A few posts ago I talked about some things experienced combatants need to consider when working with novices. In this post I will provide some ideas for the beginner about what to expect and what to focus on to help your training.
Many times, one who pursues the martial arts expects to see results too soon. You cannot expect to move, strike, block ar attain any understanding of the art before you know how to stand. – Syr Gemini.
This is all a bit complicated.
Armoured combat is a complex and sometimes difficult art to learn. There is a lot you must take in. The complexity lies in the many different actions and movements you must master to be able to attack and defend. To add to this difficulty there is also an opponent trying to block your attacks and hit you.
I suggest that it is it important to remember that this is a complex art and that you will not get it all right immediately. True progression in a martial art can take years. Take it one step at a time and focus on getting your basics right. Do not worry so much about not winning a bout, focus on getting your body in the right position, hold your shield between you and your opponents weapons and cut cleanly and with good form.
Good form is more important than winning.
It may seem odd to say this. Are we not training to be able to claim victory against our opponents? This is true but as a beginner (and I would say all combatants) you must focus on maintaining good from in training and practice.
‘Good form and technique will eventually lead to frequent success. But frequent success will never lead to good form and technique’
This quote is spot on. I see too many beginners sacrificing good form for the sake of immediate success. While these people often do well in the short term. At best they only go so far and then their development plateaus in the mid ranks. At worst they build up bad habits like striking with the flat of the weapon which is cheating or using poor power generation and getting injured.
You are at a beginning. Nearly everyone you will fight against will be more experienced in armour that you are. This is fine and the only expectation that you have is to keep working on your basics. As I mentioned, at the start of your armoured combat career the aim is not to win bouts but to keep good form and do all the basics right. No one is keeping score, so it does not matter who ‘wins’ any given bout.
I know it is hard to take the long term view but trust me that focusing on technique is the best thing you can do.
Learn from what is happening.
When you are doing free sparing, always ask the person you are working with what they are doing and how they are making their attacks work. How are they blocking what you are doing? Always always ask for feedback.
Not all feedback is helpful.
This is sort of counter to the pervious comment. While you should always ask for some level of feedback, understand that it is not always useful. It is common for everyone wanting to help the new combatants. Everyone has some suggestions and wants to help. While good intentioned, this advice is often too much, contradictory and confusing. Make note of what people are saying and take on what is making sense to you. If you walk away from a training session with one or two ideas than that is a good thing. If you are getting confused with different feedback, and you will, talk it through with your main trainer and follow their advice.
It is also important to remember that there are many philosophies and attitudes in the armoured combat community, and not all are compatible. Just because a particular Duke likes a particular cut or move does not automatically mean that it is something everyone can or should do. Different styles do not always work well together. Some techniques may be fine for a big guy weighing 130kg but it not going to work for a small person pushing 70kg in armour…
‘The student of everything is the master of nothing’
I see many new trainees look for the magic weapon combination. They think two swords is the One True Way. Or that a particular shield type will make them untouchable. I also see people trying every new trick they can find.
At the beginning it is important to keep things as simple as you can. Stick with one weapon combination for at least your first two years. Learn how to move, strike and defend with the basic weapons of the tournament (sword and shield). Only after you start to understand the basics of armoured combat should you venture to playing with other things.
Armour must fit you
It takes time to get used to being in armour, and moving in it. I guarantee your first few times in borrowed harness you will not be that comfortable. Getting your own kit to fit and work with you can take a bit of time and fiddling around to get it right. Loaner armour will vary rarely fit you well. If something does not work or you are getting hurt you need to talk to your trainer about it.
Wearing armour is a skill
Getting into armour will often cause you to unlearn or forget all that you’ve trained. Work on moving techniques from the pell, to pad-work, to slow-work, to full speed. Do not be afraid to go back to the pell and work though the fundamental moves while in harness. Do a lot of slow to medium speed work. Again, do not rush your development.
Don’t’ be afraid to talk to people about concerns and issues, be it with fighting or armour.
Finally, keep talking to your trainers or mentors. Yes sometimes things can be confusing even with the best intentions. Ask questions, discuss options. Do not make things too complicated.
So there are a number of things to keep in mind. Many of my points apply to all of us following the path of swordsmanship. In many ways we are all novices. We keep learning new things and gaining a greater understanding of what we do and how to go about it. If I am making this sound all a bit hard or complex I remind you it is not. Remember, swords are cool and so are sallets.