First Giganti Redux 8: Feints

Up until now the basic tactics of Italian Rapier have been to set yourself in guard so that your opponent’s line of attack is closed (limiting their options) and, when they give you a tempo by performing a predictable action in measure (either stepping to measure, stepping laterally, performing a disengage, or attempting to beat or gain your sword), performing a lunge or cavazione in that tempo to strike them.  However, all of this assumes your opponent will give you a tempo to exploit, which may not always be the case.  In these instances, you must force a tempo from your opponent by performing a feint.

Giganti, along with almost all other masters, starts out teaching feints by instructing the most basic feint, and the one familiar to most fighters: the feigned attack followed by a disengage.  In this, the fighter extends their blade as though initiating a lunge, stopping only at the moment when the foot should move and, when the opponent moves to parry, performs a disengage to attack on a different line.  If the opponent does not attempt to parry, the foot moves to complete the lunge and land the strike.

Worth noting is that the feint begins the same way an attack begins.  Too often fighters on the list just waggle their swords, thinking that’s an effective feint.  Usually, though, it just commits their sword to an action neither offensive nor defensive, which can be exploited by their opponent.

The more general pattern of the feint is to pretend to perform (“feign”) an action which requires a known response by your opponent to counter.  The example above is the feigned attack.  However, any tempo (either of action or inaction) that prompts a specific, predictable response can be thought of as a feint.

When found, you can perform a cavazione that, depending on the measure, will draw a  counter-find or parry.  Reversing the direction of your cavazione mid-movement will return the blade to the original, now-open line and allow you to complete the attack.  This is a “feint by cavazione.”  Just as the feigned lunging attack can be realized into a true lunging attack if the opponent does not respond, the feint by cavazione can become a true cavazione attack if the opponent does not move to parry.

There is also the concept of a feint by invitation (the fancy word for “a trap”).  Giganti is especially fond of these when it comes to sword and dagger (the three sword and dagger guards he shows are all invitations of one sort or another).  This is, essentially, a feint by inaction – When at measure, when you should be closing the line and attacking, you instead present a specific opening for your opponent to target.  When they do, you close the line and counter attack.  The counter to a feint by invitation is a feigned attack – when they move to spring the trap, cavazione.

Any tempo which requires a specific response from your opponent can be a feint.

There’s a concept that Giganti also discusses, especially in the context of being out-gunned (e.g. single sword against sword and dagger, or facing a stronger opponent throwing cuts).  He instructs the fighter to “show fear” to draw their opponent into an over-confident attack resulting in exposing the opponent’s weakness.  Again, this is a feint, but in this case feigned weakness.  The goal is the same: By pretending to do one thing (Be too scared to attack), the fighter draws a desired response from the opponent (an over-extended attack) which can then be countered effectively.

When Giganti describes masters as not exchanging blows but instead as exchanging wiles and deceits, it is feints he means.

This all becomes disconcerting when the student realizes that a feint is not actually a real thing.  When training feints (and here we’ll use the example of the feint-attack), the fighter usually starts with the extension, a pause to determine whether or not the opponent is responding, and then either the continuation or the cavazione.  However, by introducing that pause, the fighter breaks the attack into three distinct tempi, any of which may be countered separately (a counter-thrust during the extension or lunge, or a counter-find or contracavazione during the cavazione).  The fighter then must train to respond to the counter-thrust in the tempo of the extension, by performing the cavazione (if the counter-thrust includes a find) or cavazione (if it does not) during that first tempo, eliminating the pause.  The fighter must instead be trained and ready to counter in tempo any contratempo action during any action without a pause for analysis.  All actions are “feints” or “real,” and the distinction becomes meaningless.

Once your opponent is responding to your actions in this predictable fashion, you have placed them in obedience (see: Tempo).


4 comments to First Giganti Redux 8: Feints

  • Torse

    In Olympic fencing a “feint by invitation” is called a “false nothing” and is subsequently my favorite fencing term

  • David Twynham

    I’m curious to hear more of your thoughts on timing, responding to counterattacks, and practical methods for training. How do you go about training the ability to respond to an opponent’s counterattack at any point during your feint. When you feint, do you tend to have just one counter in mind to fall back onto if you run if you run into something unexpected? Three or four? Do you find that the overall movement of your action needs to be slowed down in order to account for this? Do you think there’s ever value in practicing feints where you do make a pause prior to your final action? While making the pause gives your opponent opportunities to attack, does it also help give you more time to respond to them?

  • Wistric

    My general approach to training/learning feints is to start with the standard “extend-pause-decide-go.” But before muscle memory and habit can risk being ingrained, start interrupting the pattern with a pre-emptive parry to introduce the idea of reacting during the extension and then train that to a fairly ingrained state before adding in alternate counters (stop thrusts without engagement of the blade while retreating, for instance) so that the student becomes used to detecting the multiple responses while the body is executing the known form of the lunge and adjusting the action accordingly (and here to answer your question re: slowing actions, it’s better to my thinking to eliminate conscious thought demands so the mind can process faster).

    I’d suggest that a feint with 3-4 responses at any given time in the process is a pretty bad feint since it’s not constraining your opponent’s actions and fails to place them in anything like true obedience. However, as a feint progresses, changing measure and line, the opponent’s available options will change, so while they may have only 1 or 2 options at the start of the feint, they can have different responses as measure and line change, but at any given point they should be restricted in their choices. Training, either by controlled drill or directed sparring, should eventually cover all of those options.

    Now, of course, to contradict myself because there are exceptions to every rule: at times it will be advantageous to insert a moment of inaction, or to slow an action. This is almost an invitation. I find pausing mid-feint attack most useful for causing my opponent to hesitate in his reaction and, having increased his mental processing demands, continue the straight attack while he’s frozen, but that strays a bit from Giganti (“showing fear” is the only real mind game he isntructs), and I believe beyond the other Italians.

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