George Silver: His First General Rule

In general I am a big believer in starting from the beginning. That is why last week I chose to start my training manual for Silver with his Four Grounds. In retrospect I probably should have had a bit more of an introduction accompanying that post. Ah, well there is also something to be said for jumping right in. I will be setting up a page this week that will have links to all the posts for my training manuals project and I will add my introduction there.

I know that last week I said we would be discussing the Four Governors next but this week I’m inspired to jump a little ahead to one of Silver’s general rules. This pretty much goes against my usual method of starting at the beginning and following through to the end but sometimes you have to go where the inspiration takes you. I’ll just put it all back in order when I set up the page.

After his discussion of the Four Grounds and the Four Governors Silver discusses several general rules “which must be observed in that perfect use of all kind of weapons”. In his first general rule he states:

First when you come into the field to encounter with your enemy, observe well the scope, evenness and unevenness of your ground, put yourself in readiness with your weapon, before your enemy comes within distance, set the sun in his face traverse if possible you can, still remembering your governors.

It seems so simple but I hardly ever see fighters do it. By inspecting the field beforehand a fighter is able to note potential hazards and determine which areas of the field would provide him the greatest advantage and help him to control the fight.

Rarely is the field as flat as we think it is. There is nearly always a slight slope, a rut, some clump of crab grass that makes this weird, slightly higher lump than the surrounding grass. All of these things provide both advantages and disadvantages. The crabgrass or a rut could cause you to stumble. A slope and both place you at an advantage or a disadvantage depending on whether you have the high ground or the low ground. Sometimes even the low ground can offer you a more advantageous line to your opponent’s lower targets depending on the situation but you will have to remember to guard a slightly higher line depending on your opponent’s placement relative to yourself. More often the higher ground provides the advantage over your opponent, often opening holes that he may not be aware exist from a higher position.

Two weeks ago a War of the Wings I was watching two fencers spar in the few minutes between the end of the scenarios and the beginning of court. One of the fighters was significantly shorter than his opponent. The ground had a slight slope to it if you looked at it and the shorter fighter started out on the higher ground. This placed him in a better position relative to his opponent because it took away some of height difference between him and his opponent. But once the bout started the shorter fighter, who seemingly had not noticed the slope, quickly circled around his opponent and positioned himself on the low ground, giving his opponent the higher ground. This not only reinstated the original height difference but also increased it by a couple of inches. This took away the advantage the shorter fighter had gained by taking the higher ground. After several passes this was pointed out and discussed.

The second part of Silver’s rule, positioning the fight so the sun is in your opponent’s face, is also hardly ever used. More often I’ve seen fighters move so that the sun is not in their face but they do not intentionally try to position their opponent toward the sun. Using the sun can be an excellent way to gain advantage over your opponent. If his ability to see is reduced by the glare of the sun he’s going to have a much harder time attacking you than he would under normal conditions. It’s not nice, but this is the Art of Defense not the Art of Being Nice.

Silver’s first rule is simple and straight forward but covers ground that is often overlooked by fighters. Next time you face an opponent take a few minutes to note the ground you’ll be fighting on so that you can take up a position that offers you the most advantage possible. Why give up a perfectly good advantage to you opponent?

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