“Silver” as Trigger-word

A few weeks ago the excellent Paul Wagner (Stoccata School of Defense, Australia) posted a video as his answer to a… paper that attempted to reimagine the fight system of George Silver (ca. 1599). [1] I read the paper when it came out, promptly wrote a response, and decided not to do anything with it–to do so would suggest that the paper in question was worth the time and effort of a point-by-point response. It’s not. Save yourself the trouble and just watch Paul’s video.

The authors had asked for Paul’s response, so with his usual step by step process and humor he did, at least the main point of it. To address all the issues would take far too long, and what is more would be an utter waste of time. Here is a link to Paul’s video:

From what friends still braving facebook tell me Silver has once again worked his magic as HEMA’s favorite “trigger-word” in the aftermath of Paul’s review. There are the people who understand universal fight principles backing Paul, and then those who are quick to rush to the defense of their Dunning-Kruger demagogues. The sadness in this is that the latter are fighting an unnecessary fight–the only people likely to lose respect for them in taking the time to learn something of the universals, to acquire basic, fundamental understanding of fencing, are fools.

Like Paul, I don’t want to waste time–mine or anyone else’s–giving the red pen treatment to the paper, but it’s only right I share why I found it lacking. I don’t know the authors of the paper, and from what I’ve seen of them online, in video, and in this paper, I doubt they’d give two figs for what anyone outside their bubble thinks. But when my own students used to see me about a paper that was sure to fail or earn them a D I did all I could to help them, and so on the very off chance that they’d see this and/or care here are a few of the major red flags.

Sources Analysis

The chief criticism is that the authors drew selectively from Silver (and others) in order to support their thesis. One rule of research is that if you set out to find something, you will, meaning that it’s easy to find only what you’re looking for and leave out those aspects that fail to meet that goal. All the evidence must be addressed, especially any evidence that undercuts your thesis. Think of the “Ancient Aliens” crowd–they focus on superficial similarities and ignore evidence or logic against them. In a similar way both what this paper looks at and how affects the outcome. It’s best, hard as it is to do, to let a theory arise from the evidence, and if an old theory, say Hand’s in this case, doesn’t hold up to a reader, then they have some work to do, because the entire argument in this paper rests on some convoluted English that, once broken down, is pretty clear in what it says. Hand has explained it well and more in line with how the text reads. This is to say that it’s clear if you understand universal principles in fencing the way they’re normally imparted and used in fencing sources anyway. To put it bluntly, this paper wrestles with a concept that any first day foil student learns, to wit, that the weapon and hand proceed the feet.

In fairness, M&C think they have done this, and they tried to some degree. Rightly, they contacted Stephen Hand to make sure they understood him correctly. That is to be applauded. There are, however, some underlying assumptions even there that they didn’t address. Hand’s theory has changed over time with his continued study, and in my experience not one person working Silver has advocated this “slow hand” idea they attribute to him. This idea of the hand moving first and then slowing down, for example, is not a notion I’ve heard from anyone, Hand included. Maestro Sean Hayes, among others, doesn’t see it that way, and he’s a fan of the “True Times” model; it holds up just fine with the Italian iteration. Nathan Barnett likewise did not teach it that way the last time I took his class (first year at SwordSquatch, 2016). So, while including Hand’s supposed old theory, which they needed to do, they also needed to examine and consult more current devotees/theories of Silver. Paul Wagner and Nathan Barnett are only two they might have consulted. I’ve not had a chance to see Hand’s 2006 English Swordsmanship: The True Fight of George Silver as yet, so I’m not sure if he actually included the “slow hand” idea or not. No where in his videos on Youtube does Hand say anything of the kind.

Time, Tempo, and Tangents

Second, they introduce a discussion on timing that would be better as a stand-alone paper. They attempt to show the Italian position on timing etc. in Silver’s era, but examine works not necessarily representative of the Italian school or those branches of the Italian school most applicable. Some of the texts were written by Italians, sure, but do they represent some monolithic Italian position or that one author’s view of these ideas? Since the Italian masters disagreed with one another on points large and small, a monolithic “Italian” position isn’t tenable.

For the masters they do mention, the period between 1570 and 1600 is arguably as much “sidesword” as it is rapier so Fabris and Capo Ferro aren’t great examples. Both wrote after Silver–Fabris published in 1606, Capo Ferro in 1610, and while both discuss cutting the core of their systems was the thrust. That’s important to note since Silver, while he employs the thrust, cannot be said to typify a thrust-oriented school. “Downright blows” are his bread and butter. Thrusts are faster than cuts, something Silver tried (and failed) to disprove, so one can compare the two sides as it were in a general way, but one has to realize too that there are significant differences there, just as there are between an onager/catapult and a howitzer. There were contextual differences too.

There is not, oddly, a single mention of Marozzo or anyone else in the Bolognese tradition/Dardi School, easily the closest thing out of Italy to Silver. There is, likewise, no mention of contemporary French authors who treat cut-and-thrust fencing such as St. Didier (1573) and Peloquin (late 16th cen.). The authors also seem to have issues with the Italian school generally; it almost appears in their paper as it does for Silver, as a bugbear, and while I think the goal of gaining a better appreciation for “native” English ideas is a fair one, between mishandling Silver and misrepresenting the Italians they don’t succeed. [2] Some grappling with the fact that Silver includes guards with Italian names might be worth consideration too.

Beyond what Silver’s texts tell us of time, which is precious little save as applied to a fight, we must be careful. Silver’s concern was not an explication of Aristotelian ideas of time, nor that of anyone else, but how to fight according to his principles (in contrast to Thibault, who does discuss Aristotelian time in his 1626 Academy of the Sword, and Camillo Agrippa, Treatise on the Science of Arms, 1559, who spends several chapters discussing time–this last, being Italian and only preceding Silver by 40 years, might have been worth examining too on this specific topic…). [3] Silver doesn’t define time in his work, but uses the word in reference to when one does X or Y. I’m all for examining prevailing theories of time and how that might have influenced his work, but there’s not enough in his texts to do more than suggest what was likely in the big picture. As valuable as understanding the worldview is for understanding Silver’s time, the discussion about concepts of time adds little to the discussion and does even less to illuminate Silver’s use of the word. It throws in big names which sound impressive but have nothing to do with the issue at hand.

Fight Universals

Third, while the Italians and to a lesser extent the French distilled the concepts of measure, timing, and judgment most succinctly, the concepts they so well explained are universal to all fighting. This is to say that whether discussing boxing or using a pole axe, a katana or kris, these factors apply. These ideas aren’t ethnic in and of themselves. To suggest that is akin to saying Newton’s three laws only pertain to physics in England. Maybe that wasn’t their intention, but if so that sort of language needs to be tightened up to make it clear they’re not saying that. This is to say that while there’s a difference in how these concepts (tempo, measure, judgment, speed, etc.) are expressed, that any version will nonetheless reflect these universals. M&C ostensibly accept this since they bring in Japanese swordsmanship briefly as support.

Their treatment of Silver with regard to what moves first, and the “True Times,” illustrate these problems well. They talk around the universals, I think to avoid “Italian” ideas, but again these are not purely Italian. The idea of moving into attack distance is just stating the obvious—you can’t hit someone from 10m away. Every system has ways of navigating that. In this case, the Italians used both passing steps, as did Silver, as well as movement that in time became the advance and retreat of more recent fencing. The salient part, indeed the only part perhaps worth addressing, is which moves first, the hand/weapon or foot. To me, it’s not shocking that they don’t understand this well, since in most areas of US HEMA students lack the benefit provided in even short-term formal study of traditional or Olympic fencing. The general disdain if not outright hatred of both tends to mean that proverbial babies get thrown out with the bath-water, one effect of which we see here, failure to understand elementary fundamentals of distance/measure in fencing.

But, do we mean “first” getting into distance, or, “first” when in distance to strike? Do they believe that Silver’s rivals were advocating sticking the sword out there from forever away and then walking in? That’s hard to believe, especially as not one Italian source advocates throwing the point out half a mile from the opponent before starting to get close. The advance and the attack are not the same thing, though they may coincide. They prove nothing in suggesting one needs to be in distance; of course one does. Water is wet.

So, one passage in question they discuss, here taken directly from Jackson’s Three Elizabethan Fencing Manuals, p. 582/Silver’s p. 82-83 of his Brief Instructions upon my Paradoxes of Defense, Ch. 1, reads thus:

The reason wherof these 4 grownds or prnciples be the syrst and cheefest, are the followinge, because through Judgment, yō kepe yor dystance, through Distance yō take yō Tyme, through Tyme yō safly wyne or gayne the Place of yor adursarie, the Place beinge woon or gayned yō haue tyme safly eyther to stryke, thrust, ward, cloze, grype, slyp or go backe, in the wch tyme yor enemye is disapoynted to hurt yō, or to defend himself, by reason that he hath lost his true Place, the reason yt he hath lost his True place is by the length of tyme through the numbg of his feet, to wch he is of necessytie Dryven to yt wilbe Agent.

In modern English:

The reason why these four grounds or principles are the surest and chiefest, are the following, because through Judgment, you keep your distance, through Distance you take your Time, through Time you safely win or gain the Place of your adversary, the Place being won or gained you have time safely either to strike, thrust, ward, close, grip, slip or go back, in the which time your enemy is disappointed to hurt you, or to defend himself, by reason that he has lost his true Place, the reason that he has lost his True place is by the length of time through the numbering of his feet, to which he is of necessity Driven to that will be Agent.

[I checked my take on this via Nathan B’s site https://backsword.com/bi-trans.html and an older one by Greg Lindhal http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/brief.html; I also double-checked their use of “yt,” an abbreviation for “that,” and “wilbe,” a way of saying “will be,” and both check out]

Borrowing from Nathan Barnett’s page, here is the next section:


The 4 governors are those that follow

1. The first governor is judgment which is to know when your adversary can reach you and when not, and when you can do the like to him, and to know by the goodness or badness of his lying, what he can do, and when and how he can perform it.

2. The second governor is Measure. Measure is the better to know how to make your space true to defend yourself, or to offend your enemy.

3. The third and forth governors is a twofold mind when you press in on your enemy, for as you have a mind to go forward, so you must have at that instant a mind to fly backwards upon any action that shall be offered or done by your adversary.

[https://backsword.com/bi-trans.html, ch. 2]

Theories to the contrary, there is no great mystery in these passages in terms of movement, or, what comes first, weapon or foot. In short, all that Silver says in the Brief Instructions distills down into manipulating distance cautiously and at the right moment. No specific instructions on how to move are provided there, only general guidelines. The “Place” that M&C make such hay about is just Silver’s equivalent of what today we normally refer to as being “in distance,” that is, where either opponent might hit one another. It’s merely his wording for the same idea that other authors mention too. In this instance it means that so long as one does this right, one will be so situated as to take advantage of that fact, of the ability to strike first. The English is Early Modern and a mouthful, and that last sentence is a mess, but that’s what this section amounts to. Are there nuances within that depending on what an opponent is doing? Sure, but nothing Silver advocates is so divorced from his contemporaries as to comprise a wholly separate theory of fight.

M&C also quote from Silver’s polemical Paradoxes of Defense, section 14:

Of the difference between the true fight & the false. Wherein consists (the Principles being had with the direction of the four Governors) the whole perfection of fight with all manner of weapons.

14

The true fights be these: whatsoever is done with the hand before the foot or feet is true fight. The false fights are these: whatsoever is done with the foot or feet before the hand, is false, because the hand is swifter than the foot, the foot or feet being the slower mover than the hand, the hand in that manner of fight is tied to the time of the foot or feet, and being tied thereto, has lost his freedom, and is made thereby as slow in his motions as the foot or feet, and therefor that fight is false.

[http://www.pbm.com/~lindahl/paradoxes.html]

Silver’s line from the Paradoxes is no different from anything the Italians or others said. He says the “true fight” (i.e. the one that wins) is that wherein the fencer extends the weapon first. Again, a day-one foilist learns this. The false fight, in contrast, is to tie the hand to the actions of the feet, because they’re slower. Thus, assuming both opponents are in range to strike, the one who extends the weapon first, will hit first; the one who moves his hand with his feet is less likely to strike first. It may be somewhat difficult to read, but to suggest that this passage means the opposite or that the feet should precede the hand or even move with the hand are incorrect. One’s opponent may make these mistakes, so Silver provides suggestions for how to exploit them.

Due Diligence

Important in all this is the fact that Paradoxes was published in 1599, but the Brief Instructions, so far as we know, was not published until 1898 when G.R. Matthey found it in the British Museum. [4] As far as we know no one at the time read this work. M&C do not mention this. On this note, the “Additional Notes” they consult, found on the Wiktenauer selection for Silver, appear to have been added by a person named “Thornborow,” but it’s not certain when these were added or how. Are they present in the 1599 edition of Paradoxes? The 1606? The Leuven transcription (1800?) listed on Wiktenauer? [5] As Wiktenauer explains, unless someone can see the placement on the actual manuscript we’re not even sure to which work the “Additional Notes” pertain, Paradoxes or the Brief Instructions. That’s an important point, especially if one is building an argument using them–even a note that one is aware of the issue is important, because it shows one has been as thorough as one can without a trip to the British Museum. Had M&C’s paper been an academic one, it would be prudent sans such a trip to contact the BM and ask for help.

For all the discussion of the Brief Instructions, and important as they are in understanding Silver’s method, since it wasn’t published at the time we can’t be sure how widespread or representative of “native English fencing” it may have been. As a window into Silver, it’s great, but as a window into English fencing we need to be a bit more cautious. In a similar way, Paradoxes of Defense was a polemic written by a guy who was sort of the MAGA dude of his day, an Englishman upset about losing business to people he saw as upstart foreigners (the fear of it anyway). One can sympathize easily with Silver’s disgust with the duel (a portion worth reading), and, with the fact that there was a connection between the practice and Italy, but in large degree his book was a litany of personal woe and attempts to prove his rivals false; it was a proverbial case of sour grapes.

The success of Italian teachers in England no doubt did help popularize the blight of dueling, but few systems last long in any society that fail to work. However good Silver’s fight might be, there was something to be said for di Grassi, Saviolo, and other Italian masters or people would not have joined their ranks. After all, we are talking self-defense systems of that time, how to preserve one’s life, a very different context to our own where the sword is a sport/hobby/research past-time. We can approach the sword as a martial artist, and many of us think we all should, but the mindset, the need to know how to use one, all of that is so removed from our context that we must be careful not to apply our own situation to that of the past. [6]

NOTES:

[1] The paper in question is by Cory Winslow and Michael Edelson, “An Alternative Interpretation of the True Fight of George Silver,” April 13th, 2020, available on a website entitled historicalfencer[dot]com. CAVEAT: you should know that this page, so far as I can tell, is hosted by a known right-wing nationalist/apologist. Make of that what you will, but it does little to bolster the authors’ credibility, at least among anyone of sense or ethics.

[2] I have often wondered if much of the anti-Italian sentiment in HEMA is on account of the importance of Italy in the creation of modern fencing. Were those who take issue with the Italian school to read any of its sources, from Fiore (ca. 1410) down to Pessina-Pignotti (1972) or even Gaugler (2000), they’d see this bias is misplaced. Issues with the modern sport aside, it’s self-defeating to reject such a rich corpus of work because of excesses that really only took deep root in the 1990s.

[3] M&C do bring in Capo Ferro in their “Universality of Theory” portion, but not in CF’s discussion of time. Moreover, they mistake Italian ideas of contra-tempo for basic defense–they’re different.

[4] Matthey’s version is available via Google Books, and is worth a look for what he says about the Ms. history, its discovery in the BM in 1890, and the role Alfred Hutton played in verifying it as having been written by Silver.

[5] Wiktenauer, under the entry for Leuven Transcription, suggests the Brief Instructions were written ca. 1605, but I have not attempted to verify that and the editor of the page does not cite a source. Cf. https://wiktenauer.com/wiki/Bref_instructions_upon_my_Paradoxes_of_defence_(MS_1086)

[6] The idea of weapon-hand-then-feet is not mine, but a widely accepted and well-demonstrated and accepted theory concerning universals in using a sword, from the Walpurgis Ms. and Fiore on down to late 19th, early 20th century military manuals. It’s in pretty much every work on fencing, but we see it in Asian martial arts, boxing, etc. These universal principles of fight are elements that are always there, but which are expressed in different ways according to need, situation, context, time, ability, mindset, and purpose.

It’s also worth noting that the duel was relatively short-lived in England. The practice thrived longer in Ireland, but there too died out before it did on the Continent. France and Italy retained the duel far longer, one reason for the number of works on fencing produced in those two languages, and so it is little wonder that so much of what became the sport was influenced by the two nations where a fight between two opponents to first blood or death was still a possibility into the 20th century.

Author: jemmons0611

Vis enim vincitur Arte.

15 thoughts on ““Silver” as Trigger-word”

  1. Ahh, Jimbo, my dear friend, I thoroughly enjoyed your always insightful writing, and can almost hear the swish of your cutting wit and see the wry shakes of your head. So glad I found your page. Drop me a line and we can catch up on so much.
    Your sword brother Phil

    Like

  2. Hello,
    I appreciate the critique, but you got an awful lot wrong here. I’m not going to get into it, because as you say, “to address all the issues would take far too long, and what is more would be an utter waste of time.” However, I will provide a few examples.

    You wrote:
    “Hand’s theory has changed over time with his continued study, and in my experience not one person working Silver has advocated this “slow hand” idea they attribute to him. This idea of the hand moving first and then slowing down, for example, is not a notion I’ve heard from anyone, Hand included. ”

    In his 2020 response paper entitled “Will the Real George Silver Please Stand Up?”, Stephen Hand wrote the following:
    “The mechanism that fulfils all of these requirements is something that has come to be
    referred to as “the slow hand”. This is not a name I created, or particularly like. It was
    coined around 2001 by Bob Charron and was, at least in part, a pun on my surname. The
    term comes from the way in which the hand is slowed fractionally, so as not to arrive before
    the foot or feet have brought it within distance. The hand is not slow in any absolute sense.
    It still moves quickly, just not as quickly as possible. The fractional slowing allows the hand
    to speed up and/or change direction while the attack is progressing. ”

    You wrote:
    “To put it bluntly, this paper wrestles with a concept that any first day foil student learns, to wit, that the weapon and hand proceed [sic] the feet.”

    I don’t know what to tell you, except that it does not wrestle with this concept. Yes, the hand precedes the foot/feet. That is not in question. What are a matter of debate, however, are the tactics involved with this concept.

    You wrote:
    “The “Place” that M&C make such hay about is just Silver’s equivalent of what today we normally refer to as being “in distance,” that is, where either opponent might hit one another. It’s merely his wording for the same idea that other authors mention too. In this instance it means that so long as one does this right, one will be so situated as to take advantage of that fact, of the ability to strike first.”

    Yes, exactly. Also, from reading your brief impressions here of what Silver discussed, it seems to me as if you haven’t invested much time into trying to understand his system.

    You actually include several points in favor of our interpretation and against Hand’s, including:
    “Silver’s concern was not an explication of Aristotelian ideas of time, nor that of anyone else, but how to fight according to his principles…”

    Anyway, best of luck to you in your future studies.
    -C

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  3. Hello C (Cory I presume?),

    It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance if only virtually for now. Thank you for taking the time to read my post—it was a nice surprise to find your comment this morning. Having read it, I would like to correct a few misunderstandings, ones that may, if you chose, help you should you wish to revise and improve your paper.

    _Re: Hand & this “Slow Hand” Business_
    First, in both your paper and comment here you don’t seem to understand what Hand meant in that paper. One thing that would help is to read a basic work on fencing pedagogy (I can suggest some if you like). More advanced works, especially those geared toward high level competition, won’t assist you much because they assume a knowledge of fundamentals that your paper suggests you’ve not yet acquired. That’s not a dig, just an observation. The rudiments are easy to gain—there’s ample literature on this and many credible instructors you might consult. I appreciate that there’s a strong kick against “sport” texts unless they speak to one’s own views, but that doesn’t mean that one can’t learn a lot from them. When it comes to the fundamentals they’re your surest guide sans a properly trained instructor.

    As is, you have misread what Hand meant. Quoting your quotation above, Hand wrote:

    The mechanism that fulfils all of these requirements is something that has come to be
    referred to as “the slow hand”. This is not a name I created, or particularly like. It was
    coined around 2001 by Bob Charron and was, at least in part, a pun on my surname. The
    term comes from the way in which the hand is slowed fractionally, so as not to arrive before
    the foot or feet have brought it within distance. The hand is not slow in any absolute sense.
    It still moves quickly, just not as quickly as possible. The fractional slowing allows the hand
    to speed up and/or change direction while the attack is progressing.
    (Hand, “Will the Real George Silver Please Stand Up,” 2020)

    First, this idea belongs to Bob Charron and is _twenty years old_—that alone should make one pause: is this idea still relevant? Second, Hand says in the second sentence that he _doesn’t_ like this concept. In other words, he doesn’t advocate it, something your paper claims he does. The rest is Hand explaining what the idea _is_, not a statement of agreement with it. In fairness to you his explanation of it assumes a lot and that isn’t necessarily clear; without understanding the order of operations in fencing it’s hard not to take this “slow hand” idea at face value. One can’t, however, because while this notion is meant to capture the idea that the hand can shift the weapon’s position when it precedes the feet, it’s a clumsy way of stating it. That is one reason Hand doesn’t like it—it confuses the issue.

    Silver put the hand/weapon before the feet just as most masters did and still do. In modern parlance—something your paper seemingly goes to great pains to avoid (and to its detriment)—one extends the weapon first since it presents the greatest threat and at the same time keeps one safer (a smart opponent is less likely to move against an obvious threat to their own safety). Performed in the right tempo and from the correct distance one can change the direction of the weapon as needed, something only possible if all three elements—the extension of the weapon, the tempo chosen to attack, and the distance—are in alignment and correct. The hand doesn’t slow so much as have, by virtue of having moved first, more “time” to act.

    A simple example is a feint-cut. If my feet and hand move at the same time—which is a bad idea– then presumably I’m close enough to strike. By definition I’m probably in distance to be hit myself. If I suspect my opponent will fall for a feint—something I must test—then I need to decide how to make that feint, and importantly, from what distance. I can feint in measure, sure, but it’s risky; I’m open to a counter, and, we know these happen—if modern HEMA tourneys aren’t proof enough, then perhaps the death of someone like Cavallotti in 1898 who failed to observe these basic principles might serve. It’s safest to make the feint on the extension first: with luck I provoke the desired defensive response (say a head parry). As my opponent is making that head parry, my body follows the extension and as the opponent assumes their parry my cut deviates to the flank. Because the hand/weapon moved first—something as true to Silver as any modern work on fencing—and because I launched the attack from the correct distance, I have time to redirect the weapon in that one attack. One thing people miss is that the extension is _not_ made in a separate tempo—the foot follows almost immediately; this is to say that one doesn’t make the extension, wait a second, and then continue. When I teach this I describe it as feeling a bit like someone has tied a rope to your sword and has pulled you forward by it—the sword, being closest to the person with the rope, goes first, then the arm attached to the sword, etc. If your intent was to discuss tactics around this basic concept—weapon proceeds foot—then you need to have a complete grasp of that basic concept first. You don’t if you are still struggling to understand the quotation you shared here.

    With regard to my acquaintance with Silver, if my post—which discussed not only some of the textual history as well as his diction—isn’t proof enough that I’ve spent some time with his work, then there’s little to say that will mean much to you. I’ve looked at Silver, for what it’s worth, off and on since the 1990s, but he isn’t my focus (my first exposure was via Turner and Soper, 1990). Once upon a time I was part of a small group working through his text, but I have no investment in Silver beyond general interest—I read your paper, for example, to see what it had to say, the way I do many topics in historical fencing. My focus is Italian, but I’m a generalist at heart and there’s always more to learn. The unfortunate but all too common mess that followed in the wake of your paper _does_ interest me, because we—as a community—are exceptionally poor at assessing the quality of interpretations and even less nimble in debating them. This has long troubled me, and it’s something I would like to help fix. Most such discussions—and the one in the wake of your paper is no exception—become battles between bruised egos and online pissing matches less concerned with content than in hurling _ad hominem_ attacks with a violence one normally only sees with apes and feces. We should all lament this. However, until we as a community recognize the problem, and its roots (ego and a severe bias against any authority not autochthonic to HEMA), it won’t change. If the Olympic world’s own fiascos are any guide, it is unlikely to change, just further fragment. For a long time I tried to create more bridges, but very few people—on any side—seem interested. This is, by the way, one reason I posted about your paper and addressed the issues in it or which it raises.

    With regard to Aristotle, my point is that your treatment of his stance on time is tangential to the discussion of Silver’s description of tempo. To date I’ve not read or listened to anything Hand has said about Aristotelian time that affects his understanding of fencing time adversely, so how that portion of the discussion is relevant in your paper remains a mystery. What, exactly, do you think it refutes? If you think it will help the reader to know something of the historical context, great, but save it for a footnote. This indicates that you are familiar with all that, something your readers may wish to know, but also assigns the issue to its proper place.

    As someone who has faced many critics (some absolutely brutal), not only in conferences in my field but over things I’ve published, one thing I’ve learned is that it’s usually best to take such reviews as opportunities to improve our work. That’s not easy; it takes practice not to take it personally (even when it’s meant that way). You’re clearly a passionate fencer and researcher, and naturally you want to do your best work, to produce an argument or interpretation that will speak beyond your immediate circle and convince a wider audience. Why else share it?

    To do that well, however, means more than crafting the argument and finding support for it. That’s easy—the hard part is dealing with where one’s argument is weak, with those things that may undermine one’s position. In going against something as well-established as Silver’s notion of fencing time you have your work cut out for you. Experts, from scholars to fencing masters, are mostly in consensus that his “true times” correspond with traditional theory, to wit, the weapon must move first. If the paper was supposed to be about tactical applications of this universal principle, then it needs significant revision.

    If you need help, and most researchers do, there’s no shame in getting it, even from the _sect-that-shall-not-be-named_ in HEMA, Olympic fencing. The established vocabulary used there, for example, would only help you in the expression of your ideas. These are terms mostly derived from the period in which you and I both work, from say 1500 CE to the present, and which, being shared, help you ensure that your readers understand you. To avoid all that you might gain there out of fear that HEMA will find it suspect is unfortunate, and not only because HEMA is wrong about it—too many take the problems in the sport as its totality—that is no more true of Olympic fencing than it is of HEMA.

    It’s also critical to make sure we understand a point of view as best we can before engaging it. Sometimes that’s not possible, but in this case it was. Hand is still researching and is clearly happy to engage others about Silver. Obtaining a better sense of exactly where he stood on this “slow hand” business would have saved you a lot of headache. From your comment it seems clear that even now you’re still wrestling with what he meant. If so, then given how long he has been at this, longer than many reading your paper have been alive let alone fencing, overturning so many years of research isn’t impossible, but a daunting task requiring considerable skill. If the thesis misunderstands that research, then the argument built on that misunderstanding is a house of cards. No credible researcher will take it seriously. How does that expand our knowledge about Silver or anyone else? How does that serve you?

    We can be sore when an idea of ours is called into question. That’s human nature. But, there are two things that will do much to alleviate that—first, we must have some humility. We should state our case but do so without arrogance and with due respect for the giants upon whose shoulders we stand. Stephen Hand has been looking at this material since the 1980s, and some pretty solid researchers back him. That is suggestive. There is a strong trend in HEMA, especially among its more popular set, to discount anyone but themselves (or those whom they feel agree with them…) and assume an authority they’ve not earned. That’s a problem and does more to undermine the community than they realize. Why cut out those who can only help you? If they don’t agree, find out why, and learn something. They will learn something too. Second, when we receive criticism, we need to keep an open mind and be gracious. It might be that someone has something to offer that might help us, but if nothing else being gracious will piss off severe critics—they hate receiving a handshake in exchange for a punch. It makes them look as small as they truly are.

    Thanks again for your comment and good luck with your project.

    Jim

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Hi Jim,

    I enjoyed your discussion. For those who want a more academic discussion of the issues than my colleague Paul’s amusing video, here’s a link to the paper I wrote in response to Winslow and Edelson (and quite a bit of other material if anyone’s interested). The paper is titled “Will the Real George Silver Please Stand up” https://stephen-hand.selz.com/

    Cheers
    Stephen Hand

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hello Jim,

    It’s nice to virtually meet you as well, although I wish that the circumstances were a bit different. I’m not really interested into getting too in-depth here, as I have several items that I am working on (and too little time), but I can offer comment on at least a few points.

    Thank you for the recommendations for reading up on fencing pedagogy. I have been practicing HEMA for about 18 years now, and I have many friends with modern fencing backgrounds, some of whom helped in proofreading and editing our paper (a list of these people is included in our paper).

    You wrote: ‘Re: Hand & this “Slow Hand” Business’

    I beg to differ, as this is not the case, and you have misunderstood what Hand wrote. Charron did not invent the idea of the “slow hand”; he simply coined the name for it. Furthermore, Stephen Hand does not reject this concept, he only dislikes the name “slow hand” itself, because it (correctly) suggests that with it the hand is slowed, and “the hand in that manner of fight is tied to the time of the foot or feet, and being tied thereto, has lost his freedom, and is made thereby as slow in his motions as the foot or feet, and therefore that fight is false”, as Silver describes.

    If you are indeed claiming that Stephen Hand no longer advocates the “slow hand” method, then you are quite mistaken.

    You wrote: “Silver put the hand/weapon before the feet just as most masters did and still do. In modern parlance—something your paper seemingly goes to great pains to avoid (and to its detriment)”

    I’m not sure why you keep saying that we do not advocate putting the weapon before the foot or feet. We do.

    You wrote: “Performed in the right tempo and from the correct distance one can change the direction of the weapon as needed, something only possible if all three elements—the extension of the weapon, the tempo chosen to attack, and the distance—are in alignment and correct. The hand doesn’t slow so much as have, by virtue of having moved first, more “time” to act.
    A simple example is a feint-cut.”

    Yes, I understand the timing involved with this. This is not the issue. While Silver acknowledges that such deceptive attacks are sometimes useful he does not rely on them, as he recognizes their inherent danger, saying “If you meet with one that cannot strike from his ward, upon such a one you may both double & false & so deceive him, but if he is skillful you must not do so, because he will be still so uncertain in his traverse that he will still prevent you of time & place, so that when you think to double & false, you shall gain him the place & there upon he will be before you in his action, & your coming he will still endanger you.”

    You wrote: “The unfortunate but all too common mess that followed in the wake of your paper does interest me, because we—as a community—are exceptionally poor at assessing the quality of interpretations and even less nimble in debating them. This has long troubled me, and it’s something I would like to help fix. Most such discussions—and the one in the wake of your paper is no exception—become battles between bruised egos and online pissing matches less concerned with content than in hurling ad hominem attacks with a violence one normally only sees with apes and feces. We should all lament this.”

    And part of your lamentation was to share and praise an extremely disrespectful video on the subject? I asked for Paul’s feedback in good faith, and after initially amiably (I thought) agreeing to give it, he strung me along for months, and then finally sent me this on the day before Christmas. The video itself is full of straw men, but that’s beside the point. Both Paul and Stephen have met our criticism of their long-standing interpretations with nothing but hostility, ad hominem attacks included. I’ve been variously called a climate-denier, flat-earther, anti-vaxxer, purveyor of alternate facts, and a “Renfield” who has an “agenda”, and makes “not an honest attempt to interpret the sources” but is “part of a movement to undermine the principles” of the sources; and all this because I called them “incorrect”.

    You wrote: “To date I’ve not read or listened to anything Hand has said about Aristotelian time that affects his understanding of fencing time adversely, so how that portion of the discussion is relevant in your paper remains a mystery. What, exactly, do you think it refutes?”

    Hand claimed that we do not understand Aristotle’s concepts.

    You wrote: “As someone who has faced many critics (some absolutely brutal), not only in conferences in my field but over things I’ve published, one thing I’ve learned is that it’s usually best to take such reviews as opportunities to improve our work. That’s not easy; it takes practice not to take it personally (even when it’s meant that way).

    Again, thank you for the advice. I’ve been in this for a long time, and I am more than happy to take criticism, as I think my record shows. Hand’s criticism came in the form of hostility, as obviously did Paul’s, of which I am not appreciative. If anyone needs to heed your advice on being open to criticism, it’s those who make videos and long posts on social media platforms mocking those who present dissenting theories (whether correct or not).

    You wrote: “It’s also critical to make sure we understand a point of view as best we can before engaging it. Sometimes that’s not possible, but in this case it was. Hand is still researching and is clearly happy to engage others about Silver. Obtaining a better sense of exactly where he stood on this “slow hand” business would have saved you a lot of headache.”

    I have taken extensive notes on Hand’s interpretation, and as you note, even consulted him before writing our paper. You, however, were not aware that he is still using the “slow hand” (although he dislikes the name), and you failed to contact me for any points of clarification before writing this article of yours.

    You make a lot of assumptions in your last paragraph, although I entirely agree with your last point. Thank you again for offering your thoughts.

    Take care,
    -C

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cory,

      Given that I am being defamed here, I will respond. I do not like the term slow hand as it implies something unusual about the nature of Silver’s attacks. There is nothing unusual about Silver’s attacks, the hand moves first to provide defence and create a threat and is followed by the foot or feet, as in every attack made with a step in any fencing system ever devised. Of course this requires that the hand initially not be moving at full speed, or it would outpace the slower foot. The hand is, however, NOT tied to the speed of the foot (one of the critical elements making something a false time) and is free to speed up and change direction as the attack progresses (I have shown this in video over and over but you continue to promote the falsehood that the hand is tied to the speed of the foot in a true time attack). This is entirely unremarkable and to suggest that it is, is to show a deep lack of understanding of basic fencing mechanics. You state that people with modern fencing backgrounds read your paper. You imply that they agreed with you. I have been approached by multiple reviewers of your paper who have told me that they did not feel you made your case and recommended against publication.

      You have stated that I have called you “a climate-denier, flat-earther, anti-vaxxer, purveyor of alternate facts, and a “Renfield””. I have not. I do not even know what that last term means. If other people are calling you these names, then I suggest you step back and consider what it is about your claims that makes them use such emotive language. You are after all claiming that a fencing system exists where there are no attacks made with steps to close distance, a quite extraordinary claim that would require quite extraordinary evidence, which you have thus far been unable to supply.

      I initially met your denial and twisting of what Silver actually said with polite correction. I pointed out in words and in video that in a true time attack the speed of the hand is not tied to the speed of the foot as you falsely claim. I pointed out that an attack in which the hand leads cannot be a false time as Silver explicitly defines false times as being where the foot leads. I politely pointed out numerous other flaws in your interpretation, in part to save you from the embarrassment of attaching your name to such demonstrably false ideas, but mainly to promote a better understanding of Silver and to prevent misinformation about Silver’s system to be promulgated. You did not listen. You published a paper shot through with poor scholarship. I published a paper comprehensively demolishing your position, showing that you repeatedly contradict what Silver actually wrote, that you expect readers to believe that Silver used the language of Aristotelian physics to mean something quite different to Aristotle, but never once felt the need to explain to his readers that he was using this language in such a different way, that you expect us to believe that Silver’s claims to be part of an English tradition were untrue, that his system was actually massively different from all other works in the English tradition. You continue not to listen. If you have now become an object of ridicule as a result of your insistence on denying reality, it is not my fault.

      While I am always happy to engage in serious debate about the nature of Silver’s system, the fact that I have been forced to spend a large amount of time pointing out the basics of how fencing works is incredibly frustrating and has frayed my patience. It has ruined your reputation. Another term I have heard used about you, that you didn’t mention is “the new John Clements”. Is this really how you wish to be remembered? You have a clear choice, either stop this silliness, stop trying to prove that a fencing system exists with no attacks made from wide distance, or double down and end up like Clements yelling into the wind that you must never parry with the edge. Your choice.

      Stephen Hand

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Stephen,

        I disagree with just about everything you wrote here.

        You are always very careful to not directly call me a derogatory name, bit instead liken me to someone who is rightly ridiculed for being ignorant, as you did recently on Youtube, comparing me to a creationist. As for “Renfield”, that one wasn’t you, but one of your friends in the states who likes to defame me for daring to question his assertions. He did this as part of a thread in which you were involved. You even suggest here (by means of claiming that someone else said it) that I am like John Clements.

        When I caught you mocking me on someone’s page on social media, where you thought that I couldn’t see, you first ridiculed me for defending myself there, and then unfriended me. That is some seriously childish behaviour.

        I have no illusions about swaying you here (or anywhere for that matter) in regards to your interpretations on Silver, and so I will leave you to your own musings on the other subjects you mention. My response to your most recent article is forthcoming.

        -Cory

        Like

  6. Hi Cory,

    Thank you for your reply—I’d hoped to make this response shorter, but failed—among other shortcomings I can be verbose, as you’ve seen lol, but I’d like to address a few points you made in this most recent comment. As you didn’t address the points I made but doubled down with your own views there’s not much I can respond to in re the substance of your paper or reply beyond what I’ve already shared (there’s a difference between responding to _what_ someone wrote and responding to the fact that they wrote it). Restating what has already been said is pointless so I won’t do that, but there are a few things germane to the issue underlying this debate—how our community approaches, assesses, presents, and reacts to research—that deserve a word.

    My reading of Hand’s comments (especially pages 30-32 of Hand’s “Will the Real George Silver Please Stand Up?” (2020)), the take-away from his video replies to specific accusations, and the reviews by some of the qualified experts who’ve read both papers suggest that you have misread Hand. I could break down his sentences grammatically to explain it on that level, but my sense is that it wouldn’t matter. The words of the man himself have made absolutely no dent in your stance. That is a red flag: either you don’t understand him or disagree so violently, despite the evidence, that you claim he is saying things he isn’t. There is a difference in explaining what X means and promoting X—for a strong analogy, no one in their right mind would say that William L. Shirer in writing _The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich_ was advocating Nazism; he was chronicling it, writing about it. Hand, from all I’ve seen, isn’t so much pushing this slow-hand idea as explaining it because other people, you for example, keep bringing it up. I shouldn’t have to add that persisting in a claim that someone is saying X when they repeatedly demonstrate that they are saying Y doesn’t look good.

    Of the two arguments Hand’s corresponds far better to what Silver wrote. He has demonstrated this more successfully using the source in his refutation, but rather than address the points he made you present the same argument. Either you can’t refute him or don’t wish to and so fall back on what you have. I like to give the benefit of the doubt whenever possible, so I’ve been proceeding on the theory that you don’t understand him. It strikes me as odd that anyone with 18 years of experience, assuming good teachers, would make the mistakes in your paper that are there or fail to see how his argument isn’t stronger. This was one reason that I suggested reading basic fencing texts. If you _do_ understand the order of operations in fencing movement, then I’m at a loss to understand how you continue to defend your theory. It doesn’t follow.

    If there’s one rule in research it is never to lose sight of the fact that you could get something wrong. We all do at some point, and, normally more than once. Repeating the same argument, but never addressing legitimate criticism, does nothing to help and in fact works more to undermine both the argument and arguer. At this point it’s not even debate, because debate only works if there’s a reasonable chance that either party might shift their thinking in light of evidence and argument. This is just entrenchment and it’s a dead-end, pointless. Those who support you will likely continue to do so, Hand’s colleagues will back him, and there it is.

    Sadly, HEMA research seems to devolve into this each time, into two (or more) camps equally convinced that they’re right, but one or more pigheadedly refusing to acknowledge faults in their stance. Some things are what they are regardless of how one feels about it or desires it to be. It’s not a perfect example, but it will serve—the tired argument over how to hold a longsword. At last check there were still people advocating that one must hold a longsword this _one_ way despite the fact that various manuscripts and artistic depictions (which must always be used with caution) make it clear that there were a variety of ways to grip the weapon depending on context. No amount of citing the one line from this manuscript or posting one image over and over again changes that fact. I fear that we are in a similar situation here.

    There is a popular (and misguided) belief in HEMA (well, everywhere really, at least in the US) that anyone can jump into research; the truth is that one _can_, but with the caveat that to be _successful_ they must use the tools of research properly. There are rules, procedures, and methods of reasoning that professional researchers use that establish both credibility and, if lucky, a solid case for whatever one’s views on their topic might be. It’s not coincidence but necessity that most researchers—regardless of field—spend additional years training to do this under the tutelage of acknowledged, certified experts. Conducting research and writing about it in a way that people the world over can understand it is not easy. Entering that world means understanding and in some degree abiding the rules that govern it; one must at least accept that there are standards one is expected to meet. Put another way, there are a lot of similarities between the five-paragraph essay, a term paper, and an academic article, but the differences are far more important. The ability to write the first two doesn’t automatically qualify one to write the third.

    For some complicated reasons, however, many people either fail to understand this or think it doesn’t matter. There are lot of people in HEMA playing scholar who shouldn’t be, and worse, even more people that allow it to happen. If anyone dares call them on it, especially actual experts, they’re shouted down. This is odd, because in most any other context no one would do this sort of thing. Were I to show up at my local hospital to conduct a triple-bypass armed with a deep knowledge of the show “ER,” exposure to videos of surgery on youtube, and a can-do attitude how would that go? I’ve been driving for decades, I’ve driven in multiple countries, I know how a combustion engine works, and I know a lot of words associated with engines, but this doesn’t qualify me to work on your car (seriously, if I so much as open the hood my neighbors come out to stop me and help). Somehow, though, this doesn’t apply to scholarship. Why is that?

    I don’t have a simple answer, but if you consider how experts are generally characterized in popular entertainment, they’re either clowns or evil geniuses. If they’re good guys, then they’re either figures like Nick Cage’s treasure hunter showing up establishment scholars or freaks of nature like Noah Wiley’s librarian who are fit for nothing else and succeed mostly because they have help from more acceptable heroes. As a culture we don’t like experts. They’re suspect, and if not outright baddies then they’re assumed to be insufferable know-it-alls who wish to keep people in the dark. In truth, anyone who comes out of a graduate program thinking they have all the answers didn’t do it right. Acknowledging that one has expertise in something doesn’t automatically mean one is crowing about it—few academics these days have much reason to celebrate, trust me, and the boo-hoo factor there goes beyond their situation. It’s much worse than that. The inability or unwillingness to recognize and trust expertise, of any stamp, isn’t just sad, but dangerous as our political and social lives demonstrate all too powerfully today.

    The examples of how we in HEMA fail to recognize and work with experts are legion, from google-translate inspired translations to self-published books with all the trappings of legitimacy, but which never saw an editor’s pen. Yes, there are also excellent translations and monographs out there, but when this happens it’s because those authors did it right, amateur or expert. To name an example in addition to Hand’s work and one I know well there is the work of Christopher A. Holzman. Chris, a lawyer by day, knows how to build an argument and use evidence—he was trained to do so; he learned Italian, and his training in fencing was excellent, both of which set him up well to do the translation work he does. Chris could churn these out on his own, but he doesn’t—he makes sure that native speakers and fellow experts in fencing review his work. These are people, as his acknowledgements reveal, like Tom Leoni, Giancarlo Toran, and others. When they have a quibble or disagree with a turn of phrase or see something they tell him, Chris looks at it, and if it makes sense makes the change. He is quick to cite and thank these reviewers too. I have done a little work for Chris with the Latin portions of some of his projects, and when I produce any Latin translation I submit my work to colleagues whose command of the language is better than my own; you will see that their names, Antone Minard and Ken Tuite, are mentioned for their role in this. While Chris and I may be friends or associates with some of these people, we go to them because of the expertise that they have earned and demonstrated. They are experts by virtue of training. This said, not all of these individuals have a doctorate or master of arms. A degree isn’t a must, but adherence to the dictates of serious research is. I know, having read you paper, that you had a few well-known researchers review your paper too, but I must say knowing what I do about a few of them I’m curious how they responded to your argument and to what degree their influence is present. Having read their work I imagine that they would have had a few reservations about your conclusions.

    As to _ad hominem attacks_, I have nothing but sympathy for you and others who’ve suffered the insults so quickly traded in these discussions. I don’t enjoy them either. I’ve not seen this happen here, and I haven’t seen anything untoward from Mr. Hand, but I’m sure fb has plenty of examples by others…There is rarely if ever reason to sink to name-calling. It’s lamentable in the extreme and reflects poorly on all of us. Please know that while I disagree with your thesis, and while the teacher in me feels compelled to try to help, that as a researcher myself I know how bloody hard this sort of thing is to do. Criticism of our work is difficult enough to deal with, right? I’ve been hard at work on a project myself, and while I think it’s worth doing, I know it will find detractors and that one might make it a personal crusade to thump me for my daring disagree with them. It’s part of the job. It’s like fencing—we’re going to be hit, probably a lot, so if that fact troubles us then maybe this isn’t the best pursuit for us. By the same analogy, if we can accept a few bruises and the loss of a touch, then we just might get better at it.

    Good luck with your project.

    Jim

    Like

  7. Jim,

    Fair enough. Thank you for offering to help. If you ever take a real interest in further understanding Silver I’d be happy to talk about the subject.

    Best of luck,
    Cory

    Like

    1. Hello Cory,

      I’ve enjoyed our discussion–it’s been revealing. I imagine you have little interest in my help, and that’s okay of course, but if you ever decide you’d like it I’d be happy to assist however I can.

      Like I said, I have no personal stake in anything we’ve been talking about beyond the fact that I’d like to see more rigor in HEMA research. Saying so, apparently, tends to bruise a few egos among HEMA’s in-crowd, which while unfortunate is hardly surprising. I can lament that they’re so easily put out and reluctant to befriend researchers who have disagreed with them or failed to pay the homage they feel they deserve, but that failing is on them and doesn’t affect me. It would be great to work better together, but it’s not a requirement and there is plenty of work for all.

      I wish you the best with your project. If our paths cross I’d love to talk about the subject we both love so much again.

      Jim

      Like

  8. NB: I’m locking down the comments for this post. It was important to me for each party to have their say, and they have, but it seems clear that further discussion will add little. From what I hear a parallel discussion about this exchange has turned ugly on social media and I have no wish to do anything to foster or support that. If someone should read this and wish to talk with me, please feel free to contact me.

    Like

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