Eighth Lesson: What “End”?

“Kiitos!” – thank you – rings through the salle after the final salute. And with that, it’s over. Phew. The end?

No, of course not! What “end”? It’s the end of the beginner’s course, yes, but it doesn’t really mean all that much. Most of us – including me – are going to continue attending the basic classes just as before.

While this might not be an end, it certainly is a beginning. We’ve officially left the baby pool and are moving on to the sea (though as beginners we’ll stay in shallow waters). But before rushing in there, it might be a good idea to glance back. What are the most important things I learned during this course? I’ve compiled a list of them below.

  1. WEEK ONE
    – Overcoming my fears. By the time it came to the first lesson of the beginner’s course, I had already been “intending to start medieval sword fighting” for above two years. Every time a beginner’s course was held something would come up that conveniently prevented me from going. That is, until the February 2012 beginner’s course.
    – “Everybody ends training healthier than they started it.” The one thing we really had to learn during the first lesson, and the one thing that we aspiring swords(wo)men may never forget. First drill? Fourth master of the dagger? Cutting drill? If you forget those you can just ask someone to show them to you and that’s that. But safety, both yours and of others, always has to be kept in mind.

  2. WEEK TWO
    Realising that failure doesn’t equal humiliation. Wow, it took me only two weeks to see and grapple this issue? I’m honestly surprised. That’s great. I only wish fixing it would’ve gone just as quickly. Right now, about seven months after writing that post, I feel like I have made little progress. But perhaps the very act of struggling with this issue, even when I’m not gaining any ground, is progress in a way. One thing at least is sure: attending the beginner’s course was worth it if only for this.
  3. WEEK THREE
    – “Blows create the guards” and the why of all those difficult medieval Italian terms that I keep throwing around. Understanding that a cleaving blow is not going from position A to B to C but rather that position A comes from a certain moment of a cleaving blow is quite essential to getting sword fighting right. It turns the exercises from complex combinations of different concepts into natural and coherent entities.
  4. WEEK FOUR
    – Always put intent behind your attack. This sounds obvious, but it’s surprisingly easy to just swing a sword instead of swinging a sword at someone. In a controlled training environment where no one gets hurt and you can usually anticipate how the other will react to your attack, it’s sometimes difficult to keep in mind that your goal is to hit the other person. It’s critical that you do: without that all exercises become meaningless and you rob both yourself and your pair of a chance to practice.
  5. WEEK FIVE
    – Technique trumps strength. As far as I know I’m the youngest and slightest person attending the sword school. (I might be wrong, but I’d be surprised.) This means that unarmed pair exercises and dagger drills are tough for me. This week we were doing takedowns – combinations of dagger exercises and the falling exercise. And I did pretty well.
  6. WEEK SIX
    – Fixing my back problems – in theory. My back pains first emerged during the fifth week, but I only gathered enough courage the following lesson to ask for help. I got plenty of it. It feels good to know why something hurts – the pain is less scary when you’ve got an explanation for it. I only wish I wasn’t so unbearably lazy and forgetful about the exercises: I’m still struggling to make them part of my daily routine.
  7. WEEK SEVEN
    – The no-posts week. This was the first time we had a real theme for a lesson. Instead of learning new exercises we focused on approaching old ones from a new perspective. I think the most important thing learned here was pushing through a lesson despite being confused and disoriented by it. The approach we studied – guiding the force put into you by the opponent’s attack to the ground and so keeping your balance – was also very important, but since I haven’t really learnt it yet, I can’t list it here.
  8. WEEK EIGHT
    – I really don’t want to quit sword fighting. You might say that this was obvious, and that I knew this since before the eighth week. You would be right. However, this is when it really became clear to me. The end of the beginner’s course is a perfectly acceptable moment to say “well, this was fun, but I think I’m done”. Seeing as how I never went more than once a week to training and did even that with some reluctance at times, someone observing from the outside might’ve fully expected me to stop here. But I didn’t. I might’ve seriously slacked when it came to going to training since the end of this course, but I didn’t quit.

As for how my training has gone after the end of this course: unfortunately you haven’t missed much. Although I set out to go at least once a week, school, repeated cases of illness and then the summer vacation have kept me from really make a habit of it. I’ve learned some interesting things (I’m looking forward to sharing them here), but overall I don’t feel much less of a beginner than I did at the end of the course. My goal now is to start attending at least once but preferably twice a week.

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