Sainct Didier’s Comparison of Fencing and Tennis

This is a translation of the section concerning how to step correctly 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.

In this section, he tries to convince the reader that tennis or, more correctly, jeu de paulme is similar enough to the practice of swordsmanship that one could easily transfer skills on the court to the skills required in a fencing bout. His argument is clumsy and generally mismanaged. Coupling this with the emphasis in an earlier section on the proper (and very decorous) manner in which to draw the sword, I cannot accept that any theory other than that his intended audience were civilian courtiers rather than professional soldiers.