It turns out that 170 pages compiled over 15 years are not so easily distilled into digestible lessons. It's taken 3 years and 4 major iterations to get the total list down to 55 lessons, each of which has evidently required 2-3 months (4 hrs/wk) of emphasis for new students to grasp and achieve practical competence in open fencing and sparring.

Doing the math, I suppose that makes sense, since by the time they reach the end of this list alone, it will have taken them 9-15 years -- which is about as long as I've spent pursuing it.

So this blog post is a very, very flimsy springboard from which to begin diving into this deep and subtle art. May it serve you more than hinder you.

Ringeck's topics, a partial and basic list:

  1. Wrath strike - Zorn haw
  2. Crooked strike - Krump haw
  3. Thwart strike - zwer haw
  4. Squint strike - schill haw
  5. Scalp strike - schaittel haw
  6. Four guards - Vier hütten
  7. Four parries - Vier verseczen
  8. Following-after - Nachraisen
  9. Running-over - Überlauffen
  10. Setting-aside - Abseczen
  11. Changing-through - Durchwechßlen
  12. Pulling - Zucken
  13. Running-through - Durchläuffen
  14. Slicing-away - Abschnÿden
  15. Hand-pressing - Hend trucken
  16. Hanging - Hengen
  17. Winding - Winden

Concepts he uses throughout his system:

  • Before - Vor
  • After - Nach
  • Instant - Indes
  • Strong - Stark
  • Weak - Schwech
  • Feeling - Fühlen

This list represents one experienced schirmmeister's perspective on a lifetime of experience, as he viewed it at the time of writing. It does not necessarily capture what he had to learn in order to become skilled and recognized for that skill, nor even what he may have taught 5-20 years earlier in his established career as a fencing master.

Notice he doesn't strongly describe footwork, balance, joint stacking and structure, decision-making, or fitness conditioning. It'd be folly to assume that the absence of those topics means they're not necessary. People spend years on just those topics alone in any physical art, never mind the ones explicitly listed above. It could take 3-4 years just to grind through Ringeck's list item by item, never mind the foundation topics he doesn't list.

But fortunately, we don't have to and shouldn't isolate any single topic. Any one of these topics will often incorporate several others, even if we don't explicitly call them out in the exercise at hand. This more holistic approach ends up helping a student to begin subconsciously framing and contextualizing the focus topic in terms of the overall framework.

After riding the merry-go-round of focus topics a couple times, the whole cluster begins to take on some semblance of order. And eventually, we may latch onto one of the key principles which defines how we view the rest of the system.

For example, I see everything in terms of strong versus weak; 5 years ago, I would have said explosive strength training. Everything else requires it or feeds into it, by my choice of perspective. Someone else might see the system in terms of opponent psychology, fitness, or decision-making.

So whether you're learning, self-training, or teaching, it's important to recognize what skills you already have (or not), what you need to work on, and want to work towards. Then pick one active topic to work on at a time, while doing your best to passively not fail too egregiously at any of the other topics.

A sample thought process:

<Picks striking in the Vor>
"Gotta strike early, strike fast!"
"Aw, crap, I'm rushing with poor form and I'm telegraphing with my hands leading first."
"OK, no big deal, just strike a little slower, get that blade and point out first. Good, hands don't lead anymore."
"Back to picking up the speed."
"Ah, crap. I'm rushing and now my target precision is off. That was a way flat horizontal strike, not a good Oberhau. Still not a big deal. Slow down again."
"Strikes are more vertical, back to speeding up!"
"Aw man, now I'm reaching too far and putting all my weight over my lead leg. I'm literally balancing on one foot."
"No prob. Slow it down again, keep the weight grounded on the balls of both feet."
"Now pick it back up again."
"Nuts, everything else is fine, but my sword isn't covering my line adequately on the strike."
"Slow it down again..."

And so on. Eventually, our dauntless HEMA trainee may realize it's just better to practice everything slowly, cleanly, with good form, until all those foundational failures are cleaned up.

...And then s/he realizes that the whole point of striking into the Vor early, earnestly, and swiftly got lost in the shuffle of getting everything else right.

NOW it's really time to pick up the speed a bit at a time! ...Until something falls apart at that higher speed. Then slow it back down again, fix, pick the speed back up, and so on.

There are many ways to practice. You could just deemphasize the athletic component until all the foundation skills and body awareness are in place. Structure, timing (at a slow pace), balance, lines, distance, angles, etc. Or you could emphasize the athletic component and just hope that, with enough reps at max speed and power, your tired body will figure out how to most efficiently fall into the right places.

Both have clear problems, but can also work for different people. With the scholar's approach, you need to make sure to reality-check your skill training with stress-testing on a regular basis, so that you don't build up slow reflexes for doing things that aren't as easy or even possible at desparate life-or-death speeds.

"Of course I can zwer haw him 3 times in the head while he takes 1 full second to launch an unchanging ober haw at my starting position!"

"Wait, now HE'S going to get to strike the ober haw as fast as he can? Hrm, maybe I should focus on really nailing that first zwer haw for immediate and reliable cover."

And with the athletic approach, it's important to structure the drills to make sure that they DO in fact subconsciously hammer in the right lessons.

"Aw, yeah, it's totally cool that I'm coming forward to teeter-totter on one toe and overswing wide into the Wechsel without any consideration for covering myself safely."

"What, my partner gets to take a potshot at me before or after my strike? But now I have to actually stay balanced with my weight so I can retreat a pace. And maybe keep my followthrough tight, point forward, so that I can more immediately cover if he strikes in my Nach."

That's all for now; training fighting principles and fitness principles are already sketched out, plus a final grab bag of 18 more random detail topics.

But next up: finish out the practical, lowest level of ideas and suggestions for programming your HEMA training WRT sport-specific and physiologically specific considerations (part 3 of my blog series on individual differences in athletic performance, impact on swordsmanship.)

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