But with the blast shield down…

The match has begun and two knights are warily facing each other. Poised and alert, just out of each other’s measure. Their swords constantly shifting, bodies and shields adjusting to new positions, seeking an opening or a moments lapse in concentration. One of the knights quickly moves forward, her opponent steps to defend his weapon side but is too late to see the smooth shift in the oncoming attack to the shield side of the helm as the cut strikes home.

How many times have we seen such a scene played out on our tournament fields? Is this preliminary manoeuvring just two combatants circling, trying to decide what to do or is something more interesting going on?

Could I suggest that the encounter begins well out of weapon range or measure. As you approach and enter measure you look for opportunities to attack and are cautious of an incoming strike. Even before you enter into measure, you can cause our opponent to react or commitment by applying a ‘threat’ or pressure of an imminent attack or offensive move.

Pretend for a moment that you are on the edge of measure and you take a diagonal step to your opponents shield side and prepare to launch a cut at the leg. Your opponent is likely to see this move and shift their own position and defence in order to counter your move.

This movement or threat we call ‘pressure’ and it is very similar to the idea of Seme in kendo.

You can apply pressure without launching an attack. By moving into a position in preparation to attack is an application of pressure. You are forcing your opponent to react to your move. This threat of an imminent attack must be done with smooth confidence, demonstrating a true ability to attack at a given moment. The moment you decide to apply pressure you must be ready to physically attack. If you are not ready to attack then you are only stepping forward inviting to get hit. Your mind must be resolved to cut the opponent, doing so will either force your opponent to move or you must strike.

So pressure is a form of attack as it forces a reaction from your opponent. Some would think of this as a fake or misdirection. You can use pressure to make an opponent commit to a defensive position of your choosing. This in turn may allow you to launch an attack to a poorly defended opening. An example of this may be that I move into measure and threaten a cut to 6 (off-side neck) and my opponent, sensing this moves their shield up and over slightly to close of this line of attack. I am now able to shift the direction of my movement and launch a cut to 3 (shield side leg) as I have caused my opponent to open that target for me.

In turn, by understanding the pressure that my opponent is projecting you are able to understand what attack they are building up for. Knowing what they are about to do enables me to organise my defence to counter the building threat. I need to move my feet to face whatever the oncoming threat is. Of cause by closing off such a threat my opponent will then shift the treat to a new opening and thus the opening dance begins.

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There is no spoon

The next time you are at a tournament I invite you to watch the various participants. Ignore for the moment what they are doing, but look instead at how they walk into the field. Can you pick the winner of a match by their presence alone? How do the more experienced carry themselves compared to the novice?

This is not an idle musing on deportment but rather thinking about our purpose and focus on the execution of the armed encounter.

It has been often said that you can win something by being confident in your training and abilities. I think this is often true. A person who is sure they have done the training hours, given enough sweat and effort takes this confidence into the match they now will face. This also represents a calm of mind and allows the individual to focus on the task at hand.

This is not the bravado of someone who tells you that they are awesome, despite never having been at practice. But certainty and clarity that they can do what they need to do to be victorious.

If having the right mindset is vital, how then do we arrive at that point? There are a great many books and websites devoted to what we now will call sports-physiology. If you want to read this sort of thing (and I suggest you do) then In Pursuit of Excellence by Terry Orlick is a good place to start.

One of the interesting things Orlick points out is that success does require a high level of enjoyment in the given activity. So it is essential that we enjoy what we do. We do need to seek a ‘rush’ of excitement and fun in our tournaments and wars; we cannot be all focus and intensity. Now having said that, it is important to have some level of focus or we will not succeed at all.

You often hear people speaking of being ‘in the moment’. That moment were time slows down and you do everything right. This is that critical time that we all try to replicate every time the lay-on is called. How do we get to that point? I am still not sure, and if I was I would be earning a great deal more than I am…8-)

There are some things I do to try to get myself in the right head space. Not all of this works for everyone.

Preparation

As I mentioned earlier, you must be sure you have done everything you can do in training and preparation before you walk onto the field. Sometimes this needs to be measured in months if not years. Do not be put of by this, but rather understand what you can do and make sure you can do it well. This may mean blocking that attack by His Grace until you see an opportunity to counter.

Gear

I like to ensure that all my harness is in excellent working order. Everything works and I have confidence that nothing is going to break or fail on the day. Do any repairs well before that day of the event, running around trying to fix something with borrowed tools is not the best way to keep calm. Make sure you are comfortable with your harness and that it gives you the protection you require. I make sure that my gear helps me set the right example on the field, retouch the paint on your shield, re-tape your sword and wash your arming doublet.

Walk the Field

This is something I do before any big tournament. As early as I can, I have a wander around the field. I make it mine. This is all about getting into the right frame of mind. It is the beginning of drawing in my thoughts so I can focus on the competition to come.

Consort

I mentioned the role of the consort some time ago. Something I have seen that is excellent is the couples who work out where they will stand before every bout. Knowing where to look helps in staying focused.

Be ready

Listen for the calls to arm and stand ready. I often try to be ready and waiting for my opponent to arrive at the entrance to the lists. This also extends to making sure all your gear is packed the night before. You alone are responsible your own gear.

You are a Noble

In the SCA at least everyone is considered a member of the noble class. Be one! In The Book of the Courtier, Castigilone describes the courtier is described as having a cool mind, a good voice (with elegant and brave words) along with proper bearing and gestures in addition to having a warrior spirit, to be athletic, and have good knowledge of the humanities. Everything you do must be with a certain level of ease and grace. Step confidently onto the field and perform your salutes with confidence, and poise. Look like you know what you are doing. Those watching have come to see knights performing great deeds of arms, be that knight.

To Make a Sword (Part Two)

Ok, the second part of how I make up my rattan swords.

4. Thrusting tip

I now cut out some close cell foam to make up the thrusting tip. This needs 3/4 inch of foam. I like to use the medium density grey foam. I find the camp mats to be poor quality and tend to be too soft and degrade quickly. You could use the rubber ones, but they can add to the cost and do have a poor tendency to tear…

So cut out as many disks of foam as is required and use fiberglass tape to attach to the tip.

The thrusting tip going on. I use about four strips of tape cross wise and then a quick spiral to hold it all in place.

5. Webbing

I now run a strip of nylon webbing along the cutting edge, over the tip. I normally just buy tie-down straps and cut them up. The webbing gives a layer of protection to the rattan and secures the thrusting tip. I have NEVER had a tip come off using this method.

The webbing going over the thrusting tip. I then secure it with fiber tape.

6. Spiral Wrap

I now use the fiber tape and cover the entire blade section with tape, going in a spiral down and then back up. You want to get this on as tight as possible. I run the tape with only a slight overlap.

7. Find and adjust the balance point

This is one of the more important stages. The balance of a sword is often more important than the total weight. Generally the further towards the tip then the sword will move slower but hit harder. As the balance point moves towards the hand the sword will feel to move/turn over faster but it will not hit with authority. Maces are an extreme example of this.

Pop the basket hilt on and see were the sword balances (you may need to put a small bit of tape on to keep the hilt in place). If the balance point is too far towards the hilt (as in the picture) then you add more spirals of fiber tape to the top end of the sword to move the balance further out. It is almost impossible to move the balance point in using this method, but you could just use a lighter hilt.

Finding the balance point. I like it to be a bit further out than this, so I just add more tape to weight up the blade. Just keep adding tape and checking your progress.

8. Attaching the hilt and finishing touches.

Once you have the sword balanced it is time to fix the hilt on (although you can do this as you are organising the balance). I use fiber tape and will twist it into a ‘rope’ to bind the tangs down firmly. Do not use hose clamps, they always seam to come loose and are annoying to attach. If the hilt becomes loose just re-tape it.

I then add some hockey tape to cover the blade and mark out the thrusting tip and blade. Do not use the plastic duct tape, it is a bugger to get off and looks ratty in seconds. I tend to re-tape my swords every few practice sessions as I use the makes and cuts to see were I am striking and ensuring I am not hitting flat.

I run a bit of the hockey tape over the grip for comfort reasons and also cover the fiber tape I used to attach the hilt. I think it is worth making sure all your gear is neat and finished, it shows that you care about what you are doing.

I attach the lanyard to the back of the basket hilt as this keeps it out of the way. I also dislike the slip knot lanyards and they are a bugger to get off sometimes and can garrote your wrist in some circumstances.

I also have a padded disk to stop my hand banging on the hilt.

This one ended up being about 1.2kg / 2.6 pounds.

Sword taped up and ready to go!

So there is how I make up my swords. Good luck with yours.

To Make a Sword (part one).

I have been promising a few folk some pictures on the equipment we use.

First up is a quick photo essay on how to make a rattan sword.

 

I generally like to use a reasonably think piece of rattan and then plain down the sides. I also now use a steel basket hilt to balance the whole weapon. I like a sword with a bit of heft as it then feels like I have a weapon in my hand…

1. Cut to Length

So, get your piece of rattan and cut it to length. I start people off with a length from the ground to the palm of the hand held flat, this is the same length that I use. My stick is about 32 inches (without thrusting tip).

This will be a lot shorter than many people are used to but I find that it gives you an excellent ratio of body to weapon length and allows you to turn and rotate the sword with ease.

Setting the length of the rattan stick.

 

2. Plane down the sides

I then use a draw knife/plane to shave the sides of the rattan down to the minimum thickness (1 1/4 inches). The rattan I am using here is much thinner than I would like, but that is all I had in the workshop. A belt sander or rasp works just as well.

Rattan in the vice with my draw knife.

The sides planed down.

3. Plane down the grip.

With the sides down I now plane down the grip. It may be useful for you to have a play with some good reproduction swords. You will notice that the grip is often a flattened oval cross section with a very definite edge grip. So I try to replicate this as much as possible. This makes for a grip a lot thinner than many people would use.

Looking down at the grip.

Side view, you will note how much I can wrap my fingers around the grip.

So that is preparing the stick, next is putting on the thrusting tip and tape in the next post.