This is a translation of the section concerning how strike an opponent with the sword in Henri de Sainct Didier’s Secrets of the Single Sword (1573). More sections of the text will be translated as time allows.
The translation is based on the transcription of the copy in the Library of the city of Blois (available at Bibliotheque Virtuelles Humanistes) made in 2010 by Olivier Depuis for l’Association pour la Recherche et le Développement des Arts Martiaux Historiques Européens. All amendments to the text made in the transcription have been assumed and are not noted here.
Translating Sainct Didier is heavy going. Not only am I not a professional (or even really an amateur) French interpreter, making sense of a text more than 400 years old in a language which I understand well enough but in which I’m not particular fluent is very difficult. Add to this Sainct Didier’s writing style, which can be charitably described as excruciating. I’m used to reading in Middle English and Early Modern English and was once quite well read in Latin (although I’ve forgotten plenty of it). However, Sainct Dider often defeated me. I’m sure that he was trying hard to sound more educated than he actually was.
I think from these exercises that it’s obvious that this is the start of the Sainct Didier curriculum. He’s teaching basic principles rather than combat techniques as such. I firmly believe that these are practice drills for within the salle.
One word more than any other in the text has caused problems, desrober. It is also the key to understanding how to counter or respond to almost all attacks in his system in that one parries an attack then performs a ‘desrober‘ under the assailant’s sword in order to counter-attack/riposte on the opposite side. Therefore understanding the meaning of this word is vital to comprehending Sainct Dider’s fencing system.
Even dictionaries of modern and Middle French are not much help. I’ve found the following list of senses for the term which, while none are directly relevant to fencing, suggest that I’m on the right track.
- To steal; to take a blow by surprise; to do something in a furtive manner or “in the manner of a thief” (Dictionnaire du Moyen Français (1330-1500))
- To steal; to avoid and escape. In the equestrian realm, it refers to a horse refusing to jump an obstacle (Dictionnaire de l’Académie, neuvième édition)
- To steal; to conceal, mask or protect. Again in the equestrian world, it means to escape by a sudden, rough movement (Larousse Dictionnaire de Francais – see both the transitive and the pronominal definitions)
- To steal, to cheat someone out of what is rightfully theirs (Dictionnaires d’autrefois)
I’ve translated the word as ‘steal’ as this seems closest to the meaning in context and carries in English both the senses of theft and furtive action. I interpret it to mean a kind of moulinet or scoop as this seems to meet my criteria of a) matching what the text says directly and indirectly, and b) it’s quick and easy to do under pressure.
All comments and corrections are most welcome.