For those of you who can't spend the whole weekend at the American Smallsword Symposium I have added a special One-Day Admission. Don't care for tournaments come on Saturday . Do you live for competition and want to see the Amberger Collection just come Sunday. Come either day for only $125.oo. Keep in mind that the current Early Bird Rate of $175.00 will expire soon and the Regular Price at $225.00 will be in effect.
The Art of the Smallsword by P.J.F. Girard
Translated by Philip Crawley with Kevin Côté
Paperback: 211 pages
• Publisher: Wyvern Media (October 13, 2014)
• ISBN-10: 0992991803
• ISBN-13: 978-0992991807
Available from Amazon
There have been in the last ten years only two or three really important republications of historic smallsword manuals in English. The first chronologically was Jared Kirby’s facsimile edition of Domenico Angelo’s School of Fencing. The second was Mark Rector’s Highland Swordsmanship which contained Donald McBanes’s Expert Swords-Man’s Companion and Sir William Hope’s New Method of Fencing. To this one might add the Royal Armories edition of John MacArthur’s Army and Navy Gentleman’s Companion; which sadly does not get the attention that it deserves. To that list we must now add another title, Philip Crawley’s translation of P.J.F. Girard’s The Art of the Smallsword.
Kirby’s Angelo, when it was published set the bar very high. The School of Fencing is a great manual. No one would argue otherwise. The text is clear and concise and the plates are worthy of study in their own right. Angelo rightly deserves, without exception, the attention of every smallsword student. In addition to being the most celebrated text in the English smallsword cannon this edition contained insightful notes by Maestro Jeanette Acosta-Martinez.
The influence of this edition was so powerful that a sort of organized Angelo orthodoxy arose. Its creed was that there was only one true smallsword master and that smallsword truth could only be accessed through his ordained high priests. Each subsequent publication after however served to chip away ever so slightly at the temple of Angelo. Now thanks to Mr. Crawley, Girard is available in English and the crack in the edifice runs to the core.
Girard presents us with a manual that takes a different point of view from Angelo, one that is enlightened by military and probably battlefield experience. As a result Girard’s emphasis, over all, is one of a more combative bend. He generally advocates very simple and conservative tactics and techniques. Let me give a couple of examples. He talks extensively about use of the off-hand. The unique “thumb-down and by-the-ear” position of the left hand really helps to put the arm in the ideal position to deflect thrusts at the body and more importantly, the head. Feints for Girard are nothing like a succession of nearly full-on attacks that we too often see in the salle but are generally done off of an appel. This is not in an attempt to psyche out the opponent but rather to combat the urge to, or necessity of, withdrawing the blade before the intended final thrust. Girard also covers a variety of “battlefield” or street fight scenarios. These include opposing spadroons, rapiers with and without and dagger; pikes, bayonets pitchforks and even flails.
Girard begins with the usual “How to mount a sword”. But soon after he teaches coming on guard as “Twelve Points to Consider Protecting Your Life”. This is indicative of his view to the primary purpose his tuition. Not “Avoid a touch” in the salle but “Go home alive” from an encounter with sharps. He goes on to describe the parades, attacks and the rest in very clear and concise terms. Typical for more combat oriented texts, like McArthur or even McBane , there is more use by Girard of tierce and low line attacks like seconde. Girard gives us advice on how to counter a variety of other so called “national” schools of sword play viz. Italian, Spanish, German. Also included are how to deal with a variety of other weapons and self defense situations. He finishes up with suggestions on how to teach Smallsword.
Mr. Crawley assisted by Kevin Côté has provided us with a very clear and fairly literal transition. The original was only altered where it was necessary to convey Girard’s meaning. But there is more here than just a translation of an important smallsword text. We also find introductory essays that place Girard in context, and provide background on the art of smallsword for the newcomer. This background serves to introduce some of the concepts that one would need to readily understand Girard’s instruction, and what kind of equipment will be required to begin. Mr. Crawley also provides a nice bit on what constitutes a curriculum and the necessity of having one in mind if one is to seriously study the sword arts. Finally we find several useful appendices which provide a brief “Cliff notes” summary of Girard’s method, and of special interest a table of critical measurements of original smallswords.
If pressed my only suggestions would be to add a table of contents and to make the plates larger, perhaps full page, even if it means printing them perpendicular to the text. To be fair the plates are available online for those who want to look at them in detail. This volume belongs in the collection of every student of smallsword. Mr. Crawley, the force behind the annual SmallSword Symposium in Edinburgh, has once again done us a great service and pushed forward the study of the art more than anyone else in the last few years.
Registration has been brisk space is limited and the early bird rate will not last forever.
And where else can you learn to master the "Pulp Fiction" offhand!
Our first official sponsor for 2019 has come forward. Jesse Belsky has made a generous donation of an object for the prize pool at our tournament. (Not BTW the sword shown below.) Check out his work. He brought some to the event last year and attendees were blown away by his fine work on weapons and accessories.
A preliminary Schedule has been posted.
The I realize that Girard, Themes and Variations may seem a bit vague so let me give you a taste of some of the particulars that you can expect.
Part One will start of with an introduction to Girard and his method. We will consider his perspective and some of the core principles and considerations that form the basis of his text. This would include his key attacks, parries, often assisted by the off hand, ripostes and movement.
Part Two will look at Tempo and Girard's ways of taking Tempo from the opponent.
Part Three and Four will look at how Girard handles opponents who stand still, rush in or retreat with different tactics.
Peasants and Germans and Flails OH MY! will address Girard's advice for opposing mixed weapons. These include rapiers, spadroons/sabers, pikes, bayonets, two-handed smallsword and the deadly and often misunderstood flail.
All these classes will be taught by Mr. Crawley with the assistance of many of our usual collection of top rank international instructors.
Yours truly will offer a warm up suitable for a Sunday morning after a Saturday night focusing on how period dance exercises can improve performance and understanding of smallsword technique.
The Tournament will as always be structured to test the ability to fence in the style of the featured theme i.e., Girard.
Looking forward to seeing you all there.
Since there was a very positive response to our dedication of the event to a single subject last year this year the event will be concentrated on P. D. F. Girard's 1740 Smallsword treatise "Traité des armes"
We are especially excited to announce that joining us as an instructor will be Philip Crawley. Phil is the translator of Girard into English, and an internationally recognized instructor in Smallsword and a variety of other martial arts. Phil is also one of the forces behind our sister event the Original Smallsword Symposium held annually in Edinburgh.
Registration is open and the early discount is in effect.
We have more exciting plans in the works so keep an eye on this site of on the American Smallsword Symposium FB page for announcements
Keep an eye here for BIG ANNOUNCEMENT in the next week regarding AmSS V. June 1&2 2018.
Only a couple of days to go till the 4th American Smallsword Symposium! Just a couple of last minute details.
Please come to join us Friday night after 7:30 at Baltimore Fencing Center for a bit of meet and beat freeplay courtesy of Chris Amberger.
The Saturday Evening Social will be at An Poitin Stil . 7:30 til? There are also dozens of other food possibilities in the immediate area so feel free to visit them and join us for drinks after.
Please arrive promptly on Saturday morning at Towson Dance Studio so we can get everyone signed in and start on time.
I want to make a suggestion about how I think one should approach this event in particular. The goal for us is to present you all with an opportunity to learn a very specific fencing style and method that represents the apogee of Smallsword technique This style and the method of teaching it is really the highest level of refinement before the slow evolution into a more but not exclusively recreational exercise. La Boëssière also represents the genesis of Classical Fencing before pragmatism replaced principles and a sport grew out of the art.
This weekend will provide an immersion in the this style famously practiced by the most celebrated fencer of the era Saint Georges. I am not going to say that at the end you will fence as well as he but you will understand what it means to fence like him. What principles and reasons guided the development of this style. How were these skills taught and practiced?
The best way to answer these questions this weekend will depend on your commitment to keeping an open mind and learning by teaching. The ideal approach is to suspend your prior experiences, preconceptions and training and give La Boëssière a chance.
Give yourself to the exercises and the drills and find the underlying logic, elegance and effectiveness therein. Be a good and responsible partner in order to help others to find these qualities too. You will also be asked to take the role of teacher guiding and critiquing others. This great and humbling activity is integral to La Boëssière's method. This is not a gimmick or diversion. Partners will be literally in your hands and you in theirs. Please respect their desire to learn as much as your own . Be observant and treat them as you would like to be treated.
Please do not be obsessed with competition in or outside of the tournament. Again the goal of the contest is to put into practice the lessons learned and to fence in the style taught. You should feel better losing and managing to fence a La Boëssière than winning and fencing the same polyglot win-at-all-costs style that you use back home. If you don't want to progress into new territory and increase your range and options than why did you come here?
Finally please remember that all of the organizers, staff and instructors are volunteers and provide this venue, the classes and the event as a whole at their own expense motivated solely by a desire to share their understanding and enjoyment for the art of Smallsword with you all. They are worthy of your attention and respect while you are here. A word of thanks to them would , I am sure , be gladly received.
If we keep these ideas in mind I am certain that we all will gain immeasurably as swordsmen and women from this weekend and have a damn good time as well.
We are giving out some mighty fine prizes.
American Smallsword Symposium 2018.
Dominico Angelo print. Artwork by Rui Ferreira.