Fencing cirriculum development
As you may or may not know depending who you are, I have been engaged in studying the work of George Silver. I have struggled to try to get a handle on his philosophy of fight, the practical aspects of technique while facing an opponent and translating the knowledge I've picked up through this study to the written page as a guide to others as well. This has worked to a point, however, I feel it's time for me to step up my game, set the bar higher, and go further into the study of my chosen renaissance Master of fence by creating a curriculum of study, drills and lesson plans for classes all based on the actual writings of George Silver, using his preferred method and order of teaching.
It is a task that is complicated somewhat by the fact that this exact order was not actually set down, however it may be inferred by several passages. As a point of discussion and feedback I would like to offer several examples to you as and would like to know how you would interpret them.
I would like to have your opinions based on your own experiences outside the system which Silver taught, and if by example you can provide specifics from your own areas of study it would be helpful. In order to do this without any bias from my own study I ask that you bear with me and forgive that I am not including my own interpretations at this time.
The examples I offer are from Silvers works, Paradoxes of Defense and Brief Instructions upon my Paradoxes of Defense. I have kept the wording true to the publication of both of Silvers texts in order to not influence any opinions inadvertently through using my own more updated wording, although I have clarified some spelling in order to make wording more readable.
The order of the examples are first form Paradoxes of Defense, then from Brief Instructions, and given in order of their presentation by Silver in his own writings. All examples will have the citation of their place within each text for reference if needed.
"Of evil orders or customs in our English Fence schools, & of the old or ancient teaching of weapons, & things very necessary to be continued for the avoiding of errors, and reviving and continuance of our ancient weapons, and most victorious fight again.
There is in my opinion in our fence schools an evil order or custom in these days used, the which, if it might stand with the liking of our Masters of Defense, I think it necessary to be left. For as long as it is used, it shall be hard to make a good scholar That is this, at the single sword, sword and dagger, & sword and buckler, they forbid the thrust, & at the single rapier, and rapier & dagger, they forbid the blow. Either they are both together best, or the thrust altogether best. If the thrust is best, why do we not use it a t the single sword, sword & dagger, & sword & buckler? If the blow is best, why do we not use it at the single rapier, rapier & poniard? But knowing by the art of arms, that no fight is perfect without both blow and thrust, why do we not use and teach both blow and thrust? But however this we daily see, that when two meet in fight, whether they have skill or none, unless such as have tied themselves to that boyish, Italian, weak, imperfect fight, they both strike and thrust, and how shall he then do, that being much taught in school, that never learned to strike, nor how to defend a strong blow? And how shall he then do, that being brought up in a fencing school, that never learned to thrust with the single sword, sword & dagger, and sword and buckler, nor how at these weapons to break a thrust? Surely, I think a downright fellow, that never came in school, using such skill as nature yielded out of his courage, strength, and agility, with good downright blows and thrust among (them), as shall best frame in his hands, should put one of these imperfect scholars greatly to his shifts. Besides, there are now in these days no grips, closes, wrestlings, striking with the hilts, daggers, or bucklers, used in fencing schools."
Paradoxes of Defense p. 18
"there is no manner of teaching comparable to the old ancient teaching, that is, first their quarters, then their wards, blows, thrusts, and breaking of thrusts, then their closes and grips, striking with the hilts, daggers, bucklers, wrestling, striking with the foot or the knee in the cods, and all there are safely defended in learning perfectly of the grips."
- Paradoxes of Defense, p. 25
"George Silver his military riddle truly set down between the perfection and imperfection of fight. Containing the handling of the four fights, wherein true consists the whole sum and full perfection of the true fight, with all manner of weapons, with an invincible conclusion
Gardant fight stays, puts back, or beats gardant fight.
Open fight stays, puts back, or beats open fight.
Variable fight answers variable fight in the first distance, and not otherwise, except it is with perfect length against imperfect.
Close fight is beaten by gardant fight.
Variable, close & gardant fight, beats gardant fight, open fight, variable fight, and close fight.
Gardant fight in the imperfection of the agent or patient, wins the half sword, and presently the close, and whosoever first ventures the close, looses it, and is in great danger of death, and not possible to escape or get out again without great hurt.
There attends most diligently upon these four fights four offensive actions, which we call certain, uncertain, first, before, just, and afterward. They are to be performed through judgment, time, measure, number and weight, by which all manner of blows thrusts, falses (feints), doubles, or slips, are prevented, or most safely defended. And thus ends my riddle.
Now follows the conclusion, that whosoever shall think or find himself in his fight too weak for the agent's, or patient agent, and therefore, or by reason of his drunkenness, or unreasonable desperateness shall press within the half sword, or desperately run in of purpose to give hurt, or at least for taking of one hurt, to give another, shall most assuredly be in great danger of death or wounds, and the other shall still be safe and go free."
Paradoxes of Defense p. 37
The next evidence I wish to present are not direct quotes, but rather the order in which Silver presents his ideas. Silver presents his ideas in a rather specific manner; this is reflected in the organization of his system into his written works and the similarities between his two works in their internal structure.
In Paradoxes of Defense, Silver begins his explanation of his system by explaining specific grouping of information. In order these include:
The grounds or principles of the true fight with all manner of weapons.
The wards of all manner of weapons.
The names and numbers of times appertaining unto fight both true and false.
In Silver's later work, Brief Instructions, there is an internal consistency in the order which he presents his first few chapters, again, once he gets past his reasons for writing the books and his admonitions against dueling.
The four grounds or principals of that true fight at all manner of weapons are these four, viz. 1. judgment, 2. distance, 3. time, 4. place.
The 4 governors are those that follow
Certain general rules which must be observed in that perfect use of all kind of weapons.
A declaration of all the 4 general fights to be used with the sword at double or single, long or short, & with certain particular rules to them annexed.
Of the short single sword fight against the like weapon.
Of diverse advantages that you may take by striking from your ward at the sword fight.
The manner of certain grips & closes to be used at the single short sword fight, etc.
Of the short sword & dagger fight against the like weapon
Of the short sword & dagger fight against the long sword & dagger or long rapier & poniard.
Of the sword & buckler fight.
After Chapter 9, Silver goes into discussions on other weapons outside the core short sword, singly or in combination.
My question to each f you now is, can you detect in the information provided, an internal consistency to the system which would hint at a preferred order of teaching the skills needed to acquire a working knowledge of Silver through his written words. Also, if you do, or if you do not feel there is evidence for what I am looking for, please explain you reasons, again if you can provide backing for your reasons from your specific field of studies.
Your assistance in this, what I hope to be an entirely new approach to learning Silver will be greatly appreciated. If you would like to correspond further with me on this matter please let me know in your reply.
Edgar V. Branscum
Don Alaryn Aecanstaeff - OWWS
Provost West Kingdom Guild of Defense