Tag Archives: Bartitsu

In the Middle…

A brief Biography of My Life as a Martial Artist, part II;

In regards to my later days at Academie Duello,  there is one more pivotal moment in my life that should be mentioned; the Duel.

Randy and I decided to stage a mock-duel at the first annual sword camp that Duello was hosting. (This has since come to be called Cascadia North, and has changed venues.) It was to be a fight to first blood with sharpened sabres – a demonstration of the ritual of the tradition and, in the case of ourselves, the psychological experience of agreeing to such a fight.

Gut-wrenching would be my choice of phrase.

A full account of the demonstration was included in one of my earliest blog posts, and can be found here; https://scienceofdefence.wordpress.com/2011/03/25/duel/

However, back in day to day life, there were a few conflicts arising in the latter days at Duello. Partially it was my own attitude, especially during the Palestra classes. I began to question some of Randy’s ideas, and as such I frustrated him as much as myself by my stubbornness. Some mild ugliness ensued.

Also, put simply, Randy was becoming increasingly interested in expanding both what he was teaching, and how he was teaching it. There were many experiments in conditioning and instructing that he was not able to do within the parameters of the regular classes at the school, and it became apparent that he would have to strike out on his own if he was going to really develop them.

Naturally I felt that I should leave with him, since I was his friend as much as I was his assistant instructor and staying behind seemed like it would be rather awkward in regards to my position at Duello. Not only that, but at the time I was receiving no real pay for my time coaching the newer students. Though I did make some money from teaching a childrens’ summer program, as well as a workshop that I ran on my own, it was not nearly enough to keep me from being very poor. Following Randy to a new project meant that, if the concept was successful, I could actually be a partner in the profits and business planning.

I believe it was late in the year 2007 that we agreed that we were both going to resign from Duello and try and start a smaller club on our own.

We were to be dubbed Nova Spada, and the locations we eventually settled on were Sapperton Pensioners’ Hall in New Westminster, and the Cloverdale rodeo Grounds in, obviously, Cloverdale.

Our focus changed drastically from what we were teaching at AD. We all but abandoned Rapier for the time being and went back to square one on trying to figure out what the best way to teach might be. Rather than focusing exclusively on swords, Randy began drafting drills for footwork, basic posture and body mechanics. In terms of swordplay, we began by working through the tenants of the i.33 manual – which is one of the first martial arts documents known to the western world. We also dabbled in Marozzo, as well as beginning to develop the style of unarmed combat that would eventually mature into a whole new style of fighting.

It was at the Cloverdale fairgrounds, in a large concrete arena, that the 5×5 system was born. Originally it was just a thought about knife fighting. “Hey, there are really only so many angles a knife attack can take, and really only so many responses a person can make in time – so why don’t we boil those down and make a free-style drill out of it?”

I think we knew right away that we had hit upon something valuable. The 5×5 knife drill became our favourite thing to work on, and it wasn’t long before we realized it wasn’t that hard to adapt it to all self-defence scenarios. Thus began what I still feel was one of our best inventions. The idea that all aggressive attacks and all ‘flinch’ responses to them can be boiled down to a simple set of principals.

I won’t go in to the exact details of how the drills work, since they are only partially mine to give out. I believe Randy is still working them at his introductory classes at http://boxwrestlefence.com/classes/ for those who are interested.

Now, I wont lie, getting out to the Cloverdale location sucked. I had to bus to the skytrain, ride the train to Surrey Central, walk up a hill to where Randy lived at the time, then the pair of us would drive out to the fairgrounds. The whole trek could take up to two and a half hours. Once there we would run classes for another couple of hours, and then I repeated the whole process to get home.

At this point I was also working forty hours and five days a week at my regular job, and spending both my days off at Nova Spada. Eventually my value and enthusiasm as both a student and an instructor began to fade. I knew nothing of nutrition in those days, and I was essentially working non-stop for seven days a week. I was exhausted. I would sometimes make the journey all the way out there only to feel strung out and half-asleep most of the time I was there. It was not good.

However, as it turned out we didn’t keep the Cloverdale practice running all that long. The expense of the two locations was not practicable considering the amount of money we were taking in, and some of the financial help we were hoping for didn’t come to be. Thus perished the Cloverdale Practice. There were a few classes we ran outside in parks and the like, but it wasn’t long before we were only running sessions at Sapperton, and only on one day a week.

The Nova Spada group in Cloverdale

The Sapperton practice, which would endure for another three years after we abandoned Cloverdale, went through many a metamorphosis. At first we were running classes much the same; alternating sword work with knife and unarmed work. The 5×5’s finally came in to their own as a system of training. However, after a while we were at a loss to know where we should go from there.

During that time classes became very informal. There was a period where we were more of a drop in facility with no structured classes. Randy and I more or less stepped back as instructors, working on bettering ourselves while occasionally giving advice to those who asked for it. The one advantage of this un-ambitious period was that we were actually able to pocket a small percentage of our earnings as opposed to putting all the money into new equipment.

Nevertheless, neither of us were really happy with the way things were.

I was constantly trying to think of a way to get things rolling again, as I felt that we were coming up with some really great material that was begging to be taught. Eventually I hit upon the idea of taking a page from history and trying to re-vision ourselves as a guild – kind of a less biased version of the London Masters of Defence from Elizabethan England.

When I first proposed this idea to Randy I didn’t think he was that taken with it. I thought that he felt it was too big a leap from what we were doing. I was a little disappointed, but I shrugged it off and filed the concept away for future use.

However, the idea was not as rebuffed as I had initially thought. A few weeks later we began discussing it again in more detail. By this point my girlfriend, Holly Maclaren, had become a regular part of our endeavours, and we all began planning how we would re-brand the school. The four of us, Randy, Courtney, Holly and myself began meeting at least once a week to brainstorm, plan, plot and scheme. It was a fairly lengthy and often frustrating process, but in there end we disseminated what we had done with Nova Spada and created Scatha Combat guild.

The early days of SCG were spent offering a series of workshops designed to bring in some new students and spark some more interest in what we were doing. Randy and I both ran long, two hour sessions that covered our own particular skills. Randy did two part introductions to the fencing master Marozzo, as well as German longsword and other favourites of his, I did the same on the basics of Bartitsu. and Angelo’s Highland Broadswoard (or Backsword) military style. We also ran classes devoted entirely to fitness for the first time.

To a certain extent, the plan worked. We did get more interest online and a few more people started to check us out in person. After a few months of this, we were ready to start buckling down to regular classes again.

Eventually the standard night ran along these lines: work out, 2×2 drill (a simple practice of all the basics strikes against a target), the 5×5’s then some in depth work on a particular field, followed finally by free sparring.

The biggest shift over time was the work out portion.

When we first began running classes we still kept the model we had used from Palestra; run around, push-ups, sit-ups, squats, a little plyometrics. However, over time our conditioning portion of the night became a melting pot of new and old ideas. Randy was always trying to find the best ways to train people to move more naturally and more gracefully, so we we always experimenting with something new. We researched everything from Parkour to La Canne looking for new ways to condition our students for athletic movement.

What we ended up with became a mix of basic gymnastics, the essentials of Capoeira, and a smidgen of on-the-floor break dancing. It was a fascinating blend.

I was not a fan of the gymnastics at first. I liked the idea of making all our students capable of handstands and planches, but I wasn’t sure we were going about it the right way. The issue I had was that a lot of the basic exercises are a both very difficult, and not particularly rewarding for the first few months. For one, it was frustrating to feel like there was a whole aspect of strength that I completely lacked (and I did). Also, I sometimes felt that we were throwing ourselves into the more difficult positions when we hadn’t really taken the time to build up the co-ordination of the basic postures.

Eventually I came to accept that the attempts at seemingly impossible feats of gymnastics were in fact building a much better sense of movement in our students, and a balance that they had never possessed before. It took time, but the day finally came where I could hold a free-standing hand stand and I realized the progress I was making. However, I still wished we had taken a little more time to work through and coach the basics before pushing forward into the more intermediate stuff.

Meanwhile the four of us were still planning to expand our business. Our hope was to make a business plan, attain some money, and set up a small, permanent location somewhere in Vancouver. Once there we could advertise the hell out of ourselves and perhaps get on our way to actually running a successful establishment.

I still get starry eyes over the idea of having a modest club somewhere, and being able to show the world some of this amazing stuff that surfaced over the last half-decade.

Yet that was a dream that ended up staying in the realm of fantasy…

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.

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…