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Petri Wessman's weblog

Life wins, slowly

Spent Sunday at the salle, Ilkka held a seminar on Bolognese sidesword and dagger techniques. Was a lot of fun, once again, and it’s really nice to be back to normal health (if not good shape, yet). I had a really long-term flu / throat infection thingy, and since that carries a small but non-zero danger of heart injury it you exert yourself too much, that meant a month+ of no exercise for me. Which was doubly nasty because the flu wore me down and the lack of exercise did the same. Finally felt well enough to come to the salle last Monday, but a month’s pause in training shows. Oh well. It’ll come back, it always does.

The training, I mean. The flu can stay away, as far as I’m concerned.

I’m also slowly waking up to the fact that Christmas will soon be here. I’ve only begun to think about presents, and only have a few taken care of so far. So… some shopping this week.

Work has been really interesting (if very busy) during the last month or so, since I’ve managed to convince my bos(ses) that doing a certain new app with Rails, with a REST datasource in our Java/JBoss main server end, is a good idea (and I honestly do think it is a good idea). This means that I’ve been coding Ruby/Rails a lot, and also tinkering with some lesser-known aspects of it like ActiveResource. It took a while to puzzle out the HTTP/XML format Rails expects and to duplicate that on the Java side, but once it’s in place it’s pretty impressive: the Rails app can now get a data feed from our server with just a few lines of code, and that feed behaves in many respects like a normal ActiveRecord database object. Cool stuff. I’ve also dived into testing with rSpec, with heavy use of mock objects and dynamic fixtures (since I want to keep the tests independent of server data). Figuring out HttpMock took a while, but now that also works.

Rails rocks, it’s by far my favorite wep app framework nowadays. Nothing else comes even close.

Added later: …though I do have to say that some of the lesser-used facets of Rails (like ActiveResource, especially with nested resources) can be pretty poorly documented, or not at all. I’ve quite often had to resort to hacking the Rails core code to figure out what the hell is going on. Today has mostly been spent in figuring out how the hell I can actually create nested REST resources. Finally figured it out, but it wasn’t exactly documented anywhere I could find. Today’s headaches also include puzzling out the exact XML format for server-side validation errors (no, it’s not what the docs claim it is) and in working around the fact that the XML formatter wants to turn all underscores into dashes in element names. Sigh.

Rails still rocks. But prepare to enter “Here There By Tygers” territory if you use some of the more bleeding-edge facets of it.

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Bolognese sidesword 101

Well, since Ilkka asked people to write something about last weekend’s Bolognese sidesword seminar, I’ll try to do that (though others have already done so much better than I can).

The seminar had the usual length of our one-day seminars, running from 10am to 5pm with an hour of lunch break in between. The difference to a usual weekend seminar this time was the fact that it was the first assistant instructor test we’ve had. As noted before and elsewhere, Ilkka did very well despite Guy throwing various curve balls in his direction, and passed easily. When he didn’t know the answer to something he didn’t get flustered and just said he didn’t know (with the implication of a “yet” in there). His teaching was straightforward and effective… he talked a lot, but that’s normal and required when teaching the basics of a new weapon system. The pace was pretty good; while it seemed fast in the beginning, in actuality it turned out to be just right, I never felt we were really going too fast. I would assume the pace would be lighter when teaching a room full of beginners, instead of the semi-intermediates the class mostly consisted of this time.

The system he was teaching was based on the teachings of some-random-Italian-dude (sorry, my memory for names is as lousy as ever), with some examples from other-random-Italian-dudes. The style emphasised a natural posture, and for once “natural” here actually meant something close to actually natural. I love the rapier as a weapon, but that stance in that (well, at least in Capo Ferro) is a leg-killer. None of that here, the guards were quite relaxed ones. The way the sword moved was a mixture of the natural and the unnatural (for me, that is). Some basic techniques felt easy and fluid, while others felt very, very hard to do correctly – one specific false-edge blade deflection in particular. One technique was extremely close to a rapier technique, and it was no surprise that it felt easy and natural – I guess rapier training has had some impact, since it wasn’t easy and natural to a lot of my training partners. So it goes.

I really like the sidesword as a weapon and this style of using it seems to suit me pretty well; the techniques either feel kinda sorta natural or feel like something that I can get to feel natural, with practice. Of course, the same could be said of any style, but some are easier than others. I get the feeling that the real difficult part is yet to come with this weapon, here we just focused on the basic moves – tactics are a different kettle of fish entirely. This feels like a weapon and style I’d like to learn better, here’s hoping we’ll see some more seminars etc on it in the future. Many of the moves still felt very clumsy and… well, unpolished, when I did them. Can’t find the proper word to use here… there’s a very specific feeling I get when I do a physical tehcnique and what I do is sort of right but not quite right, my body and muscle memory are still working on the details. It’s like rapier in the beginning, you do things but they don’t feel natural, your body doesn’t snap into them on autopilot. That’s what you aim for, of course, in the long run. It’s a nice feeling when you get there, even part of the way.

Ilkka has matured as a teacher. I remember when I first met him he was a nice guy (as he is still) but very gung-ho and pretty extreme in the physical training department; his warmups got a semi-legendary reputation of being killers. That has shifted into an emphasis on smart use of excercise, on doing warmups that are useful for the specific thing you’re training instead of going for raw power all the time. He has also gotten a lot better at explaining concepts and in figuring out why something isn’t working out for someone else – an essential martial arts instructor skill.

The day was made a slight bit more difficult for me because I had a pretty serious ache in my lower back (started some days back), which hurt my concentration and technique at times. I ate some painkillers to handle that but it was still a bit of a bitch. It’s mostly gone now; no idea what I did (wrong) to cause it, but I think I’ll go to swords training next week. Maybe (or actually: more than likely) I just need more/better muscles in my lower back and abdomen regions. That’s a nicer thought than “I’m getting old” :)

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Weekend

Nice weekend. Leonard Cohen was fantastic, managing to be even better than expected. Somehow he made the huge Hartwall Arena seem intimate, which is quite a feat. The backing band was also superb. Janka writes some more on the subject.

Sunday was mostly spent at the salle, we did six hours of Bolognese sidesword. Fun, and a weird mix of easy and quite difficult; some moves felt quite natural, while some were a total bitch to get even remotely right. Normal thing when learning a new weapon, or course. The seminar was also Ilkka’s Assistant Instructor exam, so we did some things (as told to by Guy) to make his life more difficult. He did splendidly and gave us an excellent day of learning the fundamentals of a new(ish) weapon… and easily passed the exam too. Over the years Ilkka has become a good martial arts teacher, it’s been interesting watching him develop both as a swordsman and as a teacher. I do like the sidesword, it’s a fun weapon which combines techniques from various other sword styles I’m familiar with; I’d like to learn more.

Only negative for the day was the fact that my back was killing me, I had picked up a nasty pain in my lower back from somewhere and had to eat some tabs to keep it in check. Those mostly helped, though some parts of the day were painful, literally. Good thing is that the pain is a lot less now, on Monday. Exercise helps (except when it doesn’t, of course).

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