Practice Log, 6/17   15 comments

Let’s get to it …


We’ve recently introduced our students to the concepts of measure, tempo, and line. Naturally they’ve already had some exposure through osmosis. Thursday’s drill was based on the idea that we can only safely attack an opponent who has given us a tempo.

So: to start, agente finds, patiente performs a cavazione and lunges against a passive opponent. Pretty standard stuff to get the mechanics right. Then, the next step. As Dave said, “wouldn’t that be stupid?” Yep.

The cavazione retakes the line, but agente has not given patiente a tempo in which to act. Patiente is acting out of tempo, and agente can use this to his advantage. Agente could, of course, simply retreat or parry, and survive. But he has better options. Among them: retaking the line in the tempo of patiente’s attack by turning the hand and extending through patiente’s proffered debole.

This is hard to do. When a sword comes at us, our instinct is to move it somewhere else (parry), or move ourselves somewhere else (void or retreat). Moving towards it violates all sorts of lizard-brain warning sirens. But if you can take the tempo, it works.

Usually, anyway. If patiente overfinds with the cavazione, agente will be out-muscled and unable to counterfind (but patiente’s extension will be off target, and agente can drop into a low pass or a void). This took a little time to discover. It’s always fun when something should be working, but it’s not.

After drilling, I fought Torse a bit. Sticking to Fabris’ fourth has opened my mind, even if the actions are still difficult to do. Torse is a great fencer, he trumps all my edges, but during our first few passes I could see the openings – I just couldn’t take them fast enough. He’s too quick for me to think about it, so I figured out the counters to a couple of his favorite patterns and readied myself to perform.

Attempting one of these resulted in a low pass in second, during which I caught a quillion between my metacarpals. That ended my fighting for the day.

Letia came out and did some lunge drills, pursuing a backpedaling Cailin until she was juuust in range, then launching the lunge. There was visible improvement in form, which resulted in MORE kibitzing from the sidelines. It was all well-meaning, of course. I think good fencing may be like good writing in that regard: the better your performance, the more critiques you’re likely to get. This is because only large-scale corrections can be made to an atrocious lunge (“no, hand first!“), but as you get closer to perfection, the critiques get increasingly detailed and thus, more numerous. Don’t get frustrated, and work one thing at a time!


Baronial practice! We had six fencers, plus Dame Roz out of armor. After some footwork and lunge drills, we moved on to drilling Ruairc’s Book of Four Things: press, fall back, step, and charge. More to come in another post on these!

There was some trouble drilling. After basic instruction on the target maneuver, one unit (we shall call them A) was receiving the target command and performing the maneuver; the other (B) was supposed to provide resistance. Problem was that B invariably knew what A was going to do, and subconsciously (or consciously, in Gawin’s case) “cheated” to counter it. Once we became aware of this and called them out, we were able to fix the problem relatively quickly. Mmf. Have to make sure everyone knows how to do the drill properly, whether it’s melee or singles.

I also tried out my mezzo-tempo footwork drill. There were some problems with auditory processing latency and it didn’t quite work as hoped. We may need lights or something. I’ll keep thinking.

A Semantic Digression Into Lunging

I was trying to improve my lunge today, and Gawin was providing feedback. We were going slow, trying to figure out why my geometry was off vis-a-vis Fabris’ plates. We broke it down. Performing the lunge without the step worked well, but whenever I tried to add the step back in, I ended up screwy.

This led to an interesting line of inquiry …

When we teach fencers to lunge, we usually give some variant of the following:

1. Extend (the arm)
2. Lean (the body)
3. Step (and push off the back foot)

Naturally, this gets internalized after a few hours of drilling. But the Masters seem to conceptualize of the lunge a little differently. Giganti just mentions extending the body forward (presumably by driving off the back leg) after the arm, and mentions the front foot only when he describes the recovery. Capoferro notes that the “extraordinary guard” can be reached with or without an accressimento (an “increasing” of the pace). Fabris also notes that the firm-footed attack can be done with or without “carrying forward the right foot” (portando il destro piede inanzi; Leoni’s translation gives this as “lunging forward with the right foot” but I think this could be misleading for my purposes here). None of these are conceptually the same as “step” – which seems to indicate, at least to me, an extension of the foot.

Once I removed the idea of “stepping” and instead just drove off the back foot, with no muscular action in the entire right leg, everything immediately improved, and I had a much better sense of the muscle isolation that gives the lunge (and the “advance”, and the retreat) its rapidity. I also did not overstep as much.

So that’s an idea: there is no step; there is only extension, followed by extension, followed by extension. A straight chain of muscular action, quite in line with general martial principles (although inverting the usual power-generation sequence), with everything moving the sword and body forward. The right foot is simply “carried forward” and doesn’t do much moving on its own – certainly not as much as would be implied by the word “step”.

Of course, this hasn’t seemed to confuse anyone else. Maybe I’ll try it on my students and see if they get any mileage. Thoughts?

Posted June 18, 2014 by Ruairc in Journal

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