Instructing Students According to George Silver

Silver often gets a bad rap for his Paradoxes of Defense and until recently, with the surge in interest in HMA and cut and thrust, he was more often than not seen as an enemy of fencing and rapier combat.  There’s a lot of pro-English propaganda in Paradoxes (naturally, as there should be) but there is also a lot of wisdom to be found there too.  In fact, there is a very interesting section toward the end that discusses the “evil” practices of his beloved English schools of defense.

Silver argues against certain teaching methods in the English fencing schools. According to him, teachers are forbidding students from using a thrust when fighting with broad swords and from using a blow when fighting with rapiers. He maintains that both attacks are necessary to the “true fight” regardless of what type of weapon you are fighting with. He feels that students should be exposed to everything they might possibly see because not exposing them puts them at a disadvantage in real world fighting.

And then Silver gives us a gem: the order in which he believes scholars should still be taught.  According to the old ways first they should learn…

their quarters, then their wards, blows, thrusts, and breaking of  thrusts, then their closes and gripes, striking with the hilts, daggers, bucklers, wrastlings, striking with the foote or knee in the coddes, or groin, and all these are safely defended in learning perfectly of the gripes.

He further specifies that students should be taught with weapons of the correct length. Students of average height should use a weapon that is 1 yard and 1 inch and tall students many use a weapon of 1 yard and 3 or 4 inches, but nothing longer. He says that the rapier should still be taught in the schools to anyone that wants to learn as long as those students are also taught with the broadsword as well.

Silver also makes a strong argument for a complete education. Students should be exposed to all manner of tricks and techniques, especially if a future opponent might use them.  And this is quite possibly one of the greatest pearls to be found in his works.  A lot of times students are taught only one style and this was especially true during Silver’s period.  However this places the student at a disadvantage.  If they’ve only seen and been taught one style and one way of doing things they are often at a loss for what to do when they are faced with a new and unfamiliar style.  Rather they should be made familiar with every style, even if their teachers favor one above the others, so that they can be prepared when they are faced with outside opponents on the field.

Fine advice and definitely worth keeping in mind as we instruct our own students.

3 Replies to “Instructing Students According to George Silver”

  1. Thank you for this little piece on Silver and teaching style. I’ve been working on a curriculum for teaching Silver which is based on his writing and the strict observation of his outline as you provided it. Im glad that Im not the only one who sees this as possibly the preferred order and not just a random smattering of thoughts on the page.

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