Tag Archives: Holly Maclaren

In The End…

I don’t think there is any single reason why the Combat Guild idea failed, nor do I think it was the fault of any one person. I think all four of us came up short in at least one task, myself possibly more than anyone. There were plenty of little errors or shortcomings that popped up here and there.

Before I mention why we fell apart, I will mention some of the things we did right; a) We almost always managed to get a 50/50 ratio of male and female students, which is rare in any combat art.

b) We saw a great deal of improvement in all our students’ body awareness and agility and,

c) We were doing something nobody had done before.

However, that wasn’t quite enough to keep things going forever.  The key ingredients in our collapse were thus;

We never wrote a final business plan because we never really finalized what our business actually was. The ideas kept evolving regularly enough that we never nailed down exactly what we were proposing to be in therms of a company. This meant that we never applied to get any kind of financial aid to secure a better location, and we never had a distinctive ‘product’ to advertise. That said, some of our advertising ideas were great, in my opinion. I still really love the mini-business cards we made that featured nothing except a small picture of us doing something awesome on one side and a sage piece of stoic advice on the other, accompanied by our logo and our website address.

Secondly, we began to drift off in terms of our own goals, and we often found ourselves to not be on the same page as each other. Randy began really developing his gymnastic fitness program, which I was only partially involved in. As such I often felt like I was in the dark about what was going to happen next, and wished I knew more about his plans. Also, while I liked the gymnastic conditioning, I wanted to spend a little more time teaching specific martial arts techniques as well. Some days we would spend nearly the entire three hours of a class doing agility exercises and only a few minutes of actually hitting stuff. Now, while this was a great workout, it was often leaving me feeling unfulfilled since I don’t actually like working out all the time as much as I like fighting and drilling techniques.

There were also several projects that were started and not completed, notably the steampunk self-defence manual (which may yet see the light of day). There was also a morning class in Vancouver which, while it did happen, usually resulted in grumpiness and no actual students. Holly hated showing up for it, which became plain, and while I tried to always attend it did start to seem pointless when we had nobody to teach.

In the end, I felt like there wasn’t much point of me being around in general. Randy was a more experienced instructor, and I wasn’t arguing that, but I felt like I was becoming superfluous to the whole scheme. I rarely really taught anything anymore and, not that it matters on a philosophical scale, but I could tell that the few students we had didn’t really have that much respect for me. I would sometimes offer a piece of advice, see them totally ignore it, and then see Randy offer the same advice to which they would immediately adhere. Now, I won’t kid myself that most of this is my fault for not stepping up as a leader, but it was still an uncomfortable place to be.

It was frustrating; I wanted to trust Randy since I had watched him come up with new and effective idea for the last six and a half years, but I also felt like I had no idea what was going on and didn’t really need to be present. I tried to get opportunities to teach more, but that would mean shifting back to the skills I felt confident teaching – which had started to be phased out of the curriculum.

I started trying to get a second night of the week where I taught totally separate arts, mostly sabre. This was held in the same location as the morning classes, but at a more accessible hour. It was in Coopers Park, which has the advantage of a large, covered area for rainy days. I kept this practice going for a few months, working with Holly either on Hutton sabre or the 5×5’s. I tried to drum up at least two students to participate with Facebook groups and the like, but in the end it had the same result as the morning class and nobody ever showed up more than once.

Coopers Park

Then Randy surprised me.

He offered to give me solo control over the Tuesday night class, to which he would not even attend anymore. The regular class would be mine, and he would work on his own thing in a location nearer his home.

I didn’t really know what to say to this. My initial response was guilt, since I felt like he at least had a plan in his head and I wasn’t sure I did, and therefore it seemed like I should have been the one to leave. This outcome was not at all what I wanted, really. I wanted us to work together and come up with something we both felt comfortable with, not to take over on my own. So as such, I largely blamed myself for this turn of events and counted the dispersal of our group as my failure.

But I said yes anyway. I’m honestly not sure why anymore. I believe I still had enough faith in myself to pull everything thing together and piece it back into what I had originally imagined. I felt bad that we had shattered as a team, but I was determined to write up a full curriculum that did justice to both our teaching methods anyhow. There had been a few days prior to my would-be inaugural take over where I felt that I had run good classes, so I started to feel like I was up to the challenge.

I can’t remember how far I got in revamping my whole plan, since it effectively never saw the light of day. I did a full blog on the first class I was to teach at the time, which can be found here; https://scienceofdefence.wordpress.com/2011/07/08/snap/

The short version is that my insecurities were confirmed, and not a single one of our regular students (few of them though there were) showed up for my first class. After working out essentially by myself for half an hour, Holly and I informed the woman who ran the location that we would not be coming back in the foreseeable future, and we made plans to pick up all the gear we had stored there. That gear is still sitting in my basement storage locker.

There were some other attempts to restart things, or to shift to something else, but they came not to fruition. Holly and I tried to at least work out together a few times a week to keep everything going in our minds, but she eventually grew frustrated with only working with me. It soon became apparent that she had no interest in training unless she had another partner closer to her own skill level, so it was only a matter of time before we stopped working together.

This was a particularly dark time, since this left me with no outlet for my martial arts passions. Eventually I stopped trying and just developed my previous workout routine, focusing somewhat begrudgingly on just getting fit without  beating people up at all. I suppose a better part of a year passed in this way; solitary exercise with none of the camaraderie or focus that I had grown used to over the previous eight years.

I started attending the fight nights at Academie Duello to get a little practice in and to make sure to didn’t atrophy completely, which was the beginning of a rebound. Still, my ego was remained pretty squashed and I had no confidence in ever stepping into a leadership role again.

I also decided to get back in to fencing shape and participate in a mini-tournament Duello was hosting, which was educational. Back in the earlier days of my fencing career, I had always had a problem with my tournament mindset. I would often do terribly in competition because it took me too long to actually warm up and feel competitive. However, this time I shifted gears perfectly. Since then I have noticed that, whenever I decide I want to win, my fight brain clicks in immediately and I fence exceptionally well.

However, it also proved another point to me; I really don’t enjoy winning for the same of winning. I love victory, but I want to feel like I have worked for it, like I have earned it. My first match in the tournament lasted about four or five seconds. It was a two-out-of-three match, and I decided to be sporting and only fight with a single sword since my opponent held no dagger. I landed my first shot with my favourite off-hand slap to the tip followed by a falso dritto cut to the left temple. My second touch was a simple lunge, cavare, counter-cavare ending in  thrust to the shoulder.

And that was that, the first bout was done in less that ten seconds and I was on to the next round. It did nothing for me.

Unlike the rest of the people fighting, I spent the time before my next bout constantly moving and bouncing, making sure I didn’t cool down.

In my next match I felt somewhat guilty about how rapidly I had won the previous one. (Yes, I can manage to feel guilty for winning.) Because of this I was careful to call back any shot I didn’t feel I landed perfectly, and fought s little less aggressively. In the end I lost in a close exchange of hits. I won’t say that I lost on purpose, but I feel like I could have won the second bout as well if I had not been so self-conscious of ploughing through the last fighter. I also thought I would have a third bout to balance it out, but it turned out that was it for me in the tournament.

I would also like to add that I am not belittling the skill of both fighters. They both fought very well, though I daresay they were not used to fighting against someone with my style of fencing, which is quite different than what they usually dealt with.

I had fun and enjoyed the night, but it did prove that rapier tournaments were never going to be my thing, even if I won them. I love rapier, and I love fighting and sparring with good people – but the all fuss and muss of tournaments just doesn’t gratify me when the actually fights often come down to a few scant seconds.

Then, this summer, I decided ask my mother to make my only birthday present a membership at the boxing gym. It was a toss up between boxing or Capoeira, since both arts contained aspects I wanted to work on. In the end boxing was the more logical choice since a) it was more direct and practical, b) the facilities were open to me as often as I wanted and I didn’t have to worry about attending regular classes at set times during the week and c) it cost a fraction of what Capoeira training would.

So what is my plan now?

I’m trying to keep up with my gymnastic routine from SCG at least once a week, and I’m boxing at least three hours a week, sometimes five. I’d like to up that number to six and a half, but I’m still juggling the rest of my life at the moment. (Plus summer tends to distract one with all those fun, outdoor activities.) I’m actually in better shape than I was before, having dropped nearly 20 lbs over this year of exile and increased my endurance considerably.

I would like to spend the next year boxing more and more, and my plan is to try and have thee or four actual fights at some point. I don’t necessarily want to try and make a career our of boxing, since I like my face the way it is, but I’d like to see if I have in in my to step into the ring for a little while. If nothing else, getting good at pugilism with help to rebuild my confidence. After a year or so I will start to really feel like I might be qualified to give people advice again in something besides rapier (Which I do still remain pretty secure about in regards to my abilities.)

Yet I often get nostalgic for the whole Scatha thing, and I wish there was some way to bring it back. However, I still think I am too young, despite the fact that I often feel ancient. I would love to try and start up another martial arts school from scratch, but probably not for a few years at least.

I still think we had some brilliant ideas, but I’m not going to act on them again until I’m positive I can do it right.

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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 Week in Summation

It appears that it has been over a week since I have actually posted anything on this blog. That is a shame, considering that I originally intended to post something every other day at the least. Shift work is the arch nemesis of health and productivity. It sits on a high-backed swivel chair stroking a white cat and plotting. It probably also has minions with such fashion accessories as scars, eye-patches, mechanical arms and Nehru jackets.

So, to sum up the last nine days;

The Tuesday following the first sabre class was another quiet one. May has proven to be one of our slowest months ever. Between the Hockey play-offs and the students who went on vacation it has been a bit of a desert in regards to attendance. Apart from that, class went as class usually does – we worked out to an impressive degree and then worked further on some of the new ground fighting stuff we have been playing with.

I honestly do not remember what I did on the following Wednesday at all, so either I worked on the computer all day or I lounged around doing very little.

Then came Thursday. Thursday is never good, as it signals the beginning of my non-martial arts work week. The rest of those five days consisted of being at work, working on sabre curriculum, occasionally writing creatively and reading the works of Robert E. Howard. Actually, I am really enjoying the Conan stories, 30’s pulp is some of the most fun reading material there is. You have to love a genre that has no illusions about the fact that is a complete male fantasy. Whether it’s Conan smiting mythical creatures and running off with the women, or the Shadow laughing maniacally while he kills a room full of gangsters, it is endlessly amusing. That and that era of fiction had a certain melodramatic poetry to it. H.P. Lovecraft is a perfect example of the eccentric, colourful, imaginative way authors described their fantasy worlds in the good old Weird Tales days.

Anyhow, and then it was Monday again. Work went by slowly, like dragging a huge heavy stone across a field of superglue. Afterwards I hurried down to Coopers park for Sabre practice. At appears that the other instructors were mistaken, and arrived at six rather than six thirty. I got there as soon as I could, snacked quickly, and prepared to teach more of the Victorian sabre style I have been working through. There were still no actual students, per se, so I skipped the basic warm-up and beginner footwork portion and and jumped to the parry and riposte drills. There were no real hitches in that department, and we covered all riposts from quarte after parrying cut 1. (I don’t expect that last sentence to make sense to most folks.)

Randy and Courtney had to leave shortly thereafter since their early arrival only left them so much parking time. After they departed, Holly and I moved on to the riposts from high prime. Holly had a bit of an issue with that parry, which is understandable since it is one of the more unnatural positions in fencing until you get used to it. After a little time I think she got the hang of it, however. At that point we were both tired and the hour had passed. We made our way home and prepared for…

Tuesday!

Class was still fairly quiet, although one of our new students did return for his second time and still seemed keen to continue his participation. After the work-out portion we moved onto some Capoeira-based techniques. Following that was some of the sword drills that Randy developed to build good habits in our students and work the bad habits out of ourselves. Afterwards, well, afterwards I took slight issue with the turn of things. We proceeded to continue cartwheel and gymnastic exercises, somewhat including the sword. I, personally, would like to see the second hour of the evening focus more thoroughly on direct martial applications.

Some of the exercises Randy comes up with are fantastic for building co-ordination and strength, but they do not always deal with actual martial arts techniques. I am going to try and push for such things to always be included within the first hour of class, and have the second hour focus more on direct fighting methods. Partially this is for my own satisfaction, since working out is never enough to satisfy me. On the evenings where we end up working out or practising esoteric maneuverings I always leave feeling unfulfilled – I need something that feels like fighting to gratify my own love of martial arts.

Which brings me to today; Thus far, today has been a good one. After breakfast Holly and I got back into our sweatn’  clothes and prepared for my third day of physical activity on a row (four for her). She donned her roller skates and we went down to the sea wall. We started off along the beach back towards Copper’s park. She skated and I jogged, ran, walked. This, by the way, turned out to be harder than I though, and Holly built up quite a bit of speed at certain junctures and I was hard pressed to keep up. Also, the sea wall route made the journey much longer and less direct that the street path, and it was farther than I had thought to run there.

Yet it was enjoyable nonetheless. Once we arrived (grateful that the water fountains in the park had been turned on since winter) we caught our breath for a few minutes in the refreshingly breezy shade of the park. I then did a few gymnastic moves on the playground equipment, afterwards coaxing Holly to remove her skates and participate in some boxing drills. When we were finished at the park we began a more leisurely stroll back towards our apartment. And thus concluded our enjoyment of this fine, sunny day.

Now I would greatly appreciate a cup of coffee…