Rambling, Part 1: Plate 32

I’ve not posted here in several weeks. This is not reflective of a lack of things to say, or even a lack of free time. Instead I am motivated by the thought that I should be spending more time doing things, rather than merely writing about it, particularly since every week brings some new insight or a hint of one. Why bother writing about something if the way I think about it will change in the next couple weeks – particularly given that so many of these notions are vague and complex? If my attempts at writing ramble, and are so often misunderstood, surely the ideas behind them are insufficiently developed for verbalizing.

The natures of the frequent commentators on this blog do not help matters, given as they seem predisposed to find fault with new ideas rather than to expand upon them. (This itself gives me pause, but that’s a subject for another post.) This further encourages one to keep one’s thoughts to oneself until they are quite solidly developed.

Nonetheless, rambling has recently been demanded. Ramble on.

Plate 32

My new favorite: a yield to the outside with a girata of the front foot, striking in quarta.


There are two ways this can happen, according to Fabris:

Variation 1: Fencers start inside. The opponent cavares, and our fencer performs the strike shown in tempo.
Variation 2: Our fencer starts in second to the outside, and performs this strike in response to the opponent’s find.

There are a few notable bits of instruction from Fabris here. Among them: the striking fencer should move his sword-hand “far to the inside” (towards the viewer in this illustration).

This seems a little counterintuitive at first, since it moves the guard away from the fencer and gives his opponent an open line through which to strike. But then we have another bit from Fabris: “By virtue of this angle, the more force the opponent uses trying to push our fencer’s sword away, the more forcefully the thrust will penetrate the target.” Okay, so our fencer is safe because the opponent is trying to parry, putting a lot of inertia into our fencer’s guard; by the time he recovers, our fencer will have time to defend himself. The girata adds a little more security, both moving his body away and increasing the angle (by allowing the shoulder and hand to move farther inside). Makes sense.

Except … the opponent is not trying to parry. The yield is done in the tempo of an opponent’s inside-to-outside cavazione, or in response to a find. These are small, well-controlled actions, not forceful parries. Indeed, if the opponent tries a bona-fide parry, raising his guard or the tip of his sword, he’ll probably be successful in defending himself! And if the opponent makes a small, well-controlled find, and our fencer responds with the (comparatively large-tempo) girata and yield, the opponent has ample opportunity to immediately thrust or cut at our fencer, who is not well positioned to defend himself. Double hits seem likely.

So how is our fencer kept safe through this action? Does it rely on the opponent’s sense of self-preservation – attempting to push his sword away in response to the attack, giving our fencer sufficient time to void and strike? That doesn’t seem very convincing …


One thing that struck me is the idea of contrary motion – moving in the opposite direction of the opponent. Obviously this idea is used in contratempo strikes, effectively halving the time required to cover a fixed distance by moving into your opponent’s action. But turn the vectors 180 degrees, and you double the distance per unit time. That’s what’s happening here. Our opponent is moving his sword to the outside (with the find, either from guard or at the end of his cavazione) – towards our fencer’s left. Our fencer responds with a void – moving his body to the right. Thus, although the opponent may be making a well-controlled action, he’ll still have to overcome his own inertia and move twice as far in the opposite direction to strike our fencer. That motion takes time, and that time may be sufficient for our fencer to recover or defend himself.

While I think this has some validity, it doesn’t quite address the point that Fabris made – “the more force the opponent uses in trying to push our fencer’s sword away, the more forcefully the thrust will penetrate the target.” This suggests to me that, somehow, our fencer is suckering the opponent into using more force than is necessary for a simple find. Perhaps our fencer’s attack has caused him to panic a little … but a bit more intriguing was the idea of counterguard.

The stronger our fencer’s sword, the more leverage the opponent will need to overcome it. So our fencer can certainly begin with excellent musculoskeletal alignment in his counterguard, fortifying his sword and forcing his opponent to make a larger movement to find. In the plate above, the opponent is also hampered by a comparatively weak guard, the angled third, necessitating even more angulation to compensate.

In sum, the opponent’s movement, although a find, is perhaps not quite so small and pretty as might be advisable, and might carry quite a good bit of force indeed. In this case, the yield is successful, our fencer is safe, and we can quite literally feel Fabris’ “more forcefully the thrust will penetrate its target”. If the opponent DOES keep his finding action small, he’s not likely to have the strength necessary to displace our fencer’s sword, and a straight-line attack outside will likely be successful.

Applications in Sparring

Naturally, no interpretation is worth anything if it can’t be performed in sparring. This plate was particularly fun to try, since so many SCAdians like the angled third. It worked beautifully. There were no doubles. Subsequent passes had the opponent so concerned about the yield that extensions to the outside frequently drew overlarge parries, allowing for easy feints.

But more intriguing was when I attempted to apply these ideas to a slightly different context.

A few weeks later I tried to pull out this action against Carlos, doing his best Capoferro. Carlos, like many historical fencers, doesn’t hang out too much in angled third, preferring seconda-terza or terza-quarta with considerably less vertical angulation.

It went a bit like this:

Attempt 1: I cavare outside as I enter measure, attempting to set up Variation 2. Carlos turns the hand and counterfinds before I arrive, making blade contact. I feel that I have lost control of the line, and know that proceeding would be suicidal. I retreat and reset.

Attempt 2: I cavare outside as before, mutating into a stronger counterguard in second. Carlos turns the hand again, and briefly, I feel contendere di spada – parity with pressure. Pressure resulting from an action with too much force. Pressure I can use. From here, I can perform the yield in quarta.

(In writing this, it occurs to me that the yield in prima, per plate 25, might also be a valid response; the optimal choice likely depends on the measure, the opponent’s guard, and possibly the relative height of the fencers.)

I try, but he’s able to parry. My action took too long; the mutation into seconda slightly upset my balance, and the fraction of a second it took to compensate for that slowed my footwork too much.

Attempt 3: This time, I focus on rotating the upper trunk in isolation, keeping the hips steady. My balance does not shift noticeably. I feel pressure, and I can immediately move forward, turning the front foot into the girata and landing safely in fourth, exactly as the plate describes.

Ruminating on this later, I realized that I was able to perform a fluid mutation and a safe, valid extrapolation from plate 32, but only because I was focusing on it – only because I was setting it up ahead of time, relying on my opponent to respond the way I wanted him to … this thought led to something much more speculative, but also, I think, much more significant.

9 comments to Rambling, Part 1: Plate 32

  • Dante di Pietro

    Having used this sort of action fairly often, my experiences are similar in regards to the “doubling” effect. The key is that the action works *without* the opponent’s parry, but it works *better* if they try. The more they resist, the worse it is for them.

    • Ruairc

      By “doubling” you mean doubling the distance – not double hits. Yes?

      Another point that Fabris makes is that voids should carry your body past the opponent’s tip. If you can pull this off, you’re comparatively safe even if the opponent doesn’t parry – the worst you’ll get is a slap from the debole.

  • Donovan

    In regards to the pressure, I feel like it’s similar to a collecting action, if I set the angles up correctly? Their blade just drops right down to my hilt and it’s all over from there.

    Your point in attempt three about the sequence of rotation speaks loudly to me – doing clean voids in sparring is tough, and the process of upper trunk rotation feeding into the footwork is a big, big thing, I think.

    • Ruairc

      I’m not sure what a collecting action is, so I can’t quite answer. But yes, you will form a very strong angle to the outside with your movement, and any pressure from the opponent will slide his blade right to your guard. His defensive options are limited to voiding or making a large parry, and the latter is almost impossible if you act in the right tempo.

      The upper trunk rotation (and some extrapolations and generalizations from it) is the subject of my next post. Definitely a big thing.

    • Gawin

      Indeed, this actually ties in rather well to the next Agrippa posting that I’m working on. The essential action to the off-line motions seems to be a rotation at the waist (cue Agrippa’s use of the concept of “vita”). I’ve chosen to incorporate both the off-line version of the attacks (H, I) and the voids (G, P, K) into the same “degree-of-freedom” for that same reason.

  • Wistric

    “The natures of the frequent commentators on this blog do not help matters, given as they seem predisposed to find fault with new ideas rather than to expand upon them. (This itself gives me pause, but that’s a subject for another post.) This further encourages one to keep one’s thoughts to oneself until they are quite solidly developed.”
    Bah! I direct your attention to the “Obligatory justification of existence” post (which has become unpinned – fixed!) in which the stated purpose of this blog is to encourage discussion and development of ideas. Furthermore, recall our editorial policy that all posts here should be considered potentially erroneous and apocryphal. Bring your ideas here, let the audience help you develop them either through questioning or contributing ideas, get them refined, and then take them to a grander stage knowing they’ve already been through a crucible-like object.
    You see almost a mirror action in Agrippa (K) where the fighter steps to the inside and ducks to void, while his arm stays in a wide second, with the opponent’s sword going over his sword arm. I don’t recall Agrippa’s instructions on it, but in practice I’ve found it useful when encountering an opponent who REALLY wants to bind/parry/beat your sword to the inside and attack with a lunge or passing steps.
    “By virtue of this angle, the more force the opponent uses trying to push our fencer’s sword away, the more forcefully the thrust will penetrate the target.”
    I apply this same basic principle in second to the inside, which is an inherently weak guard, but against opponents who like to parry-riposte becomes useful: with my blade angled towards their right shoulder, their parry to the inside propels it across and in, towards their heart. It relies on your opponent making certain errors, but then so does this plate.

    • Ruairc

      Some commentators do not seem to share your intent.

      I’m intrigued by the fact that Fabris doesn’t seem to have a mirror action to the inside. A couple paragraphs in chapter 9 make it seem as though it’s possible (beginning with “No matter how little space …”). Perhaps Fabris thought he didn’t need to spell it out.

      I am thinking, however, that since the internal rotators of the shoulder have more strength than the external rotators, finds inside can be achieved with less angulation, more control, and greater speed than on the outside. Accordingly, the opponent’s movement to find is likely to be smaller and less easily exploited, even in an angled third.

      Yielding around a parry is possible, but it’s not really what the plate describes. That may be more what Agrippa is getting at.

  • […] immediately suggests a strength issue. Angulation is a way of multiplying strength; as I mentioned a couple weeks ago, fencers with less strength in the sword must resort to using more angulation to overcome their […]

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