"He who comports himself well, and breaks well, and finally breaks completely – and breaks apart [every technique] using the Three Wonders – he who uses Hängen and Winden well, and performs the eight Winden in the correct way – and by each Winden I mean the three Winden, which makes them four and twenty, counting them from both sides. "
Oxfordshire Class Instructor
Our Oxfordshire class instructor, Neal Pratley, became interested in Martial Arts in his twenties, first starting with kickboxing before moving onto Wing Chun. After 2 years he decided to try Shaolin Kung Fu, attaining the level of Red Belt within two years before his instructor moved back to their country of origin.
In 2011 Neal was looking for another martial discipline to be involved with, and having an interest in history he decided that HEMA would be an avenue to explore. A quick look on the internet meant he found the SMEF to be his nearest HEMA school at that time and came along for a trial period. After attending a few lessons one of the major revelations Neal had was how in-depth and subtle the SMEF interpretation of the Liechtenauer system was and how the reality of practising longsword was unlike any sword fighting he had seen in films or other media. Having peaked his interest, Neal hasn’t looked back, dedicating time and effort in attending the SMEF classes regularly and participating in seminars both by the SMEF or at HEMA events. As his familiarity of weapon dynamics and martial movement improved, his initial unease of facing a sword changed to self-confidence by having control of not only his own intent but also a greater degree of ability to predict that of his opponent’s, and seeing his more advanced fellow students perform complex techniques spurred Neal on to ever greater achievements through the SMEF’s teaching regime, including different weapon disciplines.
After a few years, Neal was looking to actively engage with other HEMA groups. This has enabled him to gain a better understanding of why the SMEF interpret and teach the Liechtenauer system the way we do, the need for the correct application of techniques and principles becoming apparent when applied in an unfamiliar context, (something not necessarily obvious within a class situation where the students are all taught the same principles.)
In 2016 Neal had reached Grade 4 and in order to hone his understanding and further his skill, we at the SMEF decided he was ready to run his own class. After finding a suitable venue in Oxfordshire it didn’t take long to attract some students and make it a viable addition to the SMEF weekly training calendar. After 18 months Neal had regular students attending his weekly class and after 2 years had so many students attending that it was necessay to find him a new venue. The process of teaching has given him a better perspective on the system as a whole and helped him achieve a more comprehensive understanding as a consequence of conveying information in a manner that is appropriate to supporting the SMEF’s progressive syllabus for learning the Art.
The future holds great opportunities for Neal. We are hoping that he will embrace his Provost years and strive to progress through the Master Grades, following the SMEF path by continuing to represent us into the future, promoting correct martial principles and practice as the SMEF believes Liechtenauer taught.