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Thread: Review Of English Swordsmanship, Volume 1 by Steve Hand

  1. #1
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    Review Of English Swordsmanship, Volume 1 by Steve Hand

    I thought I would sit down and write a review of Steve's book. It was hard to do without making some sort of humorous reference to the "time of the Hand", but I suppose Steve will have to keep that for the title of his autobiography. Here it is:

    I got my copy of Steve Hand's new book English Swordsmanship (Volume 1) three nights ago and have been reading with interest since. While I have by no means read it all, I have examined it enough that I thought I would give a short review of the book for those who are interested, and for those who aren't but should be. By way of disclosure I need to point out that I began my sword career under Steve Hand at Stoccata Sydney and was taught by him until he moved to Tasmania. I am still a student at Stoccata Sydney.

    I have to admit that I have been looking forward to Steve's book for quite a while. I like the way that he writes about swordplay (he has written many, many articles and a book or two) and I know him to be a thorough teacher of a subject. I was also looking forward to having a comprehensive record of what I had been taught over the past five years of studying Silver. I am glad to say that I haven't been disappointed.

    It is obvious from first glance at this book that it contains a very detailed description of Silver's techniques and ideas. There is a huge amount of text and the number of pictures is astounding. From a usability point of view, the text is easy to read and the pictures are fairly clear.

    After reading several sections in depth, the main feature of this book, and the reason I would recommend it to everyone, is Steve's inclusion of fifteen years worth experience. By this I don't mean that he simply writes with authority (which he does), rather I mean that he has included every mistake, blind alley and false idea he has had regarding this system. If you look at the way the work is presented, you will see that not only are you shows a technique, you are also show logical variations that won't work (and why), what the limitations of the technique are and how it has been or might be defeated. The honest presentation of these dalliances will save modern practitioners of the system enormous amounts of time. (I remember countless times in classes where the light bulb would go on above Steve's head as he was explaining a technique, or when someone accidentally defeated a technique that was thought to be correct. Being taught be Steve is to see the evolution of his ideas on Silver's system. All of this evolution is in the book.)

    In addition to the practical aspects of Silver, there is a significant amount of time and effort dedicated to Silver's tactical theory. Over the years at Stoccata I have seen time and time again how Silver's theory of times and place are applicable to all fighting systems (and not just weapon systems). As such, English Swordsmanship is suitable for both beginner and advanced sword students. Beginners will find numerous practical exercises that can be used to learn Silver's techniques and ideas. Advanced practitioners will find interest in topics such as attacking in false and broken times.

    I have enjoyed looking at Steve's work and I will continue to use this in my ongoing exploration of Silver (which forms the core of teaching at Stoccata Sydney). This book contains material that complements, but doesn't overlap other books on Silver or English swordsmanship. The works of George Silver are an important piece of the practical and theoretical historical fencing puzzle. English Swordsmanship deserves a place on every martial arts bookshelf.

    Cheers,
    David

  2. #2
    Hello David, how well are terms defined in this book, for the rank beginner?

    As you have the huge advantage of being taught by Steve in person, you might not be as attentive to the "Huh what?" factor as are those of us who have barely cracked the cover of Paradoxes.

    Are all the weird terms well defined? (Like broken time for example, which sounds like it should be the title of an episode of Doctor Who.)
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  3. #3
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    Dear George,

    I'm not Dave, but I did write the book

    There is an extensive glossary of terms, with terms grouped thematically, not alphabetically.

    Oh, and thanks Dave. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    Cheers
    Stephen

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    Hey George,
    Glad you asked. Steve has most of a chapter on broken and false times, but that is a quite advanced idea and one which the beginner should aspire to after they have the basics down.

    For the beginner, terms are quite clearly defined and will even give you some insight into other systems. In order to be more accurate and to describe situations better, we often use a mixture of terms in a variety of languages (typically german, italian and english) and borrow from different styles (for example, numbering hand positions). Silver can be a little obscure sometimes and where he is the text is broken down and discussed sentence by sentence and word by word, when required.

    The photo sequences are typically easy to follow. The layout of so many photos is occassionally distracting, but if you follow the sequence with the captions you should see everything quite clearly

    A good deal of time is spent doing the basics, such as footwork, basic guards and attacks. The whole system is designed to be taught as an effective figthing system in a short amount of time. With a fencing mask and a modified shinai, you will be bouting in no time - then you can really start learning. Although it is quick to learn the basics, it takes a long time to master.

    George, buy a copy. I don't think you will be dissappointed.

    Cheers,
    David

  5. #5
    Originally posted by David Halfpenny

    George, buy a copy. I don't think you will be dissappointed.
    Coinstar (vending machines that take your pocket change and give you cash in excange for a percentage) is now offering to turn your coins into amazon.com gift certificates, (for no percentage.)

    I wonder if I have enough pennies in my change bucket to get this book....
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  6. #6
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    Well, I now have a copy that I could sit down and read of this fine work as well. And it is a fine book.

    First, a confession: as many here know, I have known Stephen Hand for the better part of a decade, and have had the pleasure of trading notes, lessons and blows with him. I also saw this manuscript in its draft form and helped him refine it to its final form. So I cannot be called an "unbiased" reader.

    OTOH, one doesn't have to question their bias when a book is just damn good. I had a number of concerns of varying importance with the earlier I.33 intepretive book that Steve co-authored, this work is a completely different kettle of fish. Silver is really the material that Steve knows best, loves most and is most in his element with.

    This is a full, introductory course into English swordplay prior to 1600; the result of more than a decade of hard work, and it shows. By "full course" I mean that it is more than just an interpretation or reconstruction of techniques listed by George Silver in his manuscript. The student is given a firm grounding in Silver's fencing theory and tactics, and then is taught in a series of progressive lessons how to work through the system of the sword alone, grappling with the off hand, using the sword and dagger, the sword and buckler and opposing one against the other.

    The author is a trained educator, writing about a topic he knows inside and out, and it shows. Throughout the book, the student is given detailed drills, tips on what to look for and what to avoid, and a firm understanding of how and why techiques work *tactically* and by the same token, how they can be defeated or mistakes can be exploited. Later chapters address specific tactical ideas that should alone provide years worth of exploration for new students who have successfully reconstructed the technical material that precedes them. Throughout, Stephen is always very careful to use Silver's own words to clarify these ideas, and then show how his experience and research has clarified those ideas, not replaced them. I first started reconstructing the method of swordfighting detailed by George Silver in 93, and while Stephen's interpretations and ideas and my own do not always perfectly mesh on every point, sometimes on some basic issues (I still frame my True Gardant more like Terry Brown's version that Steve's), it is abundantly clear where we depart why he has made the conclusions that he has - and in a few places I now have to go back and reanalyze and amend my own work. That is one of the best compliments this sort of work can receive from someone familiar with the subject material.

    Over the year, poor Silver has been the subject of a great deal of misunderstanding and downright distortion amongst many practitioners, fencing historians, stage combat writers, etc. For those really interested, Stephen's book should serve to bring that to an end. If you have any interest in the fighting arts of the English fighting man, my recommendation is aquire a copy of this book post-haste and read it conjunction with Terry Brown's excellent "English Martial Arts", which sets the greater context of the English system rather nicely, and gives examples of the non-sword weapons Silver insturcts in, which will be beyond Steve's purview.

    (Obviously, to all of this I'd add Silver's own two works, available on-line, in several old editions and in Paul Wagner's "Master of Defense".)

    Well-done Steve!

    Greg Mele
    Chicago Swordplay Guild
    Greg Mele
    Chicago Swordplay Guild

    Freelance Academy Press: Books on Western Martial Arts and Historical Swordsmanship

    Chivalric Fighting Arts Association

    "If the tongue could cut
    as the sword can do,
    the dead would be infinite."

    Filippo Vadi, "Arte Dimicandi Gladiatoria" (c.1482 - 87)

  7. #7
    Well Greg, after a review like that, how can anyone not buy the book? I'll certainly be buying a copy. Oh, I would have anyway, but I think you just moved it up in priority.
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  8. #8
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    I wish I could add something to Greg's review, but he has the right of it: this is simply *stellar* work.

    All the best,

    Christian
    Christian Henry Tobler
    Selohaar Fechtschule

    The Chivalric Fighting Arts Association

    Freelance Academy Press: Books on Western Martial Arts and Historical Swordsmanship

    Author, Captain of the Guild, DVD: The Poleaxe, In Saint George's Name

    "Though I love the stout blow and the cunningly placed thrust, my greatest joy when crossing swords lies in those rare moments when Chivalry herself leans over and takes one into Her confidence."

  9. #9
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    Thanks Greg and Christian,

    Coming from you guys that is high praise indeed.

    Cheers
    Stephen

  10. #10
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    Originally posted by George Hill
    Well Greg, after a review like that, how can anyone not buy the book? I'll certainly be buying a copy. Oh, I would have anyway, but I think you just moved it up in priority.
    So my review wasn't enough to push it up your list, but Greg's was? I'm offended, Sir. When next we meet I'll make sure you're the victim of a page 65 followed by a page 173.

    Cheers,
    David

  11. #11
    Originally posted by David Halfpenny
    So my review wasn't enough to push it up your list, but Greg's was? I'm offended, Sir. When next we meet I'll make sure you're the victim of a page 65 followed by a page 173.

    Cheers,
    David
    Then I will be compelled to place the book in a sack, and use the techniques shown in Talhoffer! (Mark Rector version, plate 242-250) Don't make me do it, it's too nice a book for that!

    Of course, Technically your review got in on the list. Up until this point I've been more interisted in the German styles, as I find the period more interisting then period of Silver, even if Silver did have Shakespeare. Eh, What can I say, I love the plain cruciform sword. Now I'll have to learn to love the Baskethilt just as much. I no longer have a choice.

    And of course it's From Stephen Hand! Can't go wrong there!
    Last edited by George Hill; 07-14-2006 at 08:23 AM.
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  12. #12
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    Hello George,

    You can use your plain old cruciform sword with Sliver, just be sure to use a plate gauntlet .








    But you knew that.

    Cheers,

    DT
    David Teague
    Scholar of the Highland Broadsword
    Free Scholar/Instructor -Selohaar Fechtschule
    The Historic Recrudescence Guild

    ""Yea though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou's sword art is with me; Thy poleaxe and Thy quarterstaff they comfort me."

  13. #13
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    That raises an interesting question. How can Silver's system be considered "medieval" if it depends on a baskethilt?
    <><><> <><><> <><><>
    Do what thy manhood bids thee do,
    from none but self expect applause;
    He noblest lives and noblest dies
    who makes and keeps his self-made laws.

    -Sir Richard Francis Burton

  14. #14
    Originally posted by Douglas S
    That raises an interesting question. How can Silver's system be considered "medieval" if it depends on a baskethilt?
    I always thought of it as Renaissance... and late Renaissance at that.
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  15. #15
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    Silver's system has many medieval elements, Open Fight and its reliance on long arc attacks being primary among them. However, it also has some very modern (for the time) elements, such as the reliance on stoppes, which are very hard to do effectively without a basket hilt for those times when you misjudge your parry.

    Basically when I use the line "last of the medieval swordsmen" I'm saying that far more than his contemporaries, Silver hearked back to a medieval style of swordplay, not that his style was entirely medieval in character (which it wasn't).

    Cheers
    Stephen

  16. #16
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    I did an interesting show with Paul Wagner a few weeks ago (review on sword forum) where we showed different styles of swordfighting to fantasy authors - everything from 1.33 up to light sabres!

    The discussion we had with them about the evolution of the styles was the interesting thing. When fighting against heavily armoured opponents there needs to be big arcing blows and big feet movements to transfer the power. Silver has all of these, which is why Steve indicates he is the last of the medieval swordsmen. After Silver and with a reduction in armour, the fighting style changed to more front foot launched cutting and thrusting.

    It should also be pointed out that Silver didn't invent the style he wrote about, rather he transmitted what worked on a battlefield (in a fairly sophisticated theoretically sound manner!). what we see is the result of hundreds of years of evolution in sword fighting; right up until the bloody Italians went and wrecked things (and there are millions of French and Australians at the moment who would agree on that point).


    Re: baskethilts
    Not absolutely necessary for SIlver - we have a couple of guys who love the cruciform sword, Pete Radvan among them (read the acknowledgements in Steve's book). Pete wears a plate gauntlet while the other guys wear finger bucklers, ala TOMAR, which seem to do the job. These guys are VERY good at moving the cross to catch a blow, something not shown in manuals afaik, but would have had to have been done.

    Aside from which, Silver states that the baskethilt is great for close fighting in melees to smack into the face of your opponents.

    Cheers,
    David

  17. #17
    Originally posted by David Halfpenny
    I did an interesting show with Paul Wagner a few weeks ago (review on sword forum) where we showed different styles of swordfighting to fantasy authors - everything from 1.33 up to light sabres!
    I would love to see some serious swordfighters with lightsabers. I understand that there is a fellow named Dr. Bill (who I met at a class once, and is one of the top ten people I wouldn't want to be in a serious fight with) teaching lightsaber at a local science fiction convention (Dragon Con) based on Italian longsword. I haven't seen his work in that reguard though. (I think it was up against the Miss Klingon Empire Beauty Pagent. )

    BTW, What is TOMAR?
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  18. #18
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    George,
    The light sabre battle we did was basically the Jedi twirly whirly style versus the emporer's economical style. You can twirl the light sabre around as much as you want, but the moment it comes into distance - wham, the emporer cuts your hand off. The only concession I had as the jedi was the speed at which I could move the blade to feint high and then cut low. Paul got me 8 times out of 10, though and I only really got him with leg cuts.

    TOMAR is Brian Price's Techniques of Medieval Armour Reconstruction. I guess I am spending too much time on AA (armour archive) where TOMAR is recognised instantly (as is A&AOTMK [Arms and Armour of the Medieval Knight] by Edge and Paddock). There is a sweet little finger buckler in there that may be an anachronism, but is damn useful.

    David

  19. #19
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    confidence

    My first response on hearing that the book was ready was to order a case. DHL will be delivering them tomorrow. I'm delighted to see from these reviews that my confidence in Steve was well founded, and am even more excited at the prospect of finally getting my copies. (one for me, one for the salle, the rest for sale, hint hint).
    Yours
    Guy Windsor

  20. #20
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    lightsabres

    Incidentally, I was in Singapore a while ago, and had the pleasure of teaching a half-day seminar at Lucas Arts Animation, where a group of their animators got to see and try a bit of proper longsword, and we finished up with me demonstrating some lightsabre adaptations... I hate to brag, but who's got the best job in the world?
    Yours
    Guy Windsor

  21. #21
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    My copy arrived this morning and had me in the back garden with a singlestick within ten minutes of opening the front cover.
    Very readable and easy to understand.
    "That's certainly the mark of a good duellist, your Majesty - to be living."

  22. #22
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    Re: lightsabres

    Originally posted by Guy Windsor
    Incidentally, I was in Singapore a while ago, and had the pleasure of teaching a half-day seminar at Lucas Arts Animation, where a group of their animators got to see and try a bit of proper longsword, and we finished up with me demonstrating some lightsabre adaptations... I hate to brag, but who's got the best job in the world?
    You mean Attack of the Guy Windsor Clones? Oh noes!
    <><><> <><><> <><><>
    Do what thy manhood bids thee do,
    from none but self expect applause;
    He noblest lives and noblest dies
    who makes and keeps his self-made laws.

    -Sir Richard Francis Burton

  23. #23

    Re: lightsabres

    Originally posted by Guy Windsor
    Incidentally, I was in Singapore a while ago, and had the pleasure of teaching a half-day seminar at Lucas Arts Animation, where a group of their animators got to see and try a bit of proper longsword, and we finished up with me demonstrating some lightsabre adaptations... I hate to brag, but who's got the best job in the world?
    Yes! The last half hour was with ForceFX lightsabers. Guy was slicing and dicing me like a Sushi chef. Wa-sa-bi!

    They seem to have been very happy with the seminar BTW.

    Well done on the Book Stephen! It's high on my wish list but I've over extended myself with unbridled enthusiasm and my credit card at the moment. I look forward to getting it at the earliest convenience.
    The increased attention necessarily paid by the men to the use of the sword, was soon found to inspire them with proportional confidence in their personal dexterity, whilst it led at the same time to the most successful course of instruction in horsemanship that has yet been adopted, as without skill in management of the horse, no proficiency could be attained in the use of the sword. - Maj Gen LeMarchant

    Pan-Historical European Martial Arts Society, Singapore
    http://www.phemas.com

  24. #24
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    Well I have to say I wasn't initially planning to order this book for a while yet, but these reviews have forced my hand and I've edited an Amazon order (starting my Oakeshott collection) to include this book.

    If that's not good word of mouth I don't know what is!

    -John

  25. Originally posted by John Lethbridge
    ...these reviews have forced my hand...
    No pun intended?

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