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Thread: 'Ordinary' wards in I.33 sword and buckler

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    Aberdeenshire, Scotland

    'Ordinary' wards in I.33 sword and buckler

    I think that we, as students of the Priest, should not use the six standard sword and buckler guards. The treatise tells us that these are the guards that all 'ordinary' fencers use. 'Ordinary' is not a compliment!

    "These seven parts are used by ordinary combatants; The combat-waging cleric holds the opposite and the means" - (P.2)

    (I've said six rather than seven since, if you're doing it right, after every blow you will end up in Longpoint - a great position to protect your head when making a blow, an awful position to spend more than an instant in!)

    It seems to me that the treatise is in two sections. In the first section (about two thirds of the manuscript) the Priest tells us how to defeat each of the 'ordinary' guards in turn using special attacks called 'counters'. In the second section he gives us special guards to use instead of the ordinary ones - Priest's Special Longpoint and Walpurgis' ward.

    So we should only use counters and the two special wards.

    I'm interested to hear everyone's views on this theory.

  2. #2
    "There are only so many ways to hold a sword" is what I think the priest is trying to tell us.

    I wouldn't say that he's instructing the student not to adopt those wards, as they do appear in virtually every single fight book up until the advent of point/thrust oriented fencing. Each ward is a position in which a natural cut/thrust can be executed, and because no ward is perfect, has its own opening as well.

    I've also not come across a fencing master that advocated only one (or two) ward(s). You must have many tools in your tool kit. George Silver comes to mind when he says you must fight upon all your wards. Even Capoferro uses 4 wards though he says there's only one true one.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    Aberdeenshire, Scotland
    I think the priest is saying that there are only so many ways to hold a sword and so these guards are what the untutored fencers (at least, untutored by the priest) use. The six guards correspond to the starting position of intuitive forthright blows from each of the four quarters, from above and also a thrust. At no point does the priest advocate a simple strong blow. He has two main ways of engaging the enemy:

    1. By stepping in to attack a high target (head or neck) in such a way that chokes off the enemy's blow (e.g. Halfshield or the thrust from Priest's Special Longpoint). An attack to a high target keeps one's sword and buckler high and this, combined with the correct footwork and lean, fully protects oneself while striking the opponent
    2. By stepping in to attack in a way that covers oneself before stepping once more to make a thrust to, again, a high target (e.g. Crutch or the 'covering' from Priest's Special Longpoint)

    In both of these cases the opponent is struck if he/she does nothing or tries the 'usual' blow from the position he/she is in. To survive the opponent must engage one's blade (falling under the sword and shield, binding above on the right etc). The priest's counters are measured blows not full, intuitive strikes and so can be turned to binds to address this blade engagement. Shieldstrikes, grapples, change of sword and nucken etc are taught to us by the priest as follow ups to a blade engagement.

    I think that the priest doesn't really advocate any guards at all. Since every guard has a counter, to stand in a guard is to reveal to your opponent how best to defeat you. I see I.33 as a very dynamic system where one boldly attacks, swiftly taking an opponent out of the fight so one can move on to the next man.

    The Leichtenauer school of fencing seems to follow on from I.33 in its idiom. Dobringer puts this very clearly as "Master Liechtenauer does not hold the guards in high esteem, he wants you to gain the first strike instead. All guards and positions are broken with the strikes". So, if one shouldn't stand in a guard how should one stand? Ideally, when out of distance approaching the enemy, we should hold ourselves in a 'neutral' stance that gives away nothing of our intention but from which we can instantly adopt any necessary position. Walpurgis' ward is this stance (push both arms forward to step into Halfshield, raise the sword arm for Fourth, step forward extending the elbow of the sword arm and letting the point drop for Priest's Special Longpoint, etc). All other 'guards' should be transitory positions we step into as we enter measure before immediately stepping out of them again to make our attack.

    So, rather than having just two wards I suppose I'm advocating having only one when out of distance and none at all when in measure - just a carefully chosen variety of attacks.

    This is not to say that one cannot use the other wards but the priest recommends either Priest's Special Longpoint, for its versatility and lightning thrust, or the counters to the standard wards (Halfshield, Crutch, etc) because they convey the significant advantage of choking off the opponent's options while allowing for a change of impetus to address a blade engagement.

    Many interpretations of Halfshield show it as either a static defence or have it adopted while one edges towards the opponent. I see it, and all counters, as bold, swift attacks.

    “He who is still is dead, he who moves will live.”
    Last edited by Stuart Peers; 09-29-2011 at 12:24 AM.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2010
    Toronto, Canada
    Hello Everyone!

    I think Robert R. Hit the nail on the head. Well said. This seems to be the case.

    I also strongly disagree with the premise that no wards should be used in measure:

    1. I am confident that that premise will be proven false through fencing; either watching it or doing it. To be at the time of the hand, body, foot (or God forbid, even closer) and to not be in a ward is eminently dangerous. It is also not the case that lying in a ward during an engagment is dogmatic; quite the contrary, the ability to efficiently flow through the wards while fencing is very important skill.

    2. I believe you are mis-enterpreting the following quote form Leichtenauer. Though I am not a student of the Leichtenauer school, I believe this is a basic fencing principle common to all schools so I feel able to comment:

    "Master Liechtenauer does not hold the guards in high esteem, he wants you to gain the first strike instead. All guards and positions are broken with the strikes".

    Liechtenauer means suggest that we do not rely overmuch on any paticular ward for our defense; in other words, be so adamant to adopt it that it is to the exclusion of our defence at that moment.

    Seeing as each ward with each weapon has an opening, a strike from someone who knows how to fence will most often go toward that opening; as opposed to where the ward has already closed in it's lying. Nessesarily, if we (as the patient agent) have a care for our life, we abandon the old ward and adopt the nessesary new ward to close open line and make our defense. Just because each ward has an opening does not mean all wards are weak; on the contrary, each ward has a strength - and it is up to our skill and practice to adopt the ward (in the engagment, in the moment) where it is strong and avoid where it is weak.

    Again, the ability to effeciently flow from a ward, through a ward, to a ward makes this possible.

    Strikes certainly break all wards; but all strikes begin and end in a ward.

    The previous is my humble opinion. Thank you very much for the question Stuart - I found it compelling enough to share with my fellows at Aemma
    Caput Inclinatum, Ferrum Strictum, Genu Flexum.

    Toronto, Canada

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    Aberdeenshire, Scotland
    Dear Aaron and Robert

    Thanks very much for the feedback! You've given me plenty to think about.

    I suggested that no wards should be used in measure as I believe that in measure one should be in constant motion. One steps into measure by flowing through a ward to immediately engage the opponent. Subsequently either one succeeds with one's strike or one is binding, then either shieldknocking and striking, closing further to grapple or 'fleeing to the side' which I think to be a step in the round that widens measure again (provided you're not successfully 'pursued'!) so that one can flow through another ward to reengage.

    So, rather than changing from one ward to another in measure one decides, when out of measure, which ward to attack with and then enters strongly, flowing through that ward.

    Of course some positions do naturally flow from one to another. For example, after inconclusive binding we often end up longpoint vs longpoint and instantly reengage. Underbinding on the right and stepping in for a grapple one flows from Longpoint through Fiddlebow (so instead of the grapple one could attempt the disarm and strike from fiddlebow shown in the treatise).

    I agree that these ideas need to be tested through a great deal of fencing and I make no claim to great skill! Of course, that's something I hope to remedy with practice.

    Thanks again, I'm now off to look again at Leichtenauer and Dobringer and do some musing!

  6. #6
    Hello everyone.

    Stuart has raised some valid points here.
    Although there actually are actions in I.33 where the priest advocates working directly and straight from the ward, for instance, when Halfshield is broken by a thrust from 5th/6th Ward, in theory I think Stuart is basicly right. The priest ingeniously uses ward analysis to define the most eminent threat to then attack while closing the according line. You could say that, in a sense, he is actually foreseeing the future! Beautiful.

    However, as modern practitioners we should learn to walk before we set off to learn to run.
    To fully understand and admire the complex and beautiful tactical approach that I.33 implies, we have to exactly understand what it deals with. This means that we first have to be on par with what is called the generales, the ordinary fencers. I have met and fought many modern swordsmen and I am safe to say that hardly anyone of us is. So far.

    The system is designed against fighters who do everything right up to a certain point. If a combatant cocks up earlier on, then you do not need such a sophisticated approach. You simply hit him.
    The latter is the reality of most buckler fighting on this planet at the moment. So we better learn to hit straight from a ward decently. If you skip the simple means, the more complicated ones are going to betray you, when you have to deal with simple situations.

    In other words:
    Yes, Stuart, when you confront a skilled bucklerist, you can actually use the obsessiones suggested by the priest to respond to his wards. And, yes, you can use Halfshield to attack him in a very versatile and aggressive way.
    However, you don't buy football shoes and then, before you have even learnt to kick the ball, show up at a training of a premier league football team to happily join in.
    Doesn't work.
    So, unfortunately, we cannot skip training and learning to use general wards and straight actions in buckler fighting.

    Great topic, thanks.

    All the best,
    Last edited by Roland Warzecha; 10-16-2011 at 05:12 AM. Reason: Spelling

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    Aberdeenshire, Scotland
    Nicely put!

    It's worth saying that being an 'ordinary' fencer does not mean a bad fencer, just one that is unaware of the Priest's special teachings. It's perhaps difficult to say where 'ordinary' fencing stops and 'priestly magnificence' starts! Basic guards = ordinary, Crutch and Priest's Special Longpoint = priestly. But, I get the impression there's a very fuzzy grey area in between with lots of variation in ability. The Priest really only introduces a few 'new' techniques to the existing fencing system. What is 'special' is the mindset and idiom the Priest works in along with his clever analysis of wards.

    I try to see how the Priest's system can be applied more widely. The Priest's counters don't only counter the 'standard' sword and buckler guards but any potential blow from the corresponding quarters. I recently had the pleasure of a duel with Kim Young of the Aberdeen Swordsmanship Group (studying Fiore) who fought with longsword against my sword and buckler. I was able to close down her attacks in a highline using Halfshield and Priest's Special Longpoint but received some impressive thrusts to body after failing to cover the lower quarter with Crutch. The bout only lasted a few minutes but gave me weeks of thinking and adjustments to technique.

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