First Giganti Redux 4: Measure   8 comments

“That distance from which you can hit him with a firm-footed attack [lunge]”

For the longest time I thought this was the only thing Giganti really had to say about measure.  I reached this conclusion because in his chapter on Measure and Tempo, that was the only thing he said about measure.  He devoted seventeen thousand words (approximately) to tempo, and just twelve to measure.  I now think that difference is not because Giganti had nothing to say about measure, but because his strategic thinking is built around taking or forcing tempi from your opponent.

I would love to claim that I one day had a lightbulb moment and went back to my Giganti, studiously digging through it for the patterns of which actions occur at which measures.  I totally didn’t.  This is much more derived from discoveries made during practice, and a second-hand understanding of Fabris.  Going back to Giganti, though, once I’d formed hypotheses based on these observations, I was able to find support.

Unlike Tempo, in Giganti’s system Measure doesn’t drive strategy, but it does dictate which actions are better once you have a tempo to exploit.


Distances in Giganti’s system

For Giganti’s purposes, you can be:

Way Outside Measure (my words, not his): Out here nobody can hit anybody, nobody can gain anybody’s blade.  You’re not fighting.  Either get closer or do something else.  Hydrate?

Just Outside Measure: Here is where you gain your opponent’s blade.  The fight starts here.  This is where you gain control of tempo and place your opponent in obedience.  This is also where you recover to after each attack.

At Measure: This is the distance at which you should attack.  Giganti’s plays generally start by gaining the blade out of Measure, advancing to Measure, and lunging.

Inside Measure: This distance is reached after the lunge or pass controlling your opponent’s blade.  Either the off-hand is on your opponent’s guard so he can’t get at you, or your own sword is still firmly protecting your line.  Giganti’s a big believer in the double tap – Once you’re here and completely in control of your opponent’s sword, he suggests stabbing your opponent repeatedly, before recovering out of measure.

In each case, these are relative to your Measure (that discrete unit of distance which is the length of your lunging attack).  Giganti doesn’t go into the specifics of how shorter fighters should conduct themselves in the fight, though gaining your opponent’s blade from out of Measure, at the earliest possible convenience, is a good way to stay safe even against taller opponents.  Like Thibault and Agrippa, he starts with the assumption that everybody’s body is the same.


Measure and Lunges

One of Mediema’s complaints about Leoni’s translation of Giganti is that Leoni doesn’t address the off-line lunges Giganti seems to include.  This is so, but I think they’re a bit more systematic than Mediema addresses in his interpretation.  It gets difficult to tell – Giganti doesn’t actually say anything about lunging offline, but it’s clearly part of some of the actions in his plates.  We could refer to foot placement on the grid in the plates, but the truth is the illustrations in the original Giganti were pretty faded after four hundred years and so some “enhancement” of the images is present in both Leoni and Mediema, which includes a certain degree of guesswork as to minutiae of the feet (also, from the enhancements made, it appears the bottoms of the plates were especially susceptible to disruption.

What I’ve found works:

When you gain the blade just out of measure and lunge (while your opponent takes an action, lunge or advance, that closes the distance between you), lunge away from their blade.  At this measure, cavazione can be tight and quick, and moving your torso away builds a void into your action, forcing their cavazione to be larger and slower and therefore more easily countered.

At measure, lunge towards their blade.  This drives their point further offline and keeps your body behind your sword for ready defense.  Were you to lunge away from the find their point wouldn’t be as far offline, and their cavazione would find your body undefended.

Inside measure you’re not lunging, merely extending, so it can’t be offline, though you can move your torso and hips to still keep your body behind your sword.



Measure and Cavazioni

Measure also guides your counters to a cavazione:

Most of his plays begin with “find his sword out of measure”.  If your opponent performs a cavazione out of measure, you just turn your hand to find his sword again (this is actually plate 5). A cavazione from out of measure is essentially just an attempt to find your blade.  The hand turn counter-finds.  So, too, would a shift of the torso (rotating and or bending) or a slight side step.  Either way, as he’s lunging during his cavazione your counter-find will drive his point to your guard, and he will be within range of your own lunge.

At measure, when he performs a cavazione he will be close enough that, should you attempt to counter find, you will find he’s already across your blade with mechanical advantage.  Instead, perform a counter-cavazione, yielding to his mechanical advantage and gaining it for yourself on the opposite side of his blade.  Yields and voids are also good ideas here (and the “find/cavazione/void” is a favorite sequence for me).

Inside measure, timing is so tight that full cavazione aren’t really feasible as they require an even larger motion to get all the way around the blade.  So if you are inside measure and your opponent performs a cavazione (or, say, a counter-cavazione to your own cavazione, see the previous paragraph), you won’t have time to move your sword much (and any large motion is likely to take it offline and past your opponent).  A demi-cavazione will take it out of the find to bring it into a low-line target.  A yield can change the angle of your attack just enough to get around their find and still land.  In both these cases, since your blade can’t do too much moving, you must move your body to keep it protected by your guard, essentially a void.  Dropping your body downward with the demi-cavazione lowers it below your opponent’s line of attack and keeps your forte, hand, and guard between their blade and you (practicing this action will result in getting stabbed in the face a lot.  Enjoy.).  Stepping and bending to the same side as the yield will void your body out of your opponent’s line of attack.


Taller Opponents and Those who Retreat

As mentioned, Giganti starts all actions with a find out of measure, then advances to measure.  As we’ll discuss in the next part, though, that advance to measure is a tempo in which your opponent can attack you with a cavazione.  To take that step safely, you must be ready for the cavazione your opponent’s cavazione, and prepared to turn your hand (as mentioned above) to counter-find their blade.

Here is the point where shorter fighters start to run into problems: At this point you’ve just advanced to the taller fighter’s Measure.  If they’ve performed a cavazione (and are therefore lunging), they’ve moved themselves into your measure and are now available to strike.  If, however they only performed a disengage, you still have to get to your Measure before you can strike them.  This means at least one more advance, one more opportunity for them to attack you, while in their Measure.  There’s this conflict, then: while Giganti does instruct “find and advance to measure”, it’s also against his overall tactical advice of “Don’t give your opponent an opportunity to attack you”.  So what other options are available?

Having your opponent’s blade found and taking a series of advances in is not the safest action.  Their hand is not in motion, so they can take an action to exploit your advance at any time.  It’s better to wait until their hand is motion (e.g. wait for them to perform a cavazione) and is therefore committed to moving for you take your advance.  Fabris talks about trading a tempo of the hand for a tempo of the foot, and this can get you to measure safely.

The next option is to perform a gathering step instead of a full advance to measure.  This will keep your torso at the same distance while bringing you closer by a full foot’s length and a half.  Again, this is better done during your opponent’s tempo of the hand, because their attention is less likely to be on your feet.

The third option is to lunge from just out of measure.  This may seem counter-intuitive: Your lunge won’t land, why would you lunge?  However, your lunge will drive their point to your guard and far offline, putting you well in control of their blade.  At that point, a passing step will finish bringing your point to your opponent.  Instead of advancing at measure, thereby giving your opponent opportunity to attack, you close that part of the distance which is not closed by your lunge only after the lunge, when you have full control of their blade.

At a little under 6 feet tall, I do not qualify as a short fencer.  However, I use all of the above techniques in my fights, and probably use the last one the most when I deliver a full intent attack.  This is because many fencers like to retreat.  If I do not attack when they’re already moving forward with an advance or lunge, they will run away*.  The passing step begins my pursuit and keeps me at or inside their Measure, with control of their blade.


Giganti’s application of Measure does turn out to be far more complex than just one sentence.  And since he repeats it at the end of every play, I feel I must do so here: always recover out of measure, keeping your opponent’s sword covered.



*In period, running into the fence was considered a defeat, and therefore many of the masters don’t discuss continuing an attack against a fleeing opponent.


Posted November 13, 2014 by Wistric in Giganti, Italian Rapier

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