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KF Sensei
KF Sensei

Joined: 31 Mar 2006
Posts: 27914
Location: Hays, KS
Styles: Taekwondo, Combat Hapkido, Aikido, GRACIE

PostPosted: Tue Nov 20, 2007 11:30 am    Post subject: The Four Grounds Reply with quote

Some time around 1604, an English gentleman by the name of George Silver wrote the second of two books, entitled Brief Instructions upon my Paradoxes of Defence. This book, along with other Silver works, are discussed in the Stephen Hand book, English Swordsmanship and the Paul Wagner book, Master of Defense. In Silver’s book, he describes what he calls the “ancient” system of English swordsmanship (Hand, pg. 1). In describing this system, he begins with the Four Grounds, or Principles, of what Silver described as the “True Fight.” The Four Grounds are listed in this order:

1. Judgment
2. Distance
3. Time
4. Place

I believe that although these grounds are used to define a system of weapons combat, they also offer benefits to the unarmed fighter. Though the fighter will not be wielding a weapon, the fighter can still wield the concepts behind the Four Grounds of the “ancient” system of English swordsmanship.


Many martial artists, even many untrained individuals, would agree that judgment is a critical aspect of any engagement. Judging the situation reveals many things to us: the size of an opponent; any weapons they may possess; the layout of the terrain. By keeping such things in mind, we can judge whether or not we are in the opponent’s range of attack or if we are within range to attack the opponent ourselves. We can also use our judgment to determine the opponent’s mental state; i.e., if he is calm, angry or scared. Does he appear aggressive or passive? All of this information and more can be gathered if we use our judgment to the best of our ability. By using our judgment, we can attempt to put ourselves at the proper distance necessary to attack or defend.


Distance is a critical element in any attempt to attack or defend. By controlling our distance (by using our judgment), we either keep ourselves safe from attack, or put ourselves in position to initiate an attack or set up a defensive posture. We must constantly be aware of our distance in relation to our opponent and be ready to make adjustments based on the opponent’s action or reaction or based on our desired action. By maintaining an advantageous distance, we can “take our time” or “make an appropriately timed action.” (Hand, pg. 9).


By using our judgment to monitor our distance, we can time our action appropriately. Our action can take the form of an attack or a defense and can be partially dictated by whatever action our opponent has taken. Many would see our action as an attack. However, perhaps our opponent has in some way overextended himself, allowing us to take our time (make an action) by placing ourselves in an ideally superior position. This is known in Silver’s system of swordsmanship as “winning the place.” (Wagner, pg. 121).


The place, simply put, is a position from which to strike the opponent. Ideally, the place from which we deliver our strike is a position from which we are superior to our foe’s position. We can attack and the opponent is in a disadvantageous position from which to defend himself or strike us back before our strike does its damage. This is referred to as “gaining the true place.” (Hand, pg. 9). Although this may sound like a perfect scenario that would never exist in actual fighting, this is not necessarily the case. Although we are very likely to be struck in return in a fight, the concept of gaining the place is one where we continually strive to hold advantage over our opponent, by allowing him to play into our strategy, where we can attack and defend on our own terms. The place can be gained in many different ways. Examples include creating angles of attack on the opponent or by making the opponent commit to an attack by feinting or drawing them off.

To sum up the basis of the Four Grounds in the system of swordsmanship that Silver wrote about, I feel that Silver himself clarifies it the best:

“... knowing judgment, you keep your distance, through distance you take your time, through time you safely win or gain the place of your adversary...” (Wagner, pg. 263).

Although this may seem like a long, drawn out process, the Four Grounds are actually observed and registered quickly, given a proper amount of time is spent in training these elements. In all actuality, I truly believe that many martial artists already observe the Four Grounds in most of their engagements. I think that many of us can relate to both sides of the issue; not only during the times when we feel elated because our planned attack or counter played out perfectly, but also during those times when we overextended ourselves, only to realize our mistake after we have been struck.

Even though the system that George Silver lays out in his books is based off of an “Olde English” system of swordsmanship, the system still has much to offer those who would engage in weaponless combat as well.
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Joined: 01 May 2001
Posts: 27128
Location: Los Angeles, California

PostPosted: Tue Nov 20, 2007 11:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the submission.
Patrick O'Keefe - Administrator
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