experience with KDF was pretty much as fun and satisfying as I wanted it to be, and way more fun than I expected from a first class. Now I just need to see if I can find a way to make this a regular thing, because at this point, I really want to.

No comments: