Second Giganti V: Parrying with dagger while passing

I often remark that Giganti leaves nuance aside (having addressed theory sufficiently in the first six pages of his first book) and just tells you what to do.  His section on attacking with passing steps starts with the same approach:

“If your enemy attacks… you can pass with your foot if you know how to take the tempo.  Having passed you should free your sword and deliver two or three thrusts.”

He doesn’t mention the counter to the opponent’s attack, because that varies based on the attack, but otherwise it’s “Counter while stepping in and stabbing.”  In general that counter is “parry with the dagger”.  If he disengages your dagger with his sword, you follow with the dagger, and in general have already position youred sword to close the new line your opponent’s cavazione would gain.  Your passing step is usually offline through your opponent’s blade, not away from it, which will make his cavazione more difficult.

Only when your opponent offers a center-line opening do you close the line with your sword while stepping in (because this places your sword next to his, so he can’t parry with his dagger without catching his own blade).

Of course, offering an opening is not an attack.  His prescription applies not just to answering opponent’s attacks, but to exploiting any action of your opponent, including inaction. Which brings us back to the first book’s instruction to always deliver contratempo attacks.  The general principle of the dagger-parry-while-passing is the same, whatever the tempo you’re exploiting.

Measure, naturally, is important and almost completely undiscussed (but implied by the art). The passing step always begins when you’re already at measure, whether through your action or your opponent’s, so that your passing step brings you inside measure.  If you perform the passing step from just out of measure, where you would gain the blade, it provides a big tempo, brings your target area into measure, and exposes your flank to that cavazione.  Only by performing it when you’re already at measure do you enlarge the necessary disengage to provide time for your counter.  Consider this, you pass-lungers (Giganti talks more about you later).

There are a couple of glossary hints from this section.

One is his concept of “over” specifically when describing “attacking over the dagger”.  The art shows the opponent’s dagger blade above your sword, but your hand higher than the opponent’s dagger hand.  It may be that “over” better translates as “higher than”, and the important element is to have your forte/guard higher than their dagger guard.  Support for this interpretation comes from strip fencing.  Walter Triplette has a maxim: “The high man wins”.  In practice the blade with the higher leverage point can block attacks below it, and attack over the arm (which is the hole in everybody’s guard).  The art shows the attacker’s blade in a seconda, rolling to a prima, and even if the opponent’s dagger is attempting to parry from the attacker’s outside, he’s still boned.

The other is in the use of the word “advance”.  Approaching Giganti, and all Italian rapier, from three hundred years of sport fencing, I think we automatically assume this to be the two part “step with the front foot, step with the back foot” advancing step.  I think as he uses it (in the instance in question “you should advance carefully to find his sword”) it just means to move forward.  There are other, and better ways, to do so than the advancing step.  The advancing step moves the front leg and torso into measure, while depriving the fighter of a lunge.  Basically, they end up hanging out at measure while they recover the back foot, unable to strike, frozen in space, even though they are AT MEASURE.  A better option might be a gathering step, which closes measure (because the back foot moves) without moving the torso or front leg any closer to the opponent.  Even a slight pass, while awkward from a balance perspective, would achieve the same goal because it would narrow the fighter’s measure without affecting the opponent’s measure.  So, add “Advance step” to the pile with “parry” and that other word I don’t like.  Anybody remember what it was?

3 comments to Second Giganti V: Parrying with dagger while passing

  • Ruairc

    I’m be wary of making too much of this word without looking at the original Italian or consulting someone with expertise on the matter. The interpretation as “advance” may have intentionally referred to a step analogous to the modern advance.

    Fabris explicitly describes a step similar to the modern advance, but recommends it only in a single specific circumstance (all other footwork in his book is a lunge, pass, girata, or gathering step):

    – The line is closed (you are in a counterguard)
    – You are entering or shortening the measure
    – The opponent has not given you a tempo

    Fabris describes this situation as extremely dangerous, since you are giving your opponent a tempo within the measure. My thought, then, is that he recommends this particular step because it is small and quick. Nonetheless, it fits the context of “find the sword and come into measure”.

    An attack made in the tempo of the advance can be countered either by turning the advance into a lunge (if made in contratempo) or a pass or girata (if made in mezzo tempo).

    I can’t think of anything to support the idea of taking a gathering step to gain the measure, but it’s an interesting idea all the same.

    • Wistric

      One of Walter’s rules is “Attack while their front foot is in the air”. Attacking while their momentum is committed forward is one of the key elements of my fight. By the time you recognize the contra-tempo attack has developed, your foot has landed and you’re immobilized at measure. As Fabris points out, extremely dangerous. And if he points it out as extremely dangerous, what does he suggest be used that is NOT extremely dangerous?

      • Ruairc

        Fabris prefers that the opponent gives a tempo (e.g. via mutation, settling, or changing the line), but acknowledges that opponents aren’t always so obliging. In such a case, the quick advance with the line closed is reasonable. I suppose if you wanted to be totally safe, you should have avoided the duel altogether.

        This dovetails neatly with something Ben interpreted: you must gain the line to gain the measure safely, but you must gain a tempo to attack safely. If your opponent refuses to give you a tempo, you cannot attack safely (at least, not until you are so close that he cannot react in time – Fabris gives this as “your tip is closer to his body than his guard is to your tip” so your strike can land before he parries).

        My thinking is that the advancing fighter is not immobilized or particularly vulnerable, but that his counters become much more difficult to execute.

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