One of the fundamental tools for training is the pell. This humble post of wood (or anything else that will work) is one of the oldest sword training aids we know of. It was used by the Roman legionary all the way to today’s swords men and women.
The pell is ideal for practicing at home or when you cannot get to the practice session. Here you can work on your distance, footwork/position, and your cuts. Like many training tools, the humble pell is often overlooked or used poorly. Like all aspects of your training and practice, pell work should be done in a considered fashion. Always make sure you are at the right range. Check your feet to ensure they are correct.
Stay aware of how you are striking the pell. Are you sticking with the right part of your sword? Is the cut along the line of the blade? Are you stepping and moving correctly to be in the right position and power your cut. It is sometimes useful to have someone observing or spotting your pell work. This spotter can pick up and correct any lapses in form you may have. Another thing you can do is video your pell work for later review. You need not spend all your pell time just hitting it as hard as you can. Move smoothly and concentrate on form. Only work in power as a part of your practice.
There are a number of pell drills you can find on youTube. Some of them are useful and some of them are a good way to destroy your shoulder and/or elbow.
Here are some good places to start-
Movement and Pell, The Perfect Circle
The Modern Medieval – Episode One, The Pell
Just to convince you how important peel work is to building the foundations of your technique, here is a 15th century poem about using the pell.
Interesting points to note are the mention in lines 6-9 that the practice shield and mace are to be of double weight, a technique that many combatants have found to be very good for training. It also emphasises the importance of this form of practice in 12-14, where it says that no man “is seyn prevaile” in battle who has not spent time practicing at the pell. Poem of the Pell Cotton Library: Titus A, xxiii fol 6 and 7.
Of fight the disciplyne and exercise,
Was this. To have a pale or pile upright (pell)
Of mannys light, thus writeth old and wise, (man’s height)
Therewith a bacheler, or a yong knyght,
Shal first be taught to stonde and lerne to fight
And fanne of double wight tak him his shelde, (practice shield)
Of double wight a mace of tre to welde. (wood)
This fanne and mace whiche either doubil wigt
Of shelde, and swayed in conflicte, or bataile,
Shal exercise as well swordmen, as knyghtes,
And noe man, as they sayn, is seyn prevaile,
In field, or in castell, though he assayle,
That with the pile, nethe first grete exercise, (hath not)
Thus writeth werrouris olde and wyse. (warriors)
Have eche his pile or pale upfixed fast
And as it were uppon his mortal foe:
With mightyness and weapon most be cast
To fight stonge, that he ne skape him fro.
On hym with shield, and sword avised so,
That thou be cloos, and Preste thy foe to smyte, (ready)
Lest of thyne own dethe thou be to wite.
Empeche his head, his face, have at his gorge (attack, throat)
Beare at the brest, or sperne him on the side,
With myghte knyghtly poost ene as Seynt George (power)
Lepe o thy foe; look if he dare abide;
Will he not flee? wounde him; make wounds wide
Hew of his honde, his legge, his theys, his armys,
It is the Turk, though he be sleyn, noon harm is.
And forto foyne is better than to smyte;
The smyter is deluded mony [ways],
The sword may nat through steel & bonys bite,
Thentrailys ar cover in steel & bonys,
But with a foyn anoon thi foe fordoon is
Tweyne unchys entirfoyned hurteth more
Then kerf or ege, although it wounde sore.
Eek in the kerf, thi right arm is disclosed,
Also thi side; and in the foyn, covert
Is side & arm, and er thou be supposed
Redy to fight, the foyn is at his hert
Or ellys Thus better is to foyne then to kerve;
where, a foyn is ever smert;
In tyme & place ereither is tobserue.
A further discussion on the history of pells and some notes on the poem can be found here.