Today was a pretty good day. I woke up fairly early, and decided not to go grocery shopping since I didn't want to risk delivery making me late for fencing. Instead I made a list of things to do today on my special notepad (just a regular notepad, but one of the first things I bought in New York) with my special pen (just a regular pen that I keep in my pocket, but having a writing instrument be part of my everyday panoply makes me feel more like a man). Since there was no work today, I could concentrate on housekeeping.
The first item of "housekeeping" was to get things ready for the Silverway session tomorrow. At last my poor neglected D&D campaign can move forward, in our new DM-is-in-New-York format. Part of successful DMing over a remote platform like roll20.net is getting the space set up beforehand, so I hopped online and got my digital house (or tabletop, I suppose) in order. Then it was off to fencing. I decided not to take chapter five of On Basilisk Station because I try not to print things here at the apartment, and I'm almost done with chapter five so I wanted to save what was left for Monday's commute. I find the mando alphabet harder to read than the aurebesh. At first I thought it was because I had more practice with aurebesh (yes, I go to Star Tours in part to practice reading a fictional script, and yes, I pause episodes of The Clone Wars to read the aurebesh), but by now I think I can say that's not the case. I think it's just that more mando letters look similar to each other than in the aurebesh or English alphabet. As a native English speaker it's hard to judge which English letters are confusingly similar (b, d, p and q, certainly, but what about, say, e and c?), but I feel like the aurebesh letters are fairly distinct from one another, whereas in the mando alphabet I still sometimes get confused between a and p, b and q, c, t, g and w, k and r, l and s, m and n, and u and x are all pretty similar to each other - that's virtually the entire alphabet. Still, it's a fun project. Practice practice.
Speaking of practice, today was my first time back to fencing in almost a month. But I see that I have written many paragraphs about that, so let me skip fencing for now. After class, I hung around a bit and actually got invited to go to the bar with the guys in what is apparently a post-fencing ritual. That would be nice, but I don't know if I have the money for it. Maybe I should try to make room for it. It would be good to have friends outside of work.
At any rate, I went home, did my meager grocery shopping, and then finished up my laundry. Turns out the massive cardboard flat that's been under the stairs in front of my apartment actually had a tiny label on it declaring that it was for me: my ironing board had arrived. A full-size ironing board is not something that my housemates felt the need to find room for (and given their jobs, who can blame them?), but after trying to iron pants on a countertop ironing board I decided that enough was enough, and bought my own full-size ironing board. Now my pants (and dry cleaning budget) can feel the firepower of this fully armed and operational ... clothes-pressing ... operation? Anyway, since I have the apartment to myself I had a nice quiet time doing my ironing like a big boy and singing worship songs. And that brings me to, well, now. A nice, responsible day.
So ... I guess that brings me back to KDF.
Since I had been gone, I had ordered a fencing helmet (for some reason Raab Rashi, the studio owner/katana instructor - I use his name because I don't think he'd mind the modest advertising additional internet presence brings - refers to them as "helmets," instead of "fencing masks," though I suppose they do provide more throat, side, and back protection than a regular fencing mask) and picked up a cheap pair of lacrosse gloves in anticipation of the new advanced/sparring hour, as I had been told this was the minimum allowable safety equipment. I am quite happy with the helmet, although I may have to invest in a set of contacts - only wearing them once a week, they should last me for quite a while. I am really quite happy with the gloves, even though they're cheap by lacrosse standards, and even though at some point I'd like to upgrade to hard-shell gauntlets. Since the studio now offers unlimited KDF training, today I was going to go to all three Saturday classes: beginning, open level, and advanced/sparring.
The beginning and open level classes were a lot of fun. I try to work on keeping my face impassive during class, since facial expression can give away your intentions in a fight. It is surprisingly difficult not to show in your face that you have mentally committed to hitting somebody, so it's something I try to practice whenever I have a sword in my hand or when I drill in the mornings. Today, though, it was really hard to keep from grinning. As we practiced our cuts in the beginning class and some zwerchau and scheitelhau plays ("plays" is the KDF term for "things you can do from a given position or with a given maneuver") in the open level, I could feel my pulse quicken, my airways open up, and my heart lift. It was good, exciting, and alive. I am starting to actually feel part of the class community, too, which is also good, exciting, and alive.
And then we got to the sparring class. This was still good, but much less thrilling. I was expecting that, of course, since I didn't really feel ready for sparring. I went because Raab recommended I do so for the sake of learning despite my comparative inexperience. When to begin free fencing is a topic that I know many weapons instructors have different views on, but I figured that this was the opinion being expressed by my fencing authority (well, one of them), so I might as well go with it. I went in expecting to get beat up a lot, and the fact that my right hand, left index finger, right pinky, and both forearms are still sore eight hours later is testament to the fact that I did. For the record, getting walloped, even with the padded boffers I was using, hurts more than getting shot in paintball - or at least the soreness and tenderness lasts longer. Since I do not yet own a fencing jacket I wasn't allowed to spar with nylon, and as much as I hate to shy away from bruises, I have to admit that was probably wise.
I would have liked a little more structure to the rules of sparring. I have no interest in counting points or in deciding who "wins" a bout, of course, but I do have plenty of interest in learning how to do it for real. For now, there is plenty for my brain to sponge up without worrying about that sort of thing, but for the future, I want to know - do we stop our rounds after a good hit has been landed, or only after a good hit has been landed and the attacker has successfully made it to safety? Those seem to be the two major schools of thought. To them I would add a third, or at least like to raise the question at some point: what about stopping our rounds only after a crippling hit has been landed? We've already been taught a few cuts that are clearly not going to end a fight, but this point is bigger than that. For instance, I get the impression that most practitioners would stop a bout (score a point, whatever) after a thrust that would run their opponent through the lung. And that is certainly a good hit. But of course, being impaled through the lungs is not crippling, and is not even especially likely to be mortal, so ... should we really stop sparring just because that's happened? To put it another way, I suppose I'd like to have a clearer idea of what our sparring is trying to achieve ... which is probably a post for another time.
I saw The Wolverine last weekend, and it reminded me how much fencing is not like dance. I have a tendency to compare it to dance, because that's what I know, and it's a fairly well-established trope in fiction that a very skillful combatant looks like he or she is dancing. It often looks that way in film, television, and stage, and those are generally the only ways most people see fencing. But fencing is not dancing. There is no rhythm to fencing, no internal metronome. There is a metronome in fight choreographies, of course, because the performers need to synchronize their timing or the choreography would break down. But when doing it for real, the metronome is replaced by asynchronous movement - not just asynchronous movements, but moving when and in a way for which one's opponent is not prepared - and speed, as much of it as one's mind, reflexes, and conditioning can muster - and if that is more speed than one's opponent can muster, too bad for him.
There are other ways in which I notice that fencing is not like dance. One that's been deviling me is this: when I practice "leaping" to the side with my zwerchauen (that is, at least as I have been taught, simply taking a long lateral step), I have a tendency to recover by bringing my trailing foot too far - the instep of my trailing foot ends up directly aligned with the heel of my leading foot, so the two could be brought together to form a T. This, of course, is because I practiced that very stance in college ad nauseum, attempting to ingrain in myself the classic stance of a 19th century gentleman at ease in a ballroom and presenting his silhouette to best advantage. I guess it worked, because my trailing foot can find that position in my sleep. For fencing, though, having both feet in line like that weakens one's balance. I've been working on this minor thing all week, and I was very proud of myself the other day when I could finally throw a phantom right zwerchau at speed without falling into that T-stance ... only to discover that the problem had migrated to my left zwerchau. Well, practice practice.
One thing that is like dance, though - so far, at least - is the mental process of learning. The Dance Master always used to tell us that if we were having trouble learning a step, we should just go home and sleep on it - we'd find that it made more sense after giving our brains that time to process. I've definitely experienced this in my park drills - on one day I just won't be able to keep from rising on the balls of my feet when I cut (another dance habit), and on the next day I can stay grounded. I haven't had a chance to experience this in our open level drills and plays, because we haven't been repeating things from class to class (yet; perhaps this will change with the addition of Tuesday night classes), but I look forward to seeing it at least with respect to sparring.
And on that note, I should end this post and get to sleep. Mental processing, and Silverway, await!