I have found myself redefining my mission statement many times, depending on the project or particular journey. For swordsmanship as a goal I have found that my questions have become more cogent and relevant. Looking back to what I thought it was important to understand I can now see how I was just peeking under the lid of what I assumed to be interesting about it. If I go back far enough I would have wanted to know all about samurai swordsmanship, or swashbuckling, before I even knew any correct terminology about it. The longer I continue with a line of thinking the more I can redefine what exactly I am doing and where I am going with it.
With the Barebones Company I wanted a catch-all website that could be used for whatever purpose I needed and it was intended as a holding place whilst I worked out how to move forward. I thought it would help to have a defined starting location, a rally point. In 2012 I had stated “consider that I am a relatively old and girthy gentleman of great enthusiasm and studious nature, but have no experience.”. I am no longer girthy, which is all for the good, and although I have no more contact experience I do have a lot more practical and academic understanding. This all led me to redefine and mark out a few assumptions.
Autodidacticism (also autodidactism) or self-education is the act of self-directed learning about a subject or subjects in which one has had little to no formal education.
I am currently developing an experiment with autodidactic training within HEMA and the longsword, and documenting this process via this very blog. I believe that there is a niche of others who must be in a similar position to myself, with a desire to learn but no means, and that there is perhaps another avenue for them, like a middle ground or a starting point.
I have asked whether such a process has merit of a number of people and the responses I received were all correct and valuable; I should add that the HEMA community has always come across as helpful, eager to help others advance and generally supportive of new comers. There has always been lots of advice as to where to go and whom to speak to.
“Technology (videos and books) can only take you so far – mastery demands physical contact. Without it, you will get neither an appreciation of how to apply both force and technique. If you cannot form a group, I would seriously recommend you train with one, even if it is once or twice a year to calibrate your understanding. After all, this is an art which is practiced against an uncooperative opponent – their techniques, tactics and strategies have to be incorporated into your understanding.” – Mark Hillyard
“Don’t fetishise solo training. Sure, it’s necessary, even with an abundance of available partners, and you can do a lot without ever crossing swords, but to measure your progress you have to have an external measuring point. … in the normal sword world we measure ourselves by our ability to handle a non-compliant opponent.” – Guy Windsor
“Fundamentally, training requires use of force; there is no technology for sending that over the internet, yet.” – Guy Windsor
You may notice a theme to the advice that warns of what cannot be done, and they are of course right. As soon as you begin this process you can quickly see all the elements that you simply cannot get near to training with if you don’t have at least one other person. They also highlight to me what can be done and where the dangers are.
It is my belief that it would be possible for a student to be self-taught in longsword, up to a point, that would allow the student to develop an understanding of technique, theory and skills involved, to develop the physical attributes required and to generally prepare as much as possible until such time as a tutor can be found. This methodology would go beyond access to the available resources but would also integrate some form of community remote feedback, perhaps through an app such as Ubersense (which has finally become Hudl Technique). Also, the key factor of one other person can change the game entirely. You may find one other interested person at some point in the future and then the solo practitioner will be ready. Either ready to develop formal training or ready to form their own group and impart the knowledge and skills they have built up.
Measuring progress by calibrating an understanding of force and technique against an external non-compliant source.
That seems to be the grail to strive for in this process and both the major obstacle to success and the validation point. One can do a lot of work in terms of an overarching understanding of the source material, the context and the method, but finding a way to calibrate is an essential part of the learning process and not something easily done in solitude. I find that to be such an interesting principle statement that I feel compelled to break it down.
Progress is the development towards an improved or more advanced condition. This is our aim when we learn a skill and we can only know we have made progress by comparison through…
Calibration, which is a comparison between measurements – one of known correctness and another measurement made in as similar way as possible with a second source. The known correctness would be the observation of our peers who are more advanced. We may be able to achieve some form of calibration through visual feedback and commentary but the difficulty would lie in determining the absolute details of…
Technique, which is a way of carrying out a particular task, in a skilful or efficient way. We can strive towards an ideal here and there are means of determining the degree of accuracy using technology but it needs to be achieved in alignment with a correct degree of…
Force, which is applicable here as both forms of definition; strength or energy as an attribute of physical action or movement and coercion or compulsion, especially with the use or threat of violence. The first aspect can be improved and adjusted with self-assessment in that one can become stronger and develop the skills (mind) and tools (body) required. The second aspect requires…
Non-compliant Source, which in this case is someone or something to challenge our presumptions by refusing to act in accordance with our expectations.
Does the absence of that final element undo the work in the previous ones? I do not believe so. I do not have that training method as yet, this is something I am working towards. For my part I have a twenty five year background in multimedia, digital communication and design; which means I have a skill set to communicate, document and facilitate this kind of learning experience and as someone with zero fencing, martial arts or sword experience I am obviously well placed to learn.