In Zach Wylde’s “English Master of Defence; or The Gentleman’s al-a-mode Accomplish” the author gives five named guards for the back or broad-sword. He gives them first in what I call the “Standard Insular” names, meaning names that should be familiar to anyone who studies English/Scottish back & broad-sword, and then in alternative names. Wylde also alludes to the guards of broadsword being the same as those of the smallsword. Here is a handy chart:
In the descriptions that follow you will note that I mostly use the Standard Insular terminology with one exception – because I’m sorry, but “Unicorn” is an option! Hell yeah!
So here are Wylde’s Five Guards as we use them here at HDA.
“Stand upon a true half Body, and extend your Sword – Hilt out at the Arms end stiff, without bowing the Elbow – joint, your Point leaning or sloping towards your left Shoulder, or your Opposer’s right Eye, lying as hollow as you can with your Body; then you may see your Opposer the inside your Sword”
Key things of note here – this guard is designed to protect the Outside of the body (right to a righty, left to a lefty). Also note that unlike many of his contemporaries in Insular Broadsword, Wylde specifies that your arm be kept straight without bending the elbow. In the images below I am standing in a Full Body rather than the Half Body Wylde recommends but that is because I took these images from his Throwing the Guards drill. The truth is you can, and should, take all the guards from a Full and Half Body.
“prepare an inside or left Guard, which is to be made on this manner, Cross the outside Guard, that is, a little twist or turn your Wrist towards your left Shoulder, your Arm kept strait from you; then your Point will be sloping towards your Opposer’s left Eye, and you may see his Body the outside your Sword”
This guard protects the Inside of the body (left for righty, right for lefty). These two guards protect each side of your body. They can also be used as invitations or traps for your opponent because if I take an Inside guard then my Outside is “open” to attack. Note that the arm is still stiff – in fact it remains so throughout his descriptions so I’ll quit mentioning it. Wylde also notes that transitioning between these two guards should be made by means of a wrist cut – we are actively cutting into the guard and not just passively moving into the position.
“The Medium Unicorn or Center Guard, is made thus, Extend your Arm strait out at length, and your Sword placed betwixt your Opposer’s Eyes, lying true half Body, your Sword – Hilt as high as your Chin, keeping it out at the Arms end stiff”
Where the Inside and Outside guards can be used an invitations, the Unicorn is, much like it’s used in smallsword, a more defensive and conservative guard. With your point in their face, your opponent has to do something to make it move before they can attack you. This gives you a tempo in which to defend and/or counterattack. You can easily transition from Unicorn into Inside or Outside.
“The George is seldom used, but when a down right Blow or Pitch is made at the Head, then prepare the George thus, Extend your Arm out stiff, and with your Sword cross your own or your Opposer’s Forehead, then your Point will be level with the Hilt; but be sure that your Pitch be to that height, that you can see your Opposer’s Head eight Inch under your Guard”
As we like to say at HDA “George has problems”. While the George is a solid guard to defend against blows to the head, the nature of it being held so the blade is parallel to the ground makes it vulnerable to feints, changing a blow into a thrust, and height differences. See Wylde’s point about making sure your pitch is high enough? That’s because if you hold this guard too low then it’s easy for your opponent to still lever the blow into your head. This guard doesn’t exist for Wylde in smallsword (rightly so) and while he touches on it with quarterstaff he also finds it a poor guard. That being said, it should be practiced and is still used at times as a wonderful “OH SHIT!” defensive move.
“The last is the Pendent or Hanging Guard, which is the surest and best Guard that can be made, […] Extend your Arm stiffly out, and turn your Knuckles outward, then hold your Hilt half a Foot or more, higher than your Head, then the Point of your Weapon must slope or hang dipping towards the outside of your Opposer; but before you look just under the Hilt, and observe to see your Opposer’s Head six or seven Inch under it continually, or else you cannot be safe:”
This is Wylde’s preferred high guard. He even says so himself that it is the best guard (he says the same in the smallsword section talking about the Falloon Posture, which is the same thing). This guard removes the problems of George and gives you more protection. This guard is also recommended by other contemporaries as a good guard for smallsword when faced against an “unknown weapon” – could be a sabre, a broadsword, or another smallsword.
What? Where are all the other guards?
Wylde keeps his guards to these five, really four because he tells you he doesn’t like George. In his description of how to use the broadsword though he mostly just talks from Inside and Outside. I don’t know his exact reasoning but my going theory is because all these guards can be adapted as needed. As an example, one of the foundational drills HDA uses comes from El Matrag, a Northern African system of stick and sword fighting. Matrag training consists of three pairs of four strikes & defenses. We usually focus on the first set, which makes a Plus Sign or Cross on the face of our opponent. The strikes are, in order & HDA terminology, horizontal forehand, horizontal backhand, rising, descending, targeting the Left Temple, Right Temple, Chin, & Top of Head respectively. The defenses in Matrag consist of straight vertical or horizontal blocks with the stick. In order to apply this drill to Wylde we need to use Wylde’s defenses. Thus the forehand and backhand are defended by Inside and Outside. The Top of the Head can be defended with Pendant or Hanging. But a challenge I recently gave a student was “Wylde has no stated low guard with the sword. So how would you defend against that rising blow?” To my delight they realized that not only could they just keep doing the same defense we’ve been doing (think George but held at the waist) but more importantly they could drop their Hanging guard down to parry that blow. This helps prove my theory that these guards are eventually to be viewed as Concepts rather than hard and fast Positions by the practitioner. Yes, you should train them to hold them exactly as Wylde tells you to, but recognize that Inside, rather than having the point sloping back towards the right shoulder, can also have the blade vertical. It accomplishes the same task.
These are the five guard positions as laid out by Zach Wylde and as used by us in our El Matrag drills. In his book Wylde himself spends most of the time focusing on Inside, Outside, and Unicorn (though, again, he mentions how awesome Hanging is he doesn’t explicitly have any plays from that position) with simple True Play (single intention) techniques that can be summed up as “If your opponent strikes to your inside, cover with Inside & riposte. If your opponent strikes to your outside, cover with Outside & riposte”. It is a simple, yer far from simplistic, system.
2. Hereafter I will refer to it simply as broadsword but Wylde meant any sword of his time that had cutting as it’s primary mode of offense. Though he does prefer a sword that can thrust as well as cut; a spadroon in our modern parlance.
3. You can see Wylde’s French influence here as “Cart” and “Ters” are Anglicized versions of “Quarte” and “Tierce” from the French schools of fencing.
5. This is evidence that Wylde was using, or preferred, a lighter sword than is typically seen in the “Highland Broadsword community. Something like a spadroon or shearing sword.