A New System of Sword Exercise for Infantry

A New System of Sword Exercise for Infantry  (1876) 
by Richard Francis Burton


FN1. The exceptions are in "Right Prove Distance" (p. 13) and No. Seven Cut (p. 16). In the other Cuts the thumb "grasps the handle."

FN2. The French divide l'Escrime into two parts: (1) Escrime à l'épée, or Escrime pointe; and (2) Escrime au sabre, or Escrime contrepointe.

FN3. The question is considered at great length in my forthcoming volume entitled 'The Sword:' here it is sufficient simply to state results.

FN4. When every regiment shall have its salle d'armes, the fencer will modify his own fencing thrusts to suit the clumsier weapon. I do not, however, see any reason why the three Points of the Infantry Sword Exercise should not be delivered in the posizione media of the Italian school, with the thumb upwards and extended along the back of the sword-hand: nor why, as in the French Manuel, they should not be reduced to a single Coup de Pointe (p. 239), which is thus described, "Baisser la pointe du sabre à hauteur de al poitrine et déployer le bras en tournant la main, le pouce en dessous, le tranchant du sabre en dessus."

FN5. As Mr. John Latham justly says ("The Shape of Sword-blades," 'Journal of the Royal United Service Institution,' vol. VI.): -- "The proper shape for a thrusting sword is pre-eminently straight." The Clay-more, for instance, moving in a direct line, cuts a hole exactly the size of he blade; the Regulation sword, slightly curved, widens it to about double, and the bent scimitar and the Talwar, to five or six times, thus meeting with five or six times the resistance to its penetration. Mr. Latham is again quoted in another part of this system.

FN6. My only objections to this volume are the two following: --

The author will "throw the whole weight of the body on the left leg." (Fig. 2, p. 69.) Yet in his Introductory Remarks (p. 5) he sensibly says, "To the haunches, as to the common centre of motion of the human figure, are ultimately referred all the movements performed in military tactics" (and swordsmanship); "as just poise is important to the correct exertion of action, whatever it may be, it is necessary that poise or balance be studied, understood, and tried in all positions. It is clear that bodily action cannot possess compass, power, and ease, unless the movement be made justly and correctly upon the haunches, as on a central pivot. If the movement have not compass, power, and case, force and endurance will not be found in the Military act."

In the Lunge our author not only keeps the body "perfectly erect," he even inclines it backwards whilst he allows both feet to abandon the perpendicular in the most slovenly way: see Fig. 2, p. 70, and Figs. 1 and 2, p. 71. The same is the case with the official 'Infantry Sword Exercise.'

FN7. My old friend and instructor set out upon a thoroughly scientific principle, and the able way in which he has worked out his system will entitle him to the gratitude of the posteri. Having established the fact that in all our popular athletic, as opposed to gymnastic, exercise, our walking and running, cricket and football, fives, tennis, and racquets, and especially rowing -- which has advanced as an art but has declined as an exercise -- we circumscribe the line of muscular operation by giving the greatest share of the work to the lower limbs, and by developing one half to the injury of the other: he resolved to cultivate the whole by a wider and more varied range of training; hence he supplemented "Recreative exercise" by "Educational exercise," and hence his systematized national gymnasia, which taken up by H.R.H. the Duke of Cambridge and by the late Sidney Herbert, have been introduced into the military stations of the Cardwell system, into Oxford and Cambridge, and into all our public schools, with one "base exception" -- Eton.

Mr. MacLaren, in his 'System of Fencing,' &c. (p. 9), sensibly advocates "resting the weight of the body equally upon both legs." He also lowers the right hand in the Lunge (p. 11), and (ibid.) he throws the trunk forward, perhaps with a little exaggeration.

FN8. The 'Infantry Sword Exercise' (see the figures over the target representing the "Preparatory Position"), "Second Position in 2 Motions," Makes No. 2 turn the left knee out instead of carrying it square to the front; the same may be remarked in "Balance Motions" (No. 4).

FN9. The Moulinet (Ital. Molinetto) is even on horseback a favourite movement with French sabrers (See Règlement Provisoire, &c., Tome I., Titres I. et II.) It is divided into --

"À gauche Moulinet" (1 temps, 2 mouvements). The directions are: "À la dernière partie du commandement, que est MOULINET, étentre le bras dorit en avant de tout sa longueur, le poignet en tierce et à hauteur des yeux." Baisser la lame en arrièrre du conde gauche pour décrire un circle d'arriére en avant… et se remettre en garde."

"À droite Moulinet" (1 temps, 2 mouvements). "À la dernière partie du commandement, qui est MOULINET, étendre le bras droit en avant de toute sa longueur, le poignet en quarte et à hauteur des yeux. Baisser la lame en arrière en avant… et se remettre en garde."

"À gauche et à droite Moulinet" (1 temps, 2 mouvements). "À la dernière partie du commandement, qui est MOULINET, exécuter le premier mouvement de à gauche Moulinet. Exécuter alternativement et sans s'arréter sur aucun mouvement, le Moulinot à droite et le Moulinet à gauche."

"À droite et à gauche Moulinet (1 temps, 2 mouvements). À la dernière partie du commandement, qui est MOULINET, exécuter le premier mouvement de à droite Moulinet. Exécuter alternativement et sans s'arréter sur aucun mouvement, le Moulinet à droite et le Moulinet à gauche."

"En arrière Moulinet (1 temps, 2 mouvements). À la dernière partie du commandement, qui est MOULINET, élever le bras en arrière à droite, le pouce allongé sur le dos de la poignée, le courps légèrement tourné à droite. Décrire un circle en arrière de gaucho à droite, le poignet éloigné du corps le plus possible, et se remettre en garde."

Les cavaliers, exécutant bien les Moulinets, on leur en fait faire plusieurs de suite, en faisant précéder cet exercise de l'indication; les Moulinets coninueront jusq'au commandement: EN GARDE.

Les Moulinets ayant pour objet d'assouplir les articulations du bras et du pignet, il faut que les cavaliers y soient exerces comme préparation aux autres mouvements; on commence et on finit done chaque leçon par des Moulinets exécutés à un degré de vitesse proportionné aux progrès des cavaliers.

In these directions "right and left" apply to the right and left of the swordsman's wrist.

FN10. In the Regulation sword the "centre of percussion" is about one-third from the point; here there is no vibration, and consequently the Cut exercises its whole force. The "centre of gravity" is in the third nearest the hilt, and the "balance" of the sword results from the relative positions of the two centres. In light swords these points may be farther apart than in heavy blades; they should be closer in straight than in curved swords, and nearer in thrusting than in cutting weapons.

FN11. The following are the five principal ways of cutting: --

The Chopping or Downright Cut, from the shoulder and fore-arm. This appears to be the instinctive method preserved by Europe; most men who take up a sword for the first time use it this way.

The Sliding Cut, common throughout the East. In this movement the elbow and wrist are held stiff and the blow is given from the strong muscles of the back and shoulder, nearly ten times larger than the muscles of the arm, while the whole force and weight of the body are thrown in. Hence the people of India use small hilts with mere crutch-guards, which confine the hand and prevent the play of the wrist; the larger grip required for the Chopping Cut only lessens the cutting force. The terrible effect of these cuts is well known.

The Thrust Cut, with the curved ("Damascus") blade, a combination of point and edge, the latter being obliquely thrust forward and along the body aimed at. This movement is a favourite on horseback, and when speed supplies the necessary force, which can hardly be applied on foot. It must be parried like a Point.

The Whip Cut; in which the arm and elbow are kept almost motionless, and the blow is delivered from the wrist. This is the principal Cut allowed in my system; it is capable of sufficient effect upon the opponent whilst it does not uncover the swordsman who uses it.

The Drawing or Reverse Cut, which will be explained in the following pages; it is the reverse of the "Thrust Cut."

FN12. This fact is well known to the Manuel, which says, "Des deux engagements celui de droite par la position de la main a le plus d'application." It therefore makes all the Cuts and Parries begin from Tierce. This elementary rule is not recognized by the 'Infantry Sword Exercise' (p. 32); "your defence is always more effective in the left (Carte) than in the right (Tierce)." Such I assert is the case with the foil and rapier, certainly not with the sabre or broadsword. On horseback the left is of course the weak side.

FN13. Used in this sense the "small-sword" is the triangular weapon, the rapier is the flat, or rather the bi-convex blade.

FN14. In p. 29 of the 'Infantry Sword Exercise' we read of "a circular motion of the blade, termed the Parry;" but the latter word must not be limited to this sense.

FN15. The only allusion to it is the "shifting of the leg," in p. 30.

FN16. See the 'Infantry Sword Exercise," p. 31.

FN17. In France the false edge is hardly known; such blades are called à deux tranchants; it is the Italian schiena or chine, mezzo-filo, or falso opposed to vero taglio, and the German, rückschneide or kurzeschneide, thus distinguished from the lange-schneide.

FN18. See his Appendix, entitled "Modificazione all' impugnatura e guardia delle Sciabola di cavalleria per facilitarne l'equilibrio ed avantaggiare la fermezza della mano sull' impugnatura."

FN19. A notable instance of this is the old Highland Clay-more.