The Renaissance Festival season is drawing to a close, and with it my involvement in Steel Serenity.
Steel Serenity has been going for seven years now, and is the longest-lived fight troupe on the Ren-Fest circuit I have ever heard of. Times change, tempers flare, and people come and go. It’s been a good run, my time with them is done. They're a very social group, but though it was not quite the adventure in weapons training I had hoped for, I did learn. And as long as I am learning, I’m generally happy.
Principally, I learned quarterstaff. I picked it up fairly quickly, I think, though I’ve far from mastered it. It is a simple and highly versatile weapon, and I recommend it to anyone learning any hand-to-hand style. It certainly helped my karate, and my admittedly limited understanding of Wing Chun Kung Fu. What little I do know about Wing Chun comes from a brief exposure to Jeet Kune Do and some talks with a Wing Chun student, so if I make errors herein I take full blame.
When holding the quarterstaff for close combat, one’s hands divide the staff into equal thirds. All attacks are directed against the centerline, or the seven spinal chakra, and thus the staff is held vertically when in a ready position. In Wing Chun, the body is divided into the Three “gates” – upper, middle, and lower – and the fists are in front over the centerline. Same principle, just a different application. The conversion was easy enough, at least as far as my limited studies went.
Different stance, though – staff footwork is more like karate, one foot forward, knees bent, weight on the balls of your feet. Wing Chun meanwhile “hugs the goat,” something like horse stance, but with the legs closer together and somewhat pidgin-toed. To attack in staff (or most any weapon), you must get into your opponent’s guard. Sometimes you get lucky, but a lot of the time (especially with a long weapon) you end up having to seize control of the fight one inch of your opponent’s guard at a time. With a rapier, a simple parry-riposte might do. And since rapier duels historically took place in narrow alleys, the footwork is different as well. But with staff it’s best to be able to work your way completely into your enemy’s space, hampering him while keeping your freedom of movement open. I understand this to be called Building a Bridge in Wing Chun.
Interesting that Chinese unarmed combat prepared me so well for European staff. Then again, Shotokan Karate helped both my Shorinji Goju and my fencing, because of the work the sensei there put into my stances. The eight principle directions of attack are also the same throughout sword, staff, or empty hand.
It all blends. I could go on forever. It all gloriously, gloriously blends.
I was teaching someone how to maintain control of their defense with long sword, and when I found out he had a background in Goju Ryu, it became much easier. The footwork is different, because European sword doesn’t use much kicking, so the emphasis is more on speed and less on versatility. But though it’s a different philosophy of movement, the principle is the same.
However much Steel Serenity turned out not to be what I was looking for, I will miss working out with them, learning more on staff and sword. But for years, there has been a gentleman researching and reconstructing Fiorria De Libre, the Flower of Liberty. It’s an unarmed fighting style designed to supplement swordfighting techniques, dating back to Renaissance Italy. I’ve been exposed to a few of its principles and they’ve helped my understanding of the Art already. Occasionally, the fellow doing the research holds workshops. It costs quite a bit, but if I can attend one I will.
A little while after I started on European staff, I picked up a pamphlet on staff fighting. It showed a step-by-step for a kata I’d never seen before, in Chinese Whirling Staff Technique.
I’ll get back to you on that.