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If it looks like a Duck

Wikipedia has a good article on the probable source of what is now known as the Duck Test

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.

In recent weeks, in light of what is happening in the US, and the direction various European states are moving, I was going to write a rant about using “Nazi” as a short hand descriptor. But I won’t.

Until recently, I was never particularly comfortable with any modern reactionary being labelled as a “Nazi”. Even “neo-Nazi” is something I was not keen on. My reasoning behind this is a little circuitous, and I know that some folk won’t agree with me, so bear with me a little. Over my lifetime I have seen a change in the way that “Nazis” were presented in popular western culture, and how they are present in the zeitgeist. Going back to the 70’s, I recall that we started to see movies (other than movies about WW2) where villains were identified as Nazis – I am thinking of things like Marathon Man and The Boys From Brazil, where the villain was a remnant representive of an ancient and terrible evil. Fast forward to the 80’s, and we see a more light-hearted and comic-book evil in Raiders Of The Lost Ark, or the 90’s with Doom and other video games where Nazis have transformed into “abstract Bad Guys”. Most presentations of Nazis in popular culture now are as arbitrary mooks that nobody can object to seeing punched, shot, or bombed.

This is not a new idea of mine, if you dig around you will find far better analyses of this process of abstraction, and indeed trivialisation. I encourage you to do so. So until recently, I would rather that real-world current evil bastards not be labelled with something that has become a trivial insult. I would until recently have said “look, they are not actual Nazis, and you are using that label as a lazy short hand for evil bell ends who should be locked away on an island for our own safety

Except I can’t. Not any more. If it looks like a Nazi, salutes like a Nazi, marches like a Nazi, talks like a Nazi, I think we should treat it like a Nazi. Particularly since it is evident that in the US there are significant numbers of people who are literally draping themselves with the symbology and styling of the historical Nazis.

So my plea to you now is: If you want to label someone as Nazi, please double check your reasons for doing so. We owe it to the people who fought the Nazis last time around to take the label seriously. Mostly for myself I will be trying to use “racist arsehole”, “nationalistic bell-end” and “evil twat”, because I do not want to award these pricks with any of the weight that the very specific historical name carries.

Thibault – Interlude and context

A brief interlude resulting from a conversation over rather a nice stout, while we explore Chapter 5 with sword in hand. It is worth thinking about the context for Thibault’s life. Think about some of the other people and masters:

Who Birth Death
Thibault 1574 1627
Narvaez 157? 1640
Fabris 1544 1618
Giganti 155? 1622
Swetnam ???? 1621
Carranza 1539 1600
Shakespeare 1564 1616
Ben Jonson 1572 1637
Elizabeth I 1558 1603

It is also worth noting that he was roughly contemporaneous with Luis Díaz de Viedma, who we have been looking at with LLA in recent months.

His late life is framed against the Thirty Years War, and the years when he was (probably) studying La Verdadera Destreza saw the publication of Don Quixote, Guy Fawkes’ adventure underneath Parliament, the establishment of the Jamestown, Virginia, and the Dutch East India company beginning to trade.

It is far too easy, and common, for you and I, the modern reader, to view a historical individual or event as a discrete and disconnected entity, forgetting or not observing what is contemporaneous. Take 1969 for example: Nixon became POTUS, Armstrong stepped onto the moon, the Beatles are photographed crossing Abbey Road, and Monty Python’s Flying Circus began to be broadcast.

The cultural milieu of Thibault needs to be taken into account – what is the context of sword play? What contemporary and near-contemporary masters influenced him? What sort of people would have he been teaching, and why? There are direct clues to some of this in his book, even the simple differentiation between “arresting with courtesy”, a thrust, and ramming it through the opponent’s eye suggests the student will be playing, but may expect to be fighting in earnest.

Some entirely context-less links for your additional consideration:

Henry VI, Part 2, Act 4, Scene 2

The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.

I’ve heard back from my contact at Blue Point regarding the defunct electric car chargers. On 4th of August I was assured by Berkeley’s “Head of Estates” that matters were going to be soon resolved, and that a quick trip through Legal would see it all sorted. The ball is still in Berkeley’s court, and appears to have been left to lie. Because Brexit. Or Trump. Or the wrong sort of rain. Or something.

It is now 280 days since we first lodged a formal report of these units being dead, and I know they were dead for at least 6 months prior to that. That is 9 months and 6 days. Had the date of our first formal contact been the date of an imagined conception, then mother and child would now be safely at home and posting cute pictures to Facebook. I do hope that these units can be repaired before this imagined child is taking it’s first steps, or indeed entering school.

I am left with the inescapable and pervasive sense that Berkeley group would prefer to appear to be taking action on community facilities and environmentally sound improvements rather than actually taking action.

Thibault – Chapter Four

On The Posture Of The Straight Line

This is a somewhat clunky chapter, needing to be partly read with Chapter 3, and suggesting that a good editor would have helped with the structure at this point. There are three distinct sections in this chapter that are not entirely related but also not quite separate enough to warrant their own chapters.

The first section explains what is going on with Alexander in Chapter 3, explaining and finishing the partially complete actions that are carried forward to meet Zachary at first instance. First there is a movement forward that brings the sword up from beneath to meet Zachary in the straight line at first instance, reaching the hilt, with the sword finishing parallel and below. Next are two examples where Zachary is in the oblique angle, meeting him both inside and outside the arm. Finally there is an example where Alexander moves forward without leading with the blade to meet the straight line, which is ill-advised.


Thibault – Chapter Three

On The Correct Way of Drawing The Sword and Entering Into Measure

This is the first chapter where Thibault has the student doing something with the sword, and falls neatly into the natural progression of learning. Interestingly this is one of the few places where he talks about making it work on the street – his justification for learning how to draw the sword is so that the student becomes comfortable with the action so that it comes naturally when required.

In addition to explaining the draw, this is the first time where he works through the action as distinct steps linked to particular images, using four images or steps for drawing while moving forward, and for drawing while moving backward.


Thibault – Chapter 2

On Proportions

Having apparently dealt with the circle and proportions of the body completely in Chapter 1, Thibault returns to it in Chapter 2, in what feels to me l like a somewhat defensive inclusion outside his main thrust of teaching.

The chapter starts by restating the argument that the measuring stick for all fencing is the human body, but he then feels the need to defend it:

… seeing that this correspondence is so extremely great … perhaps someone will take occasion to suspect that we have accommodated the aforesaid figure to our fantasy, in order to get the desired proportions, rather than simply following the natural truth …


Thibault – Chapter 1

The Proportions of the Human Body, Related to the Figure of our Circle and to the Proper Length of the Sword

Chapter 1 is very dense, both with theory and the way that the theory is discussed, but has a number of key statements that need to be observed. It’s a pretty good illustration of his habit of stating something once, and expecting the student to remember it.

This chapter begins with a lengthy discussion about the ratios and proportions of the human body, calling back to Pythagoras, Plato, Vitruvius, Pliny, Hippocrates and the Bible as examples of previous proofs. This is a fairly typical way of constructing an argument at his time, where first the prior knowledge is laid out, and then the author’s own assertion posited as though another layer on top of the previous arguments. The truth of the argument can be tested because it has some logical connection to the previous arguments that have been accepted as true.


Thibault – Author’s Note

Since I last wrote, and started searching around, I have found a record of one sale through Christies of a copy that changed hands for around €19,500 in 2009. There’s some interesting details there around that physical copy, including the size, listed as 550 mm x 410 mm, which is roughly the size of an A2 page. As I said last time, this is a big book.

If you are looking to be able to leaf through the images, the National Library of Netherlands has most of the images up on line, and you may care to have a look at the Wiktenauer page for the book for some background.


Thibault – Introduction

I have in recent weeks began re-reading Academie de l’Espee by Gerard Thibault d’Anvers, for a variety of reasons. Sadly my virtually non-existent French means I am reading the 2005 translation by John Michael Greer. To my surprise and delight, re-reading after having left it alone for several years I find it opening up for me, and it makes much more sense than it did the first few times.

I believe there is value for me personally in taking notes as I go – essentially a gloss on the book – and so I may as well publish those as I go, hence this first of roughly 45 posts about the book. But first, some strong caveats for the reader. The most important is that this is my understanding, opinion and interpretation, and is in no way authorative or even necessarily correct. The second is that I am working from a translation without having sufficient French or easy access to one of the originals to verify the quality of the translation. I’ve heard different opinions about the quality of the translation, but the general consensus from people in the know is that it’s ok.

Since this post takes roughly the position in the book of Greer’s introductory notes, I feel free to make my own introductory comments, starting with a general disagreement with the tenor of Greer’s introduction. In my opinion, Greer focuses way too much on the ‘esoteric’ nature of the book, perpetuating – probably inadvertently – the myth of the mysterious Spanish circle.

I contend that there is very little, if no, estoreric mystery in Thibault’s book. If you consider the philosophical and intellectual spirit of the years in which he was writing it, there is zero surprise that he leans heavily on geometry and briefly relates the geometry of the body to the broader geometry of the universe – if you pick up any scientific or mathematical text of the early 17th Century, you will find this tendency because it was one of the primary threads of scientific theory. Indeed, one way to look at the history of western science through the 17th Century is to see this mapping of earlier less rational thinking onto a mathematical models, followed by a rapid refinement of mathematical technique as it became evident that simple geometry is not good with the messy perceived world.

Indeed, while it is framed by a very particular mode of discourse, I am startled by how clear and unambiguous Thibault really is. I do not think the decision to call the book “The Academy Of The Sword” was taken lightly, it is entirely descriptive: there is a very distinct didactic method, and he aims to take the reader on a journey from novice to competency. That is not to say he is a forgiving teacher. He definitely expects that the student is practicing everything that is in the book, and very seldom states a lesson twice – he expects the reader to retain everything that he wrote in previous chapters. Occasionally he will refer forward to later materials by saying “don’t worry about this, we deal with it later”, and occasionally he will call back to previous points, but in general it appears he expects the student to take on the responsibility of retaining knowledge from one chapter to the next.

I think that it is easy to believe that Thibault’s book is obscure or difficult, because it is a very dense text. There is a good deal of exhaustive detail, coupled with a system which appears to be unusually focussed on very precise situational awareness, and his explanations are inextricably linked to the illustrations in the book. It is this latter point that I feel lets the Chivalry Bookshelf edition down, as many of the illustrations are not well reproduced. However having handled one of the original copies, this is understandable – the original book is huge, and the original engravings are very finely detailed. The reproductions lose detail, sometimes significant detail, and wind up more separated from the text than they were in the original.

So, excuse me for rambling, I will try to be more focused in later posts on this topic and hope to demystify Thibault.

Academy of the Sword
Gerard Thibault d’Anvers, 1630, trans. by John Michael Greer
The Chivalry Bookshelf, 2005
ISBN-13: 978-1-891448-40-9
ISBN-10: 1-891448-40-4

On Git Submodules…

Git Submodules. Just Say No. Not Even Once.