George Silver: The Four Grounds

The four grounds or principals of that true fight at all manner of weapons are these four, viz. 1. judgment, 2. distance, 3. time, 4. place.

The reason whereof these 4 grounds or principals be the first and chief, are the following, because through judgment, you keep your distance, through distance you take your time, through time you safely win or gain the place of your adversary, the place being won or gained you have time safely either to strike, thrust, ward, close, grip, slip or go back, in which time your enemy is disappointed to hurt you, or to defend himself, by reason that he has lost his place, the reason that he has lost his true place is by the length of time through the numbering of his feet, to which he is out of necessity driven to that will be agent.

For Silver there are Four Grounds, or principles, that are the foundation of all true fighting. These four principles are judgment, distance, time, and place and without them no one can hope to safely engage in combat.


It’s no coincidence that the very first principal Silver mentions as he begins his Brief Instructions is judgment.  A fighter’s judgment is quite possibly his greatest asset.  Born out of the sum of his experiences judgment is what a fighter uses to gauge every aspect of the fight.  His judgment tells him when he’s too close to his opponent or too far, when he should lie in the open fight or when the Stocata would be more advantageous.  It’s how he gauges the best time to attack and when it’s more beneficial to let his opponent make the first move.  Through judgment a fighter makes every single decision about the fight.  It’s the experience he bases this decisions on. 


Closely behind judgment follows distance.  Most often when Silver discusses distance he refers to the distance between a fighter and his opponent, the range at which a fighter can attack his opponent and vice versa.  But distance also refers to the stride of a fighter’s footwork and the measure of distance he travels when he makes his pace.  It can also refer to the distance your sword has to travel in order to strike your opponent or parry their attack.  A big part of protecting oneself in combat is knowing how close your opponent is to you and being able to asses not just your range but also that of your opponent.  Without a sound knowledge of distance and range a fighter can’t make that assessment.


Timing is a crucial concept to fighting and yet it’s one of the most nebulous and difficult to really understand. Distance is easier. You can measure distance very easily with any ruler but the tempo of a fight is harder to measure.

Time and timing refer to many parts of the bout.  Here, time first refers to the Four Times (which Silver discusses later in Bref Instructions and we will be discussing after the Four Governors).  Time also refers to the rhythm of the fight and to the rhythm of each individual fighter. It refers to the speed of attacks and parries and it refers to the rhythm of the fighters’ footwork. It can also be used as a verb: to time your opponent. When you time you opponent you gather enough information about their rhythm that you can predict and exploit the timing of their attacks and the speed of their fighting.  Understanding timing is about understanding that rhythm. It’s about understanding distance relative to time.


Place is probably the most simple concept of the four.  What Silver means when he discusses the principal of place is the position in which you have an advantage over your opponent.  Thus, gaining the place of your opponent means positioning yourself in the fight so that you have the advantage over your opponent.  Usually this means placing yourself so that you are able to strike your opponent without having to worry that they could strike you as well.


The Four Gounds are Silver’s most basic principles.  Along with the Four Governors (which we will discuss next) they form the foundation of combat.

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