Friday, June 30, 2017

My Rapier State of Mind

I hit a wall.

We all hit those walls.

You reach a point in anything you do where you look at it and go "I know I can get better, so why am I not getting better?" It gets upsetting that you can't see yourself progress anymore. Sometimes you are progressing and you just can't see it yourself. Other times you have truly hit a wall, and you're going nowhere. The latter is what happened with me. Let's rewind a bit.
Last post I made I felt like every day I was better than I was the day before. So every day I was having the best day of my fencing career. When moments like this happens, you're bound to hit that wall sooner or later. So I was ready to hit it. I had just gone to AEdult Swim where I fought some amazing combatants from around the Known World, and held my own against most of them. I had been working through stress in my personal life which mostly cleared up. I was working hard towards goals.

I was hitting my local practice just about every week. And this is where the slump starts to happen. Think about your passion, what you choose to do and strive to be better in. It could be drawing, painting, martial arts, rock climbing, writing - anything. No think of how that can get stale. You only draw or paint the exact same picture over and over again, you're climbing the same route on a rock wall every day, you're writing a subject that is tired and overdone. For most martial arts, it's fighting the same people over and over. You learn to predict what your opponent is going to do, your opponent knows what you're going to do, and it gets to a point where you start doing silly things just to see if they work. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't, but usually its something you'll never use in a tournament setting, so it isn't really worth it.

Especially when you're fighting people who have very unique styles of fighting, all it teaches you is how to fight that one person. Useful when you come up against them in a tournament, less useful when they are one of fifty people in the tournament, so the odds of going up against them is pretty low. Better to learn generalized skills than specific skills, right?

This next bit of my recap does not paint me in a good light. I'm not proud of my thoughts here, but I am all about being open and transparent. I like to share these thoughts with others in case they have had them too, and they can know they're not alone.

A mixture of jealousy, greed, and anger were starting to take over. A couple years ago, I wanted my award bad. I kept getting injured or having to sit out due to finances or any number of other things. I wasn't playing consistent, and that was ruining my chances of getting recognized. I fence because I love it, but that recognition is so nice. It is affirmation that you're doing as well as you think you are, and that you're worth something. I was able to shove those feelings to the side and just start fencing because I love doing it, ignoring that i wasn't getting that award. I even turned it into several jokes: "They're going to give me my Silver and Golden Rapiers on the same day" or "Do you think they'll just skip giving me the Silver and go straight for Gold?"

For the last two years I've been told that I am easily fighting at a Silver Rapier level. Several people have even thought I had my Golden Rapier at this point, and others have told me I'm fighting at that level. This started to build over the last couple months. It compounded when I hit that wall of not getting any better. I was falling out of love with fencing for two reasons: I wasn't getting this recognition I knew I deserved (I told you, greed and jealousy had erupted, this doesn't paint me in a good light), and I wasn't getting any better to show people I deserved these awards. Because if they wanted to see more from me, I had to get better. If I couldn't get better, was anyone ever going to reward me?

It was kind of a poor spiral of negative thoughts. I still liked fencing, but I wasn't in love with it anymore. This lack of recognition was really wearing me thin, until I finally burst. I talked with the one person I knew I could safely talk to about this. I told him all this and more, and mentioned I had been thinking of working I.33 again soon, my heart just wasn't in the game anymore. He told me to start working through the wards (guards) of I.33 every day to at least keep moving. This would start working my basics again, which in turn would give me room to grow once more. Not the first time I had to revert back to basics. I'm pretty sure it won't be the last.

So I started working I.33 every day. Just taking the guards and moving from one guard to another. I could see how things worked, and I was in for a challenge making it work right outside of a C+T list. Almost all the guards in I.33 are designed for a hard cut at your opponent, with a lot of momentum from the swing. That doesn't work for the game I play. I hadn't started making the movements yet, but I knew it would be interesting.

Then that Saturday after I blew up, I was at Southern Region War Camp. I noticed in the morning people rushing me to court. People I don't normally hang out with were hanging near me, striking up conversations, and trying to get me moving. I had a feeling I was finally getting that Silver Rapier. I get to up to court, Silver Rapiers get called in, and I don't. Was I reading too much into it? It turns out that no, I was not. I was supposed to get it in the morning, but they didn't want to do a lone Silver in evening court as the third Silver that should have gone out hadn't arrived on site yet, so pushed me back to go with him. There is a whole other story about how I was supposed to get it at Balfar's challenge, by the way. Ask my wife that story.

So anyway, I now have a gorgeous scroll with art by my wife's hand, calligraphy by her Apprentice-sister, and words by my Peer and  Alys. I was also given a pin by a good friend of mine, a medallion by the crown, and passed on what will now be a legacy Combat Medallion by another good friend of mine. My wife being the sneaky person that she is also made me a favor with the Silver Rapier emblazon stitched into it.

The pin from Thomas of Effingham on the left, under that is the medallion from the crown. Far right is the favor, to the left of that is the Combat Medallion from Gracie. Scroll by my wife Myrun and Tola. Based on a plate from Fabris. Words by Frasier and Alys. 

Fighting the jealousy and greed to keep the anger away is a constant battle in my own mind and heart, and some days it is much tougher to control than others. I didn't even get the moment of surprise when I was called into court. People's actions during the day had given it away to me. When I was called into court, things were being said before my name was that only applied to me. And you know what? I was beyond that award. This is me being cocky, but I had expected to receive it at every Royal Progress I had attended for the last two and a half years. There are no pictures of me sitting at court that evening where "the realization" hit.

Like I said, this story does not paint me in a good light.

I think it's coincidence that may re-ignition for the love of fencing and this award happened right at around the same time. I don't love fencing again because I finally got this award (which I am very thankful for getting, please don't get me wrong there). I love fencing again because I am learning something new. I love learning. Learning keeps me interested. I never want to hit a point in my career where I have stopped learning. I.33 is very new for me. Back when the East was still light rapier default, I loved my buckler. I haven't fought with a buckler since picking up a heavy blade. And I.33 is a completely different thing than I've been learning with Capo Ferro. Capo Ferro is straight lines and blade manipulation. I.33 is angles. All angles. Throw the shot from this angle to make you block there, then change the line of the shot so it catches you right where you just moved your blade from. Forcefully engage your blade with mine so you have to come offline, then I capitalize. 

Many experienced opponents often ignore a defensive item in the off hand. That's what you do That item can't kill you, focus on the thing that can. I.33 makes use of the buckler in a way that makes your opponent acknowledge it. It is an aggressive use of the buckler. And anyone that has ever fought my cloak can tell you how much I love being aggressive with things that should be defensive in nature. 

I plan on playing with I.33 for a while. I want to drill it and drill it and drill it until I now the ins-and-outs. It already feels so natural to me. I want to be that guy that when someone goes "Hey, do you know anything about I.33?" the person they're asking goes "You should really talk to Teo". And when I have exhausted my options on I.33, I want to make it work with my cloak. That will not be a today or tomorrow thing. I have a habit of getting really excited about things like that and rushing into making it work. I don't want that to happen, because this is something I'm passionate about. I want it to actually work, not make it work good enough. This is something I will address a year or two down the road. 

This all said, if you have info in I.33 and would like to discuss it let me know. If you would like to learn a bit, also let me know. I would be happy to show you what I'm working on and how exactly I need to change things to make it work for our game. 

Related to this, I think eventually I'll write a post on how to fight using period styles as a lefty. There is a lot more translating that needs to happen when you're a lefty, and things can get complicated. 

Now, if you read this all the way through and you're still here, you may have noticed a tonal shift in my text. You may have noticed when I started talking about I.33, I got very excited and words just kind of got thrown at the page. That is 100% the truth. You know why?

I am in love with fencing again. 

That is important to me. I don't do things I don't love. I'm pretty stubborn that way. I want to love fencing. And I'm very happy I do love it once again. 

Now please don't get the wrong idea from all this. I am very thankful that I was award my Silver Rapier. I am making a strong push towards my Golden Rapier now. I want it. I can taste it. I'm putting this all up here as much as a cautionary tale as I am to be transparent. Don't let your thoughts and emotions blind you on what you enjoy. If you no longer enjoy what you're doing, assess it and see how you can keep doing it in a different way. I think a large portion of my jealousy and greed were exacerbated by falling out of love with fencing for a bit. Things compounded. I have heard many stories of "Chasing the Belt". I have heard it starts to become a chore to even go places anymore, to keep showcasing yourself. I feel like that had happened to me a bit. 

I'm feeling much better now. I want to learn more, I want to teach what I know. What's the point in knowing if you don't also teach it? So please, come find me. Teach me things. Learn things from me. A small thing at practice this week made me very happy. After my last fight of the evening, my opponent wanted to see what it was I doing and how I.33 worked, so I taught him the wards really quick. Turns out the wards are already very much how he fights single. But just having someone interested in learning what I knew made me super excited. 

Thanks for sitting through all this. This was a long one. I'll try not to wait 4 months for my next post. 

~Teo