I participated in my first HEMA event (held at History Alive at Fort Lytton) as a competitor on Saturday, which was loads of fun, despite the cold that was sinking into my sinuses just the night before. I only competed in rapier, and lost far, far more than I won. It was easy to ignore the mild sting of defeat, though, because all the people I fought were smart and friendly and lovely and it was all a very good time.
And it was easy to ignore the mild sting of defeat because I learned A LOT. Like, way a lot, like the kind of a lot that makes me regret not having a notebook to hand at the event because I’m worried I might have forgotten some insights between then and now.
As for that cold: I paid for it today. I feel like I’ve taken a sledgehammer to the temples and the detritus has settled into my lungs. And there’s a sinus misery that I’m just hoping won’t evolve into a full-blown infection.
This was definitely not just allergies.
Anyway, I’m not up to much writing or critical thinking at this very moment, so I’ll leave you with some photos of the event taken by a colleague of mine and posted on Instagram.
Today I’m writing with one fewer teeth in my mouth. I mean, I can’t complain; I had something that in technical terms is called a congenitally missing tooth. In other words, I had a baby tooth that never had a grown-up tooth to take its place. So this poor tooth that should have retired when I was like 11 or something totally stepped up to the plate and did its job for another thirty years.
I’m thinking of giving it a Viking funeral.
Anyway, now that the numbness has subsided and the re-emerging pain is back under control, I wanted to bring you just a wee bit more on the sword and cape. When I completed the translations, I had a few important points that stood out in my mind, and perhaps as a form of study I wrote them down in a fairly modern and faintly impertinent variety of modern English. And then I remembered that in the latter parts of Oplosophia*, there’s a section on aphorisms – basically, principles boiled down to single simple sentences. My stuff wasn’t as boiled down as the aphorisms De Figueireido wrote, but I was pretty pleased to see that I’d come reasonably close to what he chose to highlight. Those things that I mentioned that he didn’t are, to me, the sorts of things that would have been obvious in his contemporary context (namely, qualities of a Spanish capa that to us are less than obvious without having a bit of a think).
First I present the Spanish and English translations of the aphorisms (pages 310-11). Then I offer you my take on things. Let me know if you find them useful! Or if you find problems or points of contention! Nothing ever improved without challenge.
Aphorisms – Capa
La capa y espada son las armas con que más de ordinario se encuentra un hombre. The sword and cape are the arms a man will most frequently encounter.
La capa toma por si los desvíos y deja la espada con los reparos y heridas. The cape can take desvíos but parries and attacks should be left to the sword.
La capa se hace dando solo en el brazo una vuelta. The cape is set by giving it just one turn around the arm.
La capa se debe preparar fuera de los medios. The cape should be readied out of measure.
La mano de la capa ha de quedar descubierta para poder agarrar. The cape-hand should be left uncovered in order to be able to take hold of the opponent.
Los golpes que se dan con la capa han de ser por encima de ella. Sword blows should be given over the cape.
Con la capa es muy arriesgado el reparar. It is very risky to parry with the cape.
Solamente después de sujetar la espada contraria se puede aplicar la capa. Only once the opponent’s sword is subjected or controlled can one apply the cape directly.
And now, my Oplosophia sword and cape quick-start guide.
Leave the cape on the shoulders. (It’s possible that the cape may come off the right shoulder, and that this is okay.)
Wrap/loop/sweep the cape over the left arm ONLY ONCE.
Make sure you don’t get your elbow tangled up in the cape
Make sure you hold the cape firmly with your thumb
Make sure you don’t let the cape cover the whole of your hand, or you’ll get tangled up in it
Seriously, only turn the cape ONCE. That leaves a longer “tail” which then has a better chance of interfering with the opponent’s sword, and forces the opponent to make larger circles (both with the sword and with footwork).
Prepare the cape OUT OF MEASURE.
Seriously, prepare the cape out of measure. Do not do things with anger or vehemence, ‘cause that stuff gets you KILLED.
Any attack should be made over the cape (the left arm), and during attacks, the cape should stay gathered near the chest. Do it any other way and you risk getting tangled up in your own cape. At best, this causes embarrassment; at worst, DEATH.
DO NOT PARRY with the cape. At best, you can parry an opponent’s sword after it has reached full extension, or possibly execute a deflection.
Seriously, DO NOT PARRY with the cape, because you can get badly hurt if you do. Listen. All those folds in the cape will not stop a dedicated thrust, tajo, or revés. Your arm, all caught up in a cape, is also no match for the speed of an unburdened hand wielding a sword (especially if it’s a skilled hand).
NOTE that numbers 7 & 8 do NOT refer to last-ditch efforts. We all know that sometimes we get into circumstances that demand a dangerous or risky response, one where potential damage to the arm is far better than the alternative with no defensive maneuver at all. Just remember that the cape, in la Verdadera Destreza, cannot parry against significant attacks, since it’s nothing more than an impediment to the sight lines of the opponent, and to the motions of his sword, a deflection against actions that are done with light intent, and a way to implement an atajo for AFTER the subjection of the opponent’s sword by other means.
* De Figuereido, Diogo Gomes. Oplosophia e verdadeira destreza das armas. 2013 critical edition by Manuel Valle Ortiz and Francisco Castro Nieto, 210-212. Compostela, Spain: AGEA Editora.
I mean, sure, it happens to all of us. For me, though, I feel like it happens in flurries. Long stretches of nothing really worrying and then a series of days where things just sort of keep going wrong. Am I having a whinge? Yeah, sure. But humor me.
When I was a kid, sick days were about not doing anything, mainly because I didn’t want to do something. Or anything. When I became a grown-up, that sort of still held true for jobs that made me utterly miserable (and we have all had them at one time or another). On those days that I really was unwell, I was kind of happy to take on feverish, barfy hours of unpleasantness to have the privilege of not being in the office.
Except now I work in a place where I like what I do and I like the people who share the work with me. So now being sick is genuinely inconvenient, and really kind of irritating.
These past few days have been a one-two punch of BLEARGH and I’m really over it now. Honestly and truly.
You know how bad I’m feeling? I skipped out on swording. Gah.
Anyway, that’s why there’s not any nifty new stuff from the world of Oplosophia. Maybe I’ll feel up to tackling a few more paragraphs tomorrow.
In the meantime, take care of yourselves, and may none of you end up with your feelings elegantly represented by a bit of doorjamb graffiti.
So in my vast stretches of spare time (ha), one of the things I do when I’m not actually trying to stab willing practice partners with rapiers is read primary sources. Under various advisements, I’ve chosen to take a look at Oplosophia e verdadeira destreza das armas by Diogo Gomes de Figueireido. You may have noticed that it’s in Portuguese, and that I have not mentioned speaking or reading Portuguese (I am, however, fluent in Spanish and have worked as an editor in that language). Yeah. Apparently I like a challenge. Anyway, one of the first things I wanted to sort out was what the heck oplosophia meant. So I went poking around the interwebs, and all that came up for me was either references to the book itself, or mentions of the term being a hapax legomenon — a word that only appears once in any given context within a language. So I went hunting for classical language roots. Sophia was clear from other words, like philosophy, but for the life of me I couldn’t find any rendition of oplo* anywhere. And then, after a rapier class where we were all poking around in the book to look at cool stuff, I just happened to flip to the page where Figueireido explains the word and why he invented it. For those of you who want the tl;dr version, the idea is this: sophia is what we’re familiar with — knowledge, wisdom. Oplon appears in words like hoplite and panoply. It means arms. Literally, oplosophia is the wisdom and knowledge of arms. It’s a bit of a shame the word never caught on, ’cause I think it’s actually really cool.
Look at that. Hoplite and panoply. From etymonline.com
Sure enough, there it is. Oplon, opla. This assumes you can read Greek letters. I can, but only barely. From the Woodhouse Classical Greek reference (click on image for link).
Now, because my main non-English language is Spanish, I took the Middle Portuguese of the original text and shifted it into relatively modern Spanish. After that, I shifted it into relatively modern English. It’s important to note that this is a rough translation; if I were to consider publishing this as part of an actual book, there would be at least two more passes on the text, one of them only after I’d finished reading the entire work. But I figured folks might have fun seeing what I’d teased out of it so far. If you want to read the original, I direct you to the link to the title at the top of the post. It’s available from AGEA Editora, you can buy directly from them, and it is a very thoroughly and excellently edited edition. Well worth the purchase.
Modern Spanish translation:
Capítulo Cuatro [Libro Primero]
De la origen del nombre Oplosofía, y del fruto que se ofrece para aprender la Verdadera Destreza.Porque siempre el instrumento principal de las cosas que se enseñe y se trata es el nombre que le ponen y anima mucho a quienes han de aprender alguna ciencia saber las utilidades que de su doctrina se consiguen y consideran, que sería inadvertencia grande no decir (antes de definir esta ciencia) asi la razón porque la intitulo Oplosofía, como callar los ingresos curiosos de ejercer; por la que considerando la impropiedad de nombres que se les pone, y lo mucho que merece ser conocida por alguno que no reniegue su grandeza, me pareció llamarle Oplosofía, valiéndome para mejor autorizar la composición de esta palabra, la unión y fuerza de estas dos nombres Griegos: Oplon, que quiere decir armas, y Sophos, que significa sabio, o sapiente, que juntos forman el Oplosofía y valen lo mismo que la sapiencia o sabiduría de las armas, imitando de esta tipo o modo de los nombres que los Filósofos antiguos acomodaron con tan propia energía a los mejores y más selectas ciencias: Y porque también no se ignoran los provechos que con esta se granjeó, en primer lugar se sabrá que sirven sus ejemplos, reglas, y preceptos de dar perfección a la naturaleza de excluir los movimientos que no son de ningún fruto; y de liquidar con arte los más necesarios para conseguir su verdad; porque con la Verdadera Destreza (en cuya ciencia concordaran a los más nobles y excelentes) se perfecciona las disposiciones, se afinan los perfiles del cuerpo, y se alcanza como se ha de hacer todas las ofensas sin recibirlas, porque hay una luz que muestra los más seguros caminos para dar consecuencia a los efectos[.]
Modern English translation:
Chapter Four [First Book]
On the origin of the name Oplosophy, and what it offers in the learning of the True Skill.Because the principal instrument of those things that teach and treat a given subject is always the name given them, and greatly encourages those who would learn a particular science to know the uses that its doctrine considers and obtains, that it would be greatly inadvisable to not explain (before defining this science) the reason for selecting the name Oplosophy, and obviate those questions that may arise; considering the impropriety of the names applied to this science, and how very much it deserves to be known by a name that does not deny its greatness, it seemed proper to me to call it Oplosophy, availing myself of the union and strength of two Greek words to better compose this name: Oplon, which means arms, and Sophos, which means sage, or wisdom, which together form Oplosophy and mean the same as the wisdom or knowledge or understanding of arms, imitating this style or method of naming that the ancient Philosophers accommodated with proper vigor the best and most select sciences; And because the advantages gained by this name shall not be ignored, firstly it will demonstrate how its examples, rules, and precepts perfect the nature of excluding those movements that bear no fruit; and avail artfully those that are the most necessary to arrive at its truth; because in the True Skill (which science the most noble and excellent seek to attain) the arrangements are perfected, the profiles of the body refined, and the methods for achieving all the offenses without receiving them in kind are reached, because there is a light that shows the safest paths to grant consequence to these effects[.]
Below is an episode of Still Untitled: The Adam Savage Project, where Adam talks about overcoming self doubt — he describes a week in which he questioned whether he should be doing builds at all, after a particularly rough build, and talks about how he got himself out of that funk. The relevant bit starts at 4:30 and goes on for about 15 minutes.
It’s important to know that someone with as much experience as Adam Savage gets impostor syndrome about the thing that he does best. It’s a thing. We all get it. And it hammered him for a whole week.
It happens in different phases of creation, too. His initial trigger was feeling like he just couldn’t get a series of precise machinings right, that he kept screwing up in the workshop. That’s impostor syndrome that strikes during the creative process. You hit a hard part, you come up on something that you believe you should be perfectly capable of doing, that’s part and parcel of the practice that you engage in, and you cannot but fuck it up every time (or at least feel that way).
Then they talk about the impostor syndrome that strikes at the end of a project, that feeling, once your work’s out there and people appreciate it, that you will never make something that good again. Ever.
For the mid-process syndrome, Adam talks about how, near the end of the project that Would Not Go Right, he remembered another project that had been sitting around for a while that was completely different from what he’d been doing previously, using materials he wasn’t very familiar with, and a process that lent itself to trial and error. The three hosts talk about how doing something different from the fraught part of the work made a difference, but they didn’t go where I found my mind going: by choosing a project that functioned differently, he reframed the context of his practice.
Precise machining has no room for error, or at least it doesn’t on its face. Precision requires a “measure twice, cut once” mentality. But it doesn’t have to, or if it does, the approach leading to the practice itself can be reframed. If precision is demanded, well, reframe your approach. Tell yourself its okay to take time measuring twice, that you’re not an amateur if you do.
I go through something similar with writing. I’ll get all knotted up in the identity of being a writer and making a claim to it, and then it somehow becomes performative. Not that I have to act like a writer, but that my words must conform to what the general idea of writerliness is. And what dictates that general idea of writerliness? Depends on when you ask. It might be an imagined social construct that’s taken up residence in my head. It might be comparing myself (oh, no) to another writer that I’ve just read and admired and been inspired by.
But when you do something that’s performative whose primary purpose is not performative, that’s meant to meet some external checklist of approvals, you stand to lose the intrinsic drive to do that thing. I need to want to write my script, I need to wonder what happens next so I sit down and write the next scene, and not feel the heavy breath of a deadline or upcoming event pressing down on me. This isn’t to say I deny those things. Ha! We live by the gravitational torsion of deadlines. But what I can do is reframe so the external drives become secondary to the internal. Or, even better, so the external process is naturally served by following the drive of the internal.
I am not very good at this, but I’m trying to get better.
As for the end-of-process impostor syndrome, reframing doesn’t work as well. That oppressive feeling of never being able to top yourself does come from badly refracted external drives, but trying to reframe the internal ones to take over still leaves a gulf or void. Adam’s response? He acknowledged that feeling and understood that it was a part of the process, and would diminish in time, and the best thing to do was rest up a bit or march on over to the next project.
Combining these two methods, to me, seems like a reasonable approach to dealing with either end of impostor syndrome. In my mind, reframing and acceptance are interrelated parts of the same process. Reframing requires accepting the existence of something, but granting it a different priority. Let’s go back to my script example. I am tied up in knots about it because the project collaborators are all people I know and admire, and who are important to me. I want to do right by them. So I put a lot of pressure on myself to create something that will measure up to that expectation.
If I start writing what I think other people want, it creates an expectation that, by its nature, is a moving goalpost. The only head I inhabit is my own; I have no real way of knowing exactly what will please anyone. And yes, I can get caught up in the idea that what will please me is pleasing others, but if I examine the thought, reframe it by noting how what I’ve done for myself in the past has already impressed others before I knew them personally (and so couldn’t try to predict what would impress them), then it follows that people can be impressed by things that I do for my own satisfaction. It’s a long road, but the logic follows (at least it does for me), and it brings me back to a place of intrinsic motivations, which draws the extrinsic pressures back far enough for me to continue my practice.
The process of acceptance and reframing is not easy, and it’s a bit harder for my non-linear and staticky mind to hold onto. It means, sometimes, that even though I bring my mindset back on track, I’ve burned up the energy I might have used for creative practice, and have to wait for a new day and renewed energy. But by working those thought pathways, they become a little easier each time, and they foment a kind of forgiveness toward myself that I think is beneficial in the long run.
Anyway, this brief revisit turned into a much longer rumination. I hope it helps those of you wrestling with that universal Sock Puppet.
I’ve talked a bunch about time management, but these days I know it’s as much a neurological issue as it is a quirk. It’s not that I don’t have things to say, which is a really nice change of pace, but that the things I want to say are important enough to me to want to spend a reasonable amount of time to get them written with full attention and now you can see this temporal ouroboros starting to turn, can’t you?
I found the parenting article that I wanted to edge into self-care; I hit my 40th birthday and received so much love an esteem from friends and family all over the world I trip over myself to say thank you in a way that I feel is commensurate to the wonder that came my way; I ran out of my prescription and went a few days without it and oh my god what a bad idea that was. Also, not sleeping enough. That’s been happening more than I’d like.
So maybe a good-night missive? A wrap-up of the day that’s gone by? Surely that’s as useful as a pre-day rumination, since it seems I’m reasonably clear of the Sock Puppet of Doubt.
Oh, and on a quick side-note, among all the stuff I do, there’s HEMA, and since I’m reasonably fluent in Spanish and cannot resist history, I’ve been trying my hand at some primary document translations. Those will start to turn up soon, so if that’s your thing, I’ll be sure to mark those entries with clear categories and tags so you don’t miss what I’m up to.
I was thinking, yesterday, of preparation. It’s not something I have a really good grasp of outside of very formal or important situations, mainly because I seem to think that people, on the whole, don’t have to do much preparation to get smaller things done in their lives.
Like get dressed in the morning.
I know I stress less if I don’t have to make choices when my mind’s not up to speed, which is the majority of a morning. I can if the scope is limited (find error in text, fix error in text) but not if the scope is open (I literally have twelve different top combinations I can put on for work this morning OH GOD NO).
I’ve done that sort of thing before — prepping wardrobe at an hour where my brain’s warmed up and okay with picking things out — though I often fall out of the practice for any number of reasons. But yesterday I was thinking about preparation for tasks that are more complex than picking out clothes but far, far less complex than preparing for, say, a sword grading.
Like, for just about anything else that I do. I used to game my brain by approaching things i needed to do in a shallow spiral, so as not to kick up oppositional refusal. I might know I need to wash the dishes, but if I attempt a frontal approach, I get angry and overwhelmed (I know! Overwhelmed at dishes, what kind of bullshit is that) and won’t actually do it. But if I just go into the kitchen, and then, you know, wash a glass ’cause I need it, then, well, I’m aready there and I don’t have to do everything that’s in the sink and that’s when the dishes get done by me.
But for things that don’t trigger a resentment response, but instead an anxiety response — a feeling of inadequacy or errors yet to be committed — this prep angle sounds like it might just work.
For example, the primary source translating I do. I usually “sneak up” on it by opening up the appropriate PDF while working on a bunch of other things, and then let myself get drawn into the text. But that’s not ideal because I don’t have as much control over what part of the text snags me, and I usually end up working until I’m overtired and that has its own negative consequences.
Instead, I was thinking I could spend a little time specifically searching out a reasonable chunk of text — two, maybe three pages — of a passage that’s immediately relevant, and clip those pages into a separate file. My job is to translate those bits. If I want to do more, that’s fine, but I’m only responsible for this small number, which helps prevent the anxiety-overwhelm reaction that makes my brain static roar up and turns me useless for a while. I am pre-limiting the scope of things I want to do so I’m making fewer decisions and taxing the executive bits of my mind less.
I’m sure that for most of you this is blindingly obvious — there may be many of you thinking that someone who appears reasonably intelligent can’t possibly believe this is a new or novel concept that requires trying out. Well, let me welcome you to the land of impaired executive function. If it looks to you like it sucks, I assure you it sucks more than it looks.
At any rate, I’ll try this over the next few days and see if the benefits outweigh the effort required, thereby insuring I continue to do this sort of thing with low resentment. Resentment makes me quit doing a lot of things.
Things on my mind: I have some kind of back of the hand tendonitis. Haven’t done much research on it to see what I can do about it aside from ice and anti-inflammatories, but I know what causes it and no, I’m not going to back off the fencing. Not yet, anyway.
Also — need better forearm protection than the junior shinguards that I picked up. Maybe adult-sized shinguards? Eh.
I want to get back into translating primary documents. I was working on bits and pieces of Destreza texts, but I’ve lost the plot for a while now. I used to do it, in fact, in the mornings when I would wake up at 5:30 but didn’t need to be at work until 8:30, which meant I had more time at home to putter. I like having the extra time, but I am absolutely NOT waking up at 4:30. I can handle a lot of things, but not that.
I’ve managed to track down the article I mentioned in the previous post. Now I just need to either set aside enough time to write what I wanted to about it, or get functional enough of a morning to pull it off before going to work.
As a way to bleed nervous energy and the spinning-wheels sensations from off my brain, I’ve tried yet again to get into meditation. I usually use guided meditations, mainly because the prompts remind me to do things that I generally forget to do when I try to sit quietly and let my head become a large breezeway instead of an echo chamber, and for this I use apps. I’ve tried several, but the one that’s working currently is Calm. I came across it via the advice of Guy Windsor, and although its initial presentation put me off (I’m not sure why, though maybe it pinged my mistrust of pop-looking, superficial things), it’s actually very simple and robust and has a lot of good material, even at the free level (I’ve gone ahead and sprung for a year-long membership).
In particular it’s got nice meditations for getting to sleep, something that wasn’t always a problem but is increasingly so, these days.
Due to temporary shifts in my schedule over the next couple of days, I had to move my personal training session to today at 5:30 AM so as not to miss it completely this week.
Today. At 5:30.
I have conclusively proven despite the itty bitty dataset that I absolutely cannot function completely without a full hour to let the brain spool up.
I am now writing this at noon-ish after having come back, eaten a bit of breakfast, and taken a 3 hour nap (though I do want to say I was in bed before 10 so I stood a reasonable chance of getting enough sleep for a 5 AM wake-up). This means that I am now more or less properly awake, have been working on modifying a gambeson so it properly fits me (this is a rant for another time), and the Sock Puppet is well awake and functioning but much more focused on making me miserable about tomorrow’s grading.
Which I guess is something? I dunno.
On the plus side, I was able to get a breakfast burrito from Guzman y Gomez just as they opened this morning and then trundle it home and eat it like a half-stunned cro-magnon, and that’s also something. It’s the closest thing to a proper breakfast burrito that I can find on this hemisphere and this general time zone. I could make my own but let’s be honest, if I can’t push pieces of metal around without forgetting what I was doing or what count I was on, do you really want me working a gas stove in any capacity?
In additional positive news, the weather is much cooler these days. I don’t like warm weather. Well, no. I don’t like hot weather. Yes I know I’m in the wrong town for that. But today is rainy and gray and I absolutely love those kinds of days, especially when I don’t have to be out in them and can stare out the window and watch the mist gather on the glass.
There’s a really interesting parenting article about alternatives to spanking that I managed to find, which I thought was just as applicable to adults — particularly on how to deal with yourself. I wanted to write a bit about it, but the only problem is I lost the link so I have no clue what the page was or where. If I find the article again I’ll share.
That said, be kind to yourself, and if you can’t function at 5:30 in the morning know that you are not alone.