True Time (or time of the hand) vs. time of the foot

Firstly, what is “true time”?

As I understand it, the first person to talk about “True Time” was George Silver in his 1599 work The Paradoxes of Defence. He divides timing into the following categories described as “true” or “correct” timings:

The time of the hand.
The time of the hand and body.
The time of the hand body and foot.
The time of the hand body and feet.

Basically this means that the hand should be the first thing to move. If you’re out of measure, you may need to move your body forward which could involve making an adjustment step (accrescare) or a pass (Passare) which means moving the feet. So, according to Silver, it should go hand and sword (specifically the point), then body, then feet.

A depiction of two people duelling with sword and dagger.

The point leading first makes a lot of sense. The strike is faster and the blade covers the body as it enters. I’ve heard it described in various manuals that the point should move toward the opponent as though drawn by a piece of string, which I’ve always found useful when slowing down my movements to optimise them and make adjustments to my form. But does striking first mean that I’m unbalanced?

I recently attended a workshop in Rome on Kunst des Fechtens (arts of fighting) of medieval Germany as described in the various surviving manuscripts of the Liechtenauer tradition lead by Mike Edelson and Tristan Zukowski (who was an absolute dude!). Mike Edelson is the author of Cutting with the Medieval Longsword: Theory and Application and the founder of the New York Historical Fencing Association.

Edelson contended that the leading foot should land before the strike was made arguing that a fighter had better structure with which to deliver the cut. When he was questioned as to whether or not this might leave a fighter vulnerable to the opening attack or vorshlag, he reasoned that the step would be followed so quickly with an attack, that an opponent’s only logical reaction would be to defend himself, forcing him into the Nach. He then demonstrated by approaching one of the attendees with his sword raised in High Tag (Posta di Falone to you Italian practitioners out there) and asked them I they thought they could hit him without being struck themselves.

A compelling argument, but are you sacrificing speed for structure by moving at the time of the foot? Conversely, should you ever sacrifice structure for speed?

In the perfect world, one would argue that it depends on the moment. Want to be strong in the bind? Speed of the foot. Want your Durchwekseln to be faster than your opponent can respond to it? True time.

But then, can we think about switching between these times during free play? Could we think about it during a tournament?

Let me know which you think is best. I’m still deciding…

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