Sunday, June 13, 2010


Two exhausting weeks ago I arrived in Spain in the company of Maestri Ramon Martinez and Jeannette Acosta-Martinez and over two dozen instructors and students from Europe and the US -- all of there to participate in one way or another in a well-planned workshop on the historical edged weapons of Spain. I will leave the descriptions of the maestri's training sessions to those more qualified to speak of them articulately, and will limit the reporting on my own sessions to a superficial overview. (There were far too many notable elements during our stay and our training to attempt to justly describe them in their entirety.)

The venue for our training, as I mentioned in my first Ravenblade post, was a rural hacienda called El Tesorillo II in the Andalucian city of Arcos de la Frontera. Although more landlocked than I am used to from my prior visits to Andalucia (Malaga, Sevilla, Marbella, etc.), the Arcos region is renown for its tasty jerez, soulful flamenco, and Arabian steeds. The maestri and I were there to re-introduce to it their own once-formidable but now-forgotten arts of handling naked steel; in my case, the Andalucian clasp-knife known as the navaja.

Was this arrogance on our part? One might think so, but No! Could it have been accomplished more capably by any other instructors in or out of Spain? Absolutely not!

The vast majority of the participants who'd traveled to El Tesorillo had trained with us at previous workshops in France, Italy, or the US. Their experience in arms dictated that the training we provided be of a more advanced level -- and, of course, this suited us just fine. It's a rare joy for an instructor to impart the higher levels of his craft without having to first inculcate his pupils with the base fundamentals. This fact alone made my instruction all the more enjoyable to me.

The first two days of training were focused on the Baratero style of using the navaja. This covered grips, guards, footwork, and the essentials of attack and defense. Drills were used to quickly familiarize newbies with the variety of thrusts and slashes that are used to defend against an opponent's attack.

On days Three and Four we delved into the Gitano, or Gypsy, style of navaja-handling. The Spanish Gypsy incorporated the use of tricks and deception into the art of knifeplay, making the Gypsies very formidable opponents for their skill in preventing you from seeing the knife or anticipating their tactics. We worked diligently on floreos, the deceptive brandishing movements used to confuse the opponent, as well as on cambios, the dexterous methods for invisibly passing the knife from one hand to the other before the opponent could see what was happening.

Days Five and Six addressed the Sevillano style of navaja, one which most approximated the tenets of Spanish fencing while using the shorter blade. I rarely offer instruction in Sevillano as it requires that the pupil have solid experience in the prior, less sophisticated, styles. However, instructing this group was never a problem because they were either instructors or accomplished fencers with significant experience in blade exchanges.

Throughout the six days I also dedicated time to the use of the cape in knife dueling. This was by design, as both the fencing maestri and I felt that the cape was a vital combat element common to both the sword and the knife. It was also an area where detailed instruction is either rare or totally lacking.

It was not only a pleasure for me to interact with these talented participants, but also to work yet again with my close friends and colleagues, the Martinezes. Whenever and wherever we co-instruct -- be it in Italy, France, Spain, or the US -- it is not so much collaborating with other professionals as it is interacting with family. Their constant camaraderie alone makes the less glamorous aspects of training -- the lesson plans, the preparations, the travel logistics, and the grueling travel itself -- nonetheless well worth the effort.

It was a further treat to work with Mr. Anthony DeLongis and wife, Mary, a highly-skilled couple recognizable to anyone familiar the Highlander television series, as well as the recent Deadliest Warrior and Extreme Marksmen programs. Mr. DeLongis became an immedeate fan of the navaja, as well as of the flexible faja, the waist sash in which the knife was historically carried. As thirsty for new knowledge as they are skilled, Anthony and Mary trained untiringly in every weapon area that was covered over the week-long workshop.

The couple was also kind enough to provide us with an impromptu display of their exceptional abilities in handling the bullwhip, a skill which they have successfully taught to Harrison Ford, Michelle Pfeifer, Halle Berry, and Ellen Barkin, among others.

They, along with all the other participants, have my respect for the long hours they endured under the merciless Andalucian sun, absorbing with the 100-degree heat the rigorous instruction the maestri and I were so happy to share.

Now that I am back home, I will take a few weeks to re-acclimate to life in NYC before starting to plan the next workshops and the next training venues. In time, I will head in whatever direction my navaja points, doing what little I can to help hone the skills of those who, by choice, travel Life on the edge.

Hasta la proxima, to all!