First Giganti Redux 2: Guards

Giganti starts off with discussion of guards and counter-guards.  At times I’ve tried to approach instruction on Giganti by starting first with the theory pieces (tempo, measure, line) because the reasoning behind Giganti’s instruction on guards is tied directly to his application of theory.  However, this invariably ends up with the feeling of putting the cart before the horse – while “You stand this way because then you can attack with one tempo” requires an explanation and understanding of tempo, discussing measure and tempo without a clear understanding of what makes a good starting point from which to govern measure, and from which to take your tempo, results in more imperfect understanding of the theory.  Giganti’s application of tempo is at the core of his system, so the least imperfect understanding that can be had is the best route.  So, begin with an imperfect understanding of guards so as to better understand tempo later.

Unlike the other Italian Rapier masters, Giganti declines to prescribe any particular guards1 or hand positions (at least until much later on), instead saying “Every motion of the sword is a guard” and that knowing the best course of action from whatever position you are in (and whether it’s where you need to be or you need to change your position) is the important thing.  Which it probably is.

At times he does instruct to do something “as seen in the illustrations”, but rarely says to stand exactly as illustrated.  The exceptions to this rule regard very particular scenarios – invitations on various lines with sword and dagger, defending against cuts to the head, et al. – and not as part of the instructions on the basic elements of his theory.

He does identify the important traits of a good guard, however, and in so doing begins to define his system of combat:

  • Stand solidly on your feet (Not bouncing on the toes, but instead with the feet firmly planted on the ground
  • In a stance that can be extended with a step2
  • With the sword held so you can parry and strike in a single action (off-line guards tend not to support this, encouraging keeping the sword on-line)
  • With the body “well-placed and at the ready”
  • With the sword pointed at his opening
  • With the dagger pointed at his shoulder

I’ve usually translated that “with the body well-placed and at the ready” as relaxed and balanced (Giganti instructs to be in a position that can’t be easily unsettled).  This also, given Giganti’s emphasis on attacking and defending in a single tempo, suggests having the weight primarily on the back foot (like a good Italian) so that the lunge will be clean and efficient with no wasted effort to shift weight off the front foot so that it can be moved forward.  He repeats many of these instructions again in regards to Plate 20 (How to Use Single Sword against Sword and Dagger).

Later on, in his chapters on sword and dagger fighting, says again “There are as many possible guards as there are positions of the sword.”  When setting out to instruct students on Giganti, I emphasize that trying to stand in a plate-exact way, without knowing why it works or how it’s best utilized, is not nearly as important as internalizing the traits of a good guard and developing the ability to test your position against those criteria.



1 Giganti prefaces the list of traits of a good guard with “as you will see in the illustrations…” While some have taken this as a prescription for the exclusive use of the guards which illustrate gaining the blade (in plates 2 and 3), the instruction does not seem nearly so specific, but instead a suggestion that looking at those plates, and others, will demonstrate instances of fighters standing solidly on their feet, with the body well-placed and at the ready.

2 Here the illustrations seem to be at odds with the instruction.  The illustrated stance has the feet separated by two and a half foot-lengths.  I, and all others I’ve instructed on this, have difficulty taking a step (“extending the stance”) from that long of a stance.  It is possible that this is due to a lack of sufficient conditioning.  Whatever the cause, I usually stand with my feet one and a half foot-lengths apart as it meets the conditions of the text, not the illustration.


2 comments to First Giganti Redux 2: Guards

  • Gawin

    This posting was rather timely, as I was just going back to read that section in order to prepare for our class at University.

    While I don’t have a fully formed thought about it, something that struck me was the extent to which Giganti seems to describe both some general guidelines and also details some specific “do this thing” sorts of instructions. Is your impression of the manual that he is presenting general rules and examples or simply a longer set of rules (some more specific than others)?

    • Wistric

      His manual boils down to a set of guidelines, couched with some instruction on each topic. It flows from generic rules to more specific rules elaborating on the first set of rules. Things like “Don’t form a guard, form a counter-guard” are then elaborated by “form a counter-guard by just about resting your blade on top of theirs”.

      He doesn’t explain why the forte or true edge are stronger, just instructs to use them.

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