Saturday, March 28, 2009

George Silver

Neat guy, Mr. George Silver. His most famous book was "Paradoxes on Defence" written in 1599. He was the Englishman who did not like Italian fight masters...figureing they were all too much after the fast buck. People have read his book and don't get much technique out of it...understandable since his 1599 book was really only about the business of fight instruction, and the value of different "schools of fencing". He used the word "defence" in an antique way, the word has come down to us as the "art of fencing."

(Those who are really looking for techniques should pick up his companion volume, written at about the same time, but presumed lost for several hundred years...until after the age where fighting with swords was routine, 1898! Oh, what a great loss to the world that was!

It has been re typed by Steve Hick, and pubished by that great researcher, Mr. Greg Lindahl on his web site )

But, to stay on topic....the original book "Pardoxes of Defence" was one of the great seminal books of the seventeenth century. This was the age of great armies, European wars, and the idea of science being of more importance than gallantry in warfare. Silver was not the only one, but he WAS very important. The primary virtue of his "Pardoxes" was that he had nothing against rapier fighting, but that because rapiers were coming into their own, that a lot of so called "maestos" didn't really know how to use these new tools...and that often a good man with a broadsword would defeat a poorly trained man with a rapier. Apparently this happened often enough for him to get the wind up, and he gets quite specific about how training should be effected. So, its not so much his techniques which are so important to us nowadays, but rather, the manner in which we teach them.

I have included a short selection from George Sylver first work, and will refrain from commentary. However, if you read it clearly, you can see that he is not disrecting the rapier, but rather, the way it is being taught. In fact, he clearly states that "He that fighteth upon the blow especially with the short sword, wilbe sore hurt or slaine."

One can almost see this fellow standing out in front of a dozen ranks of bored students (like I have) saying things like.... And if you want to compare weapons and fighting styles, don't get all hung up on the footwork and measure and all those things your momma taught you when you were two years old, and you will quickly see that there are only three ways to engage with swords, and they are "Variable", "Open", and "guardant".

Of course, Sylver was more flowery, he came from a flowery age, and this is how he said the above statement..... "And leet anie man of judgement being seene in the exercise of weapons, not being more addicted unto movelties of fight, then unto truth it selfe, put in measure and practice these three fights, variable, open, and guardant."

If you have some commentary, please don't feel shy and mention it in the comments section.

George Sylver...Gentleman...

Page 16
Part 10
Illusions for the maintenance of imperfect weapons and false fights,
to feare or discourate the unskilfull in their weapons,
from taking a true course of use for attaining to the perfect knowledge of true fight.

First, for the Rapier (faith the Italian or false teacher) I hold it to be a perfect good weapon, because the crosse hindreth not to hold the handle in the hand, to thrust both far and straight and to use all manner of advantages in the wards
page 17
or sodainly to dast the fame at the adversarie, but with the Sword you are driven with all the strength of the hand to hold fast the handle. And in the warres I would with no friend of mine to weare Swords with hilts, because when they are sodainlly set upon, for haste they set their hands upon their hilts instead of their handles : in which time it hapeneth manie times before they can draw their swords, they are slaine by their enemies. And for Sword and Buckler fight, it is imperfect, because the buckler blindeth the fight, neither would I have anie man lie aloft with his hand above his heat, to strike found blowes. Strong blowes are naught, especially being set above the head, because therein all the face and bodie is discovered. Yet I confesse, in old times, when blowes were only used with short Swords And Bucklers and back Sword, these kind of fights were good and most manley, but now in these dais fight is altered. Rapiers are longer for advantage then swords were wont to be: when blowes were used, men were so simple in their fight, that they thought him to be a coward, that wold make a thrust or strike a blow beneath the girdle. Againe, if their weapons ere short, as in times past they were, yet fight is better looked into in these days, than when it was. Who is it in these daies seeth not that the blow conpasseth round like a wheele, whereby it hath a longer way to go, but the thrust passeth in a sraight ling, and therefore commeth a nearer way, and done in a shorer time then is the blow and is more deadly than the blow? Therefore there no wife man that will st4rike unless he be wearie of his life. It is certaine, that the point for advantage everie way in fight is to used, the blow is utterly naught and not to be used. He that fighteth upon the (page 18) blow especially with the short sword, wilbe sore hurt or slaine. The devill can say no more for the maintenance of errors.

These counterfeit blows are enough to cary the wisest that know not the true fight from the false, out of the right way.

And if their weapons were short as in times past they were, yet they could not thrust safe at body or face because in gardant fight they fall over, or under the perfect crosse of the sword & to strike beneath the waste or at the legges, is a great disadvantage, because the course of the blow to the legs is too far, & thereby the head, face & body is discovered: and that was the cause in old thimes that they did not thrust nor strike at the legs & not for lacke of skill, as in the dies we imagine. Again, if a man in those daies should have fought with a long sword, they would prsently have put im into Gobbes Trauers.

page 18
( A confutation of their errours)
The blow, by reason that it compasseth round like a wheele, whereby it hath a longer way to come, as the Italian Fenser saith, & that the thrust passin in a straight line, commeth a nearer way and therefore is sooner done then a blow, is not true: these be the proofes.
Let two lie in their perfect strengths and readinesse, wherein the blades of their Rapiers by the motion of the body, may not be crossed of either side, the one to strike, the other to thrust. Then measure the distance or course wherin the hand and hilt passeth to finish the blow of the one and the thrust of the other, and you shall find them both by measure, in distance all one. And leet anie man of judgement being seene in the exercise of weapons, not being more addicted unto movelties of fight, then unto truth it selfe, put in measure and practice these three fights, variable, open, and guardant, and he shall see, that shensoever anie man lyeth at the thrust upon the vieable fight, (where of necessitie most commonly he lyeth, or otherwise not possiblie to keepe his Rapier from crossing at the blow & thrust, upon the open or gardant fight,) that the blowes & thrustes from these two fighes, come a nearer way, and a more (page 19) stronger and swifter course then doth the thrust, out of the variable fight. And thus for a generall rule, wheresoever the Thruster lyeth, or out of what fight soever he fighteth, with his Rapier, or Rapier and Dagger, the blow in his course commeth as neare, and nearer, and more swift and stronger then doth the thrust.

Page 19
Perfect fight standeth upon both blow and thrust, therefore the thrust is not only to be used.
(margin note...This is truth cannot be denied)

ip-location map zoom


Anonymous said...

Very interesting Bill.

STAG said...

This statement is sort of controvercial since his antique wording might be taken in another way. A cursory reading of this passage seems to indicate that he feels the Italians claim the rapier as superior since a thrust travels over a shorter distance than a slash. He feels that this is a bogus argument since the hand moves the same distance whether it is a thrust or a slash.

Reading it a couple of more times, especially with a day or two between readings, will help sort out the meanings...for instance, he doesn't put things in quotes, so he will quote another source, and on first blush it seems like he is actually saying the quoted passages.

He is particularly influential in that he gave us the word "fencing", which was based on his "defensive" form of sword fighting. He felt the Italians were more about offense, and attack, both with swords and with words, such interactions would always lead up to fatal duels.

He feels that as long as you only use your sword in "defence", you will not be judged by twelve, and if you use it properly, you will not be carried by six.