Cloak Basics - a few notes
By Silfren the Singer, from the teaching of François Henri Guyon
Originally published in Punta Dritta July AS XXXVIII (2003)
There are really two forms of "cloak" - the cloak and the cape. (Ignoring things like hats and handkerchiefs which are really only things you carry in your off hand as a distraction.)
The cloak is a long garment, It should reach from your shoulders to about your knees. The cape is shorter, hip or thigh length.
The cloak and the cape are both enveloping. They slow the opponent's weapon down by weighting it and surrounding it, making it difficult to move. They are not solid, so can't block a thrust, instead they slow it and perhaps move it off line a little. They are large, they cover a large area, so can be hard to move around when spread out.
To be most effective, both cloak and cape need to have some weight to them, and with cape you must learn how your particular one moves, so you can keep it close or fan it out as you please. A heavy cloak or cape can be tiring to use, and slow to move, so you don't want too heavy. A line of light rope at the bottom hem can help a cape to fan out, and add a bit of weight to make it more usable as a stick or buckler.
The cloak is mostly a passive defence, it protects by just being there, or with a bit of help. It is seldom if ever used as an active defence to attack a blade that isn't coming at you.
It is used wrapped around the arm, wrapped so it hangs on the outside of the arm. To wrap it, hold the middle of the neck in your off hand, then sweep the length of it up and to your inside, and over the arm. Wrap a couple of times, to make sure it's secure. It should cover all of your forearm, but no more of the arm than that.
- As it's not solid, and it is rather slow, it's important to use your feet, to step around the cloak as you use it so as to remove your body from the line of attack.
- You should mostly defend attacks between the nipples and the hips. That uses the most effective part of the cloak.
- You can defend the head with your cloak-wrapped arm, but you must be careful not to blind yourself, so you must move the arm out to clear the cloak and blade from your face, and step away from the blade. It isn't at all easy to defend a high thrust safely, better to use your blade or to get your head out of the way.
- The cloak is too big and heavy to throw or flick well. More trouble than it's worth. It can be dropped onto an incoming sword, if you haven't wrapped it around your arm, but it is a slow thing to move, and that can be hard to do.
To defend a cut:
Use the wrapped portion of the arm. (Guildmaster Francois assures me that it protects from cuts.) Remember that the upper arm is not protected. You can get the arm in between your body and the blade, and move the blade offline, not needing to worry about the slice.
To defend a thrust:
- Catch the point with the folds of the cloak *below* your arm, moving the arm away from your body and stepping away from the point at the same time. It works best if the point is less than 20-30cm below the arm. The arm motion is similar to that used for a normal offhand parry.
- The cloak being heavy and soft, it will slow the point and control the blade, but you must have the cloak well in front of the body or completely clear of it. A point touch through the cloak is a valid touch, and you can't be sure as it comes in how hard it is coming in. So always move the arm and step away.
- You can try to collect your opponent's blade with the cloak as you step in to them as part of an attack, but it will always be slower than the sword, so you must use the speed of your feet to get there quickly, and step to their side with the cloak between you and them. Don't blind yourself trying to catch the sword.
The cape is shorter and lighter than the cloak, so requires more active use - it can't stop thrusts or slow blades well just by its own weight.
Hold it by the middle of the neck, or a little to one side of the middle, which ever makes it easier for you to control the movement of the cape.
It can be used in several ways:
Like a soft stick
You can hold the cape so it hangs together like a roll, and use it like a soft stick. This can take practice to stop it fanning out, try not to twist your wrist as you move the cape. You want the cape to be as close and compact as possible.
Then you use it like a soft stick, to sweep the opponent's weapon away, aiming for the beginning of the last 3rd of the sword - far enough from the hilt to get leverage, close enough to it to make disengaging difficult.
- For a low attack, sweep from high to low, inside to outside.
- For a high attack, sweep low to high, up and out.
- You can also sweep the opponent's sword as part of your preparation to attack them. Be very certain you have the weapon controlled and they haven't disengaged.
Like a soft buckler
You can use a cape in a similar way to a cloak, using the weight of the cape to envelop and slow the sword either by catching the point, or by dropping the weight of the cape onto the blade. As for cloak, step aside from the thrust at the same time.
You can also drop the cape onto the opponent's sword, either as an answer to an attack, or as preparation for your own attack. You want to slow the sword and make it hard for them to counter you. It should be done as part of your advance, rather than before moving, speed is important.
Fanning and throwing
Don't keep your cape hand still; it makes a very large target.
You can twist your wrist and fan the cape out to distract your opponent and hide your sword's movement from them. You can flick it to do the same thing, to draw their eye and distract them. The human eye is caught by sudden movements, and the bigger the movement, the bigger the response. So a large sudden cape movement will draw attention.
Don't make the fan so big that you blind yourself, or that you envelope or slow your own sword! Except in one case - you can fan the cape onto your sword, fling the cape at your opponent using the sword for leverage, and then follow it with a fast attack from high ward where your sword is after being used in such a way.
If you throw it, aim for your opponent's sword or face. Even if it doesn't get to their face, it can cause them to blink or jerk back. You must instantly take advantage though, you have just thrown away half your arsenal, don't stand about waiting to see what happens, but follow up instantly.