I’ve been practicing falling today. It’s beginning to look less like an unenthusiastic attempt at the exercise, and more like a bug trying to get off its back. Still having problems with some bones hitting the floor pretty hard, as well as with getting up, but I think (or hope) that I’m slowly making progress.
Awaiting tomorrow’s lesson with both excitement and dread. What if we have the falling exercise in pairs, or something as bad? Actually, the thought of any exercise in pairs makes me a bit nervous, as I tend to think of failures as humiliations. PE classes coupled with bad self-confidence can do that to you. I know that my fears are completely baseless (there’s no way anybody on the course would laugh at someone’s struggles), but it’s difficult to get out of this mindset.
I returned from my first class on medieval swordsmanship alive, happy and totally overwhelmed. My head was bursting at the seams, overflowing with information. Let’s get right down to it. What did my first lesson include?
The answer: enough things for them to be way too much for a single post.
After practicing the steps, positions and dagger attacks, as well as falling and the principles of balance, we are asked to gather around the sword rack.
There’s one problem with sword racks: they’re pretty small. This means that when 20 students are asked to fetch their swords, suddenly those 20 people all rush to a very small area. A high density of people + swords = not the best of ideas. This is why the teacher shows us how to remove a sword from the wall. His instructions can be summed up in two words: point down.
It takes a while until everybody has a sword in their hand (in practice only one person can take a sword at a time), but eventually we’re all standing in a line again. It’s time to learn the salute, Aragorn-style.
There’s no real historical record of a salute, but it’s part of the school’s culture. At the beginning and end of each lesson the teacher and the students greet each other by performing a salute. In the salute the sword’s cross-guard is about eye-level, as pictured to the left.
After all, the main point is not to fall, right? Well, yes, that’s true. In a real fight falling would equal death. Thankfully we’re not really in the Middle Ages, so that’s not the case, but we will be floored in more advanced exercises. Because of that, it’s important to learn how to land safely and how to get up.
That’s easier said than done, of course. The teacher’s assistant is thrown down a few times to show us that learning this is possible, but I’m still doubtful. Landing safely from a standing position? Eek. Can’t we at least do this on a soft surface?
No. Falling in real life is not going to happen on a comfortably padded surface, so there’s little point in us learning how to fall on anything but concrete. This makes sense, but it does nothing to cheer me up.
There’s something with Fiore and the number 4. Don’t believe me? Take a look at what we learned during our first swordsmanship lesson.
Four Basic Steps
Once we finish the warm-up our teacher tells us to get in line. Take a step forward, he says. Now take one backward. Pass forward. Back. Pass. Pass. Back.
Fiore calls these steps “passare” and “tomare“. Sounds cooler than “pass forward” and “step back”, right? Good, because we’ll be using the Italian terms instead of English ones. After a few more passares and tomares two new words appear: “accressere” and “dicressere“. When doing the accressere you step forward without changing which foot is in front, so it’s a smaller step than passare. The same is true for discressere, it’s a small step backwards.
The entire school is actually one hall, which includes the training area, a nook for coats and changing rooms, and a kitchen. Racks holding swords and daggers line the room. An icon hangs on one wall and below it there’s a leather-bound book on a stand. A suit of armour made by my father hangs in a corner.
Even though I arrive about 30 minutes early, there are already a lot of people waiting for the class to start, all dressed in white shirts and black trousers. Once I’ve changed, I spend my time copying what everybody else is doing: standing and staring at the concrete floor.
As more people continue to trickle inside from the biting cold, I distract myself from my growing fears by listening in on a discussion. I catch a valuable piece of information: the teacher’s clock runs five minutes fast, making sure that those who arrive last-minute are always late. Won’t be making that mistake.
I’ve never been much of an athlete. None of my hobbies require me to stand up from my desk. I absolutely hate PE class. The words “I have training today” have never, ever crossed my lips. But tomorrow I’m going sword fighting.