Tag Archives: Justin Ring

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…

Still Here

Yup, still here.

I have been meaning to use this blog again for quite some time. However, I find it really uninteresting to write about the kind of day-to-day things that I can’t imagine anyone being interested in reading. I starting this site to talk about things pertaining to my interests and projects, and I’m still fighting against ever making it too personal or mundane.

I do however have several projects on the go right now, so I shall explain those;

First of all the Steampunk self-defence manual is not dead. As per its final wishes, it was rushed to our privatized cryogenics facility to be put on ice until the time comes for it to be revived and resuscitated by future technology. Well, that time has (almost) arrived.

I was talking to a few of the folks over at Academie Duello and the subject of the steampunk manual came up. I had somewhat forgotten about  the idea, locked away as it was in its icy tomb, but the chats prompted me to think about it again.  Hearing some of the ideas, suggestions and encouragements I received when I showed them some of the work I had already done, I began to rethink the concept a little. I now have what I believe to be an improved plan for the book, and a much more accessible scheme for completing it.

So why, you may ask, have I not started work on the photo shoots needed to publish the book? Laziness! Pure, undiluted laziness. Photo shoots require people-planing and group organizing, and I will opt for solo writing work every time. I am going to begin gathering people for the photo though, just not quite yet. For one, I’m waiting for the weather to level out enough to make the picture taking easier to plan.

The second project I have going is a screenplay. This is more straightforward, as I am just doing the age-old traditional lack of creativity and adapting a samurai movie into a western. I will not say which Japanese film I’m adapting because IT’S MINE, GET YOUR OWN! I will say that writing western dialogue is really, really fun. I think my bad-ass lady gun/knife fighter protagonist is one of the most fun characters I’ve come up with in terms of enjoying writing about them.

There is a second screenplay in the works as well. Many a year ago, Randy Packer and I penned a script for a period drama about old English martial arts. The concept was great, but the story itself never really came out as well as we had hoped. Now, more than half a decade later, we started thinking about it again. We begun the preliminary planning for writing the idea totally from scratch again, though we both seem to have gone off on our individual ideas for the time being. Once I’m finished with my western script, however, I will definitely push to renew our collaboration on the fencing story.

But what about martial arts?

That subject has been causing me much grief lately. I never do manage to be satisfied by working in just one field. If I’m writing a lot, even if I’m working out on my own all the time, I still feel like I’m wasting away as a martial artist.

And that thought does kill me a little.

As far as I know, the whole Scatha Combat Guild plan is still dead. I would like to make the argument that it is also in cryogenic suspension until the world is ready for it, but I’m not sure that would be true. There is no space, and no attempt to run classes or practices. That, as far as martial arts schools go, is pretty succinctly dead.

Not that I wouldn’t love to do that again, I miss it just about every day. However, as I stand right now I have no faith in myself to try and start from nothing for what would essentially be the third time.

I have come to accept the fact that I simply do not inspire people to want to follow me. It’s hard to define, but no matter how hard I try I never achieve the kind of charisma that makes people want to learn what I know. Over the years the only way I seem to be able to earn people’s respect is by being a hard-ass, but then I just end up making students dislike me.

Maybe in another ten years I’ll figure it out, but for now I just have to come to terms with the fact that I’m not head-instructor material.

Another little insecurity I have as to my qualifications is the fact that I never really trained in a art with a recognized ranking system. Now, personally I don’t think the standard ‘belt’ system of most arts is actually a good way to rank students. Nonetheless, whenever I mention that I used to teach martial arts one of the first questions I get is something along the lines of “Do you have a black belt”. This of course, gets the rather awkward answer of trying to explain how a progressive style works and how I have no real title to explain my experience level.

That can be a little annoying.

In the meantime I will probably look into getting back into boxing training or some such in order to make sure I stay in practice. I was sparring at Duello on the odd Friday (though I took a month off from that), but I do often miss the visceral satisfaction of just punching things.

Speaking of fencing though, there is another tournament at Duello coming up that I think I can register to fight in. The question is; do I want to? I competed in a small one at the end of April, and I found it rather anti-climactic how little time I actually spent fighting. Even when I won, I felt it happened so quickly that I didn’t really enjoy it. I like to feel like I’ve really worked for my victories, which is why I usually chose to fight at least ten passes with someone if I can. However, my first fight probably totaled about fifteen seconds worth of actual engagement and my second fight wasn’t all that much longer.

Rapier tournaments were never really something I liked. I love fighting for the love of fighting, and I love fighting to win against another opponent – but I like it to be more of a true test of skill and training, and a few seconds at a time doesn’t seem to qualify for that.  I think bear-pit style tournaments were the only ones I really enjoyed.

So, in conclusion;

I’m getting back into writing, I’m staying in very good shape and I really would like to be able to teach the 5×5 system again because I thought it was absolute genius on our part and I loved watching students learn that way.

End transmission.

Greetings

Welcome to the blog what is Justin’s, and is as yet unfinished as far a design goes. Once I am furnished with pretty pictures and interesting background material I will no doubt make these pages look far more impressive, but for now I must suffer in blandness. Ah well.

I suppose I should explain what I am intending to do with this blog. Actually, that is pretty self-explanatory in this case since I am pretty much just intending to ramble on here whenever I feel like it. I shall endeavor to record my thoughts and musings on the subjects that interest me, namely martial arts, my career as a martial arts instructor, classic philosophy, Victorian literature, sewing, writing, movies, and drinking mostly (but not always) in moderation.

Oh, and there is this really cool martial arts club called Scatha Combat Guild that everyone should check out. They are really striving  to create a whole new approach to training that has never really been seen before. Physical conditioning, amazing fighting techniques, the use of swords and stick-fighting – they have it all! They also have a particularly dashing instructor who dresses kinda weird. And writes this blog. Yay, self-promotion.