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.
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.