Rapier Training Guide
Part 1 (Lessons 1&2) originally published in Punta Dritta January AS XLI (2007)
Part 2 (Lessons 3&4) originally published in Punta Dritta July AS XLII (2007)
- Lesson 1
- Lesson 2
- Lesson 3
- Lesson 4
Requirements for authorisation in single rapier, per Lochac rules 5.2.6:
- Safe weapon usage
- Basic advances, retreats, stance changes and lunges
- Basic defence ~ parries by rapier and by offhand, proper use of distance and voids
- Basic offence ~ ability to attack using thrust and cuts
- Proper calibration of thrust and cuts, right and left handed.
- Verbally demonstrate an understanding of the rules and conventions of Rapier combat in Lochac
- Must fight from the ground, and fight someone who is grounded
- Demonstrate knowledge of armour and weapon requirements
- Able to respond properly to a hold
- Demonstrate knowledge of the difference between offhand parries with and without a parrying gauntlet.
The purpose of this outline is to provide the basic information needed to authorise in rapier in Lochac. It does not follow any particular school of thought. It does aim to provide a basis of information which will allow an easy transition to period styles, rather than having to learn a whole new way of doing things which is more likely to be the case if following more modern practice.
It was a benchmark several years ago that a person had four one-hour lessons as a minimum prior to authorising in single rapier. This proved to be achievable if a solid structure was imposed and the student learned quickly enough. There is no expectation or requirement for a trainee to complete this outline within four lessons. It is arranged such for the convenience of the trainer. Feel free to break it down further if required.
Many of the explanations and demonstrations will result in exaggerated motions. This is all right for training and even authorisation, as later refinement may be conducted while coaching (especially for any of the offhand authorisations).
- the bit at the end of the grip that balances the blade.
- the bit you hang on to.
- the bits that poke out the sides, may be straight or curved. Used to form an angle where an opposing blade may be safely held away from you.
- the bit that protects your hand.
- the first section of blade forward of the quillons where there is no edge. Safe for fingers.
- the first half of the blade forward of the ricasso. The strongest, most rigid part of a blade.
- the last half of the blade until just behind the tip. The weakest part of the blade, but the most flexible.
- the pointy bit on the end.
- True edge
- the edge on the bottom, a 'forehand slice'.
- False edge
- the edge on top of the blade, a 'backhander'.
- To be safe
- Judgement and Force; what do I do, when do I do it, how close do I need to be for it to work, how much effort does it require? (Be safe)
- Modern Fencing
- acquire the ability to observe, and from informed observation, deduce and apply.
At all times during training and on the field, activity must halt immediately a 'hold' call is made. The expected response is to take the weapon in your left hand by the ricasso, point behind (as if sheathed in the left hand). When the problem has been resolved, only the marshal in charge may give warning to the participants to be ready, at which point weapons may be returned to the position held before the hold was called. At the marshal's call of 'fence', 'allez' or 'lay on', the bout may resume.
The basic grip for rapier is to hold the weapon firmly with thumb and forefinger, and firmly but gently with the remaining fingers. The 'V' between thumb and forefinger is where one quillon sits, with the forefinger looped forward of the other quillon and resting against the ricasso of the blade. The hand is oriented so the thumb is uppermost. This will present the weapon with quillons pointing up and down. The true edge is now facing down, the false edge is uppermost. This equates to the period Italian guard of Terza (third).
Stand with feet apart, a distance equal to a normal pace. Point the right foot (if right handed) at the opponent. The left foot should be angled between 45 and 90 degrees to the left. Weight should be evenly distributed between the feet, back straight. A slight lean forward placing head over the right knee is permissible (although DiGrassi says to lean backwards if at all. I think this creates poor balance making an attack slower). Slightly flex the knees to avoid locking them and preventing rapid movement. Right shoulder should be pointed toward opponent, chest facing approximately 45 to 60 degrees to the left. Left hand should be brought up as a ward, arm extended so that elbow is well clear of the body, and you have sufficient time to deflect an attack. Hand may be before the face, slightly wide of the chest, or around waist height (elbow high, deflecting with back of hand). This is referred to as the offensive stance. This is the only opening stance suggested by DiGrassi.
"And the body likewise ought with all diligence to be kept firm and stable, turned towards the enemy, rather with the right shoulder, than with the breast. And that because a man ought to make himself as small a mark to the enemy as possible. And if he be occasioned to bend his body any way, he must bend it rather backwards than forwards, to the end that it be far off from danger, considering the body can never greatly move itself any other way more than that and that same way the head may not move being a member of so great importance ... And because I cannot lay down a certain measure of motion, considering the difference between man and man, some being of great and some of little stature: for to some it is commodious to make his pace the length of an arm, and to other some half the length or more. Therefore I advertise every man in all his wards to frame a reasonable pace, in such sort that if he would step forward to strike, he lengthen or increase one foot, and if he would defend himself, he withdraw as much, without peril of falling."
The reverse of this, the defensive stance, places the parrying hand forward, left shoulder and left leg leading, sword held back in low ward (due to the extended range, there is little advantage and great disadvantage in using the broad or high ward in this stance). This stance is used by DiGrassi in the middle of an attack, not as an opening position. It is achieved in the same way, however, by a straight pace forward from the trailing foot.
G. Hale also recommends the same stance as DiGrassi, and admonishes to maintain a steady posture and not 'dazel' your opponent (move around, feint, wave the sword about) as you may open your defence doing this and invite attack.
"A good Guard. Is hee that lyeth with the right side as thinne as he can, towards his enemie, and the point no higher then the shoulder, trusting to your Rapier or Swords defence; for thereby your enemie hath lettle roome to hit, and you the lesse to defend. And also a good guard discourageth the enemie to offend, and is ready alwayes to defend. He that dazels much never defends well: for if you offend when hee dazels, he can neyther certainly defend himselfe, nor offend you."
Swetnam recommended placing the feet with the offhand foot (left, usually) behind with the toes pointing away (60 to 90 degrees away from your line of attack), with the other foot placed about a foot length away, with the heel of the foot pointed at the big toe of the trailing foot. This is almost a ballet stance, with the trailing foot largely behind the line of the leading foot, and quite close together. In practice, an arc of 45 to 90 degrees between the feet, with the leading foot pointing slightly to the right of the line of attack is still functional. It is also quite stable, with practice. A matter of personal preference.
"Keepe thy rapier hand so low as the pocket of thy hose at the armes end, without bowing the elbow joint, and keepe the hilt of thy dagger right with thy left cheeke, and the point something stooping towards the right shoulder, and beare him out stiff at the armes end, without bowing thine elbow joint likewise, and the point of thy Rapier two inches within the point of thy dagger, neither higher, not lower; but if the point of thy rapier be two or three inches short of touching thy dagger, it is not matter, but if they join it is good; likewise, keepe both your points so high as you may see your enemie clearly with both your eyes, betwixt your rapier and dagger, and bowing your head something toward the right shoulder, and your body bowing forwards, and both thy shoulders, the one so near thine enemie as the other, and the thombe of thy rapier hand, not upon thy rapier, according unto the usual fashion of the vulgar sort, but upon the naile of thy fore-finger, which will locke thine hand the stronger about the handle of thy rapier, and the heele of thy right foote should ioyne close to the middle ioynt of the great toe of thy left foote, according to this Picture, yet regard chiefly the words rather than the Picture.
Carrie the edge of thy rapier upward, and downward, for then thou shalt defend a blow upon the edge of thy rapier, by bearing thy rapier after the rule of the Backe-sword, for this is the strongest and surest carriage of him.
The best way to bring thy feete to a sure standing, both for defence and offence, is when thou dost practice with thy friend or companion; at first get thy backe to the wall, and let him that playeth with thee stand about twelve foote distance, and set thy left heele close to the wall, and thy right foote heele to the great ioynt of the left foote great toe, and when thou intendest to offend thy enemy, either with blow or thrust, then steppe forth with thy right foote, and hand together, but keepe thy left foote fast moored like an anchor, to plucke home thy body and thy right foote into his place and distance againe; use this fashion but three of foure times, and it will bring thee to a true standing with thy foote, and it will be as easie to thee as any other way; whereas if thou practice in a large roome without any stoppe to set thy foot against, then will thy foote be alwaies creeping away, so that although thou wouldest refraine the setting abroad of thy feet, yet thou canst not, especially if thou hast bee used to set them abroad heretofore."
(It takes him a while to say just about anything)
There are four distances in fencing. The first is when you are out of range, or at such a distance that your opponent needs to make an extended motion or series of steps to reach you. This is also known as Fuori Misura or 'out of measure'. The second is 'wide' also known as Misura Larga. This is when you can reach the opponent with a step thrust or lunge. The third is 'narrow' or Misura Stretta and is the distance at which you may thrust at your opponent without moving your feet. The fourth is when you are too close to bring the tip into play. It doesn't appear to have a period Italian term as at this distance they would most likely begin wrestling. For our purposes, this distance will only allow draw cuts. Trainers should encourage trainees to only use this distance in 'passes', rather than as a preferred fighting distance. The most dangerous periods in a fight are when you are transitioning from one distance to another.
At what distance should you begin the bout? The basic guard should be taken at a distance where you are confident that your opponent cannot reach you by simply stabbing forward. By being slightly out of the range of a direct thrust, when the enemy sword begins its motion you may assess the likely line of attack and void accordingly; there is no need to rush until their foot begins to move. It is this judgement of time (to complete a motion) and space (distances and relative positions) that allows the fighter to survive. By this, they gain the 'place' of their opponent, allowing them to safely counter attack. The fencer must be aware of distance, and not let their opponent get close enough to strike from guard (i.e., without moving their feet), for if they do so, the opponent will have gained their 'place' and be hard to defend against.
"Wards in weapons are such sites, positions or placings which withstand the enemy's blows, and are as a shield or safeguard against them."
A guard or ward is where the sword is positioned such that it may offer defence from attack while still be in a position to attack should the situation allow. There are two groups of guards/wards listed here. The first are the three wards described by DiGrassi, and these are defined by the position of the sword relative to the body. The second group of wards/guards are generic period Italian terms originated by Agrippa in 1553, which are defined by the position of the hand.
- similar to modern 'tierce', or the 'third position'. Weapon is held low and close to the body, hand just above the hip and far enough forward to allow a lateral parry without the pommel interfering with the body. Blade is angled forward and up so that point is on opponent's centreline and aimed at their face. This both threatens and presents the smallest visual cue to the opponent.
This ward is the strongest defensive ward, but allows only the thrust as its quickest attack.
- from the same position, extend the arm out to the side to chest level, angling the blade in further toward the face. The hand should be palm down. From this ward, the blade cannot meet the centreline, and leaves your centreline open to attack.
This ward is weaker defensively than the low ward, but as it tends to invite a thrust, the weapon is ideally positioned for a strong lateral parry or beat. It is an aggressive ward, as it allows for a direct thrust at the face of your opponent, or slice or tip cut attacks to arms, legs or body.
- as for the broad ward, only with hand raised to head height or further, and with elbow more bent. The hand is in a 'thumb down' position. Blade may be able to engage centreline of your opponent and point at their face. It has the same weaknesses and advantages as the broad ward.
The four 'Italian' guards of Agrippa are:
- which is any guard where the hand is in the 'thumb down' position. This is the natural position of the hand immediately after it has drawn the sword. It tends to produce a ward that results in the blade pointing down at the ground with the true edge uppermost. It is a strong offensive guard but considered weak defensively.
- is reached by rotating the hand through 90° so that the hand is now in a 'palm down' position. This also tends to produce high guard positions, but not so high as prima. It is a good guard for protecting your sword side against cuts and offers many opportunities for attack as it allows several changes of angle during a motion.
- is reached by another 90° rotation to a 'knuckles down' or thumbs up position. The true edge is now facing down. This is a very strong position with good balance between offence and defence. It still is the basis of almost all opening guards in fencing.
- is any guard with the hand in a palm up position, after another 90° rotation from terza. This guard allows you to comfortably place your sword on the centreline between yourself and your opponent, allowing you to ward both sides equally well. It was also considered the ideal position from which to lunge.
(The lunge action may begin in terza but the hand is rotated into quarta during the attack as it will almost always gain the 'inside line' while also effectively deflecting away your opponent's sword.)
- A counterguard is a minor adjustment of position made in response to the ward or guard adopted by your opponent. It basically involves moving your sword within the general position of the ward you have chosen so that the forte of your sword interrupts the 'line' of your opponent's sword, essentially increasing the protective merits of the ward you have selected while maintaining the offensive capacity it offers.
The thrust is any action that involves landing the point of your sword on your opponent, including the lunge. It is the principal mode of attack in rapier. A thrust may be executed from any of DiGrassi's wards, or indeed from any of the Italian wards. It may be targeted at any exposed part of your opponent, including sword hand, leading foot or inside elbow as well as the more usual face or body. The ideal distance is such that at the completion of the motion the tip of your sword makes firm contact with the target, but has barely flexed the blade. Practicing the thrust and lunge to achieve accurate placement (tip control) and maintaining balance throughout the motion will lead to an increase in reach. This increase will impact on your 'distances' as discussed above. As we only fence to the touch and prohibit excess force (sufficient pressure to be felt by the recipient), any closer is a waste of range.
Voids are simply moving the body out of the line of your opponent's attack. They are the principal defensive action in period Italian swordplay. Some claim they are the primary defensive action for all rapier combat, but this is not born out by the manuals. Swetnam for one advocates parrying and fighting from position and only begins to explain voids as his third option. Saviolo doesn't really talk of voids so much as counter-attacks, and this is something which needs to be kept in mind; an effective void should not only move you out of the line of your enemy's attack, but also help you 'gain the place' of them. Saviolo's 'counter attacks' are voids married to aggressive counter actions.
DiGrassi's voids are probably the easiest and are quite effective. There are two basic actions, determined by which side your opponent is thrusting toward. If they are thrusting at your left side (on the inside line), and you are standing in the normal stance with right leg leading, by bringing your left foot up directly behind the right (left foot toes behind right heel) you should move your body slightly to the right and turn it further away from the line of attack and bring your sword up such that it is interposed between the line of attack and yourself (preventing your opponent from changing to a draw cut). While a 'slope pace' behind would accomplish the same, by drawing up the foot you gain some distance (measure) that allows you to step forward from the back (left) foot and step thrust at your enemy. The void motion not only takes you out of the line, but gains you ground.
If the enemy thrusts at your right (outside line) side, 'slope pace' the left foot forward to the left in a half pace such that your body is rotated toward the right and moves the enemy line toward the right, also allowing your sword to be interposed between yourself and the line of attack. From here you may thrust forward, adding range and impetus by making a short pace forward with the right foot.
"Therefore, when this thrust is given within, it must be beaten inwards with the edge of the Rapier, requiring the turn of the hand also inwards, and the compass of the hindfoot, so far towards the right side, as the hand goes towards the right side. And the enemy shall no sooner have delivered the thrust, and he found the sword, but he ought to turn his hand, and with a reverse to cut the enemy's face, carrying always his forefoot on that side where his hand goes. If the enemy's thrust come outwards, then it is necessary, that with the turn of his hand he beat it outwards with the edge of his sword increasing in the same instant one slope pace, by means whereof he delivers his body from hurt. And therewithall (increasing another straight pace, and delivering his thrust already prepared) he does most safely hurt the enemy." - Di Grassi
(Although voids may not be or need not be the main defensive action taken, I've come to the conclusion that teaching parries first only encourages people to fight from a static position. Teaching voids first will help develop an ability to remain mobile and to avoid having their swords 'bound' by the enemy.)
- Practice stance (include distance, i.e.; range of attack)
- Practice the step thrust and lunge from offensive high, low and broad wards, and from defensive low ward. Demonstrates range of weapon. Discuss and demonstrate 'calibration' or acceptable force.
- Practice voids against single thrusts.
- Explain and test the reaction to a 'hold' call.
This should fill an hour without problems! This will cover all simple wards and guards, counterguards, thrust attacks and basic voids. Lesson 2 will cover passes, parries recovery and cuts. Lesson 2 should also include a revision of lesson 1. Run them through it very quickly to make sure they have the idea and then spend 15 minutes doing it all left handed. They MUST be proficient left-handed.
Revise briefly what was covered in lesson 1. Repeat exercises using left hand only.
A parry is a motion by the blade or off hand to engage your opponent's blade and deflect it off line so that it cannot contact you. There are four variants on the parry, hard and soft, lateral and circular. These are all modern terms, and in fact are a fairly modern concept, although the actions are present in period manuals. Any blocking or deflecting action undertaken which leaves you in a position from which you cannot make an offensive action is faulty.
A hard parry may also be called a 'beat' or 'detached parry'. A sharp motion to smack aside the attacking blade, and then recover your line to allow an attack of your own. This does not seem to be a popular action in period manuals, especially as it tends to 'stop' rather than deflect the other blade. An exception is a suggestion by DiGrassi and Swetnam that from the high ward you may beat down on your opponent's thrust and then cut with the false edge (chop down across your body, which implies a voiding step, then backhand your opponent over their sword, or step forward again with the left foot, roll the hand and slice with the true edge as you 'press' you opponent's blade aside).
If you wish to 'walk through' this to explain it to the trainee, it is laid out as follows:
The trainee is in broad ward or high ward. Their opponent thrusts slowly at their chest. The trainee brings the sword down or across to chop down on the attacking blade, at the same time bringing the left foot up behind their right foot. At the end of this move, they should be standing with their opponent to their right, their sword directly in front holding down their opponent's blade. From here they strike with the edge using a backhand or forehand motion, whichever is more comfortable.
A soft parry is an engaging parry where you bring your blade into gentle contact with the opponent's blade and push it aside or deflect it. In modern fencing it may be referred to as a 'parry by opposition'. It is the intent of this parry to maintain contact with the enemy's blade. This allows you to know where the blade is and so prevent it from cutting you. These parries require a much more precise knowledge of your sword than hard parries. The Italians referred to it as the 'advantage' of the sword. Basically it means having the greater leverage by the crossing point of the swords being closer to your grip than your opponent's (more 'forte'). A soft parry, combined with footwork, can offer many offensive options while maintaining knowledge of the position of your opponent's sword.
A lateral parry is a parry that moves in a straight line. The parry indicated above would be a lateral parry as well as a hard parry or 'beat'.
A circular parry is one where your blade moves in an arc to carry away the other blade. Period manuals usually refer to circular parries in reference to offhand daggers rather than rapiers, but it at least demonstrates that they were familiar with the term.
The parry is intended to deflect an attack, and while this may be safely done with the blade alone, there is advantage and opportunity to be gained in this motion to add safety and gain position (place). It is important that this be done in correct sequence to ensure maximum benefit.
In all motions, move the blade first, and in the shortest possible motion. Don't pull the hand back before striking, simply move it positively to where you want it to go.
When the blade has begun its travel, bring your left foot up behind the right a half pace. This may be a straight step (directly behind the right foot) or a slope pace (moving the left foot through an arc whereby it stays the same distance from the right foot, but moves through a distance of 90 degrees, thus turning the body) depending on whether you are parrying to the inside line or the outside line. The 'inside' line is when your opponent's sword is to the left of your sword, from your point of view. It is possible (in fact common) for both fencers to be facing inside. The outside line is the opposite, or to the right, assuming a right handed fencer.
As indicated in lesson 1, it has been proposed that voiding is the principal method of spoiling an enemy's attack in preference to parries. Also mentioned before is that this is not borne out by the period manuals. It is important to explain, however, that the actions are not mutually exclusive, nor even always separable when examining period methods. DiGrassi states that there are three manners by which you may deflect or spoil an attack. The first is by opposition with an object, interposing something between weapon and target (parry). The second manner is by 'stop hit' where you attack into the enemy's preparation, killing them before they may complete their move (or at least threatening to, and so forcing them to stop their attack or risk hurt). His final option was voiding. In his explanation of all three there is clearly a combination of actions that essentially states that none of these is effective alone. He declares a parry to be the most common and expeditious action, but says that most people step back from the attack, so while they may have saved themselves from hurt that time, they are now out of place and time, and so have lost the initiative. He advises that a parry should incorporate a forward motion (essentially a voiding pace) with the parrying motion and to parry in such a way as to allow for offensive action once the enemy's line is 'broken'.
DiGrassi's second defensive option, the stop hit, must be incorporated with a voiding step of some kind or you end up with a double kill, and his void is described as;
"The third manner of defense is, when the body voids out of the straight line towards this or that side, but this is seldom used alone and by itself, but rather accompanied with the opposing of the weapon, or with the second manner of defense aforesaid. If it be used alone, the manner is to slip the blow, and to strike the enemy in the same time that he is over reached in his blow." - DiGrassi
In other words, voids are best used as part of a parry or stop hit. The importance of this is to ensure the trainee understands that a parry is more effective if they move their feet!
"I advise all to learn to break thrusts with the gloved left hand. But even without a glove, it is better to hazard a little hurt of the hand, and master the enemy's sword, than to give the enemy the advantage by parrying with your sword." - Saviolo
The position of the off hand should be such that it will cover the area from left knee to above your head on the left side. It may also deflect an attack upwards. Attacks directed below the left knee should be voided or parried with the blade. NEVER reach for a blade below knee level as this requires leaning forward and opens you up to a cut to the head or back. Blades may be grasped, however any motion of the blade will cut the hand and render it useless. A blade may not be 'trapped' nor can you grasp or grapple with the opponent, but by closing your fingers around the blade (forming a circle with thumb and index finger) you can control a blade without trapping it. You can still be cut, of course.
Attacks to the left side should be warded by a 'circular' parry with the hand. Attacks to the right side may be parried with a lateral hand parry pushing the blade further to the right (including a slope pace forward with the left foot and rotation of the body clockwise, will also void the line and leave your weapon clear), but the same may be achieved (and more safely) by parrying with the blade and passing off by continuing a soft parry with the hand and disengaging your blade to recover the attack, either over or under your left arm.
- A thrust at your face may be parried in a circular motion by the off hand, leaving you free to reply from low ward with a thrust to the belly, or you may parry with the blade, half straight pace and void, take the attacking blade with an open palm in your off hand to recover your blade, then slightly stepping in with your right foot (avoid body contact, but this interferes with their offhand) and draw cut their neck or arm (unless they run backwards very fast, in which place you may get to use the point).
- A thrust at your right (leading) shoulder may be hand parried (lateral motion) allowing a low line thrust in reply from low ward at the belly or;
- Parry with the blade, make a circular pass behind with the left foot, pass off to the off hand to regain your blade, push their blade down and away to clear a line to attack over their arm with point or edge at their chest, neck or face.
So far all footwork has been with a single pace, with either the left foot or right foot left in position. Passes are motions that involve both feet. They should be performed 'resolutely' any time you are altering your 'measure'.
A simple pass is to have the trainee come on guard 'out of measure', in other words, unable to reach you. Have them take one full pace forward (with the left leg if they are right handed), then bring their right foot forward as a part of a lunge. The first pace brings them into the 'large measure' allowing a thrust if the right foot is extended. The 'line' may be altered by compassing the left foot out wide (so they step forward at about 45°) then lunging from the new position. (Note that this will put the student in a 'defensive stance' when they enter the range Misura Larga.)
A slightly more complex pass is to continue the action above. After the lunge continue the forward motion with a straight pace or slope (compassing) pace with the left foot. This may bring them closer or take them back out of range. The two combatants will have rotated through almost 180°.
Practice these passes employing different guards, parries, hand parries, voids and stop hits.
Cuts may be performed with four parts of the blade, divided into tip and blade, false edge and true edge. Given the restriction on 'percussion' hits in SCA rapier it is easy to think that a cut (or 'draw cut') is simply when a thrust has missed its target and then been drawn back across a convenient part of your opponent (as bad as it sounds, don't knock it ~ it works!). In period, cuts were delivered by quite separate motions of the arm compared to thrusts, and these differences are certainly worth exploring.
Cuts were performed from all directions, and with both sides of the blade. The Italian term for a forehand cut is a mandritto although it can also mean an 'onside' cut, or any cut which proceeds from right to left (assuming a right handed fencer). Cuts with the false edge, or any backhand cut, or any cut proceeding from left to right, may be called riverso.
Cuts were also classified according to delivery method. DiGrassi devotes a considerable space in his work to an explanation of the circular motions of the arm joints. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of these motions is the key to successful cutting attacks.
The first is the 'gross motion' cut where all three joints, wrist, elbow and shoulder, power the chop. Similar to what heavy fighters do. This is a slow motion and brings the sword out of position, thus leaving you open for counter attack. Not to be done 'in measure', it can still be useful in the 'wrestling' measure as long as you have control of your opponent's weapon.
The ideal method for powering cuts from the shoulder is to lock the wrist and elbow in position. This keeps the sword 'on line' but still allows cutting motions (usually downwards or upwards). It is a bit linear, but is quite strong in defence.
The second cutting motion is where the shoulder is locked, and cuts are delivered using elbow and wrist. This was considered a risky motion, as it still allows the sword to move off line (so is defensively weak) and lacks the power of the shoulder cut. It is probably of more benefit to SCA fencers as we do not need (in fact, don't want) more power in our cuts, and it is faster than the shoulder strikes.
The third cut is where the shoulder and elbow are locked and the motion is derived entirely from the wrist. This was considered the ideal method as it keeps the sword in position to defend while allowing very fast cuts to be made. A favourite version was the stramazzoni , which is a wrist cut in a circular motion.
This demonstrates another difficulty when interpreting period texts against modern fencing. The circular parry was not regarded as such (that is, a separate action) in period, but rather was integrated into a motion. While a slip pace and stramazzoni do not suggest a parrying motion, there is no reason a parrying motion cannot be accomplished in the same motion. It may be that with the introduction of the foil as a very light training weapon, and a formalised, almost ritualistic, methodology applied, the art was broken down to its most basic concepts; defend first, then attack. This separation of action, especially reinforced by foil's demand to establish 'right of way' before you may counter attack, has left a legacy where certain motions such as parries are seen in isolation, not as an element of another act which achieves all aims (attack and defence) in a single motion.
It is important to convey that force restrictions also apply to cuts (sufficient to be felt is enough) and excessive force is not allowed. Whipping motions, sabre cuts and the like are forbidden. They do not constitute 'placing' a blade prior to cutting. Placement of the blade may be as quick as may be managed without transmission of any percussive force.
Recovery is just about regaining your ward position safely after an unsuccessful attack. NEVER lose their blade while you are in range, or you'll be at risk. As they will likely have gained the inside line in parrying you, you will need to recover some control of your weapon if you are to safely recover. Not a specific topic, more a concept to be considered.
- Practice draw cut and tip cut attacks from the different wards in both offensive and defensive stances, being mindful of calibration and control.
- Practice hand parries and passing off from all stances. Remember footwork.
- Practice passes, 'exploring measure'
- Practice parries, incorporating voiding motions.
Lesson 3 covers alternate grips, offline attacks, disengages, trades and parry-riposte motions.
Revise briefly lessons 1 and 2 for about 10 to 15 minutes. Use this as a warm up.
The grip described in lesson 1 is by far the most common, however there was no particular restriction on grips. Use whatever works. Three of the more usual variations are given here.
Firstly, instead of wrapping your index finger around the ricasso and quillons, extend it along the back of the blade. This means that when you thrust at an opponent you are pointing an extended 'finger' at them. It is weaker in all lateral motions and parries, but can add power and control to a thrust, especially a thrust directed downwards. Most commonly held in seconda. It will also alter the line of a thrust as compared with the standard grip, although not by much.
Second, wrap your fingers around the grip, with no finger over the quillons or ricasso (a fist) then extend your thumb along the flat of the blade (a 'thumbs up' grip). This is a very solid grip for warding attacks below the waist and allows for very powerful attacks from the high ward in prima. It is weaker against lateral pressure, so is not good for any cutting attacks.
A variant of this is to grip the sword near the pommel, so the thumb is extended along the grip, not the blade. All advantages and disadvantages are the same, however you sneak a few centimetres more length.
Finally, sit the pommel in the palm of your hand and wrap the last two fingers around it. The thumb is extended along the grip (on the edge side this time, not the flat), and the other two fingers hold loosely to control the weapon. This gives an extended grip (maximum length forward) and is quite comfortable to hold in quarta. It also enables a high ward to be held in seconda.
An off line attack is any attack which is delivered from a line not to your front. A simple example is a thrust from the broad ward.
An example of an offline thrust. Stand in low ward, but allow your point to drop until it is facing your trainee's right shin or foot. Your off hand should be in a chest ward, but low, near your belt. You are inviting a thrust to the chest or face. The trainee thrusts slowly at your chest. Bring your sword up into broad ward position at the same time as you make a slope pace forward to the left. Your off hand may come up behind your blade to add strength and control to your parry as you collect your trainee's blade and push it aside (half-swording). At the end of this motion you will likely be standing almost at right angles to your trainee with your sword held almost parallel to your shoulders with both hands (the off hand on the blade), and the trainee's blade held out. From here you use the strength of your position to slide the point of your sword into the trainee. Almost any voiding step they make can be followed from this position, usually with a lunge.
Being able to attack off line is very useful, however it is important to remember that when your sword is off line, it isn't protecting you. This places greater 'responsibility' on the off hand. Remember that the off hand can't reach as far as a sword, and this will impact on 'measure'.
The modern interpretation of parry riposte is not present in period manuals as it implies two separate actions. Technically, a riposte is an attack from the ward or parry, rather than an attack after a successful defence. The difference is more than one of semantics, if you successfully beat (hard parry) a thrust and come back on guard, then seeing that your opponent is still out of position you thrust, you may not be under direct threat but they are still free to parry, and because you have taken an indirect route to the attack (from parry to guard to thrust), they have a good chance of success. Di Grassi's comment that "every motion takes time", and that he who is closer hits sooner gain their true meaning here.
Despite this, the motions themselves do form an integral part of period rapier practice. The difference is that in period the 'displacing' motion (parry) is part of the preparation for the actual counter-attack. This may seem like so much 'double talk', but it is different to the modern fencing understanding of the term.
A parry/riposte of the above situation would be to beat the thrust aside, and from your gained position (remember lesson one, in executing the parry the hind foot comes forward half a pace) thrust directly from there. Your sword point, being on the inside line, is closer to your opponent than theirs is to you. You have the advantage of position AND of time. You don't need to come back on guard if they are not in position to attack. If you aren't sure, you can always interpose your hand in a 'warding' motion.
Practice hard parries and ripostes from ward. If possible, try to use all seven of the wards as described in lesson 1. The reason for this is that the position of the hand (pronation, supination) determines the range of motion your hand can make from the position it ends up in. Then, to be thorough (or mean), do them left-handed. Hard parries used this way are best supported by passing off to the off-hand. Once the sword has been knocked aside, keep it out of line by having your open hand between you and the blade.
Now do it all again with soft parries. This is where hand position makes a real difference. To demonstrate; have someone make a slow thrust at your left hip while you stand in guard (offensive). Slowly soft parry the thrust in prima (with the thumb down). Having engaged the blade, what are your options?
- Pass off to the off hand, recover your weapon. The straightest line for your sword is a thrust at the foot or a draw cut of their sword arm. The void motion is a straight pace.
- Circular parry to carry their blade around you to your right side, outside the line of your body. Void pace is a slope pace left. You can stop when the blade reaches terza or quarta where you drop the point and thrust at their face, pushing your sword hand over theirs (and thus pushing their sword up), or
- Continue the circle until you reach the low ward or push out to the broad ward position and thrust in as above, keeping their sword outside your line.
(Don't let them get ahead of you here... of course they can pass off and counter parry and get very messy... leave that for the practice bouts)
Now try the same exercise again, but this time, parry the low thrust in quarta. You'll notice that the circular parry won't work, as your wrist won't turn that way. Instead, thrust from that position at their belt line, holding their sword outside the line so it can't hit you. (an off line attack). This time the first preferred void is a slope pace left as it will help bring the sword on line.
While this may seem to encourage a separation of actions between defence and attack, it is only to demonstrate in an exaggerated manner the ideal method of attack. Later, as the trainee gains experience, coach them towards blending the two into a single motion, such that their attack incorporates a parry (ward) and so protects while attacking.
Like the parry/riposte, a disengage is not a period move 'in isolation'. It isn't really the same as a trade, although the actual physical motions are almost identical. The difference is mainly in the tactical application. A disengage is where you perform a motion designed to avoid contact between the blades. In short, where an opponent seeks to 'engage' your blade through a soft parry or hard parry (to knock your weapon off line), you avoid that contact by moving your sword out of the path of their motion, then bringing your point immediately back to position. A trade, which is probably the closest period equivalent, is where you move your blade from the inside line to the outside, or vice versa. While it may sound like the same thing, the difference is that a disengage is largely a separate defensive or preparatory move prior to an attack, whereas the trade is the opening move of a counter, whether that be an attack or a void.
There are two types of disengage, a circular and a vertical.
The vertical disengage is a simple flick; from the low ward position, where the point is aimed slightly up at the opponent's face, should they try to move your blade aside by moving hand or sword across your line, simply drop the point to let the attempt move over, then quickly lift it back up to position. (e.g. you are in low ward. Opponent attempt to engage your blade by making a lateral parry from low ward to 4/Quarte. You perform a vertical disengage, down then back up, letting the tip come back up. You may attempt a thrust from here, but I'd recommend taking a broad ward approach and attacking off line, as this will keep their sword out of the way)
The circular parry is a circular motion of the tip following the line of the opponent's attempt to engage. To explain; in the circumstance given above, an engage from low ward to quarte, a circular disengage would have to roll clockwise and down, to pass under the opponent's blade and come back to position. If they perform an engaging move back, your circular disengage would be counter-clockwise and down, passing under and coming back to position on the other side.
If you gain the place of your opponent after a disengage, you may attack. How this differs from a trade is that the trade is made as a part of the void action to keep the sword free and to establish a new line. An example of a trade is while standing in low ward (sword held in terza, if a thrust is made to your chest you may either slip pace forward with the left foot, bringing it behind the right, and at the same time rolling your sword hand out into seconda. This makes the sword follow a corkscrew path to the target, effecting a disengage motion at the same time it establishes an offline attack. The alternate move is to slope pace left, rolling the hand into a thrust from quarta as you move. This effects a circular disengage to the right, avoids the enemy sword and allows a new direct line to be established.
A trade must be accompanied by a void motion with the feet to avoid counters from your opponent. The trade was called cavazione.
For this lesson, encourage experimentation with the alternate grips, and run through some simple encounter drills that will encourage movement and allow the trainee to start stringing together elements. Aim for a fluid assembly of motions into a sequence, and try to ease them out of any tendency to do one motion then stop or return to guard. Any time they end up locked in a wrestling match is a failed attempt (for both). The aim is to stay mobile and to have options!
Lesson 4 will cover judgement and tempo, fighting from the ground and a grounded opponent, and parrying gauntlets.
Briefly revise lesson 3 and use as a warm up for 10 minutes or so.
This is a difficult topic for many trainees as it can be viewed as very academic. There is a tendency amongst beginners to seek 'linear solutions' (if they do this, you do this), but the options are much broader than that, and the decision as to which option you take is largely determined by judgement. Tempo is one of the major deciding factors in judgement. Most people equate tempo with a 'beat' or 'rhythm', but it is actually a 'time segment'. In fencing, an attack 'in tempo' means that you have time to make your move and safely withdraw before your opponent can effectively counter. To do this requires gaining the better position of your opponent (the 'place') and being ready to take advantage of that position. To my mind, the clearest holistic expression of judgement and tempo is given by George Silver in his "four grounds":
"The four grounds or principals of that true fight at all manner of weapons are these four, viz. 1. judgment, 2. distance, 3. time, 4. place.
The reason whereof these four grounds or principals be the first and chief, are the following, because through judgment, you keep your distance, through distance you take your time, through time you safely win or gain the place of your adversary, the place being won or gained you have time safely either to strike, thrust, ward, close, grip, slip or go back, in which time your enemy is disappointed to hurt you, or to defend himself, by reason that he has lost his place, the reason that he has lost his true place is by the length of time through the numbering of his feet, to which he is out of necessity driven to that will be agent.
The 4 governors are those that follow
1. The first governor is judgment which is to know when your adversary can reach you, and when not, and when you can do the like to him, and to know by the goodness or badness of his lying, what he can do, and when and how he can perform it.
2. The second governor is measure. Measure is the better to know how to make your space true to defend yourself, or to offend your enemy.
3. 4. The third and forth governors are a twofold mind when you press in on your enemy, for as you have a mind to go forward, so must you have at that instant a mind to fly backward upon any action that shall be offered or done by your adversary. " - George Silver
To follow this through; the first ground is judgement, or through observation and experience you know what your opponent's range is, and what yours is. With this knowledge you keep your 'distance'. This doesn't mean you stay out of range, but means you may have the 'measure' of your opponent (misura larga, misura stretta, etc.). Distance allows you to 'control time', in that you know how long certain actions will take from this measure. This is the first key reference to tempo. The second reference is in the fourth ground of 'place', which is the gaining of a positional advantage over your opponent. Gaining such an advantage is easy, doing so with you sword free and ready to strike is much harder.
The four governors that moderate the four grounds are all facets of tempo, in that they are the 'reality check' for potential and possibilities. Do you actually have time to pull off that fancy move?
To practice this and explain it further to trainees, have them do some hypotheticals in slow work. Face them off, and have each one make a single move in turn. The opponent may counter as they see fit. From each position, let them decide what they would do or try as an option. Keep the exercises to simple passes, because they have to remember them. Have them go through it again at pace to see if they can really manage it. Of course it's harder when the opponent knows what's coming, but it can still serve as a useful illustration.
The major cause of difficulty in fighting a person who is grounded is brought about by simple dynamics. Most people find it easier to fight with the sword angled upwards in their grip, so most attacks will be above the waist (especially with beginners). When an opponent is grounded, all attacks will be initiated from below waist level, so the standing person, in defending themselves, will need greater reliance on their ability to ward their legs, hips and stomach area. The most common ward has the sword in terza, which is the least suitable for warding low attacks. Prima, seconda and quarta are all far more capable in this area.
An added complication is the altered geometry of the swords. With two standing fighters, the crossing of swords is quite easy. With one fighter grounded, the swords are very close to parallel, so warding with crossed swords is more difficult. As the grounded fighter is unable to void, their options for defence become quite impaired.
A grounded fighter is also closer to the lethal targets of their opponent than the standing fighter is to theirs. This can be simply demonstrated by having one fighter grounded and, using equal length swords, have them extend arm and shoulder in a full thrust (without leaning forward) towards belt height. Have a standing fighter approach until the grounded fighter's sword touches their belt, then have them extend their sword in an arc to see what they can reach. In most cases they will be lucky to score a touch on the face, which should be the closest lethal target.
The final complication is that a grounded fighter still has use of the off hand for parrying, while the standing fighter in most cases will not be able to do the same. To make matters worse, it is very risky to attempt a ward against a low line attack and 'pass off' to the offhand as it will almost inevitably require the standing person leaning forward, where the grounded person may disengage/trade and thrust at the face that is now so invitingly close. The unfortunate truth is that against an inexperienced fighter, being grounded has tactical advantages.
So what to tell the trainee? From a standing position against a grounded opponent, let them adopt a standard low ward with the sword in terza, in the Misura Larga measure (see lesson 1). From this position they extend their arm and drop the tip along the inside line (staying to the right of their opponent's sword) then 'trade' into either prima or quarta. If they chose prima, they should bring the left foot straight up behind their right, rotating their body slightly to the left, which should interpose their sword with their grounded opponent's. From here they may thrust downwards, using a short step with the right foot if needed, maintaining the pressure on the opponent's sword and keeping it offline. If they chose quarta, the left foot moves through a slope pace left and forward, again engaging the opponent's sword and allowing a thrust from position. These are two simple options to demonstrate the mechanics of the altered positions, enough to get them over the "I don't know what to do" stage.
If they are grounded, they cannot move. This places much greater emphasis on defence with sword and hand. As the opponent is likely to want to tie up their sword (given the greater reach to lethal targets for the grounded person), hand parries or rapid passing off and trading is the order of the day. For a beginner, being the grounded one is usually easier than being the standing one.
The parrying gauntlet allows a safer control of an opponent's blade using the offhand, compared with an open hand. A fencer may be more proactive when using this equipment, interposing the hand between themselves and the opponent's blade as a small shield. In many respects, the parrying gauntlet is an ideal primer for buckler use later on. Encourage the use of backhand motions with the gauntlet as this allows more freedom of motion and discourages the trainee from becoming fixated on 'catching' the blade, although an open hand pass to the left side will make a recovery more difficult for the opponent. Simply run through several parrying exercises again but this time use the gauntlet (or assume there is one for training purposes).
After all this, the trainee should be capable of undertaking full bouts with a good working knowledge of safe weapon usage, basic advances, retreats, stance changes and lunges, parries by rapier and by offhand, proper use of distance and voids, have an ability to attack using thrust and cuts, have proper calibration of thrust and cuts, right and left handed. They will also be able to fight from the ground, and fight someone who is grounded, respond properly to a hold and demonstrate knowledge of the difference between offhand parries with and without a parrying gauntlet. In other words, if they have a working knowledge of the rules and equipment and armour standards, they should be able to pass an authorisation test.
At this point, allow a series of practice bouts as preparation for that test. Things to look for are reactions to a hold, how they take hits, whether they are able to control the weapon in a tourney situation. Some marshals in Lochac especially seek to press the trainee with very fast and aggressive attacks to see what the trainee's first reaction is under pressure. The idea is to see whether the trainee's first instinct is to lash out in self defence. This is not a desirable response. Hiding, running away, or ideally fighting back and countering are all fine. The key is safety. As long as they can meet the requirements of authorisation as laid out, and are not a threat to the safety of themselves or anyone else, they should pass.