Last Thursday’s practice was pretty small, just me Dante and Sabrina. I worked mainly with the targe, and since Dante was rockin’ the greatsword all night I ended up taking a beating. I was trying to roll my arm down more to intercept, but it was clunky at best. I have up leg and hip a bunch of times until I switched back to right handed with my heater. All in all, a good learning experience.
Last night I worked with Will and Zack mostly, but also fought with Conrad and Andrew. I fought the first half of the night lefty with the targe, then switched to righty with my heater later on. With Will, we worked mostly on intercepts and approaches with the targe, especially when my opponent throws an offside leg shot. The idea is to step into the path of his shot with my shield and close, then either fire or tie up his sword. We worked on that a bit, as well as just general shot mechanics and pell work training for later. I’ll have to snag a full length mirror to help with it, and will need to do pell work every day to beat this into my head. I then fought Conrad for a bit lefty, and did better than I have in the past, so I take that as a win. Slowly but surely, I’m starting to catch on. With Zack, I fought righty and also worked a bit on approaches. He showed me a bunch of footwork, as well as how to counter some moves people would try on me. At the end of the night, I fought Andrew for a bit, and we went about even. I need to watch out for thrusts more, which is a weakness of mine. I’m gonna have to figure out how to counter thrusts at some point, or I’m gonna get torn apart if actual battles and tourneys.
On the injury front, the pain in my hand has almost completely subsided now, and while I may have some muscle spasms after practice, I haven’t had much discomfort during practices. I think splitting duty between left and right helps, so I’m able to train and learn without putting all the stress on that right hand. Also, once I make new swords I’ll have much more rounded handles which should help to reduce the issue quite a bit, if my hypothesis is correct. I did get a bit of tennis elbow, and some shoulder pain, the past few weeks. I believe this is due to two things. First, holding a shield on that side, which I’m not at all used to. Second, I had an instance a few weeks ago where I went to throw a shot, but my basket was caught and stopped part way into the shot. Problem was, my arm continued the motion, and it jacked up my arm and hurt. It’s been getting better, and didn’t bother me much last night at all, but the demo I did two weekends ago and the practice last week was rough.
Finally, I’m happy to announce that due to a really sweet side job I did over the winter, I finally had some money for armor. I ordered up a pair of Bokalo’s Cat’s ass gauntlets in aluminum, a set of HDPE hidden legs from Valkyrie Forge, a set of hidden arms from a guy on FB, an ABS molded plastic chest and back piece from another guy on FB, and an aluminum riveted aventail from Nicol. I get the arms and legs this week, the gauntlets next week, and the rest at EK 50th. I’m super excited about having armor I’m not fighting against so my attention can be completely on trying not to get slapped around like Larry Fine. More to come, nyuk nyuk nyuk….
Oh yeah, one last thing. For future reference, try to avoid deflecting leg shots from a greatsword downward. Take a great weapon blow on the calf, well, blows…
Last night I hit up the Wantagh practice again. Earl Horic came down again and worked with us, which was awesome! This was my first time fighting with my newly created targe, and I was anxious to see what it’d be like. I picked up a 24″ round shield blank of HDPE plastic online, and strapped it and installed a basket handle for the time being. I’ll eventually remove the basket and install a leather strapped handle, but as I don’t have gauntlets yet I’d rather not have my hand blasted with just padded gloves on.
Practice was good, but tough. I started out lefty as usual, and worked with the targe. It’s a FAR more active shield, much like a center grip, and due to its small size and lack of angles, take a ton more work to use. Sir Horic worked with me on it, and gave me the basics of fighting with that shield. It’s something I really need to work on at home, while I’m doing pell work. I’ll also need to start some upper body strength training if I’m gonna use this thing, or another like it. My shots with my left are still pretty poor. I feel awkward throwing most of them, and it’s rare that they land with enough force to be counted as good.
After working with my left for awhile, I switched to fighting righty. I began with the targe, and it was still very difficult. My reaction times have always been slow, and this shield just shines a bright light on that. I later switched to my heater and felt a bit more comfortable, though nowhere near what I was a few months back. I’m much more hesitant to throw wraps, for fear that my hand will flare up again. On that note, I may have come across some useful information. I keep getting this blister at the base of my pinky, and I’m pretty sure it’s due to my sword handle’s shape. I wonder if the shape of my handles has something to do with the pain in my hand. This would explain why it comes and goes, since I was going through a sword or two a month, and each handle is a little different. I’m gonna try a more rounded design and see how that goes.
Finally, I ended off the night fighting two stick. I enjoy the challenge of this, and since people fighting me are toning themselves down I’m not getting destroyed yet. I’m sure once I return to Nutley that this will change, but for now I’m getting a lay of the land. It’s weird trying to wrap my head around how to properly use them together, and just like with the targe, it requires me to be much more aggressive. By nature, I’ve always been a very defensive fighter, so it’s pretty far out of my comfort zone to be very aggressive. Still, I’m sure it’ll be a good skill to have in this game. I’m not sure if I’m spreading myself too thin here with the different forms as well as fighting lefty, but at the moment it’s just a lot of fun at practice to switch things up. It just means I’ll have to work much harder at home to get myself back up to speed. I gotta say, the amount I’ve stepped back in terms of skill really gets to me. Don’t get my wrong, it’s not like I was Silver Tyger material or anything, but I was definitely noticeably better a few months back than I am now. This burns the fire under my ass red hot. I refuse to be useless and shitty at the upcoming events, and drag down my teams as a dead weight. I WILL make this shit work, one way or another.
So I hit up both local practices last week, and I’m happy to say that my hand held up ok. I mostly fought lefty at the Monday practice, and was lucky enough to fight Sir Cael before he left to move back out west. He worked with me doing sword and shield, and helped me learn how to block and throw better in this guard. We also went over my foot placement to better generate power for my non-dominant hand. Something else that came up, which has come up before, is dictating the fight. I was more on the defensive, as I was when I started, because I’m not really confident throwing shots with my left. I can barely throw an onside killing blow, and my offside is just garbage when actually in guard. My combo flow is also really rough, and my wraps are non-existent. Still, it was a good practice for that, and I worked on some defense with Danx while using two-stick.
Thursday’s practice was similar in terms of progress. I don’t feel noticeably more comfortable with my left or when fighting two stick. I’m also not using thrusting tips, which probably makes this a bit harder, but I don’t wanna rely too much on that with my left and not learn to throw good shots. I fought Dante, Sabrina, Conrad, and a newer guy I didn’t know. I eventually did fight right-handed for a bit, and was ok, but I’m noticeably hesitant and have taken a very obvious step backwards. I’m hoping to gain some of that ground back before war this summer, and at least be back to where I was before Balfar’s.
Going forward, I plan on attending EK 50th, GNEW, and the EK Novice Day tourney. Hopefully this year I’m able to go a little farther than I did last year at the novice tourney, since this is the last year I can do it. After that, I’ll probably still go and marshal and/or do pick-ups. I dig that they do that event, gives noobs a taste of the pageantry and such.
As for my hand, I had the MRI and my ortho said he didn’t see anything abnormal in it, so he recommended I go to a specialist. I’m reaching out to a few to see who takes my insurance, and hopefully they can figure it out.
The past month has been sort of a roller coaster of emotions for me. I did have some amazing times in Europe for two weeks, one of those with the amazing Lish. I also was dealing with the issue with my hand the entire time. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like it’s unusable or anything, it’s just that I had to wear a brace for a month and occasionally I’d move it the wrong way and get a twinge of pain. I tried not to think of how long this would go on, tried not to think about how it didn’t seem to be getting much better, and tried to just let it heal. I eventually took off the brace when the doctor told me, ran for my sword, and took some shots on the pell. Low and behold, the pain started to return after just a few shots. This hit me like a gut punch. Instead of maybe being back out there like normal, as if nothing ever happened, I was prevented from taking that step forward.
Lots of things ran through my head as I mulled this over. I knew that my orthopedist was gonna tell me I needed an MRI to see the extent and type of damage done, and at my appointment yesterday he said exactly that. Once the approval is in, I need to get the scan done and go from there. I also considered what this would mean for my fighting career. I’m right handed, and I’m a sword and shield fighter. It’s all I know, and for the currently foreseeable future I can’t do it. While I wallowed in my bullshit stew, I reached out to a few other fighters to give them an update on what was happening. I ended up talking to one for quite some time, and when she saw where my head was she proceeded to hit me with “the chair leg of truth”. She told me “Your self pity is a crutch for your fear of failure.”, and she was right, on that and what else was deeper than that. I was feeling bad for myself, and my fear of failure grabbed onto that as the excuse for why I couldn’t do it. I was so focused on not being able to do it the way I wanted, that I lost sight of the reality that I could still do it in other ways. I had already set the ball rolling to train to become a marshal, but after that conversation I decided to just train myself in different ways and get back out there. It’s a powerful thing, feeling like someone you’re not close with believes in you, and thinks you can do it. That conversation was just what I needed to clear my head of all the whiny bitch bullshit.
Part of me even considered briefly not mentioning any of this. I could keep my self loathing, self pity, thoughts of walking away, and the deep sense of defeat a secret. I could tell people I just decided to give it a go, and play it cool, like I was some pillar of inspiration, dedication, and discipline. But that isn’t what happened. I wish I had the strength to do it on my own, but I needed help. Why am I saying all this? Because if you’re reading this, you might be in the same boat someday, and you need to know that it’s not only totally normal to feel this way and need help, but that it’s OK to admit it. I haven’t really hidden much of my mistakes from people, out of shame, ego, or pride, but there have definitely been times. In recent years, I’ve made more of a point to suck it up and admit my weaknesses and mistakes. This was one of those. I jumped on the self pity train, and was looking for my seat so I could ride it out. I’m glad I never found it, and jumped off the train.
How did I jump off? Well, I started doing pell work with my left hand. I’m learning how to throw shots with it, and to hold proper guard lefty. Then, last night, I went to practice and fought. I mainly fought lefty sword and shield, using a center grip for my right hand. This was also the first time I’ve used a center grip, so it was quite a learning experience. I was mostly focusing on getting my stance right and blocking shots. I threw a few shots, but they were weak, clumsy, and awkward. I did manage to land a few properly and cleanly, but I just don’t have the power yet. I did fight a round or two righty, just to try it out, but kept it light and didn’t push. Later on, the center grip shield I was using broke under a flurry of greatsword blows. I then decided to try fighting two sword the rest of the night. This was WAY out of my wheelhouse. From what I was told by the others in attendance, two sword requires aggression and not a defensive style. I’m a very defensive fighter by nature, so this was extremely unsteady ground for me. I had a couple of fairly decent blocks I managed, but for the most part I got torn up. Still, regardless of how low my skill level was at what I was doing, I had a blast, and was grinning like an idiot the whole time. It was as if a big tightness in my chest was finally able to ease, and I felt much more comfortable being able to get in armor and fight again, even though I’m not anywhere near where I was before. In essence, I’m basically starting over fresh. It’s like being a brand new fighter again, and having to learn from the ground up. Throwing shots, shield movement, footwork, etc.
I also ordered up some gauntlets, and when those come in I’m gonna try polearm and greatsword to see if one of those fits me better and doesn’t cause discomfort. I know weapons depth is a thing people strive for, but that’s not really what I’m moving towards so much. I’m looking for one that I can do comfortably and that doesn’t hurt my hand. This way, should my righty sword and shield days be over, I’ll have another way to get out there. I’m not giving this up. It means far too much to me, a sentiment I didn’t fully realize until last night when I was back in armor. I will push, I will fight, and I will ride this ride as long as I possibly can. I owe it to myself. I will prove to my inner demons that I AM worth a damn, and that I CAN do this.
If you’ve been following my fighting posts, you’re aware that I keep running into issues with my sword hand. I was resting it leading up to the last melee practice in early April, and that day it started hurting again. It actually bothered me all week after that, leading into Balfar’s challenge.
I started the day with some pick-ups, and the pain kicked in right away. I was able to deal with it for most of the day, but by the end of the day it was pretty nasty. As such, I was only able to participate in one of the melees against the chivalry, and wasn’t able to do any pick-ups afterwards. It hurt the following days as well, so I finally went to my PCP. She ordered an x-ray, and told me that I needed to see an orthopedist. She also told me that the ortho was very likely going to tell me that I need to stop doing what I’m doing. I got the x-rays and made the appointment with the ortho for the following day. This left me to ponder the very real possibility that this incredible ride I’ve been on was about to end.
I was pretty fucked up that night. The idea that this could all be over because of this hit me way harder than I was thought it would. When it all comes down to it, a very large part of why I fight is because it focuses on honor, respect, chivalry, all concepts I hold very close. There is so much about being a fighter in this game that holds great meaning for me, not the least of which the camaraderie and brotherhood found amongst fighters. If I were to be permanently sidelined, that would be it. I’m not even sure I could be a marshal, but I’m clarifying that and will edit this post when I have more informations. I also wouldn’t be able to teach newer fighters, since I haven’t been doing so long enough and I wouldn’t be able to throw a solid shot as an example. More to the point, though, it would speak to my insecurities, mainly my impostor syndrome. I always personally feel this need to prove that I belong on that field, that I deserve to be there, that I’ve earned my place on the battlefield. It’s not that anyone has made me feel otherwise, it’s all me and my stupid lizard brain. Being sidelined would be affirming those fears in my head. It would say to me “You see? You really DIDN’T belong out there, and this is just further proof.”. I thought there was a chance I’d found my place in the society, and that place might be taken away.
I saw the ortho the next day, and I brought a sword to show him exactly what I’m doing. I explained it as thoroughly as possible, and was surprised when he commented on how neat he thought the whole thing was, rather than giving me sideways looks like other doctors. He examined my x-rays and said they were clean. No fractures, no breaks. He checked my hand out, and for the time being he decided that the issue is that of a repetitive injury. He gave me a splint to wear, day and night, for the next 3 weeks. After that, I need to go see him again and re-evaluate it. I can’t fight during this time. Once I have my re-check, he’ll determine if it’s likely all healed, or if I need to go for an MRI to see what might be the problem. So, it’s sort of good news, but I won’t know for sure until the end of May. Still, I HATE taking time off from practice. I feel like it’s a huge setback, and in reality it pretty much is. I have to claw for every inch in my climb towards competence at the art, and slipping just a little can push me way back. Still, if there’s a chance that I can keep doing this, I’ll do whatever it takes.
Now to address two final bits. I spoke with the Lish about this whole thing, and she mentioned what she’s heard from people in roller derby (for those who don’t know, she’s a badass roller derby chick!). Sometimes people run into injuries that will always be there, and will always give them problems. There’s a choice to be made, and that is whether to quit due to injury, or suffer through it for the sport you love, even if it fucks you up worse in the long run. If this is something like that, I honestly can’t see myself quitting. At this stage, this means too much to me to be able to give it up without one helluva fight. The other bit is the elephant in the room, and while it’s a sort of faux pas to talking about it like this, I feel it needs to be said (and I don’t really give a fuck). The goal of this path in the society is the white belt/baldric of chivalry. From the get go, I knew such a goal would be an incredible long shot, considering my skill and my age. Regardless, I could still daydream about attaining that level someday, and being worthy of such a position. If this becomes an ongoing issue for me, or if it kills my fighting career altogether, then it becomes the final nail in the coffin of that dream. I feel like the death of that dream would be easier to deal with if it was a slow death over time, and not the gunshot that this would be. Perhaps it’s better this way, best not to dream and get hopes too high. After all, not all paths lead there, and who am I to say that mine SHOULD reach that point. I guess time will tell.
This weekend past I got to participate in Balfar’s Challenge, an awesome melee tourney up in CT. The gist of the tourney is this: Everybody starts in triads, or teams of 3 fighters. All teams will have a name, our was Jocelyn’s Hedgehogs, as we had the honor of fighting for Baroness Jocelyn. The first round is 3v3, and the winning team absorbs the losing team. The new team fights under the name of the winners. The next round is 6v6, and so on, until there are either 2 or 3 teams at the end in a big melee.
My team was comprised of newer fighters. We had me, fighting for just under a year, Conri who’s been fighting just over a year, and Rodrigue who’s been fighting 2-3 years I think. For our first round, we decided to come up with a strategy, and somehow I ended up being in charge. Still unsure how that happened, but I did my best to just run with it. I put Rodrigue on the left, me on the right, and Conri in the middle just behind us. I did this because Rodrigue is a left handed sword and shield guy, and I’m a righty, so I figured having our shields in the middle would protect us from any shots thrown diagonally, and would prevent all of us from trying to throw shots in the same area. Conri also suggested that we throw leg shots so he could tag people when they dropped their shield. All of this sounded great in theory, and shit the bed when it all got going. The other team split up, two of them rushing me and their knight going to flank. Rodrigue got legged by Sir Zippy, but took him out on his way to his knees. I got taken out by the other two, who finished off Rodrigue, but got taken out by Conri. We absorbed that team and went on to round 2.
While preparing for round 2, I asked Sir Zippy what our strategy should be going in. His reply was that it was my team, so I should decide. Once again, I just winged it. I paired everyone off, and one pair was set to split if we needed two triads instead. The idea was to read the incoming team and be ready to split off to match their tactics. I can’t say whether any of that became relevant, because the leader of the opposing team literally ran me over during the initial rush. Sigur, their team leader, rammed into me and bowled me over. I went ass over teakettle, and he fell past me. I scrambled to my feet, and squared up on him. As we were about to engage, I saw 3 of his teammates bearing down on me behind him as well, but he didn’t see them yet so I rush him. I was able to take him out before I got buried under a rain of death blows. We lost the battle, and were absorbed into team Aim Low. We kept winning as team Aim Low until just before the end. In the finals there were three teams, so we did a round robin. Our team ended up third, as we lost both of our battles.
Personally, while I had a lot of fun being out there, I didn’t do well as far as prowess or tactics. I started out with my hand still bothering me quite a bit, and the pain got worse after just the first few pickups I did to warm up. After that, I participated in some unbelt drills and melees, which were being done to choose the unbelt team at pennsic. Don’t get me wrong here, I’ve ZERO delusions about that whole thing, but the more practice the better. Just after the tourney, I was able to do some pick ups, one of which was Sir Anoniii. Had some great passes with him, and learned some more about fighting against glaive. No less than 4 people came up to me after it with advice, which was awesome! After that, there was an unbelts vs chiv challenge. I went in the second wave, but tweaked my back when I fell and someone fell on top of me at a weird angle. At this point, I was totally done. Truth be told, I should’ve called it quits much earlier, since my hand was so messed up I could barely throw shots, but I didn’t want to miss out on this since it’s the last time I can fight at an event until the end of June, due to lots of stuff happening in my personal life.
I geared down after that battle, changed clothes, and ate. After that, I sat and watched the pick ups. I had major FOMO at this point, since all I really wanted to do was put my shit back on and go out there and fight some more. My body, however, had other plans. Even now, my hand is still messed up, and I’m going to the doctor this week to have it looked at. Still, I had a blast hanging out with the friends I’ve made along the way, and making new friends as well. I drove up with a local fighter, Conrad, who is mainly an Acre guy but fights SCA as well. This was his first time at this event, and he had a blast. Him coming with me also made the trip much better, as we chatted in the car the whole time. I got to fight alongside my buddy Conri, who did really well despite not being in armor for months and just getting over being sick.
All in all, it was a great event, and I had a blast. I knew I was going in at way less than 100% due to my hand, but just being able to participate and hang/fight with friends and brothers/sisters kept the shitty thoughts and feelings at bay. Hopefully the doctor doesn’t give me terrible news, and I can get back out there soon. My next event will be EK 50th anniversary, so here’s hoping I’m back to 100% by then!
Once more I ventured up North to Massachusetts for melee practice. Turnout was great, there was definitely well over 20 people there. We started out with warm up exercises and then did the single sword drill, starting with our off hand. Of course, I ended up getting nailed on my left forearm because my vambrace shifted, and my arm killed the rest of the day due to the weight of my shield pushing on that area. Once that was done, we started the other drills. I was also fighting against nasty stomach problems all day, and had to step out once because the pain was a bit too much.
One drill was called a 5 and 2 drill. You enter a circle against another fighter and can’t leave. One can throw 5 shots, the other only 2, at any time. Then you switch. It was great for making me think more about combos and really choosing my shots with deliberation, since I had such a limited supply.
Another drill had triads consisting of two fighters with only swords, and the third with only a small buckler. Buckler was in the middle, and couldn’t be killed, but the swordsmen could. This one was good and bad. It was good for the shieldman trying to protect the swords, but since he was invincible they weren’t trying to hit him at all, just those across from them. Afterwards, it was discussed and some tweaks will be made to make it more useful.
Next up was the triad drill we ran last time I was there. Two triads face off against each other, two sword and shield people, one on either side, and a pole/spear in the middle. When someone gets killed, they exit and another steps in to take their place. This is a great drill, and really focuses on filling those gaps when there’s a need. In future, we’ll have to organize a bit better so there are actually lines for either form, instead of just a free-for-all.
We did a really awesome drill where we split into 3 teams. Two teams clashed in a melee, and a hold was called. Then one team stepped off and the third got to rush without the remaining team being able to reset. I really liked this one, though I had to walk off after the first run as my stomach was killing me. This drill focused on reforming and changing plans on the fly, definitely something applicable to the melees I’ve been in.
After these drills, we did some pickups and broke for lunch. I fought some pickups, and finally got to work with Sir Zippy, who helped me better understand my shield movement and working towards openings.
After lunch, we mainly focused on two sided melees. They set up obstacles, which was great as a woods battle simulation. I took a nasty shot to my left calf, and another to the back of my right thigh. I had to step out for a minute or two after each of those so I’d be able to walk again, but I was fine after that. This was a great drill. Lots of on the fly decision making, lots of thought about angles and such, plus there were combat archers to worry about! So much fun!
After all of these, we broke for the day, did our pros and cons for the day, and then went into pick-ups and such. I had some great pick-ups with people, and pushed until I had to stop and pack up. Overall it was a great practice, and I’m about as ready for melee as I can be at the moment. I’m looking forward to Balfars this weekend, I plan on jumping in during the unbelt drills and such there. This is all stuff for people who want to make the unbelt team at pennsic at some point. I know I have no place on that team this year, but I could always use the extra practice and will likely learn quite a bit from it. More to come…