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“I should report that which I say I saw…”

September 20, 2009
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(written on and off over the last month; the Summer Sling workshop was held August 13th and 14th)

My class schedule for the two days I attended:

Friday
1 – In the Manner Of… with Ricki Ravitts
2 – Selling and Hiding Violence with Robert Westley
3 – Red Nose with Robert Westley
4 – Intro to Ground Fighting with Chuck Coyl

Saturday:
1 – Intro to Rapier and Dagger with Ricki Ravitts
2 – Knife: Multiple Attackers with Ray Rodriguez
3 – Intro to Smallsword with Michael Chin
4 – Period Dance with Ricki Ravitts

In the Manner Of… was a real romp, partially because of the things Ricki was having us try, like playing a wounded arm or extreme exhaustion, but also because my partner and I hit it off and were having a good time. I also nearly stabbed someone, so I got that painful embarrassment out of the way early, and Ricki made me drag my rusty and many-holed rapier vocabulary out of the cupboard. Coupé…disengage…and I actually figured out “demi-volte” purely on etymology. Also, omigodomigod, Ricki Ravitts! I’ve been reading about her since I was in high school! She is pretty awesome. So energetic. (And the only female teacher at the Sling.)

I loved Selling and Hiding Violence; it might have been re-titled “Selling Violence by Not Freaking Out About Hiding It.” Robert’s point was that audiences are quicker to catch onto awkward blocking than they are to spot a knap. A knap is a relatively small, quick movement of the hand or hands, done at a time where everyone is looking at the arcing fist, the flying foot, or the victim’s face. Robert demos this by having his TA punch him a few times, and every time, my eyes are drawn to his face even when I know his hands are somewhere at his waist level, clapping away. Robert also points out that contact strikes are under-used. We can hit ourselves many times harder than we naturally want to hit another person, but if we work it carefully and target well, a nice, safe contact strike can be used to obviate the problem of hiding violence in the first place. Robert is also very Zen about the whole art: movement comes from the center, from the hips, while the fists float, relaxed. I like it.

During morning warm-ups, each instructor described the classes he was teaching later, and when “Red Nose” proved to be clowning and stage combat, I thought to myself, “sounds scary.” A second later, “Shit. Now I have to do it.” The least scary part of the class was the little fight we did at the beginning; I picked up a new technique for crotch kicks. The one I did with Thom Delventhal was the “aim for the inner thigh” method. Robert doesn’t like that one so much because the inner thigh is actually a complex and sensitive area, as well as that method having the potential to torque the knee on the kicked leg. Instead, we practice a kick that goes straight through our partners’ legs, our toes tapping them on the butt. When you do it right, there’s a telltale jiggly feeling that is very conducive to clowning. When the fight is looking good, we practice it in a clown-y fashion, exploring motives and reactions. Robert says that the clown is never angry or vengeful, only curious and innocent. We move from the fight to an improv exercise, where we go up in pairs and just…interact with the space as clowns. I was touched by the respect he has for the nose, “the world’s smallest mask,” which we don’t just put on and take off – we “release into” it and “come out of” it. Apt phrasing; I find it an incredible release to be impulsive and childlike for even those short minutes in a controlled environment.

Chuck Coyl’s ground fighting class was, no pun intended, delightfully rough and tumble. Chuck was funny as hell, too — “Why would you do that? Why make it hard on yourself? I’m an old man with bad knees. I’m not going to do this the hard way.” We covered some ways of getting to the mat and some things to do once you’re there, but mostly I think of the class as a partnering exercise. Some people gave and took very light cues, and that’s my instinct, but some people wanted a little more force — and why not? We were working on mats, all theoretically intermediate fighters. Calum Douglas Reid, an instructor who dropped in just for fun, wouldn’t budge unless I actually took him off balance — no mean trick, but very rewarding when I did! And everyone, no matter the level of force they wanted, assumed that that was the right way. Something to ponder.

End of day one. Go home. Take preventative Aleve. Sleep.

Wake up and slither out of bed, cursing all stage combat instructors. Limp back to the studio.

Intro to Rapier and Dagger was fun, though there was less new material than I’d hoped. I know for next year — oh, yes, there will be a next year! — not to take beginner classes unless I’m a total raw beginner, as in smallsword, below. Um, plus the other students tend to be raw beginners as well. Some frustration. But hey, had a sword in my hand, so all was good! I do look forward to taking a full SPT class in rapier and dagger.

The knife class was fun, and a last-minute addition to the schedule. I was glad to be able to take something with Ray Rodriguez, since he knows Frank from my old renfaire and I missed his classes up there. This was more of a choreography class than a knife-specific skills class, but so much fun! There were techniques, of course; the angle on a knee to the face, a shared knap on the back of my shoulder, continuing to get comfortable with contact strikes. I kept having to defend myself against two attackers; at one point, when we were showing what we’d worked on, we got to the point where I’d cut open Attacker 1’s hand, just before Attacker 2 throws me down and knees me in the face. Attacker 1, reacting to the cut, staggered back against the wall…right into the light switch. Of course my reaction was to fall over laughing! The TA, Galway, was filming everyone, so we watched the replay — the slice, the reaction, the darkness! — and when the lights come on, yes, there I am on the floor. Cackling.

Michael Chin’s beginning smallsword class was a great mix of technique and choreography; he would talk us through some techniques and have us practice, stop us, explain another technique, tack it onto the end of the fight we were already doing, and set us loose on each other again. I would love to take a full SAFD cert class with him! And smallsword intrigues me. It would be great to see two masters go at it… By the end of class, I felt my concentration (and my sword arm!) going the way of all good things. I had been signed up for…I don’t remember…but after class I nipped back to the sign-up sheets and re-assigned myself to Period Dance to keep me from hurting myself, or anyone else.

Oh my god, Period Dance. Originally, I wasn’t going to take it because I knew I could go English country dancing any Tuesday, while stage combat workshops are a rarer beast. The more fool I! There were 10 of us, all people I’d encountered over the course of the weekend: Ricki was teaching, Calum dropped in again, as did the organizer, Tink, there were several students I’d shared classes with, and Nate DeCoux was assisting (“Nathan, can you work this iPod thing?”) Somehow, knowing everyone a little bit made it so much fun. It was hard enough that we messed up and laughed about it, easy enough that we did get the hang of everything and had a few enjoyable rounds of each dance. Jane Austen references and silly posing abounded. A wonderful way to end the weekend.

Eleven months until the next Sling!

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