Ben Miller

A History of Cane Self-Defense in America: 1798-1930

In Uncategorized on August 18, 2016 at 12:24 pm

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…

Martial Arts New York

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A History of Cane Self-Defense in America:

1798-1930

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…

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The Best Defense Is a Good Offense… Really?

In Uncategorized on March 14, 2016 at 4:45 pm
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The Floquet-Boulanger duel, L’Illustration, July 21,1888

Almost everyone has heard the expression, at one time or another, that “the best defense is a good offense.” Today, this adage has made its way into the modern consciousness, and is often quoted in books on the martial arts and “practical” self-defense, of which the following is only one recent example:

“In realistic combat situations, the best defense is a good offense.” [1]

Although the origins of this expression are uncertain, since the 1930s, the quote has mainly been attributed to the world heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey. [2] However, the statement can be found in print as far back as the nineteenth century [3], and some authors have gone so far as to attribute the sentiment to George Washington, who wrote in 1799,

“Make them believe, that offensive operations, often times, are the surest, if not the only (in some cases) means of defence.” [4]

The sentiment may well seem to hold true—at least to a degree—in “combat sports” such as modern boxing, MMA, Olympic sport fencing, as well as (ostensible) martial arts tournaments involving Karate, Taekwondo, Kendo, historical Western/European martial arts, and other contests simulating a combat with glove-covered fists or blunted weapons, wherein the body is able to absorb blow after blow, and wherein the life of the participant is not in serious danger, should he or she be hit. Likewise, as George Washington suggests, aspects of the philosophy may also hold true in the context of military operations, wherein the lives of large numbers of individual soldiers may be sacrificed en masse for the sake of a winning strategy.

However, the idea of “emphasizing offense over defense” becomes extremely problematic when applied to the martial arts, or to individual armed combat. Except in the rarest of cases, the human individual, as a holistic being, does not have the luxury of sacrificing a limb or a major organ in the pursuit of victory—that is, if they wish to maintain the ability to defend themselves, and to be of full service to their family, to their nation, to humanity, and to themselves. Nor, of course, does the average martial artist or combatant have the luxury of sacrificing their own life during the course of a fight.

The truth of this fact has been proven time and again in countless instances throughout history, and, as shall be shown, has been eloquently opined on by some of the greatest martial artists who ever lived.

The aim of this article is not to disparage offensive tactics or techniques (which, indeed, are an integral component of any martial art), but rather, to put them in their proper context by illustrating the dangers that can arise when giving such tactics and techniques priority over one’s own defense and personal safety.

The Floquet-Boulanger Duel


An excellent real-life example that illustrates the perils of emphasizing offense over defense is the Floquet-Boulanger duel, in part because the episode is so well-documented.

To briefly summarize this incident, which occurred in 1888: the French General Georges Boulanger had publicly quarreled with, and insulted, Prime Minister Charles Floquet, who was ten years Boulanger’s senior. Floquet promptly challenged the General to a duel with swords. The latter accepted, and the two promptly arranged a meeting on an estate at Neuilly-sur-Seine, frequently used as a dueling ground, and only a short distance from Paris.

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General Georges Boulanger and Prime Minister Charles Floquet

Contemporaries noted that General Boulanger was expected to have the advantage due to his youth, vigor, and considerable military experience. However, of the ensuing combat, a French correspondent to the New York Times reported that

“General Boulanger tried hard to kill M. Floquet, flinging himself upon him again and again. He made a lunge at M. Floquet’s left breast, but only slightly touched the mark. Gen. Boulanger then received a wound in the throat, which put an end to the encounter. The wound was a severe one…”[5]

Illustrated London News - based on a sketch drawn by an eye-witnesses in 1888

Floquet defeats Boulanger, as pictured in the Illustrated London News

A similar account in the Illustrated London News clarified:

“Boulanger, who had rushed wildly at his opponent, received a serious wound; M. Floquet had quietly raised his sword, and Boulanger, stumbling forward, got it in his throat. The seconds, by common consent, stated that General Boulanger’s wound made it impossible for him to continue to fight.” [6]

LeMondeIllustre_July_21_1888

The final action of the duel, as pictured on the cover of Le Monde Illustre

A more detailed French account, appearing in L’Univers Illustré, noted that Boulanger attacked Floquet immediately at the outset of the duel with “extraordinary ardor,” and continued to do so multiple times. However, rather than impaling himself, Boulanger was defeated by a simple parry-riposte:

“M. Floquet parried, and with a quick riposte, hit his adversary in the upper anterior part of the neck. The blade penetrated several centimeters into the tissue; the result was very abundant bleeding.” [7]

Whatever the precise manner of Boulanger’s defeat, the accounts were unanimous: the General had aggressively, passionately, and repeatedly attacked Floquet, who had remained cool and on the defensive.

Further insight was provided by Colonel Thomas H. Monstery (1824-1901), a fencing master who had served under twelve flags, and had survived participation in somewhere between 53 and 61 duels [8]. Consequently, during the late nineteenth century, he became regarded by the American press as an authority on dueling. When asked about the Floquet-Boulanger duel, Monstery replied:

“Gen. Boulanger…from what I learn by the papers, brought about his defeat by his lack of coolness and consequent fury of attack. He rushed blindly on his foe, losing all sight of prudence and skill in the desire to inflict injury. For an expert swordsman to overcome such an attack is an easy matter. He has only to wait coolly for his antagonist to leave an opening and then sail in . . . Between you and me, I think Boulanger was in great luck. A man who employs the tactics he did in the presence of a skillful swordsman will be killed in nine cases out of ten.” [9]

Above: Colonel Thomas H. Monstery

Colonel Thomas H. Monstery

Monstery’s views on mindset and tactics are by no means unique, and have been echoed numerous times by some of the greatest martial arts masters of past centuries—from both Europe and Asia. In particular, masters of the past have warned against attempting to overcome an adversary through fury, passion, and aggression. For instance, in an addendum to Johann Liechtenauer’s Recital on the Longsword, a medieval author notes that a person who fences “wittily and without all wrath” will “seldom lose.” [10] Likewise, Don Jeronimo de Carranza (1539-1600), the founder of La Verdadera Destreza (the Spanish school of swordsmanship), stated in 1569:

Carranza

Jeronimo de Carranza

“The vulgate, although he professes knowledge of swordsmanship, is easy to discover when in times of anger and conflict he forgets his professed skill and commits vulgarity in his manner and actions.” [11]

Nearly two-hundred years later, Zachary Wylde, in his treatise on the use of the smallsword, broadsword, quarterstaff, and wrestling, stated in 1711:

“Let not Passion, Fury, nor Choler, which are absolute Enemies to skill, in no Case prevail, if you do, it will destroy your Judgement.” [12]

Again, in the nineteenth century, Joseph Roland, fencing master of the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, wrote,

“Being in a passion, [such swordsmen] are not masters of them themselves; and if the adversary is only cautious and cool, the passionate man will inevitably fall on the other’s sword.” [13]

Authors of treatises on dueling with sharp swords continued to express such sentiments up until the early twentieth century. In 1901, the Hungarian Army Cavalry-Lieutenant Zoltán Cseresnyés Fels-Eöry wrote in his book Safe Outcome of the Sabre Duel:

“If you want to survive a duel with sabres, you must first defeat your uncontrolled urges.” [14]

These statements are thrown into further light with knowledge that the very word “fencing,” used to encompass armed European martial arts for more than six-hundred years, comes from the word “defence”:

fencing (n.) mid-15c., “defending, act of protecting or keeping (something) in proper condition” (short for defencing) [15]

Likewise, throughout the vast number of fencing treatises and advertisements that existed in centuries past, instructors referred to fencing as the “noble science of defense,” the “true art of defence,” or simply “self-defense.” [16] As far as the very definition of Western swordsmanship is concerned, the emphasis has always been on defense, rather than offense.

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Miyamoto Musashi, self-portrait in later years

Nor must it be thought that the sentiments expressed above were the domain of the West alone. Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645), widely revered as one of the greatest Japanese swordsmen of all time, and a survivor of more than sixty duels and countless battles, noted in his Thirty-Five Instructions on Strategy:

“The mind should be neither solemn nor agitated, neither pensive nor fearful; it should be straight and ample. This is the state of mind that should be sought after…in this way you make your mind like water that reacts appropriately to shifting situations.” [17]

Likewise, in their notes on his teachings (Notes on Mind, Energy, and the Body in Strategy), Musashi’s disciples elaborated,

“It is important to place yourself in a state of calm and to work out your way of mastering your own mind and work on the manner in which your vital energy emanates from you…If you are capable of mastering your own mind by placing yourself in a state of calm, you will be able to see clearly what is happening in your opponent.” [18]

Plate from the

Plate from Art of the E’mei Spear

Martial arts masters from China—a region regarded by many as the original fount of the Eastern martial arts—also emphasized these principles, and expounded upon them in great detail. An early Qing dynasty treatise by Cheng Zhen Ru on the use of the spear devoted an entire chapter to “calmness” and another to “mind mastery,” stating:

“It is easy to use techniques, but difficult to gain control over one’s own mind…the flame in the heart must not burn. The four elements must be calm from within oneself.” [19]

Li Yiyu (1832-1892)

Li Yiyu (1832-1892)

The Bubishi, otherwise known as the 19th century “Karate Bible”, but with roots stretching back to 16th century China, stipulates that “the mind must be calm but alert,” and advises the practitioner to “remain calm when facing your opponent.” [20] In a classic Chinese treatise penned in 1881—said to contain much older techniques from centuries past—the boxing instructor Li Yiyu (1832–1892) condensed his martial principles into a “Five Word Formula,” the very first of which reads as follows:

“1. The mind is CALM. If your mind is not calm, it will not be focused, and each movement of your hands, be it forward or back, left or right, will not be in any definite direction. Therefore your mind should be calm…Over time, you will reach the point in which you can say ‘[the adversary] is under my control and I am not under his.'” [21]

Such wisdom is clearly universal, and extends to both East and West.

 

Boulanger’s Tactics

 

“Labour to parry well, rather than to hit at random, by too much ambition or heat of passion.” – A. Lonnergan, The Fencer’s Guide, 1771

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General Boulanger

One might well ask what was going through Boulanger’s mind when he decided to use the tactics that he did during his duel with Floquet. Fortunately for us, we do not have to wonder.

Approximately three years after the combat, the following remarkable article appeared in the pages of the London Standard, recounting Boulanger’s visit to a fencing instructor only a few hours before the duel was scheduled to take place. According to this account,

“Before the meeting, the General, who had never fenced since his cadet days at St. Cyr, was persuaded to take a lesson from a famous swordsman. The moment he stood on guard his instructor saw that he knew nothing about fencing.

‘You don’t know how to parry,’ he said to the General.

‘No,’ was the reply; ‘I charge.’

‘Then you will spit yourself.’

‘Tant pis. I have never had time to learn the simplest parade [parry], and it would be absurd for me to try to fence in the regulation manner. I shall charge as I did just now.’

He had previously run himself on to his opponent’s sword exactly as, a few hours later, he fared with M. Floquet.” [22]

Représentation du général Boulanger à cheval (extrait d'un document électoral)

Representation of Gen. Boulanger “leading the charge”

Twenty-six years earlier, the French swordsman Baron de Bazancourt (1810–1865), in his 1862 Secrets of the Sword, had recounted a similar conversation—one that the General would have done well to learn from:

“May I ask one more question?” said one of my friends. “I have often heard it said that if you don’t know much about fencing the best thing to do is, as soon as you come on guard, to make a sudden rush at the other man before he has time to collect himself.”

“Well,” I replied, “if you wish to make sure of being incurably spitted, that is the most infallible way to set about it.” [23]

Given the timing of this publication, Bazancourt may well have been thinking of the duel between Dillon and the Duc de Gramont-Caderousse, which also occurred in 1862. Dillon’s second, the more experienced Colonel de Noé, had advised him to use defensive tactics, by first commencing with a false attack, and then hitting his adversary with a counter parry-riposte. However, Noé recounted,

“Dillon followed my advice at first, but he made a flourish. The Duc had then only to thrust and poor Dillon fell a corpse.”

The Daily Telegraph observed,

“Dillon, like many other inexperienced fencers, relied on his mere physical strength and on the impetuosity of his assault, and…the Duke, hard pressed by a furious albeit clumsy foe, was forced to thrust where he could, and to thrust home.” [24]

The fact is that the consequences of such tactics could be disastrous, especially in a combat with sharp weapons.

Le duel Boulanger Floquet , a Neuilly , gravure d'aprés Destez 1888

Aftermath of the Floquet-Boulanger duel, after an engraving by Paul Destez, L’Univers Illustre, 1888

The following details of General Boulanger’s injuries were related by Dr. Labbé, the well-known surgeon who attended him immediately following the duel, and vividly illustrate the very serious consequences that could result from such tactics—even in duels with the relatively light, thin 19th century dueling sword:

“The point of the sword…[penetrated] on the right side, about the level of the hyoid bone. At this moment, the General having bent down, the point of the sword was directed downwards, wounding the anterior and superficial jugular vein, which caused profuse haemorrhage, which, however, was soon arrested, and the wound was dressed antiseptically. There was also some effusion of blood about the wound. It is probable that the phrenic nerve was also wounded, as immediately afterwards serious trouble of the respiration, accompanied with violent pains about the level of the insertion of the diaphragm, occurred. These were followed by several attacks of oppression. During the night following the day of the duel the patient suffered so intensely from pain in the chest, so agitated, that recourse was had to a subcutaneous injection of morphia, which relieved the pain and quieted him. Thirty-six hours afterwards emphysema made its appearance on the right side of the neck, which would prove that the point of the sword had penetrated into the larynx, or trachea… Till now the general reaction has been moderate, and the wound has healed up; but, fearing a lung complication, Dr. Potain was yesterday called in consultation, and this gentleman detected a slight congestion at the base of the right lung. The bulletin of this morning states that the patient is doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances, but the four doctors who are in attendance are reserved as to the issue of the case, as it is impossible to foresee what complications may arise.” [25]

Following his recovery, Boulanger’s conduct during the duel was much criticized. His political career dwindled, and he later spent his life in exile in Belgium and Great Britain. As Monstery suggested, however, Boulanger was still in “great luck”–he had survived the duel. Not all swordsmen who tried the same approach fared so well.

In 1898, a duel between Signor Cavallotti and Count Macola took place near Rome, in the villa of the Comtesse Cellere, and was captured in a series of photographs. The chosen weapons were sabers. Cavallotti was on his thirty-third duel, and Macola his sixteenth. According to a journalistic account, Cavallotti

“strongly attacked his opponent, his head bent forward, and attempted to deliver cuts to the flank. M. Macola broke the attack, extending his arm. During the second engagement, the same tactics were used by both sides.”

Photograph of the duel between Cavallotti (on right) and

Photograph of the duel between Cavallotti (on right) and Macola (on left)

The duel ended when,

In the third and final engagement, during a furious charge by M. Cavallotti, M. Macola, his point always in line, stopped his opponent on the mouth. The point penetrated and immediately caused an abundant hemorrhage. The doctors attempted tracheotomy, in vain. Cavallotti died in their arms, without being able to utter a word.” [26]

The fatal outcome.

The fatal outcome of the Cavallotti-Macola duel.

Three years later, Fels-Eöry would appropriately write in his Safe Outcome of the Sabre Duel:

“There is no more dangerous manner of attack than when one charges, full tilt, at his adversary, to which we can truly say, that only his enemy’s sword will be capable of arresting him, onto which he will fall.” [27]

The Cavallotti-Macola duel is yet another vivid example of the disastrous consequences that can befall a martial artist when offense is given greater priority over defense during an actual combative encounter with sharp weapons.

 

Problems in Training

 

“The same Awe ought to be paid to the Foil, as to the Sword, whose Representative it surely is. Nothing ought to be attempted with the one, that would be feared with the other…” – Captain John Godfrey, 1747

To return, briefly, to the Floquet-Boulanger duel: this particular combat raises another issue that is relevant to all martial artists: namely, the disparity between the conditions of training and that of actual combat.

As noted in the Standard’s account, during his duel, Boulanger had resorted to the same aggressive tactics that had actually failed him during training:

“[Boulanger] had previously run himself on to his [fencing instructor’s] sword exactly as, a few hours later, he fared with M. Floquet.” [28]

As recounted previously, Boulanger charged his fencing master, was promptly hit with a blunt training weapon, but, ignoring the ramifications and feedback received, decided that he would continue to use those same tactics in actual combat. Essentially he neglected to treat his training weapon seriously (failing to envision what the same outcome would be with a sharp weapon), and neglected to modify his tactics accordingly.  The history of fencing is filled with similar accounts, wherein aspiring swordsmen resorted to strategies, previously used with foils or blunted swords, which became fatal to themselves when used with sharp weapons.

MonsteryEngravingDuring the 1870s, Colonel Monstery, himself a veteran of dozens of duels, observed such a trend in the American fencing world, in which contestants emphasized offense over defense in the attempt to “score a hit.” Monstery derisively referred to such contests as “poker games”—that is to say, “jabbing with the blade” formed the chief method of attack, while the defense was ignored. [29] Such tactics often resulted in double or simultaneous hits to the two combatants. Monstery publicly warned that if such practices were to persist, “it is only a matter of time for [fencers] to become proficient in this sort of cheating, and to ruin the art of fencing in the United States for ever.” He explained,

“There is only one safe practice to follow in foil fencing. This is to imitate as closely as possible the contest with the naked point. No one but a maniac would take thrust for thrust from an adversary with sharp points, unless, indeed, he were a very inferior swordsman, who wished to take some sort of revenge by piercing his enemy’s shoulder, at the price of a mortal wound through his own lungs…The consequences of simultaneous blows with sabres cannot fail to be disastrous to both parties. In an actual sabre duel, their delivery would require two maniacs instead of one.” [30]

More than three hundred years earlier, the German fencer Joachim Meÿer had expressed exactly the same sentiment in his treatise on the longsword:

“It is no use to be overly aggressive with striking, or to cut in at the same time against [the adversary’s] strokes recklessly as if with closed eyes, for this resembles not combat but rather a mindless peasants’ brawl.” [31]

Plate from manuscript edition of Meyer's treatise

Plate from manuscript edition of Joachim Meyer’s fencing treatise

During the late medieval era, around 1409, the fencing master Fiore de’i Liberi (1340s-1420s) noted the disparities between contesting with blunt weapons and engaging in actual combat with sharps, and described how contestants modified their tactics accordingly:

“Also I, Fiore, told my students who had to fight in the barriers that fighting in the barriers is much and much less dangerous than fighting with cut and thrust swords in zuparello darmare (arming jacket) because to the one who plays with sharp swords, failing just one cover gives him death. While the one who fights in the barriers and is well armoured, can be given a lot of hits, but still he can win the battle. Also there is another fact: that rarely someone dies because he gets hit. Thus I can say that I would rather fight three times in the barriers than just once with sharp swords, as I said above.” [32]

Fiore’s comments certainly echo Monstery’s, and prove that this issue is indeed an old one.

 

Martial Art or Martial Game?

 

In 1691, fencing master William Hope (1660-1724) observed similar mistakes among swordsmen training with blunted weapons. Although Hope was somewhat coy about his own combat experience with sharps [33], his books on the art of fencing give great insight into the techniques and approaches of his era, and echo many of the martial points of other masters which we will examine. In his writings, Hope speaks of the “assault,” later defined as “the exercise with blunt weapons, representing in every respect a combat with sharps, in which we execute at will all the maneuvers of the fencing lessons.” However, in his observations, Hope makes it clear that not all participants were wont to treat the assault as a “combat with sharps”:

“When People Assault, it is commonly with Blunts, and when an Ignorant, who undervalueth the Art of the Sword, and trusteth all to his own Forewardness is desired by an Artist to shew his Natural Play, he very well considering that he can receive no prejudice by his being hit with a blunt fleuret [foil], Rusheth and Rambleth still forewards (let him receive never so many Thrusts) until he either hitteth the Artist with one of his Rambling Thrusts, or otherwise cometh so close, that the Artist must inclose with him, and he thinketh, if he hath given the Artist but one Thrust (although he himself should receive three or four in the time they are playing) that he hath carried the Day, and quite run down the Art of Fencing, whereas if they were either to play with Real Sharps, or with Fleurets having a quarter of an Inch of a point beyond the button, I make not the least doubt, but their rambling would be a little slower…” [34]

Hope_1691

Such gamesters were variously referred to as “blunderers,” “ignorants,” “irregulars,” and “ferrailleurs.” Joseph Roland, who preferred the latter term, was unsparing in his criticism:

“Indeed, a man must be an idiot to call this fencing;——since, in a serious affair, he would, by such conduct, rush headlong on his own destruction.” [35]

Hope wastes no time in prescribing a solution for how to deal with such “ignorant” fencers:

“To prevent this inconveniency, if I were to play with an Ignorant for a Wager, I would play alwayes with pointed [sharp] Fleurets, and then in GOD’s Name let him Ramble his Belly full; For in that case I would know a way to come at him, which might perhaps cause him repent his Forewardness.” [36]

This sentiment of Hope’s would find further realization during the nineteenth century, when fencers practicing with the épée de combat (the dueling sword) adopted the point d’arrêt (“stopping point”), a one to three pronged point with small protruding spikes, which would typically cause pain to the fencer being hit, thus encouraging a more defensive mindset, and better preparing the fencer for actual combat. Although, during the twentieth century, the point d’arrêt was discarded by modern Olympic sport fencers along with the advent of electronic scoring apparatus, the point d’arrêt remains in use today among certain circles of classical fencing traditionalists. [37]

Point d'arrets, from an old catalogue. Source: Benjamin Arms

Various point d’arrets, 19th century. Source: benjaminarms.com

Despite such training methodologies, as well as numerous warnings, it is clear that many combatants (Boulanger being an obvious example) went on to use suicidal tactics in actual combat—either out of ignorance, lack of control, so-called “nerves,” or the fact that they had become used to pursuing such tactics while engaging safely with blunts. Thus, some authors and fencing masters wrote of the need to be prepared for such tactics applied to actual sharps, and to know how to fence accordingly. Fels-Eöry, in his Safe Outcome of the Sabre Duel, includes a section on “Advice For Utilizing Mental & Physical Powers,” in which he explains:

“…Every good and capable fencer should watch out for simultaneous cuts (doubles), which consistently result in the ugliest of cuts.

While fencing in assaults, we experience a lot of double-touches. These result either from real attacks occurring simultaneously, or from poorly utilized ripostes while defending.

But these double-touches occur even more frequently in dueling.

Not overcoming obsession, anger, and hatred: these manifest in forsaking all defense, and attacking one’s opponent wildly.

How easy it is, with calm parries and mindful demeanor, to disarm such opponents.” [38]

The Art of Manual Defence, 1799

The Art of Manual Defence, 1799

These same issues can be observed in the historical development–and subsequent devolution–of Western boxing. Originally, in previous centuries, boxing had been practiced in Europe and America as a bare-knuckle martial art intended both for self-defense and the settling of disputes. It included a variety of techniques such as striking, grappling, and tripping, as well as defenses against head butting and eye gouging. The following passage, from Thomas Fewtrell’s Science of Manual Defence (1790), explicates the eighteenth century martial approach to boxing:

JackRandall_ART BY T. JONES - ENGRAVER UNKNOWN“I wish it to be universally understood, that I recommend the practice of Sparring, as if in real action. No manoeuvres, no attitudes ought to be adopted, unless experimentally, but what would be introduced in an actual fight.” [39]

The following technique, attributed to the celebrated fighter Daniel Mendoza, gives an idea of how eighteenth century bare-knuckle techniques differed from those that would later be used in modern boxing:

“A blow on the bridge of the nose with one of the large knuckles, if given either by striking straight, or striking the chopper, slits the nose from top to bottom.” [40]

Such techniques were not to last. By the late nineteenth century, the focus and objective of boxing had largely shifted to winning at gloved competition—even though the “art” was still often taught under the pretext of “self-defense.” The new sport of boxing gave rise to many changes—including a less conservative guard position (which relied on the use of large, padded gloves to shield the body and head), the use of a horizontal (rather than vertical) fist when striking, and a whole new host of techniques that were only effective when executed while wearing gloves. Colonel Monstery, in one of the last American treatises devoted to pure bare-knuckle boxing, describes (with derision) many such techniques—which he forbade at his academy, due to the fact that they would be useless or ineffective in an actual self-defense situation. Monstery catalogued these techniques as:

“1. Whipping; 2. Cutting; 3. Palming; 4. Round blows…” [41]

Monstery elaborates on the technique of “cutting”:

“Cutting is the common way of striking used by natural and unscientific boxers. If tried in a fight with the bare hands, it does not hurt like a true blow in the line of power, and it exposes the knuckles to injury in giving it. In glove sparring it is a malicious way of striking, as it forces aside the padding of the glove, and the blow comes with the edge of the hand, made harder by one fold of leather… Nevertheless, cutting is the most popular of all sorts of hitting in public sparring matches. A cut is a smart slap, and makes a loud noise, wherefore uninstructed audiences generally applaud a loud cut. A true blow, however heavy, makes no noise with the gloves, and is only noticed by its effects.” [42]

The "Right Hand Counter" in How to Box, 1882

The “Right Hand Counter” in How to Box, 1882

Such techniques would go on to dominate the ever-evolving sport of modern boxing—derisively referred to as “sandbagging,” by one ageing veteran named William Madden. In 1885, another author explained that modern boxing had become

“the mere shadow and semblance of what it was formerly. Fifty years ago sparring with the gloves was regarded chiefly as a means to an end. The teacher of it instructed his pupil, not with a view of enabling him to use the glove prettily, but how to use his fist with most effect…Tthe far greater part of those who now take lessons do so purely with the desire of excelling in competitions with the gloves. Half the men who win the most honours and prizes in these competitions have never struck a blow with the bare fist since they were at school, and are little likely to do so till the day of their death. Accordingly, the spectators at an assault of arms, which is now the favourite occasion for a display of pugilistic science, no longer try to imagine what each blow would be like if the glove was off when it was delivered. They count the hits, not for what they represent, but for what they are; and thus often a loud-sounding slap with the half-open glove is applauded as a most telling stroke, while the neat ‘upper cut,’ which would tell ten times more heavily in a real battle, passes comparatively unnoticed and possibly unseen except by a few.”  [43]

The preceding passages and examples make clear that when any martial art shifts its intent and focus from the reality of combat to the requirements of success in a game, it becomes watered down to become only a shadow of its former self; indeed, the notion that success in competition can be equated to success in an actual armed encounter, is, at best, delusional.


The Survivor of One Hundred Duels

 

“Now being Sixty-three Years of Age, [I] resolve never to Fight any more, but to Repent for my former Wickedness.” Expert Sword-Man’s Companion, 1728

Portrait of Donald McBane

Portrait of Donald McBane

Another authority worth consulting on this issue is Donald McBane (1664-1730s), a highland Scot who took part in, by my estimation, close to one hundred duels. During the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, McBane also served throughout much of Europe, participating in sixteen battles and fifty-two sieges. At age fifty he commenced fighting as a gladiator at the Bear Gardens (see this previous post for a description), where he fought thirty-seven prizes. At age sixty-three, McBane fought his last combat against a tough young Irishman named O’Bryan. McBane wounded his adversary seven times and broke his arm with a falchion. Thereafter McBane retired, and proceeded to write a memoir of his life, along with a detailed fencing treatise containing sections on the broadsword, smallsword, rapier, dagger, quarterstaff, spear, shield, double-handed ax, and knife. Surely, considering his immense experience, it is worth knowing what McBane had to say on the subject of offensive versus defensive mindset. In the pages of his treatise, McBane notes:

“Commonly those People who are unskill’d do thus, they think (and indeed with Reason) that they must not let you Attack, because they do not know how to Defend as they ought, for the Defencive part is the most difficult, therefore they drive on you with great Fury, (whils’t they have Strength) to put you out of your Play, but once that is over they are at your Mercy.”

McBane thus brings up an excellent point: a good defense is only possible with training and experience. It is for that very reason that unskilled swordsmen (referred to heretofore as “peasants” or “ignorants”) often resort to rash and overly aggressive tactics. Because they are lacking in defensive skill, choosing to constantly attack the adversary may seem like the only viable option.

Plate from McBane's Expert Swordman's Companion

Plate from McBane’s Expert Swordman’s Companion

McBane also indicates that inexperienced swordsmen were apt to use these tactics in actual combat with sharps, even at the risk of eventual suicide:

“Some men care not (at least don’t think of it, being only intent upon hitting their Adversary) if they receive a thrust, if it be not immediately mortal, so that they can but give one, but this may properly be called Rashness, or Fool Hardiness.”

Following is an account one of McBane’s many duels, in which he describes how he dealt with such wild aggressiveness. In the combat described below, McBane used a smallsword, while his adversary used a heavier broadsword:

“We drew, and after two or three turns, he making a great stroak at my leg, I slipped him, and Thrust him through the Body before he could recover himself; finding he was Wounded he struck furiously, and [I] giving way he fell forward; I seeing that, [thrust] him in the Leg, lest he should Run after me as before. I then commanded him to give me his Sword, which he did…”

Donald_Macbane_ESM_icon2

Plate from McBane’s treatise, showing the spear versus the sword and targe

In the pages of his treatise, McBane offers the following pertinent advice to the aspiring swordsman:

“Command your Temper and you will do much better, than if you give way to your Passion; and if you do Command it, and are Engaged with a Person who can not, you will have very much the Advantage of him, for his Passion will make him Play wild and wide, and consequently exposes himself to be Hit very often, wheras your thoughts not being in Hurry and Confusion, you may Defend your self with ease and judgement, and take an Advantage readily when ever you have a mind, you are the more capable of doing this, because your Strength, Mind and Spirit are not Spent or Exhausted.” [44]


A Samurai’s Perspective


An Eastern opinion on these issues may be found in the writings of Yamaoka Tesshu (1836-1888), a celebrated samurai of the Bakumatsu period. Initially a leader of ronin (masterless samurai), Tesshu would go on to join the personal guard of the Shogun, and would later help to negotiate a peace that would lead to the Meiji Restoration. During his youth he participated in thousands upon thousands of contests with some of the best swordsmen in Japan; at age twenty-four, he engaged in more than 1400 matches within a single week. In his letters, Tesshu addresses many points regarding the offensive and defensive mindsets, such as the following, written on Jan. 5, 1882, wherein he discusses notions of “True and False Swordsmanship”:

Yamaoka Tesshu

“When [swordsmen of other schools] confront an opponent, they immediately get agitated and attempt to defeat the other swordsman through a hot-blooded frontal attack. This is a grave mistake…when they can no longer depend on physical power due to age or ill-health, their inadequately formed techniques will fail them—it is as if they had not studied swordsmanship at all, a needless waste of effort. This is false swordsmanship. Students of the Way must awaken to this principle while training harder and harder.” [45]

In his book Lives of Master Swordsmen, author Makoto Sugawara noted that “Swordsmanship with bamboo swords…produced various techniques far removed from those required in fights with real swords.” [46] In another letter, penned in November of 1884, Tesshu describes, how, historically, such tactics became popularized:

“In the past the practice of swordsmanship in all schools was understood as practice with a wooden sword and no protective armor. However, about one hundred years ago most schools began to use helmets, gloves, and chest protectors. The reason for this change is that protective gear enables trainees to act with less inhibition and allows them to apply the techniques with full force—this is the sole advantage.”

1867-69. National Library of New Zealand.

Japanese soldiers fencing, ca. 1867-69 (National Library of New Zealand)

Tesshu provides further instruction that is relevant to any martial artist using arms:

“Contests conducted with a wooden sword and no armor are quite different from modern matches. In such contests, there is much more reserve because of the fear of injury; even a skilled swordsman is in danger of being struck.

In the case of contests conducted with a wooden sword and no armor, that condition alone necessitates a proper frame of mind. If one is not careful, it is very dangerous…hot-blooded swordsmen who rely on physical strength and attack as if they are still wearing protective gear will quickly be injured in a contest with wooden swords. Reflect upon this deeply and there will be no need to worry about injury.” [47]

Such disparities in combat conditions, and the confusion that could arise in matches conducted in protective armor, were thrown into sharp relief during the following episode from Tesshu’s career, involving a demonstration before the emperor. As the fencing was “rather subtle,” the emperor missed Tesshu’s decisive hit, prompting the following exchange:

“If we use live blades,” Tesshu said with perhaps a certain amount of sarcasm, “Your Majesty will be able to see when a point is scored.”

“Isn’t that dangerous?”

“No,” Tesshu assured him. “A slight cut will draw blood and Your Eminence will get a clear view of the action.”

The emperor declined. [48]

Tesshu3Tesshu would go on to found the renowned Itto Shoden Muto Ryu school of swordsmanship –which he regarded not so much as a new creation, but rather as a “restoration” of old martial principles. His system was informed by fudo-shin, the “imperturbable mind” developed in the course of Zen training. In a letter about the martial arts, written in 1883, Tesshu elucidates on the profound concept of “substance,” which he defines as “the inner quiet of mind, free from individual failings.” Tesshu advises,

“Recklessly striking and thrusting will not prevail over an opponent’s mind. The lack of calm in one’s own heart causes agitation to arise from all quarters, thus preventing mastery of the opponent. Know that this occurs for no other reason but one’s lack of substance. Depending on chance and lucky breaks to win never results in true victory. True attainment must be accomplished within the quiet of one’s mind.” [49]

 

The Art and Science of Defense

 

“It takes great courage and skill to take out an adversary with a calm mind. True masters establish a balance between their lives and their art to a degree that their lives become as much a product of the art as is the art a product of their lives…Diligent training cultivates an inner calm that enhances one’s instinctive ability to counter any offensive.”Bubishi, 19th Century

We are already well-versed in examples of disastrous combats in which the participants neglected their defense in favor of a purely offensive strategy.

Now let us ask the reverse question: what happens when true defensive tactics are used by highly skilled combatants who have mastered their art and science?

One such example from history can be found in the career of Jean Louis Michel (1785 – 1865), widely considered to be among the greatest swordsmen of the nineteenth century, and perhaps of all time. As one author of the period described him,

“The founder of the modern French school of swordsmanship, and the greatest swordsman of his century, was a mulatto of San Domingo, that famous Jean Louis, who in one terrible succession of duels, occupying only forty minutes, killed or disabled thirteen master-fencers of that Italian army pressed into service by Napoleon for his Peninsular campaign.” [50]

L'AlmanachDesSports1899_JeanLouis

Jean Louis and his fencing master, M. D’Erape. From L’Almanach Des Sports, 1899.

As referenced above, Jean Louis Michel’s most famous exploit as a swordsman was his participation in a “mass” regimental duel that took place near Madrid, Spain, in 1814. The incident began when French soldiers from the 32nd Regiment and Italian soldiers from the 1st Regiment quarreled, and a regimental duel was arranged. Within forty minutes, Jean-Louis killed or disabled thirteen Italian fencing masters in succession.

Examining the accounts of this combat, one is struck by the defensive, rather than offensive, tactics employed by Jean Louis. His first combat was fought with Giacomo Ferrari, a celebrated Florentine swordsman and fencing master of the First Regiment, and is described in the following passage:

“[Maestro Giacomo] Ferrari took the offensive, but Jean-Louis followed all [Ferrari’s] flourishes with a calm but intense attention; every time Ferrari tried to strike, his sword met steel. With a loud cry Ferrari jumped to the side and attempted an attack from below, but Jean-Louis parried the thrust and with a lightning riposte wounded Ferrari in the shoulder…”

Illustration of Jean Louis's regimental duel, published in Le Pelerin, March 24, 1895

Illustration of Jean Louis’s regimental duel, published in Le Pelerin, March 24, 1895

Following is a sample of passages describing Jean Louis’s subsequent encounters with additional fencing masters:

“Another adversary came at him. After a brief clash, Jean-Louis lunged and, while recovering, left his point in line. Rushing at him, his opponent was impaled. A second corpse lay at the French master’s feet.

“His third opponent, a taller man, attacked fiercely, with jumps and feints, but Jean-Louis’ point disappeared into his chest, and he fell unconscious.” [51]

jean-louis-michel-cropped

Jean Louis Michel, in later years

Although this event is an excellent illustration of the successful employment of defensive tactics, it must be admitted that Jean-Louis’ opponents, though fencing masters, were nevertheless clearly outclassed by their adversary.

One may, then, well ask the question: what happens when two masters, equally matched, both employ such defensive tactics? We can find no better example than the Pini-Malato duel.

Athos de San Malato, 1901

Baron Athos de San Malato, 1901

This “remarkable duel,” which lasted more than two and a half hours, took place in 1904, and was fought by Cavaliere Eugenio Pini and Baron Athos de San Malato. Both were among the most celebrated Italian fencing masters of their generation. Pini, a “phenomenon among fencers,” was a luminary of the Livornese school of fencing, while San Malato, according to fencing scholar Egerton Castle, had fought forty duels and was “one of the finest fencers in the world.” [52]

Journalists noted that the duel between the two, which was well-attended by more than sixty people, was one of the longest that had taken place in France, and was declared a “wonderful exhibition of science,” and an “exhibition of remarkable swordsmanship.” San Malato, according to one account, “made his attacks with the rapidity of lightning,” while Pini moved with “the spring of a panther.” Pini was wounded twice, about 1.5 hours into the duel, in the arm and on the nose, yet due to the minor nature of these wounds Pini insisted on continuing. More than one hour later, the combat was terminated when San Malato could no longer continue, due to his hand being excessively blistered by the hilt of his sword, thus rendering him at an unfair disadvantage. [53]

Malato_Pini

Maestro Eugenio Pini

Maestro di Scherma Eugenio Pini

Though it may seem incredible to the average person that a duel with deadly weapons, fought in earnest, could last for a duration of several hours, the fact is that the Pini-Malato duel was not unique in this regard. Examples of other such combats are uncommon, but do exist. For instance, the renowned Italian fencing master Agesilao Greco fought a duel in Naples that lasted three hours [54]; in 1900, the Comte Albert de Dion and M. Saint-Alary fought a duel lasting more than an hour and a quarter [55], as did Benito Mussolini and Francisco Ciccotti in 1921 [56], as well as San Malato and M. Pons in 1881 [57]; in 1873, two French swordsmen fought a “skillful” duel in Pennsylvania that lasted more than one hour [58]; and in 1891, Count Bertazzoli and Signor Calderoni reportedly fought a rencontre with daggers in Lugo, Italy, that lasted forty-five minutes. [59] In his saber dueling treatise, Fels-Eöry explains the reasons for the disparity in lengths of duels:

“‘Two bad fencers’ clumsy and foolhardy cooperation always results in both getting gravely injured in a short amount of time.’ In this case it’s safe to say that the [outcome of the] duel is entrusted to luck… An abrupt end to a sabre-duel usually bespeaks two vehement parties who can’t fence; because a contest between two good fencers is generally arduously long…

A good fencer, against a bad one, will exert the greatest of care, which takes time. The weaker fencer will act in this knowledge, if he’s acting strategically and soundly, knowing that he will not get suddenly injured, and, knowing that, he will not suddenly injure.” [60]

The Pini-Malato duel was, of course, not your average combat, considering both the experience and extremely high skill of its two participants. Yet it serves as a model and example of what can be achieved at the higher levels of swordsmanship. Both Pini and Malato accomplished something remarkable—not by killing or seriously maiming the other, but by preserving their own lives; by both surviving a sword combat that lasted continuously for two and three-quarters of an hour.

Jack Dempsey’s Final Word


As much of the preceding article has been devoted to the subject of armed combat with potentially deadly weapons, let us now turn back to the subject of unarmed combat.

As stated previously, since the 1930s, modern texts have mainly attributed the quote “the best defense is a good offense” to the boxing heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey.  It is, then, perhaps worth looking at what Dempsey himself actually had to say on the subject.

Jack Dempsey

Jack Dempsey, circa 1935

In 1950, Dempsey published a treatise on his method of fighting, entitled Championship Fighting: Explosive Punching & Aggressive Defense. In Chapter 18, Dempsey addresses the issue at hand, and, in point of fact, does not say that the best defense is “a good offense.” Instead he states:

“The best defense in fighting is an aggressive defense.”

Clearly aware of the quote that had been falsely attributed to him, Dempsey proceeds to elucidate:

“Each defensive move must be accompanied by a counter-punch or be followed immediately by a counterpunch. And you cannot counter properly if you do not know how to punch. That does not mean that ‘a strong offense is the best defense.’ That overworked quotation may apply to other activities; but it does not apply to fighting. It does not apply when you’re pitted against an experienced opponent. You may have the best attack in the world; but if you’re an open target—if you’re a ‘clay pigeon’—you’ll likely get licked by the first experienced scrapper you tackle. YOU MUST HAVE A GOOD DEFENSE TO BE A WELL-ROUNDED FIGHTER. AND THE BEST DEFENSE IS AN AGGRESSIVE DEFENSE.” [61]

 

Conclusion


In perusing these many passages, some readers may be tempted to presume that the aim of this article is to suggest that offensive techniques and tactics have no place in the martial arts at all, or that when engaging in combat, one should simply do nothing but defend, and wait for the adversary to attack. However, that is absolutely not the case.

Combative situations can vary greatly. The tactical considerations, for instance, between a one-on-one combat scenario (such as a duel) and a battlefield, or a street encounter involving multiple opponents, may differ. Against an attacker with bare hands, one may also be willing to take greater offensive risks than one would in an encounter with an adversary wielding a knife or a potentially lethal weapon, wherein a single mistake can result in death or serious injury.

It should also be noted that all of the classic martial arts treatises quoted throughout this article contain offensive techniques as well as defensive. A prime example is Miyamoto Musashi, who frequently emphasizes the goal of ending the combat as quickly as possible—by striking first or attacking on the adversary’s preparation. Another example is Joseph Roland, fencing master of the Royal Military Academy, who warned, “To parry well is of great service, but it is nothing when you can do no more.” [62] We may also look again to Colonel Thomas Monstery, quoted heretofore several times. Monstery, in his treatise on both armed and unarmed methods of self-defense, writes of numerous offensive techniques—such as methods of attack, how to seize the initiative, how to take advantage of the adversary’s mistakes, and pressing the attack. For instance, in Chapter 10, in his “Advice on Street Encounters,” Monstery states:

“Always try to get in the first blow in a chance encounter. Parley with your enemy, and watch him till you see that you will be assaulted. Then give the first half-arm left-hand blow at his nerve system, and follow it with a full-arm right-hander at same place. I have generally found that I could finish such a battle in the one round.” [63]

Above: Image from Colonel Monstery's treatise on bare-knuckle boxing, Self-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies.

Image from Monstery’s treatise.

How, then, are we to reconcile such advice with a mindset that emphasizes defense? The answer is, that even when attacking, one’s defense is still the primary consideration. Self-preservation, according to these authors, must always be kept in mind—even when executing offensive techniques or tactics. One can find many specific examples illustrating this throughout Monstery’s text. For instance, in his section on unarmed self-defense (bare-knuckle boxing), Monstery instructs:

“The left hand is the only one used in feinting. The feint with the right is too dangerous, as it takes away the guarding hand.” [64]

Likewise, in his section on armed self-defense with a stick or cane, Monstery instructs the pupil to

Section...

Cane defense in Monstery’s treatise.

“keep his hand high in striking, and to end his blow with the point lower than the hand in all high cuts. This is important, for two reasons: 1st. It makes a perfect blow, and compels the enemy to come to a perfect parry. 2nd. It leaves the hand in a position to guard against the return blow. If the hand is low, the return blow is sure to catch you, as the upper body and head are open. This makes the danger of striking at an enemy’s legs, as the hand must be low to strike at them.” [65]

Here, as in many other examples throughout his text, we can see that even when instructing in offensive techniques, Monstery is still giving great importance and consideration to one’s defense. Regarding offensive techniques applied to the sword, we can find similar admonitions in the treatise of Donald McBane, such as:

“Never over Lunge yourself, because one or other of your Feet may slip, and you can’t recover yourself to a Guard so soon as you should, and may be Hit in that time…” [66]

In their excellent article “The Medical Reality of Historical Wounds,” Dr. Richard Swinney and Scott Crawford examine numerous historical records of wounds resulting from combats with sharp weapons. One of the most obvious conclusions to be drawn from this article is the absolute unpredictability of how wounds can affect the victim. Included are recorded cases of combatants surviving (and remaining active following) halberd-chops to the head, sword-thrusts through the torso, severed jugular veins, and half-severed limbs. Swinney also notes, in his own experience as an ER physician, that

“I have met and treated countless individuals who remained capable of fighting or fleeing for minutes to hours after sustaining significant neck and chest injuries…I have met a number of patients with penetrating trauma to or through the heart who remained active and conscious for a minute or more after the injury, have made it to the emergency room alive, and with the benefit of modern surgery, have survived…it is clear that with adequate resolve, a person so wounded in a swordfight might attempt one or more desperate attacks in the moments immediately after sustaining such an ultimately fatal injury.”

The lesson to be drawn from these examples is clear: one cannot abandon the defense in the pursuit of dealing out a perceived “mortal” blow to the adversary, because there is very little guarantee that such a blow will actually be incapacitating, no matter how devastating it may at first appear. Swinney and Crawford thus conclude,

“The belief that a particular blow or thrust will instantly incapacitate an opponent is, more often than not, inaccurate or even silly. [Modern] historical fencing practices based on these erroneous assumptions weaken the art. Were swords still in earnest use, several common modern training practices might cost the swordsman limb or even life.” [67]

Conversely, there are many recorded examples in modern times in which combatants quickly became incapacitated (and even died) as a result of comparatively minor wounds to the arm or leg, in which the major veins and arteries reside. Thus, from this fact, one can draw a second lesson—that in an encounter with potentially lethal weapons, the defense can never be abandoned, because even apparently minor wounds to extremities can unpredictably result in incapacitation or death.

In conclusion, it is important to note that since time immemorial, martial artists have used the arena of contest to hone and test their abilities. Likewise, martial artists of both east and west have utilized various training methods to prepare themselves for live encounters with fully (or nearly fully) resisting adversaries. These include the concepts of sparring (as in the case of boxing and grappling), of the assault (as in the case of traditional fencing), and of gekken (as in the case of Japanese swordsmanship). To ensure that such practices remained safe, it was also necessary to develop protective equipment and specialized training weapons. These are all good, and indeed necessary, aspects to the healthy and effective practice of martial arts.

However, it has been shown that when such training methodologies, and contests, become the ends rather than the means—that is, when practitioners shift their intention from studying the martial arts systems of the past (whether Western or Eastern), to concentrate on success in tournaments or games, these arts lose their martial applicability and effectiveness. This as just as true today as it was in past centuries. It is of special significance that even in the context of a warlike culture such as the samurai of Japan, this phenomenon has still occurred.

We can do better than to end this article with the words of the Virginia fencing master Edward Blackwell, who wrote in 1734:

“The nicest Part of Fencing consists in the Defensive, and particularly against the Bold Ignorant…No Person ought ever to make any other Use of his Skill in Fencing, than in his own Defence; and then in such a cool and temperate Manner, as neither to be exasperated by Passion, or afraid to exert his judgment; then a Gentleman will reap the benefit of his instruction.” [68]

Or, in the words of Colonel Monstery,

“Above all things, never lose your presence of mind.” [69]

———

Special thanks to Levente Barckzy for his translations from the original Hungarian to English of Fels-Eöry’s “Safe Outcome of the Sabre-Duel” for this article.

[1] J. Barnes, Speed Training for Combat, Boxing, Martial Arts, and MMA, 2005. For other examples, see C. R. Jahn, Hardcore Self-Defense, 2002, Page 72; Mike Young, Martial Arts Techniques for Law Enforcement, 2014, Page 95; Kevin J. Robinson, S.M.A.R.T. Self-defense, 2003.

[2] “Dempsey believed the best defense was a murderous offense. For that reason he never bothered about protecting himself.” “The Othello of Boxing Faces His Inexorable Destiny With the Dignity of the Noble Moore,” by Frank Scullt in Esquire, Volume 4, 1935. p. 34. A simple search using “Google Books” reveals additional attributions to Dempsey throughout the 1940s and 1950s.

[3] The Christian Science Journal, 1883, Volume 88. p. 535 “It has been said that the best defense is a good offense…”

[4] George Washington to John Trumbull, June 25, 1799. http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/06-04-02-0120

[5] New York Times, July 14, 1888.

[6] Illustrated London News, July 28, 1888. http://www.hadesign.co.uk/SSA/html/Duel.htm

[7] L’Univers Illustré, July 21, 1888.

[8] Thomas H. Monstery, Self-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2015), 10.

[9] Ibid., p. 35.

[10] Thomas Stoeppler (translator), Nuremberg Hausbuch (MS 3227a), ca. 1389. http://wiktenauer.com/wiki/Other_Masters_(14th_Century)

[11] Don Jerónimo Sánchez de Carranza, Of the Philosophy of the arms, of its art and the Christian offense and defense, 1569.

[12] Zachary Wylde, The English Master of Defence, or, the Gentleman’s Al-a-mode Accomplish (York: John White, 1711).

[13] Joseph Roland, The Amateur of Fencing; or a treatise on the Art of Sword-Defence, theoretically and experimentally explained upon new principles; designed chiefly for persons who have only acquired a superficial knowledge of the subject (London: Printed for the author by W. Wilson, and sold at Egerton’s Military Library, 1809), 211.

[14] Zoltán Cseresnyés Fels-Eöry, A Kardpárbaj Veszélytelen Kimenetele És Annak Eshetségei [Safe Outcome of the Sabre-Duel], Budapest: 1901, 48. Translated here from the original Hungarian by Levente Barczy. Earlier (2015) English translation by Krisztina Nagy accessible at https://www.academia.edu/21543638/Safe_Outcome_of_the_Sabre-Duel

[15] http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=fence

[16] Ben Miller, Fencing in Colonial America and the Early Republic: 1620 – 1800 (Estafilade, 2009).

[17] Kenji Tokitsu, Miyamoto Musashi: His Life and Writings (Boston & London: Shambhala, 2004), 203.

[18] Ibid., 229.

[19] 程眞如 (Cheng Zhen Ru), Art of E’mei Spear (Translated and edited by Jack Chen), 13. http://www.chineselongsword.com/emeispear.shtml

[20] Patrick McCarthy, The Bible of Karate: Bubishi (Tokyo: Tuttle, 1995),  65.

[21]  Li Yiyu, For Hao Weizhen to Cherish: 王宗岳太極拳論 後附小序並五字訣 “Wang Zongyue’s Taiji Boxing Treatise” Appended with my Preface & “Five-Word Formula,” [A treatise handwritten by Li Yiyu, presented to his student, Hao He (Weizhen), 1881] Translation by Paul Brennan, 2013. https://brennantranslation.wordpress.com/2013/05/25/the-taiji-classics/

[22] The Standard, October 1, 1891.

[23] Baron Cesar de Bazancourt, Secrets of the Sword (London: George Bell & Son, 1900), 219. [Translation of 1862 French original].

[24] Paul Kirchner, Dueling with the Sword and Pistol (Boulder: Paladin Press, 2004), 146-151.

[25] The Lancet, July 21, 1888.

[26] L’Almanach Des Sports, 1899. p. 213.

[27] Fels-Eöry, 86. Translated here from the original Hungarian by Levente Barczy.

[28] The Standard, October 1, 1891.

[29] Monstery’s comments were recounted in the New York Globe and Commercial Advertiser, April 2, 1904, p. 5.

[30] Monstery, Self-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies, 180.

[31] Joachim Meyer, Jeffrey L. Forgeng, The Art of Combat: A German Martial Arts Treatise of 1570 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006). Page?

[32] Robert Brooks, “DO YOU DO FULL-CONTACT?” – NOT UNLESS I WANT TO MAIM OR KILL YOU. http://www.hotspur.org.uk/blog/do-you-do-full-contact-no-not-unless-i-want-to-maim-or-kill-you

[33] Duels between gentlemen were private affairs, and were rarely spoken of (swordsmen-authors who were not gentlemen, such as Donald McBane, had no such qualms). In his A Vindication Of the True Art of Self-Defence, Hope explains:  “[some might wonder] …how I come to give such positive directions for fighting, when it is not well known if I ever drew a sword in good earnest all my life? And if not, how I can know, so exactly as I pretend, the true rules so strictly to be made use of, when engaged for the life? To which I answer, that whether I have ever been engaged in good earnest or not, is none of the querists busines to know; neither will I let them at present into that matter: For I never much approved of being vain-glorious, especially where the victory is obtained, for the most part, at the expence, less or more, of the vanquisher: but if I have ever been engaged, when I might have prevented it, I am now very sensible that I ought not to have done it, according to the principles of true honour laid down in the fore-going Vindication; nothing but being attacked, and necessary self-defence, being what can vindicate any man’s running the hazard, as well as the sin, of taking away another man’s life. And if I have never fought, yet I have had the practice of near 50 years with foils…” William Hope, A Vindication Of the True Art of Self-Defence. London, 1729.

[34] William Hope, The Sword Man’s Vade Mecum (Edinburgh: John Reid, 1691).

[35] Roland, 198.

[36] William Hope, The Sword Man’s Vade Mecum (Edinburgh: John Reid, 1691).

[37] Examples of schools wherein the traditional use of the point d’arret can still be seen today include the Martinez Academy of Arms (New York City), the Salle Saint-George (Seattle, Washington), Palm Beach Classical Fencing (West Palm Beach, Florida), and the Destreza Pacifica School of Arms (Arcata, Calif.).

[38] Fels-Eöry, 87. Translated here from the original Hungarian by Levente Barczy.

[39] Thomas Fewtrell, Boxing reviewed: Or, the science of manual defence, displayed on rational principles. Comprehending a complete description of the principal pugilists, from the earliest period of Broughton’s time, to the present day (London: Printed for Scatcherd and Whitaker, Ave-Maria-Lane: 1790), 15-16.

[40] The Modern art of boxing: as practised by Mendoza, Humphreys, Ryan, Ward, Watson, Johnson, and other eminent puglists: to which are added the six lessons of Mendoza, as published by him, for the use of his scholars: and a full account of his last battle with Humphreys ([London]: Printed for the author, 1789), 18.

[41] Monstery, 177.

[42] Ibid., 118.

[43] Ibid., 38-39.

[44] Donald McBane, The Expert Sword-Man’s Companion: Or the True Art of Self-Defence. With an Account of the Authors Life, and his Transactions during the Wars with France. To which is Annexed, the Art of GunnerieGlasgow: 1728.

[45] John Stevens, The Sword of No Sword (Boston: Shambhala, 1984), 128.

[46] Makoto Sugawara, Lives of Master Swordsmen (Tokyo: East Publications, 1985), 203.

[47] Stevens, 143-144.

[48] Ibid., 37.

[49] Ibid., 137.

[50] Lafcadio Hearn, Miscellanies, Volume 2, William Heinemann, ltd.: 1924.

[51] Ben Miller, “The Greatest African American and Afro-American Martial Artists in History.”  https://outofthiscentury.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/the-greatest-african-american-and-afro-american-martial-artists-in-history/

[52] “Egerton Castle: Reminiscences of Baron de San Malato’s Life” in the New York Times, Jan. 10, 1909.

[53] Kirchner, Dueling with the Sword and Pistol, 178-184.

[54] Steven C. Hughes, Politics of the Sword: Dueling, Honor, and Masculinity in Modern Italy (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2007), 93, 145n.

[55] Le Figaro, April 8, 1900. This account noted that, “Until [the tenth round], these two gentlemen had struck only at the chest, but as those blows were marvelously parried on both sides, it was no longer necessary to worry that the combat would end in a mortal wound…The fifteenth bout was the most lively: the Count de Dion and M. de Saint-Alary attacked by turns, and during the most interesting piece of swordplay, the Count de Dion parried in sixte, riposted above and thrust M. de Saint-Alary in the right arm, on the upper side of the elbow. The wound was five or six centimeters deep. The duel was halted. The time was quarter to one. Finally! … one will be able to go to lunch with a good appetite and good spirits…”

[56] “Il Duce’s Deulist Dies in Argentina,” Spartanburg Herald, September 15, 1937.

[57] New York Herald, April 21, 1889. “Here is a translation of the proces verbal signed by the seconds:—’They—the seconds—met Monday evening and decided that the duel should take place at Vesinet, in front of the left stand of the Champ do Course, on Wednesday, the 4th day of May, 1881, at two P. M., with the weapon chosen by the tribunal of arbitration, and consented to by both parties. ‘The weapon designated for M. Pons was the triangular French duelling sword, and for M. San Malato the flat bladed Italian duelling sword. ‘The meeting took place yesterday. Wednesday, May 4, at three P. M., at the place indicated above , and out of respect for M. Paul de Cassagnac, who had been chosen as arbitrator, the four seconds thought it best to give him entire direction of the combat, without, however, neglecting the interests of their principals or their own responsibility. The duel lasted one hour and a quarter, and was renewed five times…At the fifth, M. de San Malato being touched by a hit above the right wrist made by a counter disengagement after parry of prime, the two surgeons and the four seconds declared M. San Malato hors de combat. “For M. Pons, MICHEL, CAIN; For M. San Malato, PAUL RUZE, BRUN BUISSON.'”

[58] New York Times, July 28, 1873.

[59] Le Petit Parisien, Oct. 30, 1891; United Service Magazine, January, 1898, p. 432. Pall Mall Gazette, Oct. 30, 1891. Unlike the other lengthy combats mentioned here, this one was excessively bloody: “They agreed to fight, without seconds, a duel to the death. The weapons chosen were daggers. They met in the wood without witnesses, and were fighting for three-quarters of an hour. Both were stabbed in many places, but neither could kill or disable the other. With blood flowing from many wounds, they continued to combat till neither was able to stand, and, when found by servants, both were lying helpless. They were hurried at once to the hospital and treated, but their condition is critical.”

[60] Fels-Eöry, 52. Translated here from the original Hungarian by Levente Barczy.

[61] Jack Dempsey, Championship Fighting: Explosive Punching & Aggressive Defense. N. Kaye: 1950.

[62] Roland, 220.

[63] Monstery, 122.

[64] Ibid., 90.

[65] Ibid., 154-155.

[66] McBane, 15.

[67] Richard Swinney and Scott Crawford, “The Medical Reality of Historical Wounds,” SPADA 2 (Chivalry Bookshelf, 2006).

[68] Miller, Fencing in Colonial America and the Early Republic: 1620 – 1800, 6.

[69] Monstery, 134.

The Monstery-Senac Fencing Contest of 1876

In Uncategorized on May 19, 2015 at 3:27 pm
Above: Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery.

Above: Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery.

In April of 1876, New York City played host to one of the most public and controversial American fencing contests of the nineteenth century. The disagreements over judging decisions and methods of scoring were so great that “inflamed” arguments erupted between the referee and the combatants’ seconds. At times, angry audience members rushed the stage and had to be removed from the premises by police. Before the day was over, one of the combatants walked off the stage in the middle of the contest, and the entire event broke up in disorder. Eventually, the two contestants would come to personal blows. In the weeks following, conflicting accounts of the contest appeared in various New York City newspapers, and witnesses from the day published impassioned letters about what they saw, attempting to set the record straight.

Now, even more than 130 years later, it is not exactly clear what transpired at this event. The dispute over the contest, however, highlights issues that are relevant today—just as they were then—for practitioners of traditional, classical, and historical fencing, as well as other martial arts.

“CHALLENGE TO SWORDSMEN”

The event had arisen from a “Challenge to Swordsmen” issued one month prior by Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery, a veteran duelist and noted New York City fencing master. Writing in the New York Herald on March 7, 1876, Monstery proposed a “tournament at arms” for the championship of the United States and Spanish America, and a purse of $500 dollars, on the following conditions:

“That the money and title of championship belong to him who makes the first fifty-one points, with the weapons mentioned, the points to be distributed as follows: —

  • Foil ……………………………. 12 points
  • Sabre ………………………….. 9 points
  • Rapier (cut and thrust) …. 12 points
  • Bayonet (thrust) …………… 9 points
  • Knife (cut and thrust) ……. 9 points

Each principal to employ two seconds; the referee to be a mutual selection.”

If Monstery had intended for the contest to take on national (or international) proportions, he was at least partly successful. The challenge was picked up and reprinted in newspapers across the country, from New York to Chicago to Louisiana. The New Orleans Times, on March 13, announced:

1876-3-13-NewOrleansTimes

One week after Monstery’s initial announcement, on March 14, the challenge was accepted by Maitre d’Armes Regis Senac. A native of France, Senac had arrived in New York City in 1872, and had set up a fencing school on University Place in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. The Frenchman had reportedly fought three duels in France and had emerged victorious from all. Monstery, on the other hand, was a far more experienced duelist, having taken part in, according to various accounts, somewhere between fifty-two and sixty-one personal combats; he had also fought under twelve flags on three separate continents in numerous revolutions and battles. Both men were former soldiers who had been educated in the military academies of their respective countries—Senac at Joinville-le-Pont in France, Monstery at the Royal Military Institute of Copenhagen, Denmark.

The following rules are extracted from the “Articles of Agreement” entered into by Monstery and Senac, and published in the March 24th issue of Turf, Field, and Farm:

  1. The foil to be 34 inches long, have a flat blade and be unattached to the hand or wrist by cord or string to prevent being disarmed.
  2. A free thrust must be followed by a pause, if the thrust has been successful.
  3. No cuts from the sides or from above to count, nor those delivered on the neck, mask, arm, hip or leg.
  4. After each attack the fencer to return on guard, or give proper time for his opponent to return before he makes another thrust, therefore, reprisals or double thrusts are not allowed.
  5. Time or stopping thrusts delivered without the lunge, count only in favor of the giver if not hit himself; if both are hit, the count belongs to the party who lunges. If both are hit simultaneously while making the lunge, it is of no count.
  6. A disarm to count one point, but if the foil is lost while making the attack and hitting the opponent it counts one point.
  7. It is forbidden to parry with or take your opponent’s foil with the left hand.
  8. If one of the opponents retires before the end of a play, he loses this play.
  9. No cuirass allowed under the vest while fencing with the foils.

Regarding the other weapons, it was merely noted that with the sabre, “cuts with the edge of the blade upon any protected part of the body above the hips to count”; with the rapier, “all cuts and thrusts above the hip to count; no cuts with the flat of the blade allowed”; with the bayonet, “thrusts only count, and these when delivered straight on the cuirass protecting the trunk of the body”; and with the knife, “cuts and thrusts to count when delivered on the cuirass and right arm.”

The articles of agreement concluded with signatures from both combatants, as well as those of their seconds: for Monstery, Louis Friedrich of the New York Turnverein and Prof. William Miller of Australia; for Senac, A. Aubry and Danesi.

Notably, the articles contained no mention of a judge or referee having been selected, and it is not certain how–or at what point in time–John Mortimer Murphy, an Irishman, was chosen for the position. Murphy’s greatest accomplishments seem to have been his writings on “sporting matters” and Western fauna; there is, however, no evidence that he had any prior experience in fencing—either as judge or practitioner. It is safe to assume that both Senac and Monstery must have agreed on the choice of Murphy; as to why remains a mystery. In an interview given several years later, Monstery hinted that a desire for impartiality may have taken precedence over a need for competency:

“Where shall we get competent judges excepting among Frenchmen who are unbiased by acquaintance with either of us, and who would serve upon such an occasion? Seven out of eight men who understand fencing [in New York City] are Frenchmen, and with them it is an article of faith that nobody but a Frenchman can fence, just as Englishmen imagine that nobody but an Englishman can really box.” (New York Sun, Jan. 6, 1880)

Throughout his career, Monstery often espoused an anti-French sentiment, and in that light this comment may come as little surprise. Yet Monstery was correct in his assessment of the number of New York-based fencing experts; during the 1870s, the only notable masters that we have been able to find mention of in the local press, besides Senac and Monstery, were Jean De Turck, Captain Juillard of Woods’ Gymnasium, Hyppolite Nicolas, and Louis Friedrich of the New York Turnverein. All were French except for Friedrich, and the latter, who served as Monstery’s second in the Tammany contest, and had also held joint fencing events with the Colonel, was likely considered too biased to serve as a judge. Monstery was also correct in that nationalism was often a strong influence in fencing contests of the period, especially when they involved French or Italian contestants.

As April came around, the publicity and anticipation for the event continued to mount. The date of the event, it was announced, was to be April 10th, and the setting, Tammany Hall, as noted by the Herald:

1876-4-10-NYHerald

Above: The old Tammany Hall, on 14th Street. Source: Wikipedia

The old Tammany Hall, on 14th Street. Source: Wikipedia

Notice of the contest even made the French-language Courrier des Etats Unis, which announced on April 5th:

1876-4-5-CourrierdesEtats-Unis

 

THE TOURNAMENT – April 10th, 1876

Above: Maitre d'Armes Augustin Grisier

Maitre d’Armes Augustin Grisier

The day of the contest finally arrived. It was noted by one reporter that “both contestants were attired in fencing uniforms, and Senac wore the gold medal of Grisier’s Academy of Arms, in Paris.” Interestingly, a biography of Monstery published during the same period noted that during a visit to Paris in the 1840s, Monstery had beaten and twice disarmed the fencing master Augustin Grisier in a public assault; one wonders if this fact somehow contributed to an increased sense of rivalry between himself and Senac. As to the fencing contest itself, to relay a simple, straightforward account of the event would be impossible, as shall be seen.

The morning after the contest, on April 11th, the New York Herald published its own report:

“The contestants fenced with foils, sabre and rapier, and in the use of each weapon Senac manifestly excelled. The referee, John Mortimer Murphy, erred several times by awarding points to Monstery that belonged to Senac. In the rapier fencing when Senac had scored 6 points and Monstery 5, the latter retired from the stage, evidently having enough of it. The lights near the platform were then put out, and the crowd gathered around it and demanded the referee’s decision. It was a long time before he could be got to speak. He declared at last that, as the match was “play or pay,” and Monstery’s physicians had advised him not to renew the contest, Senac was the winner.”

In another brief account, published on the same day, the New York Times concurred that Senac was the superior fencer, that he “had the advantage over his antagonist both in agility and skill,” and that “his attack was quicker and better sustained.” The Times also agreed that the referee had been unfairly partial to Monstery—despite the fact that Monstery had been officially declared the loser in two out of the three bouts.

Capture-NYTimesHeadline

A few details in the Times’ account also pointed to the chaos and confusion of the day. The audience had proved an unruly one; according to the Times, “among the other incidents a young Frenchman…on behalf of Senac, protested against a decision of the referee, [and] was, at the request of that personage, removed from the stage by Capt. Garland, who with a strong force of Police was present.” The Times went on to note that during the rapier contest, “there was nothing but argument and quarreling between the seconds and the referee.” It also noted that the referee, John Mortimer Murphy, “proved wholly incompetent to perform the important duties allied to such a position.”

Both reports in the Herald and the Times paint a decidedly unflattering portrait of Monstery—one of a man who had been soundly and definitively defeated by a superior swordsman; one who, unable to accept the outcome, used the cover of sickness as an excuse to end an otherwise fairly conducted contest.

In the coming days, however, that version of events would be called into question by a number of other accounts published in the New York City press.

On April 14, the following article appeared in Turf, Field, and Farm:

Senac_IllustratedAmerican1890

Regis Senac in 1890

“The tournament of arms at Tammany Hall, on Monday night, which was to decide the sword championship of the United States and Spanish America, decided nothing. True, the money was awarded to Senac, but it was not proved to the satisfaction of all that the lithe and active Frenchman was the most scientific and expert in the use of weapons of steel…Instead of deciding disputed questions, [the referee] argued with the inflamed seconds and appealed to the audience. Senac never failed to claim a hit, and his seconds were ever prompt to support his claim. As the wing Frenchman was the favorite in betting circles, the shouts were loudest for him in the audience. The referee perspired, shrugged his shoulders, and looked the picture of irresolution…It was the opinion of keen-eyed judges in the audience who had no money on the match that Monstery did not receive credit for all the points he made…If another match is made between these two famous swordsmen, it is to be hoped that a referee will be selected who can tell what a palpable hit is when he sees it, who will listen to, but not argue with, the seconds, and who will have nerve enough not to be overawed by the partisan sentiment of the house.”

The author’s name did not accompany the article, although it is safe to assume that they were either a staff writer or contributor for Turf, Field, and Farm. In the end, it is difficult to know whether the writer was a friend or partisan of Monstery’s, or merely an impartial observer with a well-trained eye.

Colonel Monstery "In Extension"

Colonel Monstery “In Extension”

The next day, on April 15, a lengthy journalistic account of the contest was published in the United States Army and Navy Journal. This report proved to be the most detailed of any, and evinced the same sentiment as the account in Turf, Field, and Farm:

“At about half-past eight the two fencers made their appearance with their seconds and the referee. It was at once announced that the number of points were to be reduced to thirty-nine, in favor of Colonel Monstery, who had but just recovered from severe sickness. The appearance of the two champions was very different, and the disparity in age was, we are informed, nearly twenty years… Monstery is now a tall, gaunt, wiry man, with a manner of great dignity and repose, reminding one very strongly of the gallant old knight of La Mancha  in his personal apparance. Senac is shorter and stouter built, with a dark but handsome face, small hands and feet, and a peculiar catlike grace and activity that reminds the beholder of a tiger. The contrast could therefore hardly be greater than between the two. It was quickly evident in the foil contest that the elder man was past his prime, or else had not recovered from his sickness. It was also evident that as far as the science of defence went he was superior to the Frenchman, while the latter, from his youth, strength, and quickness had the advantage in the attack. Senac was at first too eager and rash. He made two fierce attacks, and was twice disarmed, the elder man keeping cool and forcing the sword out of his hand as he thrust in octave. It was very difficult at the beginning of the match to see what was going on, as the seconds of Senac would insist on getting in front and hiding their man. Monstery’s seconds were much better and cooler. One of them was the great Graeco-Roman wrestler [William] Miller, himself a fine fencer.

Above: Monstery's second, the Graeco Roman wrestling champion, Prof. William Miller of Australia

Monstery’s second, the Graeco Roman wrestling champion, Prof. William Miller of Australia

The referee turned out to be ludicrously incompetent for his position, as became visible when the contest waxed warm. After Monstery had gained four points, Senac suddenly changed his tactics, and this time completely puzzled his antagonist. He abandoned the defence entirely, did not attempt to parry a single thrust, but trusted entirely to what is known as the “coup d’arret” in French, “stop thrust” or “time thrust” in English…Of this thrust Senac is a master, and by its use he quickly counted nine points. Some of them were very fine ones, as when he actually bent his foil into a curve before an assault, so as to get in a point on Monstery‘s arm, which he could not have done with a straight foil. His last point was the perfection of the “stop thrust.” He sprung back to the end of the stage and crouched almost on one knee. Monstery rushed in; and like a flash the Frenchman was up, and the foil bent into a semicircle on his enemy‘s breast, while Monstery‘s point was past him. The score then stood: Senac, 9; Monstery, 4; and the champions rested for fifteen minutes.

The sabre followed. Here the tables were turned. The old champion looked to better advantage in his white armor suit, and proved the French professor’s master. In this play Senac tried the same tactics which had proved so successful with the foils, but with very different results. Cuts above the hips were only allowed to count, and of these he hardly got in a single one, while Monstery struck him fairly again and again. He then tried a very peculiar game. Thrusting (prohibited), he would pass Monstery’s body, receive a cut on the helmet, and laying his own edge on Monstery’s shoulder would claim it as “a cut.” It was here that the referee showed his incompetency. Not one of these was a fair cut, and during the whole bout Senac never parried once, but trusted that this sort of sawing motion would be called a cut. The referee allowed it on several occasions, till the score stood—Monstery, 6; Senac, 5, when it should have been, Monstery, 11; Senac, 1 (this was at the beginning, a fair cut). To make matters worse the referee actually appealed to the audience on disputed points, and every passage of arms was followed by a wrangle of all the seconds for several minutes. Finally Monstery was declared victor with the sabre, 6 to 5.

Above: The interior of Tammany Hall, decorated for the 1868 National Convention

The interior of Tammany Hall, decorated for the 1868 National Convention. Source: Wikipedia

At last came the rapier…Again Senac tried the same old tactics, but the straight sword and bent foil were different things. He received several severe cuts on the head and body and one on the arm, but each time cut or thrust back at the same moment, and always claimed the point. Also he began to cut savagely at Monstery’s leg, which was only lightly protected, regardless of the fact that under the rule the point did not count. The referee kept giving his decisions at  random, first to one and then the other, while the audience began to shout and roar at each new count, which seemed to be decided on the principle of chance. At last, when the count stood five to five, on the deciding bout, both claimed the count as usual. Monstery had given a fair cut in carte on the left shoulder of the other, and Senac claimed a similar one, which really fell below the belt or too late, it was impossible to tell which. Monstery then said that as the referee would not give him points he had earned, he would continue the contest no longer, and very unwisely retired from the stage, while the whole affair broke up in disorder. Senac was subsequently declared the victor.

Taken as a whole, we were much disappointed with the management of the affair. The feeling between the champions was evidently very intense, and Senac especially fought very wickedly. At the same time it is doubtful whether Monstery will ever again be a match for a young athlete like Senac. The chief lesson to be learned of the victor is that of the use of the “stop thrust” of which he is a master. In the sabre contest, he would have been ruled off the stage in England, Germany, or France over and over again, and with sharp swords Monstery would even now probably prove the best man.”

But that was not the end of it. Six days later, on April 21, a letter sympathetic to Monstery appeared in Turf, Field, and Farm. This time, the author (writing under the nom de guerre, “Swordsman”) criticized the fencing strategies and techniques used by Senac and the manner in which such techniques were scored:

“It may seem rather late in the day to say anything concerning the fencing match that came off on the 10th of this month, between Prof. Senac and Col. Monstery; but as a lover of fair play, I think that something ought to be said for the benefit of your readers who are not themselves swordsmen. I take the liberty of sending this to you, because your paper (with one exception) is the only one whose reporter seemed to know anything about the use of the sword.

In the foil assault, which came first, Monstery quickly got in the first two hits. In the third attack, he disarmed Senac (as he did twice subsequently) and soon got in another hit. After this fencing ceased. Senac–either because he could not, or for some other reason–never attempted to parry a thrust, but lunged when Monstery did, or made use of the “time thrust.”

Now, let me say a word about the “time thrust.” In the first place, one of the rules said: “The ‘time thrust’ shall count in favor of the giver only when not hit himself, and if both are hit, the count shall be given to the party who made the attack.”

Now, if this rule had been followed, Monstery would have soon run his score up to the required nine, because in only one or two of the “time thrusts” did Senac escape a hit. The design of rules in fencing is to make the assault as much like a mortal combat as possible, and only thus far of they of use. Now, who would think of making use of the “time thrust” in a duel? For he would be simply taking a thrust through his bowels for the sake of scratching his opponent’s shoulder, or at most wounding him in the neck. In a duel, when one makes an attack, the other will parry it if he can. In fact, when a person begins to make use of the “time thrust,” he virtually acknowledges that he is not able to parry; and in Europe, if a man persisted in using it, he would be hissed off the stage.

In the assault with the sabre, Senac scored the first point by a clever cut on his opponent’s head; and this was the only point in this assault that really belonged to him, for he then fell back on his old tactics of refusing to parry, and when Monstery would cut, Senac would thrust past him, and laying his sword upon Monstery’s shoulder would commence a sawing motion which he claimed as a cut. The rapier contest was but a repetition of that with the sabre. In the sabre contest, as a paper of this city has truly said, “Senac would be ruled off the stage in England, Germany or France over and over again.” We cannot understand how so noted a swordsman as Prof. Senac could consent himself to use such a means to win a match as he did in this.”

In scrutinizing some of the points made in this letter, it is immediately clear that it could not have been written by Monstery himself, nor by any of his serious disciples. Monstery was never averse to the use of the time-thrust—in actual duels, or in contests with blunt weapons. In an 1863 duel “a la morte”, Monstery had defeated an expert fencer named Victor La Lieux by using the time-thrust. In the rules for his contest with Senac, Monstery had made provisions for scoring proper time-thrusts. And in his own writings, Monstery praised the “legitimate” time-thrust and stop-thrust, which, he asserted “are marks of the highest skill in fencing if the giver not be hit while delivering them.”

So what phenomenon, exactly, was the author of the last letter attempting to describe?

Following is a description of the time-thrust from Fencing (1890) by Camille Prevost, Maitre d’Armes:

“The time-thrust is an attack made with opposition on a complicated attack, and intended to intercept the line where such an attack is meant to finish. The time-thrust is a thing of the most accurate judgment and readiness; you must, to execute it, gauge both the attack and the quickness of your adversary. Well done, it is one of the best things, ill done, one of the worst things, in the possibilities of fencing.”

During the nineteenth century, many fencing masters warned of the dangers resulting from improperly executed time-thrusts (i.e., incurring simultaneous hits). For instance, Joseph Roland, in 1809, stated,

“Observe, that no time thrust is good if you are hit at the same time, and to avoid which you should generally take the time when the adversary thrusts over the arm, observing to oppose your blade to that side an which he might have hit you with his thrust, and by this opposition his foil will necessarily pass by the side of your body.”

Or, as T. Griffiths stated in The Modern Fencer (1868),

“Never take the Time Thrust unless you are pretty certain that you will not get hit at the same time.”

The present question then remains: during the 1876 Tammany contest, was Senac utilizing the legitimate time-thrust, or was he merely attacking into Monstery’s attacks, and incurring double hits, which were then mostly scored in his favor? If he was attempting to utilize genuine stop-thrusts, was he failing to execute them properly (incurring double-hits), and then getting rewarded for them?

Above: Regis Senac in later years, from "The Art of Fencing," 1904.

Regis Senac in later years, from “The Art of Fencing,” 1904.

One might look to the fencers themselves for answers. Several years after the contest, in a letter to the New York Sun, Senac recounted:

“The match…was not satisfactorily ended owing to my adversary’s willful retreat. The referee decided that I was entitled to the title of champion of America and his decision was ratified, I am proud to say, by the unanimous applause of the public. That title has been honestly won and I can add, honorably borne by me ever since.” (New York Sun, Jan. 5, 1880)

In separate interviews given in the next day’s issue of the Sun, both men related their accounts and feelings about the day. Senac stated,

“There [in Tammany Hall], as the reports show, I defeated [Monstery] easily, and he became enraged and went away before the match was ended. Instead of saluting when I touched him, as he should have done, he contented himself with abusing me.”

Monstery was quoted in the same article as saying:

“I struck him five times out of six, and every time they marked a score to him. At last I lost my temper at such apparent cheating, threw down my weapon, and came away.”

Unfortunately, either Monstery neglected to elaborate on what such “cheating” consisted of—or the Sun neglected to print it. Such accounts by the men themselves shed little light on what actually occurred.

 

THE FIGHT AT SCHILLING’S SALOON

The bitterness between Monstery and Senac continued to endure. Their feud finally came to a head on New Year’s Eve, 1879, when Senac entered Schilling’s Saloon on Sixth Avenue, and encountered Monstery at the bar. Senac reportedly greeted Monstery in French, then followed it with an epithet, also in French. Rather than replying to Senac directly, Monstery turned to Schilling, and remarked, “What’s that he says?” Senac reportedly interpreted this as an insult, and a hostile back-and-forth between the two men ensued, involving, among several things, “charges of unfairness in exhibition matches”:

“At length Senac gave Monstery a push in the chest. A left-hander in the cheek from the latter bowled his adversary over. Senac hastily arose and clinched, and Monstery went over in his turn. On rising he got a rap on Senac’s chin, which sent him staggering. Then they wrestled. Both men were skilled and very powerful, but were illy matched in age. Monstery is a sturdy veteran of 59, though he looks younger, and Senac is under 40. Monstery seized him by the seat of the trousers and lifted him. Senac caught Monstery by a leg, sent him over, and rolled on him. Both regained their feet and took their coats off for a climactic set-to, when a policeman who had been called entered and spoiled the match.”

The two then went home, “only slightly damaged.” A few days later, on January 5, 1880, the account of their brawl appeared in the pages of the New York Sun, under the headline: “SWORDSMEN USING THEIR FISTS. Monstery and Senac, the Fencing Masters, have a Quarrel and a Fight.”

 

OTHER INCIDENTS, AND EVIDENCE

A final question remains, which may indeed give us some insight into what happened in Tammany Hall in April of 1876. Namely: are there any other precedents for similar incidents in Monstery’s or Senac’s careers?

In Monstery’s case, the answer is a resounding “no.”

Throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, Monstery faced a variety of opponents in numerous public contests, and won virtually all of them. Two, however, he did lose—both during the twilight of his life. In November of 1893, Monstery faced Eugenio Pini, one of the greatest Italian fencers of his generation, in a public contest. Although Monstery lost to Pini this time (having defeated Pini once before), the Daily Inter Ocean of Nov. 11 noted,

“both men displayed the fact that courtesy is as much a part of fencing as the thrust and parry. The audience received the last bout with great enthusiasm, and called loudly for speeches, which, however, were not made.”

Above: Richard Malchien, 1896, in the Daily Inter Ocean

Richard Malchien, 1896, in the Daily Inter Ocean

The other contest that Monstery lost occurred in 1896, when he was 72 years of age; his opponent was a young prodigy named Richard Malchien. Before a large audience, Monstery conceded the match to Malchien after falling behind by a single point, with a final score of three to two. It was noted:

“Over a glass of wine half an hour later, the victor and vanquished having shaken hands, Alan H. Sanson, acting on the advice of his principal, called the match off and returned the Colonel’s stake money. The latter, loath to accept this as a gift, bought that much worth of wine, and all shook hands and parted the best of friends.”

These contests prove that, at the very least, Monstery was more than capable of losing gracefully in high-profile fencing tournaments.

In contrast to Monstery, Senac continued to attract controversy, as well as bitter feelings from his opponents, throughout his career.

The old New York Tunverein, on East Fourth Street. Source: http://www.maggieblanck.com/NewYork/Societies.html

The old New York Tunverein, on East Fourth Street. Source: http://www.maggieblanck.com/NewYork/Societies.html

In 1877, a  year and a half after the Tammany tournament, the Frenchman engaged in a public contest with Louis Friedrich of the New York Turnverein, at Turn Hall on East Fourth Street. A reporter who witnessed the event recounted:

“Senac is one of the most active, graceful, and catlike fencers we ever saw, but it seems to be constitutionally impossible for him to fence fairly…[Friedrich] made seven points to Senac’s six, and five of the Frenchman’s were made unfairly, by remaining extended after his lunge failed, and stabbing with shortened blade, unmindful of the adversary’s fair hit. If Senac would only drop this style of fencing, together with his monkey tricks, he might become a very popular fencer, for his agility and handsome face are very pleasing to an audience; but as it is, he is decidedly degenerating.” (New York Spirit of the Times, Nov. 3, 1877)

Nor was Monstery the last fencer to walk out in the middle of a contest with Senac.

Eugenio Pini

In 1894, when the Frenchman faced Eugenio Pini in a contest before the French Benevolent Society of New York City,

“Pini became angered…and finally drew off his mask, and, casting his foil on the stage, retired in a huff.” (Philadelphia Record, Jan. 4, 1894)

The incident escalated into a threatened duel, when Prof. Frank G. Scannapieco, a witness to the contest, sided with Senac, in an editorial printed in his Italian language journal Il Vesuvio. Pini replied through the columns of another Italian paper in New York, stating that “the editor of Il Vesuvio was a fool, and knew nothing about fencing.” When Scannapieco published another reply criticizing Pini’s fencing, the latter “forwarded a telegram from Havana, where he had gone in the meantime, calling Professor Scannapieco some vile epithets and demanding satisfaction at the point of the pistol.” Scannapieco entertained, but did not accept, Pini’s challenge.

PiniChallenge

PiniCartel

Cartel signed by Pini’s second, published in the Sunday Inter Ocean, January 14, 1894.

Although it is unclear if Senac was actually at fault in the incident with Pini, the fact stands that in two separate cases, fencers walked out in the middle of a public contest with Senac. Actually, a third such incident occurred in another Tammany contest with fencer Albert Vaughn, who walked off the stage after alleging that Senac “was not disposed to act in a fair and gentlemanly manner” (New York Clipper, April 12, 1884). However, in the last case, Senac had disabled Vaughn’s sword arm with a vicious cut, and it is unclear whether Vaughn took umbrage with that fact, or for other reasons. Whether the grievances of Senac’s opponents had any merit at all, or whether they were, instead, the ungracious complaints of men that could not bear defeat at the hands of a superior swordsman, is, of course, a matter of speculation.

 

CONCLUSION AND LEGACY

In the decades following the Monstery-Senac contest, Monstery increasingly spoke out against gamemanship in fencing, and wrote about maintaining the martial aspect of the art and science. Little more than a year before the contest, he had stated,

“An assault of arms should be conducted with the same precaution as if life itself was at stake.” (Turf, Field, and Farm, January 29, 1875)

His concern was also palpable in December of 1878, when the New York Athletic Club published its “Laws of Athletics,” which included the following provision for fencing with the foil:

“Time or stopping thrusts, delivered without the lunge, count only in favor of the giver if not hit himself; if both are hit simultaneously, the count belongs to the competitor who has hit his opponent in the higher part of the body; if hit in the same line, the point is of no count.”

Monstery published a lengthy critique of these laws in the New York Spirit of the Times, explaining,

“The rest of the rule, providing that the count in simultaneous thrusts should belong to the party striking the upper part of the body is not only unwise, but directly calculated to encourage and protect the meanest sort of trickery and cheating. It is true that, at present, our amateur fencers, as a rule, fence fairly; but if this rule be persisted in, it is only a matter of time for them to become proficient in this sort of cheating, and to ruin the art of fencing in the United States for ever. There is only one safe practice to follow in foil fencing. This is to imitate as closely as possible the contest with the naked point. No one but a maniac would take thrust for thrust from an adversary with sharp points, unless, indeed, he were a very inferior swordsman, who wished to take some sort of revenge by piercing his enemy’s shoulder, at the price of a mortal wound through his own lungs. By striking off this vicious provision, ample room will be left for the legitimate time-thrust and stopping-thrust, which are marks of the highest skill in fencing if the giver not be hit while delivering them.”

 

A proper time-thrust, or "coup de temps," with opposition in sixth, shown in Gomard's Théorie de L'Escrime, 1845.

A proper time-thrust, or “coup de temps,” with opposition in sixth, shown in Gomard’s Théorie de L’Escrime, 1845.

A double hit, illustrated in Baron de Bazancourt's Secrets of the Sword.

A double or simultaneous hit. In an actual combat with sharps, both fencers would be injured or possibly killed. From Baron de Bazancourt’s Secrets of the Sword, 1900.

Monstery criticized a similar rule for sabre put forth by the Club, explaining:

“The consequences of simultaneous blows with sabres cannot fail to be disastrous to both parties. In an actual sabre duel, their delivery would require two maniacs instead of one.”

In presiding over fencing contests as a judge, the available evidence suggests that Monstery was as good as his word, attempting to ensure that the sword was treated as a serious weapon. In an 1893 contest, it was noted that

“To an outsider it looked very much as if every time one man would hit the other, the struck one would cross-counter in a splendid style, returning the blow with interest. This, however, was decided by those who were up in the sport to be against the tenets of swordsmanship. ‘For,’ argued Colonel Monstery, ‘If the weapons were sharp the first blow struck would cut off the head of him who received it, and how could a man with his head cut off return a stroke?’” (Daily Inter Ocean, Nov. 3, 1893)

In his 1878 critique of the New York Athletic Club’s laws, Monstery emphasized the importance of distinguishing a “clean thrust” from a “glance,” and expressed dismay at the possibility of “a great deal of cheating” in fencing—cheating which, according to Monstery, was “sure to ensue if tournament-at-arms become popular in the United States.” He added:

“At present this cheating is confined to the lowest class of European professionals. Let us not, through ignorance, admit it into the society of American gentlemen amateurs.

Yours,

Thomas H. Monstery”

As for Senac, he was not quite done with Monstery. Although the Frenchman had been officially adjudged the winner in their 1876 contest, Senac himself seemed to acknowledge its inconclusiveness, when on January 5, 1880, in the New York Times, he challenged Monstery to yet again “fight a match with him…for the championship of America.”

This time, Monstery ignored the challenge.

 

Further Reading:

 

monsterybookcoverColonel Thomas H. Monstery‘s martial wisdom survives in his treatise on Boxing, Kicking, Grappling, and Fencing with the Cane and Quarterstaff, which was recently published by North Atlantic Books in book form for the first time. This volume contains a new, detailed biography of Monstery, and includes additional writings by the Colonel.

More information about Monstery can also be gleaned from these articles:

A Grand Assault-of-Arms in Old New York, directed by Col. Monstery

Monstery and the Training of Jaguarina, America’s Champion Swordswoman

A Bare-Knuckle Fight at Colonel Monstery’s

Colonel Thomas H. Monstery and the Use of the Quarterstaff

As well as this article, written by Monstery’s great great granddaughter, Diane Hayes.

 

Text of this article © 2015 by Ben Miller.