A New System of Sword Exercise for Infantry/Chapter II

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SECTION II. Preparatory Instruction with the Sword.[edit]

1. Explanation and Use of the Target.

The Target prefixed to these pages explains itself. The shape is oblong, the frame measuring 6 feet by 3, and the figure 5 feet 8 inches by 1 foot. As the latter represents the opponent, the centre should be about 4 feet from the ground, the height of the recruit's breast. Perpendicular to the foot of the figure in each Target a horizontal line is drawn, forming for the feet, the legs, the body, and the arms, the "directing line" of the scientific schools. At a distance of 10 feet the recruit is placed in the position of "Attention," with his left heel on the line, so that at the command "First Position" his left foot may cover it.

The parallelogram shows the direction and the numbering of the Cuts, concerning which further details will presently be given. They should be regulated according to the lines described upon the Target; nor should the recruit be practised in any other mode until he has gained the proper direction of the blade.

Nothing need be added to the directions of the 'Infantry Sword Exercise' (pp. 12, 13, 14), as regards the movements subject to the following words of command: much, on the other hand, with great advantage, might be taken away, and the result would be the increased efficiency that results from simplicity.

Draw Swords (should be much abridged; after the modern French School, pp. 165, 166: Règlement Provisoire, &c.);

Slope Swords;

Return Swords (should be simplified);

Stand at Ease;


Prepare for Sword Exercise;

Right prove Distance;

Slope Swords;

Front prove Distance; and

Slope Swords.

At the order, Stand on Guard, the recruit having assumed the Second Position, No. 2, falls on Guard: the pommel of the sword fronts his right breast; the point is directed at his opponent's right eye; his right arm is extend with an easy bend at the elbow; the wrist is inclined, with the knuckles slightly turned upwards, to his own right, so as to cover him in case of a straight thrust, and the left hand is placed upon the left flank just below the ribs, with the fingers to the front and the thumb to the rear.

The several guards (parries) are learned by holding the sword opposite to and on the inclination of the dotted lines which have sword-hilts attached to them; the recruit is thus taught from the Target the angle of the blade and the position of the wrist.

The Target directs the recruit how to make the Cuts and to form the Guards, but not exactly where; this must depend upon how the opponent acts during the attack and the defence. Cuts 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11 (odd numbers) are all from Carte, which the 'Infantry Sword Exercise' calls Inside. The corresponding even numbers (2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12) are from Tierce, or outside. The same nomenclature applies to the Guards or parries.

When the recruit thoroughly understands the use of the target he need no longer be practised in front of it; but the instructor (sword in hand) should consider it a sure guide and reference for correctly forming the Guards and for giving a suitable direction to the edge when making the Cuts.

2. The Moulinet. [FN9]

This rotation movement should be learnt before the recruit proceeds to the Cut.

There is nothing better for "breaking," as the French say, the recruit's wrist than this sweep of the sword; and the style of a swordsman may always be known by his Moulinet. We will divide it into three kinds, viz. (1) horizontal, (2) diagonal, and (3) vertical; the latter again may be either (a) ascending or (b) descending; but as the second (diagonal) is a mere modification of the first and the third, it will be sufficient to notice only two; these are: --

1st. The horizontal movement, or Moulinet proper, circling the sword round the head. The grip is held as lightly as possible, chiefly with the thumb and the first finger, resting the pommel upon the palm, and carrying the nails upward. The blade should be moved as horizontally as it can be, with the back just clearing the swordsman's crown: it should describe, not a true circle, but an oval with a long diameter in the directing line to the centre of the Target through the heels or ankles of the recruit. Finally, the point should be lanced or thrown out, as it were, towards the opponent's face. Evidently it may be done in two ways, first, from right to left, which I will call the "Tierce Moulinet" (Moulinet à gauche); this is by far the easiest and most habitual, corresponding with Tierce "Counter," opposition, or describing with the blade a circle round the adversary's blade, in the fencing school. The reverse movement ("Carte Moulinet," Moulinet à droite), from left to right, requires, like the Counter of Carte, much more practice.

2nd. In France the term "Moulinet" is mostly applied to these two rotations of the sword round the head, but we will extend it to all circlings of the point. The vertical form is also made from the hand in Tierce (Outside Guard), the blade is brought sharply round with the back towards the breast and left shoulder, and returns to its original position; we will call this the "Inside Moulinet," having reference to the performer, not the adversary. The "Outside Moulinet" is when from a "Tierce or Outside Guard" the blade passes along the right shoulder, it is simply the former done in the outer line.

Again the "Inside Moulinet," which ends with the Cut from above downwards (the French enlevé), may be inverted so as to cut from downwards upwards (the brisé). The same may be done with the "Outside Moulinet," when the wrist must be turned upwards, and the Cut given in the ascending line. This difficult movement should be practised in order to ensure a flexible wrist, but it exposes the whole arm. In the four latter "Cuts," the one invariable rule is to circle the point as vertically as possible. The French Manuel (pp. 234, 235) gives: 1, the enlevé cutting from above downwards; and it may be either à gauche (Tierce Moulinet) or à droite (Carte Moulinet); 2, the Moulinet proper; and 3, the brisé, cutting from downwards upwards, thus reversing the enlevé; and this also may be done à gauche (Tierce Moulinet) or á droite.

The "Moulinet" should be practised first without, then with, the sword, and on foot, before attempting it on horseback. In the earlier stage the recruit must turn the hand, with the arm nearly extended, in the horizontal and vertical movements, without stiffness and displacement of the elbow. In the second he may, if no Target be procurable, work before a cross chalked on the wall so as to secure horizontality and verticality. Finally, the soldier will combine the two, Tierce and Carte, by passing rapidly from one to the other.

Whilst practising the Moulinet the recruit must be taught the two main divisions of the sword-blade. Fencers have introduced an immense complication into this simple matter; and some have proposed eight parts: for broadsword it is sufficient to divide the length. The "Feeble," or weak half, is that contained between the point and the centre; this, the proper part for the Cut or attack is ground to a thinner edge, and consequently it is more liable to an injury from another sword if the Cut be not very true. The "Fort," or strong half, is from the centre to the hilt, and upon this we must rely for defence.

A few hours' practice and a few pressings upon the different parts of the blade under the surveillance of the instructor will teach the recruit the high importance of this lesson. He will learn that in opposing the adversary's sword the strength of the defence decreases from the hilt upwards in proportion, as the Cut is received towards the point; and that, vice versâ, it increases from the point downwards to the hand. The strongest man cannot "force in" the opponent's Guard if the Cut or Thrust be received upon the part near the handle. With a true Guard the ordinary fencing foil can turn off the thrust of a musket and bayonet weighing 10 lbs. The practised swordsman always attempts, when attacking, to gain with his "Fort" the "Feeble" of the opponent's weapon, in which case the superior leverage will often beat down the parry; and this manoeuvre should be carefully practised by men of superior muscular strength. The Cuts must, as a rule, be delivered within eight inches of the point and at the "centre of percussion," [FN10] so that the sword may clear itself and the arm escape a "jar."

The two virtues of the Cut are its trueness and its velocity. Unless true it will become a blow with the flat that would shiver to pieces any brittle Eastern blade. Assuming the vis viva or force of a moving body to be its weight multiplied by the square of the velocity, let us suppose a strong man cutting with a sword weighing 4 lbs., to which he can give a velocity which we will call 1, or 4 x 1 = 4: a weaker man who applies double the velocity to a 2 lb. sword will thus produce a momentum of 8, doubling the force of the blow. But let the stronger man take the lighter sword, evidently he will obtain a higher velocity, which we will assume at 3: in this case the effect will be 18. Thus the power of the Cut is enormously increased by increased velocity, but much less by increased weight in the moving body.

3. The Cuts.

The Target prefixed to the 'Infantry Sword Exercise' gives Seven Cuts, an insufficient number. The German systems add an eighth blow perpendicularly upwards, when the whole of the swordsman's arm from wrist to shoulder would be completely at the opponent's mercy.

The French Manuel has only seven, viz. The Coup de Tête; 2, the Coup de Banderole; 3, the Coup de Figure à droite; 4, the Coup de Figure à gauche; 5, the Coup de Flanc; 6, the Coup de Ventre; and 7, the Coup de Manchette.

The subjoined diagram shows the Twelve Cuts [FN11] which serve to "loosen" the rigid arm of the recruit.

The figure represents the opponent; the thick lines show the direction of the edge when cutting; and the dotted continuations denote the course of the blade when describing the several "Moulinets."

The Cuts should be continuous, the regular succession always beginning from Carte or the Inside, that is, from the rear of the left shoulder. As in the "Moulinet," the less the arm is bent and the sword-hand is moved from the line of direction (to the front), the greater is the value of the movement. The recruit, who must walk before he runs, should deliver the whole dozen in continuous seep without pause, but at first very slowly, till, by the proper and timely use of the wrist, the Cuts lead into one another. The more advanced swordsman, whose pliability of strength is free from contractions and other vicious habits, should practise the series of twelve with increased rapidity till the blade whistles through the air. All the cuts should be given strong, with the edge leading well forwards and with the arm extended to its utmost in the delivery.

The following are the Twelve Cuts: --

I. and II. These cuts are made, after falling into Tierce or Outside Guard, from above downwards at the opponent's head. In No. I. the point, beginning as usual from the left shoulder (Carte), describes a full circle ("Inside Moulinet," the brisé à gauche of the French Manuel), the hand moving as little as possible so as to cover the body; the knuckles turned up and the blade passing close to the breast: it finishes by delivering a vertical Cut, with the "Feeble close to the point, at the right half of the adversary's crown.

No. II., which follows without interruption, reverses the process; the knuckles are turned down and the blade sweeps past the right shoulder (brisé à droite); ending with the left half of the opponent's head. The latter Cut is by far the more difficult to make without moving the hand, but it is good practice for "breaking" the wrist.

III. and IV. The horizontal face-cuts, also beginning from the left (Carte), an invariable rule, and ending with the right, that is, at the adversary's left cheek. The reason of this practice is to make the movement habitual to the recruit; cutting from left to right always causes less exposure of the inner wrist than cutting from right to left.

V. and VI. The slanting shoulder-cuts, also from above downwards (Nos. 1 and 2, or rather 2 and 1, of the 'Infantry Sword Exercise,' pp. 14, 17, and the Coups de Banderole of the Manuel); describing two diagonal Moulinets, first from left to right, and then from right to left. The sword again makes a double "Moulinet" with the edge downwards, and descends first upon the opponent's right and then upon his left shoulder.

VII. and VIII. The horizontal breast-cuts, parallel with the face-cuts, and, like them, delivered with the blade as horizontal as possible.

IX. and X. The horizontal stomach-cuts, parallel with, and lower than, the breast-cuts.

XI. and XII. The slanting groin or thigh-cuts, diagonally from downwards upwards; in fact, the reverse of the shoulder-cuts (Nos. 4 and 3 of the 'Exercise,' and the brisés of the Manuel). In these diagonal Moulinets, the elbow must not be bent; the hand should deviate as little as possible from the directing line under pain of dangerous exposure; and the two movements should follow each other without a break.

Whenever the recruit fails to carry the edge well forward in making the attack, he should be practised slowly and repeatedly in combining the opposites, as Head-cut (No. 1) and Thigh-cut (No. 12), Head-cut (No. 2) and Thigh-cut (No. 11), and so forth. The instructor must see that the edge leads on to the respective lines of the Target, the point being darted out at the end of each cut.

The Cuts will be practised first in No. "Second Position" (Guard), and afterwards in No. 2 "Third Position" (Lunge).

4. The Engaging Guards, or Engagements.

As the 'Infantry Sword Exercise' has a deficiency of Cuts, so it has a superfluity of "Engaging Guards." I have already expressed my opinion concerning the Guard (p. 18 of 1874) popularly called the "hanging Guard." Even with the best position, the head erect and the eyes looking straight and not upwards; it is utterly faulty; it displaces the arm and the sword, and as no serious attack can be made directly from it, it necessitates a movement entailing a considerable amount of exposure. It is now chiefly confined to students' duels with the German Schläeger, wherein slitting the opposing nose, which can be done with a mere jerk upwards, is the swordsman's highest aim and ambition.

The "Engaging Guards" are thus reduced to the two following: --

Tierce (or outside) Guard; defending the outer lines, arm, shoulder, back, and flank. The recruit having assumed the "Second Position" (No. 2), brings the pommel of his sword to the centre of his right breast; opposes the point to the adversary's right eye; extends his right arm with an easy bend of the elbow; inclines the wrist with the knuckles upward to his own right, so as to cover himself in case of a straight thrust, and places his left hand upon his left flank with the fingers to the front and the thumb to the rear. In Tierce of course the edge of the sword is to the right or outside.

Carte (or Inside) Guard. This movement defends the inner lines, chest and stomach; the knuckles are turned down; the opposition is made to the left, and the edge is carried in the same direction.

When engaging in guard (joining weapons), the swords should meet each other about eight inches from the points. If the distance is diminished the opponents are "out of measure" (or distance); if increased, they are "within measure." The recruit must be taught slightly to press upon the opponent's blade, but not to rest upon it; by this "opposition" his hand and wrist will be more ready to follow the weapon during the attack. Thus also the "Engaging Guards," Tierce, and Carte (outside and inside) afford protection preparatory to the movements for offence and defence. The eye must be fixed upon the eye and the hand or the blade-point of the opponent, not upon the eye only.

Guard may be partly defensive when the bust is advanced and the point approaches the opponent, or it may be purely protective when its sole object is the "parry."

The right-handed recruit must be taught always to attempt Engaging in Tierce, [FN12] with his opponent's blade in the outer line (sur les armes). The reason is simply that in the reverse position (dans les armes), the fore-arm, from the elbow to the wrist, is comparatively unguarded; whereas Tierce facilitates the defence of the "low lines" (i.e. those below the wrist). Tierce therefore has invariably the advantage with the sabre, as Carte carries off the palm with the small-sword, the foil, and the rapier. [FN13] But the right-handed man engaging in Tierce puts his left-handed opponent in Carte; and the latter, if a skilful sworder, will manoeuvre, by withdrawing the bade, by coupés or degagements over the point, and by other feints, to regain the ground of vantage. The best treatment of this case is to make a time-cut in Seconde ("inner Moulinet," or brisé à gauche) at the adversary's knuckles, a movement which will presently be explained.

5. The Guards or Parries. [FN14]

The 'Infantry Sword Exercise' proposes Seven Guards, a number which can hardly be reduced for practice on the drill-ground or in the schools: the Manuel contains the same number, including one for the Point. But of the seven no less than five are "Hanging Guards," and Nos. 3 and 4 serve only to defend the inside and the outside of the advanced leg. This limb requires no assistance of the kind: an able swordsman never exposes his head and shoulders by cutting so low, and if he does, the leg can be smartly withdrawn (parade retrograde, or en échappant), rendering the attack not only useless but dangerous to the assailant. Even in fencing, "low thrusts," that is, at the body below the wrist, are never made, for fear of the "Time" being taken, until the upper line has been closed by a feint. In our Single-stick practice the first thought seems to be to attack the advanced leg -- which may be well enough for Single-stick.

The following are the full number of guards or parries in which the edge must invariably be used: they are evidently dividable into two; (1) Head (with face) Guards, and (2) Body Guards: --

Prime (p. 38), so called because it is the "first" position of defence after drawing the blade, that which the unpractised man would naturally assume to defend his head. It is the 7th Guard of the 'Infantry Sword Exercise.' In practice the point is more inclined to the horizontal line than when the blade is unsheathed; the edge is carried somewhat inside or to the left; the arm is shortened and so raised that the eyes look under it, but the head remains upright. The recruit must be careful not to "bend the body;" not to "draw in the chest and neck;" and not to bring the left shoulder a little forward." The defect of Prime is its being a "Hanging guard," rendering the riposte or reply difficult, and modern practice prefers "High Tierce." Seconde (4th Guard), so termed because following Prime: the arm is extended, the edge is carried to the outside or to the right; in practice the hilt is lowered, and the point, threatening the opponent's loins, is depressed to the half of a right angle. This position must be learned for the sake of feinting: as a parade it is not much used, because it defends only the hip and leg, and a good swordsman will never expose himself to exceeding danger by making low cuts. Modern practice prefers "low Tierce."

Tierce (2nd Guard) has been described above under "Standing on Guard" and "Engaging Guards;" it defends the outer lines, arm, shoulder, and back.

High Tierce is a head-guard; the hand is raised to above the shoulder to the maximum level of the swordsman's right eye, and the blade is carried at an angle of 45 degrees with the edge up and the point to the left.

Low Tierce is a flank-guard; the arm is shortened, the hand depressed six inches; the opposition is to the outside, and the point is held vertically or almost vertically, as the attack demands. Carte (1st Guard) has been described above under "Engaging Guards," as defending the inner lines, chest and stomach. For the purposes of parrying, the arm is withdrawn till the elbow, almost touching the belt, forms an equilateral triangle with the hilt and the left side. High Carte is a head-guard like high Tierce: the hand is raised to the left of the left eye, and the blade, crossing the face at an angle of 45 degrees, carries the edge up, and the point to the right.

Low Carte is a stomach guard. As in Low Tierce the arm is shortened, the hand is depressed six inches; the opposition is to the inside, and the point is held vertically or almost vertically, as the attack demands. In practice the advanced swordsman will confine himself to Tierce and Carte with their natural modifications. He will consult his own feelings about the head-guard, abolishing Prime in favour of High Tierce or High Carte, and he will prefer Low Tierce or withdrawing the leg (rassemblement) to using Seconde. Of these movements the simplest are always the best. When parrying, the sword-arm must invariably be drawn for defence nearer the body, and the grip should be sensibly tightened to receive the cut. No strength is necessary when making the parries: I cannot accept the "Sforzi" or guard-forcings of the neo-Italian broadsword school, dry blows upon the blade, which, intended to disarm, are essentially dangerous. The Guards or Parries will be practised like the Cuts, first in the "Second Position" (Guard) and afterwards in the "Third Position" (Lunge).