Saturday, July 15, 2017

Saber attacks: Burton's manchette tactics examined

This is the third time I have taken up the matter of Burton's New System of Sword Exercise for Infantry. Here is my first article about it, a book review, not altogether favorable.

Second I examined some good aspects of his system and modified them slightly, to better suit my own tastes.

Now I am going to consider Burton's method of attacking the opponent's sword hand, wrist and forearm. It is the flower of his system. Indeed, the whole system makes little sense without manchette attacks as its focus and best purpose. Continuing what I started in my second article, I am going to propose some changes that I take to be improvements. But, as before, I am beginning with something sound in Burton and building on it.

I think his manchette method as he wrote it down is hampered by certain technical inconsistencies within it and by the terse and in places opaque explanations he gave. But I wish to give credit where it is due. It may be that the method would seem much better if we could in person experience him using it, rather than reading his explanation generations later. It may be that the extraneous or inconsistent aspects actually got little use in practice, but were included in the treatise for completeness. It is certain than seeing a demonstration would be more useful than reading the explanations as we have them.

I will quote Burton directly for what is the only really clear statement he makes about manchette tactics: "A golden rule which cannot be repeated too often is that all the Manchette-Cuts in Tierce (outside), either from above or from below, must be as nearly vertical as possible, whilst all the Cuts in Carte (inside) should be as horizontal as they can be made. The reason is simply that these positions cover the arm and render the attack less dangerous." Let us bear that principle in mind in perusing what follows.

A very good online edition of Burton's manual can be found here:  . You may wish to refer to it from time to time as I discuss some or other aspect of the system. 

Burton divides the techniques in his manchette method into five headings, as follows:
  • Direct Cuts
  • Reverse Cuts
  • Time Cuts
  • Feints of Coupé in Manchette
  • Feints of Seconde in Manchette
The highlighted portion below is cut-and-pasted from Burton. It is his conclusion or summation of the method, given in a form common in fencing manuals of the day. The first column names an attack, the second the proper or likely defense, and the third gives a counter-attack.


The following is a synoptical tape of Manchette or Fore-arm play, showing the Cuts, the Guards (Parries) for the Cuts, and the Ripostes or replies that should follow each Parade. The Instructor will remember that instead of Prime we use High Tierce or High Carte, and for Seconde Low Tierce or withdrawing the leg.

Direct Cuts.
1. Carte de ManchetteIV. (Carte)II. (Seconde).
2. Ditto and cut Tierce.IV. and III. (Tierce)III.
3. Double Carte de Manchette and cut Carte.IV., III., and IV.II.
4. Double Carte de Manchette and cut Tierce.Parade Retrograde by withdrawing arm.III. or IV.


Reverse Cuts.
1. Half-feint.II. or III.III. or IV.
2. Feint Seconde and cut upwards.II.Cut with false edge upwards.
3. Feint Tierce and cut upwards.III. and II.II.
4. One-two-three, and cut upwards.Parade Retrograde.III. or IV.
5. The Pass.II. and I. (Prime).III.


Time Cuts.
1. On all Cuts in Carte.Parry with time in IV. Carte de Manchette.IV.
2. On feints in Carte ending with Cuts in TierceParade RetrogradeIII. or IV.
3. On Cuts in TierceReverse Cut upwards.III.
4. On Reverse Cut upwards.II. and III.IV.
5. On Cuts in Seconde.The Time Pass. III


Feints of Coupé in Manchette
1. Single Coupé.III. or IV.II.
2. One-two.IV. and III.III.
3. One-two-three.II., III. and II.III. or IV.
4. One-two-three-four.Parade Retrograde.III


Feints of Seconde in Manchette.
1. Simple Seconde.II.III.
2. Feint Seconde and cut Tierce.II. and III.III. or IV.
3. Feint Seconde, feint Tierce, and cut Carte.II., III., and II.III. or IV.
4. Feint Seconde, feint Tierce, and cut Seconde.Parade Retrograde.III. or IV.

If you are at all like me in the way you read such things, you have been waving your hand or a pencil in the air while reading, or perhaps a fencing saber if you happen to keep one handy. But as you familiarize yourself with the sequences of attack, parry and riposte, it's good to do so with a critical eye on the proceedings. 

If I am reading Burton aright, he abhors seconde as a guard or parry, but countenances it as a feint or cut. I think that, when he reminds us that we are to use tierce instead of seconde, he means only that we are not to use seconde as a parry. I think that is what he means because his descriptions speak of seconde feints and cuts in ways that make best sense if taken literally as seconde, not seconde as code for low tierce. In trying to understand why he might think the seconde feint is all right, it occurred to me that holding the sword in seconde can serve the same functions as coupé, or cut-over, but do so inverted, that is, below the opponent's sword not above it. Burton mistrusts the usual inversion of coupé, which is the degage (disengagement). He writes, "If the opponent attempt to "degage," that is to pass his point under your blade from Tierce to Carte, or vice versâ, retire by withdrawing the right heel to the left, and cut at the arm which his movement has exposed." Seconde, though, can get you under the opponent's sword while affording you the protection of keeping your blade inclined with respect to the opponent's: the hanging guard he so despised in the earlier part of his treatise is implicitly an advantage here.

From Burton's New Sword Exercise
What I think happened is that Burton understood the degage in fencing-school terms, that is, as being necessarily like the foil maneuver in which the blade disengages nearly parallel to the ground, thus offering no protection from a cut. Let us re-examine that assumption. It is possible to adapt the degage to saber use, leaving the blade inclined with respect to the opposing blade. It's accomplished using Burton's low tierce/low carte and a hint of "parade retrograde" if needed. Your point passes near below the opposing blade but your hand is far below, and the blade retains enough inclination to parry. If we do that we can dispense with seconde even as a feint. 

The advantage of doing away with seconde is that including it mars the consistent nature and smooth flow of Burton's system of linked tierces and cartes, linked together as they are by his innovation of semi-moulinets. The system is smoother and cleaner without seconde. Burton's illustration of his guards shows, but does not name, seconde formed high and low, a sort of un-named presence in the system.

Of course, whatever you think of seconde, other people may use it, so it makes sense to account for it in the system, at least so far as understanding how to answer it. But the improvement in flow when one removes it from one's own movements bears out the theory that logical consistency is beneficial even in real-world pursuits.

In a previous installment, I gave my doubts about the real usefulness of Burton's reverse cuts. They are well and good in fencing bouts because they count as hits, according to the rule book. In a military setting they may lack sufficient force to be effective. Whether I am right about that or not, using them introduces another inconsistent element into the flowing system of semi-moulinets. The movements are more harmonious and smoother without the reverses. Burton's system is more self-consistent without them, but he plainly likes them, and so here they are. He mentions a couple of instances in which the cut with the true edge can be used instead, but with a loss of time.

I notice that of the several real (not fencing) sabers I have around the house, not one of them is equipped with a false edge. Their designers did not find that refinement important. I would perforce do without the reverse cuts if somehow I found myself in a war involving sabers. 
Not all sabers had back edges historically, but in Burton's era the feature was common--and he complained that it generally went unused. I, though, surmise that it went unused because it was not very useful.

This video from a modern fencing master shows that a good bit of what Burton was driving at anticipated later theory. The video mentions manchette stop cuts and shows the importance of remaining covered while you attack, and how reverse cuts can help you to keep covered. I think Burton would have seen in it much to commend. 

My own view of the matter is that three of the five divisions of Burton's manchette technique are simply splendid. Delete two elements out of five, the almost hypocritical uses of seconde and the questionably efficacious reverse cuts, and its brilliance emerges more clearly. It becomes a smoothly flowing and indeed brilliant display of fast swordsmanship.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Why a revolver? Uh...why not?

The revolver is simpler to operate than an automatic. There is a good deal of subtle mechanical interaction going on among the parts inside, but from the user's point of view the revolver's operation is dead simple and intuitively obvious.

Photo By: The original uploader was 
Olegvolk at English Wikipedia - 
Transferred from en.wikipedia to 
Commons by OhanaUnited., CC BY 2.5, 
That simplicity extends to loading, unloading, function checking, showing clear and is especially obvious in failure-to-fire drills. You need to know two drills to deal with a stoppage in an automatic, tap-rack-bang and tap-rack-no bang darn. You don't need to know those if you pack a revolver. You don't need to remember to stiffen your wrist, because the revolver does not care if your wrist is firm or limp; it will work either way.

The revolver is easier to clean; you do not need to take it apart and therefore do not need to put it back together again. Some auto pistol aficionados say the revolver is more work because you have to clean six chambers instead of one. They have not thought the matter through. The revolver's chambers are only one-sixth as dirty.

The revolver is still quite adequate to many defensive needs, even in our danger-fraught modern era. Where the revolver is adequate, it makes no sense to argue that the automatic is "more adequate."

If you handload, the automatic will frustrate you by flinging your cartridge cases to the winds. You will not find all of them.

A well made and properly maintained revolver is inherently accurate because its barrel is fixed to the frame and the bullet is guided into it through a funnel-shaped "forcing cone." There is no place for the bullet to go but straight ahead.

It is a good idea if all your handguns work just alike, so that you have nothing different to do or remember when switching from one gun to another. Revolvers that work just alike are available in calibers from .17 to .500, so there you are: one manual of arms whether you are shooting a mouse or a moose.

Revolvers are, with only a few unusual models that are exceptions, quite indifferent to the brand of ammunition you use and the shape and style and weight of the bullet. Typical revolvers may shoot one sort of ammunition more accurately than another but they will function regardless. They could not care less, so long as the ammunition is of the right caliber and within SAAMI specifications or the appropriate mil spec. This is a valuable trait if for some reason you cannot obtain your usual brand.

A great many malfunctions in auto pistols can be traced to imperfections in the box magazines. No revolver failures can be traced to that source.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Birdshot is for the birds

This is a post I made on a gun discussion board; I have reposted it here. The question was whether birdshot was a good choice for self-defense. My answer has evolved from some years ago, when I  said that size T lead shot (.20 caliber; #4 buck is .24) could be ideal. I even said something positive about Federal Cartridge's attempt (since abandoned) to offer even smaller shot in a defense load. But I now conclude that #4 buck is the sensible lower limit of shot size for self-defense use, and it is a case where theory and practice bear one another out.

#4 buck is already on the ragged edge where performance is starting to falter occasionally, in circumstances where the distance is a little bit far or there are heavy clothes or light obstructions involved, and that lines up closely with what you would expect if the military estimate of wounding energy were true, or else close to the mark.

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 Yesterday, 05:37 PM  #12

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It is an old military rule of thumb that projectiles need, at the least, 58 foot pounds of energy to produce a killing or disabling wound, reliably. That idea was cooked up in relation to designing and using old fashioned Shrapnel shells, later applied to artillery fragments and was most recently used in the design of the Claymore mine. It's not very exact, for people have been disabled or killed by far less energetic projectiles, but general rules are just that: they have exceptions.

Unless the calculator I used is way off, #4 buckshot launched at 1250 fps is down to 58 foot pounds just nine yards from the muzzle. (For comparison, #1 buckshot launched at the same speed has dropped to 58 foot pounds of energy when it has flown 76 yards and 00 buck gets out to a trifle more than 115 yards before its energy drops to that level.)

We know anecdotally that #4 buck works farther than nine yards, but we also know its reputation for poor performance as distance increases. We have read of police becoming disgruntled with the load and switching to 00, due to indecisive results when suspects were hit with #4 buck. At other times it has worked quite well, and its good pattern density is obviously an advantage in getting hits on the target.

We are flirting with the limits of ineffectiveness with #4 buck, and the results show it. That seems to bear out the military's 58 foot pounds estimate, and suggests to me that #4 buck is a sensible lower limit.


Monday, August 1, 2016


I posted this today on a discussion forum:

I don't see why collectors are disturbed when an old gun is altered. When it happens, their pristine examples appreciate. They should like that; if they fully thought things through they would encourage sporterizing.

If collector value were never lost through modifications, or damage, or rust or fires, or losing the rifle overboard, collector value would not exist, for all-originals would be plentiful. The value of any old military rifle would remain just where it started: pick through the barrel for one you like and give the man $89, or see if you can dicker him down a bit or get him to throw in some ammo.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Trunk Guns

American Rifleman | 9 Field-Tested Trunk Guns:

9 Field-Tested Trunk Guns by B. Gil Horman

 - Tuesday, September 15, 2015

"Anyone who has spent much time wandering the online shooting forums or reading gun magazines has picked up on some of the less formal firearm categories folks like to talk about, such as BUGs (back-up guns), Kit Guns (small .22 handguns) and Perfect Packin' Pistols (for hiking). A Trunk Gun is a sturdy, reliable, and not-too-expensive firearm that can be kept tucked away in a car or boat for plinking, hunting and, in a pinch, self-defense. Here are a few of the guns I've worked with that make good passengers without breaking the bank. Don't forget to check regulations for legal methods of transporting firearms in your area." (Read more at the link.)

My remarks: This repeat from last year showed up in my email "American Rifleman Insider" today. The author rounded up the usual suspects, and I recommend the article. But there are a few very good trunk  guns that went unmentioned. The single-shot, break action shotgun will do more than most people think if you learn to run it efficiently. Surplus, bolt-action military rifles from the last century (or even a little farther back than that) are extremely durable. They were made to take a beating; use as a trunk gun is easy duty for them. One of the best trunk guns of all is a lever-action carbine in .30-30, for it is light and versatile, and the many examples with no collector value are economical to buy used. You can buy .30-30 ammo throughout the Americas, for it has proven to be a useful hunting and general purpose cartridge for more than a century.

Winchester Model 1894.jpg

Photo credit: By Antique Military Rifles - originally posted to Flickr as Winchester Model 1894, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Update: More trunk gun recommendations in a follow-up article from the same source:

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Shotgun zones A, B and C.

The shotgun "zones," A, B and C,  describing the shotgun's behavior at varying ranges, are not much emphasized in my practice sessions anymore, because it was always a clumsy teaching. It is easier to tell people that the farther away you are from your target, the more likely you are to pelt the downrange danger zone instead of putting pellets into your target. That is really all the zones have to teach us, and you can demonstrate the same lesson in a few minutes at the range. Here is how the matter was taught, and my critique.

Zone A: Very short range. The pattern has hardly spread. All your pellets will hit the combat silhouette target, for they are hitting en masse.

(Bad assumption. All your pellets can miss the target too--same reason. But, if you are reasonably proficient, it is quite likely that all of the shot charge hits--and the wad as well.)

Zone B The pattern has spread out, but not so widely that you can't still put all your pellets on the target.

(But imperfect aim will mean you hit with some and miss with some. A clearer way of saying it is that you cannot be sure they'll all hit but there's a pretty good chance.)

Zone C: Some pellets are certain to miss because the pattern is now larger than the target.

(You need to be very aware of the downrange danger zone. That is also a splendid idea when firing at the closer  ranges. )

There should have been a Zone D: You are so far away that only by a sheer fluke will you hit your target.

(Buckshot will work for merely suppressive fire at 100 yards or more, but that is because people have a superstitious dread of "the one with your name on it." The odds of connecting are slight.)

Summation of critique: You should ALWAYS scan the downrange area. Be aware that the danger area is wider for a shotgun than for a rifle. But it is not much wider than for a pistol, because people shoot pistols so badly, especially when they are under stress. The shotgun zones were never more than a laborious elaboration of Rule Four.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Papa Shaw

The PPSh-41 was produced (all sources including postwar China) in about twelve million copies. It is a cheap basic tube gun, like many others originating in the WWII period. Per Wikipedia:

The PPSh-41 fires the standard Soviet pistol and submachine gun cartridge, the 7.62×25mm (Tokarev). Weighing approximately 12 pounds (5.45 kg) with a loaded 71-round drum and 9.5 pounds (4.32 kg) with a loaded 35-round box magazine, the PPSh is capable of a rate of about 1000 rounds per minute, a very high rate of fire in comparison to most other military submachine guns of World War II. It is a durable, low-maintenance weapon made of low-cost, easily obtained components, primarily stamped sheet metal and wood.

PPSh-41 from soviet.jpg

Its job is to throw lots of lead downrange, the bullets arriving approximately where directed. The rate of fire is more than twice as fast as the USA's M3 "Grease Gun." I do not think the high rate of fire was particularly advantageous, but it was an understandable design choice in an era when the Germans' fast-firing GPMG's were thought to be superior weapons. It was a conscious design decision to make the Russian buzzgun run so fast, for all you have to do to slow down a blowback gun is add a little more weight to the bolt.

The PPSh-41 deserves better regard than to just tag it as another cheap old fashioned burp gun. It was produced in vaster numbers than the rest. The reason for the big production numbers is that the thing served well and usefully in combat. Its cartridge, though not the best pistol cartridge of the era, may have been the best submachine gun cartridge, driving its small bullet fast and flat, with good penetration at the terminal end of the journey. The gun worked even in appalling conditions afield. It gave Russian units extra firepower when attempts to produce a really good semi-automatic battle rifle were fruitless

It was a peasant's weapon, but so were the longbows of Agincourt. A well-motivated Rooskie armed with this thing could crawl close and then let them have it, a plan that worked all the way to Berlin.