A Beginner's Source For Classical Fencing: A Review of Alfred Hutton's The Swordsman


Today we are taking a little bit different a path, as I present to you this handy little manual by Alfred Hutton, The Swordsman. This one is the more accessible and introductory of his books that are still in print. This is a foundational manual of fencing, but as this is Hutton, the audience is students of the sword as a weapon, not necessarily sport fencers. Some of the moves and techniques Hutton describes would likely get you banned from sport fencing.

Hutton wrote several other books on fencing, many of which are still in print, including Cold Steel, Fixed Bayonets, and The Sword Through the Centuries, which is more of a history of swordplay. This work, The Swordsman, covers foil, sabre, bayonet for beginners. The Lessons introduce positions, guards, and attacks, including using blindfold lessons to develop touch-based instinctive reactions.


For foil, there is an emphasis on guards in supination, although guards in pronation are described but warned against. There is an extensive set of lessons and combos for the foil, as it makes up the foundation for everything after. This is actually why this is such a good starting point for reading Hutton's work, as Cold Steel and his other manuals assume knowledge and experience with foil, and this book is where the foil techniques are explained.

From foil, the book moves into Sabre and Singlestick. Singlestick, as the name implies, is a form of English stick-fighting, that is otherwise identical to sabre: all guards, attacks, and moulinets with the sabre are equally applicable with the singlestick. Today stick fighting is mostly associated with Asian, particularly Filipino, martial arts, but it used to be widely practiced in Europe as well, as training or even as self-defense, as these techniques can be implemented with a cane or a walking stick.


The Sabre lessons are basically an abbreviated version of what is in Cold Steel, giving a good overview, with an emphasis on transferable skills from Foil. It covers cuts and thrusts, moulinets, and advanced lessons like feints and ripostes.


Finally, the book covers bayonet, presenting from the basis in Foil, but simplified as the rifle with fixed bayonet is heavy and awkward. It includes notes for attacking with the Butt as well as the Point.

This work makes for a perfectly reasonable introduction to the study and practice of historical fencing, and should be of interest to individuals interested in understanding the sword as a weapon. Coupled with a practice foil and practice sabre (even better is a Hutton practice sabre, but I've mostly been working with a practice fencing sabre), this makes an affordable and accessible course of self-study for developing foundational skills in Foil and Sabre, and get a good idea about the use of the bayonet on older, military rifles. As an interesting note, as the book dates back to 1891 and is British, look closely at the rifle in the Bayonet lessons: it's a Lee-Metford or Long Lee-Enfield!


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