George Silver's 11th Paradox

George Silver's 11th Paradox has been the subject of ridicule amongst some members of the fencing community. Craig Turner and Tony Soper condescendingly described it as "one of the most famous passages of false reasoning in the history of swordplay," in their rather uneven book, Methods and Practice of Elizabethan Swordplay.Considering that virtually everything else that Silver has written tends to make an awful lot of sense, I decided to ponder over the 11th Paradox and try to figure out what it is really saying (I personally feel that Turner and Soper's "interpretation" is flawed), but I'll admit that the early modern English can be a bit difficult sometimes.I have therefore posted the 11th Paradox, in order for other History Forum members to offer their thoughts on it, if they wish.Best Regards,TFSThat a blow comes continually as near as a thrust,and most commonly nearer, stronger,more swift, and is soonerdone11The blow, by reason that it compasses round like a wheel, whereby it has a longer way to come, as the Italian Fencer says, & that the thrust passing in a straight line, comes a nearer way, and therefore is sooner done than a blow, is not true, these are the proofs.Let two lie in their perfect strengths and readiness, wherein the blades of their rapiers by the motion of the body, may not be crossed of either side, the one to strike, and the other to thrust. Then measure the distance or course wherein the hand and hilt passes to finish the blow of the one, and the thrust of the other, and you shall find them both by measure, in distance all one. At let any man of judgement being seen in the exercise of weapons, not being more addicted unto novelties of fight, than unto truth itself, put in measure, and practice these three fights, variable open, and guardant, and he shall see, that whenever any man lies at the thrust at the variable fight, (where of necessity most commonly he lies, or otherwise not possible to keep his rapier from crossing at the blow & thrust, upon the open or guardant fight,) that the blows & thrusts from these two fighters, come a nearer way, and a more stronger and swifter course than does the thrust, out of the variable fight. And thus for a general rule, wheresoever the thruster lies, or out of what fight soever he fights, with his rapier, or rapier and dagger, the blow in his course comes as near, and nearer, and more swift and stronger than does the thrust.

Thanks, jonwell...

Now re-read Silver's 11th Paradox and post yer thoughts, darnit!

:-)

First, I am still trying to understand the language. Moving on to the subject.
1. most people never realize that it's the movement
of the hand, not the blade that is the true measure.
2. The arc is a more natural movement then the thrust. especially during fast play.
3. The thrust has a single target, where as the cut
covers the entire body. If you thrust to the head, to thrust to the body, you have to rethrust. The cut can being aimed at the head and with ease, change to the body, arm, leg.
I think I will reread the passage once again.
Gerald Boggs

I think Gerald has it. It seems to me that Silver is talking about a strike without a "wind up" using the arm. Wrist rotation doesn't count. As a result, the blow is struck by rotating the wrist, while the hand moves forward along the same line as it would in a thrust. The blade covers more distance, but the hand doesn't. And since it recruits more joints, it carries a lot more power.

Yours,
Glenn

Looks like we already have some interesting comments.I thought I would help a bit by explaining the various "fights" that Silver describes, which might make everyone's efforts at interpretation easier...Guardant Fight--This is to fight while employing the hanging guard as one's en guarde stance--to be more specific, it refers not to the later hanging guard that is still familiar to some modern sabreurs, but to the "True Guardant" stance of Silver's day, which differed from the later hanging guard in that the point is not threatening the opponent.Open Fight--This is where the fighter holds his sword above the head either straight up or pointing backwards, presumably similar to Marozzo's guardia alta, or Viggiani's Guard #3 (terza guardia alta, offensiva, imperfetta).Close Fight--To fight close enough to be able to cross swords with one's opponent at the half-sword.Variable Fight--As the name indicates, this refers to any manner of fighting that does not fit into Silver's other categories (Guardant, Open, and Close).I'm curious to hear more thoughts...

I love a good Silver thread :)

Building on TFS's explanation of the four fights I think there is an important point to make about these fights.

Both Guardant & Open fight make use of wards that do not have the point online. It is not possible to open with a thrust from these wards.

Open ward is fantastic for producing powerful cuts with a passing step. Cuts from open ward are the type that will cut limbs clean asunder.

Cuts from Guardant are a little less powerful I beleive. The guardant stance lends itself better to moulinet style cuts that utilize the wrist, elbow & a little shoulder rather than a cut on the pass which also utilizes the hips and puts all your body weight into the cut. They are still fight stopping cuts nonetheless.

IMO these are not wards that suit a later period thrust orientated rapier. Marozzo, Viggiani & Agrippa use similar wards to Open ward however their styles of early rapier fighting (which is commonly referred to as side-sword today) are more cut orientated than later Italian masters such as Capo Ferro, Fabris and Saviolo. These later masters rarely open a fight with a cut have techniques designed specifically to counter an opponent who commits this grave sin. ;)

Silver explicitly describes four lyings of variable fight - Stocata, Imbrocata, Mountanta and Passata. These four lyings are very common rapier stances or as Silver puts it - "Understand that the whole sum of the long rapier fight is either upon the Stocata, Passata, Imbrocata or Mountanta....". It is also of note that Silver uses Italian terms for these wards - reinforcing their Italian heritage.

Close fight is a transitory stage. It's not a place where you want to lie - Silver explains that when you are this close you can be hit in the time of the hand and it is very difficult to protect yourself. When you are in close fight you need to either fly out or close to grypes.

So in my opinion we have two fights that are unsuited to later period rapier (which is the syle Silver is arguing against), one which is a dangerous place to be and another fight which basically *is* rapier fighting.

Now the big question is can I bring any of this back to the speed of a cut vs a thrust?

4. The cut can be deflect and strike in the same motion against the thrust. The same can not be said of the thrust. However without the thrust and cut together, one's swordplay becomes predictable.
5. The guardant guard does not lend itself to flow to thrust. a cut works just fine.
6. The open guard is again the same.
7. There can be no thrust in the close guard, not unless you wish to die together.
8. The variable fight, its an open game here.
9. Last item, The thrust as I know it only works well if you can maintain a long range fight.

A thrust from variable fight is fast as your point is already online. A cut from the four aspects of variable fight that Silver describes will be slower as you must move your point back offline in order to provide some wind up to generate a somewhat forceful cut.

The only cuts I can remember Silver making from variable are harassing 'wrist blows' to the hands of the opponent which he does not suggest would end the fight. Silver recommends you fly out after the attack in preparation to defend the opponents counterattack (Brief Instructions Cap 8 - 14).

Silver also suggests that thrusts from variable are quick. With the fight of the short sword vs rapier Silver recommends that you only match the variable fight of the rapier with variable fight of your own.

"You must never use any fight against the long rapier & dagger with your short sword but the variable fight, because your space will be too wide & your time too long, to defend or offend in due time."

A cut from a loaded ward such as Open Ward is quite quick however. It is a fight designed specifically to cut from.

So is a thrust from variable faster than a cut from Open fight? I'm not sure how much it matters.

If I cut at you from Open fight while you lie in Variable fight YOU MUST DEAL WITH THE THREAT I HAVE PRESENTED. If you simply thrust at me believing that you will skewer me before I cut your head off you are gambling with your life. Whatever the speed difference between thrust & cut a simple counter thrust is not enough to gain you the true place - where you strike me with no risk of being struck yourself.

Late period rapier masters would recommend that you do counter thrust at me, however you do it in a way that simultaneously parries my blow. A successful thrust that simultaneously closes the line I am attacking gains you the true place.

Silver would recommend that you ward the blow and fire back a blow of your own. A succesful parry-ripose ala Silver gains you the true place.

The simultaneous counter thrust is a bread and butter late period rapier technique for use against an attacker who opens with a cut. I think that the effectiveness of this technique is born out by the fact that Silver never opens with a cut from Open fight or Guardant fight against a rapier wielding opponent. It is just what they are waiting for. Instead Silver meets the rapiers variable fight with variable fight, narrow space and good distance.

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If you are standing in a ward where your point is online to your target then a thrust will be faster. If
you are in a ward where your point is not online, then it will be more profitable to cut straight at the opponent rather than bringing your point online and then thrusting.

So my opinion on cut vs thrust is that any speed difference is very slight and misses the point that both techniques offer a creditable threat that an opponent must deal with. Keep in mind however that rapier fencers are hoping that you will open with a big cut from a loaded ward - if you do and they hit their single time counter thrust with opposition response correctly - it's fight over.

I may have misrepresented Silver at various times - if anyone picks up anything I claim Silver does or doesn't do which is incorrect - please tell me. It's been a while since I got Silver down from the bookshelf.

AND - bobthetinker is correct. :)

oneonone,I love a good Silver thread :) I knew you would! Building on TFS's explanation of the four fights I think there is an important point to make about these fights...Thanks for elaborating on those.IMO these are not wards[open and guardant] that suit a later period thrust orientated rapier.I would tend to agree, though I'll offer some additional thoughts below. Marozzo, Viggiani & Agrippa use similar wards to Open ward however their styles of early rapier fighting (which is commonly referred to as side-sword today) are more cut orientated than later Italian masters such as Capo Ferro, Fabris and Saviolo.Yes. In fact, I have always tended to refer to Marozzo & Viggiani as teachers of the sword, as opposed to teachers of the rapier. BTW, I've heard the cut-and-thrust spada of Marozzo's day referred to as both a "side sword" and an "edge sword"--are these terms in fact historical? Do they appear in the manuals? (I've never had the patience to sift for them). These later masters rarely open a fight with a cut have techniques designed specifically to counter an opponent who commits this grave sin. ;)I fail to see why they'd open a fight with a cut from so slim a sword anyway. So in my opinion we have two fights that are unsuited to later period rapier (which is the syle Silver is arguing against), one which is a dangerous place to be and another fight which basically *is* rapier fighting.??? I'm confused--you mentioned that you thought that Open Fight and Guardant fight seemed unsuited to rapier work, but it now appears that you are talking about Open Fight and Variable Fight... help! Now the big question is can I bring any of this back to the speed of a cut vs a thrust?I have faith in you! :-)TFS

A thrust from variable fight is fast as your point is already online.Fundamental fencing theory & practice, that. A cut from the four aspects of variable fight that Silver describes will be slower as you must move your point back offline in order to provide some wind up to generate a somewhat forceful cut. Or, in Silver's words:the hand will sometimes be in place... where you may thrust, and cannot strike without loss of time...The only cuts I can remember Silver making from variable are harassing 'wrist blows' to the hands of the opponent which he does not suggest would end the fight.Silver is good to be cautious, though I think such cuts would indeed work if the opponent was not wearing gauntlets. Silver recommends you fly out after the attack in preparation to defend the opponents counterattack (Brief Instructions Cap 8 - 14).I tend to do that in knife sparring. :-) Silver also suggests that thrusts from variable are quick. With the fight of the short sword vs rapier Silver recommends that you only match the variable fight of the rapier with variable fight of your own. "You must never use any fight against the long rapier & dagger with your short sword but the variable fight, because your space will be too wide & your time too long, to defend or offend in due time."Okay, I tend to agree with that, but this is what confuses me:Variable, close & gardant fight, beats gardant fight, open fight, variable fight, and close fight.???A cut from a loaded ward such as Open Ward is quite quick however. It is a fight designed specifically to cut from.Sorta like a one-handed jodan no kamae, I guess. So is a thrust from variable faster than a cut from Open fight? I'm not sure how much it matters. If I cut at you from Open fight while you lie in Variable fight YOU MUST DEAL WITH THE THREAT I HAVE PRESENTED. If you simply thrust at me believing that you will skewer me before I cut your head off you are gambling with your life. Whatever the speed difference between thrust & cut a simple counter thrust is not enough to gain you the true place - where you strike me with no risk of being struck yourself. Late period rapier masters would recommend that you do counter thrust at me, however you do it in a way that simultaneously parries my blow. A successful thrust that simultaneously closes the line I am attacking gains you the true place.There seems to be two problems with that solution:1. Can a rapier parry such a blow to begin with?2. Can a really powerful cut like that be parried in such a way that the counter-thrust can be properly delivered? Silver would recommend that you ward the blow and fire back a blow of your own. A succesful parry-ripose ala Silver gains you the true place.Definitely more my style, as per my saber experience... The simultaneous counter thrust is a bread and butter late period rapier technique for use against an attacker who opens with a cut. I think that the effectiveness of this technique is born out by the fact that Silver never opens with a cut from Open fight or Guardant fight against a rapier wielding opponent. It is just what they are waiting for. Instead Silver meets the rapiers variable fight with variable fight, narrow space and good distance.Again, I tend to agree with all of that, and certainly it appears to be what Silver recommends: 9. Stand not upon guardant fight only, for so he will greatly endanger you out of his other fights because you have made yourself a certain mark to him, for in continuing in that fight only you shall not only weary yourself, but do also exclude yourself from the benefit of the open, variable, & closed fights, & so shall he have four fights to your one, as you may see in the chapter of the short single sword fight in the 15th ground thereof.

But note how Silver specifically says, "Stand not upon guardant fight only..."; Silver is recommending some variety here.But the thing that really concerns me involves a very interesting article by Amberger, called "The Role of the Lunge in Tudor England". The entire article can be found at his website here:http://www.swordhistory.com/excerpts/lunge.htmlNow, the part that really intrigued me was Amberger's theory about using the True Guardant Warde to counter a lunge...In an antagonistic combative scenario, the tactical forte of the lunge is the surprise element it adds to working with distance. But it requires full linear commitment to do harm to an opponent: The straight arm is absolutely necessary to transmit the full force of the lunge into and through the target. Which means that as the body weight is propelled forward through the straightening of the back leg, it needs to be tightly focused on the minuscule surface area of the point.This advantage of the unsuspected strike from distance, however, probably played only a minor role in the native combative culture of Elizabethan England. An experienced antagonist would be able to take advantage of the linear commitment of the attack, either by removing target area (via a volte or side step), or by taking advantage of the wonderful stability of his True Guardant Ward. (The latter would have provided the opportunity for a powerful and lightning-fast counter-attack against the wrist or lower arm of the lunging attacker.)And, of course, their is that somewhat confusing and cryptic statement,Variable, close & gardant fight, beats gardant fight, open fight, variable fight, and close fight.The True Guardant Warde is great for delivering those powerful and quick counter-cuts, but it is admittedly a posture that I am not used to. I prefer the more conventional "hanging guard" of saber fencing, which appears to have its ancestors in the becha cesa and becha possa of Marozzo. Intrigingly, Silver regards the Victorian-Modern saber hanging guard/becha cesa as "imperfect":Also it is imperfect, if you bear your hand & hilt as aforesaid, bearing your point too far out from your knee, so that your enemy may cross, or strike aside your point, & thereby endanger you.So much more to learn...!--------------------------------------------- So my opinion on cut vs thrust is that any speed difference is very slight and misses the point that both techniques offer a creditable threat that an opponent must deal with. Keep in mind however that rapier fencers are hoping that you will open with a big cut from a loaded ward - if you do and they hit their single time counter thrust with opposition response correctly - it's fight over.Great analysis. Turner and Soper were trying to say that Silver was arguing simply that a cut was faster than a thrust. I may have misrepresented Silver at various times - if anyone picks up anything I claim Silver does or doesn't do which is incorrect - please tell me. It's been a while since I got Silver down from the bookshelf.Aside from the parts of Silver that I don't fully comprehend (like the deal about the way the various fights beat each other), it seems like you are on the money. However, could you tell us about some rapier counter-thrusts with opposition that would work against cuts from a "short sword"?Great stuff, Mike.Dave/TFS

Bob is correct. Silver is talking about the distance that the hand moves in a cut vs a thrust, and he is saying that they will cover about the same distance. It is the end of the sword that is covering more distance in a cut, but it is also moving faster.

Thanks, Just remember, I'm thinking from a
stickfighters mindset. I read the sword stuff to try
and improve my stick. On the value of the lunge. I find that if I attack with the lunge, I'm easly
countered. However, if I counter a attack with a
deep fully committed lunge, I have a good success
rate.

Gerald Boggs

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I've heard the cut-and-thrust spada of Marozzo's day referred to as both a "side sword" and an "edge sword"--are these terms in fact historical? Do they appear in the manuals? (I've never had the patience to sift for them).

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I beleive the term "side sword" ("spada da lato" in Italian I think) is a modern construction.
I think spada da filo ("edged sword") has some historical basis but I don't know from which manuals or documents it has been sourced.
I'm no expert though - I'm relying on what I've heard others say so take it all with a grain of salt.

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I fail to see why they'd open a fight with a cut from so slim a sword anyway.

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Because you can't stop an Englishman from cutting. ;-)


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??? I'm confused--you mentioned that you thought that Open Fight and Guardant fight seemed unsuited to rapier work, but it now appears that you are talking about Open Fight and Variable Fight... help!

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Sorry - it was late :)
Open & Guardant = unsuited for rapier
Close = a dangerous place to be, especially with a long weapon like a rapier
Variable = the sum of all rapier fights


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Okay, I tend to agree with that, but this is what confuses me:
Variable, close & gardant fight, beats gardant fight, open fight, variable fight, and close fight.

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Thats a sentence I've never been able to find a satisfactory explanation to.

Do you have any thoughts or guestimates as to what Silver means?


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There seems to be two problems with that solution:
1. Can a rapier parry such a blow to begin [from a short sword] with?
2. Can a really powerful cut like that be parried in such a way that the counter-thrust can be properly delivered?

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In my opinion the answer to both questions is yes.

If a rapier could not parry the blow of a short sword then one thing is for certain - Silver would have mentioned it!!! Out of all the criticisms Silver makes of the rapier I am 99% certain that he does not say that a rapier cannot make a true cross. It's fault however is that once the cross is made the rapier is too long to uncross in due time.

The thing about single-time-counterattacks-with-opposition is that they are an attack that by their nature also defends - they are not parries that also attack. The difference might seem trivial when written down - but the difference in mindset when actually trying to execute one is fundamental IMO.

Assuming you are cutting at my head with a squalembrato (cutting to my left) my fundamental aim when performing a single-time-counterattack-with-opposition is to get my point out where I want it (in your belly). My execution of this thrust will be delivered in a manner that gets my hand high (in a highly held carte position against a squalembrato) with the point aiming down to your belly. Done correctly this will ensure that your sword will meet mine before it meets my head. Ideally the length of my rapier + my lunge (probably not a full lunge) will mean that your sword meets my rapier at my forte, as close to the quillions as possible as the last few inches of my rapier sink into you. If I have my point out where I want it and my hand where it should be the length of my rapier will provide me with a secure defence.

Against a reverso cut my aims are the same but my hand position will be prime if you are cutting to my head.

Done correctly I have found that this technique provides a strong defence against poweful cuts - however like anything if you do not execute the technique adequately then your defence is less secure. A powerful blow from a heavier sword may push through your defence if you meet it incorrectly or do not ensure that your thrust lands but done correctly I believe that the technique is viable against a single handed short sword of Silver's ideal length.

Cheers,
Mike

My my god god.

Great post here, I'm choking to try to understand it all, but wow..

Yep, looks like one for the archives once it slows down.

Mike,Thats a sentence I've never been able to find a satisfactory explanation to.Good--I thought maybe it was just me. Do you have any thoughts or guestimates as to what Silver means?Not really, but it may have something to do with the whole,9. Stand not upon guardant fight only, for so he will greatly endanger you out of his other fights because you have made yourself a certain mark to him, for in continuing in that fight only you shall not only weary yourself, but do also exclude yourself from the benefit of the open, variable, & closed fights, & so shall he have four fights to your one, as you may see in the chapter of the short single sword fight in the 15th ground thereof.What I am reading here is that he's saying not to assume ONLY the True Guardant Warde when up against a rapier man, but to shift things up as the situation demands. This suggests that there may be something to Amberger's opinion of the True Guardant vs the Lunge.Do you have any thoughts regarding Amberger's opinion on that?Assuming you are cutting at my head with a squalembrato (cutting to my left) my fundamental aim when performing a single-time-counterattack-with-opposition is to get my point out where I want it (in your belly). My execution of this thrust will be delivered in a manner that gets my hand high (in a highly held carte position against a squalembrato) with the point aiming down to your belly. Done correctly this will ensure that your sword will meet mine before it meets my head. Ideally the length of my rapier + my lunge (probably not a full lunge) will mean that your sword meets my rapier at my forte, as close to the quillions as possible as the last few inches of my rapier sink into you. If I have my point out where I want it and my hand where it should be the length of my rapier will provide me with a secure defence.Interesting--YL and I will have to try that with singlesticks... Against a reverso cut my aims are the same but my hand position will be prime if you are cutting to my head.Actually, your hand would be in high seconde--prime covers your left (inside line) and seconde covers the right (outside line). Obviously you wouldn't use prime for the original squalembrato defense since it wouldn't allow for the counter-thrust you're talking about (prime would only be good for a parry, followed by a vertical cut to the head as a riposte), hence the "high carte" you mentioned. :-)Dave/TFS

I also suspect that the utility of the Open Fight is greatly increased if the fighter has a buckler... :-)