Monday, September 3, 2012

Burton Considers 'The Retreat'

 Following on from the previous extract from the book 'Sentiment of the Sword', some more wise words about the how to avoid taking hits from Sir Richard.

It's gratifying to note that way back from George Silver in 1599, through these words of Sir Richard, probably spoken in the late 1800s, and Sonny in the early 21st century, there is a continuity of thought in regard to the importance of evasion.

What I find most interesting, however, is how these swordsmen have found such resistance to their ideas, to the point that they all feel they have a fight to put their views across.
I think Sir Richard comes closest to understanding the reason for this - Basic assumptions on how one on one fighting is done 'right', tapping into all the unspoken rules of tribal culture we take for granted, and the deeply ingrained brain circuits that make it so.
As I have mentioned before in this blog, the problem with dueling with swords is that it is a lethal undertaking ... something that hierarchy fights (Monkey Dances) in nature rarely are .... and this causes the perennial problem of double deaths, or deaths from pride ... rather then the more attractive option of living through skill that seem to make way more sense ......
It's hard to train people past this tendency, but I guess this is not a new problem .....

Anyway, back to Sir Richard:

"To advance upon the sword is always the most dangerous action and the most difficult part of the Art of Arms.
"It loses time; it uncovers one side by covering the other, and it cannot be effected without somewhat shaking the play. It is only comparatively safe for a very short man against men much taller than himself.
"Nor must you think the retreat, as some do, injurious to the ripost; on the contrary, it makes the latter at once surer and easier.
"It often happens that after a lunge freely made the lunger remains for a time without recovering himself, attempting second thrusts, or remise de main, straight thrusts on one side where the parry took place. The two adversaries are now at quarters so close that the ripost can hardly be made without shortening the arm and exposing the breast. A step backwards saves all this.
"Nothing prettier, nothing more artistic, I freely own, than the parry and ripost, delivered with the feet motionless as a statue's. That tic! tac! movement is the height of art. But against fencers of different styles, perhaps dangerous withal, you must not often attempt such tours de force; otherwise, like the man who hunts for tigers on foot, your discomfiture is only a matter of time. You may do it, as you may not bet, only when you are certain of your 'coup'. To make it the systematic base of your play is, I believe, unreasonable as it is dangerous.

"And if" said Charles, laughing, "the adversary do the same, you'll soon find yourself not only out of sword reach, but out of pistol shot."

"The result will be three advantages to you, a thing certainly not to be despised.
"Firstly, if your opponent has had the same thought, or has received the same advice, it is testimony in favour of the maneuver.
"Secondly, his rapid retreat clearly shows you that he also dreads surprises and 'closing-in' movements, that his chances of success will not be sought in this order of ideas, and that his attacks will be prudent and reasoned.
"Thirdly, and 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 trap 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.
"A low murmur received these remarks, so I continued them.
"My mind has long been made up to this point, and my pupils must perforce do the same. It is the more necessary for me to impress it upon them, because the masters are against me almost to a man.
The highest honour is justly given by them, as by myself, to the parry without retreat. The retiring parry, on the other hand, is unjustly regarded by them a a resource in extremis, as a last refuge, a confession that the action wants quickness, or the judgement maturity. And many professors would, I am certain, rather see their pupils "buttoned" than escape by a pace backwards.
"Perhaps there is a deeper cause for this prejudice than is usually suspected. In old duels men have been tied by the left foot, and even in parts of Europe, Heidelberg, for instance, a line of chalk marks the ne plus ultra of retreat. The idea of "falling back" is always distasteful, and the single step to the rear in the rude and instinctive judgement of men represents the premier pas of flight. I once made a man an enemy for life by simply saying during hand to hand "scrimmage", "Don't fall back".
Let me thus state my rule to the contrary:
"In general and on principle, accompany the parry with a retreat of either a full pace or a half pace, according to action of your adversary. Parry with firm foot only when, like a conjuror forcing a card, you have led the adversary to make the attack for which you are prepared.
"If you see in the opponent a disposition to attack with firm foot within middle measure, without either advancing or retreating by sudden and irregular movements, never attempting to surprise nor deceive by unforseen combinations, then a tic! tac! or two may be allowed. But beware of the man - especially if there is what hair cutters call a "thinness" upon the upper part of his head, or of his beard show a slight powdering of pepper and salt - who tries to shorten distance between himself and you by stealthily gaining ground under the mask of some well-devised feint.
Faenum habet in cornu.
"Finally, I am strict with my pupils upon the manner of their retreat. Some shuffle the left foot, others take a succession of steps, or rather back stumble, which seem really to be the beginning of flight. But, above all things, I warn the learner never to stand within measure - a position of endless and useless danger to himself or the adversary: perhaps I should say to himself and the adversary."

- Sir Richard Burton (Sentiment of the Sword)

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