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What are the fundamentals?


“A Man may remember the whole parades of the sword, and yet not be able to act with such judgement as another, who perhaps has but an indifferent memory, yet knows the sum and substance of the art.” - Archibald MacGregor

After many years of studying different manuscripts and practising different techniques I faced a conundrum: I could still be given a run for my money from someone who had only been in the club for a couple of weeks.

My experience was that certain people could walk into the class, pick up a sword for the first time and within a week or two be beating everyone in the class, beginners and experienced alike.

Why? Generally it was as simple as they had above average fitness. 

This gave them the strength to move the sword with ease, they would have the stamina to hold their guards, the power to snap out the cuts and parries at speed. They would not be panting and dropping into low guards after 30 seconds. Thus they quickly picked up the basic technique and soon, as a result, if they didn’t walk in the door with a “I rule attitude,” they quickly gained in confidence and fighting spirit that compounded their dominance of the free fighting at the club.

It took a while but I finally figured out that the guy who walked straight in the door had a better intuitive grasp of what I have come to think of as the three fundamentals of the Art. These fundamental pillars, upon which we should be building everything else are: fitness, technique and attitude.

By fitness I mean strength and speed, these can be improved by exercise. 

By technique I mean the basic trinity of footwork, cutting and stance; usually honed by drilling. 

By attitude I mean a mental state that allow you to relax and react as quickly as possible; a stressed mental state means you are jamming your own nerve signals, significantly slowing your reflexes.

From what I can gather these fundamentals have a hierarchy that looks like this:

Fitness is your first pillar
Technique will flow from the fitness
Attitude will flow from the fitness and technique

This reminds me of Joachim Meyer's treatise, in his introduction:

“It is my advice that if you wish to get the hang of this art that, as I have often now said, you learn to deliver the cuts or thrusts powerfully, correctly and well, with extended arms and the strength of your whole body.”

Bearing in mind that the "strength of the whole body" of a 16th century craftsman was probably significantly above the norm of the average office bound computer programmer of today, he then goes on to say:

“when you can cut them [the principle cuts] correctly and well as I have said, then next learn to pull them back again skilfully in mid flight or mid course, and to make them flit, so that just as a cut is about to hit, and you can see that it will be useless in this place, you can turn it from there to another in mid flight before he actually realises it. Now when this has taken place, then you are at last trained and ready to step into the ring.”

So there was lesson for me and it is that there are fundamentals and they are hard work and until you have them mastered you are better downing tools and not going out to play.

I can’t think of many, if any, people I have seen who have convincingly mastered these fundamentals and it shows in the general low standard of WMA. So this blog is to chart my progress towards fitness, technique and attitude before I "step back into the ring."

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