Τετάρτη, 10 Απριλίου 2013 10:32

Charles Daniel, "George Silver", 1987

George Silver :

Father of English Swordsmanship

By Charles Daniel

 

"Fencing in this newfangled age is like our fashions, every day a change, resembling the Camelion, who altereth himself into all colours save white: so fencing changeth into all words save the right."

So begins the first of Gentleman George Silver's two books on the "Noble Art of Defense." These books, Paradoxes of Defense and Brief Instructions Upon My Pardadoxes of Defense were written in 1599. Both books reflect a totally English point of view because of Silver's association with the Masters of Defense Corporation. This corporation existed to train Englishmen in the use of weapons so they could better serve the crown.

The Masters of Defense were established in 1540 by King Henry VIII and disbanded in 1623 by King James. In their schools, the masters taught a variety of weapon systems. The main weapons were the Backsword (a one-handed, single-edged, straight sword with a basket hilt), the two-handed sword, the sword and buckler (a buckler is a small shield), and the sword and dagger. Other weapons such as the Battleaxe, Halbert, Quarterstaff, Bill, Hand and Half Sword, single dagger, Pike and later the dreaded Rapier and dagger, were also taught.

Silver's Paradoxes of Defense is just as much an attack on the then new Rapier and dagger system as it is a book on martial arts. His Brief Instructions is nothing less than a catalog and description of the Master's techniques and strategems for the above mentioned weapons. Interestingly, the instructor also includes a section on "gryps" or wrestling techniques, which could be used to disarm an opponent. This and certain other references would seem to indicate a well developed unarmed fighting system which was a back-up to the weapons systems.


As mentioned earlier in Paradoxes, Silver went to great lengths to point out the weakness of the Rapier system. Unfortunately for Silver, a great deal of his Paradoxes is based on incomplete information because unlike the Masters, the Italians who taught Rapier and dagger fights in London, did also in private. Fortunately for us today, in elaborating his case, Silver clearly explains many of the more difficult aspects of martial arts.


 

Open fight Posture

 

Gardant fight posture

 

Close fight posture

 

Variable fight posture

           
 

English vs. Italian Fencing

One of the most important controversies addressed in Silver's Paradoxes is the age-old question of the cut or thrust. The question of which sword technique is superior, cutting or thrusting, is as old as the sword. In Silver's Paradoxes, this debate takes the form of an Italian vs. Englishman argument. The Italian approach to fencing at that time used the Rapier and almost exclusively thrusting techniques. The English attitude on the other hand used both cutting and thrusting, but with a preference for cutting. This does not seem like a great difference in approach until one reads the very first sentence in Silver's book: "Paradoxes of Defense, wherein is proven the true grounds of fight to be in the short, ancient weapons, and that the short sword hath advantage of the long sword or long rapier."


From this beginning, Silver takes the Italians to task on a variety of subjects. The first attack Silver makes on the Italians is their use of standardized weapons, which lack proper hand protection. Noting that men have different heights, weights, strengths, and weaknesses, Silver states that each individual should choose the weapon that best fits his stature and natural abilities. This, of course, does not mean that men should specialize, but that when choosing the weapon they would carry daily, they should use whichever best matches their body and abilities. The hand protection mentioned by Silver was a critical consideration for the 16th century (or any other time) swordsman. Unlike the Italians, who at that time used swords with little hand protection, the English installed strong hand guards on their swords. These hand guards protected the sword hand from the strongest cut or thrust. This is an important consideration because when a swordsman delivers a cut or thrust, his swordhand is the part of his body closest to his enemy and thus, the most vulnerable part of his body. The Englishman's use of a sturdy hand guard not only protected him from counter cuts to his sword hand, but also allowed him to deliver bone crushing blows with that very same hand guard.

After thus stating his case for the structural deficiency of the early Rapier, Silver moved onto the shortcomings of Rapier fighting in general.


The next point of contention Silver brings up is the Italians' weapon specialization. Unlike the Masters of Defense, the Italians in London taught just the use of the Rapier and dagger, as they applied to the duel or one-to-one fight. This, of course, meant fighting with like weapons. The shortcomings of this type of approach did not escape Silver, who related two stories of what happened to one Italian Rapier specialist when he was suddenly confronted with unfamiliar weapons.


   

A technique from Gardant fight posture. Man on the left is in the open fight, man on the right is in Gardant

     
 

Left cuts at the opponents head, right moves blade parrying.

     
 

Right flips left's blade over and cuts to the neck

 
         
       

In the first of these two stories, we find the Italian instructor Rocko at odds with an English sailor over a woman. Taking his Rapier, Rocko went down to the docks to decide the manner in a man-to-man fashion. Upon finding the Englishman, Rocko drew his Rapier and assumed a fighting stance, so as to wait for his opponent. Unexpectedly, the Englishman made no move to pick up a sword. Instead, he picked up a giant boat oar and with the help of several of his friends (also armed with boat oars), proceeded to beat Rocko senseless.


Silver gives this example not so much to criticize Rocko's fighting style but to point out some slight deficiencies in the Italian's attitude toward fighting. According to Silver, the "Nobel Art of Defense" was a defensive art to be used in the service of one's country. Further, Silver saw the Italian attitude as highly offensive because it stressed dueling and proving ones honor far above one's responsibility to one's fellow man. This difference is easily understandable. In Italy, killing a fellow countryman in a duel was an everyday and accepted occurrence. In England, killing a fellow countryman was a capital offense, which often led to the execution of the victor. The example of Rocko and the sailor is a good illustration of these two attitudes in action. Rocko, expecting a man-to-man confrontation on equal footing with his opponent, rather foolishly sets himself up and then pays a heavy price for his incaution. Rocko, however, was apparently not adverse to making the same mistake twice.

In the next story, a rather large Englishman by the name of Austin Bagger and Rocko had a fight over another woman. In this case. Bagger found Rocko in the house from which the woman dispensed her favors. Standing outside on guard with sword and buckler. Bagger called out to Rocko that he wanted to fight him, doubted his abilities with weapons and also wondered about his manhood in general. Rocko, being as hot tempered as the stereotyped Southern European should be, could hardly take such insults (as it was) lying down. Snatching up his sword, Rocko ran into the street to deal Bagger a tremendous edge blow. Unfortunately, Bagger parried this blow by crossing his sword and buckler (like an X block) and then kicked Rocko's feet out from under him. With his man thus down, Bagger dealt a nasty cut to Rocko's behind and stomped him. However, being of kind heart, Bagger spared Rocko's life. Rocko, for his part, soon retired from teaching fencing.


 

Silver's system was very straight forward and practical. Man on the left is in Close Fight, man on the right is in Gardant Fight.

 

Left thrusts underneath sword to body, right drops hand to parry

 

Right continues with thrust

 
     

While Silver excused Rocko for his adventure with the sailors, he condemned for the Bagger affair. Not only was Rocko defeated rather easily, but he had himself be drawn into a public brawl he could have easily avoided. He also added, that had Rocko been familiar with various weapons, he would not have come such an end.


After giving a general criticism of the Italian method, Silver takes up the particulars of sword technique. In explaining why many men were fooled by the Italian's, Silver puts forth ideas which every modern day martial artist should apply to their own art. He states that there are four reasons why wise men can be deceived by false instructors:


1: "The schoolmasters are imperfect"

2: "Whatever these men teach is both true and false. True in their demonstrations to their force and time in gentle play. False according to true force and time as in rough play or fight. The difference between these two (gentle and true fight) is as great as a painting of a man and the man himself."

3: "None can judge the craft but the'craftsman. That is, the beginner cannot judge an instructor's level of skill."

4: "As in all other excellent secrets, most commonly the lie beareth as good a show of truth as the truth itself."


The importance of this section should not be overlooked. The difference between theoretical practice and actual application is as critical today as it was five hundred years ago. Without an extensive study of this problem, a martial artist can never expect to be able to actually use his knowledge - regardless of his number of years of study. On the question of the cut or thrust, Silver takes a rather logical position, "Perfect fight standeth upon both cut and thrust, therefore, the thrust is not only to be used." This point of view may seem surprising, but Silver explains saying "In fight, there are many motions with the hand, body, and feet. In every motion the place of the hand (and therefore the sword) is altered and because by the motions of the hand, the hand will sometimes be in place to strike (cut), sometimes to thrust, sometimes after a blow to thrust, and sometimes after a thrust to strike. Sometimes you may be in a place where you cannot thrust without loss of time and sometimes you cannot strike. Therefore, you will not be able to defend yourself unless you fight upon both blow and thrust."


From this passage, the real point of Silver's argument can be seen. While there is little argument that holding a sword with the point directly at the opponent is by far superior to any other approach, because of environmental conditions, this is not always practical. For example, once battle lines had crossed, the edge and cutting became more important. This type of rule exception or special case was one of the things the early Rapier men did not always take into account.


Before going into an overview of Silver's Instructions, one last point brought up in Paradoxes should be covered. In the question of the cut or thrust, Silver comes down on the side of the cut. His decision is based totally on practical rather than theoretical considerations. While there is no doubt that a sword thrust is dangerous, it is deadly only when it hits certain points in the body. Thus, it is possible to run an enemy through without stopping him. Of course, in the 16th century, the inevitable infection would probably spell the end of the unfortunate thrust recipient. However, such infection may be days away, and in the meantime, he might very well kill the man who stabbed him. This is particularly the case when one is in the middle of a fight and thus, hot blooded, and less likely to be stopped by less than crippling or killing blows. For this reason, Silver favors the cut. because cuts more often will instantly stop an enemy. Also, cuts do not have to hit any particular points on the body to be effective. For example, a thrust through the arm may be painful but it may not even slow down a man who is in "hot blood." An edge blow to the very same spot will cripple that arm, if it doesn't remove it completely


An example of a very simple technique with the English Two Handed Sword against a common target. As the man on the left raises his weapon

 

The man on the right thrusts to his opponents eyes

   

 

Fighting Safe


The Instructions are the "how to" part of Silver's two works. The overall premise of Silver's and the Masters of Defense's system is interesting, because it echoes some of the classical Japanese sword ryu's ideas that came into existence at about the same time - but half a world away.

 

The key to this system is the concept of "fighting safe." This is a subtle concept, because it is not so much interested in striking down an opponent, as it is not being struck down by him. A direct result of this idea is that if two men who have perfected "safe fight" were to face one another, neither one would be wounded. Because both men would have a perfect understanding of fighting, neither would present an opening through which his opponent could attack. Any attempt by an attacker to force such an opening would more often than not create an opening in the attacker's posture. This, of course, would lead to the attacker being cut down. A confrontation between two such skilled men would thus result in a standoff. Such standoffs were in fact reported in both England and Japan.


To fight safe, Silver states several principles and general rules, which should be applied to all weapons. Some of these principles are very general, as such: "When your enemy attacks you, he will open in one place or other, both at single and double weapons, at the least he will have to weaken his ward by such attacking. Strike or thrust as such open or weakest point that you find nearest to you." Others are very specific: "Know when your enemy can reach you and when he cannot." Once these rules for "safe fight" are given, Silver moves onto specific weapons and techniques.


For the Backsword, Silver outlines stances in a section entitled "A declaration of all four general fights to be used with the sword at double or single, long or short and with certain particular rules to be annexed."

These four fights are

(1) Open,

(2) Gardant,

(3) Close,

(4) Variable.


One example of how one can handle an opponent in open fight is as follows: "If he stands with his sword alift and strikes at your head, you may endanger him if you thrust at his hand, hilt or arm, turning your knuckles downward."


In the next section Silver explains "The advantages that you may take by striking from your ward at the sword fight."  Historically, this section is important because it outlines the direct "Parry arid Riposte," which was not supposed to be discovered until sometime later. However, Silver's explanation leaves little doubt. "If he charge you upon open or true Gardand fight, if you will answer him with the like, and if he then thrust at your face or body, then you may break it downward with your sword bearing your point strongly toward your right side, from this breaking of the thrust you may likewise strike (cut) him from the right or, left side or thrust him in the body."


From this section Silver moves onto the "grips" used in sword fighting. This section was necessary because in real swordsmanship there is always the possibility that blades will cross, tangle and result in a wrestling match. Here, Silver's advice ranges from complex joint locks to such simple tactics as kneeing your opponent in the groin.


These four sections of General Principles, Single Sword, Striking from your Ward and Grips could be considered the basis for Silver's systems. Further sections in the instructions include methods for using all the Masters of Defense's weapons, as mentioned earlier.


It would be both unfair and impossible to summarize George Silver's works in such a short article. However, from a purely practical point of view, there are few martial art systems equal to his. Not only does Silver address every important weapon system that was used, but he also gives a straightforward wrestling system to back the weapons up. Because of this, Silver's position as the father of English fencing and thus European fencing is secure.


 

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