The Sand-Reckoner’s Diagram

For Patty and others, who’d like to follow the action more closely…

This diagram, which figures so prominently in The Bellini Card, is an eight-pointed star inside a square. The above illustration comes from a Japanese website and it is, as far as  know, the only illustration of the Sand-Reckoner’s diagram online. 

The idea that it was used as a fencing diagram, governing positions and strokes, was put to me in Hampshire some years ago. It has been on my mind ever since, not least because of its delightful name:  I was glad to unpack it for The BelliniCard.



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11 responses to “The Sand-Reckoner’s Diagram

  1. Patty

    Many thanks, it’s quite different from my spatially distorted imaginings which I don’t think anyone could have used for fencing positions unless they were a spider!

  2. Ownie

    Thank God I looked this up when I got to it in the book- otherwise much mental gymnastics.

  3. John Owen

    Thank you for your knowledge. I would have been crazy trying to think what it was otherwise.

  4. I made up the name “The Sand Reckoner’s Diagram” for that device, five years ago and gave a presentation at the Research Into Lost Knowledge Organisation (RILKO) on the topic. With the encouragementy of John Michell (New View over Atlantis) and John Martineau of Wooden Books I am publishing my 35 years of study of the device under the name “Patterns of Eternity – Sacred Geometry and the Starcut diagram”.

  5. PS people most certainly DID use it for fencing. My book “Paterns of Eternity” (coming out in early November) goes into some detail – and shows also the uses of this device in Indian, China and Egypt as well as releavnec to the Cabala, alchemy and the Sufi tradition.

  6. Michael

    Thanks. It has helped my poor imagination to see a picture. I am engrossed in the novel.

  7. devices such as the sand reckoner’s diagram have been used in sword practice for centurie. the japanese used and still use them in kendo. the spanish school of rapier fencing also used a similar diagram. the antonio bandera’s film of zorro shows him exercising on a spanish fencing star. each point of the star required a different stance, grip, etc. the spanish practiced on these obsessively which led to reflexive actions in a duel and made the spanish amongst the best swordsmen in the renaissance. there is a web article on this subject in one of the historical fencing sites out of new york (sorry, i don’t have the reference at hand)..

    • thebellinicard

      What you say about diagrams is so interesting; the particular diagram I refer to, the Sand Reckoner’s Diagram, has of course an ancient and interesting history which Malcom Stewart’s ‘Patterns of Eternity’ explores.
      I’ve just taken up fencing again myself, this time foil; I’m proud to record that my son Izzy has emerged as West Dorset champion.

  8. John Howard

    The Spanish theory of rapier play in the 16th and 17th century was heavily geometrical. The method is fully described in the manual by Girard Thibault d’Anvers published in 1628 (not 1630 as some sources say.) The diagrams show a geometric pattern on the floor of the fencing school against which all moves are calibrated. The pattern is known by some as “The Spanish Circle”. (Image here
    Thibault’s treatise has been translated into English (in 1990) and may be available at the Royal Armouries where they have several historic manuals of sword play. Excellent pictures can be seen in The History and Art of Personal Combat by Arthur Wise published in 1971.
    I have taught stage combat and choreographed sword fights in the amateur theatre for 40 years and while I can see that the method provided discipline and structure, I suspect that it was a handicap in real swordplay.

  9. I am delighted to report that sand-reckoner’s diagram makes a rather effective meditation device. Close your eyes, visualise the empty square, then gently trace out the diagram as you breathe – eg breathe in: first corner to midpoint; breathe out: midpoint to next corner, and so on. Even if it doesn’t bring enlightenment it might help you de-stress enough for a good night’s sleep.

    Someone who knows more about concentration meditation might be able to tell you if this is, perhaps, a known technique – with the diagram’s history, it wouldn’t surprise me.

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