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.


We now begin to get to the combat application part of Joseph Swetnam.  Chapter five is a combination of how to fight a duel with a bit towards the end on avoiding duels.


Chap. V. The cause of quarrells, and what preparation you aught to be prepared with to answer a challenge.

Swetnam truly has it in for people who duel without cause.  He does give leave to duel if your reputation is truly insulted, but for other than grave insults he admonishes us to turn the other cheek.

If you must duel Swetnam gives the rules of the duel:
The challenged man chooses the weapon, time, and place
The challenged man chooses whether to fight on foot or horse
This lets the challenged man play to his strengths or his opponents weaknesses

On Dueling:

He then goes into a number of things to keep in mind while dueling.

If your opponent is hasty you should keep your point trained directly on him at all times so that if he tries to press you he will run himself onto your sword.

Remember to make your confessions to God before the duel.

Remember your skill while you fight.  Too many people forget what they learned and loose because of that.

If you both know a lot of tricks (false play) stick to the basics (true play) because if you use a trick your opponent knows he will counter it.  Tricks may work sometimes though if you know a rare one.

It doesn’t take very much of a fight to figure out who is more skillful.  Remember that there is always someone better than you.

If you fight someone of equal or greater skill focus on disarming him or breaking his weapon so that you can end the fight faster.

Stay at long range against a better opponent, do not let them close or you will be in more danger.

Don’t move to defend any specific part of your body too quickly, as that may open up another part.  Wait until your opponent has committed.

Insure that you are well trained in defending with the weapon you usually carry so that you will be able to both defend against your enemies attack but answer him at the same time.

It is best to attack quickly after your opponent.

Keep your defense up as long as you are within range of your opponent until you strike, and make sure that you strike correctly.  After your attack return to your defense.

If part of your opponent seems open, hesitate.  They may be opening it on purpose and you will be out of place when he attacks.

Do not attack from the shoulder or elbow, but instead attack from the wrist, as it is faster.  Do not stop after the first attack.  Make multiple attacks at once then recover.  Watch your enemies face and not the tip of his sword or you may be deceived by a feint.

Be experienced in both true and false play – the use of and defense against both.  This way you will not be deceived, and you will be able to fight all mane of men.

Do not be hasty, because you are more likely to miss your attack.

Do not ripost every attack of your opponent.  Make short attacks until you have the measure of your opponent and understand what he is planing to do

If both combatants are experienced the fight may last almost the whole day, or until one of them gets tired.

Use a close hilted dagger and rapier as it is better than sword and dagger, though in both cases it is more a matter of skill than weapons.

You will not always need everything you’ve learned in every fight, but you may need them sometimes.

Don’t get distracted when engaging your opponent.  And don’t complain about your opponnets cowardly attack if he attacks while you are distracted.

At the same time do not create distractions or tricks beyond the fight as it is not manly/chivalrous

Avoiding duels

He then returns to discussion of how to avoid duels.  He reminds us to let reason guide us and not to give in to fighting over every little thing, but if a man is insistant on fighting you and does everything he can to provoke you then he should be answered.  Do not begin a quarell, but end it.  He goes on to explain that while some people say that if someone gives you the lie and you do not answer with a duel then you are a coward, Swetnam says that it is better to answer such with words rather than with weapons lest you end up committing murder.

Swetnam closes with saying that you will be the happiest if at the end of your years you can say:

“I thanke my God, I never bare malice, nor I never iniuriously wronged any man, in thought, word, or deed in all my life.”

SCA Take:

Swetnam gives us a lot of points to think about.  So I’ll break it down into a few sections.  In addition I’m still curious about this “close hilted dagger”.

Period dueling:

The best reason to duel is if someone first calls you a liar and then assaults your person either by hitting or slapping you in some way.  This way you have been insulted in word and deed and you can then respond.  He calls anything less frivolous.  In setting up the duel remember that the challenged man gets to choose the Weapon, the Time, and the Place.

Advice on Dueling:

  • Keep your weapon trained on your opponent at all times
  • Don’t forget your training
  • There is a difference between true skill and tricks.  Know the difference, know both, and use the skill most of the time and the ocasional trick.
  • There is always someone better than you, never assume you’re the best.
  • Don’t let an opponent who is better than you close, the better fencer has the advantage closer in
  • Train with the same weapon you use in tournament
  • Don’t watch the sword, watch the whole person
  • Rapier and dagger is the best combination
  • Don’t get distracted by things beyond the fight, and don’t purposefully create a distraction beyond the fight.

On Guards:

  • Keep your guard up and don’t fall for feints – a blatant opening may be a feint
  • Always recover into guard

On Attacks:

  • Throw your cuts from the wrist as that is faster
  • Make sure that every attack you make has multiple ends and can go into a second or third hit
  • Don’t make your full attack until you have the measure of your opponent

On Riposting:

  • Be quick
  • Return to guard fast after a riposte
  • Don’t be hasty, take your time to find the right attack, don’t riposte every attack.


Thoughts on Reading Swetnam » Tomas de Courcy · June 16, 2011 at 12:16 pm

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Thoughts on Reading Swetnam | Tomas de Courcy · June 17, 2011 at 9:47 am

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