Practice Log, 6/23

There’s nothing that energizes me so much as the moment of epiphany, of rediscovering some shred of lost knowledge or some new pedagogical tool that can aid in the completeness or quickness of our reconstruction.

This is rare. Most of my progression involves learning that I’ve been doing something wrong – possibly for years, possibly a thing I thought I was doing right – and then I endeavor to fix it, usually via repetition, and sometimes by processes even longer and more laborious.

It can grate after awhile, and make one begin to think one has nothing to offer the art.


And then ten people show up for weekly practice – myself and Gawin, our three students, two new folks, and three more first-timers – and all the existential crises evaporate amid the glowing happiness of there are people who want to learn how to fight with swords and they are right here!

We did stick drills. We stood in guard. We did footwork. We did lunges. We even introduced the new folks to the basics of bladework. I did nothing but teach CF for three hours. It was glorious.

My enthusiasm is somewhat tempered by the statistics: around WMH we typically retain 10-15% of new faces. But we’ve had a lot of success recently, and I wonder if the more structured approach to practice isn’t part of it. There is a certain legitimacy to scheduled drills (or, if you like: books and egg timers).

One of the new folks has limited mobility in her back (right) hip impeding the CF stuff – and she can’t put all her weight on her back leg. Since this is fundamental to Italian fencing I’m at a loss for a good work-around unless we look into LVD or Agrippa or something. Thoughts?


Sunday involved taking our new lunge instruction out for a spin. Still not sure how to completely avoid the word “step”, but leaving the step out (extending and straightening the left leg, without any movement of the feet) seems a good first step. It may also help to describe the tactical value of the lunge – not so much its reach, but its quickness.

Gawin and I also discussed some foundational tactics in the Italian system. You need a tempo to attack safely, and we covered a handful of basic effective responses to attacks out of tempo (parry; counterfind; and void).

This feels like a good lead-in to introducing the feint, but I still don’t feel like I have a solid grasp of its tactical use. The key I seemed to be missing earlier is that both Giganti and Fabris advocate feinting in contratempo, although Fabris also seems to think you can get away with feinting out of tempo if you do it right … I’ll need to do more reading and examine the plates.

I think we’ll start with a simple choice drill: Agente gains and extends; patiente either does nothing or makes a parry; agente responds by finishing with a lunge or a cavazione as appropriate. It’s sterile and artificial, but it’s a necessary building block, and it’s something we all need to work anyway. Maybe by the time we’re all doing that right, I’ll figure this out …

7 comments to Practice Log, 6/23

  • Dante di Pietro

    Regarding the bad hip: finding the sword, tempo, etc., aren’t affected by that, so this person can probably do just fine under most criteria. If they want to be super accurate or super competitive, they may need to try something else, but if the goal is to be a better fencer and enjoy developing, then it ought to be fine.

    Regarding feints: How does Capoferro define feints? Giganti? Fabris?

    • Ruairc

      All three summarize feints as “pretending to attack one place, then attacking another.” There seems to be a lot of consistency in how they describe it. Giganti and Fabris are explicit in warning against feints done out of tempo. Fabris calls invitations “a kind of feint”. Capoferro is confusing.

      • Dante di Pietro

        OK. Here’s my follow up. We mutually agree that:

        1) A feint is when you pretend to attack one location and intend to redirect your attack elsewhere.
        2) Feinting in measure against a static opponent is a bad idea.
        3) Feinting out of measure against a wise opponent is useless.
        4) Per Fabris, bad feints are ones that give too much of a tell, require too many actions to complete, or take too long to accomplish (head-foot, in an extreme example).

        Ignoring invitations for the moment, it seems to me that an example of a good feint, then, would be taking a tempo to aim an attack (a bit wide, per Giganti) at the opponent’s inside line with the plan of performing a cavazione to the outside line as a response to their parry.

        Would you agree?

        • Ruairc

          That seems accurate. There’s a couple points that I’m not quite clear on, however.

          First, since the action is made in contratempo, the feint still needs to keep you safe. If your opponent lunges, your counteraction needs to close the line; threatening him with your point will just result in a double.

          Second, if you’re acting in contratempo, in a way that will keep you safe, why not attack? Isn’t the feint unnecessary?

          Here’s my thinking: if the opponent makes a committed attack out of tempo, he’s a fool; perform the proper counteraction and wound. On the other hand, a “clever” opponent may make small, uncommitted motions out of tempo (or perhaps even in mezzo tempo) in an attempt to gain some advantage or provoke you to take a tempo out of fear (c.f. Fabris saying that feints out of tempo may work against timid fencers; elsewhere, he calls parrying, meaning simple parries, a form of fear); in this case, a feint is done to provoke a more committed counteraction from the opponent, which is then exploited.

          Building examples from this conceptualization, I find that they look exactly like the feints described by the masters. Agente does something, Patiente does an uncommitted but threatening counteraction (the feint), Agente does a committed counter-counter, and Patiente kills him. In fact, it becomes difficult to distinguish feints as a discrete part of sound fencing.

          If this is accurate, then fencing, among knowledgeable and skilled combatants, seems to be a contest of composure and judgement. (Incidentally, when one considers the use of sharps, it also seems like a terrible idea.) Technique (i.e. getting the motions right) is the most fundamental skill; tactics (governed by line/measure/tempo) build on that. The most advanced skillset is deceits – getting a fencer with impeccable technique and tactics to screw up nonetheless.

          Is this on the right track?

  • Dante di Pietro

    1&2) Capoferro says that feints are a vanity for precisely these reasons. His plates are all invitations rather than “aim here, hit there” feints.

    “In fact, it becomes difficult to distinguish feints as a discrete part of sound fencing.”

    🙂 Ding ding ding!

    So here’s the thing: if a feint is “threaten the inside, plan for the outside in response to the parry”, in what way is that a meaningful difference from “attack the inside, cavazione around a parry to the outside”?

    I’d argue that the only meaningful difference is that in the first case, you are planning for the reaction rather than adjusting for it. If there is no reaction, you just keep going with the attack. Thus, I agree that from an outside perspective, it should be very difficult to tell the difference between a feint and not-a-feint because the core action ought to be identical unless something goes wrong (like you feint and get countered instead of drawing the parry).

    This is why my feint drills don’t teach how to feint, but how to tell if what’s coming at you is a feint or not. Eventually, an astute student learns that whether the attack to the inside is a feint or not, a contratempo lunge is the right response. 🙂

    “The most advanced skillset is deceits – getting a fencer with impeccable technique and tactics to screw up nonetheless.”

    This is also why I suggested that you guys ignore feints for the most part for now, both as fighters and as teachers.

    Very good deductions. You approached this without preconceptions and read what was present, and came to accurate conclusions as a result. Always do that. 🙂

    • Dante di Pietro

      Should read “SOME of my feint drills”.

    • Terasu

      I don’t study European Rapier exclusively. All I have learned, so far, has been through observation and learning from examples with some minor adjustments from more experienced fighters. 80% of my background comes from hand to hand and some Japanese weapon forms. Since I tend to use a sword as if it is an extension of my fist, feints are a large part of my game.

      My understanding of “feints” is an action designed to provoke a response that causes your opponent to open their defenses to your attack. This can be done multiple ways.

      1. The attack that is not an attack. By attacking your opponent to force a parry, he opens his guard to another attack from a different line. The feint must be a direct threat to your opponent to force his action. If the feint is not a threat, it can be ignored and possibly countered.

      2. Body movements designed to force your opponent to make a reflexive action. This is a common form of misdirection to make your opponent more twitchy and use their reflexes, instead of technique as a form of defense. An example of this is jerking your shoulder forward to make it appear as an attack without committing to the full action. You do not give up full tempo and your defenses are still up in case of a counter attack. If the feint works, your opponent will react to the movement and raise their alertness to instinctive levels, possibly making them more prone to future feints. This can also be combined with the first example.

      3. False Openings. Mostly used against medium skilled fighters, this type of feinting appears as if you are opening your guard to provoke an attack from a certain area. Making a leg seem open to provoke an attack and taking the head once their guard is down is an example. Is this very common in hand to hand and boxing to limit damage to yourself while causing maximum damage to your opponent.

      The more stimulation your opponent has, the more likely they are to fall for a feint. I like to use the rule of three. Three of anything is considered a pattern and habitual. Three strikes. Three kills to be a serial killer. Three offenses to be considered habitual by law. It is a natural human response to fall into his pattern or to recognize it. By using this rule, you can set up a number of feints and attacks that can control your opponent through over stimulation. One hand pick raises someone’s defense. A second hand pick makes them aware of your pattern. A third hand pick that is a feint with an immediate redirected strike has a high chance of scoring a blow. This can be applied to all movements to control your opponent to make them respond in the manner you desire.

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