Some Cool Spear Work

Guys from the AEAA in Spain doing some sparring with spears. I’m not sure what system they’re using, but I can see that it has a lot in common with English quarterstaff, in principle, so it’s cool to watch.

Published in: on December 2, 2009 at 6:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Good Practice

Yesterday I started what I hope will become a routine, and took two of my friends out to introduce them to English swordsmanship and quarterstaff, with a focus on Swetnam. One of them worked with me in the early days of my Italian rapier work (we were far too influenced by sport fencing), and the other has some sport fencing experience.

This is both a blessing and a curse. They know what a lunge is, have experience manipulating their bodies for an antagonistic purpose, and are comfortable holding a weapon. They also drift into incorrect guards and put far too much weight on their front feet.

Overall, this is exciting, and I plan to use our practice sessions to tie together my bits and pieces into a coherent, cohesive understanding of early 17th century English fencing.

Published in: on September 22, 2009 at 3:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Paul Wagner has posted some excellent video on Silver’s swordplay. It should be very useful when considering the context of Swetnam’s work and even, I suspect, Swetnam’s play at the “backe sword,” though I have done little research there, myself.

Also, over on SFI, Martin Janicina has posted a great video of some of Fabris’ rapier plays. The video provides great contrast with Swetnam’s teachings – he would have disapproved of the close measure in which Fabris fights. Swetnam also does not cavazione or disengage in the Italian fashion – instead he uses motions like Silver (try 0:24 into the Silver vid).

Published in: on August 13, 2009 at 2:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Update and Current Projects

So, with my undergraduate thesis complete, where does my Swetnam research stand?

I do have one more illustration from the thesis to post here – if you’re interested, get in touch with me – there’s a lot of information and analysis that goes along with the images – I’d be happy to send you a copy of the thesis.

I’ve been working to expand my understanding of early modern English fencing, mainly by learning Quarterstaff as taught by Silver, Swetnam and Wylde. I’m using a wonderful video from Paul Wagner as the basis of our personal program, and supplementing it with the primary sources.

The staff work has already contributed greatly to my understanding of English fencing – it is the same system as the swordplay, but more clearly deliniated.

I hope to continue deepening my knowledge indefinitely, and I would like to use all of this as the basis of some post-graduate research. I talked with the folks at WMAI about publishing an article based on my Swetnam work, but they felt the article was not practical enough for their publication. I’d still be interested in writing a more practical Swetnam article for them, but we’ll see how that goes. The editor, Scott Baltic, recommended that I instead submit it to the Journal of Western Martial Arts.

JWMA has not updated for almost a year now, however, and I’m not sure yet whether I will submit anything to them. Any thoughts would be welcome.

Published in: on August 6, 2009 at 1:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Poster, Again

I’ve uploaded the symposium poster to Scribd, and I’m going to see if I can embed it here. Check it out after the jump.


Published in: on April 14, 2009 at 1:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Symposium Poster

This is a copy of the poster as presented at the UR Symposium at my Uni.

Symposium Poster

It’s roughly 2ft by 3ft, PDF.

Below is the handout that went along with the poster. It includes several quotes from the original publication, so you can see where I was pulling the illustrations from.

Swetnam handout

Edit: A few people have commented that they cannot open the files. You should be able to see the poster here.


Symposium Abstract

I am submitting my thesis for my university’s Undergraduate Research Symposium. This is my abstract:

Fencing in Seventeenth-Century England:

A Visual Study of Joseph Swetnam’s Treatise

In early modern England, there existed a simultaneous eagerness to embrace Italian humanism and a reluctance to abandon England’s own established culture.

A microcosm of this cultural tension can be found in English fencing treatises of the turn of the 17th century, particularly Joseph Swetnam’s “Schoole of the Noble and Worthy Science of Defence,” published in 1617.

My thesis is that Swetnam imitated Italian forms, but applied the imported practices to his English context, resulting in a fundamentally English martial system.

My approach is to provide Swetnam’s manual the additional illustrations he desired, that were so typical of Italian codices of the time. Visually representing Swetnam’s fencing positions allows us to see the Italian flavor more clearly. We can see that visually and statically, Swetnam’s system greatly resembles the Italian methods, although in motion and principle it more greatly resembles the English martial tradition.

Twelve different positions are illustrated to match Swetnam’s descriptions, and they include offensive, defensive, and guard positions.

“Paradoxes of Defence” and “Brief Instructions upon my Paradoxes of Defence” by George Silver (1599) are used as examples of English fencing tradition, and “Lo Schermo, overo Scienza D’Arme” by Salvator Fabris (1606) is used as a benchmark of contemporary Italian tradition.

Published in: on February 23, 2009 at 1:13 pm  Comments (2)  
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Finding Swetnam’s True Guard – Fabris Plate 60

This plate is, I think, the most similar of Fabris’ plates to Swetnam’s true guard.

Plate 60 - "...a third of sword and dagger, which should be formed with the weapons joined..."

Plate 60 - "...a third of sword and dagger, which should be formed with the weapons joined..."

Fabris shows a guard in which your dagger is held on level with your cheek – Swetnam says “…keepe the hilt of thy dagger right with thy left cheeke.”

Fabris’s guard shows the weapons joined: “the point of thy Rapier two inches within the point of thy dagger, neither higher, not lower;”

The body is bent forward, with both shoulders presented toward your opponent: “and your body bowing forwards, and both thy shoulders, the one so near thine enemie as the other,”

The forward heel here is roughly in line with the middle of the back foot: “the heele of thy right foote should ioyne close to the middle ioynt of the great toe of thy left foote,”
Like Swetnam, Fabris shows that the fencers “Carrie the edge of thy rapier upward, and downward,”


The most serious differences are these:

Swetnam says “Keepe thy rapier hand so low as the pocket of thy hose at the armes end, without bowing the elbow joint,” and he goes on to say “likewise, keepe both your points so high as you may see your enemie clearly with both your eyes, betwixt your rapier and dagger,”

Fabris shows both fencers looking over their blades and with right arms bent. In a typically Italian fashion, the point is much more of a threat to the opponent than in Swetnam’s guard, which is essentially a straightening and lowering of the right arm, with a slight change in dagger placement.


Published in: on January 27, 2009 at 5:44 pm  Comments (2)  
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How to Hold it

Swetnam says you can hold the rapier in three ways:

These are three waies for the holding of a Rapier, the one with the thumb forward or upon the Rapier blade, and that I call the naturall fashion, there is another way, and that is with the whole hand within the pummell of thy Rapier, and the thumbe locking in of the fore-finger, or else they must both ioyne at the least: this is a good holding at single Rapier.

Then the third is but to have onlie the fore-finger and thy thumbe within the pummell of thy Rapier, and thy other three fingers about thy pummell, and beare the button of thy pommel against the in-side of thy little finger; this is called the Stokata fashion, and these two last are the surest and strongest waies: after a little practice, thou maiest use all three in thy practice, and then repose thy selfe upon that which thou findest best…

The Bluffer’s Guide says:

  • The thumb forward on the rapier blade, this is the “natural” fashion.
  • The whole hand on the grip, with the thumb locking down on the forefinger, or at least touching it. This is a good grip for single rapier.
  • [Swetnam doesn’t say what to do with the fingers and crossguard. Steve Hand suggests that in the first grip the finger is hooked over it, and same with the second grip, with the thumb on the finger rather than on the blade.]

  • The third is to have only fore forefinger and thumb on the grip, the other fingers around the pommel, with the very end of the pommel on the inside of your little finger. THis is called “Stoccata fashion”.

These last two are the strongest, but you should try all three, and use the one that works best for you. But practice them all because they are all useful in a fight depending on the circumstances.

Apparently Stephen Hand thinks that the first 2 grips are with the forefinger over the quillions. I’m not sure I buy that on the first or “naturall” fashion with the thumb on the blade is likely to have a finger over the crosspiece.

The second sounds more plausible. While someone did mention the possibility that none of these grips finger the crosspiece, I’m not certain why Swetnam would talk of “ the thumbe locking in of the fore-finger” if these fingers were not locked over the quillions. Still, I don’t think that figering the crosspiece is necessary to fulfil Swetnam’s grip instructions.

The third grip sounds like “posting” as frequently done in modern epee.

Published in: on January 25, 2009 at 1:07 am  Comments (1)  
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Finding Swetnam’s True Guard – Fabris Plate 59

The next plate that resembles Swetnam’s True Guard is plate 59:

Plate 59 - " angled third..."

Plate 59 - " angled third..."

Unlike plate 57, there’s not much in the text uniting this stance with Swetnam’s. Fabris does suggest using the dagger to parry with the dagger and riposte below it in third – something that Swetnam also mentions.

However, Fabris spends most of his time talking about how difficult it can be to parry an attack coming in at this angle – something that I do not recall Swetnam ever touching upon.

If this plate had any influence on Swetnam, it would have been as a plate – not an idea. The actual stance is fairly reminiscint of Swetnam’s, with a straightened sword arm and fully extended dagger. Fabris keeps his traditional right foot forward, but also with the left shoulder squared toward the opponent – not standard in Italian fencing (See Capo Fero 4 years later).

I have always imagined Swetnam’s stance as more verticle – something that Eric Meyers also commented (on my post about Fabris plate 57). Swetnam instructs one to “holloweth thy bodie,” while Fabris’ stances feel more like leaning than hollowing to me.

Swetnam’s true guard again for reference:

Keepe thy rapier hand so low as the pocket of thy hose at the armes end, without bowing the elbow joint, and keepe the hilt of thy dagger right with thy left cheeke, and the point something stooping towards the right shoulder, and beare him out stiff at the armes end, without bowing thine elbow joint likewise, and the point of thy Rapier two inches within the point of thy dagger, neither higher, not lower; but if the point of thy rapier be two or three inches short of touching thy dagger, it is not matter, but if they join it is good; likewise, keepe both your points so high as you may see your enemie clearly with both your eyes, betwixt your rapier and dagger, and bowing your head something toward the right shoulder, and your body bowing forwards, and both thy shoulders, the one so near thine enemie as the other, and the thombe of thy rapier hand, not upon thy rapier, according unto the usual fashion of the vulgar sort, but upon the naile of thy fore-finger, which will locke thine hand the stronger about the handle of thy rapier, and the heele of thy right foote should ioyne close to the middle ioynt of the great toe of thy left foote, according to this Picture, yet regard chiefly the words rather than the Picture.

Carrie the edge of thy rapier upward, and downward, for then thou shalt defend a blow upon the edge of thy rapier, by bearing thy rapier after the rule of the Backe-sword, for this is the strongest and surest carriage of him.


Published in: on January 23, 2009 at 5:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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