This is part of an ongoing project to summarize and provide SCA focused commentary on The Schoole of the Noble and Worthy Science of Defence by Joseph Swetnam, published in 1617.

For links to the other sections of the Swetnam Project please go here.

I am using this facsimile: for the project.

Here is the third part of this section in Chapter 12.

The manners of a passage.

When making a passing lunge (Swetnam calls this a passage) you must be fast, nimble, and focused.  It is a dangerous attack as it brings you very close to your opponents weapon, and is more dangerous the more skilled your opponent is.  To counteract the innate danger in this lunge you must be skillful, have practiced, and have good judgement, especially in knowing where your opponents weapon is.  You must make your passing lunge as fast as possible, as soon as you see an opening with your opponents sword high you need to step forward with your left foot quickly, and parry your opponents weapon with your dagger, pushing it up and out of the way at the same time that you attack with your rapier.  Your parry and attack must happen at the same time rather than as two actions or it will be too slow.  The passing lunge is most effective if your opponent likes to stay in the same guard, but is more dangerous if he moves from guard to guard frequently.

You may also do this attack if your opponents weapon is at your waist level, but you will parry his rapier out to the side with your dagger rather than up.  In addition you will again make your parry and attack at the same time.

If your opponents point is near the ground then make your lunge with your dagger in a position where it will keep your opponents sword down if it tries to move up.  This way you will be able to make your attack and recover before he can defend.

The fourth way is to feint a thrust towards your opponents knee, then raise your point and lunge to your right, making an offline attack at your opponents left shoulder, over the dagger arm.  Then recover your left foot so you are back in guard but to the left of your opponent.  Your dagger must be prepared to defend throughout and especially at the end of this attack.

An interesting insertion here.  The previous three were all passing lunges with a modicum of offline attack.  This one is a pure offline attack.

There’s another way of making a passing lunge, and that is when your opponent makes an attack and you defend it with your dagger angled down, pushing it off to your side, stepping in with your left leg on a slight angle to your left, using your movement to drive your opponents weapon away while you hit him.

“Some that are ignorant” claim that you can’t defend against a passing lunge (Swetnam’s insults can’t be beat), but Swetnam says that there is no way of hitting a man with the thrust or cut that can not be defended against by one who is skillful.  But remember that not every fencer can teach true defence, only those who have  “been grounded in the true art of Defence by great practice” can properly teach how to defend.

This is a great way of saying that his contemporaries who apparently taught that a passing lunge couldn’t be defended were morons.  Swetnam will show that by explaining exactly how to defend against a passing lunge.

The danger of a passage is to be prevented three waies

First by withdrawing your right foot and moving your body out of range, and responding with a lunge once your opponents attack has missed.  The best way is to stand in your guard, drop your point so your enemy can not take control of it with his dagger and parrying his attack with your dagger.  If the attack is to your body use your dagger in the downward angled position, but if the attack is to your shoulder do not lower your dagger or your rapier will be the only defense.  It is better to defend your shoulder with both your dagger and rapier together.

Although the defense of the first two, stepping back with your foreleg or preventing your rapier from being controlled and using your dagger to defend your body, are fairly straight forward the third is a bit strange.  It seems to imply that to defend your left shoulder you should place your dagger in the way of your opponents sword and then bring your rapier up to assist it.

Another defence of a passage

If you are fencing with single rapier, and swetnam will explain more about the single rapier later, and your opponent gains control of your tip due to your not dropping your tip when your opponent closed then you still have the ability to defend yourself.  You can use the hilt and forte of your blade to defend yourself.  If you move your hand to your left side, into the path of your opponents rapier it will defend you long enough to withdraw with your forefoot and withdraw from the engagement.

When executing these defenses remember that you must have practice and be skillful, for a passage (passing lunge) is fast and direct and someone who is not used to it cannot defend against it, for it is the fastest and most dangerous attack.  But remember there is no thrust, cut, or lunge that can’t be defended against with skill and cunning.  A man can discern when a passing lunge is coming just as you can tell when a Hawk is about to attack, as the hawk settles itself to fly.  Similarly when you are fencing you must be ready for the passage, and for false play as well as true play, or a regular thrust.  The hurt of the passing lunge is the most dangerous and mortal, because in it you cannot say you will just hurt your opponent a little bit as you can with a normal thrust where you can control the distance better (he notes here that that is for those who can observe the distance well, if you can’t then you cannot either protect yourself or avoid dangerous attacks).  Because of this the passing lunge is seldom used in a fight even when both fencers are skilled at it.  If only one of them is skilled at it he can never be certain if his opponent will entrap him during the attack.

Swetnam says that the men who are show themselves as valorous are those who can hit their opponent without killing them.  And if a man who shows himself to be of little skill still agrees to fight you show him respect by not killing him, as long as he is respectful, however it is better to hurt rather than to be hurt, and to kill rather than to be killed if there is no other option.

 It is good for us in the SCA to remember that the faster an attack the less control we have over it, thus a fast passing lunge has very little control as you are covering a great deal of distance quickly.  If your opponent is also moving forward at the same time, or if you have misjudged distance, then you will hit your opponent too hard.  Today this will only result in a bruise, but to Swetnam it would result in killing a man you only intended to wound.  I think this is important to remember that Swetnam was opposed to intentionally killing your opponent.  A light cut in a place that you would have killed if you had been more forceful is more than enough.  If we emulate this concept it would make more sense to our SCA fighting than if we emulate those who were fighting to kill.

Thus ends the last of the part sections.  The next section begins from a new heading in the table of contents.

1 Comment

» Thoughts on Reading Swetnam Tomas de Courcy · September 18, 2012 at 3:05 pm

[…] Now next followeth the skill of weapons, and first the true gard of rapier and dagger for the defenc… […]

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