Forteza Fitness

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What is the Forteza Cavaliers – Building a meaningful Youth Swordplay program

Teaching Best Probably the most common inquiry we have gotten since opening our doors has been “do you teach children”? That isn’t a surprise. After all, martial arts have become an extremely popular way to teach children poise, athleticism, discipline and focus. And in a world where pop-culture is dominated by Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, action video-games, World of Warcraft and so on, what kid at some point hasn’t wanted to swing a sword? (How do I know that? Well, all of us at Forteza were those kids – just a few decades ago.) And so…(drum roll, pu-lease):

Welcome to FORTEZA CAVALIERS, our new youth swordplay program, specifically tailored to meet the needs of children ages 8 – 15 in a unique athletic program designed to engage your child’s mind and body, instill self-confidence, and promote teamwork. 

We are very excited to offer this program — so excited that we want to tell you all about both what it is, and what is not! Let’s get the is not part over first, so we can focus on the fun.

THE CHALLENGE OF YOUTH MARTIAL ARTS

Martial arts really are a fantastic way for children to develop both athletic and personal skills. But it is also a tricky challenge. Young bodies are constantly changing and evolving, and although martial skills will help hone their potential, the emphasis must always be on safety. How do you do that and make sure that you are teaching the kids “the real deal”?

Sadly, some schools don’t. Besides having grown up excited by knights in armour, brave jedi and all of that good stuff, several of our staff also been youth martial arts instructors in mainstream, Asian arts, and we’ve seen the dark underbelly of “kiddie karate”, “Little Ninjas” and “youth blackbelt” programs. Often, they are a glorified, after-school recess program — a way to keep the kids busy and running around until their parents are ready to bring them home. Others teach good skills but with unrealistic expectations: it doesn’t matter if your child is an athletic prodigy, a 12-year old “blackbelt” simply cannot generate the power, speed and precision of his adult counterpart. What often happens is that these young “blackbelts” make the switch to adult classes and find out that their rank doesn’t mean much at all, and they quickly drift away to other sports or hobbies, disappointed. They’ve been set-up to fail.

So much for “building confidence”, eh?

BUILDING A BETTER YOUTH PROGRAM

Cocky Pose

So, knowing what we didn’t want, we had to design a program that was based on what we did want. Such a program had to include the following elements:

  • A detailed, and complete martial curriculum that would take into account the differing needs of young children, adolescents and teens;
  • Progressive skills development that could be scaled to children entering the program at different ages, without making anyone feel either bored or “in over their heads”;
  • A degree of real fitness training capable of combating childhood obesity, developing natural athleticism and strength, taught in a way that would be encouraging and fun;
  • Complementary, educational lessons that emphasized the historical aspects of what we teach;
  • Integration of the knightly code of chivalry as a way of bringing in the best elements of “merit-badge” systems, such as Scouting;
  • A rank system that would let children (and parents) measure their progress, while providing a means to enter the adult program with realistic rank and expectations;
  • An emphasis on safety, control, fellowship and fun!

We call this the Forteza Cavaliers, and here’s how it works.

SKILL PROGRESSION AND RANKS

The Cavalier Program includes a detailed ranking system to measure progress and help students set achievable goals for themselves. The structure is organized in a parallel system to our adult ranking system, and is meant to integrate with it, should a child decide to continue with our adult classes.  By keeping the systems similar in methodology but distinct, teens don’t move from our youth program to adult classes with a “kiddie blackbelt” that doesn’t measure up with the grown-ups. Instead, they will graduate from the Cavaliers program with skills and knowledge that places them several years ahead of new adult students!

The curriculum has a seven-step system:

Apprentice (8 – 10)
An introductory rank for the very young, or children who may have motor-learning special needs. Focus is on building coordination, cooperation, safe falling and tumbling skills and basic swordplay and safety skills.

For safety, classes employ ‘boffers’, swords made of PVC rods wrapped in high-density foam and duct tape.

Page  (10 – 11)
This level of the program begins by familiarizing students with the basic body movements of renaissance swordplay and to accustom them to the weight of the sword. Training at this level focuses on medieval wrestling and the use of the two-handed sword. Using a combination of physical conditioning, drills, games and supervised sparring, students will strengthen their bodies and sharpen their instincts while having fun!

Students at this level use properly weighted and balanced resin swords that give the authentic feel of the real thing while being safe and manageable.

Squire (11 – 14)
The core of the Cavalier program is the Squire rank, which has four sub-grades, each corresponding to a heraldic animal that embodies Forteza’s core virtues.

  • Elephant (Strength)
  • Tiger (Speed)
  • Lynx (Knowledge)
  • Lion (Courage)

While Squires will have the opportunity to handle the regular steel weapons used in adult classes during some training exercises, students at this level use properly weighted and balanced resin swords that give the authentic feel of the real thing while being safe and manageable.

In addition to training with the medieval weapons and wrestling, squires will learn to use the dagger, the spear and the rapier, the elegant dueling sword the Renaissance.

Cavalier (14 – 15)
Beginning with a symbolic graduation ceremony reminiscent of the medieval knighting ceremony, the Cavalier rank is the “coming of age” for young students. In this final rank, our young men and women begin training in adult classes, using the same training gear and uniforms as their adult counterparts.

Although generally corresponding to age, although older children entering the program will usually pass through the first two levels very quickly, before settling into Squire training.

PROGRESSIVE TRAINING – GROWING COMPLEXITY AS THE STUDENT GROWS

kid romp 2We took our time and set out to build a program that would grow in focus and intensity as the children themselves grew; not just in size, but in athleticism, focus and intellectual curiosity.  Learning martial arts is a long process, with intricate skills that are developed over time through in-depth instruction and  continued practice: there are no shortcuts to skill-building! The direct benefit of this structured approach is increased coordination, strength, ability to analyze new situations, self-control, and respect of self and of others. Our Cavaliers Program teaches children the use of the two-handed longsword, dagger, rapier and spear — precisely the same weapons that the adults learn. Exercises from our adult program are adapted to the needs of young martial artists, and are designed to emphasize development of balance, coordination and strength. Literally starting from the feet up, each child progresses at an individual pace through the seven levels of the curriculum by using solo drills and exercises, partnered drills and games, and as their experience and control develops, actual fencing.

Here’s an example of how this works in practice: wrestling is a key component in medieval martial arts, but so is control and safety. So the wrestling component in the Apprentice level (ages 8 – 9) is focused on learning tumbling, falling and balance exercises to develop a sense of ease and comfort “in their own skins”, then they begin to work with partnered exercises and games, some of which are hundreds of years old, which are designed to add a sense of competition, as they learn leverage and movement against a partner. By the time the seventh and final level of the curriculum is completed, they will have a foundation in the same throws, pins and joint locks as our adult students — only with several more years of practice.

A similar pattern works with weapons. At first, young students will train with light, scaled-down nylon training swords. When used with a fencing mask these lighter, flexible weapons are quite safe, but they are taught from day one that they are weapons, and taught to handle them the same way they would sharp, steel swords. As they grow in mind and body, so do the tools that they will use, and the variety of techniques and targets that they can use when sparring: literally letting them “grow” into adult classes, where we use blunt steel weapons. This is very similar to how pages and squires were trained centuries ago, using progressively larger and heavier wooden weapons until they began to train with adults, as adults.

So as the children grow, they not only learn more techniques and new weapons, but they adapt to progressively heavier tools, more diverse sparring methods and new forms of exercise and conditioning routines that fit the actual body they are living in at that time.

PUTTING THE “H” IN HISTORICAL MARTIAL ARTS

GE POCKET CAMCORDERMore than just another martial arts class, our youth program is designed to develop life skills and ethical, self-confident young men and women, based on the traditional, seven chivalric virtues of the medieval knight. At first, the traditional names of these virtues may seem archaic, but when you see them besides their modern counterparts, we realize that they are just as meaningful today as they were six-hundred years ago.

  • Prowess (Athleticism)         
  • Humility
  • Courage
  • Courtesy
  • Justice (Fairness)
  • Temperance (Balance & Self-Control) 
  • Largesse (Generosity)·         

Each level of the curriculum is designed to focus on one of these virtues, and challenge the students to learn how to make that virtue a part of their daily lives. Classes interweave physical training with teamwork exercises, lessons on medieval and Renaissance military history, arms and armour, heraldry, and short reading assignments to hone their minds and surely as their bodies.

RITE OF PASSAGE – JOINING THE ADULTS

Remember what we said earlier about “kiddie blackbelts”? We take that seriously: there is nothing worse than seeing an adolescent or young teen switch into adult classes and suddenly feel like their hard-earned rank means nothing. Part of our educational mission at Forteza is to promote authentic, historical European martial arts and to foster students who will want to make those arts a part of their lives. Therefore, a key part in designing the youth program had to be “how does one graduate”?

This is embodied in the seventh and final rank of our program: the Cavalier. Named for the knightly courtier, the Cavalier rank is the “coming of age” for young students. Beginning with a symbolic graduation reminiscent of the medieval knighting ceremony, in this final rank, our young men and women begin training in adult classes, using the same training gear and uniforms as their adult counterparts. The difference is that for the teen, they have already learned most of the skills that the adults are learning themselves, and are instead learning how to apply them with and against adults, and refining their knowledge for their “final exam”; in this case a skills test, written and sparring exam. Once passed, they are no longer part of the cavalier program, but are now   Scholars in our adult swordplay program, and eligible to join the Chicago Swordplay GuildScholar is the first major adult rank, and one that students will achieve in either medieval or Renaissance swordplay after a year or two of training. Because the youth program teaches all of the skills of both programs, teens will be able to test for rank in both, meaning that although they join the Swordplay Guild with a mid-level rank, they are actually more well-rounded martial artists than most of the adults who share that rank, and are well-prepared to continue their training. We find that this is a much more realistic reflection of the advantages of youth training that creating artificially inflated ranks.

THE RIGHT INSTRUCTOR FOR THE RIGHT PROGRAM

We have ambitious objectives in our youth program, so it needed an instructor who was up to the task, as a martial artist, youth instructor and fitness expert. Jesse Kulla is a PTA Global certified personal trainer who has had a lifelong interest in physical fitness and martial arts. He began his training in 1995 in Korean martial arts, gaining black belt ranks in two arts, before exploring Wing Chun, Hapkido, and the Filipino Martial Arts. Jesse joined the Chicago Swordplay Guild, shortly after its founding in 1999, where his focus has been on their Armizare curriculum. In 2008, along with Keith Jennings, he became one of the first two people to earn the rank of Free Scholar of Armizare from the Guild. As a Guild instructor he has taught throughout the Chicagoland area, at events such as Chivalric Weekend and the Western Martial Arts Workshop, and in private seminars around the country.

A TRULY UNIQUE MARTIAL ARTS ADVENTURE

We’ve tried to create the youth martial arts program that we wanted to take, but did not exist, when we were kids, combined with the things that, as adults, we want from any school where we’ll send our children. You can download our Cavalier Program 3-Fold Brochure (1) which has additional details and FAQs, but the best way to learn more is to just come in! And don’t forget to watch this blog for more information on the Cavaliers in the weeks and months to come.

This exciting new program meets on Mondays and Wednesdays from 5:00 – 6:00 PM

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February Workshop! A Solid Foundation: Medieval Wrestling from three sources

In this day-long class we will explore medieval German wrestling techniques (known as Ringen) from three different medieval and renaissance sources.  First, we will learn to move into and escape from various grips.  As the day continues, we will move from the grip to the throw, seeing a variety of types of actions with the feet and hands, including locks, trips, sweeps and breaks.  We will learn counters to these throws, and learn how and when to apply them.  Towards the end of the day, we’ll continue the fight to the ground and perform some common holds and pins seen in the German corpus of techniques.  The seminar will present techniques from the 15th century wrestling master Ott, the early 16th century master Auerswald and finally from the anonymous writer of the ringen found in the Glasgow Fechtbuch.  After this seminar, the student should have an understanding of the principles of Ringen, and how to continue the study both in the German traditions as well as other unrelated wrestling traditions.
Required Gear:  A jacket either purpose-made for wrestling, such as a wrestling jacket, a judo gi or a bjj gi.  If unavailable, any strong denim or linen jacket can work in a pinch.
Cost: $50 for members, $60 for non-members. Register today!
About the Instructor:

Jessica Finley has been a student of the sword for over twelve years. Her interest began in stage combat, but quickly branched out to German Medieval Swordsmanship. She had been a student of Christian Tobler’s since 2002, and currently is the principal instructor of Great Plains Fechtschule, a chapter of Selohaar Fechtschule, within which she hold a rank of Free Scholar. She also has experience in Judo, and achieved the rank of Nikyu under the tutledge Arden Cowherd of Topeka Judo Club.

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Joint Lock Seminar Review (“Junkyard Aikido”)

Our wrists were sore, but we were happy!

Our wrists were sore, but we were happy!

On October 27th we had Eric Mayes, owner of Rocky Mountain Self Defense, out for a one day seminar on joint locking.  Eric is a black belt in Combat Hapkido, as well as a fully certified instructor of Martial Blade Concepts, so his approach was a good combination of martial arts fundamentals, as well as a more pragmatic, combative approach.

Jesse gets taken for a ride!

Jesse gets taken for a ride!

Eric began emphasizing that applying joint locks is not necessarily going to be your primary goal in a self defense situation.  Rather they are a tool, and are often times either accidental or incidental to your achieving your goal, which is to get out of harms’ way.  Eric they went over where people usually fail with their locking techniques, and broke down how you actually put a joint into position where you can actually either damage or lock out the joint.  Outside wrist lock, center lock, a “Z” lock, and an escort/come-along wrist lock were all taught in fine detail.  Eric then showed how to link all of these locks together in a flow by taking advantage of knowing how you partner would realistically try and escape the lock.
We finished the day’s training with how to counter each lock, as well as applying joint locks in a combative situation off of punches and blocks.  By the end of the seminar, all of the students in attendance were able to apply various joint locks from different positions, flow from lock to lock, and successfully escape even the most painful of joint locks.  Special thanks to Eric Mayes for making the trip all the way out to Chicago to share his expertise with us!
You can catch a bit of the excitement in this video clip, where Eric demonstrates a wristlock flow drill:

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Junkyard Aikido and Joint-Lock Flow Seminar

October 27th
11am-5:30pm
Cost is only $70 for non-members, $60 for members

Junkyard Aikido cuts through the myth and misinformation to make joint locking skills accessible to any martial artist or self-defense practitioner. In this 6 hour seminar, Instructor Eric Mayes will teach step-by-step how to successfully apply joint locks in a combative setting, as well as flow drill to help link each action.

Instead of throws and submissions, the applications of Junkyard Aikido focus on breaking joints and creating opportunities for disabling strikes that will decisively end a fight. It also teaches you locks as the basis for weapon strips and disarms, giving you a decisive advantage over an armed attacker.

Instructor Bio for Eric Mayes:

Owner of Rocky Mountain Self-defense

Grand County SWAT Defensive Tactics Instructor

Martial Blade Concepts:

  • Certified Full Instructor in Martial Blade Concepts, Counter Blade Concepts, and the subsystems of Damithurt Silat , Sobadiwana Escrima
International Combat Hapkido Federation:

  • Rocky Mountain Region Director of Training and Operations
  • Rocky Mountain Region Director of Weapons and Ground Survival
  • 5th Degree Black Belt in Combat Hapkido

Hoch Hochheim’s Scientific Fighting Congress:

  • Certified Close Quarter Combatives Advanced Instructor
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Western Martial Arts Workshop After-Action Review

Forteza Co-Owner and Chicago Swordplay Guild founder, Gregory Mele has just posted an after-action review of the 2013 Western Martial Arts Workshop. Begun in 1999, WMAW is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, international event of its kind!

As a bonus, here is some footage of the CSG’s own Rob Rutherfoord in a rapier exhibition bout with the Virginia Academy of Fencing’s Bill Grandy:

And a high-intensity, Bowie Knife duel between Forteza’s Keith Jennings and Thayne Alexander:

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Tomahawk and Long Knife Seminar Review and Training Footage

Meredith Lyons has posted a review of our recent Tomahawk and Long Knife seminar. This was the second part of our American Heritage Fighting Arts series, following on last month’s Bowie Knife Wokrshop. Next up: single-stick, both a training tool for the military saber, and a form of self-defense and fencing sport in its own right, and one of the martial arts of choice of the original Rough Rider himself, Teddy Roosevelt.

More on that soon, but for now, here is some video of both the recent ‘hawk and knife seminar, and some bowie knife fencing from the end of our first workshop:

‘Hawk and Knife

Bowie Basics

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10152103117427846&set=vb.505617845&type=3&theater

And you can find more Bowie sparring clips at the recent after action event review.

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Indian Club Workshop

Join us this Tuesday, August 27th @ 7pm when we welcome Paul Taras Wolkowinski for an introduction to the use of the Indian Clubs. Paul is an Australian instructor and researcher on the use of Indian Clubs, as can be seen at his site .  He will be visiting Forteza next week to check out our Gymuseum, and since he’ll be in town, Paul has offered to teach a short workshop on the use of the clubs.

Paul has a short routine that will work great as a mobility warmup, will help to keep joints healthy and strong, and is an excellent conditioning method for martial artists, particularly those involved in weapon arts.

The class is only $15.  Space will be limited, and we are keeping this in house, so please RSVP to info@fortezafitness.com
Here is a teaser of what you’ll see:
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Bowie Knife Workshop After-Action Review – American Heritage Fighting Arts

Just in time for Independence Day, Forteza kicked off our American Heritage Fighting Arts program with a three hour introduction to the Bowie knife.  While we had originally planned to launch this new program with a seminar on the tomahawk, due to a snafu with one of our distributors, we found ourselves without tomahawk trainers! Oops.

This worked out just fine, as there is no other weapon as  quintessentially American as the Bowie knife.

The Man – the Knife. While Jim Bowie’s knife duels are famous, there is no evidence of any special design of his devising, or a connection to the weapon that would come to bear his name

The Bowie was not so much a new invention, as the inheritor of about two-thousand years of European big knives, beginning with the Germanic saex. Although taught in fencing salles throughout the south – particularly in New Orleans, alongside the sabre and dueling sword, there was little formally written on fighting with the big knife, with the most notable sources being an illustrated newspaper interview from 1890 and  John Styers much later “Cold Steel”.  Our own Bowie knife system comes from Forteza Combatives instructor Keith Jennings’ 14 years of research into the weapon. Keith has at one time or another studied with three of the modern masters of the Bowie: James Keating, Dwight McClemore, and Pete Kautz. The program taught at Forteza reflects the teachings of three instructors, as well as Keith’s own research into the use of the knife in Western martial culture going back to the medieval ages, through the World Wars, and to today.

The seminar focused on the basics of large knife dueling starting with the grip, the basic stance and guards, and the three basic thrusts. After learning how to attack safely using the age old True Times, students worked on defensive actions, including basic parries, stop cuts, classical fencing techniques such as the inquartata and passada sotto.

Next, the students learned the deadly back-cut, taking advantage of the Bowie knife unique blade design. Using the clip point of the blade, students went through the mechanics of a proper back-cut, and how to use it both offensively and defensively.

Finally, with enough basic training under their belts, it was time to pressure test what the students had learned. There were a lot of different training backgrounds present, from historical fencing, to Filipino martial arts, Military knife training, and boxing. All of this showed up in their sparring, and everyone was quick adapt the bowie knife to their pre-existing skill set. There were several nice passes, and all of the fighting looked crisp, deadly, and ended quickly, just as a Bowie knife fight should!


Bowie Fencing Video Clip One

Bowie Fencing Video Clip Two

The next in our line of American Heritage Fighting Arts seminar series with be the Tomahawk and Long knife Seminar on Sunday, August 4th.

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Training with Spartan Race founder Joe De Sena

Training for a Spartan Race Tshirt
As fans and students of Forteza know, we are big believers in the virtues of adventuring racing, especially the “often imitated, never surpassed” Spartan Race – so much so that Forteza’s own Jesse Kulla has been training to become a recognized Spartan Race instructor.

On Saturday, July 13th, the members of Team Forteza attended a group workout with Spartan Race founder Joe De Sena. With just one week before the Illinois Super Spartan Race, we were in the final preparations for the race. For the past two months, the team had been training hard, eating clean (supposedly…), and felt ready and confident. The Spartan group workout promised to be a great measuring stick for how well prepared we truly were. As Joe himself said, if you can get through his workout, the actual race will be a walk in the park.

Bravado aside, we were all thinking the same thing: how much harder can this be compared our weekly group training? What followed was 2 1/2 hours of brutality in the sweltering Summer heat. After a brisk warm-up, the workout started off with a quarter mile of walking lunges. Everyone’s quads were on fire before we reached our destination: an outdoor park that didn’t offer a single bit of shade to protect us from the midday sun. After a bit of bear crawling, we lined up in rows of 22, with each row being about ten people deep. Right away, it was obvious who was actually training for the upcoming Spartan Race, and those who were less prepared. Next came 100 jumping jacks, animal crawls up and down the field, and fireman carries. Not even half way through the workout, and people started to drop out. Then came the 300 burpees.

Getting through an obstacle race takes a team effort, even if that means helping or requesting aid from strangers. Cooperation in the midst of competition, as the saying goes. In ancient Sparta, the mighty phalanx was so effective because the Spartans wouldn’t fight as individuals. Instead, they fought as one, impenetrable unit. Every Spartan protects the the Spartan to his side, Joe emphasized. To hammer in this point, the group had to do all 300 burpees together. If even a single person was out of sync, that burpee didn’t count. So, what was 300 buprees turned out to be a hell of a lot more!

By the time we finished the burpees, and then started the sprints, squats, and planks, the army of would be Spartans had thinned drastically. What were rows of ten, were now rows of two or three. The most any line had left was four Spartans standing strong. And among these elite stood Team Forteza, who stuck it out until the bitter end.

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Congrats to Trey Ptak – new MBC Affiliate Instructor

Trey and Mike J
Last month, Forteza instructors Keith Jennings and Trey Ptak traveled to Detroit for a three day seminar with Martial Blade Concepts founder and head instructor Mike Janich.  In addition to the knife instruction for which MBC is famous, Janich also brought students through the core skills of Sobadiwon Escrima; his direct, no nonsense approach to stick fighting.
On Sunday, there was a special segment dedicated to instructor development.  Trey has been working closely with Keith to get his MBC skills up to par, and has been acting as the assistant instructor for the Forteza Combatives classes. After evaluating Trey’s skills,  Janich  felt confident in having Trey represent MBC, awarding him with an Affiliate Instructor certification, which is described by MBC’s founder as:
 An accomplished student of MBC who has trained directly with me and displayed the skills, understanding, and character to earn my recommendation as a source of training. Affiliate Instructors are typically already certified instructors of other martial arts systems and therefore have teaching experience. At their discretion, they may include as much or as little of the MBC curriculum as they want in their teaching; however, they remain a resource for accurate, authentic inquiries regarding the MBC system.
Congrats, Trey!  Trey hopes to test for full proficiency in MBC within the next year or two, and will continue to assist with the development of the weekly Forteza Combatives classes.

 

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