This month, Academie Duello is once again organizing the 30 for 30 Swordplay Challenge. Martial artists of all stripes will join in, set training goals, then pledge to practice 30 minutes or more for 30 days straight. I’ll be joining this year, my fourth time attempting the challenge, but this time is special for me. When the challenge ended last January, I just kept going, month after month. Now it’s 2017 and I’m still practicing, a full year later, with self-guided practice fully ingrained in my daily schedule. With the next challenge coming up, I find myself thinking about how the Vancouver International Swordplay Symposium got me started on this track.
My first major weekend-long martial arts seminar was VISS 2013. I expected it to be valuable training experience. I trained a ton and I learned quite a bit, but that’s not really what made a difference to my martial arts education. Far more meaningful was the way that VISS plugged me into the community.
I had the opportunity to meet and train with great teachers and scholars, the sort of people who have led research, translation, interpretation, and training for thousands of martial artists. When I arrived, I was essentially a sponge for knowledge, a passive student who recognized teachers from book covers and YouTube but who observed from a distance. I left as an active member of the community, on a first-name basis with all sorts of teachers and students.
Seminars are always great for meeting new people and training with new teachers, but I was floored by the welcome I received from the local students. Maybe it was the culture of the host school at Academie Duello, maybe it’s our shared interests, or maybe it’s just that people are friendly in Vancouver. In any case, I left with a whole new set of friends, an invitation to come back, and offers of couches to sleep on when I did.
Since then, VISS hasn’t really stopped for me. I kept coming back to visit, whether for workshops, routine training trips, or just to see friends. I got a regular and refreshing reminder of what a healthy martial arts community looks like. Historical European martial arts are naturally well-suited for autodidactic people, so it’s easy to forget that we need the support of a community to keep the candle alight.
Now I’m doing my best to bring that community with me, outside of Vancouver. Here in Seattle, I created a historical Italian rapier practice group, where I try to introduce new students to the community resources I wished I knew about when I started. And, of course, I join in on events like the 30 for 30 Swordplay Challenge, where I can find social support to keep my solo practice going strong.
After two VISSes and a full year of maintaining the 30 for 30 challenge, I’m ready for VISS 2017. Until then, I’ll be training every day and helping other people do the same. So if you feel like pushing yourself a little bit this January, join me for the 30 for 30 Swordplay Challenge.