Monday, December 20, 2010

The best bottles for homebrew

Its been a while since the last post. Finals have a way of doing that. I've been largely working on some new garb and some brewing.

My latest batch is a hefeweizen, and will be my third batch of beer. I'm pretty much out of mead, so after Christmas, I'll be working on some of that and probably some cider for Ymir (to be served hot).

Bottling homebrew is probably the most aggravating part because you have to acquire, wash, and sanitize like 50 beer bottles. If you want it to look good, you also have to remove the labels. Soaking the bottles in warm water and then scraping off the labels with a paring knife works pretty well, but I've come to realize that not all brands are created equal.

I have to say my favorite bottles are the Sierra Nevada bottles. They're short and stubby and I think its a pretty attractive profile, but they also don't even require any scraping. Soak them for a little and give them a twist with your hand and the label will come right off without any glue residue. The short Guinness bottles seem to do the same thing, but they have less of a lip at the mouth of the bottle which makes them more difficult to put caps on.

Sam Adams, Fat Tire, and Shock Top labels are pretty easy to remove, but they do require some scraping to really get the glue off. The lip is fine on these, but they unfortunately have corporate logos in the glass.

Duck Rabbit wasn't too bad and neither were Lancaster Brewing company. They took some targeted scraping, but were otherwise easy enough.

I had a few bottles from various microbrews in PA and NC and most of them were incredibly difficult to get the labels off of. This time around I have a few Great Lakes Brewing Co. bottles and by the end of my scraping, I've decided I really don't like them. Another brand had a foil type label that I've finally gotten reasonably scraped off this time around (after 3 tries).

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

This is really uncomfortable, do I have to stand like this?

So now that we've got you standing all funny like, you're probably asking yourself why you'd ever want to stand crouched down with your shoulder facing a guy thats coming after you with a sword.

The short answer is mobility. When you're defending yourself from someone coming after you with a sword, the best way to not get stabbed is to not be where they put their sword. You fight with your shoulder turned to your opponent so that you provide a smaller target, and you fight in a crouched position to allow your legs to act as springs so that you can move quickly and efficiently without losing your balance.

Basic Footwork:
I said this weird stance thing was all about movement, so today's article will introduce you to the most basic fencing movements, the advance and retreat. The goal with these movements is to move either towards or away from your opponent quickly, so you will want to make your steps small, really no larger than a single foot length. The advance and retreat are meant for the sort of small, quick, efficient movements that you want to perform when fighting.

When you are in your guard as described in the previous post, the advance is carried out by taking a small step (remember, no larger than your foot length) forward with your right foot followed quickly by an equally sized step forward with your left foot.

The retreat is pretty much the advance in reverse. You start with your left foot and take a small step back and then follow with your right foot.

At the conclusion of these movements, you should be in the same guard as you started in. Your body weight should be balanced either equally between your legs or slightly back. If you have done other martial arts, you may find this counter to what you have learned. (Many martial arts favor a forward weighted stance for power generation, but this is unnecessary for what we are doing and furthermore, a front-weighted stance makes your vital bits closer to your opponent's stabby bits.)

Drills:

Alone: 
When working alone, you will mainly be working on performing the action correctly and over time you can work to build speed. In an open space, perform a series of advances (maybe 3 or 4) followed by a series of retreats without pausing in between. Ultimately this drill keeps you in approximately the same place and can be performed in a fairly small space. When working on these movements, work on making your step size consistent, keeping your balance, and completing the movement in the same guard as you started. Over time, you can work on building speed so that you can perform these movements rapidly and in quick succession.

Follow the Leader Drill:
This drill is done with a partner and will apply for pretty much all of the fencing footwork. One partner is the leader while the other is the follower. Both fighters assume their guard at a distance from each other like they're about to fight (maybe 5 or 6 feet if not using a sword). The leader chooses footwork to perform and the follower mirrors them (leader advances -> follower retreats) in order to maintain the same distance between them as they started with. This adds a level of speed and unpredictability to the footwork as well as introduces you to the concept of maintaining a certain distance between yourself and your opponent.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The 5 minute run-down now in print

As I mentioned in the previous post, I had a request to put some of the information we throw at new fencers in a printed form so that it can be easily referenced outside of fencing practice. Today I'll be going over the basics that I go through with brand spanking new fencers. I usually start off with a brief explanation of the safety rules. I make sure to talk about saying "Hold!" for everyone's sakes. For a thorough listing of the rules, see your kingdom and society rules of the list. (Atlantia: http://rapier.atlantia.sca.org/rules.php)

Standing in Guard:
  • There are a variety of "stances" employed by various fencing masters in period as well as in the SCA, but to start off with, the most common stance is the same as that used in modern fencing.
  • I find that an easy way to find this stance is to stand facing your "opponent" with your feet together and your arms at your sides.
  • Assuming a right handed fencer, turn your left foot 90 degrees so that your feet make a sort of backwards "L" shape.
  • Take a step with your right foot only so that your feet are spread about 15 inches (1 and a half of your own foot lengths)
  • Allow your body to turn so that your right shoulder is pointed towards your opponent and your chest is facing to the left. 
  • Bend your knees. You should feel this in your quadriceps fairly quickly unless you do a bajillion and a half squats on a regular basis. 


Two important things to check:
  1. You should now be in a semi squatting position, but you need to be sure to keep your back straight and your torso upright. 
  2. Your right toe, knee, and shoulder should be in line with each other and pointing straight towards your opponent. 
All of the footwork is done from this position. It will take some getting used to. I wrote up a drill for this a few weeks ago that might be helpful. here (Drill #1)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A blog for learning how to fence?

One of our new fencers remarked to me that he wished there were a blog or online text about fencing that catered towards very new fencers learning how to fence.

I'm considering taking up his idea, but I'm not sure where to start. If you were to try to explain how to do historic/SCA fencing to a new fencer through the internet, how would you do it? Obviously this is no replacement for attending practices, getting feedback in person, etc, but I think his purposes were to help him remember what he is supposed to practice in between our weekly practices.

If I were to construct a syllabus, it would look something like this:

I. Standing in guard
II. Basic Footwork (advance, retreat, pass forward, pass back, lunge, left, right)
III. Properties of a rapier (how to hold it, true edge v false, forte v foible, mechanical advantage, parry positions)
IV. How to stab someone/how to not get stabbed/ calibration
V. Tempo
VI. Disengages, Feints, Invitations

The goal isn't so much to create a really good fighter so much as build a very general framework to start with.

What are your thoughts?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Some thoughts on tactics

The battles at War of the Wings were a lot of fun because the outcome depended largely on tactics rather than absolute skill or numbers.

Sacred Stone had a numerical advantage (about 35 vs 30), but I'd say Stierbach had the skill advantage as they were boasting half a dozen provosts, 2 or 3 free scholars, and a couple scholars with a lot of melee practice. In contrast, most of our army was people I'd never seen before, including half of the Windmasters unit. We had 3 provosts and 3 free scholars I think.

In my opinion, the choice of how to assign units played a large part in how the melees went. It seemed that Dante used his provosts and free scholars to form "elite" units, let Black Diamond's fencers form a unit together, and then simply divided the other fencers into units. In contrast, one of Sacred Stone's strengths was that we had baronial units that were assigned tasks. Nottinghill coill and Sacred Stone were sent to capture and hold flags, Windmasters initially was sent to get the BDO and was then used to reinforce as needed, and perhaps the most important note was that the provosts and free scholars were mixed with those units and took a very active role in commanding them.


This allowed our units to take a lot of opportunities that units of inexperienced fencers would have missed. Even when Giacomo, Sir Johann, and Alan slipped into our back-field, they fought us as individuals and we found it easy enough to occupy and then surround them with 6 fencers.


This brings me to an important consideration in forming units when you have inexperienced fencers present. There is a tendency to form "elite" units of experienced fencers while leaving inexperienced fencers to awkwardly form into units by themselves. However, this is undesirable for a variety of reasons.

The most straightforward reason is that it serves to make new fencers feel unwelcome at melees and if they spend the day feeling overwhelmed, they may not have much fun.



However, by assigning experienced unit commanders to units of new fencers, you can, for the most part, create a unit of moderate tactical usefulness. It is important to understand that melee is a very different game than dueling and individual fencing skill is less important than unit cohesion as the greatest individual fencers cannot withstand a unit of 5 that is working together appropriately. If a unit of new melee fighters can be controlled and guided during the fight, then they will be much more effective, giving you effectively a moderately effective unit of 5 instead of a unit of 4 beginners and 1 experienced fencer elsewhere on the field. 


If you instead leave new fencers on their own, you are sapping your own number, as they will not be as tactically useful as they could be in the melee. They will simply not see opportunities, they will not use their numerical advantage when they have it, and ultimately they can even serve to trick the warlord into a false sense of security (e.g. "Oh, that point should be covered, I just sent 5 guys up there...").


"Elite" units aren't inherently bad, but if they come at the tactical expense of the rest of a fighting force, then their usefulness needs to be considered. On Saturday in the woods, each death was worth a point, and while Dante's elite unit was troublesome, they were fairly easily nullfied by just keeping them busy. At the same time, the rest of Raph's army was busy being led by Mattheu, Letia, and Ulrich to take every opportunity they could, to push their numerical advantage, and ultimately managed to kill a lot of Dante's force while his "elite" unit was pinned down in the briars. 


As an additional example, Dante's force pushed hard at the beginning of the second woods battle led by his better fencers. Meanwhile we failed to take control over our less experienced units. However, after a few minutes this changed, and we managed to recapture the flags and take the BDO. 



Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Sunday Demo

Sunday we had a demo at NCSU and it went pretty well. We had 6 fencers there, Ros taught a dagger fighting class, and we ran a bit of a melee practice.

I fought case most of the day and I thought I was fighting pretty well. I still need to get used to using my second sword to attack. I'm currently using it largely for defense and clearing blades.

His Excellency requested a melee practice on Thursday and I suppose a bit of a primer might be useful before WoW this weekend. Eldred has made similar requests and Jlona would also probably be interested if she authorizes this weekend. Perhaps we can run some 2v2 runs and a 2v1 bear pit this week at practice.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

2 down, 4+ to go

Congratulations are in order for his excellency Girard for his authorization and victory in the tourney today at coronation.

Friday, October 1, 2010

A few youtube videos for your viewing pleasure

Last night at practice I promised Master Eldred a few youtube videos, particularly this one with a lesson on fencing with a buckler.

Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxCsoAFMNO0
Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hxgVcCbEO0M&feature=related

A lesson on gaining the blade & mechanical advantage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ij2D4NRXyH4&feature=related

Italian lunge: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EiA6kOZbIGg&feature=related

These are fairly basic lessons that I think are pretty good. There are a few videos of Tom Leoni I found while getting these links that I'll have to check out and write about in the future.

A project list

Well, it seems I've finally gotten past the post-Pennsic not working on projects phase.

My current project is my first landsknecht outfit. I've started on the shirt, and we'll see how the pleated collar goes. Its proven a bit more complicated than my previous shirts and I'm trying to decide whether to finish it with a neck band or a cable stitch. I suppose I'll get lots of practice with these because I've promised to help Jlona make her shirts/chemises and the Hungarian shirts seem to work the same way.

It will hopefully end up something like this: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_o78Nylu9i0Q/Su4LVbJr8dI/AAAAAAAAAKw/0SGwhlkdfZc/s1600-h/DSCF3051.jpg

My goal is to have my landsknecht kit ready for Ymir, as it will be one of the few events I might need/want to wear a bunch of felted wool. I'm partial to some of the outfits in this series of illustrations: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bibliodyssey/3247167359/in/set-72157613230877937/

If I get particularly ambitious, I might start working on an arming doublet as well this weekend. The inside of my arms got a little chewed up by the strap at heavy practice the other day.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A drill for all ages...

I mentioned in my last post that I was looking for some drills that will be useful for new fencers and that I can use to instruct them while also improving my own fencing. Mattheu and Connor lent me a few suggestions about ways to do this that basically boil down to working on the basics while also forcing myself to use perfect form, perform perfect attacks, and keep myself perfectly safe.

Purpose: The general idea is to learn to identify both your own and your opponent's openings. For more advanced fencers, really focus on using proper form, properly gaining and controlling your opponent's sword.

The concept: If we break down the lines, we basically have high, low; inside and out. At any given time, we can protect 2 or maybe 3 of these with our rapier and off-hand, but our guard necessitates leaving one line open.

If we understand this, then we can do a few things:
1.) Identify that opening in our own guard
2.) Be prepared to defend that opening
3.) Use that opening as an invitation

We can also use this knowledge to help identify our opponent's openings which will allow us to:
1.) Identify the openings in our opponents guard
2.) Use this information to direct our blows
3.) Use this information to understand how our opponent must parry
4.) Use this information to engage in useful feints
5.) Control the fight by controlling our opponent's defense

So, we want a drill that will teach new fencers points 1 and 2, while allowing more experienced fencers to work on 3, 4, and 5. This drill is performed with the understanding that if pairs are at different skill levels, the fencers will be playing completely different games.

Drill:

A pair of fencers take their guard against each other (in armor). The first fencer (A) identifies the opening in their guard, then enlarges it. The second fencer (B) uses that information to strike. While performing this attack, fencer B MUST be sure to gain the blade, close the line, and deliver a good lunge (or pass, etc). Fencer B gets only one attack and fencer A must properly defend and may deliver a blow if B leaves an opening.

After each attempt, fencers/instructors may provide feedback before switching roles.

Variations: change the guards around, add secondary weapons/parrying devices

Newer fencers will probably be focused on finding the hole, exploiting the hole while more experienced fencers can focus on creating an invitation, feints, and on using perfect form.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Armored, sharpened, and ready to go...

I managed to get most of my armor strapped up for practice last week, but I still have a few pieces left to go (helm included). I took a shot to the thumb last week and considering how much it still hurts, I think that fighting tomorrow night is probably a bad idea, so no heavy for me this week.

Last weekend was Midnight at the Oasis, and that went pretty well. I made it to the final round in the single elim tourney, but then lost to Ilaria. Due to the number of people in the bracket, it was a 3-way final, so we did something a bit different. After the match with Ilaria, she and I took on Connor together. We ended up losing 2-1 (it was best of 3), but it was a fun bout.

After the tourney, Letia fought her prize (congrats!)

Melee in the afternoon was a pretty cool scenario, but almost everybody was wiped out from the heat. We did a few runs before people really started dropping out, and so we ended a bit early.

I talked with Mattheu afterwards about some things to work on while doing slow work drills with new fencers. His advice boiled down to making sure I'm doing everything perfectly while I fight them. One of my main problems has been actually using appropriate footwork/staying in the guard I want while fighting, and so I have been working on making sure I do that while fighting newer fencers, but Mattheu suggested I do the same with attacks and parries. That is, that I should be sure to attack safely (i.e. from their blade), force openings.

I also got some suggestions on how to simplify teaching new fighters to attack from Connor. Basically, all guards cover some areas and leave others open. Fighters should be aware of where their own openings are as well as the openings of their opponent. Perhaps for this week I'll come up with a drill to make use of that.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Drills for New Fencers

We've had quite a few new fencers at practices these days. With the 40 for XL thing going on, their Excellencies, Master Nikulai, and Master Eldred have all picked up a rapier. On top of that, we've had a few other new fencers with Jason, Sean, and Jlona all coming out to practices as well. Last night we had 6 new fencers and 7 authorized fencers. Giovan started everyone off with some drills, while Wistric gave Sean the "first practice run-down" of how everything works.

After drills I did a few passes with Jason before moving on to work with Master Nikulai. He wanted me to write up a few drills to help with basic stance and footwork, so here they are:

Drill 1:

Purpose: to learn to assume guard in a single motion
Optional Equipment: rapier, dowel/stick
(instructions are for right handed fighter)

First stand upright with feet parallel and together. Turn your left foot 90 degrees so that your right toe is pointed forward and your left is pointed to the left.
Optional: place stick or dowel between the feet pointing forward. You can use this as a guide to keep your
feet in line and maintain separation.

Place your right hand (with or without sword) on your left side like you would if you were to be holding the sword while its in its scabbard.

Now, in a single motion, extend your arm as if drawing the sword, placing your hand in guard and step forward with your right foot to assume an appropriate fencing stance. Be sure to do this in a single motion and to make sure you are balanced immediately. You want to be settled into guard immediately without having to shift around.

Notes: Appropriate fencing stance

Right foot should be straight forward, left foot turned 90 degrees towards left. Feet should be approximately 1 1/2 foot lengths apart. Legs should be bent slightly and weight distributed roughly evenly between your legs.

Upper body should be upright as if your spine is being suspended from a string. You don't want to be leaning forward. The right shoulder should be towards the front with the chest turned in the direction of your left toe. Right arm should be out in guard as if holding the sword. Head should be facing front.



Drill 2:

Purpose: Practice advance, retreat, dissociate hand and foot movement
Optional Equipment: sword, dowel or stick to place between feet to keep them in line.

First assume your guard. Then, carry out the following movements:

Extend your arm, advance
Recover your arm, advance
Extend your arm, retreat
Recover your arm retreat
Repeat

Friday, September 10, 2010

40 for Pennsic XL

At Pennsic this year, I got a little drunk at the Baron's Beer Bash and came up with an awful idea. Next year is Pennsic 40, and so I thought it would be awesome to have 40 fencers from Windmaster's Hill. I proceeded to tell their excellencies this idea which ended up in the plan being 40 fencers, 40 heavy fighters, and 40 A&S exhibits for Pennsic XL. 40 for XL as it were.

Since this is all my fault, I'm going to be doing all three. Fencing has pretty much been my thing in the SCA, so I've got that one covered. While I do dabble in making things and have managed decent garb in this last year, I'm going to need to improve my sewing and brewing this year in order to make something I want to submit for an A&S exhibit next year. Perhaps that would be an opportunity to make the buckler I've been planning? As for heavy fighting, I already have most of the armor I need, and I've started showing up on Tuesdays to let his Excellency beat me with a stick for coming up with such a crazy idea.