Sword Camp 2008: Live Steel Day, Day Six

Live Steel Day arrived, and we spent the first half of the morning attacking a couch.

This is a much less trivial exercise than it sounds. Couches are tough, full of padding and wood and springs and more difficult to cut than flesh. We had a tablefull of weapons — machetes, a parang, a couple of swords, a tire iron, a crowbar, miscellaneous stabbing and slicing knives, and a couple of axes. The objective: destroy. It was hard work, even for eight sword students who knew a lot about exerting force with a weapon.

Then we sliced fruit — a couple of pineapples, a couple of coconuts, a watermelon, and a couple of canteloupes. This was more an aim-and-precision exercise than anything else. We ate some of the remains afterwards.

Lynda-the-instructor had people toss chunks of pineapple at her so she could chop them up in midair with a machete. I made this work too; none of the other students were up for trying.

Then the really interesting thing: a class in blade-catching. In this technique, you wait until a sword stroke at you passes the line of engagement into the opponent’s followthrough, then grab it in a particular way and take control of the blade. I had a lot of trouble getting the “particular way” until I realized that, in hand-to-hand language, it’s a palm block to the flat of the blade followed by curling your fingers over the trailing edge. (You do not want your fingers over the leading edge; that way, you lose fingers)

Yes, we actually practiced this with live steel, at half-speed. Nobody lost fingers. Once you have the basic technique down, there are lots of ways to build on it, including at least three distinct ways to turn the move into a disarm.

After lunch, thrown-weapons class. This gave us the opportunity to learn to throw lots of different things ranging from your basic lump of rock through various sorts of shuriken and throwing knives (including batarangs…yes, like the Batman movies) to a couple of different kinds of throwing axes and the bolas.

I particularly liked the throwing axes and the batarangs. Other people seemed to be having the most fun throwing the bolas at the “Argentine cow”, which was actually a large cardboard box sitting on PVC-pipe legs. The idea was to tangle the bolas around a leg or two.

Now we’re in present time. The thrown-weapons class kind of disssolves in late afternoon as we run out of enthusiasm for hurling things, and not only several students but the instructor are showing signs of accumulated fatigue. The weather is less scorching than it has been, but it’s Day Six and everyone is running close to empty.

Cathy and I wander off to be coached in Florentine for a while. We make some progress but stall out on one of the wrist turnovers needed for the pattern; we can’t seem to get it smooth. Frustration levels near critical until Sal comes over, evaluates, and determines that the balance of our swords is off; they need the center of gravity moved a bit towards the hilt for this particular move to flow well.

Chili and cornbread for dinner, nom nom nom. I give thanks to Shannon the Food Goddess, who has been doing an amazing job of providing tasty food for hungry swordsmen all week.

After dinner, a capture-the-flag tourney, five players on a side. I sit this out, as I am saving myself for the bear-pit dueling scheduled for after dark. Again, in bear pit, fighters rotate in against the bear pit holder until he is killed, whereupon the victor takes his place.

It’s a relaxed, happy tournament. With most people pretty fatigued, both shields and heavier weapons like glaives are mostly left out; there is a lot of single-sword and dagger play going on. I have a couple of very sweet dagger fights with Doug the Death Turtle, but mostly fight Florentino (sword and parrying dagger). And, by Ghu and Eris, I run the list!

That is, I defeat all the other fighters in the queue (six, I think) before my wife Cathy comes back around and kills me. First time I’ve ever done this. It’s not easy, and a rare feat for anyone who’s not one of the elite in Upper Specialties. I am delighted; so are Sal and the senior instructors when I bring it to their attention.

The night ends with the whole crew watching Goldeneye. (No, I don’t know why that particular movie.) It is properly silly and we have fun with it.

Tomorrow, the Honor Tourney…


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