Thursday, June 07, 2012


Very last day in Israel, Tal brought me to meet Alex and Noah of ACT.  I spent the next few hours playing with Alex.  It was a blast.  And I learned a lot.  The guys at ACT have done something impressive.  I don’t know exactly how (it feels like probably fiberglass rods, flexed and bonded with padding) but they have made training weapons very close to real hand-and-a-half swords, katana, bolo machetes, and knives.  They match the real dimensions, even flex like the real thing.  Maybe a bit light, but Alex assures me they are the exact weight as well…

And safe to go full contact with.  You’ll get some bruises and you definitely need eye protection, but you can go at it as hard as you are willing.  And Alex is good.  He’s been doing this long enough that his ranging is superb, he doesn’t telegraph, and he finds most people, including me, predictable.

I found some of my own blind spots and training artifacts.  That’s why they’re called blindspots—you can’t see them.  Not until they get pointed out.
Years of playing with a boken (I don’t like shinai—too long, too straight, too light-- shinai just feel wrong) has left a habit.  Not only do I pull a little bit, but I slow down about the last third of my strike so I can stop without serious injury.  People who I usually play with don’t notice it ( I didn’t notice it, it wasn’t conscious).  Alex did, and he exploited it ruthlessly.  And it gave him a fraction of a second’s edge.  When the situation was a multiple attack (rarely a combination but more often an attack missed but it loads the muscles for a natural second attack without wasting time) the small pieces of time compounded, and all to the advantage of the guy who played with the most realistically.
Said it before, but making things safe screws up more than your commitment.  It also screws up your distancing and timing.

It’s not real, of course.  No pain or screaming or blood.  And that makes anything you can do in play suspect.  Real sharp thing mean real blood and real fear.  Any safe or toy weapon does not show what you can do, but only what you might be able to do in a world where you are fearless.  Going in on a training knife is to going in on a knife as walking a length of 2x4 on the ground is to walking the same length suspended between 15 storey buildings.
Not the same.  Even if the physical skills are the same, the events are profoundly different.
And Alex had some questions.  What ends a fight with a blade?  He can’t imagine being stabbed and simply not knowing it… but it’s common.  So do you stop the match at a good chest thrust?  Alex reasoned that if the hands are hit, the pain is so intense… but I’ve seen threats continue, completely oblivious, with shattered hands.  Lawrence shared a story in “Campfire Tales” of one of his threats who punched a metal rail so hard that it shattered the bones in the hand so that they were sticking out, and he just kept punching.  No idea he was injured until well after he was cuffed.
For good or ill, the adrenaline in training will never quite be the same as in real life and there is a possibility that any guess will be profoundly, catastrophically wrong.
Great time playing with great people.
A good last day in a beautiful country.
Forty hours on a few naps later found me in Slovenia.  Beautiful.  Lakes, mountains.  Great people (Andraz and Lara and Lucas) and great conversation.  And I ate horse.
Then sleep.  Now, sitting on the deck overlooking the Adriatic. Early morning. I’ll post this when I can.


Maija said...

Super cool! Sounds like someone I need to play with :-)

Charles James said...

Wow, totally awesome post.

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

Those weapons are great. Alex and Noah came and trained with me one of the first times they came to the UK. Good people and good skills.
Yes playing with Alex showed up some gaps in my distance and timing, though I got some hits in on him, so I wasn't too unhappy. The weapons are certainly another useful tool in the tool box

Anonymous said...

I ve talked to Noah online a lot and seen his videos. He has a lot of good points and methods. I am quite jealous.
- Ben C.

The Strongest Karate said...

"...anything in play [is] suspect".

Another great one I'm going to steal.

Rob Lyman said...

I think it's funny how a tweed jacket with suede elbow patches is the symbol of the effete academic. It's a hunting jacket, the 19th/early 20th century equivalent of my Mossy Oak Gore-Tex gear (tweed for camouflage, leather to reinforce a weak point that might rest on the ground or something rough).

How did that turn into something that balding professors of Greek literature wear?