This is a transcript of the original work by Sir William Hope

Hope's New Method of Fencing &c.

introduction.

The art of fencing, being not only a very gentile and diverting exercise, but also most necessary and useful upon an occasion, which few gentlemen but once in their life find it their fate to meet with; and many worthy and deserving persons, not only in this kingdom, but elsewhere , having done me the honour, to pass an obliging character upon me, with respect to my dexterity and knowledge in this art; which preceeded chiefly, I presume, from the great esteem and liking I have alwise had for it from my youth; I judged myself in some measure obliged, as well for their vindication, that they might not be said to bestow altogether undeservedly such a character upon me, as out of gratitude to them for it, to make good that character, by giving to the publick three small essays upon this subject; all which had the good success to meet with a general approbation.

And as it was my opinion at the writing of these, so it is still; That as the common method of fencing both abroad and in this kingdom, nothing can be rendered more plain and easie, by rules and directions in print, than the whole guards, parades, lessons, and contraries to them, are in these three small pieces.

For does a man desire to be informed, of all the different guards belonging to the small sword, with the method of defending and pursuing each; or of the parades and various lessons, with their contraries? He hath them all, most distinctly described, in The Scots Fencing Master; or does he incline to behave himself dextrously, and with a graceful address in the fencing schools? The Fencing Master's Advice to his Schollar, will bring him to it, as well as inform him, of many other useful things belonging to the art. Or, in fine, is his chief design to (and indeed a very commendable one it is) only make himself master, of a true and sure defence at sharps? He needs then only consult, and diligently put in practice the excellent directions set down to him, with all possible exactness and brevity, in the Sword Man's Vade Mecum, and then he shall not fail to acquire it; for there, in a very few singular rules, is contained the very marrow, and useful part of fencing, I still mean, with respect to the ordinary method of teaching and play.

But the longer a man lives the more experience he acquires; which duely reflected upon, makes way not only for the finding out of several imperfections, which may have hitherto lain undiscovered, in any art or science; but also to fall upon such methods, as may raise them to the highest pitch of perfection: And as this generally holds in meditating upon other subjects, so does it no less, upon the art of fencing, which hath given rise to the following sheets.

I intend not here to make an Ecomium upon this art, by discovering its usefulness, and how much it concerns every gentleman to understand it, at least so much of it, as may be of use to him on an occasion, either for the defence of his person, or only for the preservation of his reputation and honour; having done that sufficiently already in those above-mentioned pieces, to which I refer the reader; altho' perhaps I may give a little further anent it in a few paragraphs towards the close of this: And to tell the truth in one word, fencing never was, nor will be undervalued and rejected by any, but by such, as either for lack of inclination or capacity, cannot come at the true practice of it; and who, because of their own want of art, would therefore gladly wish all other people to be as ignorant and unskilful as themselves. For I really never knew a good sword man, who ever repented him of his art.

Therefore, not to dip any further at present in this matter; I shall in this introduction confine myself to these two heads; first, to discover the motive that induced me to enquire after, and publish this new method of fencing. And secondly, show the useful advantage of it, to all who intend to be masters of the useful part of fencing, that is, either the defence of their persons and lives, or the preservation of their reputation and honour.

As to the first, when I seriously reflected, upon the common and ordinary method of communicating this art, I found it so defective, especially in the defensive part, that I concluded one of two; either what the masters taught for the art of defence had in it really no true defence; or if there was a true art of defence, it was to be sought in some other method of practice, than what was commonly seen in the schools. For,

First, to find that artm which they called the art of defence, to consist chiefly in thrusting and offending, was what I did not approve of, being perfectly opposite and contradictory to the very meaning and import of the term Fencing.

Secondly, to find the generality of people who pretended to be fencers, not capable by their art, reasonably to defend themselves against the vigorous and irregular thrusts and blows of ignorants, and yet to maintain that they understood, and were masters of the art of defence, was what I did as little understand; for altho, as I have elsewhere acknowledged, the very best of sword-men cannot pretend to an infallibility in their defence; yet it is a reflection upon them, and argues a great weakness and imperfection in the art, to be altogether uncertain; of which I have seen but too many instances, while I frequented the schools, and which I have known, some, no well wisers to the art, to take advantage of, and make an argument against it.

Therefore I concluded, that the generality of fencing masters, had hitherto either designedly kept up, and reserved as a secret to themselves, the true and easie method of defence, on purpose to detain gentlemen a linger time at their schools; which is a piece of disingenuity I could never suspect them guilty of; especially their very best and oldest schollars defence, proving for the most part imperfect and uncertain; for to be sure, if they had a more secure method I concluded they wouls communicat it to these: Or otherwise, that in place of fencing or defending (the true meaning of the word and design of the art) they had, through an unvoluntary mistake, been hitherto alwise teaching the art of thrusting and offending, whereby they did not only ignorantly rob their schollars of their money, but in a manner their lives; seing they taught them chiefly tho' at the second instance, and I am perswaded without any bad design, to take their adversaries lives, not to defend their own.

However after all, I was fully convinced, that it was indeed only their not knowing a better method, that made the fencing masters practice the common one; and that altho' the most part of them did know somewhat of this guard I am to discourse of, yet they had not thoroughly examin'd it, nor considered the great benefit of it, otherwise they had never so long neglected its improvement; and that which confirmed me the more in this opinion, was my sometimes hearing the most judicious amongst them, as well abroad as in this kingdom, regrete that the art did not furnish them, with a more sure and general defence, than what they commonly taught: But notwithstanding of all this, I was fully perswaded, that the imperfection did not at all ly in the art it self, but in the bad application of its rules; for that there was a true and real art of defence, I made not the least doubt of it; but where to find it lay the difficulty.

This made me run through all the postures, people commonly make use of, both for guards and parades, as well natural as artificial; and I found the generality of them very defective, against the blows and thrusts of all weapons; at last considering that the most part of arts, serve only to assist, and perfect naature, I turned my thoughts to that posture, which I found nature prompted most people, without art to take themselves to, upon a sudden and vigorous attack; and I found it was the hanging guard, with the point slopping generally towards a man's adversary's advanced thigh, altho' sometimes higher or lower, or without or within it, as occasions require. I considered it again, and again; compared the defences and pursuits flowing from it, with those made use of from the other guards; and after all the difficulties and objections I could start against it, I found it had by far the advantage of them all, especially for a general defence.

These were the motives that first put me in a quest of a good and sufficient guard; and being very hopeful that I have fallen upon it, I fancy few people will be surpris'd at my offering it to the publick; for man being a sociable creature designed not only for himself, but for the benefit and advantage of the community wherein he lives; it would have been in my opinion, a strange piece of reservedness in me, whatever some morose criticks may fancy to themselves, if I should have kept such an extraordinary, and useful improvement as this is, and which may tend so very much to the benefit of the Lieges, as a secret, and altogether undiscovered.

I confess I have alwise had something more of a publick spirit than that comes to; and altho I am none of those, who have the greatest opinion of their own performances, yet rather than that the young gentry of this kingdom should lose the benefit of so great and useful a discovery, in an art, I may say peculiatly belonging to them, I am ever resolved, and chiefly upon their account, to venture a kind of publick censure, by appearing again in print upon this gentlemanly subject,

It may be likewise be thought by many people somewhat strange, that after all I have formerly writ upon this subject, and the great value and esteem I put upon those former treatises, I should after all this take now quite another method, and in a manner renverse and condemn, what I before approved of, and so much recommended: But such persons may be pleased to know, that as it was alwise my opinion, that a man should never so fix his judgement, but that upon stronger and more convincing reasons he might alter it; so experience discovering to me the great advantage, this guard and play from it, if rightly prosecuted, may have over all other guards whatsoever, for the security of a man's life and honour; I am not at all out of countenance, to own, that I am proselited to it, and for a sure and general defence, against the blows and thrusts of all weapons, do prefer it very much to them all; besides, that which I writ then still holds good, with respect to the common method of fencing; wheras now I am designing a new, and considerable improverment of the whole art, and therefore am obliged to alter a great deal of my former method, which otherwise, I do declare I still approve of as much as ever.

What I have been saying, does I think sufficiently answer the first branch of my division, which was the motive that induced me to enquire after, and publish this new method of fencing: And as to the second, which is the advantage those persons may have by it, who chiefly intend to be masters of the useful part of fencing, that is, the true defence of their lives; I shall only say, that by exactly practising this new method, they have in general, these following advantages.

First, they thereby acquire a universal defence, both a foot and on horseback, against the blows and thrusts of all weapons whatsoever, which cannot in my opinion be obtained by the common method, but by a very great application and long practice in both weapons, I mean the back-sword and small.

Secondly, it is an excellent posture, against the irregular pursuits of ignorants, as well half skilled as others; for a very forward half-skilled person, is worse to deal with, than one altogether ignorant of the common principles of fencing.

Thirdly, they thereby save a great deal of time, seing by following this method, they may acquire as much, nay more knowledge and practice in the art, in three months, as they possibly can in the common method in twelve: As for any other advantages, I willingly omit them in this place, seing they come all in more properly in the second chapter, to which I refer you.

Having thus given a brief account, of my design in writing and publishing this new, and in my opinion, great improvement in the art of defence; I shall endeavour to prosecute it in the following method, which shall serve as titles to so many chapters.

First, I shall show you as plainly as I can in writing, how the hanging guard is to be kept.

Secondly, discover some considerable advantages, it hath over the other guards.

Thirdly, propose some of the chief objections, that may be made against it, and endeavour to answer them.

Fourthly, explain, and give a few short, tho' not ordinary remarks, upon the most difficult terms of art, made use of in fencing, and that the rather, because I intend this piece shall be useful to young beginners by it self, and without the assistance of any of my former.

Fifthly, show how a man ought to defend himself upon this guard.

Sixthly, how he ought to pursue his adversary from it, by describing some of the principle lessons, as well for blow as thrust, that most naturally flow from this guard, and which are abundantly sufficient for any man, to practice upon an occasion.

Seventhly, lay down some few principles, upon which in my opinion, this most useful art of defence, ought to be indispensably founded. otherwise the superstructure, must of necessity prove altogether weak and false; for a man who is not master of a true and sure defence, founded upon reasonable and solid principles, had much better, totally abandon such a false art, and take himself wholly, to the plain and simple dictates of pure nature, which upon a pinching necessity, he will find of far greater advantage, and more serviceable to him, than an uncertain and precarious art, founded upon false and erroneous principles.

Back to Index. Utmost thanks to J. Miller.

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