“It doesn’t at all follow that because you hit your adversary you are right: you may be utterly wrong. The small sword is so excessively light and so excessively deadly that to be always rushing in and trying to precipitate yourself on your opponent is madness. In the twinkling of an eye you may have six inches of cold steel in you.” – Egerton Castle
Egerton Castle (1858-1920) was a British swordsman and antiquarian, probably best-known for his reconstruction of historical fencing methods during the late nineteenth century. His 1885 book, Schools and Masters of Fence, from the Middle Ages to the Eighteenth Century, is still regarded as a standard reference on fencing history that has yet to be surpassed.
The following interview was given by Castle in 1898, and appeared in the March 9 issue of Chums Magazine.”
Click below to enlarge the image, and read the article in full:
A newly penned article about what classical fencing is and is not (as well as info regarding different styles of nineteenth century fencing), by Russell Hogg, instructor at the Cote du Golfe School of Fencing.
OK, there’s a bit of fire to follow, so let me especially emphasize that the opinions expressed below are my own and not necessarily reflective of The Martinez Academy of Arms, Maestro Ramon Martinez, or Maestro Jeannette Acosta-Martinez. I’m sorry for the length, too…
What is Classical Fencing? What makes it different from Modern Fencing? A lot of internet ink has been spilled over these two questions. I’ll be frank, I’m exhausted with it. I am tired of seeing reactionaries define classical fencing as representing whatever is the opposite of their particular distaste for modern fencing. I am tired of seeing pedantic academics nitpick definitions to death, losing the forest for the trees (and I say this as a professional pedantic academic myself, an anthropologist) and blinding people with B.S. I am tired of modern sport fencers trying to co-opt and define classical fencing for themselves, and allowing them to…
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Continued from PART III.
MANLY EXERCISES. THE BROADSWORD AND SINGLE-STICK.
ATTACK AND DEFENCE.
THIS portion of our studies must be gone through in strict accordance with the rules we have laid down in our first paper. “Keep your temper,” and “Play fairly,” are two phrases which must never be forgotten throughout this exercise.
Commence by drawing swords, according to the directions given at p. 101. Having done so, proceed to acknowledge each others’ presence by the act of courtesy called
which is to be performed as follows :—Raise your single-stick until the hilt is just below the chin, the stick perpendicular, edge to the left, your thumb extended on the side of the handle, your elbow close to your body; your left pendent upon the left side. See Fig. 1, and the directions for “Recover Swords,” at p. 101.
Next raise your left arm as high as your shoulder, and bring your hand round by a circular motion over your eyes, your knuckles uppermost, and your fingers extended; at the same time you lower your weapon and your right arm to its full extent, to the right, the edge of the sword falling towards the left, your right elbow close to your side. (See Fig. 2.) After neatly and gracefully making the salute, step towards your opponent, and proceed to “Prove Distance.” (See p. 102.) If you have taken up a proper distance, the point of each stick should touch the guard of the other.
Join sticks, which should cross each other about eight inches from the point, with the “Single Attack” and the “Inside Guard.”
Change to the “Outside Guard.”
Make “Cut One” at the left cheek, which your opponent meets with “First Guard.”
Make “Cut Three” at your opponent’s wrist, to which he will reply with “Third Guard.”
Opponent gives “Cut Four” at your leg; your defence being “Fourth Guard.”
You make “Cut Five” at opponent’s left side, which he meets with “Fifth Guard.”
Opponent replies with “Cut Six” at your right side, which you defend with “Sixth Guard.”
Make “Cut Seven” at opponent’s head, his defence being “Seventh Guard.”
Throughout this engagement there must be no flinching or jumping about; protection against each cut must be obtained by the stick, and not by the inglorious use of the legs—in jumping backwards or upon one side. At the same time, it must be borne in mind that every cut is to be given so lightly, that if it be not warded off by the proper guard, and is thus enabled to fall upon the body, it cannot hurt. This combat is to be renewed until both adversaries are perfect in every cut and guard.
Join sticks upon the outside guard.
Yourself.—“Cut Four” at opponent’s leg. Opponent.—“Fourth Guard.”
Opponent.—“Cut Six” at your neck. Yourself.—“Sixth Guard.”
Yourself—“Cut Six” at opponent’s leg. Opponent.—“Sixth Guard.”
Opponent.—“Cut Five” at your neck. Yourself. —“Fifth Guard.”
Yourself.—“Cut Five” at opponent’s leg. Opponent.—“Fifth Guard.”
Both.—Resume the position of “Guard,” and afterwards that of “Slope Swords.” Repeat the combat till perfect.
Both come to the position of “Guard.”
Yourself.—“Cut Seven” at opponent’s head. Opponent.—“Seventh Guard.”
Opponent.—“Cut Seven” at your head. Yourself.—“Seventh Guard.”
Yourself—“Cut Four” at opponent’s leg. Opponent.—“Seventh Guard.”
Opponent.—“Cut Four” at your leg. Yourself.—“Seventh Guard.”
Yourself. —“Cut Seven” at opponent’s head. Opponent.—“Seventh Guard.”
Opponent.—“Cut Seven” at your head. Yourself.—“Seventh Guard.”
Return to “Guard.” Resume the position “Slope Swords.”
This combat to be repeated several times.
Join sticks, and form guards as explained in first combat.
Yourself.—“Cut Seven” at opponent’s head. Opponent.—“Seventh Guard.”
Opponent.—“Cut Seven” at your head. Yourself.—“Seventh Guard.”
Yourself.—“Cut Two” at opponent’s arm. Opponent.—“Guard Two.”
Opponent.—“Cut Seven” at your head. Yourself.—“Seventh Guard.”
Yourself.—“Cut Seven” at opponent’s head. Opponent.—“Seventh Guard.”
Opponent.—“Cut Two” at your arm. Yourself.—“Second Guard.”
Yourself.—“Cut Seven” at opponent’s head. Opponent.—“Seventh Guard.”
Opponent.—“Cut Seven” at your head. Yourself.—“Seventh Guard.”
Yourself.—“Cut Six” at opponent’s right side. Opponent.—“Guard Six.”
Opponent.—“Cut Seven” at your head. Yourself.—“Seventh Guard.”
Yourself.—“Cut Seven” at opponent’s head. Opponent.—“Seventh Guard.”
Opponent.—“Cut Six” at your right side. Yourself.—“Sixth Guard.”
Both return to position of “Guard.” Both resume position of “Slope Swords.”
We have now gone through the whole of the Broadsword and Single-Stick Exercises; but before taking leave of our subject we wish to make a few observations either general, or as further illustrating some of the more difficult portions of the study we have been going through with our pupils. The proper execution of the Cuts and Guards lies at the foundation of all good Single-Stick or Broadsword play. If the cuts are not given in the proper direction, if the guards are not formed precisely after the manner shown upon the target delineated at p.100, none of our pupils need expect to become formidable against an adversary, or secure against scientific attack.
It being our object to smooth away every difficulty, to anticipate every obstacle, that may arise in our series of “Manly Exercises,” we have gone carefully through the three parts of the Broadsword Exercises already published, with the view of endeavouring to find out anything that might appear obscure or insufficiently explained. The motions, positions, construction of the target, and the rules for the selection of weapons, we find require no further comment; but as the execution of the cuts and guards needs such careful study, we think it advisable to add a few remarks, additional and explanatory, to those already furnished at p. 101.
We will suppose ourselves to be placed in front of the target, at the proper distance, and in the First Position. We are now ready for what we shall term the
FINAL TARGET DRILL.
At the order “Cut One,” you make a stroke diagonally through the target; the cut commencing at that point marked 1 in our illustration [of the target] given at p. 100, and coming out at 4. When the point of the stick has cleared the target, you, by a turn of the wrist, bring the weapon up to the left shoulder, with that part of it tuned the edge towards the left.
At the order “Cut Two,” proceed as in the foregoing manner, but commence at 2 and terminate at 3. At the finish of the cut, the wrist should he a few inches outside and below the right hip.
At the order “Cut Three,” cut upwards, diagonally, beginning at point 3 and terminating at point 2.
At the order “Cut Four,” cut upwards, diagonally, commencing at point 4 and terminating at point 1.
At the order “Cut Five,” cut horizontally through the target, from right to left, beginning at point 5 and concluding at point 6.
At the order “Cut Six,” cut horizontally through the target, from left to right, commencing at point 6 and terminating at point 5. After the cut, continue the sweep of the single-stick until you bring the hilt above your head; the edge of the stick upwards, the point hanging over the back.
At the order “Cut Seven,” execute, from the preceding position, a downward stroke, vertically, from point 7 to the centre of the target.
The positions of the guards require no explanation further than those already given: in making an enlarged copy of the target we have supplied, it must, however, be remembered that no deviation in the directions of the guard can be allowed.
As in the words of command given for the Rifle Exercises in our last volume, it is necessary to remember that the first portion of the word is cautionary only; and that no movement is to be made until the last syllable is given.
THE BROADSWORD AGAINST BAYONET
is the name of the exercise we are about to append; but, according to our safe system of performing it, it becomes the exercise of Single-Stick versus Broomstick. One boy takes the single-stick, another an ordinary broomstick, which latter must be supposed to represent a rifle with its bayonet fixed. The adversaries take up a position about three paces distant from each other. The swordsman assumes the position of “Outside Guard.” (See directions and Fig. 6, p. 104. [Editor’s note: for convenience, this image has been added below.])
The bayoneteer also comes to the position of “Guard,” which is performed thus: In the first instance, fall into the attitude termed “Charge Swords” in the Rifle Exercises. (See the directions and illustration given at p. 364, vol. vi., of the BOY’S OWN MAGAZINE [Editor’s note: this image has been added to the right].) In the next place, lower the right wrist upon the upper part of the right hip, and at the same time bring the left elbow close to, and in front of, the body. In that position the broomstick will be grasped with the right hand within about six inches of its end, while with the left hand it will be seized about the middle of its entire length. The broomstick should be held in a horizontal position, with its point directed towards the height of the swordsman’s breast.
The next movement is “Prove Distance,” which is performed by each opponent thrusting forth his weapon until it lightly touches the breast. This done, both resume the position of “Guard.”
Bayoneteer—Make a thrust at the upper part of swordsman’s breast. Swordsman.—Defend by the “First Guard.”
Bayoneteer.—Return to the position of “Guard” as above explained. Swordsman. —Assume the position of “Slope Swords.”
Bayoneteer.—Come to “Shoulder Arms.” (See directions and illustration given at p. 362, vol. vi., BOY’S OWN MAGAZINE [Editor’s note: this image has been added below to the left]).
Bayoneteer.—Make a thrust at swordsman’s breast. Swordsman.—Defend by the “Fifth Guard,” and raise the left hand ready to seize the rifle and bayonet—in the other words, the broomstick. Next grasp the weapon with the left hand and force it down, at the same time bringing forward the left leg. Finally, assume the position to deliver “Cut Six.”
Swordsman. — Relax hold upon the broomstick, and assume the position of “Guard.” Bayoneteer.—Assume the position of “Guard.”
In the preceding mimic encounter the swordsman has achieved the victory; for he has obtained possession of his opponent’s weapon, and has brought his own into play, ready to give “Cut Six” at his adversary; which, cut, being a horizontal one, and directed at the throat, might, were the swordsman armed with a sharp weapon, and had he strength, determination, and skill enough, cut off bayoneteer’s head at one blow. Bayoneteer must, however, be done justice to, and accordingly we will explain how he may defend himself against the above unpleasant termination. The whole of the above exercise is to be gone through precisely as already explained; but when swordsman brings forward his left hand to grasp the broomstick, bayoneteer foils him by assuming the position termed “Shorten Arms,” which is performed in this way: The right arm is thrown back to its full extent, the left arm also being carried back—both hands still retaining the hold upon the weapon, which, in consequence of the movement thus made, is brought backward in a horizontal position across the upper part of the chest, until not more than a fourth of its length projects beyond the bayoneteer’s left shoulder, and is, in consequence, quite out of reach of the swordsman.
The exercise then terminates by swordsman assuming the position or “Slope Swords,” and bayoneteer that of “Shoulder Arms.”
In conclusion, we must again impress upon our pupils the necessity for always making use of the mask in these exercises. One of the best draughtsmen of the present day, who is also a very fine swordsman, lost the sight of one of his eyes through neglect of this necessary precaution. We are only acquainted with two modern treatises upon the broadsword. These lessons constitute the third work upon the subject; and we feel a certain amount of satisfaction, and are egotistical enough withal, to state that our work is the only one that could be placed in the hands of boys. We will explain how this is. The first work is solely for use in her Majesty’s Army. In it, swords, bayonets, and an elaborate and complicated system of drill are employed; consequently it would be as useless as dangerous to our pupils. Work number two is founded upon the military manual, and is dangerous, useless, and moreover absurd, for it employs the sword instead of the single-stick; and, among other mistakes, contrives upon one occasion to get the swordsmen in position one exactly behind the other; after which it proceeds to give a long series of cuts and guards, which are all very nice for the person in the rear, because he has an opponent turned with his face, hands, and weapon completely away from him; but as for the unfortunate individual in front—he can only “cut and guard” at the air in return for the castigation he is receiving from his adversary behind his back. Work number three is our own. It is founded upon the system in use in the British Army; but, by being cleared of complications, unnecessary drilling, and by recommending the use of harmless weapons, it constitutes the art of Broadsword at once safe, certain, and valuable as a “Manly Exercise” for those who wish to become skilful, graceful, and strong men, without paying the penalty of losing an eye, or having the muscles of their arms divided, for these same advantages.
[Transcribed and edited by Ben Miller, 2017]
Here ends this series. More vintage articles on self-defense can be accessed on our Resources page.
Continued from PART II.
THE BROADSWORD AND SINGLE-STICK.
THE first thing to be done is to construct a target for ourselves. Procure a stout sheet of cartridge-paper, about four feet square; lay it upon a table, and proceed to describe a large circle upon it as follows:—Insert at the central point, marked O in our illustration, a strong drawing-pin, or, still better, a small brad-awl; tie upon this a piece of string about twenty-four inches in length. Upon the other end of the string affix a pencil; draw the string tight, so that it shall correspond with the line coming from the centre and reaching the circle, at the point marked “cut 7” in our drawing of the target. Keeping the string tightly drawn out, describe a circle upon the paper; next remove the string, and with a straight piece of wood draw the lines from the centre to the edge of the circle precisely as they occur in our illustration. When you have drawn the circle and the black lines which converge from it to the centre, go over them with a brush filled with red paint. You have now the dotted lines to fill in; and as these are to be less prominent than the former, you will fill them in with thin lines of a green colour—of course drawing them in the exact positions given in Fig. 1. To complete our target, we must draw in, at one end of each of the green lines, the hilt of a sword. Your target is now complete; and at a glance you will see that the thick black lines denote the seven “cuts;” and that the thin green lines, with a sword-hilt attached to them, mark the inclination of the seven “guards.”
[Editor’s note: As the above illustration is nearly illegible, reproduced below is a nearly identical target, published in Abstract of cavalry movements: intended for the use of the volunteer corps of Upper and Lower Canada. ([Montreal]: 1839)].
WHERE TO PLACE THE TARGET.
The target may be fixed in any spot which will afford plenty of space wherein to execute the positions, guards, &c. A garden or a field will serve your purpose perfectly. If you choose a garden, the wall, or if a field, a tree, will form a support for your target, which is to be fixed so as to have its centre o about the height of your breast. From below that centre a line is to be drawn upon the ground, directly in front and at the distance of about ten feet, whereon you most take your stand in the position of “ATTENTION,” with your left heel on the line, so that when you turn to the “FIRST POSITION” your right foot may cover it.
EXPLANATION AND USE OF THE TARGET.
In our illustration you will perceive there are seven cuts and guards. The “cuts” are directed through the centre, distinguished by lines, and named according to that number from which each cut commences. The “guards” are executed by holding your stick opposite to, and in the direction of, the dotted lines of our drawing and the green ones of your target. You must be exercised in performing every cut and guard in exact accordance with the lines drawn upon the circle; and there must be no variation in your practice until you have gained the proper direction of the cuts as well as the inclination of the stick and position of the wrist in forming the “guards.” You must, however, remember that the target merely directs you how to form the “cuts” and “guards,” not precisely where, as that will depend upon how your adversary acts when attacking you. The cuts 1, 3, and 5, may be directed at any part, from head to foot, on the left; and the cuts 2, 4, and 6, equally so on the right; the former being termed “inside,” and the latter “outside” cuts. One, three, and five, are the corresponding “Inside guards;” and two, four, and six, the “Outside guards.” You will now perceive that your target is a sure guide and reference for correctly forming the guards, and giving a proper direction of the edge in executing the cuts.
When you have thoroughly mastered all the cuts and guards, you may take your stick in hand. But let us first of all become acquainted with its strong and weak parts. The Fort (strong) is the half of it near the hilt; the Foible (weak) the half towards the point. A knowledge of these distinctions is very material either in giving or guarding a cut; and much depends upon their proper application. From the hilt upwards, in opposing your adversary’s stick, the strength of the defence decreases in proportion as the cut is received towards the point; while, on the other hand, it increases from the point downwards.
Always seek to gain your opponent’s Foible with your own Fort. All your cuts should be given within eight inches of the point, so that your stick may clear itself. When delivering a cut always seek your adversary’s Foible, as that will, as a matter of course, force his guard.
commences with the order,
“DRAW SWORDS.”—Seize your stick with your left hand, just below the hilt, which should be raised as high as your hip; bring your right hand smartly across your body, grasping the stick at the hilt, and turning it at the same time to the rear; raise your hand the height of your elbow, your arm being close to your body. Now draw the stick through your left hand, as though you were drawing a sword from its scabbard, by extending your arm, the edge being to the rear; lower your hand until the hilt falls just below your chin, the stick perpendicular, the edge to the left, with your thumb extended on the side of the handle, your elbow close to your body. This forms the position, “RECOVER SWORDS.”
Lower your wrist below, and in line with, your right hip, your elbow being drawn back, your arm extended as much as can be done with ease; your hand lightly grasping the stick, but prepared, by a contraction of the fingers, to resume a firm hold. The upper portion of the stick will then be in the hollow of your right shoulder, with its edge to the front; or, in other words, the position of “CARRY SWORDS.”
When the stick is drawn, your left hand falls into the position of “ATTENTION.” At the order, “SLOPE SWORDS,” bring your hand to the front, in line with your elbow, which must fall close to your body; the stick resting upon your shoulder, its edge to the front.
At the order, “RETURN SWORDS,” carry the hilt to the hollow of your left shoulder (bringing your left hand to your side, as though in the act of raising the scabbard of your weapon), with the stick perpendicular; the back of your hand to the front. Next, by a quick turn of your wrist, drop the point of the stick as if it were about to enter the scabbard, turning the edge to the rear until the hand and elbow are in line with each other, square across your body.
At the order, “TWO,” press the stick down into your left hand until the hilt touches the thumb and forefinger.
At the order, “THREE,” bring your hands to the position of “ATTENTION.”
At the order, “DRAW SWORDS,” act as previously directed.
At the order, “SLOPE SWORDS,” execute the motion already described.
At the order, “PREPARE FOR SWORD EXERCISE,” turn your body and feet to the “FIRST POSITION;” your left hand resting upon your hip, the thumb to the rear. (See Fig. 2.)
At the order, “RIGHT PROVE DISTANCE,” “RECOVER SWORDS” with your forefinger and thumb stretched along the hand, your thumb being upon the back, and the end of the hilt in your right palm.
At the order, “TWO,” extend your arm to the right, and lower your stick in a horizontal direction from the shoulder; its edge to the rear; your left shoulder square to the front.
At the order, “SLOPE SWORDS,” act as before directed.
At the order, “FRONT PROVE DISTANCE,” elevate your stick as before; then step smartly out to the “THIRD POSITION,” and extend your arm—lowering the point of your stick towards the centre of the target, with its edge to the right. (See Fig. 3.)
At the order, “SLOPE SWORDS,” act as previously directed.
At the order, “ASSAULT,” elevate your arm to the front, with your wrist opposite No. 1, your elbow rather bent towards the centre of the circle, the back of your stick resting on your shoulder, near the point, with the edge inclined to the right.
At the order, “ONE,” extending your arm, direct the cut to the front, diagonally, from right to left, as marked on the target from 1 to 4; and as the point clears the circle turn your knuckles upwards, and continue the sweep of the stick so as to bring the point to the rear of the left shoulder, upon which it rests with its edge inclined to the left, and your wrist opposite No. 2.
At the order, “TWO,” direct your cut from 2 to 3, and turn the wrist so that your stick continues its motion until the point is below your right hip, the edge downwards, your elbow bent inwards, and wrist towards 2.
At the order, “THREE,” cut upwards in a diagonal line from 3 to 2; and continue the motion of your wrist until the point of the stick is below your left hip; the edge downwards; your elbow bent and elevated, with the wrist towards 1.
At the order, “FOUR,” make a cut upwards, in a diagonal line from 4 to 1; and turn your knuckles downwards, with the edge of the stick to the right, and the point to the rear, over the right shoulder; your elbow bent, your wrist towards 5.
At the order, “FIVE,” make a horizontal cut from 5 to 6, and turn the knuckles up, with the edge of the stick to the left, and the point to the rear, over your left shoulder; your elbow bent, your wrist turned towards 3.
At the order, “SIX,” make a horizontal cut from 6 to 5, and bring your hand in the direction of 7; your sword being on the same line, over the head; its point lowered to the rear, its edge uppermost.
At the order, “SEVEN,” cut down vertically from 7 to the centre of the circle, and remain with your arm extended; placing your thumb along the back of the handle; your left shoulder pressed well back.
At the order, “DEFEND,” take the “FIRST GUARD” by turning the edge of your stick to the left, your thumb resuming its grasp of the handle, and draw in your elbow close to the body; your wrist being kept to the front, and your stick placed opposite the dotted diagonal line shown on the target from the hilt, marked “FIRST GUARD.” In this and the succeeding guards, distinguished as “SECOND,” “THIRD,” &c., the point should be advanced rather to the front, your left shoulder being well kept back in the guards to the left, but rather brought forward in those to the right, as also in the “SEVENTH GUARD.”
At the order, “SECOND,” turn your wrist with your knuckles uppermost, and the edge of the stick to the right, your stick being placed opposite the diagonal line marked “SECOND GUARD.”
At the order, “THIRD,” turn your wrist and edge to the left, nearly as high as your shoulder, with the point lowered to the right, the sword placed as marked, “THIRD GUARD.”
At the order, “FOURTH,” elevate your elbow, and turn your wrist and edge to the right, with the point to the left, precisely as shown in the target, marked “FOURTH GUARD.”
At the order, “FIFTH,” turn the edge to the left, with your wrist as high as your shoulder to the front and left of your body, the stick being placed opposite the perpendicular line, marked “FIFTH GUARD.”
At the order, “SIXTH,” bend your wrist, and turn the edge of your stick to the right, so as to bring it opposite the perpendicular line, marked “SIXTH GUARD.”
At the order, “SEVENTH,” elevate your wrist above, and in advance of, your right ear, your elbow up and kept well back, your stick in the direction marked “SEVENTH GUARD.”
At the order, “PARRY,” lower your wrist nearly close to your right shoulder, the edge of the stick to the right, your hips well pressed back, and with the hilt of your weapon opposite 1.
At the order, “SECOND MOTION,” turn your wrist so that your stick-point falls towards the left rear, and, forming a circle from left to right of your body, resumes its former position.
At the order, “SLOPE SWORDS,” proceed as before directed. The SEVEN CUTS should also be gone through in the following manner:—
At the order, “ASSAULT,” they should be combined in regular succession without any material pause between each, or, by a proper and neat turn of the wrist, the cuts will lead into each other. The cuts should be given with force, with the edge leading forwards, the wrist retaining its direction to the front as much as possible; and in returning to prepare for another cut, the edge should be drawn back in nearly the same line, your arm being slightly bent, so as to allow free play to your wrist, elbow, and shoulder, in giving due effect to the force of the cut, and then extended to the utmost in the delivery of it.
In order to enable you to carry the edge well in making the assault, you should practise a combination of the cuts one and four, repeating them several times, as well as two and three, five and six, taking care that the edge leads in the respective lines of the target, your wrist being darted towards the centre in each cut.
We have now to study the GUARDS.
At the order, “GUARD,” advance the point of your stick, extending your arm towards the centre of the target, with the edge downwards. Next, without pause, bending your body, drawing in your chest and neck, and bringing your left shoulder a little forward, step out smartly to the “SECOND POSITION,” with your elbow bent and raised, so as to have your hand nearly above the right foot; the edge of the stick turned upwards, with the point lowered and inclined to the left, the target distinctly seen within the angle formed by your arm and stick, the hilt being inclined to 1, and the point directed below and to left of 4. (See Fig. 4.)
At the order, “INSIDE GUARD,” elevate your head and body, lowering your wrist, with the knuckles down and over the foot, the point of the stick to the front, its edge to the left, your hand as low as the elbow, a little above, and in front of your hip, at the same time making the “SINGLE ATTACK” according to the directions already given. In this position your wrist must be inclined towards 4, and the point of the stick towards 1. (See Fig. 5.)
At the order, “OUTSIDE GUARD,” turn your wrist, with your knuckles upwards, and the edge of the stick to the right, repeating the “SINGLE ATTACK,” your hand inclining to 3, your stick-point directed towards 2. (See Fig. 6.)
As merely playing at cuts and guards with the sticks, without any definite intention, would be only so much waste of time, we will now append a course of combinations of those best calculated to advance the young broadswordsman in his attempts to gain a mastery of the art.
COURSE OF STICK-DRILL AND POSITIONS.
Execute in the following order:—Cut One and Third Position; First Guard and First Position ; Cut Two and Third Position; Second Guard and First Position; Cut Three and Third Position; Third Guard and First Position; Cut Four and Third Position; Fourth Guard and First Position; Cut Five and Third Position; Fifth Guard and First Position; Cut Six and Third Position; Sixth Guard and First Position; Cut Seven and Third Position; Seventh Guard and First Position. Guard according to directions already given; Slope Swords according to directions furnished above.
Guard, as already directed; Inside Guard, as already directed; Outside Guard, as before directed. The whole of the following cuts are to be given in the Third Position, after which you must, in every case, spring up to the First Position in forming the Guard. Cut Two and Second Guard; Cut Three and Third Guard; Cut Four and Fourth Guard; Cut Five and Fifth Guard; Cut Six and Sixth Guard; Cut Seven and Seventh Guard; Slope Sword according to directions already given.
Deliver the Outside and Inside Cuts from one to six, returning to Guard after each Cut; all the Inside Cuts to be given from the Outside Guards (see Fig. 6), and all the Outside Cuts from tho Inside Guard. (See Fig. 5.) In order to enable the young broadswordsman to form more readily and effectively any defensive position, the drill-instructor for the time being should practise him in making any cut and guard he may command, such cut and guard to be required out of the regular order. For example, instead of requiring him to execute the cuts and guards from one to seven in succession, he will give the word of command—Cut 3, cut 6, cut 1, cut 5, and so forth.
[Transcribed and edited by Ben Miller, 2017]
Continue on to PART IV of this series.
More vintage articles on self-defense can be accessed on our Resources page.
Continued from PART I.
THE BROADSWORD AND SINGLE-STICK.
BEFORE placing the “single-stick” in your hand, it is our intention to put you through a short course of preliminary drill, the object of which is to teach you the free and active use of your limbs. When we have instructed you how to apply the full force of your muscular power, when we have demonstrated how you may best give proper effect to the “cuts and guards,” and finally, when we have indicated to you the best means of attaining to an easy pliability of strength in every position, both of attack and defence, then we shall allow you to arm yourself with your wooden representative of the sword, as you may then be considered to be in a position to employ it effectively.
In our next paper we shall take up our weapon; meanwhile, let us proceed to what may be termed the A B C of the sword exercise, the “Extension motions and positions,” the object of which is to expand your chest, raise your head, throw back your shoulders, and strengthen the muscles of your back.
The first thing to do is to fall into the position of “attention”—see our directions, page 215, Vol. VI., of the BOY’S OWN MAGAZINE. Cautionary word of Command.—“FIRST EXTENSION MOTIONS.”
ONE.—At this order bring your hands, arms, and shoulders to the front, fingers lightly touching at the points, the nails downwards. Next raise them in a circular direction well above your head, your finger ends still touching, your thumbs pointing to the rear, your elbows pressed back, your shoulders kept down. (See Fig. 1.)
TWO.—At this order separate and extend your arms and fingers upwards, forcing them back in an oblique direction until they come extended on a line with the shoulders; and, as you allow them to fall gradually thence to your original position of “attention,” endeavour as much as possible to elevate your neck and chest. (See Fig. 2.)
THREE.—At this order turn the palms of your hands to the front; press back your thumbs with your arms extended, and elevate them to the rear until they meet above your head, your fingers pointing in an upward direction, your thumbs locked, with the left in front. (See Fig. 3.)
FOUR.—At this order keep your arms and knees straight, and bend over until your hands touch your toes, your head being brought down in the same direction. (See Fig. 4.) Next resume the “third motion” by elevating your arms to the front.
FIVE.—At this order resume your preliminary position of “attention” according to the method indicated at “Two.”
All the preceding motions must be gone through slowly and deliberately, so as to feel the exertion of the muscles throughout. The First and Second should occasionally be performed with your head turned as much as possible to the right or left. After you have practised these motions often enough to go through them quickly and readily, you may execute them from first to last without any pause or separate word of command, so as to make them all lead into each other.
When you have mastered the “First Extension Motions,” you may proceed to execute the “FIRST POSITION,” which for greater clearness and simplicity, we will divide into three motions.
ONE.—At this order move your hands smartly to the rear, your left hand grasping your right arm just above the elbow, your right supporting your left arm beneath the elbow.
TWO.—At this order make a half face to the right, turning on your heels in such a manner that the back of the left touches the inside of the right heel, your head retaining its position to the front.
THREE.—At this order bring your right heel before the left; your feet being at right angles, your right foot pointing to the front, the weight of your body supported by your left leg. (See Fig. 5.)
When you have gone through the above frequently, you may proceed to take the next step in your education, this being the “SECOND POSITION” in two motions.
ONE.—At this order bend your knees gradually, keeping them as much apart as possible without raising your heels or shifting the erect position of your body. (See Fig. 6.)
TWO. — Step out smartly with your right foot about fourteen inches in line with your left heel; the weight of your body resting on your left leg, your right knee easy and flexible. (See Fig. 7.)
Let us now make another advance, and go on to the mastery of “THE BALANCE MOTIONS.” These are divided into four motions, and should be gone through in the following manner:—
ONE.—Move your right foot about seven inches to the rear of your left heel, your toe lightly touching the ground, your left heel perpendicular to it; your knees kept well apart. A glance at our illustration, marked Fig. 8, will at once show what we mean.
TWO.—At this order gradually raise your body by the extension of your left leg. (See Fig. 9.)
THREE.—At this order bend your left knee until, in point of fact, you resume the first motion. (See Fig. 8.)
FOUR. — At this order advance your right leg, and, with a smart beat of your foot, resume the “Second Position,” which was that from which you commenced the “Balance Motions.” (See Fig. 6.)
At the order, “First Position,” extend both your knees, and bring your right heel up to the left, assuming the position shown in our illustration, marked Fig. 10.
We will now execute the “THIRD POSITION,” which has two motions.
ONE.—At this order incline your right side to the front in such a way that your shoulder and knee shall be perpendicular to the point of your foot, keeping your body erect. (See Fig. 11.)
TWO.—At this order step out smartly to the front, about thirty inches, your right knee perpendicular to your instep; your left knee and foot kept straight and firm. Your heels must be in a line, your body erect, and your shoulders square to the left. (See Fig. 12.)
In this case, as in every other, repeat the motions we have described until you can perform them quickly and neatly. Having mastered all we have hitherto set before you, you may go on to the important “SECOND EXTENSION MOTIONS,” which you will execute in the following manner:—
ONE.—At this order throw your arms to the front of your body, your hands being closed, with the knuckles uppermost, and in contact with each other below the lower button of the waistcoat; next, gradually raise your wrists, bearing them inward the while, until they touch your breast, at the same time keeping your elbows up. Now force back your shoulders, so as to draw your hands apart; depress the elbows, and smartly extend your arms and fingers in a diagonal line, your right wrist being as high as your head, your elbows well kept down, and your thumbs pointing to the right. (See Fig. 13.)
TWO.—At this order elevate your body by extending your right leg, keeping your arms, wrists, and shoulders in the former position. (See Fig. 14.)
THREE.—At this order resume the position you fell into at the order “ONE,” by bending your right knee and advancing your body. (See Fig. 13.)
Supposing you to have gone through the foregoing movements at the command of a “Drill-instructor,” it will be the duty of the latter to come forward after the execution of each order, and prove the stability of your posture by slightly, but firmly, pressing upon your shoulders in each position. This pressure you should be able to bear without losing your position, at the same time there should be no unnecessary rigidity of pose, for you must remember that the object of the drill is to give the necessary flexibility to enable you to advance upon or retreat from your adversary.
But, as by this time you are somewhat tired with remaining at the third of the “Second Extension Motions,” your instructor must relieve you with the order, “FIRST POSITION,” at which you spring up, throwing your arms to the rear, and bringing your right heel close to the left, thus gain the “FIRST POSITION.” (See Fig. 5.)
Let us now go through a few variations of the exercise. Execute each order, when demanded, according to our previous directions in the following order:—First Position—Second Position—First Position—Third Position — First Position— Second Position—Third Position—Second Position.
You will find the foregoing a capital piece of drill, and sufficiently interesting also. When you can perform it neatly, accurately, and promptly, you will have made no inconsiderable progress as a broadswordsman or single-stick player. Remember we left you in the “Second Position” (See Fig. 7), and from this you may execute as follow:—
SINGLE ATTACK.—At this order elevate your right foot and beat it smartly on the ground.
DOUBLE ATTACK.—At this order elevate your right foot as before, and beat it upon the ground twice, first with your heel and after wards with the flat of your foot.
ADVANCE.—At this order throw forward your right foot a few inches, and place it smartly on the ground; next bring up your left foot about the same distance.
SINGLE ATTACK.—To be executed as above.
RETIRE.—At this order move your left foot lightly to the rear, balancing your body upon it; next move your right foot back the same distance, and place it upon the ground with a smart beat.
DOUBLE ATTACK.—To be executed as above.
FRONT.—At this order throw yourself into the position of “Attention.”
WORDS OF COMMAND.
It will greatly facilitate the study of the stick-drill to have the following list of words of command copied out in a large and legible hand, and read off by the drill-instructor to his squad—the squad, of course, executing each movement as it is ordered. When the student practises alone, he may stick up the list before him, and proceed to go through the exercise according to the word of command. Finally, whenever there is a doubt as to whether the movement has been properly executed, our instruction, already given at length, should be referred to.
Although our students should not be too eager to dispense with the book, they will find it a great convenience to perform their exercises from the list we now append. For the Extension Motions and Positions, the progressive orders are:—
ATTENTION.—First extension motions (in five movements). One—two—three—four—five. First position (in three movements). One—two—three. Second position (in two movements). One—two. Balance motions (in four movements). One—two—three—four. Third position (in two movements). One—two. Second extension motions (in three movements). One—two—three. First position. Front. Attention. The annexed are the words of command for the positions:—First, Second, First, Third, First, Second, Third, Second, Single Attack, Double Attack, Advance, Single Attack, Retire, Double Attack, Front, Attention.
For the details of the whole of the foregoing, our pupils will refer to the paragraphs explanatory of each movement, which have been already given.
Our lesson has been somewhat long; but, if followed practically, it must have proved exceedingly interesting. When we were treating of the rifle exercise, in our last volume, we took occasion to speak of the theoretical principles of projectiles, and of gunnery. In the present instance, we intend to pursue the same plan, and to say a few words about the
THEORY OF THE BROADSWORD.
Not many years ago; it would have been difficult to find a single scientific treatise relative to the weapon; but a clever French officer having conceived the idea of beguiling the tedium of garrison-life by making researches upon swords, he, after a long series of experiments, succeeded in evolving a theory, which has been received by military men as a very sound and sagacious one. We will quote a few of his deductions.
According to his view, the hilt of the sword should be constructed of steel, with the pummel somewhat weighted. The grip should be smooth and narrow. In order to ensure a light, well-balanced weapon, he prescribes that the blade should be stouter near the point than at its lower portion. The metal of which the blade is manufactured ought to be such as will take a fine edge, and yet one that will resist a blow.
Nothing will sooner destroy the edge of a sabre than the continued drawing and sheathing it in a metal scabbard. To obviate this, he advises that a piece of wood should be adapted to the interior of the scabbard which shall preserve the fine edge from contact with the metal in drawing or returning swords.
The most effective cut is that which is effected by the combined motions of the upper and forearm, the wrist, and the sword in the hand. The French regulations for using the sword prescribe that the thumb should be placed upon the back of the hilt in striking. This is a mistake; for by so doing the motion of the hand and that of the wrist cannot have full play. Many swords have a very fine edge: this is attended with the disadvantage of weakness. In order to combine strength with an edge which cuts as though it were very sharp, the blade should be made more or less curved. More than all, this effect is produced by always dealing a blow—not in a chopping manner, that is to say, by striking perpendicularly from edge to back; but in cutting obliquely, or, in other words, from hilt to point. To a knowledge of this simple rule, combined with a great deal of practice, is due the success of all great sabreurs. A whole sheep is cut through, not by a chopping blow, which would not cause the sword to penetrate more than a few inches, but by an oblique or sawing one. The feat is performed with such rapidity, that we cannot see the action of the weapon, but science tells us that it could alone be accomplished by drawing through the carcass almost the entire length of the blade from hilt to point. The distinguished French swordsman, whose theory we have been elucidating, speaks throughout his book of the old British light cavalry sword as an admirable weapon. By way of confirming his remarks, we will quote from Captain Nolan—the same who fell so gloriously at Balaclava, and who was one of the best swordsmen and horsemen in the British army.
He says:—“When I was in India an engagement took place between a party of the Nizam’s Irregular Horse and some rebels. My attention was drawn particularly to the doctor’s report of the killed and wounded, most of whom suffered by the sword; and in the column of remarks such entries as the following were numerous:— ‘Arm cut from the shoulder.’ ‘Head severed.’ ‘Both hands cut off (apparently at one blow) above the wrists, in holding up the arms to protect the head.’ ‘Leg cut off above the knee,’ &c.”
Some time afterwards Captain Nolan chanced to visit the scene of action—“And,” exclaims he, “now fancy my astonishment! The swords they had were chiefly old dragoon blades cast from our service. The men had remounted them after their own fashion. The hilt and handle, both of metal, small in the grip, rather flat; not round, like ours, where the edge seldom falls true. They had all an edge like a razor, from hilt to point, and were worn in wooden scabbards. . . . An old trooper of the Nizam’s told me the old English broad blades were in great favour with them, when remounted and kept as above described. I said, ‘How do you strike with your swords to cut off men’s limbs?’ ‘Strike hard, sir,’ said the old trooper. ‘Yes, of course; but how do you teach them to use their swords in that particular way?’ (drawing it.) ‘We never teach them any way. A sharp sword will cut in any one’s hand.’”
Had the old trooper been more scientific, he would, doubtless, have explained that the real reason for his comrades’ skill was that they used their weapons after the oblique mode—the natural way with all Easterns, who, moreover, have always been admirable as swordsmen—and that they were not spoiled by being taught the chopping style of delivery prevalent with Europeans.
[Transcribed and edited by Ben Miller, 2017]
Continue on to PART III of this series.
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The following series of undated “lessons” appeared in the Boy’s Own Magazine, the first and most influential boys’ magazine, in Great Britain during early 1861. Spread out in separate installments across four issues, these unique articles contain illustrated instruction in the use of the broadsword and single-stick (the blunt training tool for the broadsword). Billed as an introductory “course” for British youth, they include rules for “single-stick play,” a discussion of fencing theory, special calisthenic exercises intended to condition the broadsword fencer, directions for practice, target drill, lessons in attack and defense, and a special concluding section detailing the use of the broadsword against the bayonet. To our knowledge, this series has not seen the light of day since it was first published during the late nineteenth century.
Following is Part I of the four-part series, originally published in Issue No. 1, Vol. VII, January 1861, of the Boy’s Own Magazine. The remaining chapters will follow in weekly posts on MartialArtsNewYork.
THE BROADSWORD AND SINGLE-STICK.
THE STICKS AND MASKS.
The whole of the exercises we intend to give in this course are based upon the system long employed in the British army for making cavalry soldiers and infantry officers masters of the sword. Even in the army, single-sticks are always substituted for the sword, as, in fencing, foils are used instead of the sharp-pointed rapier. In learning the art of fence, our object is not to acquire a dexterity which shall enable us to run an adversary through the body before he can accomplish as much for ourselves, but rather to strengthen our frames, and improve our deportment by means of a noble and healthful exercise. Rapiers are no longer worn by gentlemen; duelling has died the death of all false and absurd practices; and the fashion of settling a quarrel hilt to hilt has become a thing of the past.
But as, because we may never have occasion to parry a thrust from a rapier, is no argument against learning to fence, so the fact of our never making use of a broadsword except in war, is not allowed to interfere with our desire to acquire dexterity in wielding such a weapon. There are very few boys of a spirited nature who do not long to be able to execute the broadsword exercise. The common habit of flourishing a stick about is only a vague and loose expression of this natural inclination.
In all these exercises our personal safety demands that, although we are studying the modes of using a broadsword, we shall always employ a single-stick.
In fencing, we practise with a foil, the point of which is covered with a knob of leather; in the broadsword exercise, we execute the cuts or guards with a piece of wood, which can do us no greater injury than an occasional rap upon the knuckles or leg, and only then if we are more than ordinarily clumsy. Let us remember, then, that when we use the term stick or sword, we, for those reasons, always mean the single-stick. One thing must, however, be understood, and this is, that the stick must always be used as if it were a real sword, with a true cutting edge. In delivering a cut, this edge must always be turned towards the object cut at. As we shall often have occasion to speak of the “edge” of the weapon, we wish it to be understood that we refer to an imaginary line running down the stick from hilt to point. It will be as well, at first, to draw a line of red paint down the stick along that side opposite to the open part of the hilt. If our students will give a glance at the relative positions of the edge of a sword and its hilt, they will at once see what we mean.
Single-sticks may be purchased at any fencing-foil vendor’s, at the rate of about eighteen-pence per pair. This first outlay includes the pair of basket hilts, which will last as long as you may have occasion to use them. The sticks themselves are apt to get broken after a time, but, as you can purchase others, made to fit into the basket handles, for two-and-sixpence per dozen, you may consider your weapon a sufficiently cheap one. The sticks are about forty inches long, are made both of ash and hazel, and should not be so weak as to bend. Ash sticks are the best, for, being whiter in colour than the hazel, they are more quickly seen by the eye in the exercise. Forty inches will be found too long a stick for a boy of short stature, in which case it may be cut down some inches. This will necessitate the abridgment of the opponent’s stick, as both weapons should always be of an equal length.
Masks must be worn on every occasion—on no pretext whatever is single-stick play to be engaged in without their use. It is a pity that these indispensable adjuncts to our exercises happen to be rather expensive. They are usually sold at about eighteen shillings the pair. They are absolutely necessary, but they are dear. What are we to do if we cannot afford to purchase them? Why, make them for ourselves. The best plan is to get them from a maker, if we can spare the money; if we cannot do so, the next best thing is, when we pay a visit to the manufacturer to purchase our single-sticks, to examine the construction of these masks very carefully, and go home, and make, perhaps, a clumsier article, but still a perfectly efficient one for our purpose. In the present case, both necessity and economy combine to give a spur to invention. We leave the rest to our students’ ingenuity.
We must now say a word as to the
BEST MODE OF PERFORMING THE EXERCISES.
The system should be one of mutual instruction. Select a school-fellow or companion about the same stature as yourself, and each of you, with a copy of our BOY’S OWN MAGAZINE in your hands, act alternately as instructor. At first every student may practise our lessons singly; but, towards the close of the course, when the various modes of attack and defence come to be described, the exercises must be performed by two boys—one to attack, the other to defend. It will be remembered that we have already laid down precise rules for this part of our studies, both in the preliminary instruction for the performance of the young rifleman’s drill, and also for the art of fence. It will be as well to turn once more to our remarks made at page 313, Vol. V., and to page 214, Vol. VI. We have only to add, that strict attention must be paid, to every direction we have given, as they are carefully written, and must not be varied or departed from. The jacket or coat should be thrown off before commencing this exercise, so as to afford free play to the upper portion of the body.
EXPLANATION OF TERMS.
The broadsword exercise consists of seven cuts or directions of the edge, and of the same number of defensive positions. We shall speak further of this part of the subject in our next lesson.
Engaging is the act of joining swords with an opponent previous to an attack. In Engaging, there should only be a slight pressure exerted upon the stick, in order that both your hand and wrist may be thus rendered capable of performing any motion required by circumstances.
The Inside and Outside Guards are merely the terms used to denominate the modes of engaging your adversary’s weapon, and are merely preparatory to any offensive or defensive movements that may be made.
Each cut is numbered, as is also its corresponding guard; and, whenever we have occasion to order any cut or guard to be made, we shall designate each by number. All the seven cuts and guards are to be carefully learned and practised until the student can deliver them without the least hesitation. The directions of the sword in both cases will be explained when we speak of the broadsword target.
A Feint is a half-cut menacing a certain part, whilst the intention is to direct it at another; and the true cut should be given immediately upon the opponent answering to the Feint.
A Lunge is the art of extending yourself to the full distance of your stride, in order to approach your opponent’s body in delivering your cut.
Recovering is the act of resuming the position of guard, after you have lunged at your opponent. Nothing is more conducive to your safety than a quick and easy recovery to guard.
Prove distance will be hereafter explained.
Extension motions, balance motions and positions, the target, &c., require no independent explanations, as all will be fully treated of in detail in the succeeding lessons.
RULES FOR SINGLE-STICK PLAY.
1. No cut to be given too violently, or in such a manner as to cause anger or irritation.
2. All disparaging criticisms of an opponent’s play are to be studiously avoided.
3. Every cut to be acknowledged on the student’s receiving it, by his passing his stick into the left hand; the opponent, at the same moment, coming to an Engaging Guard.
4. Upon the renewal of the contest, both players are to take up a position out of distance, and to come within it cautiously, in order that neither may be taken by surprise.
5. No two cuts to be made upon one lunge.
6. Should both opponents make the same cut at the same time, that player’s cut which has been given in the third position to be considered effective.
7. No cuts to be made at the head.
8. No cuts to he made for the leg, without a previous warning “for the leg.”
9. As every cut is made from a defensive position, care must be taken to immediately return to such as soon as the cut is delivered.
10. The stick being the substitute for the sword, no cut can be deemed fair and effective which has not been given with that part corresponding with the edge.
11. No movement, either of attack or defence, to be attempted with the single-stick which could not be performed, or would not be hazarded, with the sword.
12. On no pretext whatever is practice to take place without masks.
With these important rules we close our first lesson on the Manly Exercise of Broadsword. Although it will be our endeavour to make the course as plain and interesting as possible, it must still be borne in mind that these instructions are not intended to be merely read—they must be practised; and, as they are composed in such a way as to give you as few obstacles as possible in becoming master of the single-stick, we expect that you will at once set about exercising your limbs. If you desire to improve your health and strength, you must constantly bear the lines of the poet in your mind—
Unless with exercise and manly toil
You brace your nerves, and spur the lagging blood,
Your muscles will be flaccid, weak, and worthless.
[Transcribed and edited by Ben Miller, 2017]
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A History of Cane Self-Defense in America:
During the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries, America could be a dangerous place, and knowledge of self-defense was often necessary for use in both urban and rural environments. To those ends, fencing masters and instructors often modified and applied fencing techniques to the cane or walking stick, creating their own systems of self-defense. This article proposes to look at various methods of cane defense, taught by fencing masters and instructors, that were specifically intended for practical use in self-defense encounters in the everyday world.
The individuals who taught such techniques hailed from a variety of backgrounds—from England, France, Italy, Ireland, Poland, Belgium, Denmark, and Germany—and specifically discussed the cane’s efficacy in defending against other potentially deadly weapons such as the sword, sword-cane, stick, dirk, Spanish knife, Bowie knife, bayonet-rifle, boarding pike, and revolver. These fencing methods were applied to canes both with and without hooks, and included techniques designed to defend against multiple attackers, variously utilizing both single and double-handed grips.
In some cases, these methods of defense were influenced by one or more other formalized systems of saber, broadsword, singlestick, bayonet, French la canne, and canne royale. Although combative methods of singlestick (that is, the training weapon), la canne, canne royale, and Irish shillelagh were also used in America, and may have impacted these techniques, methods belonging explicitly to those systems are beyond the scope of this article. Moreover, they have already been written about extensively, and can be read about here and here.
Eighteenth Century America and Europe
An extensive study of colonial American fencing schools known to exist up to the year 1800 suggests that instruction in practical cane defense was not offered in the United States until 1798. Prior to this time, as the sword was still worn and carried as a personal sidearm as well as an article of dress, the walking-stick may have been regarded as a superfluous instrument for self-defense—even though it, too, was carried as a common article. That does not mean, however, that sticks were never used for combative purposes. Games, or combat sports, of “cudgeling” often made their appearances at fairs and gatherings in colonial America, and “cudgels” were often used as non-lethal instruments for settling disputes. Fencing instructors often used the cane or singlestick as a training tool for the backsword, broadsword and sabre in various salles des armes. The following crude illustration, sketched by Sir Benjamin Thompson, depicts young fencers training with singlesticks in the school of the Boston-based Scottish fencing instructor Donald McAlpine, and is currently the earliest known illustration of fencing technique in America:
By contrast, during the 1730s, authors in Europe were already writing of applying fencing theory to the cane or walking stick. In 1736, the French fencing master P. F. Girard wrote of using the cane in conjunction with the sword as an auxiliary weapon—that is, wielded in place of the dagger. And in 1771, British fencing instructor Andrew Lonnergan wrote,
“If your desire still leads you after a knowledge of the use of any other weapon, I would prefer that of our English broad, or back-sword, to dagger, lance, cloak, or dark-lanthorn fighting; for being only armed with a stick or a cane, when insulted or attacked, it would be very needless to seek for any of those instruments of cowardly defence, whilst you may disengage yourself from even a superior weapon by the one you undesignedly carry, especially when furnished with, some lessons of its use.”
Lonnergan also explains how the cane is to be used differently than the sword:
“If your weapon be blunt, such as a cane or stick, either batter or whip when you defend, and intend this cut so that you may have more room for your blow and that it may be more powerful.”
During this same period, other European fencers were known to wield their canes in self-defense when necessary. In the second volume of The Reminiscences of Henry Angelo, the author describes how his father, the renowned fencing master Domenico Angelo, successfully used his cane to defend against the attack of a stick-wielding Irishman named Redman, ultimately “breaking” the latter’s head. Likewise, in Domenico’s seminal 1787 work, The School of Fencing, the author records the following techniques:
“In case of need, one might defend one’s self against a sword with a cane and cloak; for after having parried a thrust of the sword with a cane, one should close in at the same time, without quitting his blade, and cover his head with the cloak. To perform this operation well, one ought to be well skilled in fencing, very cool and resolute.” (p. 97)
The Chevalier Saint-Georges, one of the most famous fencers of the eighteenth century, also employed the use of the cane or walking-stick in an encounter with multiple adversaries, as reported in The Journal General de France on February 23, 1790:
“The Chevalier was peacefully walking to Greenwich one night where he was going to make music in a house where he was awaited when he was suddenly attacked by four men armed with pistols. Nevertheless he managed to drive them off with the help of his stick.”
Taking such European sources into consideration, it is possible that instruction in cane self-defense was also offered in America during the middle and late eighteenth century. However, exactly what form this may have taken, or to what degree it may have existed, available evidence is not yet forthcoming.
ROBERT HEWES (1751-1830)
“He teaches the art of Bone Breaking—genteely.”
In the United States, the first fencing instructor that we know of to publicly advertise instruction in cane defense was Robert Hewes, a native of Boston, Massachusetts. Described by his contemporaries as an “extraordinary” and “ingenious” man, Hewes engaged in a number of professions, including glass-making (for which he became renowned), hog-butchery, hardware retail, soap making, and glue manufacturing. He was also described by the Boston press as a surgeon, as well as a “celebrated bone-setter and fencing master.” In acknowledgement of this fact, Hewes hung a sign outside his residence which humorously read, “Bone breaker and bone-setter.” According to Hewes himself, his training in fencing began about 1770, at which time he entered the school of the aforementioned Donald McAlpine. In 1808, Hewes recounted:
I do understand what the Broad Sword is scientifically; having learnt it of the famous DONALD MCALPIN, a Scotch Highlander, above thirty eight years ago; and I have had the honor and pleasure of teaching it to many of the Officers of our Revolutionary Army, in Roxbury and Cambridge, in the year 1775—and have done it at times, ever since.
During the 1770s, Hewes was also a member of the secret revolutionary society, the Sons of Liberty. At this time, an incident occurred involving Hewes’ first cousin, George Robert Twelves Hewes, which may very well have impressed upon Robert the cane’s efficacy as a weapon, and the necessity for civilian self-defense training. The memoir of George (who later became famed as one of the oldest survivors of the Boston Tea Party and Boston Massacre) refers to “Robert Hewes, my cousin” and recounts the following incident, which occurred shortly after the Boston massacre:
“One day…as I was returning from dinner, I met a man by the name of John Malcom, who was a custom-house officer, and a small boy, pushing his sled along, before him; and just as I was passing the boy, he said to Malcom, what, sir, did you throw my chips into the snow for, yesterday? Upon which Malcom angrily replied, do you speak to me, you rascal; and, as he raised a cane he had in his hand, aiming it at the head of the boy, I spoke to Malcom, and said to him, you are not about to strike that boy with your cudgel, you may kill him; upon my saying that, he was suddenly diverted from the boy, and turning upon me, says, you d—d rascal, do you presume too, to speak to me? I replied to him, I am no rascal, sir, be it known to you; whereupon he struck me across the head with his cane, and knocked me down, and by the blow cut a hole in my hat two inches in length.”
While his attacker was promptly pursued, flogged, tarred and feathered, the unconscious Hewes was conveyed to the noted Doctor Joseph Warren, who dressed his wound and told him upon awakening, “it can be considered no misfortune that [you] had a thick skull, for had not yours been very strong, said he, it would have been broke; you have come within a hair’s breath of loosing your life.”
The increasing local mob mentality, as well as the profusion of gang warfare (involving clubs, staves, and swords) in eighteenth century Boston, may have further convinced Robert Hewes of the need to make self-defense training available to civilians. A relative later recounted that Hewes “taught the Scotch Highland broad sword to the officers of the army in the Revolution.” However, as far as we know, Hewes did not begin publicly advertising his services as a fencing instructor until 1798, at which time he began keeping a “regular school,” which provided instruction in the “Broad Sword, or Sabre,” and the “Manly and Wholesome Art of Defence” three days a week at the Royal Exchange Tavern on State Street. Hewes’s earliest advertisement noted that “the above art will enable a person to defend himself with a cane.”
In a 1799 advertisement Hewes further stated that with his “system of defence…a person attacked can defend himself against the Small Sword, Broad Sword, Sabre, Gun and Bayonet, cane or small Stick of Wood.” Later notices by Hewes added the “spaderoon,” “Claymoor,” and “rapier,” to the list of weapons taught, and the “boarding pike” to the list of weapons which the cane was capable of defending against. Hewes further explained:
“According to the present appearance of things, and as Effeminacy forms no part of the American Character—Mr. HEWES has Reason to Expect a full Employ—even Invalids had better Learn to wield the Sabre, than swing the Dumbells—for health, Rosey health is in Exercise found.”
In 1798, Hewes also offered to teach “the true Highland stile, as taught by the late famous Donald McAlpin.” An avid collector of fencing treatises (his bookshelf contained Angelo’s, among others), Hewes later claimed to have united the “French, Scotch, and Austrian Methods into one System.” Regarding the specific use of the cane, which he typically referred to as “Cane Fighting, or the Art of Personal Defence,” Hewes stated:
“Some private gentlemen content themselves with carrying a large knotted cane—cost perhaps five dollars. All that may be very fashionable and very well; but a little attention and practice with Master HEWES, at the head play and knock-down lessons, would make that cane look more graceful, and feel more agreeable in the hand than before…Other private gentleman will not carry a cane, or any other weapon of defence—but depend upon their own good behaviour and civil deportment for protection; which is really a good sentiment, and will almost always answer the purpose: But there are times when all that goodness will not protect them against the attacks of a ruffian, but be rather an incentive… therefore the art of defence is necessary.” (Columbian Centinel, Oct 27, 1802)
Hewes would go on to republish a number of books on fencing and military tactics, including the 1796 saber treatise, Rules and Regulations for the Sword Exercise of the Cavalry by Major-General John Gaspard Le Marchant, which, according to the title page, Hewes had “revised and corrected.” Later in the century, Hewes’s edition did not escape the notice of fencing scholar Egerton Castle, who included it in the bibliography of his landmark Schools and Masters of Fence, from the Middle Ages to the Eighteenth Century.
Given that Hewes frequently relates his method of cane defense to fencing with the broadsword and saber in his numerous advertisements, it is worth taking a brief look at the Rules and Regulations. The text describes six cuts, eight guards, “the modes of parrying,” and defense against cavalry, bayonet, as well as “the defence of one man against two.” It notes that all cuts are to be made from the wrist, “without giving action to the elbow,” and exhorts practitioners
“not to hold their swords too tight; but to allow the hilt to play in the hand, by the second, third, and fourth fingers being distended or contracted, as may be necessary to accord with the motion of the blade; taking care invariably to hold the gripe firm with the fore-finger and thumb.”
Hewes felt strongly enough about his edition to send a copy to President Thomas Jefferson, to whom he urged its adoption in the American military, complaining that “our Cavalry are truely Millitary Monsters haveing no Sistem of Exercise.”
Hewes continued to teach cane defense, as well as fencing “in all its various branches,” for several decades in the Boston area, posting his last known advertisement in 1826. One of his last notices contains an eloquent passage on self-defense training, interspersed with Hewes’s characteristic humor:
To cure the body the mind must be pleased by the exercise—for instance, learning the art of defence…has restored many young gentlemen in this city to health and strength. The mind being pleased with the theory, the body naturally gains strength with the practice, and when masters of the art, they may defend themselves scientifically, save their limbs and perhaps their lives by their skill. But some will say that in a government like ours, the law is our protection—in carrying a civil deportment and gentleman-like appearance we are safe enough; a great mistake in both arguments. In the first place, the law cannot protect you at the moment of attack, is expensive and troublesome, and you cannot expect to have a constable always at your heels, padding after you, like Corporal Trim after Uncle Toby. In the next place, your mild and genteel appearance, does not but invite the attack of the foot pad or ruffian; they mark you as their prey, as the hawk does the dove…therefore the art of defence is necessary, and if you come and learn, it will answer two good purposes, viz: it will cure you of bodily weakness and me–of the Mal de Pouch, if you pay me for it, as Lope Toco says to Roque. Please apply to ROBERT HEWES, Corner of Essex street, where he practices the art of Bone Setting—or at his Fencing Room, Boylston Market, where he teaches the art of Bone Breaking—genteely.
Hewes’s many business ventures seem to have paid off, for in later years he was regarded in Boston as a “gentleman of leisure,” living in a “large house, with a spacious court, and magnificent shade trees” on the corner of Essex and Washington streets. He also became known as something of an eccentric, and was often seen in his dressing-gown “playing with the peacocks and paroquets in his yard.” It was related that in 1826, he told his housekeeper, Sally, “I am 75 years old today, and I can handle a broad sword better than any young man in Boston.” Hewes passed away in 1830, and is buried next to an unmarked stone in Boston Common.
THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
The nineteenth century saw an explosion in the number of cane fencing instructors in the United States. That the walking-cane was employed in earnest in street encounters can be verified by a number of news reports, of which the following is only one example:
“Baltimore, Feb. 2. An attack was made upon a gentleman last evening about nine o’clock in High, near Stiles street, no doubt with the view of obtaining plunder—the gentlemen received a severe blow over his right eye, but being somewhat on the lookout, made a good defence with his cane—the ruffian then attacked him with large stones, but was compelled to retreat into an alley between Albermarls and President streets and thus effected his escape.” (New York Evening Post, 1830)
In the years following the appearance of Robert Hewes, a number of other instructors in “cane defence” and “cane fighting” publicly offered their services. Seven of these individuals appear to trace their fencing lineage to a single source: the Military School of Colonel Irénée Amelot De la Croix.
COLONEL DE LA CROIX
De La Croix was a former nobleman of Flemish, French, and German ancestry, a member of the ancien régime, and a decorated military veteran. His voluminous 1814 biography describes many of his incredible feats and adventures, noting that in the course of his career, the Colonel had impressively “been fourteen times wounded severely…and has been in fifty-six regular battles, besides near fifteen hundred affairs of out-posts and skirmishes.” (Baron de Vanden Boègard, Portrait of Colonel I.A. de la Croix, Baltimore: Printed by Bell & Cook, 1814). De La Croix arrived in the United States in 1806, where he “married an American lady” and opened a military school in Boston, “where he taught many.” Later De La Croix moved his school to Newburyport, then to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and from thence to New York City and Baltimore. In New York alone he had “thirty scholars.” During his time in America, he authored several treatises on the art of warfare, and corresponded with Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
At least seven of the Colonel’s former students, or students’ students—including Michel (later William) Tromelle, Jean B. Girard, Phillip Haussy, Mr. Nichols, Peter Trinque, Thomas Ryan, and George Gray—would go on to teach “cane fighting,” sometimes referred to as “Norman cudgelling,” the “Norman mode of defence,” or, as Nichols stated simply, “a powerful defence with the cane” (curiously, Trinque and Haussy would at one point describe it as, “the mode of using the single Stick, as practiced by the Romans”). An advertisement by Tromelle, published in Boston in 1810, described De La Croix’s system, and its benefits, as follows:
“The great advantages attendant upon this mode of defence, and the benefits arising from these lessons, where persons are exposed to the insults of disorderly and unprincipled men, as well as an attack by a desperate villain, must be a sufficient argument to attract the attention of most men. It is a fact generally credited by gentlemen who have a knowledge of this defence with a cane, that a person is capable of conquering an attack of six men (with the same weapons), if they should not have a knowledge of this play. And to substantiate this fact, we have been very credibly informed that a gentleman who was taught the Norman mode of Defence, in Boston, has obtained a considerable sum of money by overpowering and driving three as hardy and courageous men as could be obtained to combat against him. We further have the pleasure of asserting that gentlemen who have become acquainted with the Stick Fighting feel more than amply rewarded for all their time and money spent in learning.”(Columbian Centinel, Oct. 6, 1810)
As De Le Croix’s students refer to his method as “Norman,” it may be that it was an early form of, or precursor to, French La Canne. However, as the specific techniques of formal systems of La Canne were not documented until the early 1840s, it is difficult to say how much De La Croix’s method may have resembled mid-nineteenth century French systems. As noted previously, cane fencing had certainly existed in France long before this time, where it took on different forms. According to his biography, De La Croix had studied at the military schools at Chalons, Metz, and Brienne, and served in the French Marines—a fact which may give insight to future researchers.
Whatever the case, students of De La Croix’s cane method nearly always stressed its efficacy in combating large numbers of simultaneous attackers. Jean B. Girard, one of De La Croix’s first assistant-instructors, explained,
Mr. Girard will…teach Cudgelling, in the Normand manner, not yet known in this country. If the American gentlemen were acquainted with the utility of this manly exercise, how easily it is obtained, he feels sensible that he would meet with great encouragement; as he has no doubt, that he can enable a pupil, in three months, to make an effectual defence against six assailants. (Boston Commercial Gazette, Nov. 16, 1809)
In 1812, in Baltimore, at a demonstration of “stick exercise or cane fighting” given by “Tromelle & Co.,” it was stated that
“A proficient in the stick exercises, may defend himself with safety, from the attack of four with broadswords at the same time.”
And in 1813, a former Baltimore student of De La Croix, George Gray, gave demonstrations in pugilism, fencing, and the “Norman cane,” and the next year, opened a fencing school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, of which he noted,
“A proficient in the Norman cane exercise will defend himself against the attack of six men at the same time with the same weapons.”
As late as 1824, Gray’s former colleague, Thomas Ryan, was teaching “Boxiana” and “the use of the cane” at his own School of Arms in Baltimore.
In 1818, after parting ways with fellow instructors Jean Girard and Peter Trinque, the aforementioned William Tromelle took to the Boston press to announce his “co-partnership” with a new fencing master—Antonio Cannata of Italy. Together, Tromelle and Cannata would teach defense with the “stick,” as well as “fencing, in all its various parts” for the next year at No. 3 Cornhill Square. Of especial note is an advertisement published jointly by the two on April 21, 1818, in the Boston Daily Advertiser (see below). This notice contains a crude illustration, similar to those found in other American fencing advertisements of the period, except for one important difference: whereas others depict fencers engaging, or lunging, with clearly hilted foils or smallswords, the one published by Tromelle and Cannata shows two fencers facing each other out of lunge distance, with hiltless weapons—possibly sticks or canes. As this same advertisement listed the “Broad Sword,” “Small Sword,” “Cut and Thrust,” and “Stick” as weapons taught, this was certainly one of the possibilities.
Although, given the crudeness of the illustration, it is difficult to say with certainty, this advertisement may possibly represent not only De La Croix’s method of “Norman cane,” but the earliest visual depiction of cane fencing technique published in America.
Roughly one year later, in the spring of 1819, Cannata parted ways with Tromelle (possibly due to the ill-health of the latter, who would pass away in 1822), and announced the “re-opening” of his own solo school. An advertisement for Cannata at this time shows a different image, of fencers lunging and parrying with hilted swords.
OTHER FRENCH INSTRUCTORS
Another French instructor that appeared in America about this time—though not connected to De La Croix—was G. M. Coulon, who, in 1826, “lately arrived in [New York] city from England.” In 1827, Coulon announced the following in the Evening Post:
“The manly foils and broadsword taught upon the most approved method by Mr. C. every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday…Self defence with a stick, against any ruffianly attack, taught in six lessons.”
Unfortunately Coulon’s school was not to last, as he unexpectedly passed away in November of the same year.
The years between 1837 and 1840 saw a number of additonal French fencing masters advertising the “use of the Cane and Stick.” The first was François George Baugé, of New York City and Charleston, and who produced at least two subsequent cane fencing instructors, Charton and Chabriel, all originally “of the Royal Academy of Paris.” Although Baugé published a series of illustrations on the art of fencing, these did not, unfortunately, include the cane. Other French instructors of “cane defence” during this same period was H. Hautonville, who appeared in Charleston in 1840, and E. Raux, who ran an “Academy of Arms” in Richmond, Virginia, in 1849 . These individuals all neglected to describe their methods of cane defense, and may very well have been teaching French La Canne, the technique of which would begin to be documented in France during the 1840s.
Approximately two decades later, in 1865, a Captain Arthur De Pelgrom, a Belgian who had evidently instructed soldiers in the Union Army, also offered practical self-defense in the use of the walking stick:
At the same period, a few instructors hailing from other nations appeared, who deserve mention.
Another colorful character worthy of mention, and who hailed from Italy, is “Signior Manfredi,” described as an “Artist of Agility,” and “astonishing man who has lately arrived in this country from Saddlers Wells,” who performed feats of strength and balance, as well as demonstrations of cane defense.
Manfredi, who claimed to have previously exhibited in London, Saint Petersburg, and Constantinople, gave demonstrations in the American cities of Portsmouth, Albany, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Norfolk, and Charleston from the years 1803 thru 1808. As Manfredi’s events were billed as a “Grand Display of Entertainment,” and also included “tumblings,” “feats of strength,” “tricks,” balancing acts, feats on horseback, and other acrobatics, it is unclear whether Manfredi’s stick demonstrations were actual exhibitions of self-defense techniques, or were merely staged entertainments. Whatever the case, audiences were impressed:
Signor MANFREDI has indeed already performed feats calculated both to “surprise and astonish.” The manner in which he went through his exhibitions on Monday evening was in the highest degree satisfactory to the audience, who testified their opinions by repeated and long-continued shouts of applause. He is so evidently a master of his business, and with such entire ease and dexterity does he requit himself, that the spectator may view his feats without having his sensations of pleasurable emotion disturbed by apprehensions for his safety.
Curiously, in one Maryland advertisement, Manfredi’s stick is described as “Dutch” rather than Italian. Most of Manfredi’s notices mention the use of the stick against multiple opponents—a feature which echoes the advertisements of De La Croix’s many students.
Captain Alexander Ryliski of Poland was another obscure figure, who taught cane defense in New Haven, Connecticut, at No. 31 Barney Hall on Chapel Street. Lest anyone doubt his experience, Ryliski noted in his advertisements:
“As a guaranty that Mr. Ryliski understands perfectly the above arts, he would only remark that for fifteen years he has served as an officer in the Polish army.” January 7, 1839, New Haven Daily Herald
Interstingly, Ryliski noted that he kept two separate schools—one a designated “Fencing School,” in which he taught the foil, broadsword, and bayonet, and the other “a School for exercise with the cane, for self defense against many.”
MAJOR R. I. DUNN
“Against Swords, Dirks, or Bowie Knives”
A particularly notable cane instructor of the same period was Major R. I. Dunn, “Professor and Teacher of Military Science,” a former citizen of Ireland who would become a noted American military officer. Although Dunn had begun teaching fencing in America in 1812, it was not until the 1840s that his military academies in New Orleans, Virginia, Massachusetts, and Kentucky became well-known. In an advertisement for his New Orleans academy, Dunn claimed that his “art of Personal Defence,” or method of fencing
“is a combination of the broad sword, small sword, single-stick or quarterstaff, with the manner of disarming an antagonist…and renders [the practitioner] fully capable of attacking and defending himself against sword (broad or small), bayonet, dirk, or stick, and when even only armed with a walking stick.”
An 1847 advertisement for Dunn’s school in Frankfort, Kentucky, appropriately added the “Bowie knife”—a popular local sidearm—to the list:
The particular mention of the cane used to defend against a Bowie knife is an unusual one, prompting one to wonder if such encounters in earnest ever actually occurred. The answer is yes. According to the Baltimore Sun of August 14, 1856, when one Edward Morton ambushed a Mr. Ben Debar in the streets of St. Louis,
As Debar passed [Morton] jumped out at him and endeavoured to stab him with a Bowie knife; DeBar’s alertness and skill at fencing saved his life. He knocked off the blow with his cane, and then grappled Morton until a policeman came.
It appears that Major Dunn himself had experience using the cane to defend himself in serious combative encounters. In what can only be described as a highly unusual occurrence, the Major is reported as having engaged in a pre-arranged combat with canes and pistols, fought in earnest. According to the May 24, 1844 issue of the Richmond Whig:
A rencontre took place at the Prentiss House, between Major Dunn, well known in this City as a teacher of the art of boxing, fencing, cudgel playing, &c. and Major Anderson Miller with Canes. Dunn it seems wielded his stick “most scientifically.” The parties afterwards met and fired at each other with pistols, but without effect.
In 1841, Dunn published his Condensed Military Pocket Manual. This book contains a chapter on the “Infantry Sword, or Cut and Thrust,” on which Dunn largely based his method of cane defense—with the important modification of eliminating all thrusts while using the cane. Dunn mentions that the infantry sword is lighter than that used by the cavalry, and thus, “much more agility is necessary.” He includes six cuts and a number of “guards,” including “the position of St. George.” Dunn instructs his readers as follows:
The position of the [fencers] will be fronting each other, and placed about four full paces apart, the right foot will be advanced about half a pace, the point of the toe, sword-arm, and right side only, presented to each other, the left hand on the hip, arm a-kimbo, swords crossing each other, in a diagonal position, taking care to keep the sword-hand on the right eye as much as possible, which is the general guard; the cuts will be made with a stiff arm, using the wrist instead of the elbow… When the opponent is a strong and vigorous man, and assaults with rapidity, act on the defensive, retreating a little if too hard pressed; but on discovering that he begins to slacken or get fatigued, then will be the proper time to become the assailant with advantage.
The book contains a small passage on the specific application of these techniques to the cane, which notes an interesting method used to protect one’s hand and fingers:
“In the exercise and use of the cane…the same rules will be adopted as in the cut and thrust sword, with the exception of giving point, which will be unnecessary. It will be advisable (if there should be time) to wrap the hand embracing the cane in a pocket handkerchief, which will guard the knuckles and secure the cane at the same time; the handkerchief must not be tight, as it would confine the cane too much, but crossed lightly from right to left, over the hand.”
COLONEL THOMAS H. MONSTERY
“Almost anything can be made into a weapon if properly used…”
Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery was one of the most celebrated American fencing masters of his time, and the first to write extensively about the use of the cane as a method of self-defense. When it came to combat, Monstery had an impressive resume. He had fought under twelve flags in numerous wars and revolutions, had survived participation in more than fifty duels with the sword, knife, and pistol, and had twenty-two scars on his body to prove it. In 1878, Monstery expounded upon his method of cane defense in a series of articles published in the New York press, following his chapters on boxing, grappling, and kicking. More specifically, Monstery treats of a hickory walking-stick, which he describes as “the proper companion of every gentleman”—good against knives, sword-canes, and even guns:
“Boxing will get a gentleman out of a great many scrapes into which he may fall, but in some parts of the Union he will come across men who habitually carry knives or pistols and in such a case a stout walking-stick, if he knows how to use it, may save his own life, and—what I consider more important—prevent the necessity of his taking the life of another. It may seem strange to some that I, who have passed my time in the profession of arms, and have lived so much in Spanish-America, where the use of weapons is universal and duels of everyday occurrence, should have a horror of taking life; and yet I can honestly say that I have always avoided it, except where there was an absolute certainty that the question lay between my own life and that of another who sought to kill me…Many are the pistols and knives that I have struck from the hands of men by a smart blow on the wrist with a cane, and many are the murderous brawls I have prevented in this way. As a queller of disturbances, I know of nothing better than a hickory or ash stick.” (Chapter 12)
To prove the cane’s efficacy as a personal sidearm, Monstery includes a thrilling anecdote regarding an incident when he was attacked by three knife-wielding members of the Spanish secret service, who were intent on assassinating him. Using only his hickory cane, Monstery was able to successfully defend himself, until his attackers eventually fled into the night.
Monstery describes his cane system as being based on the same fencing principles as the saber or broadsword, but with some important modifications to account for the lack of a guard to protect the hand. The parts of the body that he targets are also different than those targeted with the sword, due to the concussive (rather than cutting) nature of the cane. Monstery also notes:
“The hook is an important part of the cane. It doubles its usefulness, serves as a handle to rest on when it is used as a staff, prevents its slipping out of the hand when it is used as a weapon, and serves as a sling when you do not wish to handle the cane. With a hook to his cane, no man need ever abandon it, for he can always hang it over his left arm when not in use, so as to be ready to catch it instantly with the right.” (Chapter 12)
Monstery also eschews the use of single-handed thrusts, which, he states, are “easily parried,” expose the fencer, and can only hurt or disable an opponent in two spots. Although Monstery notes that the case is different with two-handed thrusts, he reserves these techniques for his subsequent chapters on the use of the quarterstaff.
Throughout his life in America, in addition to his New York City academy, Monstery also ran schools in Baltimore, Oakland, San Francisco, and, in his final years, Chicago.
JUSTIN BONNAFOUS (1898)
In 1898, an article on cane self-defense was published by Justin Bonnafous, the American-born son of a French maitre d’armes of the same name. The elder Bonnafous had been a well-known “sword master” at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. In 1883, Bonnafous Jr. succeeded his father as instructor at the Fencing and Sparring Club of Philadelphia, where he would continue to teach for several decades. In 1898, after having traveled to and returned from Paris, where he had studied fencing, Bonnafous authored a short treatise on self-defense with the cane. It was published in Volume 31 of Outing magazine, and accompanied by nine photographs. Bonnafous’s method shows the influence of French la canne, and includes techniques to defend against knife-wielding thugs as well as multiple attackers, and utilizes both single and double-handed grips. Following is one of several techniques described by Bonnafous:
“If an assailant comes at you armed with a knife or razor, cut for the arm, and, on his dropping it, proceed with treatment as before (see Figures 5 and 9). The thrust for the eye is sometimes used, but should only be resorted to as an extreme measure, for it might prove fatal.”
Bonnafous directs the reader to use a cane “of thoroughly seasoned, straight grained hickory, tapered like a billiard cue, about one and a half inches at the butt, down to three-fourths of an inch at the point. The butt should be surmounted by a knob of silver or other heavy metal, and the point protected by a heavy ferrule.” Unlike Monstery, Bonnafous cautions against using a cane with a hook, for, he warns, “it is apt to become entangled in the clothing at the critical moment, and in such melees every second counts.”
Bonnafous’s article, as far as we currently, know, is the last to treat of cane defense during the nineteenth century.
THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
“The complete defense that lies in a cane…”
Louis Tronchet, a French maitre d’armes, arrived in the United States in 1887, and by April of 1888, had moved from New York to San Francisco, where he began giving fencing lessons at the distinguished Olympic Club, which had been co-founded by Monstery. Tronchet was an exponent of the French school of classical fencing, and had graduated from the military academy of Joinville-le-Pont at the head of his graduating class numbering six hundred. According to his colleague (and occasional rival) Henri Ansot, Tronchet dismissed “wild fencing” in favor of “the more classic style of fencing,” which soon “took the supremacy, under his correct and graceful style of tuition.” This style had evidently served Tronchet well, for in 1887 he defeated the noted New York fencing master Regis Senac in a prominent contest at Cosmopolitan Hall, while adhering throughout to a “faultlessly classical position.”
Tronchet was also a known expert at French savate, and offered instruction in cane self-defense for use in the street. In 1903, after teaching, contesting, and demonstrating fencing in the United States for more than fifteen years, Tronchet published several techniques of cane self-defense in the pages of the San Francisco Call, showing how to ward off several types of armed attack by a “footpad or ruffian.”
“It has remained for Professor Tronchet, instructor of fencing at the Olympic Club, to teach the complete defense that lies in a cane.”
The article, however, does not cover such a complete defense, but, rather, “illustrates a few of the simpler movements and foils which with little practice can be made use of to the advantage of Mr. Footpad by any man of average strength and adroitness.”
The article thus shows a handful of cane defense techniques, utilizing both single and double handed grips, and mostly executed versus a masked attacker armed with a pistol. Tronchet instructs the person accosted to put his hands in the air in a gesture of surrender, but all the while still holding the cane—assuming a position of readiness designed to give the illusion of submission. He proceeds to describe various ways to attack the shins, wrist, and head. For instance, Tronchet instructs,
The simple blow on the wrist is as effective as any blow can be. A right swing of the body and a quick, strong blow across the wrist with the cane causes the footpad’s hand to instantly relinquish the weapon and leaves an opening for an attack with the advantage in favor of the peaceful homegoing citizen. However, he is not quite ready for the homegoing yet. He prefers to see his footpad eating humble pie first.
After advocating several such defenses, including the use of a head butt, throws, and chokes, the article notes that
Professor Tronchet has many more swings and thrusts and tilts of the simple walking cane wherewith to bring the footpad to confusion, but the more difficult ones would require much practice and a close perusal of the rules set down in some pamphlet on fencing…as steady nerve, a cool head, and a quick action are the three requisites–given the walking cane and the ability to use it properly.
The article thus concludes,
Should the cane become a popular weapon of defense against footpads, and according to Professor Tronchet, there is no reason why it should not, it will be necessary for the footpad who wishes to be successful in his chosen profession to take the art of fencing. Otherwise he will find it pleasanter to earn his own living than to depend upon others to earn it for him.
“When a man is called on to face a ruffian, he needs no better weapon than a hickory walking stick…”
Bartitsu was an English hybrid martial art developed by Edward William Barton-Wright, and which was practiced in Great Britain between the years 1898 and 1902. Although relatively short-lived, the techniques of Bartitsu were documented extensively in various journals and magazines, which saw widespread distribution. Although much of Bartitsu’s unarmed techniques (particularly grappling) were borrowed from Japanese martial arts, its method of cane self-defense was largely influenced by a style of la canne developed by the Swiss maitre d’armes Pierre Vigny.
Although, as far as we know, Bartitsu was never practiced in America (prior to a late twentieth century revival), its techniques did see publication in America, and are worthy of mention. On August 30, 1903, a lengthy illustrated article appeared in the New York Tribune, under the following heading:
“SCHOOLS WHERE MEN ARE TAUGHT HOW TO DEFEND THEMSELVES AGAINST THE ATTACKS OF STREET ROWDIES”
The piece was accompanied by seven illustrations, excerpted from The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, a British journal. The text of the Tribune article, however, is original, and offers a fascinating glimpse into how New Yorkers viewed the criminal threat at the turn of the century, as well as emphasizing the importance of learning self defense with a cane:
When a man is called on to face a ruffian, he needs no better weapon than a hickory walking stick. A revolver is likely to harm him more than to help. As soon as a man reaches for his weapon, his adversary has the right to shoot, and the accomplished criminal is almost sure to have his weapon ready first. The stick is the better weapon, because it is quicker. It is in one’s hand already. It is always “loaded”…Should a New-Yorker combine both the tactics of the London stick man and the United States naval wrestler, it is safe to say that the police of this city would have far fewer holdups and burglaries to record than at the present time.
The article also offers an interesting look at the perceived fighting styles of various local “thugs” of Anglo-Saxon, Spanish, Italian, and German origin, and offers advice for defending oneself against assaults with the fist, foot, stick, knife, and gun.
MARQUIS OF QUEENSBERRY (1911)
“One advantage of the cane as a weapon is the facility with which a blow may be delivered…In fact, a blow may be delivered with a cane perhaps almost quicker than with the fist. For this reason such a blow is hard to dodge.”
In 1911, another instructional article on self-defense with the cane appeared in the pages of the Chicago Tribune. The author, writing under the name of “The Marquis of Queensberry,” was none other than Lord Percy Sholto Douglas (1868-1920), 10th Marquess of Queensberry, and the second son of John Sholto Douglas, the Scottish nobleman best known for lending his name and patronage to the “Marquess of Queensberry Rules” that formed the basis of modern boxing.
Most of Douglas’s previous columns pertained to boxing and jiu-jitsu; he did, however, include one on self-defense with the cane, and another on the use of the umbrella or parasol (intended for women), both of which were accompanied by a number of photographs, some of which included Douglas himself, and drawings. Like the methods of Hewes and Monstery, as well as the cane techniques set down by fellow Briton R. G. Allanson-Winn, 5th Baron of Headley, Douglas grounded his cane defense firmly on the fencing techniques normally applied to the broadsword and saber.
Douglas’s articles are highly interesting, and probably most useful in their simplicity. They are intended for a general audience, as well as for fencers looking to apply their preexisting knowledge of the sword to common household articles such as the cane and umbrella. From a pedagogical standpoint, Douglas’s series is perhaps also notable for its inclusion of footwork diagrams in its section on the umbrella.
ANDREW CHASE CUNNINGHAM (1858-1917)
In 1912, another treatise on cane self-defense appeared, published in the form of a short pamphlet by Andrew Chase Cunningham of the United States Navy. Much has already been written about this text, which is also widely available. Suffice it to say that Cunningham was president of the Washington D.C. Fencing Organization, and the author of a fencing text, Sabre and Bayonet (1906). According to this article by Maxime Chouinard, Cunningham had been a student of the elder instructor Antoine J. Corbesier, who had served in the Belgian and French militaries before immigrating to America, where he became instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. According to Chouinard, Cunningham’s cane defense techniques bear some resemblances to Corbersier’s method of Belgian Canne Royale. Cunningham’s The Cane as a Weapon contains eighteen pages of text, as well as twelve photographs.
DR. BENJAMIN FRANKLIN ROLLER (1915)
“Nothing justifies fighting at any time or place except defence.”
In 1915, bodybuilder and physical culturalist Dr. Benjamin Franklin Roller, M.D., published a series of articles on exercise, diet, healthy living, and self-defense in the New York press. Roller propounded a unique unarmed method of self-defense, which combined savate, boxing, Cornish wrestling, and American catch wrestling (this last being Roller’s specialty) for use against unarmed assailants, as well as those wielding a knife or gun.
In addition, Roller describes what he considers to be the “Eight Essential Exercises,” which includes fencing:
Eight things should every boy be able to do (until he can do every one of them fairly well he is not a man complete)—to run, to jump, to ride, to shoot, to wrestle, to box, to swim and to fence. You don’t have to be an expert in all, or even in any one. These are the fundamental studies of self-defence, and the more you can learn about all of them the more you will increase in ability which some time you may badly need.
Regarding fencing in particular, Roller explains:
Fencing is one of the most beneficial of exercises, great fun and a very effective means of defence. Get the singlesticks, with mask and glove, at any sporting goods house, or you can practise the movement with any old stick. I never took a lesson in this work in my life, but I became so efficient in singlestick fencing that I defeated the best professional fencer on the Pacific coast and twice saved my life by knocking a gun or a knife out of an assailant’s hand by means of an ordinary cane.
The vast portion of Roller’s instructional material treats of his special hybrid method of unarmed self-defense. He does, however, describe and photograph one technique using a hooked cane:
Roller explains this technique as follows:
“Fig. 4.—-A fencing stroke in self defence. The author saved his life in Indiana once by this exact stroke, disarming the assailant and breaking his hand. Step backward and a little to the left. Execute a complete circle from below upward and to the left with the forearm and wrist. The movement is as quick as a flash and very powerful if executed chiefly with the wrist, the elbow being elevated slightly to make the blow more effective.”
GEORGE HEINTZ (1920)
“The cane is the most practical form of sword play for use in those tight places where men care nothing for rules…”
In 1920, another treatise was published containing self-defense techniques applied to the cane. The author was George Heintz, Junior, an instructor at the United States Naval Academy, who included his method in the Naval Academy’s Manual of Athletic Requirements. A number of sources indicate that Heintz had learned fencing from his father, George Heintz, Sr., a German immigrant who had also taught fencing at Annapolis, Maryland, and was well-known in German fencing circles and Turner societies. His son, George Heintz Jr., was a national saber champion in 1890, and was appointed Assistant Swordmaster at the Naval Academy in 1903, taking over as Head Swordmaster from his father in 1915.
In his text, Heintz, Jr., propounds a method that is heavily based on fencing theory, and which is executed “in the same manner as [the] Sword Exercise.” It utilizes a saber grip, moulinets, as well as double-handed parries and thrusts. He outlines his method as follows:
“Remarks. — The cane is the most practical form of sword play for use in those tight places where men care nothing for rules, but only want to make the most out of the weapon which the chance of the moment has put in their hands; should the weapon in hand be an umbrella, the most effective use of the same would be the thrusts with both hands. Bayonet tactics can also be used with the cane or umbrella, such as Long and Short Thrusts, combined with the use of the knee or foot.”
Following are a selection of plates from Heintz’s chapter on the use of the cane:
George Heintz Jr. continued to serve as “Swordmaster” and head instructor at the Naval Academy until 1932.
MARCEL CABIJOS (1893-1964)
Born in France, in 1893, Marcel Cabijos served in the French Navy throughout World War I. He was a combat instructor and served in the Fusiliers Marins, a combat unit that was deployed to the land from ships. During his enlistment he founded a fencing society aboard his ship, and became the fencing champion of the French navy. After the war, he received his Maître d’Armes (master of arms) diploma and taught in the south of France for several years before emigrating to New York City in 1924. In addition to his rank as a fencing master, Cabijos was also an instructor in judo and savate. In 1926, Cabijos attained great renown by defeating the sabre and épée champion of the United States, Leo Nunes, with only a twelve-inch dagger against Nunes’s dueling sword.
In New York, Cabijos taught fencing at a large number of schools and institutions. Among these, Cabijos is recorded as having specifically taught cane self-defense at Vassar College, Lehigh University, the J. Sanford Saltus Club, and the Salle d’Armes Henry IV. The following article, culled from the archives of Lehigh University, and published in the magazine Brown and White, impresses upon the reader an idea of Cabijos’s prowess with the cane:
A number of accounts of Cabijos’s cane demonstrations appear in the Vassar Miscellaney, such as the following from February 2, 1929, which was held “before an enthusiastic gathering of about a hundred people”:
Again, in 1930, another account was published:
Unfortunately, as far as anyone knows, Cabijos never wrote any treatises or articles about his method of cane self defense. However, additional accounts of Cabijos and his fencing exhibitions can be accessed in the following collection on Pinterest.
FREDERICK ROHDES (1897-1984)
The history of cane self-defense in America would not be complete without mentioning Frederick Rohdes, a German fencing master who taught the art and science of fencing in New York City in the old tradition.
Born in 1897 in Western Prussia, Rohdes taught fencing as an assistant instructor on the American west coast for some time during the 1920s before moving to New York City. He trained under several notable fencing masters, among them Maestri Luigi Barbasetti and Aurelio Greco eventually becoming Provost and Master under Marcel Cabijos (see above). Maître Rohdes opened his own fencing academy in 1948, which was located above the Loew’s Orpheum building on 169 East 86th Street in New York City.
Although he passed away in 1984, Rohdes’s fencing systems and techniques were passed down to his protégé Maestro Ramon Martinez, who continues to teach them today at the Martinez Academy of Arms in New York City. Among the many methods passed from Rohdes to Maestro Martinez include some techniques of cane self-defense. Maestro Martinez has since integrated these techniques into his own method of cane defense. For the purposes of this article, we asked Maestro Martinez to provide a description of his cane defense method. He responded,
“It is not a fencing system or a fighting system; it is a method of pure self-defense. However, it is informed by the knowledge of fencing that I have, as well as other personal martial experience. My objective is to keep it as simple as possible, so that it can be learned quickly. It is intended to be used against both armed and unarmed adversaries.”
In conclusion, it is important to note that the numerous fencing instructors and schools mentioned throughout this article do not, in all likelihood, represent a complete picture of what existed in America during the periods covered. It is highly probable that many instructors never advertised their services, and that there existed additional masters and instructors in America during these times who have escaped the eye of history altogether. It must be understood, therefore, that the corpus of surviving records represents a window through which one can glimpse only a part of the historical reality. It is to be hoped that, in the future, other researchers will uncover additional evidence of schools and masters of cane fencing in America.
Text of this article, except where quoted, © 2016 by Ben Miller.