I find I couldn't disagree more. I hope you will forgive my candor.
John H wrote:The sources allow us to gain that experience from what was written rather than re-creating it by constant fighting with the weapons. When you combine the fighting and the knowledge written down, you get the most efficient way to learn when you don’t have an experienced teacher.
What you fail to understand is that the historical sources represent many generations
of fighting knowledge derived during a time when the fighting was being used for real. Each of those facts are equally important. We have already had generations play-fighting and they never came anywhere near the historical techniques, many of which are very counter-intuitive. We would no more have figured these out from a lifetime of fighting in SCA or LARP combat any more than a thousand monkeys typing on typewriters for 50 years will come up with King Lear.
But once these same guys get old and start teaching, they shouldn’t ever need to bring up the texts in their classes. When a student questions them they can reference that they have used it many times and it works or they can demonstrate on that student. Only when those students start to exceed their teachers or wish to teach themselves, will the texts be needed.
This is based on the assumption that by the time the current best fighters get old (many of them already are) we will basically know all, or a substantial amount of, the fighting systems which are in the manuals. I think this is extremely unlikely, and I believe the most effective teachers will continue to be those who make use of the books early and often... and their clubs will benefit as much as the individual students will when new insights into these cryptic writings and images will emerge from fresh eyes. I also personally think it's going to be a couple of generations before we have really come close to emulating the techniques in at least the older (pre-17th Century) manuals. But I admit this is purely a guess on my part.
As to tournaments/fights: fights are won with basics, not fancy advanced techniques. IMO this is why we only see basics in the later military manuals. Plays or techniques are specific responses to specific actions. Two seasoned fighters who both know those techniques will generally not get into those situations while they try to put the other guy in that situation. I tend to see more advanced techniques when one fighter is completely outclassed by the other guy and he can ‘show off.’
I disagree with this categorically. The reason that later military manuals only covered basics (and focused on simple weapons) is because they were for training conscripts and institutionally taught professionals who would fight in large armies of relatively unskilled (and inexpensive) combatants. In other words, cannon fodder. There is nothing more sophisticated or better about later training manuals, it just represents something that is meant to be taught to a 19 year old kid over the course of 6 weeks versus something which would be learned by a man over the course of a lifetime. An analogy would be for training a Combat Medic vs. a Doctor. You may have more use for larger numbers of Medics on the battlefield in say, World War 1, but it doesn't mean the Medic is more sophisticated than a brain surgeon or a cardiologist.
Techniques in the tournament circuit are getting more sophisticated already, just in the last 5 or 6 years that we have had large international tournaments. This trend will continue as the quality of the entry level fencers increases.
And while I agree in casual sparring you will sometimes see an experienced fencer performing advanced techniques on newbies to show off, (and I realize I'm kind of contradicting what I wrote above) personally I have seen that in the tournaments, the opposite of what you describe is often true. Newbies can be most reliably defeated using simple techniques, cut their legs or their hands for example because they aren't covering or they can be easily feinted. Experienced fencers fighting more closely aligned with historical techniques pose problems which sometimes requires more sophisticated solutions. I think this is why you often see a 'cleaner' and 'better looking' fight between two experienced guys compared to an experienced guy fighting a newby.
In terms of technique progression I think the higher echelon of competitive fencers are still only going 1 or 2 levels deep most of the time, occasionally rising to maybe 3 levels. Most people are still in the 0 to 1 ... i.e. they don't even have the opening techniques correct most of the time, both in terms of those physical movements and those pesky "theories of when and how to use them" which many people skipped over in the enthusiastic early days of HEMA looking for the 'cool stuff', but are returning to by necessity today, and finding answers to the questions which derive from the tournament circle.
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