What are the 7 Wards of I.33?

No, this isn’t going to be just simply listing the 7 Wards and showing what they look like.

Once again spurred by comments and discussion on another article, I figured I’d post my thoughts on what exactly the Wards are in MS I.33.

Let’s start by looking at every single reference to Wards that describes them somehow (I’m leaving out the cases where it just says “he’s in this ward” or whatever):

Folio 1r: “It is to be noted, how in general all fencers, or all men holding a sword in hand, even if ignorant in the art of fencing, use these seven wards, of which we have seven verses: “

Ok, this is pretty simple. We know that all fencers, even ignorant ones, use these 7 Wards. The verses then just list the 7 with their names. Ok, let’s move on.

Folio 1r: “It is to be noted, that the art of fencing is so described: Fencing is the ordering of diverse strikes, and is divided in seven parts, as here.”

Ok, now it gets interesting. As the Priest describes it, “fencing is the ordering of diverse strikes, and is divided in seven parts, as here”. The Latin words used for “ordering” and “diverse” are “ordinatio” and “divido” respectively. “Ordinatio” means “regulating, arranging”, so “ordering” is a reasonable translation. “Divido” means “divide, separate, distribute, distinguish”. So again, “divide” is a reasonable translation, although the alternate meaning as “distinguish” is interesting. So, taking this short sentence literally, it is telling us that the art of fencing is to take “diverse strikes” and order them or divide them or distinguish between them. How? In the way that we are shown how they were divided into seven parts; the seven Wards/Custodie.

I think this is quite telling. The Wards are not just the direct equivalent of the guards/posta/etc found in most other fencing systems. It’s not as simple as Ward = Guard. Instead, Wards are the categories the Priest has developed so that we can classify any strike. I made the following quick chart showing what strike is classified from each ward:

strikes from wards

Note that I used the german terminology for strikes because it was shorter to say “right oberhau” than having to say “diagonal downwards strike from the right with the long edge”

What about the 7th Ward, Langort? Well, the very next paragraph says:

“Note, that the nucleus of all the art of fencing consists in this latter ward which is called langort. Also, all actions of the wards or of the sword are determined by it, i.e. they end in it and not in others. Therefore, do first consider well this above-mentioned ward.”

Again, pretty interesting. Langort does not classify strikes, but rather it is the end point of all actions. Ok, let’s move on.

The rest of the manual just features mentions of the wards being used. It might be worthwhile to examine the words used to describe when a Ward is used.

With a quick scan of the manual, the three words used are “resumo”, “rego”, and “duco”, in various conjugations, of course. They have the meanings “take back, resume, recover”, “I rule/guide/govern/steer”, and “lead, guide, draw, pull, consider” respectively. A more in-depth analysis of when each one of these is used will be necessary to see if there are any telling differences. But the important point that can be made immediately is that all of them have connotations of an action, not a passive stance. Instead of translating it as (for example) “Here first ward is adopted” or “here first ward is re-assumed”, I’d perhaps translate it as “Here first ward is guided” or “Here first ward is used”.

Conclusion: I think it would be a mistake to just assume that Ward = Guard/Posta. I think there is a contextual and tactical difference between the Wards of I.33 and the more common system of guards. It can be tempting to try and make it easy and say that Ward  = Leger/Hut and Obsessio = Verborgenhau, for example, but I don’t believe that’s necessarily correct. There seems to be a somewhat subtle difference in I.33’s system of Custodia and Obsessio compared to the more “standard” system of guards and strikes as found in most other sources.

You might ask “but then how does I.33 want us to hold our sword?”. I suspect the answer might be “why does that matter? if you’re out of distance, just be ready and able to move into action at any moment, and if you’re within distance, you should be using an Obsessio or already in the bind. It doesn’t matter how you hold your sword outside of distance.”. But that’s a subject for another article. Hint: Walpurgis’ Ward might be how we’re supposed to stand out of distance.

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About joeynitti

I study Historical European Martial Arts. I am a member of Ottawa Swordplay. I've been studying HEMA for around 5 years.
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11 Responses to What are the 7 Wards of I.33?

  1. You’re looking at all of the words except for the most important one: Custodia. That’s what they’re called. It seems to me that you’re consciously trying to avoid using the most obvious translations here, but that’s certainly your prerogative. For what it’s worth, I find (sometimes to my irritation, given the frequent use of German) sword & buckler has terribly little in common with longsword. It has, however, quite a bit in common with rapier (particularly rapier & buckler). Giganti tells us that to an experienced fencer, every position of the sword is a ward, and to the inexperienced fencer, none are. I don’t see how this is any less the case for sword & buckler than it is for rapier.

    A couple of weeks ago, one of my students pointed out to me that the wards are natural launching points for a number of cuts (and Pectori/6th for the thrust), and it is indeed likely that this is what makes the wards what they are. But, despite having 5 numbered wards (probably) clearly associated with cuts, the only time I.33 encourages us to cut directly from a ward is to attack the obsessio Halbschilt (and this is particularly easy for the obsessor to counter). We are never instructed to cut from 1st, 3rd, or 5th wards, and we are never instructed to cut from a ward to the body of our opponent.

    Given the clear emphasis that I.33 places on the thrust, why should we ever use the first five wards? What advantage do they confer? Why ever use anything other than Pectori, Langort, and the obsessiones?

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    • joeynitti says:

      I’m not ignoring the word Custodia. I’m simply going by how I.33 describes them. It could have named them “the 7 rubber chickens” for all I care, I’m going to use the definition of “Custodia” that I.33 gives us. I’m going to use the definition given within the text first before the definitions given by standard translations. If the standard way of translating it means “ward”, which has connotations of protection, that’s fine, but what I.33 tells us the Wards are for overrides that.

      I wouldn’t say the Wards are natural launching points so much as they are necessary “gates” or “waypoints” you must pass through to make a certain strike. If you want to strike a diagonal downwards blow from the right, you will inevitable pass through 2nd Ward. We don’t have to guess. I.33 tells us exactly that the 7 Wards serve the purpose of giving us the ability to categorize an opponent’s strikes.

      And you’re right, I fully agree, I.33 never advocates cutting directly at the opponent from a Ward. I.33 does indeed place an emphasis on the thrust. The answer to “why should we ever use the 5 wards?” is “we don’t need to use ANY of the wards”. I don’t really see where your question is coming from. Asking why we should ever use the first five wards is implying that I.33 wants us to use any wards at all.

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      • I.33 doesn’t give us a description of the function of the wards, apart from the name it uses, which you prefer to ignore. “[Combat] is divided in seven parts…” is not exactly a definition of “custodia”.

        Incidentally, obsideo (from whence derives “obsessio”, and which is found throughout the book) carries the primary meanings of “sit, stay; dwell”.

        You may also find it interesting that 9r-a states that 2nd Ward is “held” (habetur) at the right shoulder.

        The custodie could serve as launching points or “waypoints”. I’m not sure that this must be an either/or situation.

        “Asking why we should ever use the first five wards is implying that I.33 wants us to use any wards at all.”

        This seems to be implying that it doesn’t want us to use any wards at all. Is that your position?

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      • joeynitti says:

        In short, it tells us that the Wards are a way of classifying diverse strikes. This allows us to counter them with the appropriate Obsessio.

        Again, I would caution against only relying on the primary dictionary definition of the term when we have a context for it. Yes, one meaning of the word can be “sit, lay, etc”. But particularly in a combat-related context, it means a Siege. Don’t get me wrong, of course looking at the meanings of words is crucial. I just think that it obviously needs to be done in the context of the text itself. I think it’s pretty clear from the text that the Obsessio are not something we sit or lay in, and we are given constant reminder not to tarry, hesitate, or wait once we’ve done the Obsessio (it says the same if we are caught in a Ward and our opponent does an Obsessio). So to translate Obsessio as something you sit or lay in would be wrong.

        “habetur” or “habeo” is a bit more complex than just “held” in the sense of holding the sword at the right shoulder. It can just as easily mean the sword is “presiding over, possessed/owned by” the right shoulder. In that sense, it is ambiguous. Again, given the context of always being told to not linger in Wards or Obsessio, I would lean away from translating “habetur” as “held”.

        and yes, that is correct. My interpretation is that Luitger doesn’t advocate using any of the 7 Wards, but rather we’re supposed to use the Obsessio to enter distance safely and work from the bind. Whether you interpret the Wards as being guards you stand in and fight from, or as waypoints you pass when making any strike, either way, I.33 doesn’t advocate doing that (neither standing in Wards, nor making direct strikes from wide distance).

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  2. Chris Slee says:

    I like where you’re going with this. And I really like that you have a fresh view on the material. I reckon we need more of this kind of thinking to prevent HEMA stagnating into a bunch of received wisdom.

    Taking your idea further, is there value in exploring the mechanics of langort in relation to your idea of the seven strikes? For example, if you cut your strike 1 into langort, how then do you immediately flow into making strike 2 into langort, then strike 3 into langort, etc?

    Could it be that half shield and the crutch play a role? For example, if you cut strike 1 and stop halfway to langort, covering your hand with your buckler, does it look like the crutch? If you cut strike 2 and stop halfway to langort, does it look like half shield?

    Whether or not any of this proves correct or accurate or what Lutiger intended, etc, I think this idea is a neat way of showing a unified fencing system in the text.

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    • joeynitti says:

      yeah, fresh views are always good IMHO. It seemed like lots of people had interpretations of I.33, but all the debate and content posted online was many years old, and there was no new discussion. I started studying it in more depth and gained a new appreciation for it, and started seeing differences between what I saw and what other people interpreted.

      Well, that’s the thing, I.33 never explicitly talks about what you’re supposed to do staying at wide distance like that, it only really covers entering distance. I mean, following the canon of the text, we shouldn’t even do a direct strike from 1st Ward or 2nd Ward or any Ward, but instead should use an Obsessio. So, following the text as closely as possible, I’d say that if you DO a strike at your opponent, you definitely shouldn’t cut all the way through into another Ward, you should end in Langort. Once you’re in Langort, you can either stay there, or “flee” to another Ward. I.33 shows us examples of when someone flees to the side or flees from the bind, and the simple response is to follow them with a strike. Simply put, it’s a bad idea to do. So when you do that strike ending in Langort, it is essentially the same as using Langort as an Obsessio, or the same as Entering with a Thrust, both of which I.33 discusses.

      As for Halfshield or Krucke or whatever being stopping points to turn your strike into an Obsessio, I’d say that while it’s not explicitly in the text, and we’re not advised to strike directly like that, I think it’s obviously a good idea that if you do make a strike from a Ward, you’re prepared to turn it into an Obsessio. At that point, the lines kinda blur, because you’re simply talking about the difference between just moving your sword into an Obsessio, and striking/cutting into an Obsessio.

      and I’d agree, I33 contains a very detailed system. I believe it’s very in-depth and that there’s a lot of tactics and concepts buried in the text, it’s just hard to pick out sometimes when a concept is fully contained and condensed into one verse. We get a short sentence describing what the Wards are used for, that’s it. But within that sentence is a core fundamental principle of the system that has implications for the rest of the manual.

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  7. Grauenwolf says:

    > The Wards are not just the direct equivalent of the guards/posta/etc found in most other fencing systems.

    I feel that you are mistaken on this point. With very few exceptions (e.g. the four camps in Lichtenauer) the other fencing systems are no different than I.33 in that wards/guards should be treated as broad classifications and the natural beginning/end of a cut or thrust.

    Likewise, we see the concept of the Obsessio taught as counter-guards in the rapier manuals. (Though strangely we don’t see Obsessio-equivalents discussed much in earlier sidesword or longsword manuals.)

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