Footwork in the Noble and Worthy Science is simple and linear.  The primary measure used in this style of rapier play is a wide measure which Swetnam describes as twelve feet between the fencers’ front feet.  This is quite a long distance, even for the rapier, but he also says that this should be the farthest distance at which one can step forward and strike the opponent.  This second definition of Swetnam’s measure is identical to Capo Ferro’s wide measure[1].


To observe distance, by which is meant that thou shouldest stand so far of from thine enemy, as thou canst, but reach him when thou dost step forth with thy blow or thrust, and thy foremost foote and hand must goe together, and which distance may be twelve foot with a rapier” (p. 82)


“…you must observe a true distance at all weapons, that is to say, three feete betwixt the pints of your weapons, and twelve foote distance with your fore foote from your enemies fore foote…” (p. 117)


The author does not discuss any specific tactics for approaching or maintaining this measure, beyond the general statements that movement should be slow and cautious and that one must assume a guard before entering into range.


“…thou must also travers thy ground so leisureably, that thou mayest be sure to have one foote firme on good ground before thou pluckest up the other; for else, going fast about, thou maiest quickly be downe if the ground be not even.” (p.89)


“The first is to remember to frame thy selfe into thy guard, for (before) thou come within thy enemies distance, and so to approach in guarded.” (p.168)


His discussion of general footwork consists of two injunctions.  First, that the fencer should keep their rear foot firmly planted.  This provides a reference point for retreating back to the proper measure.


“… when thou intendest to offend thy enemy, either with blow or thrust, then steppe forth with thy right foote, and hand together, but keepe thy left foote fast moored like an anchor…” (p. 87)


“…but so soone as thou hast presented thy thrust, whether thou hit or misse, fall backe againe to recover thy guard and distance so soone as thou canst, but stand alwaies fast on thine hindermost foote…” (p. 89)


Secondly, both attack and defense should be linear whenever possible.  This linearity is characteristic of early 17th century rapier play and can be seen in other texts of the period such as Capo Ferro and Fabris.


For your instruction herein, when you practice in a chamber, looke what board you stand upon, you should in delivering either of blow or thrust, alwaies steps foorth with your right foote upon the same board which the left foote standeth on, for looke how much your left your fore foote wide of the straight line towards your enemie, you loose so much in your reach forward” (p. 97)


“The [step] to the side does not serve any purpose except to make a beautiful sight…” (Capo Ferro)

Unfortunately, Swetnam never clearly describes his lunge.  Instead, he repeatedly uses the phrase steppe forth with your right foote and hand together”, followed by a recovery in which the right foot is drawn back to the left to regain the true guard.  Given the extremely long distance (12 feet!) at which this attack is performed, it is hard to imagine what else it could be but a lunge.  As stated earlier, Swetnam’s lunge is performed with the left foot firmly planted and should be followed by an immediate recovery.

Swetnam generally recommends having the right foot forward when acting with the rapier and the left foot forward when acting with the dagger.  This is true in both offense and defense, so that a defensive parry with the dagger is often accompanied by a step back with the right foot, leaving the left foot forward.  Similarly, when taking control of the opponent’s sword with one’s dagger in preparation for a lunge, the left foot steps forward with the dagger.

Lateral movement is almost completely absent from Swetnam.  The few exceptions mentioned are, in a word, exceptional.  The following is fairly representative of his brief mentions of lateral movement:


“…faine a thrust downe to his knee, but presentlie raise your point againe with a iumpe [jump] foure foote side-waies towards the left side of your enemie, and mount up your Rapier hand withall, and put in your thrust over your enemies Dagger…” (p. 99)

(As an aside, this technique works remarkably well in my experience, not least because of the inevitable “What the…?” reaction of the opponent.  However, it should be practiced beforehand, because it is very easy to misjudge the angle and distance of the leap and end up at the wrong measure for the overhand thrust.  Nothing looks sillier than making the fantastic leap and discovering that your beautiful thrust at their unprotected shoulder falls six inches short.)

Defensively, Swetnam uses only single quick backward steps.  In the first of these, the rear foot remains planted, while the forward foot moves backwards behind the rear foot.  It’s important to note that this void is intended to protect the head and body, not the forward foot itself.  His primary guard, with its narrow stance and slight forward lean to the body, is assumed to make attacks at the forward leg futile.


“…by an active and nimble shift of the body by falling back with the right foote, & the danger being past to change hastily upon your enemy again” (p. 100)


Swetnam also describes a demi-volte, without using that term.  The rear foot swings around outside the right foot, bringing the entire body offline while leaving the sword extended in a stop-thrust.


“…when he doth thrust at you, wheele about your bodie, falling backe with your left foote; but withall, thrust out your rapier, and so you may hit, and defend onelie with the shift of the bodie…” (p. 119)


[1] Ridolfo Capo Ferro, Gran Simulacro dell’arte e dell’uso della Scherma, Ch 4, paragraph 46.