So, finally to review the training session. As I explained yesterday, our school formed a group specifically for the study of ringen and abrazare.
The purpose of this post is not just to go over a training session (something I’ll do for each one I attend), but also to construct and filter a sort of syllabus through observing what we do, what effects it has on learning the grappling arts of Medieval Europe, and… also just to write down my first steps as an instructor.
As the people in the group are all at least a year in their training in fencing, I often used analogues to what they have already experienced. Also, I want their R&A training to be an addition and supplement to their fencing, not a completely foreign subject. After all, fechten means fighting.
As such, we began with a warm-up which was partially what we do in fencing (stretching arms, hands, fingers, torso) and partially some new things. To be exact – stretching the legs, warming up the hips, knees and the spine. All of these receive much more pressure in wrestling as compared to fencing.
It was fun, because both Dinko and I found out that we had lost some flexibility.
After that followed footwork. Two of our 4 basic steps form fencing were done as normal – with a partner, but instead of just using him as a shadow, we had hand contact. This taught people who already knew the steps what they would feel like when performed with arm contact, instead of blade contact.
Pushing was the first actual wrestling-specific exercise. The point was not to learn a technique, but instead get a feeling of pushing and being pushed. A student just steps in against his partner, and pushes him on the shoulder or breasts. The point is not to push them to the floor, but to just break their static posture and push them back. I did not issue any technical specifics, I only told the opposing party to apply some resistance. I did not want to explain a technique, but rather let them feel it on their own.
It was a lot of pushing. Of course, it was harder on the girls. We were 4 men, weighing between 80 and 110 kg, and with a height range of 1,75 – 1,95 m. We changed partners so everyone could have a try against everyone else.
To my utter joy, even the lighter ones grasped the idea of putting their body weight behind their outstretched arm and sinking almost completely on their own. They quickly figured that the easier way is to use just one arm, if you want to keep your position and not lose your own balance. This way, without knowing it, they learned the Posta Longa in Fiore’s Abrazare.
After that, we continued with another type of pushing – both hands from both sides on the opponent, near his shoulders, a very basic grab. So as thing to be equal, both students have one arm on the inside and one arm on the outside. They have to push with steps and body behind it, with the outside and inside arms.
Close to this…
… and to this.
Again, this worked fine. Without need for too much explanation people easily felt that when you push with one arm, it is natural for the other to be brought back, and it should still keep its hold one some part of the opponent’s arm.
After some rest, Dinko introduced the next exercise – pushing with hands held together. You hold the partner’s hand in an upper handshake, and you push his own hand to his body, so it bends. It is a very basic way of diminishing the strength of an outstretched arm, and one of the variations of trapping the arms, as per Fiore. Your partner has to bring his own center of mass behind his hand and push back…. And you do this back and forth. This proved to be a bit more problematic, as the point was to not move too much with your feet, and apply a little bit more upper body flexibility. But we quickly felt that this was too much for beginners and we started doing it with footwork too. This eased the exercise, although it lost some of its significance. Maybe in a few more training session I’ll introduce the harder variant again and see what happens.
These exercises also introduced the students to two of R&A’s ranges – which may be looked as analogous to Zufechten and Krieg.
The next thing was one of the most important aspects of grappling training – learning how to fall. Besides its obvious benefits in real life (including non-fighting situations – good falling skills have saved me from a lot of injuries during the years), It is also a very important prerequisite for being able to be a good partner to your wrestling mates.
I have learned my fall in my first martial art, Aikido. By the age of 12 I could easily fall on hard wood and have no injury, so they must have been teaching us right. I also do not remember anyone suffering an injury no matter how brutal the throw (and in the dojo I trained, after I was 15, throws were often as brutal as in Judo).
On the other hand, I have seen many other martial arts teach falling, even if I was excused from participating in the basics after I showed my level of skill. A lot of times instructors rushed people, adults, but nonetheless inexperienced, and that lead to bad form, injuries, and bad results. Which are often not understood, because many aikido, judo and jujutsu dojos have mats thick enough to not punish a bad fall. Most of these people would probably break or tear something if they were thrown on hard wood, dirt, or cement.
So me and Dinko, who had similar experiences, decided to teach the group as we were taught as children. Which means – backfalls from squatting position, slowly teaching them to roll, and not just prostrate themselves. Front falling started as just kneeling down, putting your hands in front of you correctly, and rolling on the arm to the side. This is the first, most basic level of the forward fall. People, as expected, were having a hard time not falling on a bend elbow, but as they were just a foot or two from the floor, they felt no pain and fear that blocks the mind of many beginners learning to breakfall.
And just like that, we had only 5 minutes left in our training session. I had promised Pancho, the tallest, most physically fit guy, to wrestle him a bit. While his previous experience in martial arts was in taekwondo, I knew he was it enough to not suffer from a bad hit on the floor. So we wrestled for the last 5 minutes, as a sort of a demonstration and a conclusion of the training session. This immediately created our first sparring ruleset – the basic one (the name is a work in progress). Only body throws, no leglocks or wrist and handlocks, just basic pushing and throwing around. The fight restarts when one guy hits the floor with 3 point. This may seem restrictive, but I’ve seen many beginners suffer an injury when they were thrown in sparring which included locks. This is because many beginners do not realize when a lock occurs and when their hand, leg or arm is in real danger of injury. They first need to experience the locks slowly and the pressure gradually.
I intend to introduce more sparring rulesets, of course – ones that allow locks, heavier throws, even ones that continue on the ground to some extent, and also, ones that include strikes and kicks – gradually. This way the students will consume the syllabus step by step, and they will understand what changes each part of R&A brings in the fight.
So, to summarize:
- Warm-up, centered on legs, knees, spine and back.
- Pushing with one hand – Posta Longa
- Pushing with two hands
- Pushing from upper handshake
- Low leveled break falls – back and front
- Basic wrestling rule set sparring
I intend to focus more on breakfalls next time, while also spending some time on footwork and pushing, but not as much as this session. One thing I’ll add is the most basic strike – hammerfist. For one reason or another, I’ll present a version where you grab and target the collarbone. I want to quickly impart into the minds of students that striking was used and it is a danger one might face when fighting, no matter how good a grappler they are. More on it, next time.