This weekend I ventured up to Massachusetts to attend the PAL melee practice in Fall River. This was an all day practice, starting at 10am and wrapping up at 5pm. Trentus was gracious enough to put up both me and my travel buddy for the weekend, Gawain, for Friday night, so we were relatively fresh for practice the next morning.
We started out with some warm ups just to get the blood flowing. One of these was a single sword drill, where we had two lines facing each other, and opposing pairs would face off with single sword. Not looking for power, just for speed and agility. This was a great drill to start things off, and we did it with both hands which really warmed up the whole upper body. I did ok at this, but I’m aware that my single sword game is pretty weak. I just enjoyed the movement and tried not to hurt myself.
Our first melee drill was called the triad drill. This consisted of a box on the floor to contain those fighting, and two teams of three fighters. Two shields in front, one pole in back. When someone died, they call dead and yell for someone to fill in the vacancy. This was excellent, and super fun. It gave a good sense of being in a close line fighting, while also needing to be mindful and reactive when an opening happens so you can fill the gap quickly and not allow it to be exploited. I did my best to fill in quickly, but I did notice problems with my offense. My biggest was that I was only really focusing on the person in front of my, for the most part, when I should have attacked diagonally as previously instructed. This was also reiterated after by those running the practice. One thing I really took away from it, though, was the communication portion. Making people aware that the vacancy needed to be filled. That’s a habit I gotta develop further.
The next drill was a flanking drill. We split into two sides (there were over 30 fighters in attendance so the teams were a good size). Each side picked 5 fighters to be the flanking group, and each side had a captain who was the target of the drill. The goal was to kill the captain as many times as possible (he had infinite respawns). The catch? Only the flanking team could cross the center line of the field to pursue. I chose to be on the first flanking team, and it was an absolute blast. It reminded me of running with my sprint unit at Pennsic, since we did a bunch of flanking there. On this drill, I feel like I’m hesitating a split second going in, and it’s creating a small gap in our charge. Gotta work on just doing the Pavlov thing and going when someone says go with no thought or hesitation. As they say, “no mind”. When we switched flanking units, I got to work on the line, and that was great. I was able to work on protecting from spears and myself at the same time, which I certainly need work on.
The next drill we ran was a bridge battle. We did this two different ways. First was just a straight up single resurrection battle. Second, we split each side into multiple triads to work together. When triad members died, they couldn’t resurrect until their whole unit died and then they all rez at the same time. We did mass elimination and then holding the center line. For this, I did some things right, and some things wrong. I followed up pulses, stopped pulses, and worked the right side so I could swing my ape arms out and wrap the people across from me. The downside to that was a few times I put myself off balance and got pushed off the bridge. No bueno. Also, my triad elected me as their commander, however I had difficulty reading the situation and deciding what to do. Another problem I had, which is something that made the drill difficult for me, was keeping my triad together. We all tended to just fill in where we were needed, rather than addressing anything as an individual force. That goes on me as that unit’s voice, I should’ve been more vocal to bring them in and address something specific. I just kinda felt that while I have a vague idea what I personally can do, deploying multiple resources is something I don’t have a grasp on just yet. Communication was a big topic this day, as I wasn’t the only one not giving orders. I also had to work on letting the spears through the line towards the back when a pulse started coming. My reaction time certainly needs work, something I’m gonna try and address at future practices.
After all this awesome, we wrapped up with some pickups. I was able to add a chiv to my book, Master Dimitri. His advice to me was to vary my offense more, which I realized I was doing only after the fact. I was certainly less aggressive this practice in singles than my last trip to Nutley, don’t know if it was the exhaustion or what. I think perhaps it’s due to me having a better idea of how the Nutley guys fight, so I’m more comfortable being aggressive with them because I have a better idea what to expect. I also was able to fight my teammate Svalin, who I haven’t fought since the Pennsic Novice Tourney. He was awesome, and really has grown a lot since then. I was able to stay alive awhile, for the most part, but I’m certainly no match there. Still, it was a blast to fight him, and I learned afterward from some spectating fighters that I’m leaving my forearm too exposed when I’m in guard. Jojo mentioned this to me as well, and helped by showing me how I should hold my arm for a better guard. The way I was holding it also made it necessary for my to cock my arm before throwing a shot, so I was telegraphing way too much. I was lucky enough to have some passes with Jojo later on, and he also helped me with my shield placement so I could be more covered when in guard. It’s gonna take some getting used to, but I’ll be working on that the next few weeks to get it drilled into me. Finally, I was able to fight one of the guys who came down from Canada for practice. His style was more unique, as it consisted of a lot of fakes and redirection. This definitely kept me on my toes, and it was a great workout for my blocking. Don’t get me wrong, I eventually fell for it, but as the passes went on I was able to hold out longer and longer, which I was happy about.
Overall, this was one of the best, if not THE best, practices I’ve ever attended. I got a ton of great melee experience without a needed win or war point being on the line, and was able to ask loads of knowledgeable people questions about melee strategy. One example was when I approached Master Tiernan (sp) and asked about a pulse idea I had. I asked what the drawbacks would be if we were on the right edge and stacked two shields in front, and a column behind the inside shield. When the two front shield would hit the line, the column would sort of unroll like a carpet across the front of the enemy line. The downsides to this, apparently, are that it can interfere with friendly spears, and it telegraphs too much cuz execution would be slow. The better alternative he suggested was have one column of shields with poles in the back, and have them run a post against the enemy line. Once the first shield hit the line, he’d turn 90 degrees and sweep across, with his column in tow. Cool idea, can’t wait to try it. I also realized that while I can do without a demi in singles, I can’t do without it in a melee. To many random strikes and variables to avoid getting blasted, which I learned the hard way this weekend. Anyways, I’ll definitely be going back to this one in April, when the rest of my sprint unit will also be there. Should be good times. Only drawback to it was that after 7 or so hours of fighting, I was in rough shape for a 4 hour drive home. Not saying it wasn’t worth it, but that bit kinda sucked. Anyways, I got lots to work on for next time, and loads of knowledge I didn’t have before, so this was a big win for me. Good times!
For those who know me, they’re aware that I’m a bit mental. I have absolute shit self esteem, a horrible self image, extreme difficulty recognizing any of my accomplishments, impostor syndrome, etc. Although this sounds really awful, it’s actually weird inside my head. I’ll explain.
So, deep down, it’s not that I don’t realize I’ve done something good. I’m not blind or daft, I know a good thing when I see it. The problems I have are how I deal with such things in conversation. For example, if I played a gig with my band, and I performed really well, I’ll know it and feel proud of it. However, were someone to say as much to me, I’d thank them and be ‘meh’ about it. If they were to press, I’d nitpick the shit out of it and explain why it was a crap performance. If it was actually exceptional, I’d say it was pure luck, and I’m normally not that good. I’m shit at taking compliments, but deep down I’m actually able to see their perspective and agree on some level. I just can’t fully acknowledge it. This causes me to be of two minds about things and have weird swings, where I’ll be all “I’m total fucking garbage at this” one minute, and “I’m better than this performance” the next.
Much of this stems from shit that happened when I was growing up. Being told you’re shit at everything, being picked last all the time, being called stupid and ugly by literally everyone around you, it all adds up. The result, and the crux of it I think, is that I learned that my opinion on things relating to myself cannot be trusted, and the opinion of those around me is what matters. This changed when I got older, of course, but by that time I matched my opinions to that of the people in my youth, and thus became my worst enemy. Now, when someone compliments me, I feel that they must be wrong because I’m this monstrous, worthless piece of shit, as evidenced by years of people telling me so. I weigh new information on the scales of the past, and tend to not take any of the counterweights off. Let’s face it, all bullshit aside, I did some horrible things in my life, and acted horribly towards friends and family who didn’t deserve it. On some level, I feel undeserving of both friends and family, and on another level I want people to prove me wrong and argue that I AM worth caring about. Like I said, it’s messy in there.
This all adds to my anxiety and depression. I don’t dare believe that I’m actually worth a damn, since the second someone says anything to the contrary I’ll immediately fall back on old habits. After all, what’s a few years of good things said when put up against decades of bad. A simple, and crushing, example of this has to do with my looks. When I was a kid, other kids and some in my family would say that I looked like the character Rocky from the movie Mask. If you’ve never heard of it, google it. This has been said to me by various people over the course of my entire lifetime. The most recent was a coworker who said it, someone who has no connection to my past whatsoever. Now, regardless of what the amazing Lish has tried to beat into my head, I hear that and can’t help but think that this MUST have relevance, since so many unrelated people made the exact same comparison. When I look in the mirror, that’s what I see. Now, people could tell me the opposite until they were blue in the face, and maybe it’d have a slight effect after a few years, but the second I hear that comparison again it’ll all come crashing back down. It’s a vicious cycle of getting my hopes up, only to be reminded of what I truly am and where I belong.
I say all this because right now, my hopes are up a bit. This is a direct result of my burgeoning fighting career in the SCA. When I started out, I asked a local fighter who was helping me learn if I was where I should be, skill-wise, considering how long I’ve been in armor, or if I was beyond or behind that. I honestly felt like I was doing really well, and thought he might say on par or better. It was a stupid fishing trip where I was trying to find reasons to believe. He said I was behind, and it was kind of a kick in the guts. I don’t blame him for saying it, I asked for his honest opinion and he gave it. I kept at it, though, cuz I wanted the experiences of fighting at Pennsic and in a tourney. Since then, people have been nothing but encouraging. Even though I don’t feel like I’m getting it fast enough or consistently enough, people I respect are helping to keep me aloft. I’ve spoken with veteran fighters who have said flattering and encouraging things about not only my fighting, but my views and actions regarding the virtues of the fighting community, some going so far as to say that I’m way ahead of the game in that respect. Even so, repeating that publicly like this makes me feel like a right arrogant cunt, so full of myself because of what his friends say to him. Don’t get me wrong, my lizard brain tries to write a lot of this stuff off, as I’ve mentioned before. Thoughts like “oh they’re just saying that so I don’t lose heart”, or imagining them saying “he needs these little lies/embellishments every so often because he’s got shit self esteem”, or perhaps thinking that it’s being said so I stay in armor to fill the ranks.
The weird thing is, though, that some of the good talk is starting to stick. It’s growing roots, and it’s a feeling I can’t remember ever feeling before. I doubt everything good, by nature, and feel like it’s just a matter of time before people realize I’m not worth the time and just bail. But this is almost in defiance of that doubt. I wonder what will happen the next time someone tells me I’m garbage at this. I wonder how far down that blow will knock me. Will it be to the ground? To my knees? Will I just take it and still stand? Or can I hope to dodge or block the shot and come back swinging? I can’t say for sure, but the effect this community has had on me is really starting to take shape. An example would be the Unbelts Facebook group. I was made an admin of the group before the creator left (he got knighted, so no longer an unbelt), mainly cuz I’m online all day and was very active in the group. I had a short discussion with the other admins, who told me that as an admin of the group, people will likely see me as being in a leadership role of sorts, even though that’s not the case in real life. Upon hearing this, my first thought was “I don’t belong in that role, maybe that’s what they’re getting at. I’ll give them the out”. I asked whether they think there is someone else more suited to that position, since who the fuck am I to be in such a role. I said I didn’t want to overstep my bounds. Instead of taking me up on that, they responded by saying I’m not overstepping, and should anyone say something like “who the fuck does this guy think he is”, they’d respond with “that’s Fearghus, the admin, and he’s our dude”. I can’t begin to explain what that felt like. It’s weird being made to feel like I belong in such a community, truly belong. I’ve never really felt that. Even with my music, I’ve always felt like the community outsider. Not quite in, but not quite out, just sorta there and easily dismissed without any loss. Now I don’t just feel like I fit in, I feel like my presence is wanted and welcomed. Whether people actually feel that way, or if I’m just reading too far into it with a hopeful heart, who the fuck knows.
In truth, I’m not fishing with this post. I’m not looking for further affirmation, or confirmation of the hopes I have, mostly because I feel as though a response to a fishing expedition is not exactly credible, since it was requested. It holds less weight. Still, I have hopes that this will be something that helps me change. Something that gives me the helping hand up so I can finally get past this barrier I’ve stood behind for so long. My only fear with that is whether I will be even more of an arrogant ass were I to actually believe in myself. After all, the line between arrogance and self awareness is pretty thin, and tends to be elusive as fuck for me. I guess we’ll see with time.
Once more into the breach, dear friends. This rainy night I ventured again into the wilds of NJ for practice. I was originally gonna go with my local buddy Ulf, but he had to bail so he could study for this course he’s finishing up. Once again I offered to carpool with other local fighters, but nobody took me up on it. I still find that kinda weird. Who knows, maybe it’s just ME that they don’t wanna go with or be associated with. I may never know. Anyways, onto the practice.
Overall I feel like I had a really good practice. I started out discussing my demi gauntlet issues with Gawain, Arne, and another unbelt whose name I, of course, can’t remember. They pretty much all felt that, with the glove I use, I could forego the use of a demi and be ok. This would also free up my wrist movement for throwing shots. I decided to give it a try, and if I got hurt, then I’d just go back to using a demi. Well, the difference was night and fucking day. My transitions between shots were much easier, faster, and cleaner. My straight up shots had better speed and snap as well. Not that I legit won fights or anything, but it was a noticeable improvement. I also focused a lot more on my stance and aggression at random times to keep people guessing. Holding my guard tighter is getting more natural and easier, however someone pointed something out that I wasn’t aware of. When I was thinking about what shots to throw, especially when legged, I’d let me sword arm drift out a bit and open the slot. Once aware of this, I was able to catch it and stop myself, but this is something I’m really gonna have to focus on and correct. Another issue from the night is my calibration when hit in my forearm. My vambraces are very well padded, and after asking Arne he felt that some of the shots he landed there should’ve been good. Above all else for the night, this is the primary thing I need to focus on at my next practice. I don’t wanna be “that guy” who doesn’t take shots. On the other side of things, I was complimented on my defense, my aggression, and my shot choice. All in all, I left feeling great, and really felt like I inched forward a bit. The bits that were brought to my attention will go on the list of shit to be worked on, and I’ll do my best to get there without too many steps backwards along the way.
From an armor standpoint, adding the armored pad above my left knee and the tassets has made a HUGE difference! I no longer leave practice bruised up and injured, which is great!
This weekend I’ll be attending my first PAL melee practice in MA. I’ve heard great things about this practice, and I know I’ll learn a lot from it. I’m still mostly clueless in melee, and really just follow directions. Hopefully I’ll get a better idea of what’s actually happening. More to come.
Last night’s practice was in Wantagh, and it was just Dante, Caitlin, and I in attendance. Ya know those night when everything just works, and it’s almost as if you could do no wrong? Well, this was the opposite of that for me. I was amped up for practice, but once we starting doing passes I noticed that I just wasn’t on at all. I did ok on defense, but my offense was just a mess. I can’t blame it on Birka, as I’m not nursing any injuries from it. I just had one of those “off nights”.
The things I focused on were footwork and shield work, instead of offense. I was sure to keep my right leg back and not draw it forward, and made a conscious effort to hold me shield exactly where Sir Horic told me to. I did fair against Dante when he did his all-out assaults, though I’m still not good enough to escape those alive. Eventually, he finds his mark. I just felt…tired. I’m not sure if it’s my fitness level, my age, or what. It did make me remind myself of how limited my time is in this part of the game.
As I’ve mentioned before, I started way late, so my goals must be different than those of my compatriots. Most of my fellows seek the accolade of chivalry, and the only thing holding any of them back is dedication and time, I think. I’ve got one of those (dedication), but the other (time) is my actual opponent. I’m aware it’s sort of a faux pas to talk about the peerage being one’s focus, as if it’s an award to be won and not a position to be promoted to, but to say I’ve not thought and meditated on it would be a lie. The facts are, with an average of 13 years from amerigous award to peerage, I’d be in my 50’s at that point. I’d be at the end of my fighting career, most likely, which would also work against such a recommendation.
In a way, I’m a bit jealous of those who started much earlier, and I’m angry with myself for not getting into this sooner. I could have been doing this for years, had I sucked it up and given it a shot. The truth of the matter is that I didn’t want to try because I truly believed I’d be absolute garbage at it, and it’d be just one more cool thing that I can’t do well. My fear held me back, fear of failure and fear that I would be mocked behind closed doors for how shitty I was. I didn’t want that. Truth be told, I still have those fears. I didn’t realize that fighting would help me, though. Didn’t realize the fun I’d have, and the friendships I’d make. I have great friends who tell me kind and encouraging things, yet in my head these demons keep whispering that I’m not good enough, and that I never will be. They whisper that everyone who says good things about me is just trying to be nice, or perhaps just trying to keep me in to fill the ranks. I often feel like an outsider, like an impostor, like an interloper in a place where I don’t belong. With all these spiraling thoughts, one would think I’d just cut my losses and walk. Who would wanna be in a situation where they feel like that, right? Well, I have a skill I developed as I got older. It’s the “I don’t give a fuck” skill. See, I like fighting. When my head is in the game, the demons can shut the fuck up, cuz I’m busy and can’t talk right now. I love that feeling, it’s addicting, as is the generous praise of my fellows (regardless of whether my stupid lizard brain lets me dare to believe them or not). So, even if the demons are right, if I’m absolute trash and nobody cares, if I’m mocked behind closed doors, if I don’t belong, I’m not gonna let it stop me. I’m a stubborn old fuck, and I’ll do what I enjoy for as long as I can. If that means I never make it to OTC, or never get on the unbelts team, so be it. I’ll strive for excellence as hard as I can, while doing my best to squash the hope that I achieve my goals. I know that sounds kinda messed up, but I know myself well enough to know that keeping that hope alive opens me up way too much to a crushing disappointment I don’t want to deal with. Instead, for now, I’ll have my walls up and do my best to stave it off. After all, sometimes the best offense is a good defense.