Would I say that going to the school of arms a week ago changed my life? Well …. no! But it did fundamentally change the way I view grappling and cane work, and through that the way I approach Bartitsu as a whole. The lessons I took from these two days of training will easily last me the next six months of experimentation and teaching. And phrases like ‘stop trying to do it right and just make it work’ have already become maxims in my classes.
As much as I would love to take the whole event exercise by exercise, I am aware just how long that would take. So I shall endeavour to stick to the key points and give you a salient overview of my take home experience. With that said, the focus of the whole weekend was on the first principle of Bartisu: to disturb your opponents equilibrium without letting them disturb yours. I thought I had a fairly good grasp of what this meant but I know now there is a lot more too it than I thought.
The very first drill we did was to see just how little force it took to move someone off line in the right direction. This was expended into a principle of strong and weak lines and how with the simple application of your strong line into your opponent’s weak line a take down or throw could be achieved with ease. Building on this idea we looked at the different tools we have available to unbalance our opponent and disturb the tripod on which their equilibrium is built. By applying pressure to the head, shoulder, hip or just grabbing a limb it could leave them temporarily unbalanced and taking advantage of this you can take them to the floor.
For me this all came together in the oddly names ‘zombie drill’. After zombie walking into your partner to ensure a random entanglement, we took it in turns to unbalance and ultimately take down our opponent. From then on I was able to start to see the principle and look for the weak line in each scenario and exploit it. Whether it was a pivot and throw to obey the ‘no more than two steps back before you change line’ rule, or twisting to break a grab, the principle of strong into weak prevailed.
The cane work was another highlight of the weekend for me. Given I came to Bartitsu via rapier and sabre, there is a certain appeal that weaponry holds for me. Covering the traditional Vigny cane fighting was a useful exercise but what really stuck with me was the integration of Irish stick fighting. By gripping the cane with both hands and working at a shorter range, this style allowed you to fend off an attacker who rushed in until a chance could be created to return to the longer range.
Adding to this we looked at several clever, and very vicious, tricks that can be employed to use the cane as leverage in a grappling context. Being thrown across the room by a cane around your neck tends to stay with you but was a wonderful example of the scientific principles of Bartitsu being employed to take away the advantages of a larger, stronger and more athletic opponent. Using these it is possible to utilise the cane at all ranges and surprisingly easy to traverse from one to the other.
There was much more taught during the classes, and discussed over a few beers on the Saturday evening, which I am sure in time will slot into place in my brain. But grappling and cane work are now so much clearer to me than they have ever been. I can only thank both Mr. Marwood and Prof. Donnelly for their fantastic tuition, insight and patience and Prof. Wolf for organising such an amazing event.