Ok, I admit it. I just liked the title’s sound.
My wife Sarah and I are on vacation in Greece. Vacation, for us, means beaches and sun… and research. I write about Greece, and I was just fortunate enough to land a new historical fiction contract with Orion to write a pair of books about the Hellenistic Achaean hero, Philipoemen, who is probably the greatest soldier of whom you’ve never heard.
But that’s another story. This blog is mostly about the study of martial arts, and my personal favorite master, Fiore di Liberi. And about my all–too—usual rant, about practice.
I’m on vacation, and I’m practicing. There is a place, just up the hill from me, where you are standing in what was almost certainly the agora of ancient Mythymna, a city now utterly destroyed, but once great enough to be a member of the Ionian revolt, to have hoplites and warships, and dancers and potters and all the other marks of Aetolian civilization.
And I thought that I’d amuse you with the ‘how’s of practicing on vacation.
First, I need sword. In this case, my sword came from Mark Vickers of Saint George’s Armoury in the UK. He shipped it to my hotel. (The best hotel in the world; The Sea Horse of Molyvos!) I’ll re-sell his excellent sword to one of our Hoplologia students when I get home; that way I didn’t have to ship it to Greece AND I don’t have to pay exhorbitant shipping rates to get it home; it’ll travel as baggage.
The sword is excellent, by the way. Superb, even.
Second, I need a place to practice. Now, this may suprise you, but I feel about sword practice almost exactly the way my friends who are fanatics about Yoga feel; that is, I would like my sword-practice spot to be beautiful. (I would wager almost anything that Japanese has a word for ‘sword practice spot’). Aesthetics matter, and so do safety, privacy, and space. I don’t mind uneven grond’ I like to practice moving on uneven ground. Gym floors and dance studios don’t teach you what the grass and mud in the lists will be like.
Third, I need time. Time not just to execute some practice, but to enjoy it. OK– this is easy; I’m on vacation. But I still like morning; the earlier the better. You may choose other options. And to be fair, last night there were Greek friends and ouzo and tsipouro…
(So I side note on travel… there was a pretty big earthquake two days ago, centered about 40KM from here. We’re all fine; 150 houese fell, but the electricity and wifi are a little wonky, so the photo that should have been here, with a private beach under a 14th century castle ruin… wil have to wait a week. I can’t get it to load. And, also, a woman lost her life in the earthquake. It’s not trivial.)
I digress. The practice itself has two stages; forms, which Japanese martial arts call ‘kata’, and which I suspect were always an important type of practice, not least because in the pre-modern world there were very fe ‘blunts’ and most swordspeople only had a sharp; and cutting.
Cutting? With a blunt?
You might be surpised, if you haven’t tried it, how well you can cut with a blunt sword. I admit that you will not want to cut tatami mats or railroad ties, but cutting at fennel stalks and thistles and various other standing dead vegetation in the Greek countryside can help with accuracy and speed of cut, and it’s fun. A dried thistle head, cut exactly, will explode in avery satisfactory display; a fennel stalk will show the power and consistency of your cut.
(Again, there was a nice photo to be seen here, but I can’t load it. Apologies)
I find that because of the sun, the time I have on vacation, the aesthetics of the place, and maybe even the quality of the sword, I practice longer and harder than I do in my daily routine at home. I detect flaws; I have the accuity to concentrate on foot work errors and precision of delivery of cuts…
The Torneo del Cigno Bianco in Verona is just a year away. I’m definetely not getting younger, so I’ll have to work on getting better.
One more thing, while we’re on Fiore; my friend and teacher Greg Mele and his Freelance Academy Press are crowdfunding an authoriatative text of Fiore di Liberi’s most accessible manuscript. You need a copy to study this art. You can find the crowdsource here, and help us get this published. Thanks!
Back to vacation.. And research… tomorrow I’ll talk about travel and research. And walking and sailing. And new castles…
STEPHEN CALLAHAN says
Since Christian G. Cameron has your attention, we need a few more people to fill up our Pen & Sword trip to Greece this fall with Christian and an excellent group of people.
Sam Davis says
Fascinating study on practicing sword-craft! Thank you for sharing.