First Giganti Redux 6: The Lunge   10 comments

After teaching guards and counter-guards and the basics of theory, the first action Giganti moves to instructing is the lunge.  There’s a good reason for this: If your entire plan is to take a single tempo and strike, the lunge is the best option.  It covers the most distance with the fewest moving parts.  Since your measure is defined by your lunge, any other footwork in measure is necessarily going to not cover the same distance, requiring more tempi to get to your opponent, thereby wasting tempi.

Many fencers in the SCA are familiar with the foil/epee lunge or some variant of it.  Much of our fencing pedigree is rooted in modern sport fencing and the selection pressures that have guided change to the Society’s norms are for the most part slow and gradual (the most notable exceptions being the introduction and eventual dominance of schlager blades fifteen(??) years ago and the increasing availability in the past decade of period manuals on rapier combat).  The fencer who was fast and agile with a foil or epee could, for the better part of twenty years, completely transfer those skills to the rapier list field.  Even after the introduction of schlager blades, not much changed.  As a result, thirty years after the start of rapier, most people are still taught to stand with their weight evenly distributed to enable them to move in any direction.  They are taught to extend their hand and spring off their back foot.  The result, which actually has to begin by pushing the weight off the front foot (meaning backwards onto your rear foot), is interchangeable with the modern fencing lunge and based on physicality, not efficiency.

This is not the lunge of Italian rapier.  Giganti, after all, is efficient, or lazy, depending on how you wish to look at


The Italian Lunge

In Italian rapier, the lunge also begins by extending the hand.  If you have formed counterguard (and a proper cavazione ends in a counterguard) your sword crosses your opponent’s in their debole.  Your extension should be towards this crossing point.  This moves your point closer to your target and the strong of your blade to the weak of theirs.  Since this action occurs first, you’ve gained solid control of your opponent’s blade before they have an opportunity to parry.  In some cases you will find extending through the crossing point moves your point off-line. This is resolved by angling your wrist at the end of your extension to bring your point back on-line (and well away from your opponent’s guard).

When the hand does not extend first before the rest of your lunge, your debole will end up on their forte.  This makes extending the hand generally a good idea before doing anything (advancing, retreating, passing steps, breathing, sitting down, scratching an itch, etc).

With your sword extended, your forte and guard are your entire defense.  Getting your target area behind them is therefore a good idea.  Rotating the shoulders so they fall in line behind your guard, placing your body in profile, then bowing at the waist towards your opponent, to minimize your cross-section, accomplishes this and extends your blade even further.  Tensing your lower left back muscles (your latissimus dorsi) will further extend your sword.

At this point there is some disagreement between Capoferro and Giganti.  Capoferro has the head bowed down to get behind the guard as well.  Giganti says the head should move last.  Capoferro’s technique defends the head with the guard while Giganti’s defends it with distance.  Since this is discussion of Giganti’s teachings of the Italian rapier system, we’ll follow his instructions as we work through the process.

As discussed in the guard chapter, holding your weight mostly on your back leg allows you to move the front leg freely.  Even though you have bent your torso forward, the weight should still be held over your back foot.  This is the difference between the Italian technique and the bad form of leaning forward demonstrated by many fencers – leaning forward is usually accompanied by putting more weight on the front foot, thereby preventing or slowing a lunge.  With the weight held back, no energy or time is needed to move weight off the front leg before it can go forward.  This is what Giganti calls “a stance that can be extended.”  As simply as that, one of the largest tells of the modern lunge is removed, replaced with a simple movement of the foot away from the ground (either by lifting the knee at the hip or lifting the foot up and forward from the knee).

Once the lead foot is off the ground, gravity does all the work for you.  The Earth pulls you down and forward (since your center of mass is forward) and you fall onto your front foot, now having extended your step into a lunge.  This does not need to be the massive lunging step of sport fencing; a step of a foot-length will do.  Explosivity is gained by straightening your back knee.  This is different from springing off your back foot, which is the more common practice.  Instead imagine standing with your heels flat on the ground and your knees bent, and then just standing straight up.  This is also known as a “squat” in exercise circles.  Now imagine doing that with just your back leg (a “pistol squat”, which is  an impressive feat of strength and balance I cannot yet perform).   It not only pushes your body forward, it also drives more force into your heel, firmly planting your rear foot in place.

At this point Giganti would have you bring your head forward.  In my experience this compresses everything downward, pushing it more forward for another couple of inches of extension.


The Recovery

Just as the the head is the last thing to go forward in Giganti’s lunge, it’s the first thing to go back in the recovery.  He is a fan of not getting stabbed in the face.

As the head comes back past the rear shoulder, and the shoulder therefore follows, the center of mass moves passed the rear hip.  At this point, letting the back knee break will allow you to essentially fall backwards onto your back hip.  Just like in the step of the lunge, where gravity did the bulk of the work, so gravity does the work for the recovery.  Also as the back leg could accelerate the lunge, in the recovery contracting the back leg’s muscles will help to pull you backward.  A very little push off of the front foot (peeling the toes back and pushing through the heel) can be helpful, but not necessary.  As the torso comes back upright and into guard, the hand remains extended, with your sword above your opponent’s blade.  It should remain that way until you have withdrawn completely out of measure.


Posted December 12, 2014 by Wistric in Giganti, Italian Rapier

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