We all hit some slumps in rapier once in a while. Those slumps come especially when there is stress in real life, you're coming back from taking 9 months off, you're fighting people you've never fought before, people you fight don't fight in styles that you're used to, and you can't get to practice regularly because your car died. There are two things you can do when these slumps happen: bitch about it and let it consume you, or bitch about and actively fight against it. I chose the latter. I think I made the right choice. In this case, fighting through it meant figuring out a lot of things in my personal life. This post is not about those things. What we are going to talk about is learning how to fight people you've never fought, and how those styles differ from who you do fight.
It's very easy to fall into a routine with practices. You fight the same people this week that you fought last week. They're bringing the same things they always do. You're bringing the same things you always do. You're matching weapons forms, or they're still practicing with that one thing trying to get better with it.
It gets stagnant.
It gets boring.
You don't learn.
When you move to a new area and begin fighting people you either have never fought before or fight rarely, things happen. You either become a hot shit for a short time because no one knows how to handle you, or you hit a wall because you don't know how to handle them. I've moved a few times, and usually I end up being that hot shit for a time. With this move, however, that didn't happen. People down here knew exactly how to handle me, and I had no idea what to do with them.
It turns out, there is something to be said about focusing on technique, I wanted to shake off rust and focus on technique, and fighting cloak was not going to do that. Don't get me wrong: cloak is perhaps the most technical weapons form there is, but it can also promote slop. While practicing with it, I started noticing it was promoting slop. Combine that slop with the way the Southern Region fights compared to the Central Region, I was reverting back to my old style of fighting. That's bad. I don't grow as a fighter that way. It also doesn't look pretty, and we all know that prowess is only 50% of combat, with the other 50% being how you look.
So I started fighting exclusively with my dagger for a while. In doing this, I focused on making a lot of parries using the long blade instead of the dagger. The dagger was then used to either help create openings, hold off my opponent's blade after parrying with the long blade, or stabbing when I made the close. I have had some great success with this.
Not only has my blade work become much stronger - to a point where I am very happy with where it's at - but I am becoming more aggressive and proactive. I have historically been a counter-puncher. I was always afraid to take initiative and make the first move. Whoever makes the first move dies first, after all. I have gotten over that mentality, and am more than willing to make the first move if I think it's the right thing to do. I was recently given a compliment that I am "calculated, controlled, and composed, as well as very cautious." This describes what my fighting has evolved into very well.
Learning how how to fight certain people is important, as well. Some times it takes dying to the same person a lot to figure out what they're doing and how you can counter it. A lot of my attacks depend on taking control of my opponents weapon. If my opponent keeps their blade reserved, it makes it very difficult for me to do anything other than the exact thing they want me to do: deep lunge down the center. Learning how to fight people who use less "technique" and more "flailing" has been tough. I have figured out how to fight this sort using technique after a lot of trial and error. This is obviously returning to what I mentioned a few paragraphs ago when I was talking about technique. The huge advantage to fighting flailers using technique, is when I fight a controlled fighter who is using technique as well, I am able to react much better and keep their blade more or less where I want it.
Recently I decided to start practicing with case a bit. I hate case. I know some people really like it, and that's fine. I don't find it fun. If I had a case of 35" or shorter, I might like it a bit. But using two blades that are longer than that is more of a crutch in my eyes. I would rather have my dagger than that second long blade: it's quicker, its more powerful, and I can make killing shots much easier when I inevitably get in close. I was able to authorize in it last week, so the only times I will touch it moving forward is when a tournament format dictates that I HAVE to use it, to re-authorize in it, authorize another combatant, or when I have two smaller blades to use. Hopefully I can find my buckler soon so I can get authorized in that as well.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of going to AEdult Swim in Aetherlmarc. I hadn't planned on going because of finances, but Gracie offered to give us a ride, so we took her up on it. 175 fencers, nearly 500 people total.
It was a blast.
I had 9 fights. NINE! All nine of them were people I had never fought before. Two of the fights were Easterners, the rest out of Kingdom. Of the nine, five of them had Orders of High Merit or higher in rapier with two of them being members of the Order of Defense. I accomplished the task that Frasier had set before me: fight as many MoD's and White Scarves as I possibly could. I was in a very deep pool, and the fights I had proved it. But I didn't drown. I feel like I was able to stay afloat and make it to the end, even if it was a little splashy.
Okay, I'm a bit sick of that metaphor. The fights I had were very difficult. I learned a lot from them. My win percentage may have been a lot lower than it usually is, but that wasn't the important thing here. The important thing is learning, getting to know people, and seeing what these people can do. And I did all that. I was even able to kill the MoD's a couple of times each. The collar may give them +5 AC, but that doesn't make them untouchable, right?
I ended up pulling my cloak out for a few fights. I received many compliments on my cloak work. That is something I am very proud of. Cloak may not be my best form, but it is my favorite form. And against certain people and forms, it is my best. And when you're fighting to impress certain people, you take the form that you feel is your most impressive, not necessarily your best. I've really started to figure out how to use it the way I want to use it while also fighting with more period blade work. It makes for some interesting maneuvers, and some more interesting kills.
Some of the feedback I received was regarding things I was mostly aware of. Hearing other points of view on how to fix these things is always welcome, and feedback on how to help fix them was even more welcome. I think my biggest issue now is the same issue I have had since my very first fight: my movements start to become too big. While when I started every movement was too big, now it's just when the blood gets flowing and the fighting gets intense. More experienced fighters are able to pick up on this and use it to their advantage - throwing a lot of shots to the outside and making me open up my center line to capitalize. Since I'e been so fond of Capo Ferro's seconda, I'm welcoming those shots to the outside line. I need to start breaking away from using that almost exclusively, and focus on trying something else for a bit. I have really fallen in love with seconda, but it's starting to fuel bad habits.
Another critique I received was regarding my footwork. This was from a MoD who sniped my left foot every chance he got. Basically what he was doing was fighting me slightly off center, so that any time I needed to move my feet they were crossing over one another. This made me lose some of my sped and some of my reach. When fighting him, I didn't even notice he was doing this. He was subtly taking advantage of my mistakes, and they were mistakes I wasn't even aware I was making. So I need to start tightening up my stance a bit, and not letting my opponents take me at that slight angle. If you fight me at all in the next couple months, please try to take my left leg. Don't tell me that's what you're going to do, either. I don't want to expect it.
So I'm feeling very good about my progress recently. I hope to come even further along in the near future. I'm trying to hit at least one practice every week. Just about every week we're hitting Bhakail. About once a month we're trying to make it up to Settmour Swamp for their practice. I would love to make it to the Carillion practice every once in a while to help teach out there, but until we get another manager at work, I close every Thursday.
So if you see me and want to run me through my paces, or work something with me, or simply want to talk to me about these things, please do so. I want to get better, and I want to help everyone around me get better as well.