George Silver. Paradoxes of Defence. London. 1599

(8) Of Rapiers and Poniards

(8.1) Of the Imperfection and Insufficiency of Rapiers in General *35*

Of the imperfection and insufficiency of rapiers in general, of what length soever they are.  If two fight with long rapiers, upon every cross made with the half rapier(25), if they have poniards, they most commonly stab each other, which cannot be avoided, because the rapiers being long, the cross cannot be undone of either side, without going back with their feet, the which likewise in due time cannot be done, because the hand is more swift than the feet, and the feet more swift in their course forwards than backwards, neither can the cross be prevented, because the point of necessity lies too far off in his offense, or else within compass of the true time of the hand and body, by reason of his imperfect length, and so by the like reason, if two fight with long single rapiers, upon every cross made therewith, within the half rapier, the close cannot be avoided, whereby it comes to pass most commonly, that the strongest man or best wrestler overcomes. Now if two do fight with short rapiers, or rapiers of convenient length, such rapiers are inconvenient also for lack of hilt to defend the hand and head from the blow. For no eye (in making a perfect ward for the head, to defend the blow, can discern to take the same within three or four inches, whereby it may as well and as often fall upon the hand, as upon the blade of the rapier. Again, the hilt as well serves to defend the head as the hand, and is a more sure and strong ward, than is the blade of the rapier. And further, understand this for truth, that in gardant and open fight, the hand without a hilt lies open to most blows that shall be struck by the agent, out of gardant or open fight, because in the true carriage of the gardant fight, the hand must lie above the head, in such straightness and narrowness of space, that which way soever the agent shall strike or thrust at the head, face, or body, the removing of two or four inches shall save all. And now somewhat more for the shortness or convenient length of rapiers.

Rapiers having no hilts to defend the head, the rapier man is driven of necessity to lie at the variable fight or low ward, and being there he can neither defend in due time, head, face nor body from the blows or thrusts of him, that shall fight out of the gardant or open fight, but is continually in great danger of the agent, for these causes following. First, because his space is too wide to defend his head from blow or thrust. Secondly his pace standing upon that fight, will be of necessity too great or too narrow. If too narrow, too weak, if too large, his weight and number of his feet, are too great to endanger him, that is upon his gardant or open fight.

(8.2) Of the Imperfection and Insufficiency of Rapiers and Implement *36*

Of the imperfection and insufficiency of the fight of the single rapier, rapier and poniard, rapier and buckler, rapier and cloak, and rapier and glove of mail.  The rapier fight, whether it is single or accompanied with the poniard, buckler, cloak, or glove of mail, is still by reason of the insufficiency or imperfection of the rapier, an imperfect fight. Imperfect instruments can make no perfect music, neither can imperfect weapons make perfect fight. Let men that handle them have all the knowledge that may be in all manner of weapons, yes the full height, or perfection, and habit by his great labor and industry, even as it were naturally effected in him, yet if the weapons that they shall fight withal be imperfect or insufficient to perform whatsoever appertains unto true fight, as concerning the perfection of their safety, it avails them nothing. What shall we then say for the rapier? Is the rapier an imperfect or insufficient weapon to perform whatsoever appertains unto true fight? Yes. Wherefore? Because unto the true fight there appertains four fights, gardant fight, open fight, variable fight, and close fight, without all four of these fights it is impossible to fight safe. But the rapier for lack of a hilt is an imperfect weapon, and therefore insufficient to fight safe upon these four fights, for the are already set down in the Paradox before, but is inferred to loose the benefit of two of the best fights, gardant and open fight, and to fly from them, and trust only unto variable fight, and close fight. Now having proved through the imperfection or insufficiency of the rapier, the imperfections of the rapier fight, it remains that I speak of the rest of the weapons, or instruments appertaining unto rapier fight.

The rapier and poniard fight, the rapier & buckler fight, the rapier and cloak fight, & the rapier & glove of mail fight, all these fights by reason of the imperfection of the rapier, and the rapier fight, are also imperfect fights, for proof of the uncertainty and impossibilities of the safety in any of these fights, thus it stands. These fights depend altogether upon variable fight and close fight. In any of these fights it is impossible in true space of offense to keep the blades of their rapiers from crossing, or from breaking with the poniards, buckler, cloak or breaking or catching with the glove of mail, because in any of these two fights, the agent has still in true space the blade of the patients rapier to work upon. These things by letters cannot be made more plain, neither is it unknown to the skilful, or in fight by any means to be avoided. The weapon being too far in true space to be wrought upon, the place cannot be denied, do the patient Agent what he can for his life to the contrary, either by blows, thrusts, falsing or doubling of thrusts, going back, indirections, or turnings of the body, or what else soever may in the highest touch of wit or strength, or agility of body be devised or done, to keep out the agent: but still the agent by narrowness of space brings himself by strong guard to the place, where being brought, it is impossible to fight safe, as it is for two desperate men set together being both blind. Because in the true place (won in rapier or variable fight) their eyes by the swift motions of their hands are deceived, the crosses in that fight are false, their distance, judgement and times are lost, either to offend in safety, or safely to defend themselves, and these reasons, rules, or grounds of the feats of arms are infallible or invincible.

Now, oh you Italian teachers of defence, where are your Stocatas, Imbrocatas, Mandrittas, Puntas, & Punta Reversas, Stramisons, Passatas, Carricados, Amazzas, & Incartatas, & playing with your bodies, removing with your feet a little aside, circlewise winding of your bodies, making of three times with your feet together, marking with one eye the motion of the adversary, & with the other eye the advantage of thrusting? What is become of all these juggling gambols, apish devices, with all the rest of your squint eyed tricks, when as through your deep studies, long practices, & apt bodies, both strong and agile, you have attained to the height of all these things? What then avails it you, when you shall come to fight for your lives with a man of skill? You shall have neither time, nor place, in due time to perform any one of them, nor gardant nor open fight safely to keep out a man of skill, a man of no skill, or scholar of your own teaching, from the true place, the place of safety, the place of uncertainty or mischief, the place of wounds or death, but are enforced to stand in that mischievous, uncertain, dangerous, and most deadly place, as two men having lost in part their chiefest senses, most furiously with their rapiers or poniards, wounding or slaying each other.

Thus ends the imperfect fights of the rapier with all manner of weapons or instruments thereto appertaining, with their imperfections, through the true grounds and rules of the art of arms, truly displayed & brought to light.

All laud be unto the Almighty God.

(8.3) Italians and their usage of Rapier and Poniard *37*

That the reasons used by the Italian fencers in commending the use of the rapier and poniard, because it makes peace, makes against themselves.   It has been commonly held, that since the Italians have taught the rapier fight, by reason of the dangerous use thereof, it has bred great civility among our English nation, they will not now give the lie, nor with such foul speeches abuse themselves, therefore there are fewer frays(26) in these times than were wont to be. It cannot be denied but this is true, that we are more circumspect of our words, and more fearful to fight than heretofore we have been. But whereof comes it? Is it from this, that the rapier makes peace in our minds; or from hence, that it is not so sufficient defence for our bodies in our fight? He that will fight when he is armed, will not fight when he is naked: is it therefore good to go naked to keep peace? he that would fight with his sword and buckler, or sword and dagger, being weapons of true defence, will not fight with his rapier and poniard, wherein no true defence or fight is perfect: are these insufficient weapons therefore the better, because not being sufficient to defend us in fight, they force us into peace? What else is it, but to say, it is good for subjects to be poor, that they not go to law: or to lack munition, that they may not fight, nor go to the wars: and to conclude, what more follows through the imperfect works of the Italian peacemakers? They have made many a strong in his fight weak, many a valiant man fearful, many a worthy man trusting to their imperfect fight, has been slain, and many of our desperate boys and young youths, to become in that rapier fight, as good men as England yielded, and the tallest men of this land, in that fight as very boys as they and no better. This good have the Italian teachers of Offense done us, they have transformed our boys into men, and our men into boys, our strong men into weakness, our valiant men doubtful, and many worthy men resolving themselves upon their false resolutions, have most willfully in the field, with their rapiers ended their lives. And lastly, have left to remain among us after their deaths, these inconveniences behind them, false fencing books, imperfect weapons, false fights, and evil customs, whereby for lack of use and practice in perfect weapons and true fight, we are disabled for the service of our prince, defence of our country, and safety of our lives in private fight.

(8.4) The Short Sword Vantage against the Long Sword or Long Rapier *38*

That the short sword has the advantage against the long sword or long rapier.  Whereas for the most part opinions are generally held, that the long sword, or long rapier, has the vantage in fight against the short sword, which the Italian teachers of defence, by their false demonstrations have brought us to believe. I have thought good that the truth may appear which has the vantage, to add my help unto the reasons they use in their own behalf, for that yet I could never hear them make a sound reason for the same. These are the reasons(27). First with my long rapier, I will put myself into my guard or Stocata, holding my hilt back by the outside of my right thigh, keeping in short the point of my rapier, so as he that has the short sword, shall not be able to reach the point of my rapier, to make his ward or cross with his dagger, buckler, sword, or cloak, without stepping in with his foot, the which time is too long to answer the time of the hand, by reason of my distance. I can there stand safe without danger of blow or thrust, playing the patient's part. If you strike or thrust you do it too short, by reason of my distance. If you seek to come nearer, you must do it with the time of your foot, in which time I may safely thrust home. If in that distance you break it not, you are slain. If you do break it, yet you do me no harm, by reason of my distance, and I may stand fast and thrust again, or fly back at my pleasure. So have you put yourself in danger of your life, and having hardly escaped, are driven again to begin a new bout, as at the first you did. Again, if I please, I can be the oppressor, keeping the same guard, and my point in short as I did before, and pressing strongly by putting in by little and little of my feet, until the place of my foot is gotten, wherein (in my judgement) I may thrust home, the which I may boldly and safely do, without respect of any ward at all, by reason of my distance, in which time of my coming he must strike, thrust, ward, or go back. If he goes back, it is a great disgrace, if he strikes or thrusts, it is too short, if he stands to defend, the place being already gotten, where I may thrust home, the thrust being very quick & strongly made, such is the force and swiftness thereof, that it is impossible by nature or art, for any man to break one thrust of an hundred. These reasons in my opinion may suffice to confirm the wise, that there is no question to be made, but that the long rapier has the advantage against the short sword.

Sir you have prettily handled your discourse(28), concerning the vantages of the long rapier against the short sword, especially at the first show, and according to common sense, but for the substance and truth of the true fight, you have said nothing, because for the performance of any of your allegations, you have neither true pace, place, time, nor space. These are the reasons. Your pace of necessity must be too large, because otherwise you cannot keep safe the point of your long rapier, from the cross of the short sword, unless you will with a narrow pace keep back your hilt so far, that the space of your offense will be too large or too long in distance, and your body unapt to move and thrust both strong and quick in due time, nor aptly to keep your distance, to win the place with your feet, to thrust home. So now you may plainly see, if you have skill in the art or science of defence, that is to perform anything which you have alleged, you have neither true pace, place, time nor space. But if you will stand upon the largeness of your pace, to keep back or save the point of your long rapier from the ward or cross of the short sword, or upon your Passatas, in all these you have great disadvantages.

And these are my reasons. Your number will be too great, as thus. Whenever you mean out of your large pace to thrust home, you must of necessity make four times with your feet, and one with your hand, or two times with your feet, and one with your hand at least. And whensoever you make any of your passages, the number of your feet are greater than the greatest of any of these times done out of the large pace. But the patient with his short sword, to avoid you, or disappoint you of your thrust, has but one time with his foot, at or before the which time, as he in his judgement shall find you in your motion, has by the slow and great number of your motions or times, sufficient time safely out of all danger to make himself ready to take his cross with his short sword. Now sir, whether you thrust or not thrust, whether you play the part of an agent, or patient, it helps you nothing, for he that has the short sword has four times or motions against the long rapier, namely bent, spent, lying spent, and drawing back, in all manner of fights these are to be observed both by the patient and agent. Now note, he that has the long rapier must of necessity play upon one of these four motions, or be patient, which soever he shall do, he is still in great danger of the cross of the short sword, because if he is agent, his number is too great, he falls into one of the four motions, the patient with his short sword, having but the time of his hand, or hand & foot, safely upon these actions or times takes his cross with the short sword. That being done, he presently uncrosses and strikes or thrusts at his pleasure him that has the long rapier, in the head, face, or body. Now here is again to be noted, that when the cross is made, if he that has the long rapier stands fast, he is wounded presently in the uncrossing of the short sword, if he steps or leaps back to save himself, yet the time of the hand being swifter than the time of the foot, overtakes him, with blow or thrust in the arm, hand, head, face and body. Now if he that has the long rapier will be patient & make no play, but lie still watching to make his thrust or Stocata just in the coming or moving of the agent's feet with his short sword, then he has as great disadvantage as he had when he was patient, because then the agent with his short sword has but hand and foot to make his cross, which is most safely to be done in that time, which we call bent, and is as impossible for the rapier man to prevent, as it is for an unskillful to strike or thrust just together with a man of skill. Then thus do I conclude, that he that fights with a long rapier, against him that fights with short sword, can do nothing in due time to defend himself, or hurt the other, but is still in danger of his life, or at the mercy of him that has the short sword, or else has no safe way to help himself, but only Cob's Traverse(29). This Cob was a great quarreler, and did delight in great bravery to give foul words to his betters, and would not refuse to go into the field to fight with any man, and when he came to the field, would draw his sword to fight, for he was sure by the cunning of his traverse, not to be hurt by any man. For at any time finding himself overmatched would suddenly turn his back and run away with such swiftness, that it was thought a good horse would scarce take him. And this when I was a young man, was very much spoken of by many gentlemen of the Inns of the Court, and was called Cob's Traverse and those that had seen any go back too fast in his fight, would say, he did tread Cob's Traverse.

Released: November 09, 1998 / Last modified: December 12, 2008