Does "gentlemanly conduct" bias your practice?

"They utterly ignore the rules and customs of gentlemanly fencing, and betake themselves to mere fighting of a nature scarcely creditable to a Whitechapel rough" - Alfred Hutton, Cold Steel pg 43

The rules and customs of "Gentlemanly" fencing as outlined in Hutton and presumably ubiquitous in later fencing treatises has been hugely influential for setting HEMA custom. The format of entering measure, touching blades/saluting, then taking one step back and adopting a guard before starting an exercise or bout is deeply ingrained in many fencers practice and is clearly visible in historical fencing culture, particularly at tournaments. 

"To ENGAGE. Having performed the salute, cross the blades, and tap them smartly together twice; then draw back the left foot so as to be out of distance, and come to guard." - Alfred Hutton, Cold Steel pg 42

However I wonder if many people consciously consider the impact this is having on their practice? When you consider the era and system of combat from which this was born, it's often completely inappropriate practice for the system you are studying. 

For example using this practice for technique from Meyer's or I.33 results in outcomes that look little like the treatise. That's because systems, like Meyer, require an assertive opening phase of combat that doesn't work within a passive "gentlemanly" paradigm. From a Meyer perspective specifically (and from the perspective of more aggressive systems in general) there are big problems with:

1. Starting bouts and exercises within what is relatively close measure
2. Starting within static "settled" guard positions

If your system is largely defensive, i.e. involves waiting in a particular guard position or cautiously entering measure with half steps until you can bind, then Hutton's system makes great sense. However if you're trying to enact assertive attacking philosophies driving through dynamic "covering" guard positions they do not work well from this start position.

"When you want to fence with someone on the fencing not place yourself in your guard immediately, so that the adversary does not see right away what kind of guard you have, but go at him with several steps, until you are almost upon him, and then you can set yourself in a guard, which pleases you." - Halle in Saxony, Short though Clear Description treating of Fencing on the Thrust and Cut (1661)

The solution is simple: rather than starting within measure ensure that your default is to start all your exercises and bouts from completely out of measure and without an initial guard position. If your system is assertive this allows you to launch an aggressive attack, if it is defensive you can plod to within measure and adopt your static guard.


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