Zach Wylde’s book, “English Master of Defence or The Gentleman’s Al-a-mode Accomplish”(link) was published in 1711 and covers Wylde’s instructions for the use of the smallsword, the broadsword, the quarterstaff, and wrestling (a thrust focused weapon, a cut focused weapon, a two-handed weapon, and unarmed. This is a pattern we will explore in another blog post).
The smallsword is a light, one-handed, thrust focused sword that came into popularity in the late 17th century and stayed popular into the 19th century. Wylde’s system is a secondary focus for High Desert Armizare, our primary being the great stick of Cerri.
Wylde begins his book by laying out his nine Principles of swordsmanship. We will discuss two of them in detail in a minute. Wylde then explains his parries, then attacks, before saying:
“That nothing might seem obscure to the Eye of Reason, in this small Volume, I think it may be proper to give and explain a Methodical Lesson, which comprehensively Sums up the Heads of all the Terms of Art, and the Performances of Assaults and Responses, according to the Rule of True Play.” ~ Exile’s translation linked above
This Methodical Lesson, which I have dubbed the Simple Lesson, as Wylde says, is focused on “True Play” – meaning there are no feints, no trickeration, just basic thrusts. Wylde uses a lot of terms for the thrust – Push, Assault, Pass, or simply Thrust. This lesson comprises 31 paragraphs of instruction and is immediately recognizable to teachers of physical skills as a fantastic way to build on concepts; moving from simple to complex actions.
The other day Sean and I filmed ourselves going through the first eleven steps of Zach Wylde’s simple lesson. We videoed and I put the full video online but I wanted to break each step down and explain some of what is happening here.
1. Imprimis, Stand your Line as directed, and Lie in Cart, then Assault in Ters.
The instruction to “Stand your Line as directed” leads us to Wylde’s first Principle; Posture.
“Imprimis, I shall begin with the Posture, thus demonstrated, Stand upon a true half Body, or edge wise, which I call, lie narrow your leading or right Foot, two Foot or more distance from the left, being in a direct Line from the same, then your right and left Foot will resemble a Roman “I”; your Hand fast gripped about the hand of your Foil or Rapier, then put your Thumb long ways or forward upon it, your Arm quite extended from the Center of your Body, the Point of the Weapon being directed in a true Line against your Opponent’s right Pap, sinking somewhat low with your Body, your right Knee bowing or bent over the Toes of your right Foot, (although some Masters teaches a strait Knee,) your left Knee more bent, inclining towards the Toes of your left Foot; lying in this Order is the Posture, which I call, Stand your Line, the Medium Guard then is fixed.” ~ Exiles trans.
Following his instructions, you wind up in a very narrow position that is significantly different than the Classical fencing stance or even later smallsword stances. It is a back-weighted, squatting position with the stomach and body pulled back to remove them as a target. The arm is extended. I am not 100% certain that the arm must be completely straight or just mostly straight [If you read that last bit like Miracle Max then you are good people] and you can see that Sean and I often change the extension. This is Wylde’s Middle Guard with the smallsword and is his main stance.
The terms Cart (fingernails up) and Ters (fingernails down) correspond to the Inside and Outside, or French fencing terms Quarte and Tierce, or Insular broadsword Inside and Outside guards (something Wylde himself points out later). I interpret the term “Lie” to mean “place yourself in”, but given Wylde’s direction to “Stand your Line as directed”, I chose to interpret it here as you and your Partner’s blades engaging in Cart, Inside. We used the impetus of the receiving Partner engaging to begin the action. Then disengage under your Partner’s blade and thrust in Ters, keeping opposition against your Partner’s blade. Now, this is not something Wylde talks about but feels natural – this could however be due to my training in Classical Italian fencing where every thrust is done in opposition.
The first two passes Sean thrusts in Cart, then corrects himself. We are each using Wylde’s Long, or lunge, here which is not nearly as deep as a modern fencing lunge. In fact, due to knee injuries and a wonky hip, in these videos I will often make a gathering step on the disengage, then lunge.
2. Lie in Ters, and Assault in Cart
This is the similar action to the first, just done from a Ters/Outside engagement.
You can see that in a couple passes I use the left hand to control Sean’s blade after the disengage. This was just the result of me not completely gaining opposition with my sword – due to Sean’s greater arm reach it can be hard for me. So I use the left hand to gain opposition.
3. Lie in Cart, and Push low Cart
So this is the first of a pair of Sean and I giving correct answers, but not to these problems. In short – I screwed up. The instruction is from a Cart/Inside crossing, thrust low (lower rib cage/chest). What we are doing here is actually Lying in Cart, then thrusting in low Ters. So really just a variant of Step 1.
4. Lie in Ters, and Push full in Ters
So this is mistake number 2 – Instead of Wylde’s directions to, from a Ters/Outside crossing, push Full in Ters (Full here possibly meaning to use traversing/passing footwork. Wylde uses it in a lot of different situations making the definition somewhat hard to pin down), we worked from a Ters/Outside crossing, disengage and thrust low Cart. What we did is a variant of Step 2.
5. Lie in Cart or Coopee, Cart in Ters a Gee, or Cart over Shell.
This one we split into 5a and 5b. The way I parse this sentence is “Lie in Cart, Cart in Ters a Gee” and “Lie in Coopee, Cart over Shell”. Turning it into two separate drills.
5a. Lie in Cart, Cart in Ters a Gee.
Again from the Cart/Inside crossing, disengage over your partner’s blade, then re-engage their blade and carry it to your Outside/Ters. “Cart in Ters a Gee” means your hand is in Cart (fingernails up) in Ters/Outside. The “a Gee” part, thanks to Jim Emmons, means “awry, obliquely, askew”. I interpret this as analogous to a transport in classical fencing.
5b. Lie in Coopee, Cart over Shell.
Uff. In all honesty, this is one of the hardest bits of Wylde for me to parse. So, “Coopee” first appears in Wylde in the following passage:
“13th. A Stockata, is made thus, Lean back with your Body, and by a sudden shoot, put in your Pass in Cart; or you may Coopee, which is Reversing, and it will prove a Cheating thrust.”
Okay, so that is not crazily helpful. A Coopee is a Reverse. So let’s see what Wylde defines as a Reverse:
“5th. A Reverse is made, when a Man pushes to you in Cart, Parr and bring your Point round his Shell, and conclude you Pass Cart in Ters a Gee.”
Okay okay, so a Reverse (and yes for those eagle-eyed readers this is defined before Coopee) has you ending in Cart a Ters a Gee – from 5a a position where your sword in Ters/Outside, but gripped with the fingernails up. My assumption then is that Coopee is this Cart in Ters a Gee position. Similar to French fencing’s Octave or Italian fencing’s Second, hand in fourth.
Cart over Shell is simply a Cart thrust with a disengage over your Partner’s shell guard. Which is notable as earlier in the text Wylde states that all attacks (and here I read in an unstated disengagement) are done under the shell.
Coopee – in modern fencing terms, this action is defined as: “Coupé also Cut-Over. Another indirect attack, being an attack or deception that passes around the opponent’s tip. Following a feint, the blade is pulled up and over the opponent’s parrying blade.” ~ Wikipedia. We get to the ending position of this by following the previous instructions for Cart in Ters a Gee.
6. Batter in Cart, and Push in Cart
Wylde’s “batter” is the modern beat. So from a Cart/Inside crossing, beat your Partner’s blade aside with a quick flick. Then, having cleared the line, thrust in Cart.
7. Batter in Cart and Coopee
Here after the beat in Cart the thrust is to the low line. This is also where Sean and I start adding in traversing/passing footwork, something Wylde mentions only in his broadsword section. Other smallsword masters do mention it and we found that, especially in attacks to the low line without opposition, it often felt safer.
8. Batter in Ters and Push Sacoon Ways
Sacoon, or Second, is defined by Wylde as:
“8th. A Second or Sacoon direct is made, when a Man Pushes to you in Ters, or Cart in Ters; then Part and shoot in your Pass Cart-ways under his Armpit.”
So it is a thrust to the lead armpit. This time the crossing is to Ters/Outside, but the beat action remains the same. Note here were use almost exclusively traversing/passing footwork.
9. Engage in Cart, and Push from Engagement or Coopee
Here the lesson changes from passive to active. Rather than being crossed/engaged you are making the choice to engage your Partner’s blade. From the engagement in Cart/Inside, you may either thrust direct or Coopee to the low line.
10. Engage in Ters, and Push Sacoon ways.
This is the above drill done to the Ters/Outside engagement. Engage their blade, then thrust over their blade into their low target area.
11. Lie engaged Ters ways in Ters place, and shoot your Cart in with great Celerity.
This was the final drill we did for the video. Here not only have you engaged in Ters/Outside but you have moved your Partner’s blade offline to your Ters side (what Wylde means by “Ters place”). From here you can thrust in Cart quickly (“with great Celerity”) because the line to your Partner is open.
I hope you enjoyed reading this breakdown of the first third of Wylde’s Simple Lesson. Obviously, we will go back and drill steps 3 and 4 properly. I hope to continue to dig into the rest of the lesson soon.