Skip to main content

Principles of fencing - Take 4

“I have first of all laid down the principles or grounds of all the Art” – DiGrassi, True Art of Defense

"the discipline of fencing grows on properly understood principles you have contributed to, rather than relying on mindless juggling," - Joachim Meyer, 1570

It often comes up as an assumption that there are “principles” of swordsmanship and all martial arts: universal rules. The idea being that all good systems of combat are a blend of an implicit understanding of these rules and the accepted norms of combat from that time.

I've attempted to write this summary several times and abandoned it every time as I confused myself. However this process has helped me consolidate my thoughts so I think it's time I attempted again and perhaps even might stimulate others to educate me by writing an improved version of this. Certainly with the more I learn I'll be attempting to revise and update this. 

I think from the treatises the basic elements that come up are:

1.    The Principle of Mechanics (how to attack with defense) This is understood as Guards
and Openings 
2.    The Principle of Range (where to move) This is understood as Place and Line of fight
3.    The Principle of Speed (when to act) This is understood as Tempo and Timing

Being in the right place, at the right time with the right action

Mechanics (strong/weak)

At it's most basic level this is how you arrange your body to deliver force (Guards). It's about understanding both your body and the nature of your tool, i.e. sword, and all the different ways to generate force so you can be strong or weak at command. It also expresses an understanding of reading your opponents body language (Openings) or how strong/weak your opponent can attack from a position or how effectively they can resist force, how you can displaying the appearance of force and knowing how much force you need to break an opponents position etc. 

Range (long & close, on or off line)

In its simplest form this is about the range of your actions and the range of your opponents actions (Measure). Also how where you stand in relation to your opponent influences which Openings you can strike (Lines). The principle is understanding the advantages and disadvantages of where you place yourself to determine which techniques will be most effective. It recognises that specific ranges are suited to specific techniques.

Speed (quick/slow)

At it's most basic time is about how the time it takes to do an action. Attacking with just the hand is very fast, attacking with having to step a step slower and attacking and taking a passing step is slower yet, This is a tempo. As you move through space your actions become slower or faster so gain or lose time. The whole fight also gains a rhythm based around the time it takes to perform the series of single actions (step and cut, parry, thrust with lunge, pass backwards), this is the tempo. Once you've understood the tempo you can then determine how to act faster or slower (before or after) to generate advantage, i.e. timing. It can be expressed in both action and in-action: doing something quickly, slowly or not doing anything at all.

Understanding a situation (or better yet how to create an advantageous situation) by knowing how to read advantage from the positions of bodies, at what range and with what movement and how move quickly or slowly to exploit that advantage equals "Judgement."  From these principles people tend to form rules to summarise the complex situations and reaction required in sword combat and to speed up our reaction time or "judgement".


Popular posts from this blog

Kit mod: heavy sparring glove 2

This is a follow on to heavy sparring gloves and SPES arm protectors.

Finally: a pretty good HEMA glove.

Essentially I've created this final stage by removing the cuff from the gauntlet and attaching Velcro so the SPES arm & elbow protection attaches to the gauntlet. The Velcro attaches under the lip of the arm protection providing a solid join between the pieces.

My photography is lame but I hope you get the idea:

Good protection.

I would say that this setup has good protection from injury from sparring blows from fingers to elbow. Against full force blows it takes it down from injury to some mild discomfort and possibly light bruising, against moderate blows you feel some pressure with no discomfort. The fingers are where I've invested the heaviest protection but there is still some room for improvement.

Light weight

Because the weight is distributed along the length of the arm rather than at the wrist/hands end and because they can fit quite tightly to your body they seem…

Halberd Waster

Several times through my historical martial arts career I've got it into my head that I'd like to do halberd. However, the issues with a suitable waster have tended to put me off, specifically creating anything that can be used at something approaching full intention. The issue is that if you make the head from the usual materials (steel, aluminium, wood, leather etc) you have to exercise extreme caution at very slow speed because all you've made is a giant heavy mace on the end of a 6ft lever.

Recently I was working on making foam swords for another side project and while doing this it occurred to me that foam was the obvious solution to the halberd head issue. Pretty quickly I developed this simple waster.

The head is cut from EVA foam matting. This material is importantly both ultra light and pretty robust. To get a good strength I cut two head shapes out and stuck them together. The bracket to attach the head to the pole is just PVC piping with a slot cut into it for th…

Absolutely no absolutes

The more I study and learn of historical fighting, and the more I teach, the more I become careful in throwing around "absolutes" in terms of technique. I find that to say that something is "wrong" is a sub-optimal way of thinking about fencing that hinders development. Rather I like to highlight that everything is situational, i.e. with a proper understanding of the principles of fencing that there is often a time and a place where a particular technique is optimal and that you should not completely discount anything.

For example:

(and I'd like to make it clear that I'm not being negative on these examples, I liked and remembered both these videos I'm just using them to illustrate a pedagogical mindset.)

In this interesting video, the view is put forward that you should cut and step at the same pace to ensure that your hand and body land together. This is so that you cut with maximum strength and for reasons of balance.  The idea of not stepping and cu…