He who knows most, doubts most.  — Jerónimo de Carranza

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Fencing History and Tales

Introduction | Literary Allusions | Famous Duels and Duellists | Women and Combat

Literary Allusions to Destreza, Carranza, & Pacheco

George Silver (1547-1616)
Excerpts from Paradoxes of Defense (1585)
Selections from a facsimile of the Matthey edition by Steve Hick with further editing by Greg Lindahl
Image from Paradoxes of Defense

To prove this, I have set forth these my Paradoxes, different I confess from the main current of our outlandish teachers, but agreeing I am well assured to the truth, and tending as I hope to the honor of our English nation. The reason which moved me to adventure so great a task, is the desire I have to bring the truth to light, which has a long time lain hidden in the cave of contempt, while we like degenerate sons, have forsaken our forefathers virtues with their weapons, and have lusted like men sick of a strange ague, after the strange vices and devices of Italian, French, and Spanish fencers, little remembering, that these apish toys could not free Rome from Brennius's sack, not France from the King Henry the Fifth his conquest.

Of Spanish fight with the Rapier.
The Spaniard is now thought to be a better man with his rapier than is the Italian, Frenchman, high Almaine or any other country man whatsoever, because they in their rapier-fight stand upon so many intricate tricks that in all the course of a man's life it shall be hard to learn them, and if they miss in doing the least of them in their fight, they are in danger of death. But the Spaniard in his fight, both safely to defend himself, and to endanger his enemy, has but one lying, and two wards to learn, wherein a man with small practice in a very short time may become perfect.

This is the manner of the Spanish fight. They stand as brave as they can with their bodies straight upright, narrow spaced, with their feet continually moving, as if they were in a dance, holding forth their arms and rapiers very straight against the face or bodies of their enemies, and this is the only lying to accomplish that kind of fight. And this note, that as long as any man shall lie in that manner with his arm, and the point of his rapier straight, it shall be impossible for his adversary to hurt him, because in that straight holding forth of his arm, which way soever a blow shall be made against him, by reason that his rapier hilt lies so far before him, he has but a very little way to move, to make his ward perfect, in this manner. If a blow is made at the right side of the head, a very little moving of the hand with the knuckles upward defends that side of the head or body, and the point being still out straight, greatly endangers the striker. And so likewise, if a blow is made at the left side of the head, a very small turning of the wrist with the knuckles downward, defends that side of the head and body, and the point of rapier much endangers the hand, arm, face or body of the striker. And if any thrust is made, the wards, by reason of the indirections in moving the feet in manner of dancing, as aforesaid, makes a perfect ward, and still withal the point greatly endangers the other. And thus is the Spanish fight perfect: so long as you can keep that order, and soon learned, and therefore to be accounted the best fight with the rapier of all other. But note how the Spanish fight is perfect, and you shall see no longer than you can keep your point straight against your adversary: as for example, I have heard the like jest.

There was a cunning Doctor at his first going to sea, being doubtful that he should be sea sick, an old woman perceiving the same, said unto him: "Sir, I pray, be of good comfort, I will teach you a trick to avoid that doubt. Here is a fine pebble stone, if you please to accept it, take it with you, and when you are on ship board, put it in your mouth, and as long you shall keep the same in your mouth, upon my credit you shall never vomit." The Doctor believed her, and took it thankfully at her hands, and when he was at sea, he began to be sick, whereupon he presently put the stone in his mouth, & there kept it so long as he possibly could, but through his extreme sickness the stone with vomit was cast out of his mouth. Then presently he remembered how the woman had mocked him, and yet her words were true.

Even so a Spaniard having his rapier point put by, may receive a blow on the head, or a cut over the face, hand or arm or a thrust in the body or face, and yet his Spanish fight perfect, so long as he can keep straight the point of his rapier against the face or body of his adversary, which is as easy in that manner of fight to be done, as it was for the Doctor in the extremity of his vomit to keep the stone in his mouth.

Yet one other pretty jest more, scarce worth the reading, in commendation of outlandish fight. There was an Italian teacher of Defence in my time, who so excellent in his fight, that he would hit any English man with a thrust, just upon any button in his doublet, and this was much spoken of.

Also there was another cunning man in catching of wild-geese, he would have made no more ado, when he had heard them cry, as the manner of wild-geese is, flying one after another in rows, but presently looking up, would tell them, if there had been a dozen, sixteen, twenty, or more, he would have taken every one. And this tale was many times told by men of good credit, and much marvelled at by their hearers, and the man who would have taken the wild-geese, was of good credit himself. Merry they said, indeed he did never take any, but at any time when he looked up, and seen them fly in that manner, he would with all his heart have taken them, but he could no more tell how to do it, then could the cunning Italian Fencer tell how to hit an Englishman, with a thrust just upon any one of his buttons, when he listed.