Friday, November 25, 2011

Physical Culture Club – November 2011

Physical Culture Club – November 2011

Presently, I have only taken a single young person for my so-called Physical Culture Club. His name is Freddy and he is about 15 years old. Currently we are working on only two subjects: Boxing and Stick Fighting. For boxing I am using two books: Shaw’s “Teacher of Sparring” and Hutchison‘s “Boxing”. I have other pugilistic material but I’m only going to break those two out for now, and go into the older material once we do the basic (and more modern) material. For stick fighting I’m using Lang’s “Walking Stick Method of Self-Defense”. While my own stick fighting method is a hodge-podge of longsword, single-stick, and historical La Canne in general (Vigny\Bartitsu), I feel like Lang’s method is systematic and easily grasped (and very effective). Additionally I worked with Lang’s method for some time before leaving the United States, so I am familiar with the material and some of the challenges it presents.

After some more practice I’m going to introduce wrestling days using a mixture of the following: Auerswald’s Ringen, Percy Longhurst’s “Jiu-Jitsu and other Methods of Self Defense”, “Complete Science of Wrestling” by George Hackenschmidt, and material from the Bartitsu Compendium. Although I have completed a couple of five foot staves for Hutton’s “Great Stick”, I think it will be better to wait off for a bit until I feel that Freddy is skilled enough with the walking stick before moving onto that beast-of-a-stick.

So that’s the material I’m working with for now. Here are some notations regarding the training itself. There have certainly been some unusual challenges and the usual ones as well.

The unusual challenges are as follows. First it seems that close-handed striking is not apart of the Zambian culture. I say this because even untrained Americans often know how to throw a punch with a closed-hand, even if that punch is a sloppy haymaker. Zambians, from what I observe, simply don’t have a tradition of pugilism. This probably exists due to the nature of Zambian history, especially when compared with Anglo-American history. Anyway, a large part of training right now is teaching Freddy to throw a proper punch, focusing on technique and speed rather than anything else. He seems to be improving rapidly, throwing straighter blows rather than pawing or slapping with a closed-hand (as he did previously). Another challenge is time\consistency in rural Zambia. Unfortunately “ hrs” doesn’t mean “ hrs” in the American sense, so practicing consistently is an issue. Even when we do meet at an agreed-upon time and day, freak rainstorms are frequent and have prematurely ended our training sessions. The issue of body-size is quite an annoyance also. I am usually a foot taller and at least 30 pounds heavier than most of the people in my village. This makes drilling difficult because of my greater reach and height (teaching the right cross-counter is especially hard in this case).

The usual challenges arise in the following ways. Footwork is an issue, since Zambians don’t always have the greatest coordination outside of playing football (American Soccer). This makes it hard for Freddy to accurately punch and step at the same time. He also has a sort-of “Arms Akimbo” guard, despite my efforts to have him adopt the London Prize Ring era guard or even the tighter, modern boxing guard. These two issues, in addition to the common “Keep those arms up!” problem, are the most frequent. But of course these are quite common when someone just learns how to scrap.

I’ve since devised one method of training, since sparring-proper is out of the question this early on. After we finish an hour of focus-mitt work (with my hands being the mitts) we do a mock-assault. We put on 10 oz. gloves and do three rounds at three minutes each. I let him strike at me to his hearts content but I do not hit him back much at all. When I do hit him, I only hit him fast without much force behind the blow and only in instances where I think he is getting sloppy or dropping his guard too much. It would be quite unfair for me to hit him hard or anything, since he is still very new. But a couple soft punches never hurt, especially when those hits teach him the importance of blocking properly. The goal of this method of training, of course, is to build his muscles and technique in a more Alive manner than punching drills. His endurance is building quickly and I’m proud of the great effort he has been making.

Now regarding the walking stick training. Freddy is progressing much faster with the stick than with his fists. Language barrier aside, he doesn’t have much trouble with the guards or strikes. At least, that is, he only has the same issues that everyone first does when learning Lang’s method. The front guard, being so high, takes a lot of practice before the muscles adapt to it. The strikes similarly require great practice until the wrist stops complaining. Regardless of these things, however, I have little doubt he will be well versed with the walking stick method soon enough.

So that is where I am at with Freddy at the Club. In a larger scope, I am working on different angles with the potential of Physical Culture in the district as a whole. I’m in talks with the headmaster at the school I teach at and he is interested in making a boxing club at the school, for both sexes and for the older pupils and teachers alike. Someone there has also expressed the desire for some type of female self-defense class for the local woman’s club that I also teach at. If this works out I think I will use the section on this type of self-defense from Percy Longhurst’s material. Wife-beating is a serious issue in Zambia and the women are much hardier than the men, so a well-trained woman would utterly crush the average Zambian male. This latter observation stems from the fact that women are the backbone of Zambian society and are generally much more muscular (and taller) than the men. This is where I stand currently. Considering the fact that I live in mud-hut in the Zambian rainforest, I am happy with the progress of this month’s work.

Observation on African hardwoods 

I’ve been refining my wood-working skills and I must say I’m awfully impressed by the hardwoods here in Zambia. I’ve made two walking sticks and both are holding up beautifully so far. One is 7/8in diameter with a tapering curve at the end, giving it something like a sabre-edge. The other stick is 1in diameter ball-headed stick. Both are about 42in in length. I’ve been using saplings and tree stumps as pells, and these sticks just carve into them like knives and even cut the saplings apart like paper. These sticks must be as hard as any oak or ash sticks from the States. If only I knew how to identify the tress themselves!

Observation on the stick and raincoat combination

I’ve been ironing out my coat and stick-play quite a bit, and I’m convinced it is a potent combination. Barton-Wright discusses how to use a coat offensively, so I won’t need to repeat his instructions here. These are my personal impressions on the matter. The walking stick should be held parallel and next to the right leg while initially confronted by your foe. This is to prevent the coat from being caught on the coat and it makes the stick appear “out of play”, so to speak. The coat is, of course, worn as a cloak and unfastened prior to being tossed upon your foe. You greet him with your left hand, either as to clam him down with apparent submissiveness or even a friendly wave. You could even reach to your right hip pocket while stating that you shall give him your money, as if you were reaching for your wallet. The left arm being out of the coat allows it to leave your body with greater speed than if the left shoulder was still in the coat. Once you are in range, you then grab near the right sleeve or collar and entangle him with it. The rest of this play is discussed by Barton-Wright, once more. But let’s say you miss him! Maybe he backs up and out of range! No matter. Take a step back as the coat misses and pull your stick up into Front Guard with your right leg forward. Your left arm is simultaneously spiraling about three times in either direction. This makes the coat become drawn around the arm with some of the material hanging down. You are now prepared to fight in the same manner as cloak and rapier, just as detailed by Hutton in his work “Old Sword Play” and those various Renaissance Fight-Books. This is quite simple and elegant to perform, and comes quick with practice. This seems so simple that I’m not sure why I didn’t happen upon this combination and trick before!

Observation on a Zambian "street-fight" at Shop-Rite in Solwezi

I recall seeing a really unusual street-fight (if you can even call it that) in Solwezi about a month and a half ago. It was as curious as it was humorous. It seems that two men had a disagreement over something and things got violent quickly, but in a way that I never saw before. They basically got into a really big slap-fight, by American standards. What made it so odd and funny was that these two men were large by Zambian standards, at least six feet tall. But instead of throwing punches they were pawing and slapping at each other for a solid 20-30 seconds straight. After that amount of time a seemingly random bystander kicked one of them from behind and this confused them so much that they both ran off in differing directions. Overall it left a really bizarre impression on me and only reinforced the notion that most Zambians are not prone to throwing close-handed blows at all.
Keep on fighting!

“Go near, strike with a long spear or a sword at close range, and kill a man. Set foot against foot, press shield against shield, fling crest against crest, helmet against helmet, and chest against chest.” Tyrtaeus

PS: Photos from my village, including those taken of boxing practice, can be found here!

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