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Showing posts from July, 2015

Meyer's Trivium?

So I never picked up on this before, and I'm not certain it is in any way significant, but I've just noticed that Meyer orders his Longsword on the divisions of the "classical education" the Trivium which would have been the norm at the time (1.1v Forgeng):

"...to discuss it very briefly but clearly in such a manner as is done with all other arts and practices:

Firstly to show the vocabulary and manner of speaking that pertain to it, which have been invented by the masters of this art with particular diligence, so one may learn and grasp the secret and genius of it more promptly and rapidly

Next to explain and interpret this vocabulary, so that everyone may properly understand what is meant by this manner of speaking.

Then thirdly to present the practice of the art itself, and how it shall be carried out in the work from the cuts and postures that I will have explained."


So the first is his grammar (input), the next his logic (process) and finally his rhetoric …

Some thoughts on "Time"

I've historically not really thought hard about the significance of Time within fencing and have tended to only think that it's about the speed of an action (1 Action = 1 Tempo) and pretty much left it at that. This is true but this really misses the point that that's "a Tempo" not "the Tempo." The Tempo is the rhythm or speed made up by a series of individual Tempos. Once you've added up tempos from a few exchanges you will implicitly have formed "The Tempo" of the fight.

By consciously understanding The Tempo of the fight, which tells you the probable speed of the upcoming action, you can then vary your timing within that upcoming Tempo. This is acting slightly faster (Before), the same speed (Instantly) or slower (After).

Of course a more masterful fighter will look at timing from a more strategic perspective, perhaps referring to the character of their opponent, to deliberately set a slow initial Tempo to hide their true speed capabili…

Some thoughts on "Judgement" and the "Initiative"

"There is no doubt but that the Honorable exercise of the Weapon is made right perfect by means of two things, to wit: Judgment and Force: Because by the one, we know the manner and time to handle the weapon (how, or whatsoever occasion serves:) And by the other we have the power to execute therewith, in due time with advantage." Di Grassi, The true Art of Defense

Following on from this post I thought I'd put some thoughts around about reaction time or "judgement".

Speed is composed of two elements: movement speed and reaction speed. Most historical sources are aware of this distinction referring to movements of the body and your "judgement" or "reason." Improving the physical action is relatively easy: you work until you become faster. However this is of little use if you do the wrong action. Therefore being fast is also largely about thinking fast and forming the correct action. This is the subject of serious concern in many treatises beca…

George Silver - Fencing, good or all that ails you

"the exercising of weapons puts away aches, griefs, and diseases, it increases strength, and sharpens the wits. It gives a perfect judgement, it expels melancholy, choleric and evil conceits, it keeps a man in breath, perfect health, and long life. It is unto him that has the perfection thereof, a most friendly and comfortable companion when he is alone, having but only his weapon about him. It puts him out of fear, & in the wars and places of most danger, it makes him bold, hardy and valiant." - George Silver, Paradoxes of Defence 1599

Some thoughts on understanding Meyer through Principles

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Something I'm working on at the moment is breaking down Meyer's devices using the Principles as I understand them: Mechanics, Time & Measure.

Firstly the tools Meyer has based on the Principles, these are:

Mechanics: he explains these through his system of Guard Positions as we know that every action takes place through a sequence of these positions. Taking the information about bladework and footwork from his devices we can broadly reconstruct the mechanics. We then use the pictures as occasional reference checks to ensure we're on the right track.

Time: there are two tools for time, these are Tempo and Timing. Tempo is really just breaking down the device into time sections broadly by actions, a single action being one tempo. Meyer will highlight these by saying occasionally "for the first" or "for the second" etc. Within the Tempo there is also the question of Timing which he specifies in terms of Before, Instantly and After. Sometimes he explicit…

Digrassi - It's simple really.

"There is no other thing in this art than to strike with advantage and defend with safety." - Giacomo di Grassi, 1594

Jean D Brye - Excellence in Mastery

"An excellent master is judged by the Science and his character; he possesses his Art in all his intentions, and the order in which he puts his ideas and in his principles should be instinctive,
which are always prepared and given with reason, and spoken with great certainty and ease: his interest is in the long-term view, and the progress of his students whom he must hold as dear as his reputation." - Jean D Brye, The Art of Fencing Reduced to an Abridged Methodology 1721

Digrassi - Study the Art not just the particulars

"learning one blow to day of one master, on the morrow of another, thereby busying himself about particulars, the knowledge whereof is infinite, therefore impossible."  - Giacomo di Grassi, 1594

Musing on Speed

“Now I say, that a weak Man, either by Nature or more Practice than a strong Man, may be swifter, and in course stronger in his Thrusts, and his Parades, by that natural Suppleness, or acquired Spring.” John Godfrey, A treatise on the useful Science of Defence 1747
Force is about the speed, or rather the acceleration of your actions. On its simplest level if Force is about Mass times Acceleration: it is much, much simpler to increase your capacity for acceleration than your mass. Of course good swordsman do both by engaging their whole weight however proportionately the richest pickings are in improving acceleration or speed as we perceive it, delivering faster actions.
This involves understanding that a big slow action might look "powerful" but the result in reality will be equally, or even less, forceful than a small but fast action. It's not about "strength v's speed" but "more strength through speed."

What's at work here is static streng…

Antonio Manciolino - On "Professionalism"

"the art is not a harlot to suffer itself to be sold. And I wish to hold to a more useful path, noting that the school should be devoted to offering some instruction of the art. It is of more worth to me to be useful to my scholars with this work than, through the putting of a price to the play, to provide myself alone with great benefit." - Antonio Manciolino, Bolognese 1531

Holding the sword in Meyer

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I'm doing a far more detailed analysis of the images from Meyer at the moment, based on trying to understand in detail his mechanics. One unintended result was noted something that will probably be of little surprise to people who have studied Meyers woodcuts in detail: how Meyer varies his grips on the sword.

Gripping the pommel (leverage grip). Seems to happen in two ways: directly behind, presumably for point control and to give the sword a good thrusting push, and also on top of the pommel, presumably for maximum leverage in the cut.




"Thrusting" version:



"Cutting" version:


Both hands on the grip. (baseball grip) Seems to be the invariable position for Tag and Longpoint, also for Meyer's sole Wrath position. This can vary from the hands being close together at the guard end of the grip to the offhand being directly above (put not gripping) the pommel. Interestingly, the Tag positions mainly seem to have room between the hands while the the Longpoints seem…

Capo Ferro - From whom one must learn

"You have to know that there are some who immediately after they have learned a little, and having yet a bit of practice, put themselves to teach others, and they teach without the foundation of the rule which is true, not knowing that knowing is quite different from teaching, and this methodical teaching is acquired with length of time, because in order to recognize measure and tempo requires much time, so that he who does not well understand measure nor tempo, and does not have a methodical teaching, can be called an imperfect player, and one must be wary of learning from these." 

Colombani - concise advice on stepping

"throw in terza, always starting with the hand and not rushing in but as I have already said moving the foot when it is needed by the hand." - Carlo Giuseppe Colombani

How long to train someone in Sword fighting - take 2

A follow along from this post about the length of time sword training historically took, this new translation from The Scholar San Marco was interesting, detailing the amount of time Lippo Dardi took to train his students. Clearly dividing his instruction into theory and practical sessions and also taking into account the physical attributes/intelligence of students:

"I do not want to be obliged to teach anyone for less than a year, except as far as it pleases me, informing your lordships that if one were larger than the man from Buda [?], he would learn the theory of the two-handed sword in two and a half months, and the practice in the same amount of time the theory of the buckler in one and a half months, likewise for the practice and so for each of the other plays as far as theory goes, they will learn each separately in one month and the practice in the same amount, such that each play requires two months, between theory and practice, such that everyone has over seven months …