George Silver

I’m using George Silver‘s “Paradoxes” and “Brief Instructions” as my main reference for English swordsmanship. Many of the elements of Swetnam’s fight answer complaints by Silver regarding the rapier.

Swetnam does not rest his defence on the idea of single time counters, nor do the more Italian attacks in opposition receive much attention in his manual. In fact, Swetnam falls in line with other works in the English martial tradition save for two notable exceptions: his weapon and his stances.

Obviously the different weapon requires different techniques, and Swetnam certainly pulls through on that. The heart of his system seems to be a very simple attempt to pull your important bits as far from the opponent as possible and deceive him about your range.
Swetnam says:

To observe distance, by which is meant that thou shouldest stand so far of from thine enemy, as thou canst, but reach him when thou dost step forth with thy blow or thrust, and thy foremost foote and hand must goe together, and which distance may be twelve foot with a rapier, or with a sword four foote ling, and yet thy best foote which should be the hindermost foot of a right handed ma, should bee mored fast and keepe his standing without moving an inch, for then he will be the readier to draw backe thy fore foot and body into the right place of distance againe for thou must doe upon every charge, whether thou hit thy enemy or not;

In fact, it looks like Swetnam has simplified Silver’s ideas. By using a long sword – generally longer than that of your opponent – you can nearly eliminate the need to “press in” on the defensive, and rely primarily on Silver’s other half – to “fly out.”

Mark Hillyard describes Silver’s attitude toward defence, and the “true fight,” like so:

If your aim is to survive the encounter without hurt or injury, you may only consider executing options that cannot compromise your defence. This does not mean that you will never attack, only that you will attack when you know you cannot be offended during its execution.

Swetnam seems to indicate that you can simplify this process – by having a sword much longer than the opponent’s and by maximizing your reach, you cut down on the number of favorable variables required to attack in the “true fight.” Silver, obviously, disagrees. Yet, Wagner and Hand say “…it is interesting that Silver saves his most vehement abuse forItalian rapier men, and indeed some have accused Silver of being ‘consistent only in his dislike of Italians'”

I think I’ve lost the thread of my argument here – but this is interesting stuff. I’ll follow up on this idea at another time.

Published in: on January 22, 2009 at 8:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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