The Only Four Actions you will Ever Need   2 comments

I am, I think, when bored or feeling mischievous given to relying on axioms that may or may not be completely accurate, or contain all the necessary nuance to enable true understanding (for instance, “Point control is a myth”).  Sometimes the point is to elicit questions that bring enlightenment.  Usually the point is to provide an easy answer that most will accept so I can go back to the conversation I was having with myself.  The most recent Grand Pronouncement to enter into my repertoire is “If you can do four things correctly, you will be a White Scarf.”  The list of four things is very simple.  It’s the “correctly” that holds all the secret nuance.

The things:

  1. Find the sword
  2. Lunge
  3. Cavazione
  4. Feint

I can’t really claim originality for this idea.  After all, these are the only four things Giganti bothers to teach.  Everything’s just variations (a ricavazione is a cavazione after a cavazione, a contracavazione is a cavazione in the temp of your opponent’s cavazione).

They also follow a nice flow of “simple defense” to “simple attack” to “complex attack/defense” to… well, we’ll get to that fourth one in a minute.

Finding the sword: Giganti’s instruction of “just about resting your sword above your opponent’s” does a couple of things.  It establishes the strong angle, with no commitment of your body to any action, and no communication to your opponent through the sense de fer.  The nuance is in having the blades crossed in the second palm (so that your opponent’s disengage must be large enough for you to exploit), having the true edge against your opponent’s anything-but-true (usually false or flat, if you’re above them), having a straight line from your elbow to your point so that your whole forearm is engaged against any attempt to push through, and your body behind your guard so that the line is actually closed.  You do all of this just outside of measure, so that when you perform the step TO measure, you are safe (or at least prepared for your opponent’s cavazione, which you will counter by finding on the other side, because we’re at measure, not inside) and can proceed with your attack.  Not ready to attack?  Don’t step to measure.  In fact, step back until you are ready.  Having found their sword and stepped to measure, you then…

Lunge: Extending your guard towards the point of the blades’ crossing while bringing your point into presence.  Once your arm is fully extended you bend your upper body forward at the hips a bit to line your head up behind your sword’s guard.  You then lift your front foot and fall forward onto it, pressing your back foot into the ground and straightening your back leg while falling to provide extension of the lunge.  And you strike.  If you come up short, no worries, just pass your back foot forward and pursue till your guard hits bone.  On the off chance your sword is found DO NOT STEP TO MEASURE.  But if they step to measure (placing your sword in a state of being found at measure)…

Cavazione: Relax your grip, let the sword tip drop and the pommel rise, provide any lateral motion necessary from the pad of the thumb or the index finger, then tighten your grip to bring your point back online on the other side of their blade.  Rotate your wrist as you do so that you have their sword found on the other side.  Because of this, if your opponent cavaziones, they will be finding your blade and you are therefore at measure and we just do another cavazione.  In a broader sense, a cavazione is any change of line in response to being found (so a yield or a step to a new line are also cavazione but always make sure you close the line of your opponent’s blade). If you are found at measure and you do a cavazione while lunging, you should strike them, then, you know, don’t stop till guard hits bone.

Which brings us to feints…

A feint is actually not its own thing.  You first learn a feint as a lunge and cavazione.  When learning to feint, you stop the lunge before your front foot lifts to determine whether you need to cavazione or lunge.  When you know how to feint, you judge whether or not a cavazione is needed (based on whether or not your opponent is parrying) during the tempo of your extension so the decision has already been reached by the time your extension is complete and you either cavazione or lunge.  Ultimately, you can feint by creating an opening, feint by finding their blade, feint by extension, feint by cavazione, feint by stepping to measure, feint by immobility when found, feint by… damn near any tempo offered to your opponent that gives the illusion you can be attacked during that tempo.  So really there are just three things (my pithy and simplistic saying was not pithy and simplistic enough!), and the ability to make judgment calls in tempo.

Modern fencing theory includes this thing called Sarbo’s Wheel:

Sarbo’s Wheel

You see it gets pretty complex, starting from Simple Attack and ending up… insane.  But according to students and teachers of modern fencing, a fight rarely goes past that fourth thing, the attack in counter-time.

Their first thing is a simple attack, our lunge (while closing the line).

Their second thing is a defense and attack, since their weapons are dui tempi weapons.  The rapier being single tempo this is a lunge (while closing the line) in the tempo of their attack.

Their third thing is a feint-attack.  Which as we discussed above for us is a lunge (with or without cavazione).

Their fourth thing is a stop-thrust, a lunge (closing the line) delivered while your opponent initiates a feint (which is just the first half of a lunge).

If those first four slices of Sarbo’s wheel applied to rapier (and, well, they do), they would be:

Close the line and lunge.  Or…

Close the line and lunge.  Or…

Close the other line and lunge.  Or…

Close the line and lunge.


And I’m back to pithy simplicity fencing is really that simple.  The nuance I’m leaving out is the ability to execute these in counter-time.  That’s not a question of form, though, that’s a question of drilling these actions into your body:

1a. As they step to measure, attack.

1b. As they stand there doing nothing with their blade found, attack.

2. As they attack, attack.

3a. As they cavazione out of your find, attack.

3b. As they go to find your sword, attack.

4. As they extend, attack.

And the final option: If you don’t like what’s happening, bail and start over.


Want to be good? There’s your list of drills. See you in a year.

Posted May 8, 2014 by Wistric in Musings

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