Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Putting it Into Practice Part II

Putting it Into Practice, Part II
Jason “Aeston” Rosa

About three years ago, I wrote an article for the View that attempted detail the purpose of fight practices and explain why attending practice is so important to us as individuals and to our community as a whole. Now, years later, as the View staff begins an in-depth look at some of the practices that surround our game, I want to pick up where I left off, in the hopes that my advice can help people who want to start their own practices around New England.

As many of you know, the Realms has existed, in one form or another, since the early 1980s. While it was certainly not the very first LARP North America had ever seen, it can be counted among the first, and due to that early beginning has been building its own unique culture and set of traditions ever since. Those traditions, and the community that we have built around them, are a vital part of what comprises the soul of the Realms, and it should not escape our notice that we continue to embrace those same traditions, year after year, with an equal amount of enthusiasm. That is a special thing.

And while we have a plethora of yearly events that are into their second decade of existing, and even a few in their third, another important tradition that often gets overlooked is that of our fight practices. Certainly there are other LARPs with heavy combat components that get together weekly and practice, I am not claiming that it makes us unique. Rather, I would argue that the people who come weekly to a fight practice, who go there to teach, go there to learn, and go there to see their friends, are as important to keeping the community of the Realms together as the people who work together to throw events.

Our fight practices have also run for many years. Many are in their second decade of existing. One or two, in their third. Some newer ones have a strong foundation already and show signs of the endurance they will have in future years. We at UCONN SMAC practice (Society for Medieval Arts and Combat) are into our 12th year now, and I am proud beyond measure of the organization and community that we have have built here. It was through the constant and consistent work of many selfless individuals and if we are now recognized as one of the leaders amongst the many practices after having started with eight people in 2004, it should stand as testament that every practice, even the smallest and newest of them, can build up to that same level.

My hope in writing these articles, therefore, is that I can impart some advice to those in the community who want to start or grow a fight practice of their own. Certainly I am not the only authority on this, if I can be considered an authority at all, and the most I can share with you are the methods that have made UCONN SMAC successful. Many other practices have met with equal or greater accomplishments throughout the years with their own understanding of their communities and their circumstances. Hopefully, however, there is information here that you can find useful.

So much of what makes a practice work is the common understanding that all the participants have about what they are all trying to accomplish together, can be considered as the guiding philosophies of that fight practice. These philosophies can have many elements. Some of those elements that are important at UCONN are as follows:

  • Consistency: it is of vital importance to be as consistent as possible about the dates, times, and locations of your practice. It is important to run every week, even if the weather is not good or if the anticipated turnout is low. Of course some practices are seasonal, and some are dependant on the schedule of the institution that is hosting them. Nonetheless, every effort should be made to create an environment that is consistent so that people can rely on your practice to be there as a part of the weekly routine that they create for themselves. If they always have lingering doubts about where or when practice is going to be, or if it is going to run at all, then it will be that much harder for them to integrate it into the regular schedule that they follow. This becomes more important as you want to pull in people who are further away from your location, as they have to invest the most time and effort to attend. Consistency also means having a hard stop-time, as it allows people to plan when they are going to leave practice and not have to feel guilty that they are abandoning it before it is finished for the evening.

  • Rigor: the social aspect of fight practice is a vital one, but it is important to establish fight practice as a place people come to practice fighting. That means, first and foremost, that the burden falls upon the organizers of that practice to always be engaging the participants and eliminating as much downtime as possible. It is incumbent upon the participants, therefore, to attend practice with the intention of fighting, and learning, as much as they can. If too great a number of people drop out of participating it can derail the entire session and, if that becomes the norm, spoil the potential of future practices as well. If excessive downtime is happening, again, it is the duty of the organizers of practice to find a way to keep those people engaged for as much of the practice as they can. Changing activities more regularly, or attempting to make them more fun and interesting, for example, might do a lot to limit people’s desire to step away from the fighting. Rigor is also preserved by having a hard stop-time. It allows people to know how long they have to push themselves and makes them more likely to want to try to be involved for the entire duration of the practice.

  • Training: it is important to establish a fight practice as a place where everyone comes to learn. This means that the community of a practice needs to take seriously the responsibility to be open to and to train newer members. It means that the more veteran members of fight practice are willing to accept that their attendance at practice is as much about them teaching younger people as it is about them getting practice themselves. It means the practice needs to always be welcoming to veteran players, because it will raise the overall skill level and the overall training level of the practice. Everyone who attends should be willing to train when asked to, but it's also extremely helpful to have some members who have the specific responsibility of greeting and educating new people when they arrive. While practice will mostly consist of drills or war maneuvers of some kind, it is very important to have a portion of practice involve one-on-one fighting to allow people the chance to train and be trained, as well.

It is important for the organizers, and really all of the individuals that are invested in a fight practice, have a common understanding about the philosophies that are going to form the foundation of what you will all build together. What I have described above are the points of view we have settled on at UCONN SMAC, but they are far from the only ones that are correct. There are practices that have succeeded in being even more rigorous than ours. There are practices that have succeeded at being more accessible to newer players than ours. There are practices that have succeeded at being lighter-hearted and more casual than ours. A practice can be successful in a myriad of different ways but in order to build the best community around your practice, it is vital for the participants to agree upon what they want, and to create norms and procedures for that practice that will further those philosophies.

In my next article, I will describe the structure of how we run practice and the reasons behind our methodology. Hopefully, I’ll see you at UCONN SMAC soon. And, as always, everyone is welcome.

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