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Simon G.




Location: Lyons, France
Joined: 02 Jun 2008

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PostPosted: Thu 12 Jun, 2008 4:27 am    Post subject: Manikin for solo training         Reply with quote

Hello everyone,

I plan to start WMA come September, and I've pretty much had to admit the fact that you cannot get any good training without sparring with a real opponent, so I'll enlist in a local medieval fencing club - something I'm not totally enthusiastic about, though, since they say they do "theatrical fencing based on historical methods". The latter is fine - the former is bothering me a bit. But oh well, I'll see - I can't afford to be too picky, either, because the WMA are not much developed here in France (Lyons, to be precise).

Anyway, be it to try and "correct" the theatrical bits with the help of good WMA manuals, or to simply practice what I'm being thaught, I feel I'll need some kind of way to practice alone (also for fun, you know, getting to yell warcries and do violent, overdone moves without getting strafed by a teacher Razz ). So I'm thinking about... building some kind of training manikin.

It would need to be as "realistic" as possible so as to be good for a little more than just test-cutting (although I'm fully aware that test-cutting can be good training per se). It would also need to allow for a good simulation of cuts, something close to human flesh, so the efficiency of said cuts can be observed and one can do more with it than just say, "yay, I hit the head, even if it seemed to be with so puny a blow that it wouldn't have dented a skull ! But what marksmanship !" Finally, practical concerns (cheap, uncomplicated, easy and clean to use and, last but not least, carrying close to no risk of harm to the blade used against it) are of course not to be forgotten... Yeah, in a word it needs to be perfect. Wink

So far the best idea I've come up with would be a very simple structure (christian-cross shaped, for instance) built out of wood (like, 2cm / 1" thick in diameter), set up on a log so it stands up, and to which one would tie several bags filled with rags (I'm thinking one for the legs, one for the torso, one for the head). The bags would need to be replaced pretty often, and temporarily sealed meanwhile (duct tape ?) but at least the filling (ie the rags) can be picked up and re-used for a long time, until chewed into very small bits by repeated training.

For added "realism" and so the manikin seems to "defend" itself a bit, one could add a stick pointing towards the front, and circles on the ground to mark "danger zones". Also, some kind of armour (using tyres maybe ?) could be somehow added by hanging it on the "shoulders" and putting it on top of the head.

So here's my two cents of ideas - maybe it isn't even worth that much, please tell me what you think. I'm working from pure speculation and imagination here, and I'm certain more seasoned people will see much to criticise (please do). Also, if you have more generic advice on solo training, I would be glad to hear it.

Thanks in advance everyone...
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Vincent Le Chevalier




Location: Paris, France
Joined: 07 Dec 2005
Reading list: 15 books

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PostPosted: Thu 12 Jun, 2008 5:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Simon!

Cool to see one more French guy over here Happy

The kind of tool you are thinking of is called a pell in English. Here are some articles and webpages about it:
Essential Training: the Pell
On the Pell
Pell FAQ

This should give you some good insights about how to build and use one. It's rather difficult to build a pell that "defends itself" especially if you want it to be relatively safe and realistic, but you can get some good training out of a passive pell already.

Being able to observe the effects of cuts may not be such a good idea as it means you'll essentially be destroying your pell over and over Happy The general advice is to use wooden wasters on pells generally, because repeated impacts tend to wear sharp swords quickly. To judge the efficiency of your cuts you should maybe combine pell training with some test cutting on expendable targets, water bottles for example.

Hope this helps,

--
Vincent
Ensis Sub Caelo
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Simon G.




Location: Lyons, France
Joined: 02 Jun 2008

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Posts: 238

PostPosted: Thu 12 Jun, 2008 8:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks ! Your links on pells are very informative and helpful (with many different possibilities explained... yay !)

I take heed of your advice as to separating hitting a pell with a blunt/waster and hitting some form of test-cutting medium with a "real" sword. I just recieved Singmund Ringneck's Knightly Art of the Longsword ; it has a very helpful addendum on test-cutting that amounts to the same conclusion. I guess I did not give enough thought as to how repeated hitting against even a rather soft pell might damage a good edge. I'll be sure to find some kind of waster for training (I'm thinking Albion maestro line).

Do you have much experience in solo training ? In the (few) books I've ordered and (very rapidly) went through, it seems like the issue is seldom adressed. Now I'm fully aware that you cannot really achieve great swordsmanship by solo training, as it's all about confronting another dude (or chick for that matter), but how does one do when he has no adequate training club nearby ? (Granted, I'm perhaps being pessimistic, it may be that this club I want to try next year is fine).
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Vincent Le Chevalier




Location: Paris, France
Joined: 07 Dec 2005
Reading list: 15 books

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Posts: 843

PostPosted: Thu 12 Jun, 2008 11:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Simon G. wrote:
Do you have much experience in solo training ?


Thinking about it, no, not that much...
Maybe others would like to chime in about this issue... I can tell you about my personal experience though.
The main problem in solo training is that you have no one to look at you and tell you what you're doing wrong. So you have, not only to be very precisely aware of what exactly you're doing, but also to understand the principles in order to know precisely what you should be doing... Because of this it is very difficult to improve on your technique when you're on your own. At least not as a beginner. There are things that can take quite a long time to overcome when alone.

What you can do is polish the technique you already have, make it more powerful or more accurate or more controlled, because this is quite a bit easier to evaluate even alone. Cuts and stepping are fairly easy to practice that way if you have the room to do it.

As far as swords are concerned I 'practiced' alone for several years. I'm putting quotes here because that practice was not intense nor regular, more playing around than anything Happy I had some basics because I used to practice sport fencing, then tae-kwon-do before. Tried some forms of pell (didn't know it was called that way at the time Wink ), went through a iaido book... Nothing too structured as I was unaware of WMA at this time, even though I liked European swords very much.

Then I had the opportunity to train in kenjutsu and it was night and day... Because I now had a teacher that made me stick to some form, and a regular, structured practice. You learn quite a bit about your body doing that, not to mention the benefits on physical condition.

I'm still very interested in WMA and you could say I train alone in that, but my training is more intellectual than physical (I enjoy the fact that the manuals provide explanations of what happens instead of just a description)... However I think I'm more aware of what my body does than I was before, and it would certainly help me if I decided to go fully into Western arts on my own.

I think any activity where your motions will be seen and corrected by a teacher will help you anyway. The more accurate the objective is, the more you'll learn about your body, the more you'll be able to apply what is in the manuals. Any training of this sort is good to have. For the timing, distance, and power issues, among others, I'd advise you to take some kind of martial art even if it's not Western. These things are more or less common to all arts, my personal preference would be to take something traditional rather than competitive. In show fighting these appear too but with the opposite objective, so... I don't know how much it helps, I never tried.

For all the actions on the blade, you have to have someone holding the opposing blade. No passive object, even a spring system, can reproduce the actions of the opponent. I guess you could build a robot but by the time you manage to make it work decently you'll be an expert fencer Big Grin

Good luck!

--
Vincent
Ensis Sub Caelo
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Simon G.




Location: Lyons, France
Joined: 02 Jun 2008

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Posts: 238

PostPosted: Mon 16 Jun, 2008 3:11 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Another quick question : I did get what was said above about wooden wasters being advisable for pell work and general heavy-duty practice, but what about steel blunts such as Albion Maestro line or a CAS/Hanwei Practice sword ?
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Jean Thibodeau




Location: Montreal,Quebec,Canada
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PostPosted: Mon 16 Jun, 2008 7:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Simon G. wrote:
Another quick question : I did get what was said above about wooden wasters being advisable for pell work and general heavy-duty practice, but what about steel blunts such as Albion Maestro line or a CAS/Hanwei Practice sword ?


Though I haven't done any pell work I think the point of it is to get the hand and arm used to the shock of hitting something hard and getting used to the impact forces. Also, pell work seems to have been a conditioning exercise using heavier than normal training swords. ( Roman use of the pell ).

I would assume that if the pell is a heavy post it would be very hard on the training swords, wood or steel and that one might use a very overbuilt one if one expected the training sword to survive many training sessions.

Cutting exercises are something different and test accuracy , speed, smoothness, edge alignment, follow through and maybe other things I'm forgetting about.

Solo practice also has it's good points and is only effective if one already has trained with a good teacher or more advanced student since one should visualize and try to remember the feel of an opponents sword. Solo training from only books or DVDs is better than nothing if one happens to do it right but might be harmful if one is just learning erroneous ways of doing the techniques.

Just a though about training mannequins:

Slow motion practice of the right motions and techniques, doing it right, is much more important
than doing it at any serious speed. What might be interesting is building a sword/waster holder
target mannequin that could hold the sword in different guards and ending positions of attacks
and one could practice master strokes and windings by breaking them down into parts: Not as
good as a real partner but giving some feel to the solo sparring maybe ? The sword holding
arm could be held in position by strong springs and react at least minimally to hits and pressure
when doing windings.

Anyway, I think something could be invented although it would be very far from being a training
robot. Oh, one of those car assembly line robots could be programmed I think and might need
some serious customization to be safe and not " break " or be dangerous ! Also, one of those
things would probably cost millions. One could program set moves and practice them, but
still not as good as training with someone better than oneself. Wink

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
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Vincent Le Chevalier




Location: Paris, France
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PostPosted: Mon 16 Jun, 2008 1:21 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Simon G. wrote:
Another quick question : I did get what was said above about wooden wasters being advisable for pell work and general heavy-duty practice, but what about steel blunts such as Albion Maestro line or a CAS/Hanwei Practice sword ?


It depends on what you use the pell for exactly.

If you're going to hit forcefully, even a blunt edge can damage the target significantly. If you make your pell out of some harder material, steel for example, something will still have to absorb the impact forces, either the sword or your body. In the first case it's likely that the sword will fail at some point, in the second one there is some risk of injury through repeated strain.

Choosing a wooden sword, that is odinarily cheaper, is better for this kind of impact training. When the sword breaks it is less painful on many levels Happy

Personally, I'd rather use a pell to practice good form, appropriate distance and aim, speed. If you practice these while keeping the control and avoiding hard impacts, you'll end up being better in my opinion. When you'll practice with a partner, you'll be more confident, because you'll know how to stop the strikes exactly where you want. For this kind of light contact practice, I'd think using a blunt sword would work, provided that you choose a sufficiently resilient material for the target.

Most of the difficulty is not really in resisting the impacts anyway. It's the motion leading to the impact that is difficult and exhausting. A good sword is made such that little impact is transmitted to the hand when the target is cut.

Jean Thibodeau wrote:
What might be interesting is building a sword/waster holder target mannequin that could hold the sword in different guards and ending positions of attacks and one could practice master strokes and windings by breaking them down into parts: Not as good as a real partner but giving some feel to the solo sparring maybe ? The sword holding arm could be held in position by strong springs and react at least minimally to hits and pressure when doing windings.


I think there is a picture of this kind of device in one of the pages I linked to. But it's made for foil, where the guard positions are more limited in variety than earlier weapons.

I've often thought about the pros and cons of such a thing. The main problem is that a real partner does not react as a spring. A spring only wants to go back to where it was before. An opponent will change the pressure and its direction according to what you do, even when it's purely an instinctive reaction. So a spring is only realistic at the very begining of the motion. Another problem is that the more you add articulations and options, the more complicated and costly it is to build, and the more fragile it becomes.

Actually I think the idea behind the Wing Chun wooden dummy is more interesting: something unrealistic and relatively ungiving, yet that allows to practice many motions. How you translate the idea to a sword art is an open problem for me Happy I think it could all boil down to representing only the strong of the sword and forgetting the weak...

--
Vincent
Ensis Sub Caelo
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