Finding Swetnam’s True Guard – Fabris Plate 57


The Bluffer’s Guide to Swetnam offers a modern English interpretation of Swetnam’s true guard:

Keep the rapier hand low, below waist level, and the arm straight. Hold the dagger in line with your dagger-side cheek, the arm straight and the point close to the sword point, two to three inches apart.

Keep the points high, make sure you can see the opponent between them. Hold your head a bit to the swordside with your body forward. You should have your shoulders square on.

Don’t put the thumb of the rapier hand on the blade, but on the nail of the forefinger.

Your sword foot is forward, and the heel of it should be in line with the middle joint of the toe of the off foot.
Carry the sword with the edge up and down, you parry with the edge.

Allen Reed has suggested that Swetnam largely based his practice upon Fabris’. Following are some images from Fabris’ treatise that I have found to bear some similarities to Swetnam’s description of the true guard.

Plate 57 - "...another kind of second guard with the feet parallel and apart."

Plate 57 - "...another kind of second guard with the feet parallel and apart."

Fabris, as translated by Leoni, says:

Here is another kind of second guard with the feet parallel and apart. The body is bent forward with the chest squarely facing the opponent. The arms and weapons form an oval, and the weapons are held high to protect the head. Against this guard, the opponent can only attack between and underneath the blades. The chest is held squarely facing the opponent’s point.

Fabris also advises on our response to the opponent’s attack when we are in this guard. For the most part, he says that a void with a counter in opposition is the way to go from here. This part is not very Swetnam-esque, but the guard itself is, in many ways.

Swetnam says:

…keepe both your points so high as you may see your enemie clearly with both your eyes, betwixt your rapier and dagger…

Or, as Fabris puts it,

…the weapons are held high to protect the head. Against this guard, the opponent can only attack between and underneath the blades.

But wait, there’s more! Fabris says:

This guard is very effective against cuts, since the head is well protected on either side,

And Swetnam, similarly:

The reason that your points should be so high as you may see your enemie plainly and clearly under them, is for a sure defence of a blowe,
Fabris offers this as one of many possible guards, but Swetnam’s is the “true guard.”

Fabris offers this as only one guard of many, but to Swetnam, this is the “true guard.” Swetnam, being an English master in England, explains why a guard that protects well against cuts to the head is important:

…it is the nature of an Englishman to strike with what weapon soever he fighteth with all, and not one in twenty but in furie And anger will strike unto no other place but onely to the head, therefore alwaies if you fight with rapier and dagger, yet expect a blow so well as a thrust…


Published in: on January 13, 2009 at 9:57 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi Bradley,

    I think Swetnam’s True Guard is closer to that shown in Fabris’s plate 60, only with the sword hand held lower (arm extended) and the points of the sword and dagger closer together. The body mechanics allow for similar actions as those described by Fabris, and tactically these two guards are more similar than TG and plate 57. The difference in arm and points fit nicely into a stance that is slightly more erect than Fabris’s.

  2. I agree.

    I think 57(here), 59, 60, and 62 all show varying levels of similarity to Swetnam’s Guard.. I was starting with the lowest and moving up.

    As I noted in the post – the big similarity with 57 is the purposeful use of blade position to protect the head – something commented on by both masters.

    I responded to Paul on Sword Forum, and elaborated a bit more.

    Thanks for the comment! I really appreciate it, and hope you have thoughts on future posts as well!

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