Long Dark Night of the Sword

I’ve been reviewing a bunch of video of my rapier bouts at Swordplay 10 and I’m a little unsure whether to be pleased or disappointed. The real cringing, gut-wrenching joy of seeing your performance on video is that it lays you bare before the harshest critic in the universe: yourself. There is no better platform from which to learn and improve. Here’s how:

1) Watch the videos again and again. Take notes. Specifically, note all the good points, all the things you did. Be generous. List as many good points as you can: stance, guard positions, actions, correctly anticipating the other guy, etc. You’ll need this list to balance out the next part and to salve your battered ego.

2) Watch the videos again and again. Take notes. List of the stuff you did poorly but don’t fall into the trap of just writing down stuff that makes you cringe. Be scientific about it. Don’t say something bland and uninformative such as:

Messed up low guard attack like a n00b.

Analyse what went wrong and understand how to prevent or improve on it. Say, rather, something like:

When breaking into gaurd from a low guard position, failed to capture the other guy’s blade. Should have recognised this and backed off instead of moving into close distance.

3) Compare the two lists. For me, this is the interesting part. It’s easy to identify the areas in which you are just plain bad and, in this case, the second list should already provide you with a training program to improve. I found a number of items occurring on both lists meaning that sometimes I got it right and sometimes I got it wrong. These cases are much more intriguing. If you can perform whatever technique correctly sometimes but not others, there’s another principle at work. Examine the video carefully and you should be able to pick out what it may be.

For me, my problem is that I don’t pay enough attention during the performance of a technique. The start and finish is fine but I fall down in the middle. I’ve started making flowcharts of the techniques I messed up. For instance, in the example above, the flow chart goes something like this:

Stand in low guard; false-edge riverso into longpoint
Have you captured or beat away the other guy’s blade?

  • YES: Thrust forward and recover
  • NO: Do not step forward; continue into high guard

Do this for every technique you want to improve. It may seem silly but what it’s doing is fixing in your mind the points to need to concentrate on to improve your style and technique.

During this process, I’ve discovered these points about my rapier technique. Some I’m proud of. Some make me think I’m wasting my time picking up a sword.

On the upside, I don’t do half bad at a lot of things: I can see opportunities and take advantage when they present themselves. And I’m fairly light on my feet for an old guy.

On the downside, who knew I used as rapier solely as a cutting weapon? Where’s my point-on-line work? I often present myself as a target without first putting steel between me and my opponent. I also have a tendency to follow on with a technique even when I’ve failed to set it up properly.

But, don’t think you can use these failures against me. By the time we bout next, these faults will no longer exist.