The Complete Fencing Master:
In which is fully described the whole
Guards, Parades and Lessons
Belonging to the Small Sword
the best Rules for Playing against either Artists or others, with Blunts
with directions how to behave in a single combat on Horse-back;
Illustrated with Figures Engraven on Copper-plates,
representing the most necessary postures.
Sir Wil. Hope, Kt.
Abridged and Interpreted by Rick Orli
This UNFINISHED WORK IN PROGRESS will benefit from your comments! E-mail me!
The original manuscript of this text is readable and recommended. Unfortunately, enough
terminology and typography is sufficiently unfamiliar to modern readers to deter most
would-be students. This modern translation and abridgement was prepared for the benefit of
persons with a historical interest in period fencing technique who prefer a more
streamlined and accessible version.
To keep the text concise, my working assumption was that the reader is familiar with
modern fencing jargon, which is used as applicable. However, since even many modern
fencers have only a modest grasp of the full range of current fencing jargon, I have
included brief explanations in the gloss. In addition, the gloss also comments on Hope's
intent or observations from modern fencing.
A fundamental change in fencing technology and fashion around 1660 ushered in the age
of the smallsword. Smallsword techniques, dominated by the French School, replaced Rapier
techniques, which had been dominated by Italian masters such as diGrasse and Saviolio.
The essential change was the continual trend to lighten the rapier and rely more and more
on thrusts rather than edgeblows. The rapier, which was wide and broadsword-like in 1550,
became slender and almost entirely a thrusting weapon by 1600. By the 1660's, the emphasis
on speed in swordplay caused the fashion in rapiers to become so light and thin that they
developed a reputation for snapping at unfortunate moments. The sword smith's response was
to add strength and rigidity to a lighter weapon by forging blades with a triangular cross
The lightness of the weapon further emphasized the importance of speed. In Rapier, the
default response to an attack was to move to the side as a first means of
self-preservation. In contrast, defence against quicker smallsword thrusts required the
fencer to rely more on effective parries rather than body movements. The default body
movement became the retreat, to give more time to the parry or to escape out of range. The
result is a characteristic movement pattern that is back-and-forth rather than circular.
Another consequence is that modern fencing jargon is based largely on 1660-1700 French
language, while Italian terminology of one generation earlier is now archaic and disused.
Only a few of Hope's technical terms need translation to modern equivalents. Hope
represented the mainstream leading to the future of fencing, and his techniques differ so
little from modern Olympic fencing practice that the great bulk should be recognizable to
a modern fencer.
Preface to the Reader
This work is not aimed at those accomplished at fencing, but at students who never had
any insight into the art. Use this to supplement, not replace, the guidance of a Fencing
Master. The student should find here explanations of lessons which will aid the memory and
are also useful as a refresher for those who are out of practice.
Below I address objections against the Subject of Defence, as being a work altogether
of no use.
The subject of Fencing, the art of defending oneself with the small sword from their
adversary, is not worth while, because if it is a man's FATE to be killed, understanding
the art will never save him.
Any rational man would laugh at this objection and think it not worth the answering.
Yet I will take the pains. I deny not but whatever Providence ordains is inevitable, yet
we must use all the means imaginable to preserve our lives as long as we can. In this
sense, the actions of defence are no more or less life preserving than the actions of
Untrained and ignorant fencers occasionally defeat experts.
The ignorant often attack with wildness and bravado, not understanding the danger they put themselves in. This translates into unpredictability, which heightens the element of chance. The following three reasons are often involved:
1) Sometimes the so called experts really are not, but just have earned that reputation
through bluff and bluster.
2) Sometime the Artist is in drink, while the ignorant is sober.
3) The Artist may allow himself to be consumed by fury and passion, which mitigates the advantages of reason and expertise.
NOTES TO THE LEFT HANDED
And to the Right Handed facing the Left Handed
All the direction given in this book are for a right handed fencer against another.
The Art of Defence and Pursuit with the Smallsword
For the benefit of the Student of Fencing, I shall in this volume with all diligence
and clarity explain and demonstrate the principle grounds of the Art. I will demonstrate
all that must be exactly understood to defend one's self with the single rapier or
The Divisions of the Sword
Terms of the Art.
Of Holding the Sword
Of Keeping a Guard
The Divisions of the Sword
A rapier is of two parts, the hilt and the blade. The hilt includes
the pomell, the little ball at the far end of the hilt, the handle, and
the shell which serves to preserve your hand from thrusts and blows.
The blade parts are the strong (fort, forte, or prime), near the handle, and weak
(feeble, foible, or second), near the point. The strong is used for parying, or
putting by thrusts and blows.
Terms of the Art.
Guard Posture of the body readied for defense.
Parry To put by a thrust or blow (with opposition of your rapier), so that you are not
touched by it.
Quarte Position of holding the weapon with the nails up (fingers pointing behind your
Terce Position of holding the weapon with the nails down (fingers pointing toward
Within Body part between the sword and left breast (inside line).
Without Body part between the sword and your back (outside line)
Approach/Advance Come nearer to the adversary
Retire Stepping or jumping backwards from the adversary upon a straight line
Measure Distance between a man and his adversary, such that a thrust just hits at a
lunge. To be without the measure is to be outside the reach of a single simple attack.
Break Measure To move beyond the reach of your opponent.
Lunge Stretch forward one's sword arm and leg, and to keep a close hind foot. (elonge)
Repost Trust following the parry, against the first attacker.
Feinting/falsifying Deceiving your adversary by causing him to believe that you are
thrusting in one place, when you design really to give it him in another
Beating Striking the feeble of your adversaries sword with the edge and fort of yours.
This can be done either with one hand, or with the help of your left hand holding your
sword about a foot from the hilt (for greater force).
Battery Similar to beating, but striking with the feeble of your sword against the
feeble of your adversary.
Binding Securing your adversaries sword with 8 to 10 inches of yours, upon 5 or 6 inches of his. (With a forcing/sliding action, usually with a rotation and/or displacement from the direct line)
Disengaging The slipping of your adversaries sword, when it is going to bind or secure
To take Time To take the initiative from your opponent's initial indirect action.
Thrusting against your opponent's feint, slipping (derobing) and thrusting when he tries
to bind or beat your sword.
Contre-temps (Counter time) To counter an attack with having a good opportunity, such
as thrusting in response to the adversaries thrust.
the straight line Straight parry, along your original line (the line of the attack)
the straight line Parry executed as the left(hind) foot moves backwards, to the right,
pivoting on the right ankle (right foot stays fast).
Volting (Vaulting) Leaping by your adversaries left side, out of his measure.
Of holding the Sword
Hold your thumb upon the broadside of the handle with your fingers quite around it.
Hold it fast and firm, not so gently that your adversary can force it out of your hand
with a sudden beat or twist.
Do not put the fore and middle finger through the two arms of the hilt as some do,
thinking that by doing so they hold the sword firmer. Many to this day put only the fore
finger through the guard, which the Spaniards did of old. Both ways are ridiculous and
dangerous. The first is just awkward; both create the risk that one will lose a finger if
your adversary is in a position to force your sword out of your hand.
It often happens in play with blunts that the fluretts (blunt, lightweight practice
swords, proto-foils) are beat from the hands of experts. This signifies nothing, beyond
showing that even one with few other skills is capable of whacking with enough force to
disarm an opponent. Nevertheless, experts should not allow themselves to be embarrassed in
this way by keeping a firm hold.
Of Keeping a Guard
There are two guards, the Quart and Terce, which are subdivided into
Quart with straight point
Quart with sloping point near the ground.
Terce with point higher than the hilt
Terce with point lower than the hilt
There is a final guard, for which I do not have a proper name, but call the two-hand
The quart in the straight line is the most common. The stance is very athletic and balanced. The French version of the Quart guard is as follows:
- Keep a thin body profile by showing only your right side,
- Keep your feet in line with the adversary, such that he may not see you left foot easily.
- The legs should not be to far asunder, for that will shorten the lunge, nor to close, for then you cannot stand firm
- turn the point of your right foot outward slightly from the straight line, to make you stand firmer
- Place the rear (left) foot perpendicular to the front foot, such that the broad side faces your adversary.
- Sink with both thighs, your left knee a little more bent than the right, leaning back just a little.
- The sword hand is in Quart, (nails up), hilt as high as your right nipple.
- Your arm must be a little bent, the point or the sword toward your adversary's right side. Two or three inches lower than the hilt.
- The rear hand is about ear level , a half foot away, palm and fingers facing the
The second version of the Quart guard is in my opinion by far the best and safest. It is the same with the following differences:
- Instead of keeping the left toe perpendicular to the opponent, point it as far out (slightly to the rear) as comfortable, which causes you to turn out your left thigh, making your body a smaller target.
- Sink as low to the ground as possible, bending each knee equally, weight distributed evenly. This posture covers your belly and groin better against attack.
- Point level or slightly higher than the hilt.
(This is very similar to the classic modern fencing posture, however, modifications in
recent years in the modern competitive "Russian" style remind one of elements of
Hope's "french" style)
There are two parries, or ways of defending, Quart and Terce. Each is further
Parry in Quart with the point higher than the hilt (Parry 4)
Parry in Quart with the point sloping toward or without your adversary's right thigh (Parry 7).
Parry in Terce with the point higher than the hilt (Parry 3)
Parry in Terce with the point sloping toward your adversary's left thigh. (Parry 8)
In addition, each of these can be obtained directly with a simple movement, or with the
Counter-caveating parry. (Circular or Counter-Parry)
The Quart parry is called so because you put by the attacker's sword inside of your
sword, your nails up. The Terce parry is called so because you put by the attacker's
sword without your sword, nails down. The Terce parry is also called the
"parade without the sword".
To defend, you must be able to perceive the attack. Look steadfastly at the hilt of the
adversary's sword. Do not look to the eyes as some ignorants do.
When the attack to high Quart comes it will be at you in the twinkling of the eye;
immediately turn your wrist with a little motion of the arm to the left, but so little
that it may be scarcely be perceived. This small motion will put the sword by with the fort
of yours. The point should be toward the adversary's right shoulder
The motion is best done as a little beat, or spring toward the left, returning to your
guard. So this not by moving the wrist to the left, but by a little snap of the hand. The
position may be not quite a quart, but somewhere between Terce and quart. (Prise de fer)
Be sure to keep your point under control and towards the opponent. If you let your
point drift away from the adversary's left shoulder, you will be open to a disengage,
since you will have to make a very large slow motion back to protect yourself.
There is no advantage in making a large parry, rather than the small one I advise. If
you make a great motion in reaction to a false attack, you will open yourself wide to the
adversary's true thrust. Be also sure to use the fort rater than the feeble of the sword
to parry. For while the feeble may at times work, it may also be forced with a strong
thrust. The fort is the more secure.
The Quart low (Parry 7) should be accompanied with a head motion - keep your head to
the left to minimize the risk of being hit by a counter attack.
The Terce low (parry 8) should be accompanied by placing your head almost under your
arm, also to protect it from random flicks and counter attacks.
To do the counter-cavitating parry, one does a circular motion with the point, while
rotating the wrist. This is done with a spring, very quickly. The completion of the motion
is exactly where your started it.
The counter-caveating parry has the advantage of crossing and confounding any feints or
other tricks, so that it is by far the best and safest parry. Therefore I would advise
you, when you learn it well, to never make use of another. You will find it to be the
safest parry, which should be fully understood and frequently practiced, by those who
intend to be Masters of this Art.
Approaching or Advancing
Approaching with the single step. Start on gaurd, without your measure (out of
distance). Lift the right foot forward about a foot, and immediatlu let your left foot
follow close by the ground, keeping the left knee bent.
The distance between the feet should be the same at finish as at the beginning, or
sometimes nearer. If you bring the rear foot nearer you will have an advantage in the
distance that your lunge will carry you in an attack. (Also you are vulnerable to your
opponent's attack, and will find retrete impared.)
Continue (redouble) this step untill you are within your measure.
The single step is most suitable on unbroken ground. On rough ground you must use the
Approaching with the double step. Throw your lwft (hind) foot before your right, about
a foot, raising your body up on the right a bit as you do so. Follow immeditly by bringing
your right foot up again as it was at the start. The two motions must flow together.
Rember to keep your body as thin as possible, because the step naturly casts your body
Three ways of moving without the measure are possible. The single step and double step, just as used in the advance but reversed - the hind foot lifts first. The third way is jumping backwards along the straight line. (Non-straight line methods will be discussed below under Quarting and Volting.)
From gaurd, within measure, stretch forth your right arm, step forward with your righ
foot as far as you can, keeptin the point of the foot straight forward. Throw your left
hand behind, so that your two arms, body, and sword make one straight line. Keep the left
foot heel and and sole on the ground without drawing it after you the least.
Key point: Let the motion of the arm begin a thought before you move your foot. A
thrust given this way can be compared to the shot of a pistol. The hand leads, but the
difference is so lettle that it can be scarcly percieved.
Key point: The keeping of a close left foot is one of the chiefest things to be
observed in all the art of fencing. (keeping the left foot on the ground means that you
are able to keep accelerating thoughout the lunge.)
If you intend to use your left arm in a parry, throw it forward as far as you can as
you thrust, thumb down, little finger up. Do this without disordering the rest of your
body. The objective is to parry your adversaries thrust, if you expected one as you
Key Point: If you thrust within, your hand should be in quart, quart your head and
sholders well also. (Bend down you head and hunch your sholders.) If you thrust without,
in trece with the hilt much lower than the point, keep you head up and canted back.
Key point: Thrust with your fort near the adversary's feeble (except when binding or
After the thrust, you must recover backwards as quickly as possible to avoid the
Caveating, or Disengaging
When your sword is presented within your adversarie's sword, and you wish it without,
flop the point low and bring to to the other side. Do so with the wrist only, not motion
of the arm at all. For, should you move your arm when you disengauge, you will uncover
much of your body to attack. This is practiced from without to within as well.
Sections to Follow............. in 1997?
Feinting, or Falsifying
Several kinds of feints:
Ordinary single fient
Ordinary Double Feint
Single Feint at the Head
Double Feint at the Head
Feint at the Head upon the true Parry
Inclosing, or Commanding
Raising or Gathering Up the Sword
Quarting and Volting
How the Several Guards are to be Kept, Pursued, and Defended
Small sword against the broad
Fighting upon horse-back with pistols
Shearing sword (saber or broadsword) upon horseback
Small sword upon horseback
Farewell dear reader, and may you never have occasion (but with blunts) to practice
what I have taught you.