The recent discussion about George Silver that caused such a hullabaloo within historical fencing was, to my mind, answered in full by Stephen Hand in his paper “Will the Real George Silver Please Stand Up (available free, here: https://stephen-hand.selz.com/ ).”
In a post I shared here [“’Silver’ as Trigger Word,” 30 Dec. 2020] I mentioned that nothing I had seen by Hand suggested that he advocated the “slow hand” as described by those promoting the “alternative interpretation.” Having just purchased Mr. Hand’s English Swordsmanship: The True Fight of George Silver (2006), which I had not read at that time, I was finally able to see if Hand uses the term and if his opponents’ reading of it is correct. Yes, Hand does mention a “slow hand,” but no it doesn’t mean what that alternative camp thinks it does.
Page 11 of English Swordsmanship contains the “slow hand” discussion. Hand’s detractors have missed the point of the entire chapter. His approach to explaining this difficult concept uses hypophora, a well-known rhetorical device, in which the author asks questions and then answers them. For example, he asks “So how is it, that in an attack, the swift hand can move before the slow foot and yet both arrive together?” This is a device; it’s a way of setting up his explanation of Silver’s approach by guiding the reader to ask the right question.
The next sentence makes this even more clear, e.g. “Why isn’t it better to start moving with the slower foot and reserve the action of the swifter hand until the last possible moment?” This isn’t Hand asking the question but anticipating the sort of question that a reader without much training might ask. The last sentence in this first full paragraph ties it all together. Hand says, as a teacher might, that these are important questions, and that their answers—which he hasn’t discussed completely as yet—are “fundamental to an understanding of Silver’s true fight.” After all, this is what Hand is doing, explaining a key concept of fencing as Silver expressed it.
In truth, Hand provides the answer early in this section, but for those without a solid grasp of fencing theory they might miss it. Hand writes:
In any attack involving a foot movement, in any art, the attack should arrive at the same time as the stepping foot. This is so that the strength of the entire body can be transmitted through the arm into the weapon, to maintain correct balance and finally, because the attack should land as soon as the movement of the foot has brought the attacker (the Agent) close enough to hit. This is when the foot lands or possibly very slightly before.
That last line is critical. Silver is not talking about a lunge, but a step. In a lunge the true times apply as well—weapon/hand precedes foot and body—but the mechanics of the attack mean that the weapon, ideally, lands just before the front foot comes to rest. It often arrives at the same time. What cannot happen, however, is for that foot to start first. Why? The foot is slow and telegraphs the fact that an attack is coming, information that the defender can then use to decide whether to defend or attempt a counterattack. The weapon moving first puts the opponent in danger—they must deal with the advancing weapon or be injured.
Where a lunge is a compromise between safety and maximum extension of the weapon to target, a step or pass is shorter, the body closer to target as one closes. For example, if one is in Silver’s guard of Open Fight (similar to Ital. guardia alta), a guard where the weapon is poised above one ready to strike and intends to make a head-cut, letting the blade simply fall at the opponent won’t work. The arc is slow. If however one drops the fist down and out this projects the weapon between one and the opponent, increases the momentum, and makes it safer to step and finish the blow. When Hand refers to “slowing the hand, so that the attack arrives as the foot lands,” this is what he’s talking about. It’s a question of sequence—as he explains in the very next sentence:
Moving the hand first creates a threat (the weapon) before the target (the body) is brought into distance. In order to be safe, one must make a threat before one creates a target.
This doesn’t defy Silver’s admonition that the hand being tied to the foot is a false time, because the hand precedes the foot. It starts before the foot, it interposes the weapon before the foot moves, and that is the important part. Whether the blade lands at the same time or just before the foot is another issue, one that takes place after the attack starts. So long as the hand starts first—assuming everything else is in place—then one is observing the true times.
Should anyone think Silver is up the pole about this hand first business, a quick look at Marcelli’s Rule of Fencing (1686) makes an illuminating comparison:
From this presupposed termination, I take note of that which I have said until now, for the precedence of the hand in the beginning of the thrust. Since it is a certain maxim in fencing, that, in finishing the thrust, all the movements of the body have to finish together and in the same tempo, being in a single tempo firm and well situated with the body in the termination. For that reason, to effect accomplishing that, the hand must necessarily move before any other part, since this, having to make a longer path, and a greater movement, it is necessary that it would advance first of all. [n.]
However expressed, the concept can be difficult to grasp let alone perform. Hand does a fantastic job setting up this discussion and clearly took his time to do so because he knows full well how subtle a point this is: it may be a concept foreign to non-fencers or new martial artists and thus needs careful explanation. Despite the effective use of rhetorical devices to guide the reader, some will still trip up, especially if they don’t understand the principle of weapon-first. As Hand says, this is universal to martial arts. For a quick example, if I step into distance before launching a punch I may be punched first; if I kick from out of distance an opponent may trap my leg. Each of these examples distills the complex relationship between measure, tempo, and judgment, that is, knowing one is in the right place to attack.
It is exceedingly difficult to capture the complexities of movement in words. This said, Hand makes it very clear what he means by “slow hand:”
So, leading with the hand creates a threat before creating a target and allows for far greater tactical flexibility. The hand must be slowed, but does not have to remain slow. This natural by-product of attacking in the third or fourth true times can be used as an instrument of great tactical subtlety. I sometimes refer to this as attacking with the slow hand but perhaps a more useful term is broken time. A single time, by definition a single action, can be broken into two or more parts. These parts are not actions in their own right, but are distinct parts of a single complex action.
Anyone with a background in fencing should understand what this means. It’s a very old idea and one common to all fencing. For example, a direct lunge in foil is one tempo; an attack with a disengage is one tempo. However, if I feint or beat, that is two tempi. One might assume that a disengage is two tempi because the blade moves from one side to the other, but this motion happens—to quote Hand—as “distinct parts of a single complex action.” If a reader doesn’t understand this, however, then they are going to find Silver’s true times, especially in Silver’s English, challenging or nonsensical.
“Broken time” is more complex still. I tend to use similar language when I explain this to students. In fencing we often talk about breaking tempo. It is an advanced tactic that experienced fencers often use. The reason is that performing any action in single tempo is difficult enough. It takes time to do it well. As one improves one adds compound attacks and actions of multiple tempi, and then when these are well understood one learns how to break tempo.
This can be done a variety of ways. One can break tempo by changing the speed of one’s footwork, and, by changing the speed of one’s hand. In each instance, however, this only works if the elements of fencing are present, that is, if one is abiding the universal principles which govern it. For example, if I wish to change the tempo of a riposte, I might set up an opponent the first few exchanges to expect an immediate riposte. Then, the next time, I might a) hold the riposte for a second then make the return (an indirect riposte) or b) feint to the same line, but then cut to another (a compound parry-riposte). In that first instance, the indirect riposte, I’m playing with the tempo, I’m slowing my response so that my opponent will parry to the same place they did previously so that I can attack in a new line. That is using a “slow hand.” Of note, my hand still starts first—I do not advance and then strike (having just attacked me it is far more likely that I took a half step back to parry). If I hold an indirect or the first feint of a compound parry/riposte too long I increase the chance of my opponent making a remise (the renewal of an attack after its been parried by attacking to the same line as the original action). All of this, moreover, takes places in nanoseconds, so “slow” is extremely relative.
Most of the confusion should be resolved if one distinguishes between when the weapon/hand starts (it should be first) and when the weapon/hand lands. Manipulating tempo like that, breaking it, is not easy to do well and it can go wrong quickly. It is also a difficult skill to acquire if one hasn’t put in the time to master fundamental actions first. Generally, if a student is still learning the basic rules, if they are still working to grasp the order of operations for an attack, then they’re not ready to work on breaking tempo.
[n] Francesco Antonio Marcelli, Rules of Fencing, 1686, translated by Christopher A. Holzman, Lulu Press, 2019, 111. The original Italian reads: Da questa presupposta termination, prendo ragione di quell che sin’hora hò detto, per l’anticipatione della mano nella partenza della Stoccata. Poiche è Massima certa nella Scherma, che nel terminare la botta, si hanno da terminare unitamente, & in un’istesso tempo tutti I moti del corpo, restando in un tempo solo fermo, e ben situate con la vita nella termination. Perloche, ad effetto di conseguire ciò, necessariamente si deue movere la mano prima d’ogn’altro mēbro; se questa, dovendo fare camino piu longo, e motto più grande; accio si trovi à tēpo nel terminare insieme con gl’altri, è necessario, che camini prima di tutti. [Marcelli, Regole della Scherma, Libro Secondo, Ch. 6, 80, available via Google Books]. NB: “ē” here is an old abbreviation for “em,” thus mēbro is membro, tēpo tempo.
15 thoughts on “Note: Concerning George Silver and the Notion of a “Slow Hand””
Having ready through a lot of your discussion of Silver, I have to say, I’m a bit perplexed as to why you keep insisting that Cory Winslow doesn’t *understand* Stephen Hand, rather than that he simply disagrees with him? In almost every exchange regarding the matter that I’ve seen, Cory has made it quite clear that he *understands* what Stephen Hand means when he says the hand is supposed to move before the foot. As you say, it’s fairly basic fencing and pretty much all of us who have been in the game for more than a few years understand it.
The question that Cory has been engaging with is whether or not *Silver* liked this approach to tactics or wanted people to do something different. That’s not a question that can really be answered by appealing to classical fencing theory or foil because those arts post-date Silver. When engaging with HEMA sources, it’s very important to distinguish between two different approaches to interpretation: the question of what “works” and the question of what the sources seem to be saying. These are certainly overlapping fields of inquiry, but they should be regarded as distinct. Cory’s thesis has never been that the hand-before foot interpretation is a “bad” way to fence, but rather that it isn’t what Silver, a specific human writing at a specific time with specific priorities was advocating.
Remember, Silver himself says that his method differs from the ones coming into vogue at the time he was writing. It’s possible that he was just the 16th century version of a MAGA type railing against the foreigners, but if we’re going to take him at face value when he says his book describes an effective approach to swordsmanship, it seems like we ought to also take him at face value when he says his system does things differently than the contemporary Italian approaches.
Personally I think he’s made a fairly compelling argument that Silver wanted to prioritize defense to an extent that put him out of line with both the Lichtenauer-influenced German sources that I study and the Italian ones that you prefer, but there’s always plenty of room for healthy debate on the matter. What I don’t understand is the need to insist that he doesn’t *understand* the rudiments of fencing because his interpretation of what *George Silver* appears to advocate conflicts with your study of classical saber and foil or Stephen Hand’s experience of what “works” in tournaments. (It’s also worth noting that it is Stephen and *not* Cory who has introduced tournament success as evidence for their claims. In every discussion I’ve seen, Cory has focused entirely on source-interpretation, not tournaments.)
Finally, I have to ask what you think it does to the spirit of open and honest debate and inquiry in this field when people who offer polite and good faith challenges to established theories are dismissed with comparisons to petulant children and fence-bashing emus? In every single exchange I have seen on the topic, Cory has been an absolute gentleman and I don’t understand why people have felt the need to approach his ideas with such disdain and derision.
Hi Runswithswords (Dash?), thank you for your comment.
If our previous discussions about this had so little impact, then I doubt this one will, but out of concern and in fairness to your questions, here goes. My insistence about Cory’s misunderstanding what Hand is saying, or Silver for that matter, comes down to his own insistence in ignoring near universal consensus, across fields, despite more than one person—myself included—trying to help him. He is arguing the fencing equivalent of someone today that argues the earth is flat. So, he either doesn’t understand what he’s reading or has some other reason for pushing so hard to prove something that he literally can’t, or, which is already proven. If you think that the thrust of Cory and Michael’s paper was that he thinks Silver was prioritizing defense, which no one with any decent training debates, then that says something. Water is wet. In other words, what does one prove when one proves something already proven? Nothing.
Silver is defensive-minded–who on earth says otherwise? Silver doesn’t. Hand doesn’t. Wagner doesn’t. No one does. Everything about the false times and governors is about _defense_ first and foremost. In your reading is Cory saying that Silver spent all this time writing and explaining a system divorced from earlier German and then contemporary Italian traditions? To argue that, assuming it were true, they would have to explain both of those systems fairly and _thoroughly_, and chose the correct sources to do so. If they have digested the errors about Liechtenauer and other German sources, and carry the general disregard for things Italian that aren’t rapier or Bolognese, then how effective is the argument going to be? This is to say, if one builds a theory on other theories that are also problematic or incorrect, what does that say for the outcome?
There is a methodology to source analysis. There are ways to assess a theory. You can ignore it, but that isn’t going to help make your case, not with anyone who knows that methodology. For example, one issue in the paper Cory and Michael wrote is that they seem to reject anything of use that doesn’t already meet their own view. For example, Japanese examples are okay, but not those from the same region of the world that are closer analogues to Silver? That doesn’t make a lot of sense. They want to talk about a cut-and-thrust system in the 16th century, but not discuss the Dardi School or the few surviving French sources that also cover this? You studied history, right—how would that fly in a research seminar?
Even for the medieval German sources which, almost universally in HEMA are interpreted as purely offensive, there are mentions of a defensive mindset (cf. “Zettel,” Rome Version, l. 19; 40-41; 71-73) and indeed there must be—to do nothing but attack is going to get one killed (I’ve talked with people who believe no one should ever retreat in this tradition—a dangerous argument from silence that doesn’t accord well with what the glossators imply in _how_ to be effective in the attack). Pick a source—I have Cod. HS 3227a next to me right now—from the German tradition and any selection on the attack or how to break the masters, etc., and you will see that not one is saying “just go balls out and it will all go as planned.” There is consistent reference to a well-made, properly made attack, and guess what? That is going to involve the very things that make up “classical fencing theory:” measure, tempo, speed, initiative, and judgment.
Classical fencing theory, as you call it, didn’t arrive suddenly, but is the result of 500 years at least of work. This is, actually, one of the points I keep trying to make: if you set up the better modern works against most of the ancient ones, they say the same thing. It’s not an accident, nor is it wishful thinking. The same ideas can be expressed different ways and are. The assumption that “classical” fencing theory appeared out of nowhere and rejected the bulk of what came before or replaced it is simply untrue. Read the sources; it’s all there, from I 33 to today.
Your assumption that “classical” theory is toothless is also incorrect. Even ROW is meant to mimic a sense of danger—people don’t use it well, and competitors game the system, but the whole notion there is that if something dangerous is coming at you then you should think of defense or an effective counter-offense IF that is an option. Of the three weapons taught today epee alone has retained this best.
The false dichotomy, one I understand extremely well, that HEMA makes between “wimpy sport” fencing and “martial HEMA” is false, childish, and at complete odds with both reason and the source record. BOTH have problems—the sport has allowed the touch-made to trump the touch-as-it-should-be-made in foil and sabre. No one who has fenced a long time disagrees—the difference is in how much they care. For those for whom it is a sword-based sport, it doesn’t matter; to those of us who wish the modern sport retained more of its former attention to doing only what one should do with sharps, it is. Like the sport, HEMA competition also involves people rushing at one another with little caution.
Rejecting the excesses in the sport is reasonable; rejecting 500 years of theory is not. I’m not making this up—there are people who have written about this for years, there are likely books that you have read that say the same thing. The idea that “classical” fencing theory arrived _ex nihil_ with the invention of the foil, and that it is utterly unconnected to fencing as combat, is unfortunately common in HEMA, but that doesn’t make it correct. Babies and bathwater. Rejecting what is sensible out of the classical or modern iteration has only hurt HEMA.
Some of the greatest failures in HEMA, and your comments here just prove it, are that too many people don’t know how to read, do not understand context(s), and apply their own ideas to the past. In this instance, Silver says he does things differently—okay, let’s look at that. Does he not observe the exact same rule as every single other source of worth in advocating a defensive mindset? He does, and as you know yourself, he goes one step farther and rails against the duel—that section never gets read and it is maybe the most important thing he ever wrote. Does he not suggest that if one must fight, that there is an order of operations to how that is carried out? Yep, he does, and here is the part you and others miss—his expression, his word choice, his idiom may be different, but the conclusions he reaches about fighting are NO different than his contemporaries in other traditions. Don’t believe me? Then read the sources. I’ve done little else this year but teach and read every source I can get my hands on (original language next to a translation) from Fiore and “Die Zettel” to de Silva and Gaugler today to examine this very thing.
As to the comment about polite debate. I am all for it, but the problem is that many people who are keen to engage in it don’t know how, and what is worse, put ideas out there that they haven’t thought through completely or had vetted by someone trained to do so. Two things happen as a result—they share a theory that they might not have shared had they had help, and then take things personally when someone who knows that material points out the error. There is nothing personal in this for me—my concern is the material and how people interpret it. Yes, interpretations will differ, and that’s fine, but ANY interpretation that ignores evidence and hard-formed consensus, without ample proof, is going to fail. To put it another way, if someone wants to play the scholar game, great, but it’s not a cake-walk—if anything, it is way, way harder to upset an established theory than anything else. Those who are successful at it have more than a great idea; they use the tools, methods of argumentation, and analysis required to make it convincing. Maybe you think those skills are just something one can “wing it” with? History is easy, right? It’s not, well, not when it is done well. Their paper didn’t do this successfully. When called on it, they doubled-down when what they should have done was take that criticism and revise, and by revise I mean properly, not resort to post-modern jargon in some attempt to make their point sound “smarter.”
I’m a professional scholar. I did another ten years of study after my B.A. that was, among other things, an ego crucible. Anyone who finishes a PhD program in history and lacks humility did it wrong. I gain NOTHING in this, in fact, I have gained little else but half-baked responses like your own accusing me of being a bully. You and others have taken my criticism as disdain and derision. If the timbre of my responses to Cory, each of which I did my level best to compose to a fellow-researcher with respect, came off to you as mean, then I can only assume that ANY criticism is mean. Disagreement, and disagreement with evidence to back it up, is not automatically a personal attack. As for emus etc., maybe you’ve seen the ones sent to me that I’m sure were on fb pages you follow? An emu runs into a fence because it thinks it might get through it if it hits enough times—people who ignore valid criticism that can only help them are doing the same thing with research. We all have an emu in us–one of mine is continually attempting to use the skills I’ve learned as a teacher to help fellow fencers. I also continually underestimate just how meaningless that help is unless it comes from someone they know, like, or idolize (regardless of how sound or unsound that is as a basis for anything).
If disagreeing with Cory and Michael and doing my best to point out flaws as nicely as I can, especially when they are this egregious, is not how this is done, then what do you suggest? Do we just accept it all? Do we let error slide because someone’s “feelings” about it might be hurt? I don’t think you believe that. I’ve seen academic competition bring out the very worst in people—that happens when the scraps from the table they fight over are so meager. I’ve stood in front of a conference room full of people and have had people attack me as well as some point I made in a paper. I’ve had people attack me, in print, for decisions an editor made. It’s part of the job. Sometimes those people are just bullies, but sometimes they are trying to help. It’s not for the faint of heart.
IF someone is going to propose a theory, and if there is any chance that the readership is wider than their clique or circle of friends, then they need to be prepared for criticism. Mine was kindly offered and intended to help. If you know me, then you know I am not the sort who beats down people; I don’t seek attention or want a following or any of that other bullshit that gets in the way of studying the Art. But as a teacher, as a fencer of thirty-some years, yeah, I’m going to call something wrong when it is.
My model for this engagement is academia which, for its sins, has a decent way of managing disagreement about scholarly issues (not that everyone abides it). There, it is perfectly acceptable and often necessary to attack a theory and evidence, but not the person. I have done my best to give Cory the benefit of the doubt, to suggest that his error is one of misunderstanding rather than something worse. Nothing is gained by attacking one of my community members, but I will maintain that when people with a following like Cory or his buddy have make a mistake, it has consequences for all of us. Most people take lessons and never question them; they will read a book not because it has great merit, but because some “name” wrote it, and if those lessons or that book are based on false premises, that has consequences. If the H in HEMA has any meaning at all, it has consequences; if this is just the “martial” version of sport fencing with different weapons, the maybe it doesn’t.
It’s like a bout, Dash—if you jump in that ring then chances are good you’re going to be hit. If you’re not willing to accept that, valid touch or mean blood and urine-after-the-halt-blow-to-the-kidneys, then maybe this isn’t the right arena to play in.
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It is indeed Dash. There’s a lot to unpack here, so I want to just begin by saying that I’ve always liked and respected you and I hope you’ve made it through this very trying time more or less okay. It’s certainly been a significant struggle for me!
From reading your response to my comment, as well as much of the rest of your blog (as I said before, I’ve always liked and respected you and your work) I get the sense that you’re feeling a deep sense of frustration with the modern HEMA movement’s disinterest and/or disrespect for 19th and 20th century Italian foil and saber sources. That’s totally fair, although I think it’s a problem that is working itself out for the better. There was certainly a time when HEMA was trying to establish itself as offering something that modern fencing does not, and during that time the cool thing among HEMA folks was to deride modern fencing as wimpy. I will admit to falling prey to that way of thinking myself but I think in recent years the community has largely moved on. In a lot of ways the cool kid consensus in the tournament scene (which as you know I was pretty heavily involved in pre-COVID) has actually shifted in favor of the importance of modern foil and epee as a way to learn basic fencing tactics. So that’s something you might find heartening!
With all that in mind, I think it is important to draw a distinction between asserting that 16th century broadsword fencing is superior to 20th century foil and simply discussing the ways in which it is different. Different techniques are appropriate for different scenarios. For example, I once took a class on trap shooting with a shotgun. In the class, the instructor talked about a student of his who had extensive firearms experience but couldn’t seem to break a single clay. After talking with the man for a while, my instructor learned that the student had been an expert marksman in the Army. However, as you may be aware (IIRC you have some experience with firearms from your father who was a combat veteran) the techniques required for firing a rifle accurately are pretty different from those involved in effect shotgun shooting. The respiratory pause followed by a slow and steady trigger squeeze is essential to effective employment of a rifle at long ranges, but detrimental to using a shotgun effectively on the trap range or in the hunting field. Pointing this out doesn’t mean mocking or deriding riflery, but it is important to acknowledge the differences between these two arts if one is to teach somebody with a background in one how to do the other effectively. Similarly, pointing out that a martial art intended for the dueling green might teach different skills than those needed to survive an alehouse brawl should be taken as a simple statement of fact rather than a derisive dismissal of the former art in favor of the later.
You write that “Even for the medieval German sources which, almost universally in HEMA are interpreted as purely offensive, there are mentions of a defensive mindset (cf. “Zettel,” Rome Version, l. 19; 40-41; 71-73) and indeed there must be—to do nothing but attack is going to get one killed (I’ve talked with people who believe no one should ever retreat in this tradition—a dangerous argument from silence that doesn’t accord well with what the glossators imply in _how_ to be effective in the attack).” I would agree that that interpretation was common at one time, but I think the community is happily in the process of moving beyond that simplistic interpretation. However, just because German sources include provisions for defense doesn’t mean that the conceptualize managing risk the same way that Silver does. We’ve both been doing this long enough to know that there are different types of fencers out there: some people prefer to counter-fight and will be very hesitant about attacking, other people prefer to seize the initiative. Both approaches can be performed skillfully, but they are still very different ways of fighting.
Think about it this way: if somebody cuts for my head, should I a) perform a simple parry, upping my chances of defeating their attack, but also raising the risk that my adversary will be able to safely perform a remise of their attack aimed at a different quarter, or should I b) try to cut into their attack and threaten one of their lines in the process, increasing the risk that I will be struck by their initial blow, but impeding their ability to hit me with a remise? I wouldn’t say that either option is the “right” answer, just that they speak to different conceptions of risk. My Olympic fencing coach in middle and high school would have advised me to go with option a) but I’m pretty sure Lichtenauer would have advised option b).
Silver talks extensively about the battlefield, about drunks, and about the hot-brained. This makes me think that he was primarily concerned about keeping his student safe from a heavily committed initial attack. He also talks a lot about his system being more defensive than other systems and, as you mentioned, inveighs against dueling. All of this indicates to me that he was a *very* cautious fencer, who very much preferred to make his opponent come to him. Lichtenauer and the glosseters talk about fencing with honor and make repeated references to opponents who strike around and change-through, indicating that they are especially concerned about being overwhelmed by repeated attacks from fairly skilled fencers and that losing face was something they cared greatly about. Different fencing problems require different solutions, and different contexts require different conceptions of risk.
I’ve typed and retyped a bunch of different versions of my thinking on Silver vs Lichtenauer, but I’m not sure how effectively I communicated my thoughts on the matter. Fortunately we live in the same town, so if you’re interested maybe we can meet up and talk about it a bit sword in hand?
In terms of the conduct of this debate: you’re right, I do know you, which is why I’ve been a little bit surprised by the ways you’ve engaged with Cory on this issue. If I may be so bold as to make a suggestion: is it possible you’ve mapped some of your frustration with HEMA tournament culture and its disrespect for classical fencing onto Cory and by extension onto me for defending him? I can understand the frustration, but I really don’t think either of us are your real enemy here and I’m somewhat hurt that you referred to my comment as “half-baked”. As it happens I’ve been observing this debate for some time and stewing on the best way to try to talk to you about it. I think I’ve probably spent too much time on this comment already, so I’m just going to conclude with this: between you and Cory, one of you has compared the other to a famously stupid bird and to an enumerate child. The other has refrained from using this kind of language and confined his arguments solely to the facts at hand. Which approach to debate do you think is more becoming of a gentleman and a scholar such as yourself?
Wishing you all the best,
Great handle by the way—why we haven’t seen t-shirts like “runs with sabres” or “parries well with others” in mid-century typewriter text baffles me. There’s my $300 idea for whomever wants it 😉
We move in different circles and thus experience a lot of this in different ways. If the last two weeks are any indication so far as I can tell from my limited in-take from social media there are still plenty of people in our community taking the piss with things Italian, especially late period Italian, but perhaps that is less common in your experience. Sad as that is, as frustrating as it can be, it doesn’t really affect me outside of research. People study what they want the way they want to, and you know, at the end of the day—for most people—how accurate what they’re doing or not isn’t all that important. They’re there to have fun, work out some stress, and all that.
My main frustration is with both the lack of appreciation for established fencing theory and the failure of some in HEMA to understand—more specifically—how it fits, and doesn’t fit, systems like George Silver’s. To use your firearm analogy: my beef isn’t about specific use of this rifle or that shotgun, or pistol, or what target they are using (clay pigeon, deer, center of mass, spray in general area, sniping, etc.), or in what context (war, self-defense, target, etc.), but that there are people who insist that rifling doesn’t matter, that a .44 bullet to the head is more deadly than a .22 bullet to the same spot, or that aim, breathing correctly, and practice aren’t important. Few, to be fair, say that it doesn’t matter where one points the barrel because it will hit something, but there are a lot of people who own guns and instruct others who don’t have the best grasp of shooting, who in some cases reject the very principles that govern using firearms effectively (how many times do we see someone with a safety off, or casually bringing the same rifle across the line their friends are in, or making some asinine comment without foundation, etc.).
For fencing, I have not said nor will I say that technique with today’s epee is the same as Silver’s broadsword. Of course it’s not. What I will say, and what I’ve been trying to get across, is that Silver’s fencer and a modern epee fencer still observe the same universal principles of fight regardless. In a tavern brawl against an enraged opponent Silver’s fighter still has to get the sharp thing in front of him, still has to calculate measure, timing, speed, and make a decision about when to act and what act to choose. In like vein, today’s epee fencer, completely removed from a dangerous situation like that, who only faces an opponent who wants to score, has to observe the same principles—blade must be out and “threatening;” if a counter-attack isn’t possible then any parry is best if it closes the line and prevents a double; any attack must calculate distance, consider tempo, and if one is smart have a back up plan—formulated in seconds—in case Plan A fails. This is just as true for those who fought in Liechtenauer’s tradition, and man… anyone fighting bloß back then had to make sure they abided the univerals or they were going to get mangled (Fiore’s comments in re fighting in the lists vs. ONE fight out of armor are illuminating…).
SO, and this is a key point, what applies on the dueling field or in Silver’s brawl—in terms of principles, of universals, in terms of fencing theory—is the same. Contexts are different. Weapons are different. The principles of the fight, of how the weapon in hand must work, are the same. This is the problem that I see with much of HEMA’s approach and with Cory’s paper. The context is always important, and we forget it to our peril, but the context does not automatically mean we use completely different principles to fight.
Silver, for example, is valuable because he actually didn’t want anyone to fight unless it was against foreign enemies. That is laudable. This said, he wasn’t going to roll over either, and so he shares a system that should cover most bases, even those one might face in peacetime. His disgust for the duel was likewise praiseworthy, and, more than that, he wasn’t wrong about some of the aspects of Italian teaching in re the duel. Rapier systems, while they employ the same universals, assume—for the most part—a duel between two people without (it is hoped) other distractions. If that is all one knows how to do, then it is going to be a problem in war because war is not fought one on one the same way: a stray cannon or musket ball, arrow, an enemy we don’t see near us, multiple opponents, weather, all kinds of things affect that context and it changes the way we _use_ those universal principles. Our mindset in these contexts is also very different. The fact that many of those same Italian teachers also taught weapons used in war should suggest that they were not unaware of the fact that a rapier was for specific use.
As you rightly point out, in Silver’s context, the concerns were different than in our own, or Liechtenauer’s, or de la Touche’s. We learn from reading his work that he believed a combat system should primarily be studied and applicable for war and secondarily self-defense. Wisely, he believed that a system set up to handle both if not any potential threat was better than a specialized study for one context. This makes sense. It makes even more sense, whatever the system—Silver, Liechtenauer, del Frate—that it impart the right principles because of another point you made, because people fight differently. One can, and some texts attempt to, characterize different fighters, but then what? For each of those personalities, for the bull, the delayer, the parrying-machine, the counter-attacker, those same masters use the principles that govern all fencing, regardless of when and where they are, to suggest specific remedies using their weapons and situations for those types of opponents.
This is why so-called “dueling sabre” doesn’t exist. Neither does “military” sabre. There is sabre, there are the principles that apply to its use the same way they do a smallsword, longsword, or spear, and then there are the specific uses and contexts in which we apply those universals. Principles the same, contexts sometimes very different.
Now, as regards polite debate. I have worked hard, in person, online, and in writing to treat people well. I have endeavored to address what a researcher proposes—their argument, evidence, and methodology—and NOT their character. I do not know Cory, and have learned too little about him in our chats to say more than this—he is a passionate fencer, loves this stuff, is eager to learn, and is diving into the material. These are good things. I like these things. The issue is not about Cory, who is probably a lovely person (he likes swords, so that is a great start ;-)), but about weaknesses in one paper he shared. I hope we can share a pint someday—we already have a lot to talk about after all, right?
If you go back and read those chats you will notice that I ignored the digs made at me. I kept it on the material and how it was handled. My experience to date with HEMA and memes, with humor in general, is that it is sometimes meant to deescalate, sometimes meant to get a laugh, and sometimes barbed. The emu was an apt analogy for how HEMA tends to respond to criticism generally. The role that ego plays in the community beats out reason, evidence, and everything else. I don’t know Cory even remotely well enough to guess at his motivation for entrenching himself against the critics who tried to address faults in the paper fairly. I won’t even try to guess. I sincerely wish him luck with his study and I will continue to follow it. It’s a pity I couldn’t help—it’s nice to use my training to that end, sort of the point of being a teacher—but then it isn’t up to me, nor more here than in teaching college.
I will say, that in HEMA, generally, there are a lot of people quick to assert an authority who probably shouldn’t, and that more often than not they’re the same people quick to denigrate people who do have that authority. I don’t mean me in this, by the way—for one, I have nothing to do with the larger community per se and it has next to nothing to do with me; I work on the fringes of HEMA and the “classical” community (such as it is) in this sort of weird, liminal spot comprised of maybe five people, the bulk of whom are spread out over several countries or in different States here. Spaces like this, however, allow one to see a lot and I have watched in disappointment as the loudest and proudest have shouted down anyone, however qualified, for daring to mess with their sense of importance. It will sound hippy-dippy, I know, but all that ego is in their way—it’s messing with their ability to learn, to grow, and to play nicely with others. That’s a real pity, but no one but them can fix it, and the incentive to do so isn’t strong enough.
My sense is Dash that you may know Cory and that you found more to his paper than I did, and that may, or may not, color how you are reading our exchange. Going back over my discussion with him I disagree with your estimation and would only point out that in our last exchange Cory and I ended on a fairly decent note, even mutually lamenting the _ad hominem_ attacks that had entered the picture of fb. I maintain that disagreeing with someone is possible without that disagreement equaling name-calling, but people see what they wish.
Thanks again for your comments, stay healthy, stay safe
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I can’t speak for why Jim wrote what he did, but I can confirm that the second author on the paper attempting to reinterpret Silver, Mike Edelson has publicly stated that he never understood my descriptions of the so-called “slow hand”. This is, according to him, why he sought an alternative reading of Silver.
The frustration that I and others demonstrate towards Winslow and Edelson is based around how they have repeatedly made statements directly in contradiction of what Silver actually wrote and how when their errors are pointed out they dig their heels in and persist with their radical interpretation. Not only is their interpretation not supported by the source material but it is actively contradicted by it. In many, many exchanges on the internet, some quite heated and acrimonious, they have persisted in holding to views contradicted by the text.
The interpretation posited by Winslow and Edelson is based around the radical premise that Silver’s system is alone among all western fencing systems in not allowing attacks to be made with advancing footwork. This is an extraordinary claim and as such requires extraordinary evidence. They cannot provide such evidence because it does not exist.
Silver states that the time of the hand and foot is “when you tread your ground in course to strike”, directly stating that he is describing attacks made with a step. He describes his true and false times explicitly and yet Winslow and Edelson persist in claiming that an attack in which the hand leads, explicitly described by Silver as a true time, is in fact a false time, something that Silver explicitly describes as being where the foot leads. Winslow and Edelson claim that because Silver says his system is different to Italian fencing it must be different in every possible way, that it therefore cannot follow universal rules of timing. Yet Silver explicitly describes where his system differs from Italian fencing and does not include what, if Winslow and Edelson were correct, would surely be the most important point, that they attack on steps forward and Silver doesn’t. Bizarrely, when comparing Silver to other systems Winslow and Edelson sidestep European systems, most notably Liechtenauer. In one of Winslow’s own translations of a German text, the author describes the importance of leading with the hand as you step forward in attack, mirroring almost perfectly Silver’s own language. Yet somehow Silver meant something different when he used that same language…
Winslow and Edelson’s hypothesis requires us to accept that Silver used the technical language of Aristotle’s physics, widely understood by educated people of his time, and yet used it to mean something radically different to Aristotle, but never thought to explain his radical departure from common usage to his readership. They expect us to believe that Silver’s claim to be teaching ancient English systems was not true as his system is radically different to all contemporary and earlier English systems which all mirror Silver’s statement that in true fight the hand and foot must go together, but which explicitly state that this means that attacks must be made with steps.
Winslow and Edelson’s view of Silver’s system creates an environment in which the circumstances necessary to allow an attack might never occur in a typical bout. This makes a mockery of Silver’s admonition that attacks and defences are equally important in creating a complete system. They have never demonstrated how their version of Silver could work and are dismissive of the fact that the traditional interpretation as espoused in my works has been working for 30 years. They continually claim that tactics I and many others repeatedly show working in actual bouts could never work, while never showing any evidence of their alternative working (or even not working). In short, they argue in the same manner as people who present pseudo-scientific conspiracy theories, continually asking for more and more evidence from those in the field, evidence that when provided they dismiss, while ignoring any and all requests to themselves provide any evidence.
I could go on and on, and in fact I have, in the paper Jim listed above. In short, Winslow and Edelson are guilty of poor scholarship and their failure to accept that is adversely affecting their reputations in the HEMA community. Everyone makes errors in interpretation, but to persist in those errors when they have been so meticulously explained and demonstrated is perverse. Ultimately it is damaging to the community and to scholarship within it. This is such an unnecessary argument. It should have been settled a decade ago when people first posited this reinterpretation and when the reasons why it couldn’t possibly be correct were first pointed out. The longer it persists, the more damage Winslow and Edelson will do to their reputations and to the HEMA community. Why they would persist in doing this is a mystery to me.
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I’m in the process of reading your most recent paper which I think raises a number of interesting criticisms of Edelson and Winslow’s work. I’d say I’m currently undecided between the two interpretations, but I’ve been enjoying the opportunity to take a break from my usual focus on Lichtenauer and take a look at something else.
I do think it’s important to point out that Cory has never said that you’re a bad fencer or that your approach doesn’t work. At least I haven’t seen him say such a thing, in every one of the many online exchanges I’ve observed between the two of you he’s been perfectly happy to acknowledge that your approach seems reasonably effective and has only questioned whether or not it squares with what Silver said.
As regards Silver’s Time of the Hand and Foot, it might be worth taking a look at the original text. I noticed in your article that you quote Silver as saying “The tyme of the hand & foot is when you tread your ground in course to strike, rather that pressing forwards, or when you slide back, or go back, your hand & foot being then of equal agilitie.” However, the transcription of Silver’s note available on Wiktenauer says the following “ye tyme of ye hand & foot is when yõ tread y ground in courſe to ſtrike rather than prſſing forwards, or when yõ ſlide back or go back, yor hand & foot being then of equal agillitie.”
The difference between “That” and “Than” in this context is quite significant, and since “rather that pressing forwards” doesn’t make much grammatical sense (unless there is a 16th century meaning of the word “that” which has been lost to time) I’m inclined to think the error lies in the modernization and the original text read “than.” With that in mind, it would seem that, Silver considered Time of the Hand and Foot to involve movement of the feet that do NOT bring the fencer closer to his opponent (advising various movements of the feet which he says you should undertake RATHER THAN pressing forwards.)
The other thing that might be helpful to clear up for Jim’s benefit are your thoughts with regards to the concept of the Slow Hand. As I understand what you have written, you don’t like the *term* “Slow Hand”, which was coined by somebody else, but do subscribe to the CONCEPT that describes. (I understand you are trying to transition to the term “Free Hand” as coined by Paul Wagner, which I agree does a better job of explaining the concept.)
Anyway, just something to think about!
I leave it to Mr. Hand to answer your main point as you are addressing him and he doesn’t need my help (I defer to him when it comes to things about Silver).
I am sure, if he believes it will add anything, that he will say so as regards the “slow hand” concept.
Your reading, however, of this line from Silver’s notes in the “Brief Instructions” misses a critical aspect. In re my last comment about fencing universals, and touching on this quotation from the notes following Silver’s “Brief Instructions” (in Jackson. _Three Elizabethan Fencing Manuals_ (1976), 131), this is another place where a better understanding of fencing universals would assist you and others. Silver wrote here, note 3:
ye tyme of ye hand & foot is when yõ tread y ground in courſe to ſtrike rather than prſſing forwards, or when yõ ſlide back or go back, yor hand & foot being then of equal agillitie.
Your time of the hand and foot is when you tread your ground in course to strike rather than pressing forwards or when you slide back or go back, your hand and foot then being of equal agility.
In your reading, this means:
With that in mind, it would seem that, Silver considered Time of the Hand and Foot to involve movement of the feet that do NOT bring the fencer closer to his opponent (advising various movements of the feet which he says you should undertake RATHER THAN pressing forwards.)
If you break down the sentence, however, that is not what Silver means. It’s easier to see this if you start with the first two notes (these are again from Jackson):
1. ye tyme of ye hand is when yo strike fro a wrd or stand in place to strike. [your time of the hand is when you strike from a ward or stand in place to strike, e.g. hand/weapon move first]
2. the tyme of ye foot is when yo step forward to strike or when yo gather toward yor own right syde. [the time of your foot is when you step forward to strike or when you gather toward your own right side]
The first clause says “the time of the hand and foot is when you tread your ground in course to strike.” “Tread” meaning moving, walking, stepping toward your opponent to strike with hand and foot moving together. The comparison “rather than” signals a difference—“rather than pressing forwards or when you slide back or go back, your hand and foot then being of equal agility.” What does that mean? “Pressing” can mean a few things. It can mean moving forward in hopes of pushing an opponent back, and, it can refer to an engagement of the blades where one has decent opposition and leverage and is literally pressing the opposing steel as prelude to completing the attack (it’s easier to show than explain). Regardless, the chief thing is that after the “rather than” Silver is referring to movement where the weapon was out first, before the feet move.
For some examples: If I am passing I am shifting from having one side of my body more forward than another. If I’m right-handed, say in Open Fight, left foot forward, and make a pass, my blade drops out and forward first, then my right foot passes my left putting that side of my body, the right side, closer to my opponent. If I make another pass I will have my left foot forward and my unarmed side closer. IF one follows the time of the hand, then one can pass safely because the weapon is always clearing the way, and since my body is rotating slightly as I step—which could provide a tempo for an opponent to strike—having that weapon out first helps keep me safe. If I am using a press upon the blade, then I’m arguably safer as this means—for the moment—I have control of it. If I don’t hesitate I can use that press to clear a line to target.
If I step forward and the weapon proceeds me or I engage it with advantage—fine. But, and this is what Silver is saying in Note 3, if I step forward and the foot and weapon move together I am not safe. The weapon has not preceded me. To use a modern analogy. If two sabre fencers are just out of critical distance (cd = just close enough to lunge and strike), and one takes an advance into that distance without threatening first, what is likely to happen? They’re likely to be hit; at best for the one advancing, they double, and a double is anything but best if the object is “don’t get hit.” If however, one engages the blade first and follows up immediately, then the blade has moved first and the opponent must defend.
One additional point, and with luck it will not be gasoline on the fire, but I would urge caution in using Wiktenauer. It’s a great place to start, but it’s by no means authoritative. The chap who runs it is not a trained scholar (his fantasies to the contrary notwithstanding) and while some portions of the site rely on solid translations (e.g. Tobler’s work), there are other sections where one is less secure (some of the offerings for Fiore as one example). Happily, the source for Silver’s “Brief Instructions” on that site is safe—I’ve only checked it piecemeal, but it accords well with the standard works used by actual scholars. As I mentioned last time, and the site admin at the wiki is a case in point, the assumption of authority, even its acceptance by people who know no better, does not authority make. Yes, he is pals with real scholars, or at least so he has retorted at me in the past, but just as I’m no closer to being a neuro-surgeon for having a friend that is, so too is he still just an enthusiast playing at being a scholar. When I mentioned ego it was to this sort of thing I was referring. That strikes hard at the ears of hema’s social elite, and that’s too bad, but it doesn’t make it any less true.
Hi Jim (and Stephen if you happen to read this)
Thanks for taking the time to talk through this material with me. I take your point about the dual meanings of the word “press.” However, I’m not at all sure that in this specific context Silver is talking about an action on the blade when he uses the word. There is no mention of crossed swords in the note, and elsewhere, he very clearly uses the word “press” in the sense of going forward. For instance, in this passage from Brief Instructions, Chapter 4, Section 8
“Also if 2 fight upon open fight, it is better for the patient to strike home strongly at the agent’s head, when the said agent shall press upon him to win the place than to thrust, because the blow of the patient is not only hurtful to the agent, but also makes a true cross to defend his own head.” Note here that the patient is standing in open fight, and has denied the agent any blade contact. Silver nonetheless describes the agent as “pressing” upon the patient, so clearly Silver uses the word “pressing” to denote “advancing” at least some of the time.
It’s also worth noting that Silver refers to “treading ground in course to strike.” In his writings, Silver is generally (I’m inclined to say always, but Sith, absolutes, etc) careful to distinguish between “striking” i.e. cutting, and thrusting. So, when he discusses Time of the Hand and Foot, it is unlikely that he is using the term “press” to refer to a thrust-in-opposition. (As an aside, since my personal fencing pedigree seems to be in question, I would like to mention that, prior to the beginning of my HEMA career, I had the good fortune to study foil for a period of six or so years under the tutelage of Maestro Harold Hayes at the Pacific Fencing Club and Maestro Peter Ignatov, May His Memory Be a Blessing, at Halberstadt Fencers Club. While I cannot claim to have taken as complete advantage of their instruction as I might now wish, I can say with confidence that I am quite familiar with the concepts of thrusts-in-opposition as well as the proper order of operations inherent in a foil-lunge.)
Since Silver makes no mention of swords being crossed, discusses striking rather than thrusting, and frequently uses the term “pressing” in his writings to refer to advancing steps used to close distance, I think the most probable meaning of “pressing forward” in this context means a forward step. Since Silver discusses “threading ground in course to strike rather than pressing forward” it seems clear to me that his conception of Time of the Hand and Foot is one that precludes a step into distance, regardless of whether or not that step was conducted under the safety of threat. Whether Silver’s definition of the Time of the Hand and Foot as involving lateral and backward footwork rather than advances can be applied to his discussion of Time of the Hand, Body, and Foot or Time of the Hand, Body, and Feet is open to debate.
On the topic of using threats to cover distance safely, I am curious to know where Silver discusses it. The concept of using the threat of a forward-presented sword in order to allow a fencer to advance safely is one with which I am quite familiar, both from my training in foil and from my study of the early Lichtenauer manuscripts (see for instance Section 7 in the Krakow version of PPvD’s gloss of the Zettel.) However, I haven’t seen any discussion of the use of a threat to make an advance safer in any of George Silver’s writings. If somebody could provide me a quote or reference to that effect, I would be delighted to take a look at it, since, as I have mentioned before, I am relatively agnostic when it comes to this debate.
Similarly, I would be very interested in reading any instances of Silver explicitly advising his reader to step into distance in the course of an attack (as opposed to stepping into distance prior to delivering an attack.) The one example of this which I have seen put forward (the play outlined in Brief Instructions Chapter 8, Section 10) actually appears to advise the opposite. Silver writes “If he lies in open or true guardant fight, then you may upon your open or guardant fight safely bring yourself to the half sword, & then you may thrust him in the body” i.e. Silver considers closing to distance in Open Fight before delivering a thrust to be a safe option in at least some instances. This seems that it would contradict the assertion that Silver thinks the hand should always be in front of the body when moving into distance.
In terms of scholarship, I share your sorrow, Jim, that most of the work being done in HEMA, including my own research, is being conducted without the support of a doctorate-level education in the relevant source material. I’m sure I don’t need to discuss the reasons for this in too much detail, since you yourself were one of the people who advised me of the dangers entering academia, a piece of guidance for which I am eternally grateful. However, I’ve noticed a tendency over the course of this discussion to characterize the two camps as being a group of tournament jocks vs a community of respected researchers. I would simply like to point out that the “alternative” interpretation of Silver’s work is popular not only with Mr. Winslow and Mr. Edelson, but also with Mr. and Mrs. Easton, Mr. Galas, Mr. Austwick, and Mr. Kew, all of whom are known primarily for their contributions to research rather than their prowess as tournament fencers.
As far as any errors in Mr. Chidester’s scholarship go, I appreciate the warning. Do you think you could go into any more detail as to where you find his work wanting? When it comes to my own research, I try to give priority to authors such as Dr. Elema and Dr. Jaquet who have relevant academic credentials (or indeed to persons such as yourself, such as when you were kind enough to assist me with a number of my writing projects.) Unfortunately, HEMA is such a niche field that it is impossible to conduct anything approaching comprehensive research on a topic without consulting the work of amateurs. This is a reality that it would seem that you yourself have been forced to grapple with: Mr. Tobler, Mr. Cherba, and Mr. Wagner all have their formal academic training in computer or natural sciences rather than history.
I’ve allowed this comment to go on rather long, so I will just conclude by once again thanking you for your patience in discussing and debating with me. Real life grants far too few opportunities to talk about fencing these days, and it is a joy to spend time chatting about it with fellow like-minded individuals. Iron sharpens iron and this back and forth has given me a lot of interesting things to think about.
My apologies if I hounded the press too much–I don’t think that was what Silver was talking about. It seems to me from that passage and others that “pressing” refers more to pressing whatever offense one has started or if one has the initiative. Naturally offense can take many forms. Sorry for the confusion there.
As to leading with the weapon and particular passages, an important point, the stand out one to me is his “time of the hand.” It’s not necessarily the way we would describe it today or even how his contemporaries might have, but I don’t think Silver was talking about just the hand, but the hand holding a weapon. So, to me, that is probably the most obvious place to start. I’ve found in my current project that one thing that trips people up is just how differently authors can express the same idea. No lie, I can count on at least two hands the terms for “lunge” or “thrust” across rapier and smallsword texts alone. If those passages are isolated then it’s easy to miss what they are meant to convey. One author might say _avancer le pied droit_ (“advance the right foot/step with the right foot”) and another _l’alongement_ (“extend out/lunge”), but both mean to make a short lunge.
I don’t mean to disparage the admin of Wiktenauer, but to point out that an undertaking of that size, if it is going to be what I think he wants it to be, will require help. The example of scholarship, per se, that I used was the varying quality of translations on the site. Some of the Fiore translations there I’ve compared against the original Italian and the latest from Freelance and if I have to quote one in a paper, I’ll use the latter. I know that Mr. Chidester has made copies of things available to people, which is great, but some of these translations may be less ideal to work from than others. In some cases he is listed as the translator–it would be helpful to readers to know what his training is, and from his bio on Wiktenauer it is clear he has studied Italian, but modern Italian and that of the 15th century are different, the contexts different, and it would help to know what specialized attention if any he has given to that. This goes for his editorial work as well (this is, by the way, not unique to the site, but a systemic problem with translation generally in HEMA, especially for French works). My own interactions with him, which have been brief, were pointed. In the last one that I recall I had made a comment about scholarship and the profession of history in particular which somehow set him on ear–he also took umbrage with my position on tournaments as the end-all/be-all measure of skill; having fought for years, in both fencing and other martial arts, I know firsthand how untrue that is, but then maybe his experience in the ring was different (ten years competing and many more officiating, never mind what I’ve read and heard from people more qualified than I am and whose experience is greater have said, have been instructive into competition as a false-positive. It can measure some things, sure, but it is not as complete as many think). He was condescending and arrogant, quick to cite the number of scholars he knew personally, and in all ways extremely defensive–I had no idea he was so easily threatened, but it’s hard to explain his behavior otherwise. If you know him and are part of his circle my guess is that this will not resonate with you, and that’s okay. His approval or lack of it means nothing to me, but I don’t like being attacked, and especially having my credentials called into question by a person without that training whose profile picture often makes it seem he is at great pains to appear to have that training. I don’t suffer arrogant people well; I don’t mix with them if at all possible. Studying all this stuff is hard enough on its own.
I know, because I know you and your background, that you read a lot, and that you read the work of people like Dr. Jaquet, a scholar I follow too. There are a lot of them active in HEMA, and I think it is great that they have found ways to make it work, and, make nice with others. Some of us, alas, apparently have considerable work to do on that front (if my recent engagements with people are any indication I am one such person). My hope is that as the dust settles from the latest debates, whatever they are, that some of those in the middle will shift toward a more measured outlook. There is a lot of good work being done in HEMA, a lot, and that is exciting. But, there is also a lot of less successful work and we all need to be aware of that.
Just so you know, the comments are open because exchanges like ours are important. Not a lot of people read this page, and certainly not many in our nation if the stats are correct, but as one tiny voice in a see of others I do what I can. If someone reads this, then who knows, maybe it gets them thinking, maybe the look into it for themselves, and maybe, slowly, people apply a bit more rigor and analysis to what they read. Here’s hoping.
Good to chat, as always, and thanks for taking the time to do so.
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It seems we’ve reached a sort of agree to disagree place, which is a healthy spot to be in after a few days of spirited back-and-forth. Hopefully at some point when things are calmer and safer we can meet up and clear up any remaining misunderstandings.
As far as my personal associations with Mr. Chidester and Mr. Winslow go, I’ve spoken to Mr. Chidester for maybe two or three minutes in person and Mr. Winslow only online, so I wouldn’t say I know either of them especially well. Indeed, I’ve found Mr. Chidester to be a bit abrasive, so I can sympathize with your frustrations. His work with the Lichtenauer material, on the other hand, both in terms of making free translations readily available along with some of his lectures on how he thinks about the source material has been invaluable to me. It’s unfortunate that you had the experiences with him that you did, they sound immensely frustrating.
As far as blogging goes, I admire your dedication to continuing to publish articles. My own blog has been dormant for a couple of years after I was unable to spark the kind of engagement I was hoping for. For what it’s worth, I make a point of dropping by Sala de la Tre Spada on a regular basis; you always have interesting things to say even if I don’t always agree with them.
Anyway, it’s late and I’m off to bed.
I’ve spent a bit of time thinking, and I can only vaguely recall every encountering you online, and not much of what transpired between us. Facebook being what it is, there’s probably no chance of dredging up that conversation to see where it went wrong. I’m sorry that I caused such offense that it sticks with you years later; I think I had hoped that I would encounter you at some event like Swordsquatch where we could chat and mend fences.
My intent is ever to be of service to the HEMA community in whatever way I can, and I welcome any suggestions for how Wiktenauer might be improved.
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Thank you for your note. As much time as any of us spend online, it’s difficult to recall individual exchanges made in passing on this thread or that; I tend to remember the timbre of a conversation better than the details myself. As you say, facebook being what it is…
I appreciate and thank you for the apology. I too do my best to mend fences whenever possible, in person preferably, and should our paths ever cross at an event it would be great to start over. It is never my intention to put down anyone, but as a teacher and professional researcher I feel a duty to help steer scholarship into better waters as applicable and appropriate (a paper shared publicly falls under that heading, ditto public fb comments on open pages).
As I said to Dash, your wiki provides a valuable service to our community, not that you need reminding. Moreover, your own record of involvement and dedication is unquestioned, again, something you know well and which no one would debate. Transparency is important in research and in providing information; it is a way of reassuring a reader that they’re getting what they came for and what they need. If I may make one suggestion, it is that it will reassure some researchers if in your bio on the site you provide a short listing of your training in manuscript curation/handling, paleography, codicology, textual analysis, relevant historical or art history training, and any advanced language study you have taken. There is an unfortunate tendency in the community to assume that one can walk into these sources as one does a novel or appliance instructions and with predictable results. When each of us holds the community to a higher, more appropriate level of interpretative analysis we all benefit; moreover, it raises the bar so that when we tackle these sometimes difficult treatises we do so more successfully. After all, if we aren’t after the best interpretations we can obtain, using the best tools at our disposal, what are we doing?
I do not use the site much, but next time I do I will be sure to note the questions that come up and share them with you. As the editor there, of course, you can use or ignore any such message as you like.
Thank you again for your note. I wish you all success with the wiki and hope that we can meet and talk a little sword history.
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I’ll let my paper speak for me on technical matters. As for the correct version of Silver, I work exclusively from a facsimile of Bref Instructions that I obtained from the British Museum some years ago. I believe the word “that” to be an error by Silver, but that is most definitely what he wrote.
I maintain that the idea that a fencing system existed where attacks are never made from wide distance is a highly radical idea and that the onus of proof lies on the people making it. They have not made it and can’t. The evidence simply isn’t there.
I am going to create a new video which I will place on the Stoccata youtube channel discussing the critical Paradox 24, which is what cracked the whole system open for me, but which I’ve realised that my critics have totally misread, missing the point entirely.
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Now that Mr. Hand has had a chance to reply and plans to produce a new video, seems a fitting time to close comments for this one.
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