I thought of this in the car yesterday, and it’s something I’ve noticed for a long time. It has to do with how new practitioners are able to mimic what their instructor is showing them, even down to the finest detail. It’s something that I’ve never heard anyone else point out or mention or advise to new practitioners, yet I found it was extremely helpful to myself when I first picked up a sword.
When I first started to learn HEMA, I did it alone, in my backyard, with a junky wooden sword from eBay, and Tobler’s Fighting with the German Longsword, his Secrets of Medieval German Swordsmanship, and every video I could find on Youtube of drills and flourishes. I then proceeded to just copy them and repeat. I tried to mimic how they were moving, how they were stepping, how they were flowing from cut to cut. I didn’t know what the heck I was doing, but it didn’t matter. I was developing the muscle memory even as I was just beginning to learn the actual techniques. As a result, when I first joined my club and started learning HEMA more seriously, I already had a strong foundation built up. And even after I started, I found myself mimicking my instructor and the others at the club, almost subconsciously. As the years have gone by, I’ve obviously formed my own ‘style’ of fencing, and have developed my own interpretations, and have gone far beyond that beginning, but it still sticks with me as an effective way to learn a martial art.
Now, when I see new students learning HEMA, one of the things I’ve noticed is that people don’t mimic things that are being shown to them. And I mean the fine details, like the exact position of the elbow, the exact position of the wrist, the exact angle of the sword, etc etc. You can show them a Zornhau over and over, and even explain the fine details, but they still struggle to move in that manner. It’s become a theory of mine that one of the best pieces of advice a new student could receive is to pay extremely close attention to everything the instructor does (not just what they say), and try to copy what they do down to the finest detail. Copy how they step, copy how they cut, copy how they move their arms, etc. Just try and mimic it. Eventually, you will learn the reasons behind doing things those ways, and you will eventually even develop your own variations of doing things, but to start, you will at least have a foundation to build on that is beyond your current knowledge.