Prowess, Character, Community
Mind, Body, Spirit
Fundamentals, Fitness, Character
Fast and slow, Light and Heavy, contraction and expansion
Our juniors, our seniors, and ourselves.
Our heritage, other ways, and innovation
We want to recognize achievements of our students at the same time that we emphasize humility and character.
A good fighter is not necessarily a good teacher or a person of character. The qualities of good character does not necessarily mean that a person can fight well or lead well. A good leader or teacher may not be the greatest fighter or even the most impeccable though being a good leader depends on both of the other virtues.
We can recognize Prowess, Character, and Leadership separately. We can celebrate people who exemplify each of these qualities and we can especially recognize people who possess all three qualities. Every once in a while a superlative human being comes along. They are the Paladins, Warrior Monks, True Knights. We can all benefit from their presence. They are worth lauding. They are simultaneously people who have prowess, character, and who give back. They are shining examples to the rest of us.
Experience is worth recognizing and honoring. Age is worth honouring as well. We do not want to instigate false heirarchies that recognize only whether a person jumps through a hoop.
The sages say "Everyone has three lives: their own, their juniors and their seniors." This suggests a natural heirarchy where we look in three directions. We look back and remember what it was like to be a beginner and we can respect people for the effort that we know it can take to jump into something new and to persist when others are ahead of you. We know that we need beginners. We can look ahead of ourselves and respect the people who have gone before us, for setting an example and for sharing what they know. We can look within ourselves to see ourselves clearly. By doing so we can acknowledge the things that we need to work on and also how we have grown.
Ostentacious humility is not the same as true humility. To see yourself clearly is not to focus on your faults alone.
Levels of development
We recognize that people undergo level changes over their lives and we want to recognize this within our group. These changes are manifested in the physical, in the thoughts, and in the spirit. (Mind, Body, Spirit). You can describe level changes in many ways. Below is the scheme that I was taught, borrowed from my Asian teachers, derived from several spiritual sources, and modified to work in HEMA.
You start out as a beginner:
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the experts mind there are few."
To be a beginner means that you have lept into something new. It means that you are willing to grow and to learn. You are new, embryonic and full of potential.
Making a Commitment: The Student
You have found your legs, made a commitment, and you have begun your journey but you have not yet arrived. There are many paths to travel and its obvious when you are no longer just a beginner. We can also tell when you are approaching the first level change. In between the beginner and the first level change is the Scholar.
The First Level: Mastering the Basics
This level is about Physical Awareness. You are able to demonstrate mastery of the basics of a weapon set. You are aware of the Fundamentals and you have committed to understanding these as well. You are capable of independent study and growth. We look for a strong connection to the ground, an understanding of timing and distancing, and eyes that look strongly at the opponent. At ths point you are capable of independent study and you can begin to teach. We call the First Level the Free Scholar
The Second Level: Fearlessness
You focus on sparring at this level and you are filled with zealous energy and Instinctive Reaction. You are sure of yourself and you are capable of reckless abandon as you "throw yourself onto their spear" in an effort to defeat your opponent. You are dangerous. We look for competency in free sparring at this level. When you attain the Second Level you have become a Fighter.
The Third Level: Self Control
You have faced something larger than you and lost. Although shaken to your very core, you do not lose your resolve. Instead, armed with even greater self awareness, humilty, tenacity, and discipline you learn self control and you develop an Awareness of Intuition. This allows you to find other ways. We look for subtlety in swordplay, manifested by a mastery of close play, of stance, locks, and escapes. You are more than just a fighter at this point. We recognise the Third Level by calling you a Knight.
The Fourth Level: Community
Your sensitivity and humility expands as you face yourself strictly. Sometimes this level has been likened to "Near Enlightenment". You are onto something bigger than yourself but you are not quite ready to give yourself completely over to it. Instead you choose to give back. You see yourself reflected in others. As a result your awareness extends outward to the community and you become a fountainhead. We look for a mastery of powerful throws and takedowns at this level. At this point you care for more than just yourself. That makes you a Champion.
The Fifth Level: Spirituality
You begin to realize how vast the martial world is and how little you actually know. When this realization becomes profound you step into the realm of spirituality. This is the very beginning of a deeper Enlightenment and is characterized by the threshold of a door. Standing on the threshold you look outwards and what do you see? At this level you become a Paladin.
These levels are not just a made up way to rank people in a martial arts class. They are levels that people go through in life. When you practice martial arts change that you undergo get manifested in your training. This is cool. We want to recognize such level changes as well as the feats, quests, and vigils that our members achieve. The level changes above are deep and meaningful. How do you measure or grade such things?
The answer is that a leader can only give their opinion. Length of time practiced, quality and performance in daily practice, and performance during a test of prowess all give evidence of level. Its tricky to do this for several reasons. If recognizing level changes ever gets in the way of human growth or for that matter practice, then it is no longer useful and it ought to be dropped.
Feats, Quests, Vigils
Feats are tasks that require tenacity and discipline to fulfill.... Doing 10,000 swordstrokes at one practice would be a feat.
Quests have a specific open ended objective...To understand timing and distancing from George Silver's perspective or to develop an impeccable attack would be quests.
A vigil is often done alone and is about facing yourself. Just like in the old days, go find a quite place and delve into who you are. Face fears, face yourself, polish your spirit, face mental blocks...these are all good topics for a vigil. Meditation is a vigil.
When you decide to do a feat, quest, or vigil this is how it works:
1. Choose what you are going to do from the lists below or propose a unique task.
2. Announce that you are doing this to the group , together with a time frame.
3. Go do it.
4. You are on your honour to report the outcome to the instructor.
5. Each feat and quest will earn recognition.
Feats of Prowess
Most of these feats will require you to train up to accomplishing them. Thats means you will have to set aside time to train yourself to do them. Some of the feats are easier than others. If it is something already attainable then its not a feat. The honour comes from building discipline, developing tenacity and the will to do something that you have not done or something that presently feels out of reach.
What is challenging to one person may be easy for someone else. This does not matter. What matters is what you do when you are confronted with something that you think you cannot do or do not want to do because it is hard or boring. How do you respond? Once you decide to act, do you face your fears and mental blocks and persist until you succeed or do you falter? No matter how fit you are, its that challenge of will that occurs when you have reacherd your own personal line that matters.
A feat is normally thought of as something astounding and exemplary. When we decide to face ourselves, the prossive steps along the way to accomplish a Feat are just as worthy of recognition.
Stand in a low wrestling stance for 1 minute longer each night for one month. Take Saturdays off but add 2 minutes on Sunday to make up for it. Work up to an hour a day.
Pummelling bear pit for time Each week for one month do pummelling with your fellow students for
100 air squats progressing to 1000 air squats
Feat: Stand in a horse stance for one and a half hours.
Do L-sits for as long as you can until you can hold one for 3 minutes
Front Squat as an ongoing exercise for a specified length of time
Back Squat as an ongoing exercise for a specified length of time
Military press as an ongoing exercise for a specified length of time
Overhead squat as an ongoing exercise for a specified length of time
Feat: Dead lift double your body weight
Jumping Pullup Progressions
3 sets of 10 jumping pullups each for time for
50 jumping pullups for time
100 jumping pullups for time
10 then 20 then 30 strict pullups for time
Kipping Pullups progressions
Learn to do kipping pullups
3 sets of 10 kipping pullups for time
Maximum kipping pullups in a row
Feat: 100 Kipping pullups at the same time
10 progressing to 50 jumping dips on a bar
3 sets of 10 bar dips
10 jumping ring dips progressing to 50 jumping ring dips
Become able to do 30 ring dips in a row
Feat: 100 ring dips at the same time
Learn to do pushups using a strict and biomechanically correct form
Do 3 sets of 10 pushups adjusting the difficulty such that the last set is hard to accomplish
Do 100 pushups
Feat: Do 500 pushups in a row
Feat: D 100 pushups, 100 situps, 100 dips, 100 pullups. Time this.
Handstand pushups progression
Do a headstand for time
Do a handstand for time
Learn to do a handstand pushup
Feat: Do 20 handstand pushups
Anaerobic endurance, quickness and power
5 50 m sprints
10 50 m sprints
5 100m sprints
10 repetitions of 100 meter sprints
Learn to do the clean and jerk for power
Learn to do power cleans for power
Feat: 100 Burpees
Run 1 km
Run 5 km
Run 10 km
Run 10 miles
Ride a bike for 1 hour 3 times per week for an entire summer
Progress so that you can row on a rowing machine for an hour
row for 20 minutes. Every 400 meters sprint for 100 meters.
Feats for any weapon type
1000 earnest strokes
Perform each of the basics 1000 at a time
Perform each block and counter 1000 at a time
Feat: do 10,000 sword strokes
Feats of wrestling
100 giant strides
1000 giant strides
Feat: Face 100 opponents in pummelling for one minute each
Feat: Compete in one or several Tournaments.
Be very serious when you decide to embark on a quest. These things have the weight of an oath. If you say you are going to do something in this manner, then you need to do it. Your word has to mean something. Quests test your discipline and your word.
Quests can also mark open ended journeys. For example, you might want to know what it is like to practice the martial arts for your entire life. This is a quest.
Quests taken seriously can alter your life. Can you ever break a quest once it is given? I don't know. Don't make them lightly.
In my Asian martial arts training we were required to do a specific kata (form) 5000 times. We were also told to do this all on our own and to make the form our own. This had the weight of a quest.
Perhaps something llike these?
Decide to become a swordfighter
Try to understand mind, body, and spirit as it relates to practice and to life.
Pick a technique or some aspect of practice and resolve to truly master it.
Become a master of a specific historical approach.
Decide to study widely. Learn from all approaches...The quest is to discover first hand, the fundamentals that transcend style.
As you build prowess you often have to learn to stop thinking so much. We live in a world of intellectualization often at the expense of action. Doing so when facing an opponent destroys awareness and results in befuddlement right at the time when you need to be clear.
Often what inhibits our actions comes from within. We have to look at whatever is going on inside ourselves in order to be uninhibited and fast.
The purpose of a vigil is to do just this. During a vigil and really all through our development as human beings we have to learn to face ourselves, to see ourselves clearly. When we face ourselves, we look at the things that keep us from truly living and excelling...our mental blocks. We remove our mental blocks first by acknowledging them and then by facing the fears that drive them. As you face your fears over and over you will build your ability to move forward when you need to despite the fears. The fears effects on you will diminish. This is called polishing your spirit.
Ultimately, the process of facing yourself is very personal and unique to the individual. In the meantime, here are some ideas to get your started...
Some things to try to get started
Meditate on this (Its not supposed to be a guilt trip...really!):
1. List the people, places, and things who have helped and supported you.
2. List the people, places, and things that you have caused trouble for.
3. List the people, places, and things who you have helped and supported.
At this very moment, what are you afraid of? Feel the fear. Usually the feeling of fear is located somewhere in your body. For example you might feel it in the middle of your back. Allow your mentality to move to that place. Completely own the fear. Allow yourself to feel it deeply. Breath in and admit that it exists. As you breath out, let some of the fear melt away. Keep doing this until something inside you shifts and you can look at the fear calmly. Keep doing this until you are clear.
This sort of mental preparation can happen prior to a difficult challenge, trial, or ordeal. In the past knights would hold vigils prior to battles or when they had to make difficult choices. Consider using a vigil process in the same way.
Community and Leadership
It is a mark of character to give back. Its not to your seniors that you generally give back to. Rather its to the people that are your juniors. You can give back by being a good example, by being kind, by helping in small ways, by arriving on time, and offering assistance to help the group directly. You can also teach.
A good fighter does not necessarily make a good teacher. It is not a foregone conclusion that you will want to teach as your prowess rises. Everyone will eventually feel gratitude for what they have gained and its even a manifestation of the 4th level that you will give back. But not everyone is a leader or a teacher.
In Europe, to be a teacher was not necessarily a function of heirarchy or rank. The teachers were not always those with the greatest prowess though they had to be good at what they did. They were hired or sometimes appointed because they knew what they were doing but also because they were good teachers. Some teachers became renowned for their expertise and understanding. Often the Master of Arms fulfilled a role for the Noble in supplying training for the young and for the people who would rally to defence. At some point, Salles or schools popped up that were similar to the dojo of the East. These schools did have some form of instruction and recognition was given for accomplishments.
Here at Swordfighters, Leadership and teaching is just one way to give back. Our heirarchy exists but its looser than in other martial programs. We like the idea that we are all comrades working together, building our own unique form of prowess but grounded in common fundamentals. We understand that some are further along a path than others and that we have responsibilities to respect the line of senior, ourselves and juniors. We give deference to those who are teachers because we know that the teachers need courage to take that responsibility on. We appreciate the students because they are willing to be open in order to learn.
If you wish to teach, let your instructor know.