Some Notes on the Development of Victorian Saber Fencing - Part II
An examination of the fencing manual Sword Exercise, Arranged for Military Instruction by
U.S. Army Brevet Major Henry C. Wayne (1815-1883)
|Major Henry C. Wayne, one time Director of the Sword Exercise in the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.|
|Sword Exercise Title Page|
The United States was also producing manuals for sword exercise. Brevet Major Henry C. Wayne of the U.S. Army wrote The Sword Exercise, Arranged for Military Instruction which was published by the authority of the War Department in Washington in 1850. Wayne was at one time the Director of the Sword Exercise in the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He was noted for having traveled to the Middle East to purchase camels for the US Department of War to test in the deserts of the western United States. The camel experiment was discontinued after the start of the American Civil War, where he became a Brigadier General in the Confederate Army.
|Camels Arrive in Texas|
The 1850 Manual is a combination of treatise Wayne wrote on the small sword and on the saber, both copyrighted in 1849. There are similarities to Angelo’s Infantry Sword Exercise, whether he has copied Angelo or used similar sources.
The book begins with an introduction by Wayne. “Sir: I have the honor to submit to your examination A system of Exercise on foot for the Small-Sword, Broad-Sword, Sabre, Cut and Thrust, and Stick as arranged and taught by me at the U.S. Military Academy when Director of the Sword Exercise at that institution.”
He continues: “It is submitted at the request of some of my brother officers, to supply a deficiency in our military instruction”. And adds: “As a healthy and manly amusement, improving both the morale and physique of the soldier.”
The first part is Fencing with the Small-Sword, citing the system of La Boessiere* “as the best both in theory and practice”. It is written as a more typical fencing manual, including sections on how to mount and button a foil, etc. It contains five parts.
Part I – Exercise without Foils
Part II – Exercise with Foils
Part III – Thrusts and Parries United
Part IV – Wall Practice
Part V – Cuts over the Point
*La Boessiere pere was the 18th century French fencing master that is credited with developing the fencing mask and was instructor to the Chevalier Saint-Georges. His son, Antoine Texier La Boëssière, wrote the fencing treatise “Traité de l'art des armes à l'usage des professeurs et des amateurs”.
Wayne follows this section with Exercise for the Broadsword, Sabre, Cut and Thrust, and Stick. He says he has compiled his information from several French and English treatise, but principally from “Porter’s Self-Defence on Foot”. He also recommends that, while the elementary parts should be practiced with a real sword, the use of wooden swords with leather guards should be substituted for metal swords in practice.
Wayne gives an explanation of a few terms not defined in the text:
Inside, Inward – the left or to the left.
Outside, Outward – the right or to the right.
Quarte, applied to the hand – nails up.
Tierce, applied to the hand – nails down.
Feeble, applied to the blade – the half from point to middle.
Fort, applied to the blade – the half from the middle to the blade.
Shoulder, applied to the blade – the joint of the blade with the hilt.
The manual contains three parts:
Part I – Exercise without Swords
Part II – Exercise with Swords
Part III – Cuts and Parries United
Part I – Exercise without Swords
The Guard position (Second Position) has the weight of the body principally on the left leg. For Wayne, this allows the fencer to retire his right leg from a cut or throw the right leg rapidly forward in a “longe”. The body is effaced as much as possible and the left hand is fixed firm on the hip bone or thrown across the small of the back. Many of the actions are performed from First Position, or standing.
The Longe (Lunge/Third Position) – Wayne recommends that a long lunge is not as important as being able to make a quick recovery. Fencers should be able to lunge from both first and second position, and recover to them nimbly.
Once the fencer is skilled in the guard, lunge and recovery, he can move on to exercises with the sword.
Part II – Exercise with Swords
To prevent accidents such as the sword escaping from the hand, it is necessary to have a leather sword knot.
Wayne describes the grip to be used: “The broadsword and sabre must be held with the fingers clenched round the gripe” rather than placing the thumb on the back of the grip. This is because the grip is often too short on a saber, and the weight or curvature will prove too great.
The Guards are either in Tierce or Quarte. Wayne does describe a hanging guard, but not until later in the manual. His exercises are all done from either Tierce or Quarte.
|Guard of Tierce|
Wayne then details the use of moulinets. “The object of the Moulinet is to supple the joints of the arm and wrist, and to give dexterity in handling and whirling the blade”. Wayne only gives two – left and right, but from each engagement or guard. He then gives a series of exercises involving advancing and retreating with moulinets from both guards.
Wayne defines Traversing as footwork to the side. Particularly useful, he says, if “the retreat should be obstructed by a ditch or other impediment” and also “an antagonist may be brought in such a position as to face the sun.”
Like Angelo, there are the seven cuts that are fairly standard to instruction in the nineteenth century. Two cuts are diagonally downward, two diagonally upwards, two horizontal, and one vertically downwards. Wayne indicates they should be made principally by the motion of the wrist, keeping the arm straight and in the direction of the cut. Bending the elbow would cause “unnecessary width of motion”. The arm should be carried to the opposite of the cut to keep the body closed and not expose it to the same cut from the opponent.
Wayne has the swordsman practice the first six cuts combined while advancing and retreating.
Wayne teaches the parries of Tierce, Quarte, Seconde, Demi-circle, and Head. He recommends that when parrying a cut, to slip the right foot back to the left to avoid attacks to the leg. The parries are delivered with a straightened arm.
|Parry of Tierce|
|Parry of Seconde|
|Parry of Demi-Circle|
Part III – Cuts and Parries United
Wayne has the fencers “prove distance” by standing them in first position with the swordarm straight so that the point is against the guard of the other blade. From this distance, engaged in either quarte or tierce, they practice the seven cuts and parries. The fencer delivering the cut “steps forward” with a short lunge. The fencer parrying “springs back”, returning to first position while parrying to avoid cuts to the leg.
After adding changes, disengages and feints to the drills, Wayne goes on with definitions for other actions. He uses unfamiliar terms for standard actions. This might be because of his own translations of foreign manuals, or to create his own terminology.
Bearing (Press) – forcing an adversary’s blade from the line of defense
Battering (Beat) – striking an antagonists sword to obtain an opening
Round parries – simple parry united and preceded by a counter parry.
At this point Wayne introduces the Hanging Guard and gives its advantages and objections. The Hanging Guard covers a large portion of the body, prevents thrusting below the wrist and obviates feints. It also “requires a trifling motion of the wrist to meet any cut”. The hanging guard can be tiresome, but practice can overcome this defect.
He also describes the “Application of the Point” in saber, which he says has fewer thrusts than the small sword due to its weight. It should be made with the hand sufficiently high to cover any cut that an adversary may be likely to make, and to retard a disengagement. The thrust should be made with opposition, either inward or outward.
This is described as making a circle of about three feet with the diameter of the point. The fencer should keep the wrist at the height of the shoulder, the weight of the body resting on the left leg, the head well back. Circling is serviceable when engaged in the dark to regain the feel of the enemy’s blade.
Wayne then illustrates some actions that deviate from the general principle of “cutting towards an antagonist’s blade”. This includes cutting both under and over the sword, and cutting at the advanced leg or thigh.
Timing is an attack made on an opponent as he changes position.
Wayne describes some Disarming actions, though he says they are not likely to succeed against a good swordsman, but useful against an indifferent one.
He finishes with some General Observations, giving a description on the use of the espadon and the stick or cudgel exercise. He then adds recommendations on opposing the small sword, espadon, bayonet and cavalry with the saber.
The salute is explained.
1st Motion – Raise the sword, held perpendicularly, point up, opposite to the right eye; guard at the height of the shoulder; elbow supported against the body.
2nd Motion – Drop the point to the front to within six or eight inches of the ground, by extending the arm downward, bringing the hand in quarte to the side of the right thigh.
3rd Motion – Recover to the position of carry swords.
Resume the first position, and engage.
Wayne ends with a comment recommending the practice of these exercises with the left hand as useful and amusing. It will develop muscles in the left arm, side and leg and be advantageous if the right arm becomes disabled during a contest.
Next: Captain Burton