First Giganti Redux 7: Cavazione

There are three actions that are the basic elements of the Italian Rapier decision tree: Gaining the blade, lunging, and performing a cavazione.  Really, the majority of actions in Italian Rapier are going to boil down to one of these things.  Gaining the blade and lunges have already been discussed, so it’s probably a good time to discuss the third.

The term “cavazione” gets used interchangeably with the modern term “disengage,” which is to circle the blade around the opponent’s to get to a position of advantage.  If you are in the position of advantage, there’s no reason to perform a cavazione.

However, cavazione also has a component of footwork included (Giganti discusses almost completely in terms of disengaging while lunging; Capoferro also considers cavazione to include disengages while advancing and retreating).  One of Mediema’s comments in his translation is that a potential translation of “cavare” (the verb root of “cavazione”) is “to drill.”  He goes on to use “circling” for his translation.  The image of a drill is a bit more instructive: With the forward motion of the lunge, the tip of the blade follows a spiraling path much like that of an auger bit.

With modern weapons, disengages are generated by a turn of the wrist.  This is a result of the lightness of the blade and the balance point inside the grip.  With a period rapier of appropriate length and weight, the center of mass of the blade will be in the ricasso, one to two inches away from the guard.  Trying to wrestle this around by making a circle from the wrist takes extra energy and time, and fights gravity, which as we’ve seen with other actions is antithetical to Giganti’s approach to rapier.

To use gravity to advantage in this case, the fencer just relaxes their grip.  By opening the hand slightly, gravity pulls the tip down.  When accompanied by an angling upward of the wrist, this puts the center of rotation of the blade at the center of mass of the blade, meaning the minimal amount of effort is needed.  Once the tip has passed under the opponent’s blade, tensing the hand back up presses the pommel back down to bring the blade back up on the opposite side of the opponent’s blade.  A slight inside or outside element during the wrist angle, and directed pressure when restoring the grip, achieves any lateral motion necessary for the disengage.  If the opponent is parrying, their motion will accomplish the lateral movement necessary for the disengage to be successful.  Once complete, the wrist straightens back to form the straight line from elbow to point.

If the cavazione begins in a position of disadvantage, with the opponent’s true edge resting above the false edge of your sword, the circling motion brings your blade on top of your opponent’s blade with your true edge against their false.  From a position of being found, you wind up with their blade find.  And, since this is a cavazione, by performing the disengaging action during the extension of the lunge, you find your opponent’s blade and safely deliver your strike in a single tempo.

Certain “types” of cavazione are identified in Italian Rapier, though they are all basically the same action.

When performing a cavazione, if the opponent rotates their blade to oppose the new line with their true edge (a generally safe counter when just outside of measure), a second cavazione back to the other side is called a “ricavazione”.

A cavazione performed in the tempo of the opponent’s cavazione is called a “contracavazione.”  This action results in the blades ending up in their starting orientation (whoever was found before the first cavazione is found at the end of the contracavazione).  Contracavazione are useful (and so very pretty) at measure.

Inside measure or in concert with some voids, a full cavazione may take too long or take the point off line.  In these cases, performing a cavazione that only travels through a quarter arc, dropping from a high line to a low line for instance, is called a “demicavazione”.

At a broader level, a cavazione can be thought of as a change from a closed line to an open line while attacking.  With the distances between fighters in Italian Rapier, the resulting angles of attack at measure are fairly narrow.  As a result a very linear style is most efficient, and the cavazione is the best means of achieving this change of lines.

However, when found, a sword can also be moved away from the find (e.g. if found on the inside, move to the outside) by motion of the hand, body, or feet, which will re-establish access to the previously closed line and create the opportunity to angle the blade back across your opponent’s, finding theirs in turn.  This is called a “yield.”

Small motions of the body and feet outside or at measure are part of the contest for control of the line.  Inside measure, yields are an element in some voids.  For instance, when found by an opponent on the inside, an inquartata (void in quarta with the palm up while moving the body to the outside) exploits this change of angles to re-establish control of the inside line.

The seven chapters so far cover the first eight pages of Giganti’s manual.  They may be the most important eight pages in any fencing manual (I may be biased).  Gaining the blade, lunging, and performing a cavazione, when combined with the control of tempo and measure and the knowledge of when to perform each, are the foundation of masterful fencing.

 

2 comments to First Giganti Redux 7: Cavazione

  • Ruairc

    Pet peeve …

    While the corkscrewing motion of an augur bit is a good way to describe the motion of a cavazione, it is only a happy coincidence of translation, and not what the verb cavare itself refers to. “Circling” is a good translation inasmuch as it describes the motion, sort of, but cavare derives from the Latin verb cavo (ultimately cognate with our words “cave” and “cavern”) and means variously “to hollow out”, “to remove”, “to extricate”. (The same verb is sometimes used to describe drawing the sword from the scabbard.)

    A “cavazione” is thus not a “drilling”, but a “removal” – and is thus very similar to the nuance of the modern term “disengagement” despite the difference in the techniques.

    Is any of this relevant to the study of HMA? Probably not, if you’re going by even halfway good translations.

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