Why I hated to run away

Warder Vincent recently posted a video about when to run away (or flying away) while sword fighting, and a good friend of mine – Warder Philip from the Edge of the World Fencing Salon queried why a lot of fencers hated giving up ground.


Why I hated to run away

What I thought of when people said run away.
What I thought of when people said run away.

I made a snap comment on the situation, mentioning that I hated to run away early on because through years of athletics it had been pounded into my head that the “best defense is a good offense.” Further, “Be like Jack Dempsey,”they said, “the best defense is a good offense, just smash them it’ll be okay.” We see it in the American psyche as early as 1799, when George Washington wrote, “…make them believe, that offensive operations, often times, is the surest, if not the only (in some cases) means of defence [sic].”[1] Giving ground felt like I was retreating from the fight, which seemed out of character for me. Around that same time, my favorite fighter was Butterbean, who only continued to step forward into the fight.

Hell, it was only later that I learned that Jack Dempsey in fact didn’t tell us that the best defense was a good office, but rather it was that, “The best defense is an aggressive offense.”[2]

What Changed

After a few years of fighting, I began to really take the whole idea of training like a swordsman/duelist from the period, and begin to expand my reading into many different aspects of martial culture, instead of just my preconceived notions of how fighting should be. When I started to realize that the absolute goal of a sword fight was not to win every pass in, but rather, to stay alive, and not wounded as much as possible, I started to focus on backing out of a fight in three instances, both of the ones Vincent mentions in his video plus one other one.

  1. When I don’t like how I’m set up or how my opponent is set up. If I feel that either my position or my opponent’s positioning has put itself in a situation where I am at a disadvantage, I use an active defense and get the hell out of dodge.
  2. After making a touch, it is important to maintain a strong defense and run away, as George Silver suggests
  3. If my opponent has opted to use his sword to get mine offline, but has failed to take advantage, I will run away to get out of measure to reset the fight.

Regardless of why you might run away from your opponent, one key aspect remains. If you are in measure, you should keep an active and aggressive defense presented, to prevent your opponent’s blade from finding you. Once you are well outside of measure, then and only then is it okay to let your guard down to think about your next movements, if you must.

Bear Bryant was speaking of football when he said “Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships,” but it’s not far removed from the practice of sword-fighting though we might change it up to say that “Offense makes the movies, but defense saves your life.”



  1. Letter From George Washington to John Trumbull, 25 June 1799
  2. Jack Dempsey, Championship Fighting: Explosive Punching & Aggressive Defense. N. Kaye: 1950. As cited on Out of this Century

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *