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:
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.