The Four Temperaments of Broadsword Fencing

Long before the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator or the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, philosophers categorized human personality types into four broad categories: choleric, phlegmatic, melancholic and sanguine.

These categories were based on the Galenic theory of the four bodily humours, which has obviously been left far behind by modern medicine. Although the humours have fallen out of favor, the four temperaments are still a handy way to quickly describe a personality type.

The four temperaments are as follows:

Choleric: aggressive, passionate and dominant.

Phlegmatic: stolid, unwavering and patient.

Melancholic: introverted, moody and depressive.

Sanguine: joyous, easygoing and social.

Educated fencing masters were well aware of the four temperaments and would sometimes use them to describe potential opponents and give advice on how to fight them. For instance, consider the following passage by Scottish fencer Sir William Hope:

“FIRST, they will either advance, and come on precipitantly, with an irregular, violent, and furious pursuit. Or,

SECONDLY, keep themselves almost fixt in one place, without either much advancing or retiring. Or,

THIRDLY, constantly retire, and give much back. Or,

FOURTHLY, have a mixture of all three, that is, sometimes stand fixt, and at other times advance and retire.”

As you can see, Hope’s four tempers match the traditional four temperaments.

In this series of videos, we have not used Hope’s four tempers exactly as given, because Hope was primarily a smallsword fencer and we are broadsword fencers. Instead we have selected the four most common types of opponent based on our experience in broadsword fencing, mapping them to the four temperaments as follows:

Choleric: an aggressive, violent opponent.

Phlegmatic: an opponent who doesn’t use much footwork.

Melancholic: an opponent who refuses to engage blades.

Sanguine: an opponent who moves and changes guards constantly.

In these videos, Chris (on the left) is the antagonist, acting out one of these four types. Matt (on the right), is the protagonist, trying to solve the problem presented by that type.

Don’t take the four temperaments too literally – they are not exactly scientific. On the other hand, modern systems like Myers-Briggs don’t actually have much empirical validation either, so take this for what it’s worth and it may prove useful!

2 thoughts on “The Four Temperaments of Broadsword Fencing”

  1. Excellent concept and application for countering each of these temperaments. I have been studying many martial arts systems since 1989 and the concepts that you present can apply to mixed martial arts. In watching some of your sword and cudgel fighting videos, I can see some similar concepts with the Filipino martial arts I’ve studied (Arnis, Kali, Kuntaw). Thank you for sharing and keeping alive this wonderful art. I look forward to further researching your art.

    Kind regards,

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