Five solo practice drills: Scottish broadsword

Keith Farrell and Mark Wilkie
Keith Farrell and Mark Wilkie fencing with sabres at Edgebana. Photo by Thomas Naylor, 2015.

This article was originally posted on Encased in Steel on 23rd September 2016. It has been edited and improved for posting here.

If you spend time working on your skills in between your regular weekly sessions, your skill will develop more swiftly, and you will find yourself better able to learn from your regular lessons.

Here are five solo practice drills that you can do at home to help improve your basic skills.

1) Move between guards

In Scottish broadsword, there are five main guards, although only three of them are particularly important: the inside, outside, and hanging guards. There are also a handful of other positions you might use from time to time, but you should really focus on the three most important positions. The other two main guards are just variations on these themes, as the medium guard is a position somewhere between the inside and outside guards, and the St George guard is a more horizontal version of the hanging guard.

Practise moving from your inside guard to your outside guard, smoothly and fluently, ensuring that you go far enough to the side to cover yourself sufficiently, but not so far that you expose yourself behind your guard. Similarly, practise moving from your outside guard to your inside guard, again paying attention to these same things. Practise moving from the inside guard to the hanging guard, and back, and from the outside guard to the hanging guard, and back. Focus on the precision, fluency and correctness of your movements.

If you can do this in front of a mirror, take the opportunity to observe and make sure that each of your guards provides you with sufficient cover without being held too far away.

Roworth’s 1798 book “The Art of Defence on Foot” provides clear and concise explanations of the different guard positions that are worth practising.

2) Practise your cuts in different orders

The cuts are numbered from 1 through to 6 (sometimes to 7), and these numbers describe different angles of attack. Although it is common to practise the sequence as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, repeat, it can be beneficial to change the order and practise different sequences. If you develop the muscle memory so that the only action that ever follows a cut 1 is a cut 2, then you are missing a huge number of opportunities!

Practise the sequence backwards: 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

Practise the sequence in a clockwise fashion: 1, 5, 3, 4, 6, 2.

Practise the sequence in an anti-clockwise fashion: 2, 6, 4, 3, 5, 1.

Practise a zig-zag sequence: 1, 6, 3, 2, 5, 4.

Practise returning to a “filler” cut in between each other technique, so that you have the sequence: filler 1 filler 2 filler 3 filler 4 filler 5 filler 6. So if cut 1 is the “filler” cut, then the sequence would be 1 1 1 2 1 3 1 4 1 5 1 6. Then do it with each of the other cuts as your filler cuts in the sequence.

Have someone sit with you and call out random numbers between 1 and 6, in whatever order they choose. Alternatively, use an online random number generator to pick a random sequence of numbers between 1 and 6, and perform the cuts in the order displayed on screen.

3) Practise your lunge and slip

What are the main pieces of offensive and defensive footwork in the Scottish broadsword system? The lunge on the attack, and the slip on the defence. The best way to practise these items of footwork would be to practise a sequence of cuts (in the fashions described previously), ensuring that you lunge on every attack, and that you recover to a defensive guard with a slip in between every cut.

So, when practising the sequence of cuts backwards:

– begin in hanging guard

– cut 6 with a lunge

– recover to outside guard with a slip

– cut 5 with a lunge

– recover to inside guard with a slip

– cut 4 with a lunge

– recover to outside guard with a slip

– cut 3 with a lunge

– recover to inside guard with a slip

– cut 2 with a lunge

– recover to outside guard with a slip

– cut 1 with a lunge

– recover to inside guard with a slip

– come en garde in hanging guard, ready to go again

Needless to say, you can combine this exercise with the previous exercise of changing the order of the cuts in the sequence!

4) Work with Angelo’s “10 Divisions”

In his 1799 work “The Guards and Lessons of the Highland Broadsword“, Angelo describes a set of 10 lessons or “divisions” that can be used to practise the use of the broadsword. These can be performed solo, or coordinated with a training partner, so they offer a variety of ways to train your attacking and defending skills.

Angelo’s divisions are very similar to the “10 lessons” of John Taylor, included in Roworth’s manual from 1804, and reproduced in the modern study guide “Scottish Broadsword and British Singlestick” from Fallen Rook Publishing. This study guide also discusses ways to perform the different lessons or divisions, and offers a comparison between Angelo’s and Taylor’s exercises. If you would like some reading material to complement your physical practice, then this book is worth adding to your library.

5) Practise slowly

Whatever sequence or exercise you give yourself for training, do it slowly. You do yourself no favours if you rush through each repetition and do everything wrong; in fact, this teaches you to do everything wrong when you are fencing, and it defeats the purpose of doing any training at all to become better. Take your time, focus on your precision and coordination, your balance, and making sure you can control the sword so that it goes exactly where you want it to go.

Then, finally, once you can perform an exercise perfectly by going through it slowly and carefully, increase the speed. Only ever practising slowly will not be so very helpful if you then have to spar at something approaching full speed, so you do need to ensure that you start working at a greater pace. But take care to lay your foundations properly by practising slowly and carefully, before speeding up.

For further reading, Guy Windsor has written an article specifically on the subject of practising slowly in order to learn speed: http://guywindsor.net/blog/2012/10/i-am-slow/

Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers.

I have authored Scottish Broadsword and British Singlestick and the award-winning AHA German Longsword Study Guide, and maintain a blog at www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.