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I'm looking to learn longsword and sword and buckler, but unfortunately there are no clubs near me. My partner trained sabre when he was younger, but recalls none of the details, so at best I have a sparring partner while he's not at work.

What material would you recommend for an absolute beginner who's never done HEMA before?

The best I can find is the PDF translation of Fiore's treatise Matt Easton contributed to, but its so large it doesn't render properly in my PDF viewers and printing it would cost more or less the same as your average novel in a high street book store.

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This answer is late in coming, but I was in the same boat. No HEMA club, just me, and later some friends. I'll split this answer up into 1) Books and 2) Equipment.

Books

I highly recommend Guy Windsor's Swordsman's Companion. He breaks down Italian/Pan-European longsword into very learnable chunks. Sure, he only references the manuals every so often, but what he teaches you is solid and helpful. He's even had people come to him after buying his book, and these individuals successfully learned what was described in the book. It's a great starting place if you're on your own. It covers longsword only, though, so you'll need to find another sword-and-buckler manual. Longsword is nice, though, because it's a "gateway weapon"- you can use principles from longsword to help you learn other weapons. In fact, many longsword techniques and stances can work with spears, halberds, etc.

A friend of mine enjoys reading i.33. He seems to be learning things decently well from it, but would benefit from an instructor as well. Sword-and-buckler sources are hard to come by, so I recommend learning longsword first, then transferring that knowledge to sword-and-buckler treatises.

It is important to note that you need some basics before you can just dive into the old treatises. Those old books often assume you've already been trained in the use of these weapons, so they don't have very good explanations. This gets even harder when you need to rely on someone else's translations of them. The german books are easier to read, because some people still speak dialects which are very similar to Middle-High German, but good luck finding someone who speaks the same Italian as that in the Middle Ages.

Equipment

I recommend buying a Pentti 50" longsword as your first practice sword. The Cold Steel practice sword is cheaper, but much shorter. A Hand-and-a-Half sword should reach from the bottom of your sternum to the ground. The cold steel practice sword is still a few inches short, and the rounded cross section makes it really hard to work on edge alignment. The Pentti does not have these problems, and appears to be just as durable. Your hand-and-a-half sword can work for sword-and-buckler, but it's not very accurate. Swords for sword-and-buckler were often shorter, with smaller hilts; after all, you have a buckler for protection!

In any case, you should focus on getting plastic training weapons. Try to find ones that come near the correct weights and sizes as historical examples.

You'll start by doing some basic drills that usually don't require actual protection, so you can hold off buying the masks/gloves/gambesons you'll need as you progress. Your first 20 hours with a sword should be spent getting basic stances and footwork down.

I also recommend finding a pell- a pole you can smack, and hit hard. Pell-work has been a traditional and effective training method since, at the earliest, Rome, but likely earlier as well. It'll help condition your body to hitting things, as well as help with edge alignment and distance.

A Final Note

These are no substitute for an actual teacher and classes. You will, at some point in time, need to find someone to spar with. Try to find a club using the HEMA Alliance Page if you're in the US. Good luck!

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Don't worry many big clubs started with two members and worked from there. 10 or 20 years ago there were no books , no equipment and no hema workshops or seminaries and people any way took the original treats and start working from there. You are at far better situation. So my best advice is: start your own club. Mine is almost in place :)

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