Category Archives: Victorian Martial Arts

Tome

A while ago while I was in Chapters I spotted what was pretty much the most amazing-looking notebook I had ever seen. It was large and covered with silver filigree, with a darkened leather texture underneath. It was held shut with two metal clasps, and even the edges of the paper had floral designs to it.

This was clearly a book that demanded to have something important written in it.

However, I was, as usual, broke, so I put it back on the shelf and went on about my day. I entertained some notion that I may come back and purchase it when I had some money. It was a little pricey for what boiled down to a blank pile of papers, so I dismissed it for the time being.

I found myself wondering what I would ever write in so presentational a notebook. After all, it would seem like such a waste to scribble something trivial inside of it, or fill it up with a jumble of disorganized thoughts. I’ve always found the medium of writing has a certain motivation for the writing itself. Whether it is nice paper and a classic quill pen, or a vintage manual typewriter, sometimes the tools and the actions you choose for writing can influence the writing itself.

I came to a decision; I would go back to buy one of the pretty, pretty books, and fill it with absolutely everything I know, or will come to know, about martial arts.

And that is what I am doing whenever I have a spare moment.

I started at the beginning, reviewing and writing down the most basic concepts behind posture and movement, and began progressing through everything that is filling up my brain. It is a marvellous exercise in self-review. Teaching, or in this case documenting, an art right from the ground up is often where you make the most revelations. There are so many tiny things that you have half-forgotten, or internalized to the point that you forget you use them, that come up to the surface when you have to explain everything from day one.

So I shall fill my epic tome with everything I know on the subject of fighting, and keep adding all the new things I learn. I will accumulate (and in some cases complete) my research in period martial arts, I will scribble down all the drills I have found useful for training and teaching over the last nine years, I will re-think and write down every little bit of the jumbled mess of mixed fighting styles that swirl around in my restless little brain.

This should be interesting.

A Winter in Review

Well, hullo then.

I haven’t used this blog in some time – a few months in fact. There are several reasons for that, though most of them are feeble as excuses. The first and most poignant was NANOWRIMO. For those who are not aware, the acronym in question is a national novel writing competition. The goal is to write a fifty thousand word book within the month of November. Such a task required the majority of my attention. Afterwords, well, followed much less productivity than I would have liked.

And so, a winter in review;

As I mentioned, November began with my second attempt at a thirty day novel. I managed to pull a basic story idea involving a historical/fantasy plot that was based around the court intrigues of Elizabethan England. (Why I am consistently foolish enough to start deadline projects with ridiculously complicated stories I shall never know.) On the whole, the novel writing frenzy began with the wind at my back and my sails propelling me forward with great haste. Contrarily, it ended with a slow sinking into the black waters of northern seas after being viciously and suddenly attacked by Nordic pirates.

I barely made it halfway, though I did churn out some decent chapters here and there. (At the end of my last attempt, two years ago, I at least managed to make it to forty-thousand words) Sadly, I allowed three very long shifts at work exhaust me. Never managing to catch up on those sad, couple-hundred-word-count days, my novel petered out and was no more.

At first, I was all afire to start another writing project – one that was less hurried. Unfortunately, I am one of those people who works best under a little pressure. So my daily writing habits slowly declined into, well, no writing habits. In fact, I have fallen into a horrific tendency of doing absolutely nothing with the first three hours of my day. For this I feel no end of shame.

On the plus side, I did spend that uncreative time altering my diet and exercise routines. Rather I should say; maintaining the alterations I made at the end of the summer. Currently I weigh less than I ever have in my adult life, and have kept a sufficient amount of my muscle mass in doing so. In fact, I am very nearly able to say that I have actually achieved the more vain aspects of my fitness goals. That is, however, all I shall say about that. After all, there is nothing more boring than listening to someone talk about their own weight loss. I suppose, as un-stoic as it is, personal improvement seems more relevant when it is made known to others.

How insecure we all are.

As to the subject of martial arts, that tale runs along similar lines. While I find the time every few weeks to visit the open fight nights at Academie Duello, I have no practice of my own anymore. The Friday fencing bouts keep me adept and satisfy my cravings to stab at people, but I do miss both instructing and learning the material to which I am most inclined. Bartitsu, in particular, is something I would love to be able to work on again. And sabre.

(Incidentally, there was also that whole Steampunk Self-Defence Manual plan. That book, by the way, was actually completed as far as the text is concerned, and still sits waiting on my computer. However, the disbandment of SCG’s regular classes left me without anyone to help demonstrate the techniques in the photos. And so…)

Perhaps, once the weather becomes more clement, I will try and re-start an outdoor practice of one of these things. If I really put effort in I might be able to secure one student. Maybe two. The real issue is figuring out what I actually want to do with martial arts. What focus do I want to take? I have no clue really. It’s been nearly a decade since I first started training, and all my plans to make a living out of it have become somewhat prone to failure.

Yet I refuse to be maudlin. I still have almost ten years of experience, some of which is in branches of fighting very few people are familiar with. That is certainly nothing to sneeze at. I just need a plan. I’ve always been able to concoct schemes within a set of parameters, but when it comes to plotting out the rest of my own life… That, I must admit, has me at a loss more often than not.

The threat of my thirtieth birthday looms ahead like an ominous sunrise of full adulthood. I’d be lying if I said that fact didn’t terrify me almost as much as the notion of… dancing. OK, that was a bit maudlin.

And on that note, I need to go and try and find a new job now.

“My mind rebels at stagnation…”

September has been a very quiet time for me. I don’t much care for it.

All regular classes related to Scatha Martial Arts have been put on hold for the foreseeable future, which will probably extend at least until the end of September. There is still the pending demonstration at the Victoria Steam Exhibition, though I am feeling a little nervous about that as well. I still feel like I should day-trip out there to do the demo that day, but I’m dubious as to how presentational I can be be with only two people. It is possible, of course, but I would have preferred to have actual students accompanying me.

The truth is (as far as I am officially aware) Scatha Martial Arts is just me – all by my lonesome.  There are no students, there are no regular classes, practices or workshops. Just little old me and the stuff I have in my head. I’m not saying that this is the end of everything, but it does mean that I am starting all over again. If I want to pursue this business further I need to go back to beginning and try and get an online presence again, as well as printing off advertisements and posting them up on every street corner. All very possible, but all things I haven’t done yet.

The summer is dwindling away, so the idea of trying to milk the last of the decent weather to try and resume outdoor classes seems more that a little late.  As far as SCG is concerned, the summer was pretty much wasted, and any opportunity I had has long since past. At the end of September I will decide what direction I want to take things, but for now I’m just… Living.

It is a strange feeling. Tuesday, once the constant hub of energetic practices, seems very empty now. I get up whenever I want, I make breakfast leisurely, then I just have the rest of the day open. I still take the time to work out  in one form or another for at least a few hours, but it feels so solitary and directionless. Holly and I still work through techniques sometimes, but the combination of a recent (and somewhat confusing) leg injury and a general decline in interest has left her somewhat dispassionate about martial arts.

The whole ronin, wandering martial artist thing sounds a lot more romantic that it actually is. When you don’t have a picturesque countryside to trek across whilst saving the innocent you pretty much just feel unemployed.

I solved some of my restlessness by making a nostalgic re-appearance to the open fight nights at Academie Duello. The reception I received when I showed up felt positive enough to encourage me to keep stopping by on Fridays. Doing so allows me to get my fencing fix at least, even though I do miss being able to fight with the unarmed Scatha system we came came up with. (Oh, the good old days of the 5x5s…) So at least this way I have an outlet for my pressing desire to fight people that doesn’t cost me anything and doesn’t involve throwing beer bottles at people in crowded bars.

I also did take some time off work to go camping for three days, which was very enjoyable. Alternately relaxing and hiking was a nice way to spend some time. I like making a fire every night, and I miss having a fireplace in which to do it at home. The trip also furthered my wild, crazy dream to someday retire to a self-sufficient farm where I can run long-term martial arts retreats and the like. That would be the life.

Someday….

Actual students

This week at sabre there were real, live, actual students.

It went fairly well, I thought. I spent the hour just teaching the 8 cuts and all of the appropriate parries, which took up most of that time, and then having the students (all two of them) practice slow work and maintaining measure. It was nothing special as far as fencing instructions goes, but it was a good place to start. There was definitely the satisfaction of actually having people to teach, even though it can be more fun to just work at my own pace. Alas though, the world does not work in such a way to allow for that.

Well, unless you become an eccentric sword master-hermit. Which is kinda my dream some day. Oh to be a intimidating, bearded octogenarian who is still faster with a blade than people half his age. That time will come.

Today we are back to regular Tuesday classes at Sapperton, or at least I think we are. To be honest I’m really not sure in what direction things at the Guild are going to go. There seems to be a lot of crossed communication going on. The focus and presentation of our enterprise is somewhat under debate at present, and I am finding myself unsure of exactly how I want to proceed. All I know is that I still love fencing, and I prefer to work out in the pursuit of martial arts rather than doing martial arts in the pursuit of a workout. I like being technical and thorough, and making sure I have mastered one thing before I move on to the next.

Replacement Tuesday

There was no class this week, for what we shall call logistical reasons. As a result I was left to my own devices for Tuesday and Wednesday. After a congenial rising Tuesday morning, I decided on how best to procure some exercise. Holly and I repeated the theory of a previous week; we made our way to Cooper’s park by way of the sea wall, her on skates and I jogging. This time I managed to keep a solid pace all the way to the park. The journey is about five kilometres, which is half of what I used to jog. However, I knew better than to try to challenge my own record after such a long vacation from running. Even at my best ten kilometres tended to cripple me the next day. After a rest at the park, and a few gymnastic exercises, we walked/jogged back to the house.

Once there we rested again, and changed our shoes – or skates in Holly’s case. After that we strolled to the other park that is nearer to our apartment, bringing along our sabres. Once there I was promptly made to feel inadequate by the person who was using the gymnastic rings – as he actually appeared to be a gymnast. I’ve been trying for month to actually get myself up on those things, and there he was vaulting up and performing a very decent front lever. Curse his small stature and proper training.

Anyhow, it turned out that my initial plan to fence first and jog later would have been a wise one. Both of us were rather too tired to be particularly graceful with the sword, and after twenty minutes or so of slow work and fighting we slunk back home.

The next day we resumed the sabre practice with much success, running through the majority of the parry/ripost drills I had planned. (We still need to run through the double riposts, thrusts, feint, double feint and ripost combination drills, but no matter.) Holly is coming along nicely in her sabre training, and I think in another few months she might be able to start competing. Except for the fact that competitions in historical fencing still don’t really exist and I have to create them. We’ll get there eventually.

I think I will focus more on my own training, and on teaching thing’s I feel I actually know well. The trend SCG has had for experimentation and creation can be rewarding, but it can also leave be feeling like I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing. I often feel like we move on to a new skill before we have actually mastered the previous one, though many of the students seem to like always having something new to work on. I do not however. I like to know I have got one thing down perfectly before I move to the next step, jumping ahead of myself just leads to confusion and clumsy fighting. Some of the new theories we have developed have definite promise, but that need to be refined, ordered and tested before they are ready for the general public.

Duel

Once upon a time, also known as three years ago, I did an interesting cultural experiment with my fellow instructor, Randy Packer. We were both at Academie Duello at the time; He was one of the founding instructors and I was his assistant teacher. Although I had been working with other weapons for some time, it was at this period that I started to get very interested in late-period sabre fencing. Randy and I often spent the slow hours of the afternoon in the empty hall at Duello playing with a pair of nineteenth century duelling sabres.

I love rapier combat for its deceptive grace and tactical thinking, but I love sabres for their amazing speed and tempo.

That summer brought the approach of AD’s first ‘Sword Camp’ at Garibaldi Peak, and the two of us thought it would be a good demonstration of our commitment to fencing if we fought a demonstration match under the rules of a formal duel. This was not a mere presentation, we intended to resign ourself to the full preparation and fear  that a real duel would have brought. We sharpened the blades of the sabres we had been practising with as best we could, confirming that a hard cut would be capable of splitting skin. We also agreed that we would fight without masks and wearing no body protection apart from a thin, sleeveless shirt.

We also worked hard to learn as much as we could about this style of fencing before the date arrived, and an interesting thing happened while we were doing so; I started to feel very, very anxious. At first, I had felt so cool and bad-ass for agreeing to go through with the fight, but as the day grew closer I started to toy with the idea of backing out. I hinted as much to Randy and, as it turned out, he had been feeling the same thing. However, both of us decided that it was our duty to follow through with our convictions.

I then did my best to put the event out of my mind until the day it arrived. All of us who were attending the weekend getaway for historical fencing enthusiasts were gathered for the workshops that were being held that day. It was shortly after breakfast, and Randy and I were taking lessons from sword master F. Braun McAsh on the techniques of German sabre duelling. As we concluded the short workshop, the knot started to form in my stomach. It grew worse and Randy and I agreed it was time for us to prepare for the ‘duel.’

Do you know that feeling you get when you are a young child and the roller coaster starts climbing that first big hill before the huge drop? That was how I felt as I went and fetched the sharpened blade I was to be using to defend myself. I fitted the live blade into my guard and tightened it into place. Meanwhile, all the other attendees had gathered to watch, though I’m not sure how many of them realized just how dangerous the situation could become for the two of us. A ring was erected with flags, though I cannot recall who set it up. In fact, I was aware of next to nothing from the moment I held the sharp weapon in my hand.

Every instinct in my body told me to run away, to hide in the forest that surrounded the isolated camp, and wait for everyone to forget about me. I’m not sure I have ever been more afraid during my adult life as I was at that moment. A final nod from Randy confirmed that we were about to start, and there was no way to back out. Both of us tried to remain jovial and light-hearted, even though I’m sure neither of us felt anything of the sort.

Randy explained again exactly what we were doing – We were fighting to first blood with sharp sabres. The weapons were not razor sharp and the tips had been rounded slightly, but they were still capable of doing quite a bit of damage. First blood in this case meant that the blood was either flowing freely or dripping to the ground; scratched didn’t count. The only protection we had were the ordinary sunglasses I was wearing and Randy’s own spectacles.

And so, nervous as hell, we saluted each other.

The first few exchanges were tentative and cautious, and my form was certainly far from its best. We attacked and defended quickly, but all the while being cautious not to leave any openings. Fear makes for interesting instincts in such a situation, very different from matches in the school. We both caught some touches; him on his wrist and I on my arm. They were only grazes, however, and we did not pause. Then, after thirty seconds, Randy cut the glasses right off of my face without touching my skin.

We paused, grateful for the distraction, while I retrieved my glasses and replaced them on my face. Then we began again. Randy’s blade came close, but ended up only striking the cuff of my glove. Then a few incidental, but very painful, slaps and cuts were bestowed upon me. Finally, as a counter attack, I struck his upper arm hard enough to make him wince.  We re-engaged, growing more aggressive. I countered another cut and returned a blow to Randy’s shoulder. Sadly, neither his would nor mine were deep enough to warrant an end to the fight. We realized that the sabres should actually have been sharper, and the only way to end it was to hit each other twice as hard.

Another bout terminated with a long cut across Randy’s belly of which I do feel fairly proud. I had been hoping for a dramatic shirt-cutting moment, but it was not to be. Instead, the two of us resumed our fighting, both feeling the accumulation of our multiple lacerations. After a few more clashes of steel we simultaneously cut each other’s arms and backed off, cringing. At this point the cut on my elbow was beginning to bleed, and we both grew hopeful that it would be enough to allow us to make an honourable exit from the arena.

It was decided that neither of our welts or scrapes qualified as a fight-ending injury, so on we went. The fear was gone, replaced by pain and adrenaline. It is an interesting experience to fight a friend of yours in such a way. Despite your affinity for each other, you unconsciously accept that the only way to protect yourself is to hurt them first, so that’s what you do. It’s nothing personal, just necessity.

I landed another blow to Randy’s lower shoulder, one which made a satisfying swick of impact. Yet his toughed skin refused to split, and no blood came of it. Clack, clack, SWUMP! His sabre fell from his grip as I struck his wrist. It seemed I was paying him back for all the damage he had done to me in the earlier minutes of the fight. Randy hissed from the sudden impact, but flexed his fingers and picked up his weapon without hesitation.

We then decided that neither the sabres nor ourselves could withstand much more abuse, and that that at the next contact we would yield. After a few seconds of desperate fighting I managed to scrape his arm one final time, and we came together to shake hands, relieved the bout was finally over. Afterward, we both slunk off the field, more than aware of all the cuts, welts, bruises and lacerations that adorned out arms and body.

Randy's arm with a few tiny pieces missing.,,

We made our way up the hill to tend to the sting of our wounds. While it turned out that the sabres were not quite sharp enough to cut through skin, we had not become aware of that fact until about halfway through our match. As far as we knew, there was a palpable danger of arterial cuts. Even as it was, we were at risk of damaging our eyes. There have been a few people who made light of the event, saying we weren’t in that much danger. All I have to say to that is; Just try it. Then tell me how you feel.

And my word it was a beautiful day!

Everything around me seemed twice as shining and bright after going through the fight. I didn’t back down, I didn’t let my fear get the better of me, I stuck to my convictions… It felt amazing. I was grinning like an idiot for the rest of the day, and after that morning I felt like something had changed inside my head. Since that moment no human being has ever frightened me. I felt completely aware of my own mortality, and totally comfortable with it. I tested myself, and I proved that I could stand and fight if I needed to.

In the past three years the followed this experience I have never found anything that compares to those seven minutes I had to protect myself with a sword.

What Makes Scatha Combat Guild Different?

What makes Scatha Combat Guild different? Good question. Well, actually, you didn’t ask it, I did. It’s still a good question, though, even if I’m answering it to myself. So I’ll get on with explaining;

SCG is different for several reasons: First of all, we are not a historical martial arts school, but neither are we strictly modern in our curriculum. We have aspects of both approaches to combat training, and we have blended them in a way that hasn’t been done before. Not only that, but we have developed a physical conditioning program as part of our classes that bring phenomenal results in terms of strength, stamina, agility, balance, posture, and body awareness. I’m afraid I can’t talk too much about that part, it’s a bit of a trade secret. Someone would have to go to the trouble of coming to our classes to learn of our mysterious secrets of physical culture. Sorry to be a bit vague, lots of… goblins listening in.

As to the historical side of SCG, that comes from the fact that we teach the use of swords. We have a modern approach to swordplay inasmuch as we don’t emphasize the rote memorization of any particular historical style of fencing. We have used our experience and research to create our own standard of sword work that is based on the foundations of old-world martial arts without limiting itself to any one specific historical document. Despite the fact that we don’t stick to the ancient manuals, we can’t be said to be totally modern in this department  because, well, nobody walks around defending themselves with a sword these days. Let’s face it, though; knowing how to use a sword is really cool.

The more modern side of our curriculum is the unarmed aspect. First of all, we invented the 5×5 self-defense system; The 5×5 system is an instinctive and adaptive way of teaching people to discover what works best for them in an unexpected attack scenario. This way, students can discover their own strengths and learn to rely on their own natural habits during a fight. I think this little invention is one of my favorites – I never get tired of experimenting within the parameters of this exercise. It’s just fun.

We also teach a mixed martial arts system for unarmed fighting. It’s not like what you see in most UFC fights, though – it’s more interesting than that. Since we teach our students to be more flexible and and dynamic, we can teach them to successfully pull off techniques that are a little more technical than the popular choices for martial arts these days. We have created a blend of modern and semi-modern kick-boxing and grappling that’s part modern ju-jitsu and part medieval wrestling.

AND, we teach cane fighting. There are plenty of useful aspects of knowing how to fight with a cane, umbrella or stick. As far as I’m aware, we are the only people in Vancouver who teach this kind of stick-fighting (For those in the know, I don’t entirely mean Bartitsu, we’ve added more to it.) As mentioned, we have taken what we love and have really made it our own. In many ways we’ve broken the mold of martial arts and gone beyond our own expectations of what we thought was possible. Ok, that last bit sounded a bit over-dramatic, but it’s true.

With Scatha Combat Guild, you are going to see something new…