Two weeks ago I was up in Brattleboro, VT competing in the 2nd Traditional Chinese Sword League tournament. Before I continue, I have to thank our hosts and all the people that help make the tournament work. Sensei Donahue and his school, the Brattleboro School of Budo, were wonderful hosts. The traditional nature of the school along with the diligence of their practice makes the school a special place.
This year, I prepared in a fairly different manner from last year. I believe the training paid off. As with last year, there was a round of pool matches to determine the seeding for the final tournament. As with last year, I won the pool matches, earning me a bye in the first round. Unlike last year, I did not get knocked on it in the semis. I faced a tough opponent who beat me in the pool round. Beating him, I faced my classmate Greg in the finals.
I truly enjoy my matches with Greg, or as he is known around the school, Mugen. For our pool match, I fought him left-handed with the thought that as we face each other so often, I’d come out and show him something different. That worked and work well. Our match was fairly short. For the finals, I got greedy and fought him using my left hand. I went to the well too many times, trying the same attack that works so well in the pool matches. He clocked right across the eyes after a few exchanges; he won outright.
Compared to last year, I am far happier with my performance. My focus in my matches was much tighter. As my teacher commented, he would ask my opponent if they were ready and they would respond. One glance at me and he knew I was ready to go – no need to ask. Overall my stepping and waist movement was better than last year. More importantly I know what I have to work on this year and I have much better sense of how to do it.
It has been a year since William Nicholson has passed away. The head judge of the first tournament, pillar of the Great River Taoist Center, and most importantly loving family, we all miss William “The Black Death” Nicholson. I have a feeling he would have really enjoyed the matches this year and I know he’d be there to help me train to take on Mugen next year.
I suppose there’s a certain point in training. Or said differently, I think I have a point I reach when training. Distracted. Sore. But physically as ready as I am going to be.
I’m at that point with a few days before this latest Chinese swordsmanship tournament.
Could I in better shape? Yes.
Do I wish that my foot and shoulder weren’t tweaked? Yes.
Could I practice more? Yes… but I fear with diminishing returns.
Muscle memory accounts for a lot. You’ve got to train the basics into the bones, by passing the brain. Deflections, counter-cuts, basic cuts, stepping – all of it has to be trained into the bones so that you can execute anything and any time.
Until this sort of training isn’t done unquestioningly then you can fight practice match after practice match and not get a bit better. You’ll be stuck thinking about what to do as supposed to doing it.
But, at a certain point, that training ceases to return the same kind of gains as it once did.
And that’s when the training gets much much harder. It becomes all mental.
I’ve been playing my opponents in my head now for a few days. Thinking about what they like to do and considering what my response will be. Thinking about what people who I’ve never faced will likely do and what my responses would be.
This may seems easy, but it is exhausting. Exhausting and crucial. For me, now, this is the most important part of my training. And I’m not sure if I am training well. Guess I’ll have to wait until Saturday to see how things go.
I practice taijiquan (tai chi chuan) and have for some years now. I had always been interested in Taoism and (incorrectly) believed that there was a connection between Taoism and taiji. Coming out of university, with a Taoism class fueling my interests, I found myself at the Great River Taoist Center here in DC. And at GRTC I learn that taiji was a true martial art and not some New Age crystal infused pajama festival. The first few classes kicked my ass, and I was hooked.
My teacher, Scott Rodell, is an internationally renowned swordsman and focused on revitalizing the sword practice. This includes not only the Yang family sword forms but also actual cutting and fighting. I’ve been practicing these sword forms for a few years now.
And with that practice has brought pay off, or at least the opportunity to test my stuff out against other practitioners in a judged competition. In two weeks, I’ll be headed out to Bozeman to compete at the Traditional Chinese Sword League’s first full-contact competition. Needless to say juggling my day job, which rarely stays contained to just daylight hours, and the regular tasks and diversions that fill up time, I have found it harder than I expected to properly train for this competition. I can swing a stick with the best of them, but knowing some of the competitors, especially the bruisers coming from the Great River branch in Estonia, I am concerned. The fact that the rules allows for full contact at full speed isn’t so worrisome. It’s more the case that I really really don’t want to get eliminated in the first round. Guess we’ll see how it goes.
If you happen to be in the greater Bozeman, MT area on May 10th, come to the Emerson Cultural Center and watch the fun.