The True Fight


"For as much as in my Paradoxes of Defence I have admonished men to take heed of false teachers of defence, yet once again in these my brief instructions I do the like, because diverse [men] have written books treating of the noble science of defence, wherein they rather teach offence than defence, rather showing men thereby how to be slain than to defend themselves from the danger of their enemies, as we may daily see to the great grief and overthrow of many brave gentlemen and gallant of our ever victorious nation of Great Britain, and therefore for the great love and care that I have for the well doing and preservation of my countrymen..."

-George Silver, "Brief Instructions Upon My Pardoxes of Defence"

Illustration of George Silver with a short sword and dagger, from a presentation copy of "Paradoxes of Defence".

George Silver was an upper-class English gentleman born sometime around the year 1560. He was the eldest of four brothers, at least one other of which was also a student of the Science of Defence. Silver was married in London, and seems to have resided there. The source of Silver's knowledge of the True Fight is unknown, but he claims that his method is that which was common and traditionally taught in England before the arrival of Italian fencing teachers. Silver was a vocal critic of these Italian fencers' styles and weapons, blaming both for the injury and deaths in duels of honor of so many English youths which had fallen under their spell. He and his brother even went so far as to challenge some of these Italian Masters to a public contest, but the latter failed to appear. To remedy the wanton waste of lives and to attempt to restore his native Science of Defence, Silver authored "Paradoxes of Defence", which was published in 1599, and later "Brief Instructions Upon My Paradoxes of Defence", which was not published during his lifetime. Silver seems to have died sometime before 1613, but neither the date nor circumstances of which have been discovered.

The style of fighting with the sword and various additional weapons advocated by George Silver, known as True Fight, is distinguished from those of other masters by its insistence upon minimizing the risk assumed by its practitioners. Evidence of this fact can be found throughout Silver’s description of the proper application of the Science of Defence within his two books, wherein he describes a method that is largely distinct from others in both its philosophy of use and tactics.

Silver’s stated purpose for writing his books was that he believed that too many Englishmen were being killed or maimed, especially in duels of honor, by using specifically those Italian fencing methods which had become popular in England. He blamed not only the frivolous nature of the extralegal duel itself, but also both the favored weapon, the rapier, and those styles of fencing that came along with it from Italy.

Print of George Silver with a short staff or half-pike, from "Paradoxes of Defence", 1599.

Silver states that these Italian weapons and styles encouraged offense instead of defense, often leading to both participants' injury or death in a fray. However, because cosmopolitan Italy was the center of the Renaissance, many Italian art forms - from clothing to indeed fencing with the rapier - became fashionable in England during Silver's time. Learning to fight with this newly popular and seemingly sophisticated weapon was one of the major draws of rapier fencing. The rapier which Silver describes seems to have been a fairly simple weapon, with only a plain cross-guard and no additional hand-protection. Silver criticizes this fact, contrasting it to the ample protection afforded by his preferred basket-hilted short sword, and mentioning that a gauntlet was often necessarily used with the rapier.

Silver clearly and repeatedly states that the art which he describes as one of defence rather than offense, although he allows attacks against his adversary when necessary, if the situation is correct to do so safely. This is most poignantly illustrated by his insistence that when two combatants fight with his prescribed weapons and perfectly according to his style, True Fight, then neither will be harmed. Such a scenario where both fencers are unscathed would most readily take place in certain contexts, specifically those which allow both participants adequate space and time to not be forced into taking risks which would violate Silver's method. The most obvious scenarios with these properties, and seemingly the focus of most of Silver's instructions, were duels and competitions; most commonly those which involved the participants using like-weapons, but also sometimes mismatched ones. Silver did however also mention and in some cases briefly describe the use of both fighting multiple adversaries simultaneously, and even battles. These situations are ones wherein it would be much more difficult for both sides to come away safely, but it holds true that if all involved adhered to Silver's teachings, however unlikely, then this would indeed be the outcome.

Silver's True Fight relies upon the understanding and manipulation of time and space in order to strike an adversary without being struck oneself. This is in contrast to the methods utilized by other styles which rely upon either deceptive novel techniques and/or a more complicated manipulation or knowledge of psychology. This again is a result of the fact that Silver attempts to remove as much risk as possible, and he is unwilling to chance that he has misread his opponent's intention, demeanor, habits, or volatility. This of course results in a style which is potentially too conservative to achieve its secondary goal of striking the adversary, but one which is more likely to achieve the primary goal of not being struck oneself.

Battle scene print from "Holinshed's Chronicles of England", 1577.

Fundamental Concepts

30 Grounds of True Fight

  1. Judgment -To know when you and your adversary can reach each other or not, and to know what he can do from his lying.

  2. Lyings - Positions with the body and weapon from which one may fight.

  3. Distance - The amount of separation between your body and that of your adversary; divided into, out of distance, first distance and within distance.

  4. Direction - Controlling the line of defense between yourself and your adversary with your weapon.

  5. Pace - The position of your feet regarding their distance from each other while standing or stepping.

  6. Space - The measurement between one position of a weapon and either another position, another weapon, or a target; divided into true space and narrow space.

  7. Place - The position where you may safely hit your adversary without the need for a step to close distance.

  8. Time - The measurement of speed over distance; divided into the Four True Times and the Four False Times, observed chiefly regarding Place or Space.

  9. Indirection - To make your adversary's weapon leave the line of defense.

  10. Motion - Movement of the weapon; divided into four types, namely bent, spent, lying spent, and drawing back.

  11. Action - Offensive maneuvers against your adversary taken at specific times in the fight; divided into certain and uncertain: first, before, just, and after.

  12. General and continual motion - Unceasing movements with your body meant to confuse your adversary and make you an uncertain mark.

  13. Progression - Forward movement with the feet.

  14. Regression - Backward movement with the feet.

  15. Traversing - Lateral movement with the feet.

  16. Treading of ground - Movement of the foot that does not cause the body to travel any significant distance, but leaves it largely in place.

  17. Blows - Cutting attacks which strike with the edge of the weapon, consisting of both full blows and wrist blows.

  18. Thrusts - Stabbing attacks with the point of the weapon.

  19. Falses - Deceiving your adversary by purposefully failing with one attack in order to better hit him with another where he opens himself.

  20. Doubles - Deceiving your adversary by immediately renewing a failed attack in order to hit him.

  21. Slips - Voiding the part of your body which your adversary targets in order to hit him where he then makes himself open.

  22. Wards - Strong defensive parries with the weapon which are properly made by utilizing a True Cross; divided into Forehand and Gardant.

  23. Breaking of thrusts - Deflections made with your weapon of your adversary's stabbing attacks.

  24. Closings - Purposefully moving in near to your adversary and crossing his weapon.

  25. Grips & wrestlings - Fighting bodily from close distance.

  26. Guardant fight - The manner of fencing from the position with your weapon in front of you, hanging down from above defensively.

  27. Open fight - The manner of fencing from the position with your weapon over your head, ready to strike down from above.

  28. Variable fight - The manner of fencing from any other position, but usually one with the point forward.

  29. Close fight - The manner of fencing from the position with your weapon crossing your adversary's.

  30. Four Governors - Judgment, Measure, and the Twofold Mind of pressing-in and flying-back .

Four Principles of that True Fight at All Manner of Weapons

  1. Judgment - through Judgment, you keep your Distance.

  2. Distance - through Distance you take your Time.

  3. Time - through Time you safely win or gain the Place of your adversary.

  4. Place - the Place being won or gained you have time safely either to strike, thrust, ward, close, grip, slip or go back.

Ten General Rules (summarized)

  1. Observe your ground for evenness or unevenness, ready yourself, set the sun in your adversary's face with your traversing.

  2. Choose a Lying, slide back upon the adversary's first movement toward you, perform any of Three Actions (Strike or Thrust, Ward, Slip).

  3. Keep Distance from your adversary so that he does not win the Place.

  4. Attack his open or weakest part when your adversary presses upon you.

  5. Win the Place upon Guard.

  6. Keep your Distance and strike or thrust against one using Variable Fight.

  7. Always Ward with a True Cross and know that the hand deceives the eye.

  8. Look to your enemy’s grip, and then Ward and Strike or Thrust him.

  9. Indirect your enemy and then strike or thrust him and fly out.

  10. Draw your hind foot circularly away from that part which he attacks with your Ward.

Four Governors

  1. Judgment - To know when you and your adversary can reach each other or not, and to know what he can do from his lying.

  2. Measure - To know how to make your space true to defend yourself, or to offend your enemy.

  3. & 4. Twofold Mind - When you Press-in on your enemy, for as you have a mind to go forward, so must you have at that instant a mind to Fly-backward upon any action that shall be offered or done by your adversary.