His True Art of Defense
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The First Part - The Basics 1
I. Introduction 1
II. The Sword 2
III. Of Footwork 4
IV. Of Wards 7
V. The Manner of the Strike 9
VI. The Means of Defending 11
VII. Application of Method 12
The Second Part - Attack and Defense
Tactics and Opening Moves from each Ward of the Several Weapons 13
VIII. Single Rapier 13
IX. Rapier and Dagger 14
X. Rapier and Cloak 16
XI. Sword and Buckler 18
XII. Sword and Square Target 21
XIII. Sword and Round Target 23
XIV. Case of Swords or Rapiers 25
XV. Two-Handed Sword 27
XVI. Staff Weapons - bill, partisan, halberd. 28
XI. Staff Weapons - Pike 30
The Third Part
Deceits and Falseing of Blows and Thrusts 33
The Forth Part
How a Man by Private Practice may Obtain
Strength of Body Thereby 39
In 1594 the writings of an Italian Fencing Master, Giacomo di Grasse, were "Englished" from the original Italian for the benefit of his London students. I highly recommend the 1594 version, which uses the language of Shakespeare and the King James Bible, and is very readable. Regrettably, it has been my experience that most students are daunted by certain typographical conventions and unfamiliar terms, and so satisfy themselves with only a quick glance. This modern interpretation was prepared for readers with a historical interest in period fencing technique who prefer a more streamlined and accessible version of this classic work.
To keep the text concise, my working assumption is that the reader is familiar with modern fencing jargon, which is used as applicable. Brief explanations are included in the gloss. In addition, the gloss includes comments on Di Grasse's intent or observations from the experience of modern fencing or martial arts.
The original translation was likely performed by Jerenimo, a student and successor to Rocco Bonetti, and associate of Vincentio Saviolio. Saviolio would, within a few years, author his own manual on the Art of Defence.
Di Grasse promises to teach us to "safely handle" weapons in the title. What does he mean, given that the chance of suffering a wound or death against an equal opponent is 50% at best? Clearly safety is a relative concept based on small steps taken to bias the odds. He emphasizes one central tenant: the objective is not to strike and be struck, but to strike and remain without danger.
1) Being more skilled, trained, in better physical condition than your opponent.
2) Doing nothing that may yield a double kill. (If the chance of a double kill is 10%, you have only a 40%chance of surviving against an equal opponent.)
3) Having a readiness to win - to kill; confident aggression.
Di Grasse and his peers advocated a style of fencing that emphasized the thrust with light-weight point weapons and high speed movement. This style rendered obsolete the earlier form of heavy backsword play which relied on the cut.
It is interesting to note that Saviolo writing in English freely uses Italian terminology such as imbrocatta, squalanbrato, etc., while di Grasse's translator was careful to use only common English terms. George Silver, a contemporary champion of the good old fashioned English way of things, mocks both the Italian words and the very concept of rapier play. However, even he uses some Italian Jargon by the time of his second work, and certainly the use of Italian was common and fashionable by 1600. Shakespeare uses fencing terms such as "stocatta" in Romeo and Juliet and other plays. Undoubtedly this was due to some extent to the credit of Saviolio himself, a popular teacher of defence for the cream of English society.
This new fashion was in turn superseded by a fundamental change in fencing technology and fashion around 1660. "Small sword" techniques, dominated by the French School, replaced Rapier techniques, which had been dominated by Italian masters such as Di Grasse and Saviolio. One consequence is that modern fencing jargon is based largely on 1660 French language. Italian terminology of one generation earlier is, as is rapier play itself, now archaic and disused outside the realm of theater and reenactment.
Apologies for the intrusive comments sprinkled among the text; it is an artifact of quick and dirty web publishing... on the original printed version the comments are a gloss unobtrusively in the right-hand margin.
Di Grasse - His true Art of Defense
The First Part - The Basics
have played with weapons from my earliest childhood, and have researched their use throughout my life. I have studied with many masters of the art, who so much differed from one another that one would think that this "mystery of defense" was destitute of order and rule, but depended only upon imagination to yield a multitude of blows and slick moves. I have given myself wholly to the comprehension of this art to find its true and proper principles. I have reduced the infinite into a certain order, with but a few fundamental principles. These I share with you.
Offense, defense; straight and circular. These are the options. Exercise of these options is made perfect by judgement and force. Judgement is timing - knowing when and how to act. But the end is not found in reasoning, but in the doing. Doing - applying force - requires a body with strength and agility, so do not neglect this in your training.
To obtain judgement you must study diligently with sound guidance. Take to heart the following "Advertisements" - axioms of the art.
1 - The right or straight line is the shortest and fastest(1)
2 - The nearest hits soonest.
3 - The longer the arc of the blow, the greater the force
4 - A man may more easily withstand a small than great force
5 - Every motion takes time to accomplish. (2)
The following sections describe each of the Divisions of the Art in turn.
II. The Sword
f all weapons a man may use, none is more honorable, handy, useful or safe than the sword. The sword offers two tools - edge and point. Weather you cut or thrust you must observe the time of advantage - when your sword is more near and more ready to strike than the enemy's. (3)
This principle is easiest to apply against cuts. For example, if your enemy is close and cuts widely (the point describes a big circle as your opponent swings), you must not defend, but close and strike with the point with all celerity. As you hit home you will prevent the fall of the enemy's sword. If forced to defend from any edgeblow, parry with the strong part of the blade, close to the hand.
Thrusts are the most perilous blows. To be ready for a thrust, stand at the ready, so as not to loose time in reaction or preparation. If you stand awkwardly you will need to prepare for a trust by drawing back the arm, shifting the feet, leaning the body, or other dangerous motion which will invite an attack as you prepare. (4)
The blows of the sword are strongest the further from the hand, much as the force at the rim of a wheel is stronger than at the spokes. Dividing the blade into four parts, the two nearest the point 4 and 3 are to be used for striking. 1 and 2 are tobe used for wards, since nearer the hand they are strong to resist any violence. These divisions are illustrated in Figure 1.
This logic applies to the arms, and the wrist and elbow should be used (adding to the circumference of the circle, they add force to the blow). But, as they are strong, they are also slow (as they perform the greater compass) Therefore, do not swing from the shoulder, because you will give to much time to your enemy, and the wrist and elbow give strength enough.
Remember - the hit with the point is the straightest, shortest, and fastest.
By 1600, rapiers were lighter and the benefit of using the elbow was reduced. Saviolio no longer recommended using the elbow to cut.
III. Of Footwork
irm footwork is the font from which springs all offense and defense. The body likewise should be firm and stable - right shoulder turned towards the enemy.
Right shoulder to the front, left hand forward, the breast slightly turned away. Two-weapon methods discussed below require a more square stance.
If you can hit by extending the arm only, without even using the feet, so much the better since the body should be always ready and firm. This is far better than the snail-like wiggling some fencers show, wresting themselves from side to side. Each movement takes time, and if you can perform an action not in two motions but in a half motion so much the faster and better.
In footwork as well, by orderly, discreet, and controlled motions, you will win. Proper size steps depends on the individual's stature and frame, but each step can only be straight or circular.
The right leg is the strength of the right hand, and the left leg is the strength of the left hand. So, the right hand attack should be accompanied by the right leg. Take care that the foot and arm move together. Above all, do not skip or leap, but keep one foot always firm and steadfast.
The blow of the point or thrust cannot be handled without consideration of the feet and body, because the strong delivering of a thrust consists in the apt and timely motion of the arms, feet, and body. The object is to be able to deliver a thrust from the ready position in as little time as possible.
The right foot leads, similar to a modern guard position, The left hand is in front of the breast, and the body is slightly bent forward with greater weight on the rear leg.
Think of two purposes for motion:
Set-up - out of distance;
Attack or escape - in distance.
In distance (within measure) means that you can hit with one movement, lunge or pass; about 10 feet or so.
Lunge = modern term for forceful advance, relying on extension of the rear leg to drive the body forward. In di Grasse's practice, this usually included dragging the hind leg forward somewhat.
|Half-pace Fencing step (the front foot moves forward, followed by the rear
foot the same distance)
Whole-pace Pass (the rear foot crosses past the front foot - e.g. a normal walking step or fleche.)
Slope-pace Thwart or crooked step. Move on the diagonal (45 degree angle, more or less) forward or back.
Circular-pace Slip, changing your orientation from the original line to a new line by moving a foot (typically the hind foot) in a semi-circle.
Lunge, or pass-lunge. di Grasse uses the term "increase the pace." The idea is to drive forward by dynamically pushing with the rear leg. In contrast, a walking pace relies on gravity to "fall" forward at each step. Stretch out far and low in the attack. Finish in many cases by dragging up the rear foot somewhat, as in a modern lunge-recover-forward.
Traverse Sideways movement. (90 degree angle)
To lunge left, leading with your left foot (pass first if your left foot is in the rear) make a powerful and fast lunge toward (or just outside of) the back of your adversary. Optionally finish by pulling up the hind (right) foot to a guarded ward stance. Di Grasse uses the phrase, "increase of the left foot".
To lunge right, leading with your right foot (pass first if your right foot in the rear) make a powerful and fast lunge toward (or just outside of) the breast of your adversary. Optionally finish by pulling up the hind (left) foot to an on guard stance. Di Grasse uses the phrase, "increase of the right foot"
To lunge slope left, instead of lunging toward the back, your leading left foot should land on a mark about 45 degrees to your left. When lunging left, If your rapier is in your high hand, a thrust will usually be delivered as a reverse. A reverse blow is any that comes from your left side, often with the wrist bent to angle the sword past the guard.
An angled attack is also called an imbrocatta.
IV. Of Wards
he first ward achieved on withdrawing the blade from scabbard is the high ward - right hand above and in front of the right cheek, and point angled toward the opponents face. The obvious attack from here is a long thrust above hand.
If the point is too high, the enemy can close underneath, if too low, the enemy can beat down your blade too easily.
The high ward is similar to the modern Parry 5, but the point is angled toward the opponent's face.
Left arm always forward! Chest to opponent. Stance is more open and like a boxer's stance than modern (post 1660) practice.
Saviolo's open ward is similar to the broad, but with the chest toward the opponent, rather than twisted away (closer to modern guard in three with the left arm forward).
Saviolo's favorite Short or Close Ward is somewhat different from any of di Grasse's: The on guard position is with the right foot leading, the weapon's guard on or near the hip, the chest toward adversary, and no engagement of the blades.
"In this ward you must be sure not to put yourself in danger by carrying your weapon long. Your opponent can strike upon your weapon, and upon you with great speed, and master not only your weapon but you. To close near enough to find your weapon, he must come close enough to risk being hit."
The second ward is the broad or wide ward. The arm is stretched back so widely,that it seems to leave your body open - but in truth it does not. Although the hand is well away from the body, the point is directly in line.
The low ward, base ward, or lock ward is more strong, sure, and commodious than any other ward, and from which one may more easily strike, ward and stand, and with less pain. The hand should be near and outside the knee, and the point should be raised. The blade should be carried crooked over somewhat to the left side. This is superior to variations taught by other schools, wherein the arm is carried well out in front. In that position, one would have to draw back before the strike, or else strike very weakly.
Saviolo calls a variation of the low Ward the Puncta Reversa (reverse thrust) Ward. This Ward is in many ways contrary to the others. Stand with the feet near together, as if ready to sit down. The right foot is only moderately in front of the left. The Rapier handle must be within the knee, point against the face of your adversary. A variation has the handle without the knee.
The puncta reversa on the defensive is explained as follows: If you are attacked first with a thrust (stocatta), don't try to parry (for he may have the advantage). Turn the knuckle of your hand to the right side chest level and let your point be right upon the belly of your opponent with the arm fully extended. Shift the left foot back, then move the right foot, bend the left foot such that the heel of the left is in line with your right instep, a half pace back. In this way, you may hit without Danger.
Saviolo on the use of the left hand: I advise all to learn to break trusts 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.
Silver's Four Governors:
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.
This last item is very similar to Mushai's no conception, no design philosophy.
V. The Manner of the Strike
Without a doubt, the thrust is to be preferred over the edge blow. Not only is it faster, but it can cause the greatest hurt. This I lay down for a firm and certain rule.
Speed is of two types -
Natural speed is reaction time - given by nature, health, youth, and muscle tone.
Technical speed is earned by executing an efficient movement without any wasted motion or excess energy.
When moving in a circle, always be sure that the left (rear) foot is always shifted so that there is always a straight line from sword tip to hand to rear foot. In this way, the lunge attack with thrust can be the strongest and longest. Further, as the lunge completes, draw the hind foot forward a half-pace to ensure that the blow is longer and stronger. The attack should be measured to just reach, but not to overshoot, the mark. At the completion of the attack, the rear shoulder and arm should be turned away from the opponent, and so out of reach of a counter thrust. It is not possible to frame a longer blow than this.
From the low ward, make a reasonable pace, bearing the hand without the knee. Force on their thrust nimbly, throwing back the rear arm. End in a lunge position, so as to increase the reach of the thrust. If the lunge is too deep and far to be comfortable, draw forward the back foot slightly as well.
Measure is the distance between combatants. "In measure" (or in distance) is the distance at which you can hit or be hit in one move.
Drawing the rear foot forward is natural ONLY if the lunge is very powerful and long. Di Grasse takes for granted that his readers understand the explosive quality of combat.
However, this also commits everything to the attack. Later writers urged more caution.
By 1692, Hope was saying, do not drag the rear foot behind.
This includes material from the "Falsing" section.
This thrust must be jerked or sprung forth as straight as possible, the arm fully extended. The body and feet move behind such that the arms, shoulder, and feet are under one straight line. This technique can deliver a very great thrust.
The high ward is awkward for a strong thrust, especially if the right foot in the fore. Since this ward is used to attack rather than defend, set up your lunge. Draw yourself up, feet close together, leaning forward, arm high and straight, thrust accompanied with a lunge powerful and long
"Extend the arm FIRST!" is the most often repeated refrain of the modern fencing coach. As a slight exaggeration, this a pedagogic technique. Purpose - to keep the student from 1) slowing the (fast) arm to keep pace with the (slow) feet and (slower) body. 2) "telegraphing" the attack with premature foot movement.
At a deeper level, the extending arm establishes the fact of the attack. Any action by the opponent in the face of a clear attack other than defense or retreat would be suicidal.
See Silver's "times".
The edge is to be preferred over the point for only one reason - when it saves time in the blow. This circumstance can happen when the point is out of line with the opponent - for example after warding a blow, or if your opponent beats your blade out of line. In these cases, hitting with the point may take two moments of time, where an edgeblow would take but one (as illustrated in Figure 7). I particularly advise cutting back immediately after receiving a beat, for the opponent is often taken by surprise at its rapid replacement, because of his preoccupation with his attack.
This argument is hard to accept since a cut in these circumstances would have no power at all. However, rapidly replacing the point as illustrated would be very effective.
Di Grasse points out in another section that cuts to the face need not have power to be effective. The face is a good target for a quick flicking cut.
Saviolo on picking the moment to attack: Don't rush headlong into the first attack without an advantage, for you risk a counter attack. Instead, if you have the skill, gain the advantage in time and measure, and then attack. Do not settle for simultaneous hits. Hit without being hit.
_________________Miyamoto Musashi (Japanese near-contemporary) on fixing the eyes: Some schools have one fix their eyes on the sword, others on the hand, others on the face or eyes. But if you fix your eyes on anything other than a man's heart your spirit can become confused. The gaze must include perception which is strong, and sight which is weak; perception includes the enemy's spirit, the terrain, changes in advantages. In single combat you must not fix the eyes on details and neglect important things.
VI. The Means of Defending
hree means defend against all attacks from either point or edge. The first is the parry - your weapon opposes the opponent's. The weapon you use can be a sword, dagger, a stick, your hat, your hand - because a soldier and gentleman must master defense, not just how to use a particular tool such as a rapier. Besides, one can not always be armed as one would prefer.
Parry is the modern term adopted from the post 1660 French school jargon. Di Grasse's translator uses "break", "ward", "block", "encounter" and other words for parry.
But the parry is not always the solution - especially as it is often practiced and taught today. Particularly dangerous is the habit of retreating while parrying - caused apparently by a lack of confidence in the parry's ability to control the opponent's attack. Problems caused by withdrawing include:
The greater likelihood of your being hit by (or near) the point, and so take a stronger, more dangerous, blow.
To strike you must first take a step back to where you were before. This takes so much time that you risk counter attack and give your opponent an opportunity to defend.
Post 1660 small sword technique encourages retreating while parrying. The default rapier technique is stepping to the side.
A parry is not static, but a movement that first defends then shifts to an attack (riposte). Beginning students are taught "parry 4" as a position, but the expert understands that the position is a transition phase with the objective of not just defense, but control of the opponent's blade.
I advise stepping into a cut, with the left foot taking a sloping step forward. Thereby, the attack's measure will be misjudged, and the cut can be taken close to your opponent's hilt, where it has less power. In addition, by stepping forward, you can strike in the same instant. This manner of defense is so sure and quick, I use it above all others.
The advice is sound, but not for the timid.
The second way to defend is useful primarily against a cut with a great compass (broad arc) - or when the cut is being prepared with a pull back of the hand. This defense requires a sudden thrust with the point, Most attackers will perceive the danger and back off. If they choose to continue, you will henceforth find that they weaken as opponents, by reason of the blood which goeth from them.
Attack into an action, to forestall a weak or indirect attack with a strong direct thrust. In modern jargon, this is an attack into the preparation or stop thrust depending on circumstances.
The third means of defense is the void, in which the body is taken away from the line of the attack. This is seldom used alone, but rather used with an opposition with the weapon as described in the first means of defense, or as part of a timing attack as described in the second means above. If used alone, the idea is to move enough to let the opponent's weapon slip past, while hitting simultaneously with your weapon.
Time thrust. Rather than parrying first and hitting on riposte second, try to parry while hitting at the same moment. Timing is extraordinarily critical - the slightest error is fatal.
VII. Application of Method
n the sections to follow I will address the most practical and useful attacks and defenses practical for each ward. Every conceivable bad attack or weak defense is not discussed. These techniques were selected largely based on two principles that always hold true: 1) In the Attack: Trust to the Thrust. 2) In the Defense: Trust to the Thrust against the preparation or into a wide cut
The following sections offer advice on how to attack and defend when either you or your opponent is a given position. This is conceptually not unlike a manual of chess openings.
Opening moves are important, but are not the entire picture. The rhythm of the exchange must be mastered. The skill of exploiting an indecisive clash is a significant mark of mastery.
The End of the First Part
The Second Part - Attack and Defense Tactics
and Opening Moves from each Ward of the Several Weapons
Return to menu.
1. Keep the point in line, and within easy striking range of the opponent
2. To save time, use few motions as directly as possible.
3. Time of Advantage is a moment of opportunity during which a strike may be safely delivered.
4. The Rapier is long and lightweight , designed primarily to thrust. In 1550, it was a light and long broadsword variation that kept getting lighter year by year. By 1650 new rapiers had become so light that blades often broke, leading soon to blades forged with a triangular cross-section.