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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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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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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Italianated, Mr. Silver?

In “Paradoxes of Defence,” George Silver frequently tirades against the Italian fencing masters and the “Italianated” English masters, with their “Italianated, weak, fantastical, and most devilish and imperfect fights.”

It is therefore interesting to note the 4 “chiefest” variable guards as laid out by Silver:

Stocatta: which is to lie with your right leg forward, with your sword or rapier hilt back on the outside of your right thigh with your point forward to ward your enemy with your dagger in your other hand extending your hand towards the point of your rapier, holding your dagger with the point upright with narrow space between your rapier blade and the nails of your dagger hand, keeping your rapier point back behind your dagger hand if possible.

Or he may lie wide below under his dagger with his rapier point down towards his enemy’s foot, or with his point forth without his dagger.

Imbrocatta: is to lie with your hilt higher than your head, bearing your knuckles upward, and your point descending toward your enemy’s face or breast.

Mountanta: is to carry your rapier pummel in the palm of your hand resting it on your little finger with your hand below and so mounting it up aloft, and so to come in with a thrust upon your enemy’s face or beast, as out of the Imbrocatta.

Passatta: is either to pass with the Stocatta, or to carry your sword or rapier hilt by your right flank, with your point directly against your enemy’s belly, with your left foot forward extending forth your dagger hand with the point of your dagger forward as you do your sword, with narrow space between your sword and dagger blade, and so to make your passage upon him.

Let me repeat those for you: Stocatta, Imbrocatta, Mountanta and Passatta. All used incorrectly (just like Swetnam), but all very much Italian. In fact, Silver’s description of the Stocatta guard is similar to  Swetnam’s “Stokata.”

Who’s Italianated now, Silver?

Published in: on January 9, 2009 at 7:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Joseph Swetnam

Joseph Swetnam wrote The Schoole of the Noble and Worthy Science of Defence in 1617. In it he discusses fencing with rapier, backsword and quarterstaff.

Most interesting to me is the unique intersection of English and Italian tradition that his work on the rapier represents.

I’m currently working on a paper/project/thesis on this, using George Silver as my benchmark for the contemporary English fencing tradition and Salvator Fabris for the Italian.

Check back for my various thoughts as I compile data and write.

Published in: on January 7, 2009 at 1:33 am  Leave a Comment  
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