A Difference in Culture

 

I wrote this before I traveled to NYC to help teach a seminar I’ll add my thoughts from that at the end leaving the text essentially the same as when I wrote it.

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I fought at Ft Tryon for the ACL a few weeks ago. An observation that had been hinted at and vaguely discussed recently exploded like a neon sign of clarity(Yeah I know that simile makes no sense, go with it).  There is a fundamental difference in culture between the Knights Hall folk and the SwordClass folk. Not just in our training and our fighting style. That difference has been clear for months now. But our approach to fighting, to communication, to our feedback, to how we plan, how we prepare…everything.

While the whole trip made this clear bit by bit, there were a couple of moments that really stuck out to me. You know those moments of realization you get where it feels like the whole world turns shiny, as if in response the the truth you’ve uncovered? Or is that just a lingering side effect LSD? Either way, I had some. Two right in a row during the single fight tournament.

I had been pulled into be a counting ref during the singles tourney and as such was standing in the fenced off fighting portion of the dojo. That portion of the dojo is a sacred place. Not in the religious sense, but in the sense it has deep meaning to those who train there and their training is a form of worship. You could almost call it a shrine to the sword. These are my words, btw, not Raab’s. This is my interpretation as an outsider seeing how he requires it to be treated. I knew to take off my shoes when I entered, because of some rule, but didn’t really realize that was a sign of respect thing. I just assumed it was shoes would damage the special flooring they’ve put in, which is probably part of it, but seems like not all. So when I was told my drinking a beer inside was disrespectful I was completely caught off guard. The idea that drinking on the floor might be in some way…not acceptable was beyond foreign, it was alien to me. When he followed it up with try not to swear I was flabbergasted. I understand the rule enough to respect it and I think I understand the reasoning…but it’s still not  quite clicking.

You see, at the hall we don’t just have drinking in our training and fighting area. We mix buckets of jungle juice style Frat Boy drinks. We play Ruit. We, to borrow a phrase from the rap community, get CRUNK. We swear like sailors. We shit on each other constantly and say crass crass fucking shit. It’s just natural to me that if you’re watching fighting, why wouldn’t you have a beer and fuck about with your buddies? And why wouldn’t you watch the fighting on the floor as close to it as you can get? It’s odd to me because I think of the hall as a training and sacred space too. I worship there with my sweat almost everyday. I pour blood, sweat, and occasionally vomit or even tears into the place as I push myself to my limits and beyond, a sacrifice to gods I follow(PMP). But then I worship there later with my drinking and my parties, further prayers to those same gods. The hall is more than that though. It’s my home, the place I am most comfortable, the place I’m building the majority of my happy memories and I want to share all of my ecstatic emotions there.

The difference between the quiet respect of placing a space on a pedestal and the enthusiastic respect of using and abusing a place as much as it can take is fairly illustrative of one of our large differences. There is a dignity to the NY fighters. They will go easy on newer fighters, work as a group to clean their space, share gear constantly. There is this communal nature and mutual respect for anyone who walks in the door. They treat the sport and the fight with the type of honor you would hear a Victorian speaking on chivalry reference. They build everyone up.

That’s….not us. And there was another moment that really showed that, which happened minutes later. One of the NY fighters who’s a good friend, called us at the Hall, cold. We sputtered and denied. We tried to blame it on the standoffishness of the New England culture. We said that it’s because we’re just busy getting ready to fight and or workout so we’re in our own place….And fairly quickly we realized the lies for what they were. One of our new guys, who’s a great swordsman, been practicing for years in the SCA, came in and gassed himself out. We’d all told him his gas tank was his big concern. We told him the strategy he needed to use to get a victory in the tournament. He had all the skills all he needed to do was land a few blows then take it easy and block. And in his defense he tried to execute but was unable to adjust for armor weight. He outclassed everyone in skill, but still passed out in one fight, got knocked out in another, and gassed so hard he had to withdraw as he began to forget to follow the rules.

We commiserated with our boy over the loss…but we weren’t kind about it. We were empathetic to what happens when you fail, but not sympathetic because he had all the tools and lost. This is how we treat our own and ourselves. We don’t coddle. You fail you get blamed for what you fucked up on. You fail a lot you get shamed to make you try harder. We are a culture of Deeds.

We are Harsh. We are cold. If you haven’t fought yet you aren’t one of us and we have nothing for you. Until you stand across from us willing to take an axe to face….we don’t have respect for you. It’s not that we will disrespect you or treat you poorly. But to get warmth, friendship, brotherhood? That comes when you earn respect. We don’t build you up. You build yourself up by managing to survive us trying to tear you down. We do it out of love, to make you stronger, but that doesn’t diminish the fact we are ruthless to each other. We are slightly less brutal to everyone else actually. But only Slightly.

Is there a point I’m trying to make here? Am I saying one is better than the other? No…Not really. I guess I’m just pointing out something that occurred to me to help me work through it in more concrete terms. There’s alot to be learned from each other. The NY growth has far out-paced our own despite the ridiculous cost of living there and the fact we’ve been around 4 years, have monthly events, and daily practices. And while the sport has a high dropout rate, there’s seems to be much lower than ours. There may be something to this community building they do. On the flip side, while the New York fighters are improving, there is quite a discrepancy in skill. Some of the that is the top end Talent of Jaye and Cat Brooks. But even our newer fighters are, in my biased opinion, better.  Not only better but improving faster as well. I don’t say this as a brag. I’m proud of my boys and their recent accomplishments, but this is not just blowing smoke up our own asses. Watching NY and seeing what they are building I see alot of things we can take away. And I already see a few of them taking our attitudes and merging them into the culture that exists there. I hope we up here can do the same. I would love both gyms to be filled with 40-60 armored up fighters, all ready to brawl with the best the world has to offer…and I’m fairly certain that’s going to happen. Soon.

 

Our cultures are different. But they aren’t incompatible. And though combining our approaches we can the north east of America the center of the steel fighting world.

 

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Having spent another day down at SwordClassNYC to help teach a seminar I have some updated thoughts on this. I think in trying to highlight the differences I may have mischaracterized each of us slightly.

It may appear like I think the hall is always serious and intense. It’s not. We are a silly bunch who fuck around as much as anyone else. We complain and joke during workouts, slack off and need a task master to keep us on track, and generally act like fools.

It may appear like I think Swordclass don’t push each other to be better. They do. When we came down to teach them a class, most of their fighters showed up(we can almost never get all our guys to come in together on one day), paid attention(another thing we almost never do), and worked hard and encouraged each other. Between classes people would spar and talk over technique.

 

I guess that’s the real difference. There seems to be an inherent mutual respect and sense of building together at NYC. At the hall you earn respect and we build you up by forcing you to be able to handle the shit we throw at you. I’m working on taking that sense of community, openness, and friendliness they have. Respect will always need to be earned with me…but I can still help you get there.

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