Sir Richard Francis Burton

Richard Francis Burton by Rischgitz, 1864.jpg

Sir Richard Francis Burton – polyglot, explorer, writer, swordsman – perhaps the quintessential warrior- scholar.  His life and works are impressive and deserve study.

While written in Victorian prose, his work remains accessible and is deeply informed with the experience of a man who has been there, seen it, and done it all.  A link to digitized versions of his oeuvre is found <here> but the works of specific interest to the martial artist are his Book of the Sword (1884), Sentiments of the Sword (1911) [also found here, and burton-1911-sentiment-sword], and finally New System of Sword Exercise for Infantry (1876).  Texts are copied to this post for ease of reference.

A good review of the New System is taken from the Victorian Fencing Society so that excellent material will be readily accessible:

Burton’s Sword Exercise – Notes on the Development of Victorian Saber Fencing – Part III

A New System of Sword Exercise for Infantry by Richard F. Burton (1821-1890)


Burton’s Sword Exercise – Printed in London in 1876 by William Clowes and Sons


The dedication page.

Burton provides an interesting perspective on the nineteenth century sword manuals intended for military training. It is often said that the character of a person can be learned in just 5 minutes of fencing with them. This may also be true of 5 minutes of reading a fencing manual. All of Burton’s fortes and foibles are on display – his knowledge, bluster, faultfinding, and sense of humor.

Sir Richard Francis Burton was an extraordinary Victorian. He was an explorer and anthropologist, who may be most famous for not finding the source of the Nile River. His many accomplishments include a journey to Mecca disguised as a native, explorations in Africa, Asia and the Americas, and learning a vast number of languages – 29 according to Burton himself. He was also a prolific author.

A portrait of Burton. Note the scar on his cheek, received in Africa when a spear pierced through his face during a battle with natives.

Burton would write about anything, but the sword was a favorite subject. Besides A New System of Sword Exercise for Infantry, he wrote a treatise on bayonet fencing in 1853. The Book of the Sword (1884) is an unfinished history of the sword, and the Sentiment of the Sword: A Country House Dialogue, was published in 1911 after his death. Burton said of the sword, “The History of the sword is the history of humanity”.

He was an accredited fencing master, and his ability to compare fencing with other national systems such as German and Italian is one of the things that make this manual an interesting item. His unique contribution is the use of manchettes, a system of cuts at the arm used to disable an opponent.


Oil painting, ‘Sir Richard Burton Dressed for Fencing’, Albert Letchford, about 1883

In his introductory remarks, he lambasts contemporary English and French manuals. He states that there has been no advancement in the use of the sword.

“Whilst the last half century has witnessed an immense improvement in the projectile weapons of the civilized world, the theory and practice of the sabre or cutting arm have remained in statu quo ante; indeed, if there has been any change it is for the worse.”

He then goes on to criticize the current British military manuals as obsolete, and “nought but a snare and a delusion”. He notes that the only updates in the manuals are the uniforms in the picture plates.

Of the Infantry Sword Exercise he says “I am opposed to almost every page of this unhappy brochure” objecting to the shape of the target, the grip of the sword, the position of the guard and the parries.


Infantry Sword Exercise (1875) Horse Guards. War Office. Printed under the supervision of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office

For example, and many of his contemporaries agree, he insists that one should “sit on guard” with the weight equally distributed on both legs. He describes the reason for the old style of keeping the bodyweight on the left leg:

The person is not so much exposed; moreover, that the centre of gravity being thrown back adds spring and impetus to the Lunge.”

But this risks cramps in the overworked rear leg, which for Burton is enough to discard its use.

He criticizes the Guards. Of the Hanging Guard he says it is a “painful spectacle” and a “Lesson of what to avoid”. It exposes the right forearm and is fatiguing.

The inside engaging guard (carte) also endangers the forearm, and outside engaging guard (tierce) holds the hand too low and endangers the arm.

Burton calls the “loose practice” with the singlestick a mistake for learning saber. The lack of edges on the stick (which he says is simply a different weapon) lends to every blow representing a cut.

He also criticizes the simplification of terms, such as right and left for tierce and carte “as if such mysteries were too high or too deep for our national intelligence.”

Burton was not shy about criticizing the practices of the British government and military, and he developed a world view that could eschew British superiority.

He suggests that the British soldier will be equal in intelligence with the rest of Europe “When we enlist the right kind of recruit either by improving his condition and his prospects, not his pay, or better, far better, by securing a superior man through the conscription of modern Europe. We Britons are no longer physically divided from the total orb; nor can we afford to remain morally insulated and isolated. The logical effect of union with the outer world will be to make us do as the world does, and all our exceptional institutions, such as the system of volunteer recruiting, must sooner or later go by the board.”

Finished with his critical introduction, and asking that his own work be similarly scrutinized, Burton emphasizes the importance of his treatise.

“I have now finished with the ungrateful task of criticizing, and I proceed to propose a system which it is hoped will be as severely criticized by others. It is only candid to state that its pretensions are high, that it contains two distinct novelties, the Manchette System and the Reverse or Backcut; and, finally, that it aspires to be the first Treatise in which the broadsword is scientifically taken in hand.”



Burton refers to the preparatory squad drills of Balance and Extension motion training as the “goose step of the sword”. Squad drill, he notes, will not likely make a good swordsman, but economy of time renders it a necessity.

First Position in Two Motions

He goes through First Position, Second Positon (the Guard), and Third Position (from Guard to Lunge). To avoid fatigue and give additional balance to the body, Burton suggests they also practice the actions standing as a left handed fencer would do.

Attacking, Advancing and Retiring

The attack Burton refers to is a beat on the ground with the right foot. He apparently is describing the appel.


Explanation and use of the target

One of Burton’s criticisms is the depiction of the target in most saber manuals. With his typical caustic humor he notes: “to the shape of the target—I never yet saw a man absolutely circular;” This is a reference to most cutting targets depicted in saber manuals that are circular in shape, showing the directions of the cuts along the radius.

Burton’s target is oblong and the figure is five foot 8 inches tall. Showing the lines of the 12 cuts and the angle of the saber. He notes that the target “directs the recruit on how to make the cuts, but not exactly where; this must depend upon how the opponent acts during the attack and the defense.”

The Moulinet

Burton requires that this rotation movement should be learnt before the recruit proceeds to the Cut.

This section is a good example of Burton’s urge to include detailed background on his subject matter. Before he gets in to the action of the moulinets, a lengthy footnote describes it as being a favorite movement of French sabrers. Most of the footnote is written in French. Burton often added quotes in Latin, French, Italian and other languages without translation. Readers had complained about his use of untranslated quotes, to which he responded that he could not help if they were not smart enough to read his books.

As for the moulinet, he says “There is nothing better for ” breaking,” as the French say, the recruit’s wrist than this sweep of the sword; and the style of a swordsman may always be known by his Moulinet.”

He divides it in three kinds: Horizontal, diagonal and vertical.

The Cuts

Of making cuts, Burton says that “The Cuts must, as a rule, be delivered within eight inches of the point and at the “centre of percussion,” so that the sword may clear itself and the arm escape a “jar.”

There are twelve cuts. 1 & 2 are at the head, 3 & 4 are horizontal face cuts, 5 & 6 are slanting shoulder cuts, 7 & 8 are horizontal breast cuts, 9& 10 are horizontal stomach cuts, and 11 & 12 are slanting groin or thigh cuts, going from downwards upwards, as in the reverse of the shoulder cuts.

He adds that “The two virtues of the Cut are its trueness and its velocity.”

Burton describes the various ways of making cuts, demonstrating his experience with foreign styles. His preference is what he calls the “whip cut”, which is made mostly from the wrist.


The following are the five principal ways of cutting according to Burton:—

  1. The Chopping or Downright Cut, from the shoulder and fore-arm. This appears to be the instinctive method preserved by Europe; most men who take up a sword for the first time use it in this way.
  2. The Sliding Cut, common throughout the East. In this movement the elbow and wrist are held stiff and the blow is given from the strong muscles of the back and shoulder, nearly ten times larger than the muscles of the arm, while the whole force and weight of the body are thrown in. Hence the people of India use small hilts with mere crutch-guards, which confine the hand and prevent the play of the wrist; the larger grip required for the Chopping Cut only lessens the cutting force. The terrible effect of these cuts is well known.
  3. The Thrust Cut, with the curved (” Damascus “) blade; a combination of point and edge, the latter being obliquely thrust forward and along the body aimed at. This movement is a favourite on horseback, when speed supplies the necessary forms, which can hardly be applied on foot. It must be carried like a Point.
  4. The Whip Cut; in which the arm and elbow are kept almost motionless, and the blow is delivered from the wrist. This is the principal Cut allowed in my system; it is capable of sufficient effect upon the opponent whilst it does not uncover the swordsman who uses it.
  5. The Drawing or Reverse Cut, which will be explained in the following pages; it is the reverse of the “Thrust Cut.”

The Engaging Guards, or Engagements.

The next section details the Engaging Guards, which Burton explains “As the ‘Infantry Sword Exercise’ has a deficiency of Cuts, so it has a superfluity of “Engaging Guards.”

Burton reduces the Engaging to Tierce and Quarte.

He says that “When engaging in guard (joining weapons), the swords should meet each other about eight inches from the points. If the distance is diminished the opponents are “out of measure” (or distance); if increased, they are “within measure.” The recruit must be taught slightly to press upon the opponent’s blade, but not to rest upon it; by this “opposition” his hand and wrist will be more ready to follow the weapon during the attack.”

He recommends that the right-handed recruit be taught the engaging guard of tierce, with the opponent’s blade in the outer line. The reverse position leaves the fore-arm unguarded, and tierce facilitates the defense of the low lines.

The Guards or Parries.

The ‘Infantry Sword Exercise’ proposes Seven Guards, but Burton says that in practice the advanced swordsman will confine himself to Tierce and Carte with their natural modifications.

Of guarding the head he suggests High Tierce or High Carte (rather than Prime). To guard the legs he prefers Low Tierce or the rassemblement (withdrawing the leg) to using seconde.

The Guards or Parries will be practised like the Cuts, first in the “Second Position” (Guard), and afterwards in the “Third Position” (Lunge).


The manchette is cutting at the hand, wrist and forearm with the inner edge of the blade. This is Burton’s distinct addition to saber exercises of the time. Burton says that “A swordsman thoroughly trained in this section does not allow the opponent to deliver a cut.”

The manchette allows a swordsman to disable his opponent, rather than being forced to deliver a lethal blow. It also is a safer method of delivering a cut for the swordsman.

Burton explains “The natural man cuts as if he were using a stick or a club, and the preliminary movement lays open the whole of his body; indeed, exposure, I have said, is the main danger of every attack with the sabre, however closely and skilfully conducted. A cut through the muscles of the fore-arm, either inside or outside, causes the sword instantly to be relaxed and dropped; the man in fact is hamstrung in the upper works.”

And he adds “Finally I meditated upon the comparative humanity of ‘Manchette’, of disabling the opponent by an arm-cut, rather than laying open his flank or his head. During single rencontres in the field, especially at the end of Indian battles, it is so often necessary to put hors de combat some unfortunate, whose pluck or sense of honour induces him to prolong the hopeless attack.”

Burton lists his system of manchette as the Direct Cuts, The Parries and Feints, the Reverse or Back Cuts, and the Time Cuts.

The Time Cut (a cut delivered during an opponent’s attack, disabling the opponent before he can finish) is the flower of the Manchette system, as the Manchette is of the broadsword; and it is, perhaps, the part least capable of being taught in books.

Burton then gives what he refers to as a synoptical table of Manchette or Forearm play, showing the Cuts, the Guards (Parries) for the Cuts, and the Ripostes or replies that should follow each Parade.

In conclusion of the manchette play, Burton says “I will end this system of Manchette with the words of old Achille Marozzo, written some three centuries and a half ago: ‘I would that ye swear upon your sword-hilts never to use this knowledge against me, your master.’ But, in lieu of insisting that my readers never teach it without obtaining formal permission, I only hope that they will favour me by spreading it far and wide.”

An Appendix to the Sword Exercises alludes to an improved form of sabre handle. Burton recommends a modified grip made by the Italian Captain Settimo del Frate. This is illustrated in the following diagrams


The Italian Del Frate’s grip design for the saber.

Burton suggests “I would further modify his Fig. 1, so as to give more fulcrum to the hand. The thumb-plate should be made weighty and the guard light, otherwise the blade will be over-balanced, that is, heavier on one side than on the other. It need hardly be said that the grip before going into battle should be whipped round with thin whipcord, or better still, with web-cloth.”


Burton’s modification to the grip, because he has to fiddle with everything…

Burton never managed to have his treatise adopted by the British military. They remained with Angelo for most of the nineteenth century. But Burton did manage to publish a manual with a unique perspective and interesting insights.

Additional thoughts on and from Sir Burton from MAAJAK (search that chimerical website well and often!).  This from Burton’s Sentiment of the Sword:

I have now made you as wise as myself upon the subject of moving the body and the limbs, which indeed is all the mechanism of swordsmanship. A few words before we separate. Why have these positions and these movements been chosen, been universally approved of by the civilised world? The reply is because they are intuitive and instinctive. See how the races that use the knife naturally seize it with the right hand, drape the cloak round the left arm, and, under cover of the body, prepare the weapon for a fatal thrust. ” I’m certain,” Shughtie said, ” that they are wrong. Have the cloak if you like, it may always be useful, but hold your bowie-point to the fore as if it were a sword. Why, man, you’ve quoted Achille Marozzo, and already you forget hie principles. There are two common ways of using the knife underhand and overhand. Underhand is rare, being easily stopped; overhand, if you treat it as I would, may be received upon the point. An acquaintance of mine had a third way, which was not without its merits. He rejoiced in the sobriquet of ‘ Flat-footed Jack,’ being, or rather having been, one of Her Gracious Majesty’s hard naval bargains. The Argentine gargotti’s not a bad place for knife practice. The Flat-footed in his cups would quarrel with hie own hat; hence many a difficulty. When cuchillos are drawn Senor Spaniard, old or new hemisphere, hae a silly habit of showing off. The world must see the curved beauties of his deadly blade. It’s like the Tartar prince, who by herald informs the kings of the earth that they may dine, as he has finished his meal of mare’s milk. And it’s quite unlike the sensible Japanese, who, holding the scabbard in the left hand, draws hie sword with so little loss of time that he opens his man from belt to shoulder.” A very old manoeuvre of the Italian and German schools, I interposed. ” Well,” resumed Shughtie, ” while the particular Don was intent upon his gambado, Flat-footed Jack suddenly let fly at him a perfectly straight thrust with a common whittle some 6in. long, and worth when new 4d. He was only careful to put his thumb along the bone handle. Of course, every blow killed. I should be afraid to name the number of our countryman’s triumphs.” This was a long speech for Shughtie. I knew that he would not readily do it again, and resumed. Such, then, is the rule of the sword we will drop the knife – and it is based upon nature and truth, upon practice and experience.
Especially when preparing for actual combat, these few seconds of preamble allow you to settle your equilibrium, to draw upon your self-confidence, to face without emotion that sword point which threatens you, and to allay the first involuntary movement of anxiety which, in such cases, the strongest nature must endure for a moment. Moreover, you have been able to entrap your adversary in a comprehensive glance of observation, and to draw your own conclusions from his position, from his handling of the sword, and from the general way in which he offers battle.
This renders it worth your while to stand for a few minutes even out of pistol shot.
From Sentiments of the Sword by Sir Richard Burton
The sentiment du fer is that supreme art of digitation which is to the complete swordsman what the touch of the pulse is, or rather was, to the old physician who disclaims the newfangled thermometer. It begins to make itself felt as soon as the blades come into contact. Essential to the highest development of our art, it is the result of happy natural disposition, of long study, and of persevering attention. To the hand it gives lightness and that indescribable finesse which guide the cue of the billiard player; to the passes it communicates quickness directed by an appreciation of the case which can hardly be subjected to analysis. It is that mysterious résumé of delicate manipulation, of practised suppleness in wrist and forearm, and of precision in movement, which makes the adversary feel powerless before it, which startles at the same time that it commands him. No quality in a swordsman is more rarely found in any degree approaching perfection. To say that I have not the highest admiration of it would be to set myself down in the lowest ranks of materialism — as the world understands the word. But its very potency suggests the absolute necessity of providing against it when we find so rare a gift opposed to us.
Journal of Non-lethal Combatives, March 2000

The Sentiment of the Sword: A Country-House Dialogue, Part III

By Captain Sir Richard F. Burton, K.C.M.G., F.R.G.S., edited, with Notes, by A. Forbes Sieveking, F.S.A.; and a Preface by Theodore A. Cook

London: Horace Cox, “Field” Office, Bream’s Building, E.C., 1911

The Third Evening.


During the day I had reflected upon the easiest and neatest way of explaining my method of simplification — my conviction that simplicity alone makes the belle manière. In my youth I had tried the same with cavalry drill, never being able to understand why in these days, when arms of precision and rapid fire are universal, ranks should be doubled. From my own system of bayonet exercise I had extracted a few simple movements, which could be contained on a page of notepaper, and yet which would enable the soldier to defend himself against most comers. It is evident that the same can be done with fencing.


At last the smoking party met, and I addressed it from my cane-bottomed chair:

You have been told that fencing, stripped of its factitious ornaments and freed from the lumber and rubbish of the salles d’armes, with their complicated and innumerable details, is a far easier matter to learn than men generally suppose. The process of simplification is not new; many writers recognised only four elementary passes and parries, namely Seconde, Tierce, Carte, and Octave, to which some added a fifth, Septime. We may further reduce the elements to two, and do what we will, we cannot extend them beyond four. Let us tabulate them thus:


  1. Simple attacks.
  2. Compound attacks.


  1. Simple parries.
  2. Compound or counter parries (parades de contre).

And thus we have the following:

Simple Attacks:

STRAIGHT THRUST (especially in carte with a right-handed man).

DISENGAGEMENT, or passing the point under the opponent’s blade.

THE CUT OVER (tagliata, coup), or passing the point over the [opponent’s] blade.

Compound Attacks:


The BEAT, followed by straight thrust.

The BEAT, with disengagement.

The liement, or BINDING the opponent’s sword from higher to lower line.

Simple Parries:

TIERCE (high line outside), when tolerably sure of the adversary.

CARTE (high line inside), when tolerably sure of the adversary.

SECONDE. Carte basse (low carte).

Compound Parries:

COUNTERS or demicircles (half circles in tierce and carte).

FULL CIRCLES (especially useful to the imperfect swordsman).

This certainly does not look like the many-headed hydra which is supposed to require a Hercules.

“But you’ve forgotten,” interrupted Charles, “an immense number of lunges and parries. Hardly possible to write such stout folios as those upstairs on a simple expression like this.”

Said Shughtie: “I see that our neologistic and progressive friend has done what he proposed to do with the Sanskrit declensions — reduced them from ten to two or three, thereby worse confusing their confoundedness.”

“Yes,” added Seaton, “his simplicity has become silly. Can’t he see that a variety of movements is the best practice to attain excellence in a few?”

I have forgotten them with malice prepense, because I believe them to be useful only to the teacher, not to the learner. I must look upon them as part of the profession, and professions must live. Je n’en vois pas la necessité is hardly a fair rejoinder to il faut vivre. The surgeon often advises you to part with a leg or an arm — did you, by the by, ever see a one-legged or one-armed doctor?



But, supposing the teacher to teach all these complications with bona fides, as doubtless he generally does, I then observe that they are calculated only to embarrass the intelligence of his pupil. The more you simplify the means of action in the use of weapons the more readily they are learned and the more easily they are executed. Surely this is self-evident, even to you, O Seaton!

Remark, also, that I have given you a full, perhaps an unnecessarily full — list of attacks, parries, and ripostes. Many might reasonably be retrenched, because they are mere modifications of the same movement.

Thus, for instance, “One, two,” is a couple of simple disengagements, the first in the line of tierce, we will say, and the second in carte.

One, two, three, par parenthèse, is becoming obsolete [FN1] on account of the risk which always accompanies a complicated attack, giving room for a time thrust. [FN2]

The battement (beat) and straight thrust, again, is as evidently a combination. I do not mention the froissement d’épée, [FN3] or sliding parry, which is now used only in the preliminary salutes. It is a favourite with schoolboys for disarming the antagonist; but on the field you cannot thrust at a man with naked hand, and in the salle d’armes you are bound, by courtesy, to pick up his weapon for him. Formerly, when foils were capped with leather, not with gutta-percha knobs, some puerile dexterity was also shown in locking the buttons and in screwing the foil out of the opponent’s grasp. Disarmings, in fact, are fitted only for the theatres. I may add that these and other methods always failed if the fencer held the handle properly. He should accustom himself to feel his weapon with his little finger and its neighbour. Remember, also, that grasping the grip or putting any strength in the forefingers and thumb not only tires the wrist, but also makes the point wander. Some men have a trick of laying the index along the handle, but I never found their fencing good style; it is even advised by masters, who forget that straining the muscles is the chief result of the exceptional position. At best it can be useful only to relieve for a minute the sinews fatigued by tension in one direction.

It would be better, too, if we slightly altered the hilts of our swords. Throughout Europe the pommel end droops down, when evidently it should be turned up so as to fit into the commissure of the wrist and give greater leverage. You will soon find this out by cutting at an object with all your might and missing it; if you are holding in your gloveless grasp an old top-heavy cavalry sabre, with its short, round handle, the latter is sure to loosen the hand. The cut-over (coup), again, which should be done in one movement, not in two, and with blade whistling like a whip, is merely another form of the disengagement intended for the same end, and received with the same parry. You must not forget that the fundamentals are the straight thrust and the disengagement, and that the further you recede from them the worse for you. Let me warn you very strongly against a succession of two or even three cuts-over (coup), which raise the point from its proper normal position opposite the adversary’s eye, and which offer a tempting opportunity to a low thrust. You will find in the books fancy evolutions called coups de trois and even de quatres mouvements; allow them to remain there.

The liement de l’épée, binding the blade, like the flanconnade, the croisé, [FN4] and others of their kind, are valuable chiefly when the adversary keeps his point, as some cautious men will do, scrupulously directed towards you, and perhaps extends his arm with the benevolent intention of making you spit yourself. These several twistings of the sword, after engagement has taken place, offer the solid advantage of holding down and commanding his blade if he permits you to occupy it, and if you have more muscle than he has, should he parry, as often happens, with the middle or the “feeble” of his blade, you may force in his guard. I presume you know that the rapier used to be divided into four parts — which were also subdivided into eight. The first simplification was reducing the four to three equal measures, beginning from the hilt — the forte, the medium, and the feeble. Now we prefer halving it: the “strong” from the shoulder to the middle, the defensive, the weak being used for offence, and such is the leverage of the length that the strongest arm cannot make the latter master of the former.

You will also read of the menacé coupé and the menacé dégagé, which are merely the “coupé” and the “dégagement” without the lunge. Again, the tour d’épée, soit en tierce, soit en quarte is a long phrase for the common counters of tierce and carte, converted from semi-circles into whole circles, from parries into attacking measures.

These few offensive movements are absolutely all that you require. Yet every school has some “dodge” of its own; I will call these fancifications by no other name. This makes its pupils practise feintes à droit; that, the feinte seconde, et tirer droit; whilst these teach them to drop the point and bring it up to the attack. Movements of this kind are without end; I could invent on the spot half a dozen.

Yet observe that the three simple attacks and the four compound movements which I have given you may form a formidable list of combinations. May is the word. The less you attempt them the better. When you can play with your adversary as the cat with the mouse you may, perhaps, allow yourself an occasional écart; yet even then beware. I think Seaton can say something on that point.

My friend’s brow clouded a little, but he laughed it off good-humouredly, and, after a fair amount of pressing, he proceeded to tell the tale.

“It goes against me, but never mind. It has often made men laugh, and I dare say will do so again. I was at Abbeville, and at a country ball, as usual in a field or an orchard. There was a ‘difficulty’ between me and one of the dancers — of course a Frenchman. The casus belli was a pretty face, which levels distinctions. France also was then en république, which doesn’t consider differences of master and man, Jean often holding his head higher than M’siur Jean. A challenge passed for the next morning, and I found from my second that the ‘other party’ was a journeyman tailor. When we ‘peeled’ to the shirt and had been searched for weapons, I easily saw that my friend had no idea of using a sword, and I admired the little beggar’s grit. It was a cold morning, threatening rain, and we’d danced till late, which makes one shaky. I could have ‘cooked his goose’ with half a thrust, but I wanted to let him off easily, and after a little by play to drop my point upon his shoulder, to draw first blood, to give a poigníe de main, and to wash my hands of the silly affair. But I reckoned without my host. The gallant little snip would take no denial. He waited till he saw my point well out of line, and then he at me, ducking his head like a charging bull, and following his sword, which went fast enough. It ran me clean through the wrist, and, but for a turn of the muscles, I might have had a spare inch or two in my right breast. After which he ‘confounded himself’ in excuses, and pleaded that it was for the justification of ‘son honneur.’ I never felt so foolish in my life. My only plan was to tie up my arm, to pack up my box, to pay down my money, and to bolt before the town heard of the adventure. Besides, it might have been no joke. Imagine what a death for ‘an officer and a gentleman’



I resumed.

You will bear in mind that, throughout its attacks and parries, the sword can follow only these four lines: 1. High line (la ligne haute, la linea alta), threatening the noblest parts oft the body, the upper torso covered by the plastron; 2. Low line (la ligne basse, la linea bassa), the lower part of the plastron and “below the belt” in pugilism; 3. Outside line (le dehors, la linea di ffuori), professionally called tierce, which means the shoulder and the flank; and 4. Inside line (le delans, la linea di dentro) or carte, aiming at the breast and the stomach.

Thus, by reducing to its simplest expression this imbroglio of technical terms, of feints and double feints, of true engagements and false engagements, of “menacés” and “coulés,” of “croisés” and “flanconnades,” of “pressions” and “dérobements” [FN5], of “reprises” and “remises,” of parries and half parries, we obtain two distinct advantages, both equally to be valued.

The pupil’s mind sees more clearly the foundations of all practice, and can at once analyse any combination which offers itself. This is not so easily done by our typical English rule of thumb, and the greatest enemy to excellence in arms is that hazy idea of its principles that satisfies so many students. Further still. The hand reflects the lucidity of the thought [FN6]; in the pupil of a good school it never falters; it goes straight to the point; it cannot stray, and it gains immensely in freedom, readiness, and facility of execution. Hence result the five most important qualities, which represent the cardinal virtues of the sword. These are, in due order of precedence:

Nerve, alias presence of mind.

Judgment, especially of distance, combined with sharp eyesight.

Quickness of movement in hand and body.

The tact of the sword (i.e., nice sense of touch), and


Combined in a high degree of excellence, they form the complete swordsman.



Presence of mind I need hardly explain. Judgment is a term which makes you shrink; it suggests, like “common sense,” special gifts, trained and matured by long experience. I mean by it nothing more than that ordinary amount of intelligence which average men bring to whatever they do. Each well-reasoned lesson will add something to your judgment, and the precision begotten by practice will give it the perfection of which it is capable. Indeed, the beginner is advised not to preoccupy himself with “judgment”, as such process tends to cloud the lucidity of thought.

Judgment in arms displays itself chiefly by distrust of the adversary’s movements and by a wise prudence in our own; by divining what is most likely to deceive him; by the mute interrogation of the sword, and by the just appreciation of difficulties, general and special. I need hardly tell you that a hundred men will show a hundred styles. Judgment of distance is the great secret of all hand-to-hand weapons, from the dagger to the lance. It must not be confounded with judgment of distance as taught in musketry schools, yet both are mastered by the same process — practice aided by theory and perfected by application.

Quickness, meaning not only of the hand, wrist, and forearm, but of the whole body, is undoubtedly an immense merit, both in the attack and defence, the riposte and the retreat. “Slow and sure,” chi va piano va sano, do not apply to our art. There are writers who hold quickness to be the very commencement of the fencing lesson, as it is the capital point of the fencer. Listen to one of the best [FN7]: “I believe that we must guard against the usual style of instruction, which consists in repeating over and over again, ‘Go slowly; study quietly the thrusts and parries; attend to your position; separate your movements by mentally counting one, two, and so on; don’t hurry; quickness will come in due time.’ It is doubtless useful to train the hand by lessons with the plastron, but it is not useful to train it into slowness. The pupil, after being made to understand the mechanism, the analysis, and the meaning of each movement, should at once begin to practise it as quickly and sharply as possible. A tardy, ‘dawdling’ style is so convenient, and so seductive, by the facility with which it effects each movement, that it will soon react upon the judgment and acquire all the force of a habit, making intelligence idleness.

“If, under pretext of training the hand and decomposing the movements, you allow this habit a chance of existence, you will sow the germs of a defect which may presently become ineradicable. It is your work to oppose it.

“When the child begins feebly to totter over the ground, stumbling and threatening every moment to fall, you do not take it in your arms; you support it, but you allow it to walk. By degrees the bones are strengthened, the use of the muscles is learned, and the two-year-old treads firmly as the young bird flies.

“Such a child is the pupil. As his science and experience grow in stature, so will many weaknesses and defects cast themselves off, and finally they will easily be rectified by reason and judgment.

“But quickness is purely a mechanical and material process, which cannot be reasoned out, which cannot be analysed, which can be produced.

“Feed, therefore, the fire, instead of allowing it to die out for want of fuel.

“Do you think that it will suffice to say at a given moment, ‘Now do quickly what you have so long been doing slowly’?

“It is a new order of ideas to which you are introducing your pupil. Those are fresh obstacles which you oppose to his progress.



I made the fifth virtue “Regularity” — a poor word for want of a better. You will understand by it the consensus, the union, of all the bodily movements, the correspondence of the eye with the hand, for instance, the suppleness of the wrist and forearm, and the co-relation of forces required. This is especially the mysterious gift which distinguishes the good shot, the billiard and quoit player, the cricketer, the trapeze gymnast, and others of the same category. It is born with man; some have their pint, others their gallon, but few are wholly without it, whilst those who possess the donum dei to a remarkable degree at once take the highest places in their several pursuits.

But though nascitur non fit, this Regularity is susceptible of great culture. Its development depends upon daily studies conducted under the careful eye of the master. The least tendency to assume a bad habit — not those so called in the salles d’armes, but a habit which does not belong to the pupil’s individuality — should be pointed out, commented upon, and corrected. It is hardly fair to expect this amount of time and trouble from the average teacher, who after a certain number of years must find the average pupil exceedingly flat and stale. But the student can, as usual in all studies, do much for himself — ten, in fact, to Mr. Professor’s one. He will, as a looker-on, when others are taking the lesson, carefully note their defects and obtain their measure by comparing them with the master. He will apply these observations to himself and easily hit upon the way of cure. This, too, is the best treatment of tricks such as turning the toes in or out, opening the mouth, stiffening the fingers of the left hand, squaring the left elbow, and so on. But the pupil must not be too pedantic with himself. The right foot, for instance, by academical rule, should be placed straight to the front. If he learn that he gains base and strength by a trifle of deviation, why should he not do so? I have found it a good plan at times to practise before a pier-glass.



“It is early in the evening,” Lord S. said, “and I should much like to see you put your practice into action.”

Willingly, replied I. As a volunteer teacher of sundry friends my proceeding has been as follows: For the first month the time required is half an hour a day, provided that there is nothing to unteach. Afterwards three half hours a week are sufficient. The earliest lessons are devoted to explaining and demonstrating the capital importance that resides in the mutual dependence and in the perfect equilibrium of the movements; it is, in fact, an essay on “regularity.” I make my neophyte stand on guard, advance and retire, lunge and recover himself with aplomb and without crossing — that is to say, placing the right foot out of line, the directing line, the ligne directrice, the German Gefechtslinie; otherwise he will surely stumble, and perhaps fall. The defect is sometimes found in excellent fencers, and when chronic it cannot be cured.

“What is the directing line?” asked several voices.

The perpendicular drawn from the left heel of a right-handed man through the heel and toes of the right foot, to be preserved both in guard and during the lunge The old rule was to set off at right angles from the base, formed by the left foot. We moderns are more liberal; some align the forward heel with the hollow of the other foot, and others, I myself included, with the ankle bone.

The most ordinary intelligence will learn by these first lessons the mechanism of the various positions and actions — a mechanism based upon the nature and instinct of our organisation.

“Try the experiment upon Charles,” Lord S. suggested.

I would rather not. He has already, he tells me, taken a few lessons. I want someone who is utterly innocent of fence. If the Rev. Mr. O’Callaghan has no objection to be used as a demonstration, he will be my choice.

Mr. O’Callaghan, curate and chaplain, was a born sportsman, although bred to a black cloth. He gave laughing assent, remarking, however, that he would probably be a very awkward example.

I replied, perhaps so, during the first quarter of an hour. Such is the common law, and none may claim immunity from it. Josephine herself can hardly have made grace out of the goose-step. Please to look at me and to place yourself on guard. This word alone explains the end and object of the process.

To be on guard, to guard yourself, that means to assume the properest position for defence and its complement, offence. Now that the heels are parted by the proper distance, say two foot-lengths; of course it differs with every man. Bend your knees; in other words, sit, as it were, without sitting down — so. You must expect the position to cramp you at first, so would a few miles of saddle-work after a year of walking. But the more you bend the spring, the greater will be the recoil, and the more sudden and rapid will be your movements.

Your right arm according to the salles should be half bent, because over-tension of the muscles would fatigue it. After a time you will choose your own measure. As a general rule in the French school the pommel of your sword is opposite the right breast, with the point to the adversary’s eye. In this position it can most easily be brought to cover all the lines which require watching. Later on — if you determine to be a swordsman — you will allow the penchants and instincts of your organisation, the convenience of sight, for instance, to modify these academic dicta. The important point is to preserve the aplomb of the body and to use the limbs easily without géne or stiffness.

I now advance upon you. You naturally retire. To do this and to keep your distance there is only one way. You move back the left foot more or less, and you allow the right immediately to follow it. I always insist at first upon a full step, not a kind of shuffle backwards, as it is one of the beginner’s difficulties. Stamp, please! It will give rhythm to your movement and ensure a good position.

I now retire, and you advance upon me. It is the same operation, only reversed. Do not raise the foot so high, you waste time; nor yet draw it along the ground, which might cause a stumble. You will find advancing much easier than retreating. And again, as a beginner, always stamp; it makes the body sit firm and motionless on the left.

Bravo! You move like a professor. Bend your knees a little more, and when you practice alone — for I see that you will be a swordsman — bend them as much as possible. The academic law is that the knee should be on a plumb-line with the instep. As regards the left leg, a string dropped from the hip bone should fall along the thigh, the outer knee, the lower leg, and the ankle bone. Few men go beyond or outside this imaginary perpendicular, many inside; that is to say the knock-kneed fencer is more common than the bow-legged. Both are faults, because they take from the power and spring of the lunge; but they are mostly matters of organisation, and cannot be altered without a damaging process.

The rule for the body is to be bolt upright upon the haunches, easily and without stiffness. If, however, you feel inclined to bend, bend forward; but never bend backward — the system of the old French school. When the body is carried to the front you will often see the master lay down his foil and set the pupil up like a sculptured torso with both hands. This is dancing master’s fencing. There is no harm in the forward position; it does not increase exposure, because the angle which it assumes diminishes the area of surface, and to a certain extent protects itself by giving additional trouble to the adversary’s point. It is also a sovereign remedy against low thrusts. On the other hand, bending backwards is an absolute defect; it is ruinous to all quickness, both in attack and in riposte. Besides, it always exposes you to a time thrust. Do you feel tired?


So much the better. It shows that your position is easy and natural; that the muscles are not contracted; and that cramps do not paralyse your movements. You will not forget to keep your left shoulder well to the rear so as to show only a profile to the adversary. In due time you will be able to take some liberties in this matter, and, indeed, there are first-rate fencers who show two-thirds of front, but these are well-trained muscles obey like lightning every order of the brain, and who can escape the thrust by an almost imperceptible amount of shrinking. And, remember, shoulder always low, and no extra strength applied to it, or you will “counter from the shoulder” and strike with your point the ground instead of the adversary.

Such, then, is the posture of defence. Rest yourself whilst I pass to the offensive part.



You might attack your adversary by running into him, as happened to our friend Seaton, or by a spring, a buck jump, like the “Turcos” in Punch, with both legs to the fore. I once saw an excellent swordsman surprised into being touched by this simian process, but the usually, nay, the invariable, plan is to sharply to lunge, that is, to shoot the right foot from guard some 18in. forwards, shaving the ground, and simultaneously to straighten and stiffen, not to half straighten, as the idle apprentice often will, your left leg. Do not make any false movements with the right foot before you advance it. This is called in technical language tricher, and it warns the adversary of your intention. Remember the golden rule of the lunge, two movements, not one. The first: Raise the right arm, depressing at the same time the left. No. 2: Move the right foot and extend the left leg. If the first precede the second your aim will be wild. Make your pass even and regular, as if carrying a glass of water to your adversary’s breast. The better to confirm the lunge, I often teach the demi-allonge — the right arm raised as to make the pass, the left leg extended without further movement.

At first you must be careful to keep the left foot firmly on the ground; it is apt to turn and to drag an inch or two forwards, which besides having a slovenly look, alters your distance without being aware of it. When lunging, rest upon the major arch of the left foot, formed by the heel and the cushion behind the big toe. This firm base gives immobility to the left leg, which is apt to be shaken by the vigorous tension of the bow. The cap of the right knee bone must be perpendicular to the instep, or, if you prefer it, to the toe-tip, as the schools direct.

Whether your attack be simple or compound, ever remember what I here repeat: The movement of point and hand, together with the extension and elevation of the arm, must precede, though almost imperceptibly, the action of the body and the legs. This is an invariable rule. If your lower limbs begin the move you lose equilibrium, your lunge will give notice to the adversary, and your point will wander away from the mark. Great fencers sometimes reverse the process by way of tour de force.

The point in the French school should be lanced out, as it were, and be withdrawn instantly, like the cat’s claws. And do not forget that the “recovery,” the return to guard, must be as prompt and sudden as the lunge. You have failed in your swoop; like the hawk, you are in a position of the greatest danger from the heron, and the sooner you retire from it the better. Nothing can be worse than a slow and “dawdling” retreat, which encourages the enemy to attack you whilst in disorder by what is technically called a riposte en emps perdu.

Every salle d’armes will show you men who are fond of remaining at the lunge, trying the dangerous and objectionable thrust called remise de main, which, except under well-defined circumstances, is permissible only to great artists — feinting at close quarters and engaging in la bourrache, poignarding the adversary, and displaying what I call the pugilism of the sword. The whole process is thoroughly out of character. The attack should consist simply of a rapid lunge and an immediate return to guard.

So much for the offensive part of the process. Mr. O’Callagahan, I am greatly obliged to you. Do not forget my prediction.

“I would ask a question,” Charles said. “Is it necessary when on guard, gracefully to curve that left arm and to lower it when lunging like a mill sail along the left thigh?”

There is no necessity, but in both schools, Italian and French, the left arm acts as a counterpoise; it is the rope dancer’s balance pole, it gives equilibrium to the movements, and it introduces symmetry and equality in the action of the two limbs. You must do something with your left arm, and it seems hardly natural that it should hang down dead by the side or be carried “a-kimbo,” when it becomes mere dead weight. If you reflect you will probably find the French style best. I have described the Hispano-Neapolitan posture — the left hand opposite the pectoral muscles. This may be considered obsolete now that the dagger is not used. Au reste, not a few wear the left arm with the hand on the hip, and the German sabreur often places it behind his back. Do with it what you please, only do not put it in any position which may bring the left shoulder forwards and offer more body to the adversary’s sword. I never quarrel with my pupils, except when idleness or carelessness is shown in neglecting the left arm, and as a thing of beauty is a joy for ever, and beauty, like poetry, is “Nature’s brag.” I do not allow the elbow to be angular or the fingers to project like those of a Mandarin [e.g., a mannered snob] upon a tea caddy. Grace is the truth of action, want of grace its falseness.

As you may imagine, these simple movements can be modified in a variety of ways. For instance, instead of the common return to guard by the right leg, the left may be brought up; this is, however, confessedly dangerous. Then there is the inverted lunge with the left foot, called se fendre en arrière, and there is much to say about it. Again, the body may be suddenly thrown backwards in guard, which places it out of measure, beyond reach of the point. When advancing, the left foot may furtively be brought close to the right so as to double the length of the lunge. You will see these and many other tricks done in the fencing schools, sometimes even in the field, by gentlemen who are “renowning it.” But the fatal objection to them is that they are not generally adopted, showing that they are not generally valuable.



I have now made you as wise as myself upon the subject of moving the body and the limbs, which indeed is all the mechanism of swordsmanship. A few words before we separate.

Why have these positions and these movements been chosen, been universally approved by the civilised world? The reply is because they are intuitive and instinctive. See how the races that use the knife naturally seize it with the right hand, drape the cloak round the left arm, and, under cover of the body, prepare the weapon for a fatal thrust.

“I’m certain,” Shughtie said, “That they are wrong. Have the cloak if you like, it may always be useful, but hold your bowie-point to the fore as if it were a sword. Why, man, you’ve quoted Achille Marozzo, and already you forget his principles. There are two common ways of using the knife — underhand and overhand. Underhand is rare, being easily stopped; overhand, if you treat it as I would, may be received upon the point. An acquaintance of mine had a third way, which was not without its merits. He rejoiced in the sobriquet of ‘Flat-footed Jack,’ being, or rather having been, one of Her Gracious Majesty’s hard naval bargains. The Argentine gargotti’s not a bad place for knife practice. The Flat-footed in his cups would quarrel with his own hat; hence many a difficulty. When cuchillos are drawn Señor Spaniard, old or new hemisphere, has a silly habit of showing off. The world must see the curved beauties of his deadly blade. It’s like the Tartar prince, who by herald informs the kings of the earth that they may dine, as he has finished his meal of mare’s milk. And it’s quite unlike the sensible Japanese, who, holding the scabbard in the left hand, draws his sword with so little loss of time that he opens his man from belt to shoulder.”

A very old manoeuvre of the Italian and German schools, I interposed.

“Well,” resumed Shughtie, “while the particular Don was intent upon his gambado, Flat-footed Jack suddenly let fly at him a perfectly straight thrust with a common whittle some 6in. long, and worth when new 4d. He was only careful to put his thumb along the bone handle. Of course, every blow killed. I should be afraid to name the number of our countryman’s triumphs.”

This was a long speech for Shughtie. I knew that he would not readily do it again, and resumed.

Such, then, is the rule of the sword — we will drop the knife — and it is based upon nature and truth, upon practice and experience.

And what, you ask, is its proper object?

In the defensive position of guard to allow the limbs their fullest liberty of action and to cultivate as much as possible the ease and the elasticity which reside in them.

In the offensive action the opposite is required; here we must develop and utilise all the power and the momentum, the vigour, weight, and speed of which the body is capable.

I seem to be talking mere truisms — “the truths of M. de la Polisse.” But you see a master in every school daily and hourly protesting against the awkwardness of his pupils’ guards, against the clenching of the hand, the tension of the arm, the stiffness of the shoulder, in fact the wilful and sinful expenditure of force, without once explaining to them, so clearly that they never can forget it, the essential difference between the complete repose of the guard and the vivid muscular action of the attack.

To show now natural is our position, attempt in any manner to change it. There are many ways, but all will fail it. Take one for instance, and stand up, like the old Spaniard, with knees unbent. This at once throws the whole machine out of ger; you cannot without great difficulty perform the simplest movement of attack, defence, or retreat. The body has lost its aplomb; it can no longer make sure of hand and arm; it insists upon devancing them or upon lagging tardily behind. See how slight a change causes the virtue to depart from you.

The houghs, the popliteal muscles, are the two springs which project the body and which, properly managed, give it rapidity of motion. When you clear a fence or a ditch you imitate the grasshopper, not to mention the more lively animal [the flea] that can hop over its own St. Paul’s. When you drop from a wall or make a low jump you also bend the houghs to prepare for the feet touching the ground, otherwise you suffer from the jarring shock. How many men have been injured and even killed by suddenly stepping into a hatchway imprudently left open? If prepared they could have managed without difficulty twice or three times the amount of fall.

I insist upon these facts, which are the axioms, the groundwork of our science. My pupils are always taught their absolute necessity and their relations as cause and effect, or if you please, sequence, consequence, concatenation. Upon this point —

“Eleven-forty p.m.!” Shughtie briefly ejaculated.

— I will only say that instinct has here been our earliest guide, and that experience has tended to explain and consecrate the principles. But I add:

When sufficient practice shall have made these movements familiar to you, when you feel the ease and rapidity which result from them, and when you are conscious that they have given, with the patience of assured strength, a new life to your thews and sinews, then you have a right to venture upon certain modifications. If, after careful comparison and many experiments, you find that your individuality craves for departure from the beaten path of elementary rule, do so without fear, but do so with judgment. The best guard and the best lunge are those which allow body and limb to act with the fullness of freedom, preserving at the same time a perfect equilibrium. Possibly some peculiarity of conformation — a very long arm, for instance, or a remarkably short leg — may suggest important changes. But remember that the margin of deviation is not large; it is a narrow path, and a precipice yawns on both sides. Bear in mind that all excess is more or less faulty, especially when it declines from grace and beauty.

And I confess to disliking a rugged or grotesque fencer, although his thrusts may tell and his parries do their duty. A thoroughly well formed and set up physique, of course, when in youth and health — must be “elegant” — passez moi le mot. If not there is some fatal defect which tailor or dressmaker has succeeded in concealing from all eyes but those of the physiologist.

Sur ce, messieurs, bonne nuit!

To be continued.

Footnotes (use the back button to return to the text)

FN1. One, two, three is still largely used in the lesson, and fairly often in the assault.

FN2. A time thrust (coup de temps) is an attack made with opposition on a complicated attack, and intended to intercept the line, when such an attack is meant to finish. Badminton Fencing, page 91.

FN3. The froissement, or froissé, is executed by rubbing or scraping one’s foil along the opponent’s.

FN4. Liement (binding the blade) is executed by passing the point over the opponent’s sword without losing touch of his blade, straightening the arm and lunging in one movement, with strong opposition. Flanconnade is the liement d’octave. Croisé, or twist, is bringing the adversary’s blade from an upper to a lower line, when the other’s point is too low. — Badminton Fencing, page 53.

FN5. Coulé is gliding the blade along the adversary’s without pressure of scraping. Dérobement is quitting the adversary’s blade by dropping the point a few inches below it.

FN6. It is interesting to see how Burton has been influenced in this part of his subject by Bazancourt’s book (see pages 44-56 of Mr. C.F. Clay’s translation).

FN7. See Bazancourt (Clay’s translation, page 47, et. seq.).

JNC Mar 2000
And to provide ease of access Burton’s New Exercises is from:

Journal of Non-lethal Combatives, February 2000 

A New System of Sword Exercise for Infantry

By Richard F. BurtonLondon: Printed and Published by William Clowes and Sons, 13 Charing Cross, 1876

Other web designers are encouraged to link to this page, but may not claim it as their own.

Introductory Remarks

Sect. I. Preparatory Instruction without the Sword

II. Preparatory Instruction with the SwordIII. The Manchette, or Fore-arm Play

ConclusionAppendix (Note on Sabre handles)














Introductory Remarks

Before proceeding to develop my New Sword exercise for Infantry, I would offer a few remarks upon the changes proposed in these pages. Whilst the last half century has witnessed an immense improvement in the projectile weapons of the civilized world, the theory and practice of the sabre or cutting arm have remained in statu quo ante; indeed, if there has been any change it is for the worse. The two systems authorized in the British army are completely behind their time. First and senior is the ‘Infantry Sword Exercise’ (with plates): Revised Edition, Adjutant-General’s Office, Horse Guards. London: Printed under the superintendence of H.M. Stationery Office: 1874. The second is the ‘Instructions for the Sword,& c. (without plates), for the use of Cavalry.’ Adjutant General’s Office, Horse Guards. June 1871.

The latter can be despatched very briefly. Despite the late date, it is obsolete as the older system; it is, in fact, only the ‘Infantry Exercise’ with the addition of “pursuing practice,” and “post practice” — the latter upon a sort of modern Quintain not made to revolve. So far, so good. The practised swordsman has little to learn when mounted, except the few modifications which he can teach himself. His real study is on foot. But some of the remarks appear not to have been written by a practical hand. For instance, we read (p. 27): “In delivering a forward thrust, very little force is necessary when the horse is in quick motion, as the extension of the arm, with a good direction of the point, will be fully sufficient.” “Fully sufficient” — I should think so! The recruit must be carefully and sedulously taught when meeting the enemy, even at a trot or canter, to use no force whatever, otherwise his sword will bury itself to the hilt, and the swordsman will either be dragged from his horse, or will be compelled to drop his weapon — if he can. Upon this point I may quote my own ‘System of Bayonet Exercise’ (p. 27): —

“The instructor must spare no pains in preventing the soldier from using force, especially with the left or guiding arm, as too much exertion generally causes the thrust to miss. A trifling body-stab with the bayonet (I may add with the sword) is sufficient to disable a man; and many a promising young soldier has lost his life by burying his weapon so deep in the enemy’s breast that it could not be withdrawn quickly enough to be used against a second assailant. To prevent this happening, the point must be delivered smartly, with but little exertion of force, more like a dart than a thrust, and instantly afterwards the bayonet must be smartly withdrawn.” In fact the thrust should consist of two movements executed as nearly simultaneously as possible; and it requires long habit, as the natural man, especially the Englishman, is apt to push home, and to dwell upon his slouching push.

The ‘Infantry Sword Exercise’ is nought but a snare and a delusion. Except in pagination, it is the same as the “Revised Edition” of 1845 — the only difference or revision that I can detect is the omission of a short sentence in p. 26 of the older issue; it even retains the General Order of Lord Hill, 23rd April, 1842. Thus “Revision” is confined to the plates. In 1845 the figures wear the milk-pail shako widening at the top, the frock coat and the scales; the last edition, dated April, 1874, dons the tall modern chimney-pot, the tightly buttoned tunic with stiff collar and, like its predecessor, the sash and the scabbard. It is no wonder that the figures display an exceeding gêne, the stiffness of pokers, as the phrase is: here we might with profit borrow from the French or Italian artist.

I am opposed to almost every page of this unhappy brochure, especially to the “Seven Cuts and Guards” of the target; to the shape of the target — I never yet saw a man absolutely circular; to the grip of the sword; to the position in guard; to the Guards or Parades, especially the inside engaging guard (Carte); to the Lunge; to the angle of the feet, and to the system of “loose practice.”

The “Cuts” will be noticed in a future page. Of the grip I may remark that the one essential, the position of the thumb, both in attacks and parries is, as a rule, neglected by the ‘Sword Exercise.’ [FN1] As early as 1828, Müller made his point d’appui a grasp of the handle with the four fingers, the thumb being stretched along the back, in order to direct the edge, and to avoid the possibility of striking with the “flat.” The only exception to this universal law is when doing the “Moulinet” movements, which will be explained farther on. Some professors, both with broadsword and small-sword, would stretch the index, when pointing, along the right of the handle. I have objected to this practice in the rapier and the foil: except when done to change position for relief, it serves merely to fatigue the wrist. But the proper use of the thumb, “le pouce allongé sur le dos de la poignée,” which is troublesome at first, and which demands some study, especially from those who have acquired bad habits, is the base of all superior “counterpoint.” [FN2]

The position on guard is a debated point. Many, indeed I say most, of the moderns follow the rule of all the older swordsmen, namely reposing two-thirds of the body-weight (as in p.19 of the ‘Exercise,’ which, however, is an exaggeration) upon the left leg. The reasons usually given are that in this position the person is not so much exposed; moreover, that the centre of gravity being thrown back adds spring and impetus to the Lunge. We may remember how Cordelois (1862) made a step towards change in his fencing schools at Paris. My objection to the old style is that the farther you are from your opponent, the longer and slower will be your attack; moreover, I have ever found, in personal practice, that it is easier and more convenient to “sit on guard” with the weight equally distributed on both haunches and legs. In fact, that the backward position is not natural any pair of thighs can ascertain for itself after trying it for five minutes: whilst the muscles of the right or forward limb are relaxed as much as possible, those of the left are tight strung, so as to do double work and threaten cramp. This single objection is serious enough to counterbalance any other claims to superiority.

Again, there is no excuse for the guards in the ‘Exercise.’ The “Hanging guard” (p. 18, in the older issue p. 21) is the worst that can be imagined — a painful spectacle, a lesson of “what to avoid.” The head ignobly cowers, and the eyes look up, in a forced and wearying position, when the former should be held upright, and the glance should be naturally fixed upon the opponent’s eye and blade-point; the body is bent so as to lose our national advantage of height and strength, and the right fore-arm in such a position is, and ever must be, clean uncovered. Let the recruit, however strong may be his haunches, stand a few minutes in this “Hanging guard,” and he will soon feel by his fatigue how strange, awkward, and strained it is. The Carte or inside Engaging Guard (pp. 19, 22), again, endangers the fore-arm. The Tierce or outside Engaging Guard (pp. 20, 23) holds the hand too low, and unduly shortens the arm, thus offering an undesirable amount of exposure; it is in fact not a Guard, but a bad parry in “low Tierce.” Worse still is the Lunge (pp. 14, 17): here the body is placed bolt upright, instead of being easily bent, without exaggeration, to the fore, prolonging, as every man instinctively would do at his first attempt, the line of the left leg. The former position is not only fatiguing and “against the grain;” it also shortens the reach and carefully places the opponent safely out of measure. Many swordsmen still contend for the stiffly upright position in Lunge: [FN3] I am disposed to consider it a mere survival of the classical and artificial French school of arms, which aimed at opposing nature as sedulously as the Italian, who always leans to the fore, attempted to follow her dictates. Moreover, their arguments are founded upon the abuse, not the use, of the inclined pose which the body naturally assumes. In teaching the recruit it is well to see that he does not fall into the dangerous habit of throwing the chest forward (poitriner) to meet his opponent’s point; but the truth of muscular motion must be consulted.

Finally, I would note the mistake of “loose practice” with the single stick instead of the sabre; it probably arose from a mistaken economy in saving swords and paddings. Single stick is a different weapon, a cane or light cudgel with a basket-hilt covering the back of the hand, like the imperfect guard of the Highland Clay-more; it is straight, not curved, and as the rod has no edges, so in practice every blow equally represents a cut. Single stick has merits of its own, and even the ‘Exercise’ seems to recognize the fact, for the guindés figures are armed with officers’ Regulation swords.

Both ‘Sword Exercises’ carefully avoid naming “Tierce” and “Carte;” preferring “right” and “left” (of the Sword) or “outside” and “inside,” as if such mysteries were too high or too deep for our national intelligence. I would again quote a few lines from my ‘System of Bayonet Exercise’ (Introductory Remarks, pp. 8, 9): —

“But why, it may be asked, should the English soldier be deterred by difficulties which every French voltigeur can master? We admire the intelligence of our neighbours in military matters: we remark that they are born soldiers, and that their men learn as much in four months as ours do in six. Is not this, however, partly our fault? In my humble opinion we mistake the cause of their quickness, attributing to nature the effect of art. When our system of drill is thoroughly efficient; when the Manual and Platoon is much simplified, when a salle d’armes is established in every corps, and when the bayonet exercise becomes a recognized branch of instruction; then, I believe, we shall find our soldiers equal in intelligence to any others.” These words were written in 1853; in 1875 I add, “When we enlist the right kind of recruit either by improving his condition and his prospects, not his pay, or better, far better, by securing a superior man through the conscription [methods] of modern Europe.” We Britons are no longer physically divided from the total orb; nor can we afford to remain morally insulated and isolated. The logical effect of union with the outer world will be to make us do as the world does, and all our exceptional institutions, such as the system of volunteer recruiting, must sooner or later go by the board.

Nor is the most modern French Treatise (pp. 229-256, Manuel de Gymnastique et d’Escrime, officially published by the Ministre de la Marine et des Colonies; Paris, Dumaine, 1875 “Escrime au Sabre” much superior to our home growth. The position of the left hand (pp. 232, 233) is bad throughout: it must slip during the Lunge and make the play loose. The retreat of the left leg (Fig. 5, p. 235) is carried to an extreme of caution. The body is always perpendicular in the Lunge, whereas the same volume shows (Fig. 16, p. 20) the trunk naturally inclining forwards. The Cuts are not double nor continuous, as they should be. The “Hanging Guards” (pp. 240, 244, 245) are deplorable. On the other hand, the Manuel (p. 231) places the thumb along, not around the handle; the moulinets, the enlevés, and the brisés (presently to be explained) are good stuff, and moreover, they are applied to the Cuts (p. 239). Finally, nothing can be better than the advice (p. 249), “Après avoir touché, retirer vivement le sabre en arrière en lui imprimant une direction oblique dans le sens du tranchant, de manière á scier.

Of the points or thrusts with broadsword nothing will here be said: they belong to another order of things, and they should be studied in the fencing school. [FN4] But the soldier must be taught that if his adversary attempt a thrust, the broadsword is easily disarmed. When the opponent comes to the position of pointing, that is, extends his blade, a sharp glissade along its length will make the grip fly out of his grasp. Another way of embarrassing the attack is to cut right and left at the hand, the wrist, or the fore-arm, when the adversary begins to present point.

General Lamoricière was a firm believer, as we all are, in the thrust, and the French Sword Exercise for Cavalry (p. 178 Règlement Provisoire sur les Exercises de la Cavalerie, officially published at the Ministère de al Guerre; Paris, Dumaine, 1873), justly remarks: “Les coups de pointe doivent toujours étre employés de préférence, comme exigeant moins de force et ayant un résultat plus prompt, plus certain et plus décisif.” The reason of its confessed superiority to the Cut is as old as the axiom, “a straight line is the shortest way between two points.” The Thrust describes a diameter, the Cut, a segment, of a circle and, with equal velocity, the Cut will traverse a distance occupying some two-thirds more of time than the Thrust. The French tactician therefore proposed to abolish the use of the edge for cavalry, thus traversing the instinct of the man-at-arms who, especially on horseback, loves to slash at his enemy, and who runs far less risk of entangling his blade. But he of course advocated a straight and tapering sword with no edge to speak of; indeed the cuirassier’s latte is still a kind of rapier, but it is rendered useless by prodigious length and by the weight of the handle. The modern Italian School of Sabre uses, especially in single combat, all the dégagements of the salle d’armes: this is thoroughly illogical; the weapon is chosen because it is supposed to be less fatal than foil or rapier, and yet it is so used as to become even more deadly. I need hardly say that the weight and shape of the broadsword, together with the positions of guard, render pointing with it awkward in the extreme. [FN5]

I have now finished with the ungrateful task of criticizing, and I proceed to propose a system which it is hoped will be as severely criticized by others. It is only candid to state that its pretensions are high, that it contains two distinct novelties, the Manchette System and the Reverse or Back-cut; and finally, that it aspires to be the first Treatise in which the broadsword is scientifically taken in hand.


Preparatory Instruction without the Sword




Nothing will here be said concerning the “goose step of the sword,” the “Balance Motions,” and the “Extension Motions,” of the official ‘Infantry Sword Exercise.’ They are essentially a part of ‘Squad and Setting-up Drill,’ and as such they have been treated in several good manuals, especially by Sergeant-Major S. Bertram Brown: A ‘Practical Guide to Squad and Setting-up Drill, in accordance with the Principles laid down in Part I., Field Exercise of the Army.’ Adapted for the use of Recruits, Rifle Volunteers, Militia, Police Force, Schools, and Families: Illustrated with sixty-eight figures, representing each Stick and Club Exercise, Extension Motions, and Sword Exercise Positions. London: Allen and Co., 1871. 2nd Edition. [FN6] Considered in a wider sense they belong to the Branch of Science so thoroughly developed in ‘A Military System of Gymnastic Exercises for the Use of Instructors: Adjutant-General’s Office, Horse Guards, 1862; Physical Education,’ Clarendon Press Series, Oxford, 1869; and in ‘Training in Theory and Practice’ (London, Macmillan, 1874), by Archibald MacLaren, [FN7] whose excellent code for the army, and whose influence with successive war ministers, as some one truly said, have aided largely in introducing that admirable training which is transforming the stiff, slow-moving grenadier of past times into the vigorous, rapid, and enduring soldier of the present day.

Squad drill is not likely to make a good swordsman, yet economy of time renders it a necessity. It must be practised first without, then with, weapons, after which those who show unusual capabilities should be taken individually in hand by the master. The latest French system (Manuel, etc.) divides the four lessons into two degrees: 1. Preparatory Movements; moulinets and simple attacks and parries. 2. Compound attacks and parries.

The formation of the squad is in the usual line, with open order at arms’ length from the right or left. The men are then taught the three positions as follows: —


First Position in Two Motions.

One.Place the hands smartly behind the back, the left grasping the right arm just above the elbow, and the right similarly supporting the left elbow.

Two. — Make a half-face right by pivoting smartly on both heels, which must be kept close together; the feet at right angles; the left pointing to the front, the face looking towards the opponent, or the right-hand man, and the weight of the body balanced equally upon both haunches and legs.

Second Position in Two Motions (Guard).

One.Bend the knees gradually till they are perpendicular to the instep, keeping the head and body erect, and both feet firm on the ground. The instructor must be careful that the knees do not incline inwards — a general fault.

Two. — Advance the right foot smartly about 20 inches in front of an din line with the right heel, and rest the whole weight of the body upon both haunches and legs. [FN8]

In the second position, that of Guard for the feet, care must be taken that the left foot remains firm on the ground, without shuffling or turning inwards or outwards. Many swordsmen find a better balance when the right heel is on a line with the hollow of the left foot.

Third Position in Two Motions (from Guard to Lunge)

One. — Advance the body slightly forward, and bring the right shoulder and knee perpendicular to the point of the right foot.

Two. — Advance the right foot smartly, about 20 inches, or double the distance of No. 2, Second Position (Guard), taking care that the foot does not overhang the instep; extend the left leg with a spring, the left foot remaining true and firm, and the left knee perfectly straight; let the shoulders expand and the body be profiled and slightly inclined forwards, or towards the opponent.

This is the position of the legs in the Lunge, and the greatest care must be taken to prevent the recruit learning it in a careless, shuffling way. Above all things he must accustom himself to separate the action into its two composing parts, otherwise the lower limbs will often take precedence of the upper (shoulder, arm, and hand), and the Lunge become worse than useless. When recovering guard the contrary is the case; the left knee must be bent before the right foot is moved, and the latter should exert a slight pressure on the ground; at the same time the body must be drawn backwards, not jerked upwards.

These measures of Guard (20 inches) and of Lunge (40 inches) are best fitted for average-sized men; in exceptional cases they must be shortened or lengthened according to the stature and stride of the recruit. The rule for guard is the measure of two foot-lengths; the Lunge doubles that span; and the least vigorous men require the greatest distances.

These movements must be learned, first in slow, and afterwards in quick and in double-quick, time; the same may be said of all practice with and without the sword. Squad attention! and Stand at Ease! need hardly be explained. The recruits’ muscles soon become fatigued by the unusual and monotonous exercise, causing them to remain too long in one position; the easiest way to relieve them is to change front, making the left leg stand on guard and lunge, as a left-handed fencer would do. This double practice is as useful and recommendable in fencing and broadsword play as in bayonet exercise: it gives additional balance to the body, it equalizes the muscular strength of both sides, and it makes the soldier feel that if his right arm be disabled he can still depend upon his left.

The word Steady must not be used as a command: it should be a caution given at the completion of any part of a practice with the view of correcting faults.


Attacking, Advancing, and Retiring.

Single Attack.Raise the right foot well off the ground and beat smartly with the whole sole, the greatest force being upon the ball of the foot, and the least upon the heel.

Double Attack. — The same movement made twice. The instructor should carefully avoid the directions of the ‘Infantry Sword Exercise,’ — first with the heel, then with the flat of the foot. Nothing jars the leg more than this use of the heel; it is a bad habit to use it for anything but “pivoting.”

Advance. — Smartly advance the right foot about six inches and bring up the left as nearly as possible to the same distance. The soles must just clear the ground, and the toes be kept on a straight line with the knee, and never turned inside or outside. Neglect of the latter precaution leads to a loose, unsteady, and slovenly style which, easily learnt, is hardly to be unlearnt.

Single Attack. — As before.

Retire. — Move the left foot lightly to the rear about six inches, and let the right foot follow it. Recruits are uncommonly apt to “step short,” and this can be remedied only by making them retire for considerable distances. The weight and balance of the body must be equally distributed on both haunches and legs, not resting upon the left, which can serve only to give cramp.

Double Attack. — As before.

Front. — Resume the position of “Attention.”


Preparatory Instruction with the Sword.


Explanation and Use of the Target.

The Target prefixed to these pages explains itself. The shape is oblong, the frame measuring 6 feet by 3, and the figure 5 feet 8 inches by 1 foot. As the latter represents the opponent, the centre should be about 4 feet from the ground, the height of the recruit’s breast. Perpendicular to the foot of the figure in each Target a horizontal line is drawn, forming for the feet, the legs, the body, and the arms, the “directing line” of the scientific schools. At a distance of 10 feet the recruit is placed in the position of “Attention,” with his left heel on the line, so that at the command “First Position” his left foot may cover it.

The parallelogram shows the direction and the numbering of the Cuts, concerning which further details will presently be given. They should be regulated according to the lines described upon the Target; nor should the recruit be practised in any other mode until he has gained the proper direction of the blade.

Nothing need be added to the directions of the ‘Infantry Sword Exercise’ (pp. 12, 13, 14), as regards the movements subject to the following words of command: much, on the other hand, with great advantage, might be taken away, and the result would be the increased efficiency that results from simplicity.

Draw Swords (should be much abridged; after the modern French School, pp. 165, 166: Règlement Provisoire,& c.);

Slope Swords;

Return Swords (should be simplified);

Stand at Ease;


Prepare for Sword Exercise;

Right prove Distance;

Slope Swords;

Front prove Distance; and

Slope Swords.

At the order, Stand on Guard, the recruit having assumed the Second Position, No. 2, falls on Guard: the pommel of the sword fronts his right breast; the point is directed at his opponent’s right eye; his right arm is extend with an easy bend at the elbow; the wrist is inclined, with the knuckles slightly turned upwards, to his own right, so as to cover him in case of a straight thrust, and the left hand is placed upon the left flank just below the ribs, with the fingers to the front and the thumb to the rear.

The several guards (parries) are learned by holding the sword opposite to and on the inclination of the dotted lines which have sword-hilts attached to them; the recruit is thus taught from the Target the angle of the blade and the position of the wrist.

The Target directs the recruit how to make the Cuts and to form the Guards, but not exactly where; this must depend upon how the opponent acts during the attack and the defence. Cuts 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11 (odd numbers) are all from Carte, which the ‘Infantry Sword Exercise’ calls Inside. The corresponding even numbers (2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12) are from Tierce, or outside. The same nomenclature applies to the Guards or parries.

When the recruit thoroughly understands the use of the target he need no longer be practised in front of it; but the instructor (sword in hand) should consider it a sure guide and reference for correctly forming the Guards and for giving a suitable direction to the edge when making the Cuts.


The Moulinet. [FN9]

This rotation movement should be learnt before the recruit proceeds to the Cut.

There is nothing better for “breaking,” as the French say, the recruit’s wrist than this sweep of the sword; and the style of a swordsman may always be known by his Moulinet. We will divide it into three kinds, viz. (1) horizontal, (2) diagonal, and (3) vertical; the latter again may be either (a) ascending or (b) descending; but as the second (diagonal) is a mere modification of the first and the third, it will be sufficient to notice only two; these are: —

1st. The horizontal movement, or Moulinet proper, circling the sword round the head. The grip is held as lightly as possible, chiefly with the thumb and the first finger, resting the pommel upon the palm, and carrying the nails upward. The blade should be moved as horizontally as it can be, with the back just clearing the swordsman’s crown: it should describe, not a true circle, but an oval with a long diameter in the directing line to the centre of the Target through the heels or ankles of the recruit. Finally, the point should be lanced or thrown out, as it were, towards the opponent’s face. Evidently it may be done in two ways, first, from right to left, which I will call the “Tierce Moulinet” (Moulinet à gauche); this is by far the easiest and most habitual, corresponding with Tierce “Counter,” opposition, or describing with the blade a circle round the adversary’s blade, in the fencing school. The reverse movement (“Carte Moulinet,” Moulinet à droite), from left to right, requires, like the Counter of Carte, much more practice.

2nd. In France the term “Moulinet” is mostly applied to these two rotations of the sword round the head, but we will extend it to all circlings of the point. The vertical form is also made from the hand in Tierce (Outside Guard), the blade is brought sharply round with the back towards the breast and left shoulder, and returns to its original position; we will call this the “Inside Moulinet,” having reference to the performer, not the adversary. The “Outside Moulinet” is when from a “Tierce or Outside Guard” the blade passes along the right shoulder, it is simply the former done in the outer line.

Again the “Inside Moulinet,” which ends with the Cut from above downwards (the French enlevé), may be inverted so as to cut from downwards upwards (the brisé). The same may be done with the “Outside Moulinet,” when the wrist must be turned upwards, and the Cut given in the ascending line. This difficult movement should be practised in order to ensure a flexible wrist, but it exposes the whole arm. In the four latter “Cuts,” the one invariable rule is to circle the point as vertically as possible. The French Manuel (pp. 234, 235) gives: 1, the enlevé cutting from above downwards; and it may be either à gauche (Tierce Moulinet) or à droite (Carte Moulinet); 2, the Moulinet proper; and 3, the brisé, cutting from downwards upwards, thus reversing the enlevé; and this also may be done à gauche (Tierce Moulinet) or á droite.

The “Moulinet” should be practised first without, then with, the sword, and on foot, before attempting it on horseback. In the earlier stage the recruit must turn the hand, with the arm nearly extended, in the horizontal and vertical movements, without stiffness and displacement of the elbow. In the second he may, if no Target be procurable, work before a cross chalked on the wall so as to secure horizontality and verticality. Finally, the soldier will combine the two, Tierce and Carte, by passing rapidly from one to the other.

Whilst practising the Moulinet the recruit must be taught the two main divisions of the sword-blade. Fencers have introduced an immense complication into this simple matter; and some have proposed eight parts: for broadsword it is sufficient to divide the length. The “Feeble,” or weak half, is that contained between the point and the centre; this, the proper part for the Cut or attack is ground to a thinner edge, and consequently it is more liable to an injury from another sword if the Cut be not very true. The “Fort,” or strong half, is from the centre to the hilt, and upon this we must rely for defence.

A few hours’ practice and a few pressings upon the different parts of the blade under the surveillance of the instructor will teach the recruit the high importance of this lesson. He will learn that in opposing the adversary’s sword the strength of the defence decreases from the hilt upwards in proportion, as the Cut is received towards the point; and that, vice versâ, it increases from the point downwards to the hand. The strongest man cannot “force in” the opponent’s Guard if the Cut or Thrust be received upon the part near the handle. With a true Guard the ordinary fencing foil can turn off the thrust of a musket and bayonet weighing 10 lbs. The practised swordsman always attempts, when attacking, to gain with his “Fort” the “Feeble” of the opponent’s weapon, in which case the superior leverage will often beat down the parry; and this manoeuvre should be carefully practised by men of superior muscular strength. The Cuts must, as a rule, be delivered within eight inches of the point and at the “centre of percussion,” [FN10] so that the sword may clear itself and the arm escape a “jar.”

The two virtues of the Cut are its trueness and its velocity. Unless true it will become a blow with the flat that would shiver to pieces any brittle Eastern blade. Assuming the vis viva or force of a moving body to be its weight multiplied by the square of the velocity, let us suppose a strong man cutting with a sword weighing 4 lbs., to which he can give a velocity which we will call 1, or 4 x 1 = 4: a weaker man who applies double the velocity to a 2 lb. sword will thus produce a momentum of 8, doubling the force of the blow. But let the stronger man take the lighter sword, evidently he will obtain a higher velocity, which we will assume at 3: in this case the effect will be 18. Thus the power of the Cut is enormously increased by increased velocity, but much less by increased weight in the moving body.


The Cuts.

The Target prefixed to the ‘Infantry Sword Exercise’ gives Seven Cuts, an insufficient number. The German systems add an eighth blow perpendicularly upwards, when the whole of the swordsman’s arm from wrist to shoulder would be completely at the opponent’s mercy.

The French Manuel has only seven, viz. The Coup de Tête; 2, the Coup de Banderole; 3, the Coup de Figure à droite; 4, the Coup de Figure à gauche; 5, the Coup de Flanc; 6, the Coup de Ventre; and 7, the Coup de Manchette.

The subjoined diagram shows the Twelve Cuts [FN11] which serve to “loosen” the rigid arm of the recruit.

The figure represents the opponent; the thick lines show the direction of the edge when cutting; and the dotted continuations denote the course of the blade when describing the several “Moulinets.”

The Cuts should be continuous, the regular succession always beginning from Carte or the Inside, that is, from the rear of the left shoulder. As in the “Moulinet,” the less the arm is bent and the sword-hand is moved from the line of direction (to the front), the greater is the value of the movement. The recruit, who must walk before he runs, should deliver the whole dozen in continuous seep without pause, but at first very slowly, till, by the proper and timely use of the wrist, the Cuts lead into one another. The more advanced swordsman, whose pliability of strength is free from contractions and other vicious habits, should practise the series of twelve with increased rapidity till the blade whistles through the air. All the cuts should be given strong, with the edge leading well forwards and with the arm extended to its utmost in the delivery.

The following are the Twelve Cuts: —

I. and II. These cuts are made, after falling into Tierce or Outside Guard, from above downwards at the opponent’s head. In No. I. the point, beginning as usual from the left shoulder (Carte), describes a full circle (“Inside Moulinet,” the brisé à gauche of the French Manuel), the hand moving as little as possible so as to cover the body; the knuckles turned up and the blade passing close to the breast: it finishes by delivering a vertical Cut, with the “Feeble close to the point, at the right half of the adversary’s crown.

No. II., which follows without interruption, reverses the process; the knuckles are turned down and the blade sweeps past the right shoulder (brisé à droite); ending with the left half of the opponent’s head. The latter Cut is by far the more difficult to make without moving the hand, but it is good practice for “breaking” the wrist.

III. and IV. The horizontal face-cuts, also beginning from the left (Carte), an invariable rule, and ending with the right, that is, at the adversary’s left cheek. The reason of this practice is to make the movement habitual to the recruit; cutting from left to right always causes less exposure of the inner wrist than cutting from right to left.

V. and VI. The slanting shoulder-cuts, also from above downwards (Nos. 1 and 2, or rather 2 and 1, of the ‘Infantry Sword Exercise,’ pp. 14, 17, and the Coups de Banderole of the Manuel); describing two diagonal Moulinets, first from left to right, and then from right to left. The sword again makes a double “Moulinet” with the edge downwards, and descends first upon the opponent’s right and then upon his left shoulder.

VII. and VIII. The horizontal breast-cuts, parallel with the face-cuts, and, like them, delivered with the blade as horizontal as possible.

IX. and X. The horizontal stomach-cuts, parallel with, and lower than, the breast-cuts.

XI. and XII. The slanting groin or thigh-cuts, diagonally from downwards upwards; in fact, the reverse of the shoulder-cuts (Nos. 4 and 3 of the ‘Exercise,’ and the brisés of the Manuel). In these diagonal Moulinets, the elbow must not be bent; the hand should deviate as little as possible from the directing line under pain of dangerous exposure; and the two movements should follow each other without a break.

Whenever the recruit fails to carry the edge well forward in making the attack, he should be practised slowly and repeatedly in combining the opposites, as Head-cut (No. 1) and Thigh-cut (No. 12), Head-cut (No. 2) and Thigh-cut (No. 11), and so forth. The instructor must see that the edge leads on to the respective lines of the Target, the point being darted out at the end of each cut.

The Cuts will be practised first in No. “Second Position” (Guard), and afterwards in No. 2 “Third Position” (Lunge).


The Engaging Guards, or Engagements.

As the ‘Infantry Sword Exercise’ has a deficiency of Cuts, so it has a superfluity of “Engaging Guards.” I have already expressed my opinion concerning the Guard (p. 18 of 1874) popularly called the “hanging Guard.” Even with the best position, the head erect and the eyes looking straight and not upwards; it is utterly faulty; it displaces the arm and the sword, and as no serious attack can be made directly from it, it necessitates a movement entailing a considerable amount of exposure. It is now chiefly confined to students’ duels with the German Schläeger, wherein slitting the opposing nose, which can be done with a mere jerk upwards, is the swordsman’s highest aim and ambition.

The “Engaging Guards” are thus reduced to the two following: —

Tierce (or outside) Guard; defending the outer lines, arm, shoulder, back, and flank. The recruit having assumed the “Second Position” (No. 2), brings the pommel of his sword to the centre of his right breast; opposes the point to the adversary’s right eye; extends his right arm with an easy bend of the elbow; inclines the wrist with the knuckles upward to his own right, so as to cover himself in case of a straight thrust, and places his left hand upon his left flank with the fingers to the front and the thumb to the rear. In Tierce of course the edge of the sword is to the right or outside.

Carte (or Inside) Guard. This movement defends the inner lines, chest and stomach; the knuckles are turned down; the opposition is made to the left, and the edge is carried in the same direction.

When engaging in guard (joining weapons), the swords should meet each other about eight inches from the points. If the distance is diminished the opponents are “out of measure” (or distance); if increased, they are “within measure.” The recruit must be taught slightly to press upon the opponent’s blade, but not to rest upon it; by this “opposition” his hand and wrist will be more ready to follow the weapon during the attack. Thus also the “Engaging Guards,” Tierce, and Carte (outside and inside) afford protection preparatory to the movements for offence and defence. The eye must be fixed upon the eye and the hand or the blade-point of the opponent, not upon the eye only.

Guard may be partly defensive when the bust is advanced and the point approaches the opponent, or it may be purely protective when its sole object is the “parry.”

The right-handed recruit must be taught always to attempt Engaging in Tierce, [FN12] with his opponent’s blade in the outer line (sur les armes). The reason is simply that in the reverse position (dans les armes), the fore-arm, from the elbow to the wrist, is comparatively unguarded; whereas Tierce facilitates the defence of the “low lines” (i.e. those below the wrist). Tierce therefore has invariably the advantage with the sabre, as Carte carries off the palm with the small-sword, the foil, and the rapier. [FN13] But the right-handed man engaging in Tierce puts his left-handed opponent in Carte; and the latter, if a skilful sworder, will manoeuvre, by withdrawing the bade, by coupés or degagements over the point, and by other feints, to regain the ground of vantage. The best treatment of this case is to make a time-cut in Seconde (“inner Moulinet,” or brisé à gauche) at the adversary’s knuckles, a movement which will presently be explained.


The Guards or Parries. [FN14]

The ‘Infantry Sword Exercise’ proposes Seven Guards, a number which can hardly be reduced for practice on the drill-ground or in the schools: the Manuel contains the same number, including one for the Point. But of the seven no less than five are “Hanging Guards,” and Nos. 3 and 4 serve only to defend the inside and the outside of the advanced leg. This limb requires no assistance of the kind: an able swordsman never exposes his head and shoulders by cutting so low, and if he does, the leg can be smartly withdrawn (parade retrograde, or en échappant), rendering the attack not only useless but dangerous to the assailant. Even in fencing, “low thrusts,” that is, at the body below the wrist, are never made, for fear of the “Time” being taken, until the upper line has been closed by a feint. In our Single-stick practice the first thought seems to be to attack the advanced leg — which may be well enough for Single-stick.

The following are the full number of guards or parries in which the edge must invariably be used: they are evidently dividable into two; (1) Head (with face) Guards, and (2) Body Guards: —

  1. Prime (p. 38), so called because it is the “first” position of defence after drawing the blade, that which the unpractised man would naturally assume to defend his head. It is the 7th Guard of the ‘Infantry Sword Exercise.’ In practice the point is more inclined to the horizontal line than when the blade is unsheathed; the edge is carried somewhat inside or to the left; the arm is shortened and so raised that the eyes look under it, but the head remains upright. The recruit must be careful not to “bend the body;” not to “draw in the chest and neck;” and not to bring the left shoulder a little forward.” The defect of Prime is its being a “Hanging guard,” rendering the riposte or reply difficult, and modern practice prefers “High Tierce.”
  2. Seconde (4th Guard), so termed because following Prime: the arm is extended, the edge is carried to the outside or to the right; in practice the hilt is lowered, and the point, threatening the opponent’s loins, is depressed to the half of a right angle. This position must be learned for the sake of feinting: as a parade it is not much used, because it defends only the hip and leg, and a good swordsman will never expose himself to exceeding danger by making low cuts. Modern practice prefers “low Tierce.”
  3. Tierce (2nd Guard) has been described above under “Standing on Guard” and “Engaging Guards;” it defends the outer lines, arm, shoulder, and back.
  4. High Tierce is a head-guard; the hand is raised to above the shoulder to the maximum level of the swordsman’s right eye, and the blade is carried at an angle of 45 degrees with the edge up and the point to the left.
  5. Low Tierce is a flank-guard; the arm is shortened, the hand depressed six inches; the opposition is to the outside, and the point is held vertically or almost vertically, as the attack demands.
  6. Carte (1st Guard) has been described above under “Engaging Guards,” as defending the inner lines, chest and stomach. For the purposes of parrying, the arm is withdrawn till the elbow, almost touching the belt, forms an equilateral triangle with the hilt and the left side.
  7. High Carte is a head-guard like high Tierce: the hand is raised to the left of the left eye, and the blade, crossing the face at an angle of 45 degrees, carries the edge up, and the point to the right.
  8. Low Carte is a stomach guard. As in Low Tierce the arm is shortened, the hand is depressed six inches; the opposition is to the inside, and the point is held vertically or almost vertically, as the attack demands.

In practice the advanced swordsman will confine himself to Tierce and Carte with their natural modifications. He will consult his own feelings about the head-guard, abolishing Prime in favour of High Tierce or High Carte, and he will prefer Low Tierce or withdrawing the leg (rassemblement) to using Seconde. Of these movements the simplest are always the best. When parrying, the sword-arm must invariably be drawn for defence nearer the body, and the grip should be sensibly tightened to receive the cut. No strength is necessary when making the parries: I cannot accept the “Sforzi” or guard-forcings of the neo-Italian broadsword school, dry blows upon the blade, which, intended to disarm, are essentially dangerous.The Guards or Parries will be practised like the Cuts, first in the “Second Position” (Guard) and afterwards in the “Third Position” (Lunge).


The Manchette or Fore-arm Play.



The recruit is now sufficiently advanced to begin the system of Manchette, which, as it is the most valuable part of sword-drill, has been practised the least, and should be practised the most. A swordsman thoroughly trained in this section does not allow the opponent to deliver a cut. It is certain that the hand and wrist, short-arm and elbow, are capable of as many different attacks and defences as the whole body: these are the parts most prominent, most exposed, and consequently most readily made the point de mire. Yet this true and simple secret of the broadsword has been universally neglected, or rather not worked out: in England we content ourselves with the parades technically called retrogrades, that is, by withdrawing the limb from the assault, by shortening the arm and, sometimes, by retiring the right foot either near to, or up to, or behind the left heel: even this evasion which cannot expect to pass for a Guard, is not described nor figured in the official ‘Infantry Sword Exercise.’ [FN15] In France, and even in Italy where most subjects are exhaustively treated, Manchette is dismissed with a few careless words. The Manuel gives to the Coup de Manchette only these few lines: “Exécuter un enlevé (vertical Moulinet from above downwards) en arrière à droite, et arréter le sabre vis-à-vis le milieu du Corps, le tranchant en dessus, le poule légèrement à droite; diriger l’enlevé de manière à empécher en arrélant l’avant bras, l’exécution d’un coup d tête. Capitano Settimo del Frate (p. 50, Istruzione sul Maeggio e Scherma della Sciabola) in one of the latest works on swordsmanship contents himself with the following desultory observations:

“Manchett” (sic) “can attack the fore-arm either above or below, according as the opponent gives an opening.

“Manchett is generally used against an adversary whose guard is defective. By merely extending the arm with a turn of the wrist, this attack may readily succeed should the opponent neglect to provide against it.

“One of the most dangerous guards against Manchett is Tierce; the surest is High Seconde, which indeed is also the best parry adapted to this system of attack.”

The first member of the last paragraph is sensible; the second is thoroughly fallacious. As has been stated, the right-handed man must always engage in Tierce, and as will presently appear, Tierce is the safest, indeed the only safe guard against Manchette cuts. Another Italian writer of our day describes and figures the “Position of the weaponed arm to escape the arm-cut” (Colpo di braccio), with the elbow-joint left clean open. The ‘Infantry Sword Exercise’ limits itself (p. 30) to these few lines: “If opposed to the Small Sword (sic, meaning straight sword or rapier) have recourse to Cuts Three (no. 13 of this system) and Four (No. 11), directing them at the arm, by which means there is every probability of the cuts taking effect, as it must always come with range of the edge, before the point can be sufficiently advanced to reach your body: if the above cuts are quickly given and continued, they will also be found advantageous in advancing against the Small Sword, as they constitute an attack and form a defence at the same moment: but should the opponent be the most skilful and quickest (sic) in his movements, then it is best to retire whilst giving them, cautiously preserving the proper distance, so that each cut may just reach the fore part of his arm.” The French content themselves with single oppositions of Tierce and Carte. But why multiply instances of ignorance? — they would fill many a useless page.

Finally I meditated upon the comparative humanity of “Manchette,” of disabling the opponent by an arm cut, rather than laying open his flank or his head. During single rencontres in the field, especially at the end of Indian battles, it is so often necessary to put hors de combat some unfortunate, whose pluck or sense of honour induces him to prolong the hopeless attack.

These considerations led me to reflect seriously for a number of years upon the Jeu de Manchette, the Colp all’ avambraccio, or fore-arm play, which has been so much neglected by master-swordsmen. At last an unlooked-for opportunity, a short study in the Salle d’armes of Herr Balthasar Reich of Trieste, enabled me to reduce it to a system, and present it to the public.

I should premise, however, that the following observations are intended for professional men. It is therefore necessary only to name and number the Direct Cuts, the Guards and the Feints, the Reverse Cuts, and the Time Cuts of Manchette, as in most cases the simplest mention will suffice. The proficient will at once perceive that I offer a mere outline of the system whose many details must be learned by long practice. It is enough to give first principles: the minutiae could not even be noticed without stretching description to a wearisome length.

There is no objection, I have said, to teaching squads of recruits all the simpler preparatory matter: the Three Positions; the Moulinet; the Engaging Guard, and the Guards or Parries. At a certain stage of progress, however, especially when beginning Manchette, the quick and intelligent soldier, who is likely to qualify himself as a master, must be instructed singly.


The Direct Cuts in Manchette.

The following are the direct attacks in Manchette, simple and compound; all are done from the “Engaging Guard,” the Lunge being here inadmissible.

  1. Carte de Manchette. — Extend the sword-arm to the full length and deliver the cut, with a flip as it were, at the opponent’s fore-arm, between the elbow and the wrist. This can be done with the back of the blade (Reverse cut) under circumstances presently to be described. No. I. is useful if the adversary unwisely engages you in Carte otherwise (from Tierce) it must be avoided, as he easily parries by withdrawing the arm and replies with a Tierce Cut.
  2. Carte de Manchette and Cut Tierce. This movement is No. I. followed by a close rotation of the point (“Tierce Moulinet”); if, however, the circle be too small, it will not clear the sword-guard.
  3. Double Carte de Manchette and Cut Carte. — No. III. is to be done when the opponent, as he generally will after an attack of No. II., successively parries Carte and Tierce. It is simply the double of No. I., and thus the “Tierce Moulinet” cuts, of course, inside the arm.
  4. Double Carte de Manchette and Cut Tierce. Useful when the adversary parries Carte, Tierce, and Carte; it is the double of No. II. and thus cuts outside the arm.

No. II. guards the arm and is therefore unexceptionable. Nos. II. and IV. Are dangerous, because, like No. I., when opposed to an agile hand, they may lay the wrist open to a Time Cut.The two first and all four against a slow unready swordsman may be varied by combinations with coupés, or passing the blade sharply over the adversary’s point. For instance, if the adversary come too wildly to the Tierce parade of your double Carte and Tierce (No. III.) a coupé will reach his arm in Carte.

A golden rule which cannot be repeated too often is that all the Manchette-Cuts in Tierce (outside), either from above or from below, must be as nearly vertical as possible, whilst all the Cuts in Carte (inside) should be as horizontal as they can be made. The reason is simply that these positions cover the arm and render the attack less dangerous.


The Guards (Parries) and Feints in Manchette.

The Guards of the Target will be found sufficient for parrying all attacks in Manchette. The soldier, however, should especially practise the retrograde parades, that is withdrawing the right fore-arm with and without the right leg.

Feinting with the broadsword is necessarily more simple than with the foil, being generally confined to Coupés and Secondes. The neo-Italian school of sabre uses, I have said, the fencing movements, but it is at best a bastard style. If the opponent attempt to “degage,” that is to pass his point under your blade from Tierce to Carte, or vice versâ, retire by withdrawing the right heel to the left, and cut at the arm which his movement has exposed.

The Coupé, the reverse of the degagement, passes the point over, not under, the opposing blade; this legitimate feint, used in every school, may be effected in four several ways.

  1. One. From the usual engagement in Tierce pass the blade over the opposite point, just clearing it, and cut inside. The two movements raising and dropping the point should be as rapid as possible.
  2. One, Two, a double Coupé, with the cut in Tierce.
  3. One, Two, Three: as with the foil; against a nervous opponent the cut should be made at the face with a dart and a jerk (the Italian Slancio), against a slow player the cut may be carte de Manchette.
  4. One, Two, Three, Four; like the former, but cutting in Tierce: to be attempted only with the most unready of opponents.

The two latter may be combined with a breast (inside) or shoulder (outside) “Moulinet” between the penultimate and the last (cut) movement; but these long feints are radically vicious, because they lay the swordsman open to Time Cuts. They are, however, useful, as will appear in making the Reverse Cuts.Perhaps the Seconde-feints are better than the Coupés.

  1. One: the simple Seconde Cut. — Make a little more opposition in Tierce, sweep the blade past and along the breast; (inside Moulinet, or the brisé à gauche) and, lowering the hand a little, cut upwards with a jerk and a flip. The nearer the swordsman’s own body his blade circles the better, because the cut will be more in the vertical line: if it be much out of the perpendicular the opponent can “take a time” in Carte. The Moulinet serves also to embarrass the adversary and to add strength to the cut. This simple and most valuable movement must not be confounded with the old-fashioned Seconde cut at the leg: the latter is objected to, as I have said, by swordsmen; the parry is too easy, and the riposte far too dangerous.
  2. Feint Seconde. — From Tierce make a short and sharp movement to Seconde with the knuckles turned upwards; the opponent will probably come to the Seconde-parry, thereby exposing the fore-arm. You then cut Tierce perpendicularly as usual, from above downwards (the enlevé), either without or with a breast “Moulinet.”
  3. Feint Seconde, Feint Tierce and Cut Carte, with two short, sharp movements, and deliver the horizontal cut in Carte.
  4. Feint Seconde, Feint Tierce, and Cut Seconde, from downwards upwards, always with a breast “Moulinet.”

At times the two first feinting movements in Nos. III. and IV. May be done more emphatically: this of course makes the movement slower, but it is a variety which embarrasses an adversary accustomed only to short, quick action.


The Reverse or Back Cuts in Manchette.

As the Manchette system has been strangely neglected, so the Reverse or Back Cut may be pronounced unknown to the majority of the profession: the latter, instead of utilizing the “false edge” of the blade, still lose time and incur great danger by turning hand and wrist in using the true edge, especially when “Cut within the Sword.” [FN16] More extraordinary still, although almost all the civilized world prefers what is technically called the “flat-backed and spear-pointed” sabre, yet no one seems to think of employing, or even of sharpening one of the most important parts of the weapon.

The Regulation blade with the false edge, that is to say, the blade sharpened from the point to the Centre of Percussion, about one-third of the length, was introduced into England about 1844, and the first specimens were made by the late Henry Wilkinson, acting with the late Henry Angelo, then Superintendent of Sword Exercise. [FN17] This back-edge of the blade should be ground to the sharpness of a razor. When practising the Reverse Cuts (Reverse or Rovescio), the handle is held loosely with the thumb and the first two fingers, and the wrist and fore-arm should bring the blade up with a jerk, the grip being at the same time sharply tightened. Practice will soon enable the swordsman to deliver a strong “drawing” cut, equal to the Thrust-cut of the so-called “Damascus” blades. This valuable movement has the immense merit of not uncovering the swordsman, and what makes the sabre so rude a weapon is that every movement of attack, in the old systems, lays the body open by raising hand and point when a blow is to be given. With the Reverse Cut no such dangerous process is necessary; the point is still directed at the opponent whilst the cut is being delivered. Finally, it is always unexpected by the opponent who has not practised it, and although it rarely begins an assault, except against the inexperienced, nor should it be done alone as a rule, it may either follow or conclude every attack, feint or “time.”

  1. The Half-Feint (Revers de dessous, Rovescio di sotto, or Revers von unten) is done thus. — When in Tierce extend the arm as if intending to cut Tierce; the opponent makes an opposition of Tierce; drop the point, and cut sharply upwards with the false edge at his fingers, wrist, or fore-arm, drawing the blade towards you and keeping the point opposite the adversary’s breast. This movement is one of the neatest known, and it is sure to succeed with one who does not expect it. The first part of the feint, or dropping the point, may lead to a cut with the true edge, but this movement, which is still practised in the schools, involves delay by turning the hand. Again, it may be combined with the inside (breast) or outside (shoulder) Moulinet.
  2. Feint Seconde and Cut Upwards. — This movement may be varied by feinting Tierce and cutting upwards.
  3. One-two-three. — This is not the succession of simple Coupés, the dangerous movement before described. No. 1 Coupé shifts the hand from Tierce to carte with the nails up; No. 2 turns the nails down, still remaining in Carte, and No. 3 delivers the Reverse Cut, of course in Carte, where it is least expected. When the point is passed well under and within the sword-arm it is very difficult to parry the horizontal Reverse Cut in Carte. The true edge may be used, but again it wastes time by turning the hand.
  4. The Pass, properly called “en passant.” — From Tierce make a feint-movement in Seconde, and, when the adversary attempts to parry it by lowering the point, turn the knuckles up (in old Tierce), sweep the blade over his sword-arm and as close as possible to your right leg from left to right with the arm well raised, and, returning from right to left with a similar sweep, but with the blade held higher, cut, in Carte, with the false edge and close to the point, inside his wrist. Unskilfully attempted, this feint is equally dangerous to both, but it will do yeoman’s serve in the hands of a practised swordsman. The true edge may be used, but that involves a change of position and the delay of turning the hand with the knuckles downwards. Some make a double sweep, and after the second movement, cut outside or in Tierce — the exposure is too great, unless confronted by an unusually phlegmatic temperment.


The Time Cuts in Manchette.

The Time Cut is the flower of the Manchette system, as the Manchette is of the broadsword; and it is, perhaps, the part least capable of being taught in books. When well mastered it never allows the opponent to raise his arm without imminent risk, and, even if it fail, the intention, once recognized, tends greatly to cramp and embarrass the adversary’s play. The natural man cuts as if he were using a stick or a club, and the preliminary movement lays open the whole of his body; indeed, exposure, I have said, is the main danger of every attack with the sabre, however closely and skilfully conducted. A cut through the muscles of the fore-arm, either inside or outside, causes the sword instantly to be relaxed and dropped; the man in fact is hamstrung in the upper works.

  1. Carte de Manchette. — When the opponent from Tierce makes a Coupé or any attack in Carte, stop further movement by a Carte de Manchette, a horizontal Cut in Carte. The same may be done with the false edge, in which case the blade should be advanced as far as is possible; and this is to be preferred because it loses less time.
  2. Parade Retrograde and Cut Tierce. — When the opponent from Tierce attempts a Manchette in Carte withdraw the arm (parade retrograde) and deliver the vertical Cut in Tierce downwards at his extended arm; both movements being combined in one. It is not necessary even with the tallest man to withdraw the right leg; the Cut will amply suffice. This Tierce Cut serves to defend from all attacks when the Guard does not cover the adversary; and it has lopped off many a careless arm. If slowly done it becomes a mere parade and riposte.
  3. The Reverse cutupwards, Revers en montant, Rovescio montante, Ger. Revers montant. — You feint in Seconde; the opponent comes to its parry and replies in Tierce; you withdraw the arm, leaving the heels as they were, and cut upwards with the false edge, tightening the grasp of thumb and forefingers as much as possible. This movement is especially useful; it is one of the best of Time Cuts, when the adversary indulges in long and complicated feints and false attacks. It may be done with the true edge, but the latter is less safe.
  4. The Time Pass; which is merely “The Pass” turned into a Time Cut. When the opponent attempts a “Manchette” or any movement in Seconde, and expects you to reply by a time Cut in Tierce with the true edge, turn the knuckles up (in old Tierce), sweep the blade over his sword-arm as close as possible to your right leg, from left to right, with the arm well raised, and returning from right to left, but with the blade held higher, cut in Carte with the false edge and close to the point inside his wrist. The true edge may be used, but, again, it wastes time. The double sweep possible as in “The Pass,” but it causes too much exposure. This Time Pass may also be done with the hand held high in Prime or rather “demi-circle” with the nails turned up, the arm outstretched, and the point lowered. In this case the leg must be shifted till the fore heel touches the rear heel, so as to give additional height to the hand. This is not a Reverse or Back Cut as you use the true edge; it is in fact one of the old movements called “Cutting within the Sword.”



The following is a synoptical tape of Manchette or Fore-arm play, showing the Cuts, the Guards (Parries) for the Cuts, and the Ripostes or replies that should follow each Parade. The Instructor will remember that instead of Prime we use High Tierce or High Carte, and for Seconde Low Tierce or withdrawing the leg.

Direct Cuts.
Cut. Parry. Riposte.
1. Carto de Manchette IV. (Carte) II. (Seconde).
2. Ditto and cut Tierce. IV. and III. (Tierce) III.
3. Double Carte de Manchette and cut Carte. IV., III., and IV. II.
4. Double Carte de Manchette and cut Tierce. Parade Retrograde by withdrawing arm. III. or IV.


Reverse Cuts.
1. Half-feint. II. or III. III. or IV.
2. Feint Seconde and cut upwards. II. Cut with false edge upwards.
3. Feint Tierce and cut upwards. III. and II. II.
4. One-two-three, and cut upwards. Parade Retrograde. III. or IV.
5. The Pass. II. and I. (Prime). III.


Time Cuts.
1. On all Cuts in Carte. Parry with time in IV. Carte de Manchette. IV.
2. On feints in Carte ending with Cuts in Tierce Parade Retrograde III. or IV.
3. On Cuts in Tierce Reverse Cut upwards. III.
4. On Reverse Cut upwards. II. and III. IV.
5. On Cuts in Seconde. The Time Pass.  III


Feints of Coupé in Manchette
1. Single Coupé. III. or IV. II.
2. One-two. IV. and III. III.
3. One-two-three. II., III. and II. III. or IV.
4. One-two-three-four. Parade Retrograde. III


Feints of Seconde in Manchette.
1. Simple Seconde. II. III.
2. Feint Seconde and cut Tierce. II. and III. III. or IV.
3. Feint Seconde, feint Tierce, and cut Carte. II., III., and II. III. or IV.
4. Feint Seconde, feint Tierce, and cut Seconde. Parade Retrograde. III. or IV.



I will end this system of Manchette with the words of old Achille Marozzo, written some three centuries and a half ago: “I would that ye swear upon your sword-hilts never to use this knowledge against me, your master.” But, in lieu of insisting that my readers never teach it without obtaining formal permission, I only hope that they will favour me by spreading it far and wide.


Above allusion has been made to an improved form of sabre handle; it was first attempted by the Capitano Settimo del Frate in the work before alluded to. The gallant officer’s Plates show that in the Italian cavalry-sword the upper portion of the handle is at least horizontal, whereas in ours it droops backwards and downwards, giving the grip additional facility for slipping out of the swordsman’s grasp. The author’s remarks [FN18] being even more applicable to the English military sabre; I give them at full length.

“The equilibrium of the sabre, and the facility of firmly grasping the handle, are the two prime requisites for a good weapon.

“When properly balanced and easily held, the sword calls for less exertion of strength; and the quickness and true direction of the Cuts are greatly facilitated. In direct proportion to the economy of force, we find the swordsman enabled to continue his exertion.

“However well made and scientifically poised be the blade, it is subject to several variations of equilibrium according to the position in which it is held.

“The nearer the centre of gravity approaches the hilt, the lighter and the better balanced will be the weapon, and vice versâ. [FN19] Therefore:

It should be our principal object to effect this improvement without changing the proper centre of percussion and the other requisites for offence and defence.”

The following Plates fully explain the author’s meaning.

I would further modify his Fig. 1, so as to give more fulcrum to the hand. The thumb-plate should be made weighty and the guard light, otherwise the blade will be over-balanced, that is heavier on one side than on the other. It need hardly be said that the grip before going into battle should be whipped round with thin whipcord, or better still, with web-cloth.

Footnotes (hit your back button to return to the text)

FN1. The exceptions are in “Right Prove Distance” (p. 13) and No. Seven Cut (p. 16). In the other Cuts the thumb “grasps the handle.”

FN2. The French divide l’Escrime into two parts: (1) Escrime à l’épée, or Escrime pointe; and (2) Escrime au sabre, or Escrime contrepointe.

FN3. The question is considered at great length in my forthcoming volume entitled ‘The Sword:’ here it is sufficient simply to state results.

FN4. When every regiment shall have its salle d’armes, the fencer will modify his own fencing thrusts to suit the clumsier weapon. I do not, however, see any reason why the three Points of the Infantry Sword Exercise should not be delivered in the posizione media of the Italian school, with the thumb upwards and extended along the back of the sword-hand: nor why, as in the French Manuel, they should not be reduced to a single Coup de Pointe (p. 239), which is thus described, “Baisser la pointe du sabre à hauteur de al poitrine et déployer le bras en tournant la main, le pouce en dessous, le tranchant du sabre en dessus.

FN5. As Mr. John Latham justly says (“The Shape of Sword-blades,” ‘Journal of the Royal United Service Institution,’ vol. VI.): — “The proper shape for a thrusting sword is pre-eminently straight.” The Clay-more, for instance, moving in a direct line, cuts a hole exactly the size of he blade; the Regulation sword, slightly curved, widens it to about double, and the bent scimitar and the Talwar, to five or six times, thus meeting with five or six times the resistance to its penetration. Mr. Latham is again quoted in another part of this system.

FN6. My only objections to this volume are the two following: —

  1. The author will “throw the whole weight of the body on the left leg.” (Fig. 2, p. 69.) Yet in his Introductory Remarks (p. 5) he sensibly says, “To the haunches, as to the common centre of motion of the human figure, are ultimately referred all the movements performed in military tactics” (and swordsmanship); “as just poise is important to the correct exertion of action, whatever it may be, it is necessary that poise or balance be studied, understood, and tried in all positions. It is clear that bodily action cannot possess compass, power, and ease, unless the movement be made justly and correctly upon the haunches, as on a central pivot. If the movement have not compass, power, and case, force and endurance will not be found in the Military act.”
  2. In the Lunge our author not only keeps the body “perfectly erect,” he even inclines it backwards whilst he allows both feet to abandon the perpendicular in the most slovenly way: see Fig. 2, p. 70, and Figs. 1 and 2, p. 71. The same is the case with the official ‘Infantry Sword Exercise.’

FN7. My old friend and instructor set out upon a thoroughly scientific principle, and the able way in which he has worked out his system will entitle him to the gratitude of the posteri. Having established the fact that in all our popular athletic, as opposed to gymnastic, exercise, our walking and running, cricket and football, fives, tennis, and racquets, and especially rowing — which has advanced as an art but has declined as an exercise — we circumscribe the line of muscular operation by giving the greatest share of the work to the lower limbs, and by developing one half to the injury of the other: he resolved to cultivate the whole by a wider and more varied range of training; hence he supplemented “Recreative exercise” by “Educational exercise,” and hence his systematized national gymnasia, which taken up by H.R.H. the Duke of Cambridge and by the late Sidney Herbert, have been introduced into the military stations of the Cardwell system, into Oxford and Cambridge, and into all our public schools, with one “base exception” — Eton.Mr. MacLaren, in his ‘System of Fencing,’ &c. (p. 9), sensibly advocates “resting the weight of the body equally upon both legs.” He also lowers the right hand in the Lunge (p. 11), and (ibid.) he throws the trunk forward, perhaps with a little exaggeration.

FN8. The ‘Infantry Sword Exercise’ (see the figures over the target representing the “Preparatory Position”), “Second Position in 2 Motions,” Makes No. 2 turn the left knee out instead of carrying it square to the front; the same may be remarked in “Balance Motions” (No. 4).

FN9. The Moulinet (Ital. Molinetto) is even on horseback a favourite movement with French sabrers (See Règlement Provisoire, &c., Tome I., Titres I. et II.) It is divided into —

  1. À gauche Moulinet” (1 temps, 2 mouvements). The directions are: “À la dernière partie du commandement, que est MOULINET, étentre le bras dorit en avant de tout sa longueur, le poignet en tierce et à hauteur des yeux.” Baisser la lame en arrièrre du conde gauche pour décrire un circle d’arriére en avant… et se remettre en garde.”
  2. À droite Moulinet” (1 temps, 2 mouvements). “À la dernière partie du commandement, qui est MOULINET, étendre le bras droit en avant de toute sa longueur, le poignet en quarte et à hauteur des yeux. Baisser la lame en arrière en avant… et se remettre en garde.”
  3. À gauche et à droite Moulinet” (1 temps, 2 mouvements). “À la dernière partie du commandement, qui est MOULINET, exécuter le premier mouvement de à gauche Moulinet. Exécuter alternativement et sans s’arréter sur aucun mouvement, le Moulinot à droite et le Moulinet à gauche.”
  4. À droite et à gauche Moulinet (1 temps, 2 mouvements). À la dernière partie du commandement, qui est MOULINET, exécuter le premier mouvement de à droite Moulinet. Exécuter alternativement et sans s’arréter sur aucun mouvement, le Moulinet à droite et le Moulinet à gauche.”
  5. En arrière Moulinet (1 temps, 2 mouvements). À la dernière partie du commandement, qui est MOULINET, élever le bras en arrière à droite, le pouce allongé sur le dos de la poignée, le courps légèrement tourné à droite. Décrire un circle en arrière de gaucho à droite, le poignet éloigné du corps le plus possible, et se remettre en garde.”

Les cavaliers, exécutant bien les Moulinets, on leur en fait faire plusieurs de suite, en faisant précéder cet exercise de l’indication; les Moulinets coninueront jusq’au commandement: EN GARDE.Les Moulinets ayant pour objet d’assouplir les articulations du bras et du pignet, il faut que les cavaliers y soient exerces comme préparation aux autres mouvements; on commence et on finit done chaque leçon par des Moulinets exécutés à un degré de vitesse proportionné aux progrès des cavaliers.

In these directions “right and left” apply to the right and left of the swordsman’s wrist.

FN10. In the Regulation sword the “centre of percussion” is about one-third from the point; here there is no vibration, and consequently the Cut exercises its whole force. The “centre of gravity” is in the third nearest the hilt, and the “balance” of the sword results from the relative positions of the two centres. In light swords these points may be farther apart than in heavy blades; they should be closer in straight than in curved swords, and nearer in thrusting than in cutting weapons.FN11. The following are the five principal ways of cutting: —

  1. The Chopping or Downright Cut, from the shoulder and fore-arm. This appears to be the instinctive method preserved by Europe; most men who take up a sword for the first time use it this way.
  2. The Sliding Cut, common throughout the East. In this movement the elbow and wrist are held stiff and the blow is given from the strong muscles of the back and shoulder, nearly ten times larger than the muscles of the arm, while the whole force and weight of the body are thrown in. Hence the people of India use small hilts with mere crutch-guards, which confine the hand and prevent the play of the wrist; the larger grip required for the Chopping Cut only lessens the cutting force. The terrible effect of these cuts is well known.
  3. The Thrust Cut, with the curved (“Damascus”) blade, a combination of point and edge, the latter being obliquely thrust forward and along the body aimed at. This movement is a favourite on horseback, and when speed supplies the necessary force, which can hardly be applied on foot. It must be parried like a Point.
  4. The Whip Cut; in which the arm and elbow are kept almost motionless, and the blow is delivered from the wrist. This is the principal Cut allowed in my system; it is capable of sufficient effect upon the opponent whilst it does not uncover the swordsman who uses it.
  5. The Drawing or Reverse Cut, which will be explained in the following pages; it is the reverse of the “Thrust Cut.”

FN12. This fact is well known to the Manuel, which says, “Des deux engagements celui de droite par la position de la main a le plus d’application.” It therefore makes all the Cuts and Parries begin from Tierce. This elementary rule is not recognized by the ‘Infantry Sword Exercise’ (p. 32); “your defence is always more effective in the left (Carte) than in the right (Tierce).” Such I assert is the case with the foil and rapier, certainly not with the sabre or broadsword. On horseback the left is of course the weak side.FN13. Used in this sense the “small-sword” is the triangular weapon, the rapier is the flat, or rather the bi-convex blade.

FN14. In p. 29 of the ‘Infantry Sword Exercise’ we read of “a circular motion of the blade, termed the Parry;” but the latter word must not be limited to this sense.

FN15. The only allusion to it is the “shifting of the leg,” in p. 30.

FN16. See the ‘Infantry Sword Exercise,” p. 31.

FN17. In France the false edge is hardly known; such blades are called à deux tranchants; it is the Italian schiena or chine, mezzo-filo, or falso opposed to vero taglio, and the German, rückschneide or kurzeschneide, thus distinguished from the lange-schneide.

FN18. See his Appendix, entitled “Modificazione all’ impugnatura e guardia delle Sciabola di cavalleria per facilitarne l’equilibrio ed avantaggiare la fermezza della mano sull’ impugnatura.”

FN19. A notable instance of this is the old Highland Clay-more.

JNC Feb 2000

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