I've got a few thoughts, but I'd like to hear your thoughts as well. For starters, there's obviously:
- Proper stance - Der waag, or even the Drei Waage; knowing them and knowing when to use them. These are never explained in the vast majority of manuals, so presumably they come before.
- Proper footwork - Stepping, Passing, and so forth. These are likewise never explained in the manuals, merely mentioned as appropriate.
- Basic Guards - The Vier Leger aren't explained until half-way through Liechtenauer's verse, even though they're mentioned a lot before that, so students must have had some understanding going in.
- The Father Strikes (or the eight lines, depending on your school of thought) - It is from these common strikes that the five Hidden Strikes arise, so it's probable that students would learn these first.
- The Drei Wunder - The three strikes of the sword are quite basic, and knowing to put them in their proper place is an important skill requisite to winding
- Timing and Distance - The three times, three ranges, and three phases of the fight must be understood before most techniques can be applied.
- Basic grappling skills (which ties into stance and footwork, obviously)
Michael Chidester wrote:Yes, it's interesting how the content of the manuals has shaped our concept of the Art. When the Ringbuecher ignore the basics and jump directly into advanced grappling concepts and techniques, we write it off as being because Scholars would have learned wrestling as children and didn't need it. And I've heard many practitioners state that the difference between the use of the European short staff and Asian bo staff is that Asian styles prefer the half staff ("kayak fighting"") and Europeans the quarter staff--but I've heard a different story from some Asian practitioners, that the half-staff is the basic technique and quarter-staffing is more advanced and only taught at higher levels.
And yet, with swords we assume that what we see is everything we need. Unfortunately, most manuals don't cover any of the basics. In 150 years of German and Italian longsword lore (1389 to 1520), discussion of footwork is limited to perhaps a paragraph in a book of a hundred pages. Proper fighting stance is portrayed in a few rough sketches. There is no talk of the proper method of cutting outside of late-period English sources (hence the long debates that still seem to rage in some quarters) and precious little discussion of the basic strikes of the sword. But you could spend a year working on nothing but these basics and still not be expert in them--and coupled with the rudimentary system of guards the manuals present, mastering these skills alone would make you a competent swordsman.
What we see instead in the manuals is a single plate devoted to each mastercut, but only to create appropriate binds in which to present complex sequences of Winden and Ringen am Schwert. (Liberi and Vadi skip the setup completely and just jump straight into the bind.) Then we get into more exotic winding and wrestling plays that involve different timing or footwork or hand position (or that are simply bind-agnostic). We get long and detailed treatises on the nature of combat and the theory of fence, offering content that many experienced martial artists I've conversed with understand only in part after so many years of training. These are not basics. These are not things that every beginning Scholar needs to know. In point of fact, they're things that people find confusing for the first several months (or years).
What HEMA considers to be the basic syllabus of techniques is, I think, really the Master's playbook. And I've lately been considering whether training models that focus on these techniques above all else aren't hurting our long-term progression as fighters. HEMA practitioners tend to spend a lot of time working through these techniques, which are really quite advanced (and the coolest, let's be honest), but in so doing we forget to firm up our fundamentals of balance and perception, movement and body control. And unfortunately, these fundamentals are often what separates the masters from those who are merely experts.