Agrippa Part 3: The Controversial Lunge

The presence of a lunge in Agrippa’s system is a somewhat controversial topic. One of the earliest historical fencing scholars, Edgarton Castle noted in his 1885 book, Schools and Masters of Fence from the Middle Ages to the Eighteenth Century, that while some of the positions shown in Agrippa’s manuals appeared to be lunges, that the development of the lunge occurred later. In other words, it was Castle’s opinion that there is no lunge in Agrippa’s system.

Positions H and I

The putative “lunges” seen in Agrippa. Position H illustrates a strike in seconda; Position I illustrates a strike in quarta.

Using the framework that I worked out in parts 1 and 2 of this Agrippa series, one might reach a similar conclusion. Certainly there are two positions that stand out as appearing to be lunges, H and I. Both of these positions demonstrate a fencer in a somewhat wide stance with sword extended. However, before continuing, it is necessary for us to consider what constitutes a lunge.

Based on my own familiarity with later Italian rapier manuals, I would classify a lunge as:

  1. A thrusting strike carried out by extending the sword, arm, and body
  2. that extends the front (right) foot forward while keeping the back (left) foot firmly planted on the ground, and
  3. that ends in an extra-ordinary (extra wide) stance.

If we look at positions H and I (shown above), we can see that they appear to meet the first criteria. Likewise, if we were to look through Agrippa’s second book, we can see that tactically, both positions H and I are commonly used as a strike following a pressing forward of the front foot from a narrow stance, fulfilling the second point. It is however, this third point that gives me pause in definitively stating that there is a lunge in Agrippa. The descriptions of H and I suggest that they are examples of a wide, rather than extra-wide stance. Now this certainly may not be a problem, as the lunge in Agrippa may simply be particularly conservative. However, if the lunge ends in a wide stance, then we ultimately cannot perform a “lunge” when we’re already in a wide stance, which seems problematic.

Fig. 6

Figure 6


The strongest arguments for the presence of the lunge come from chapter 2 which describes the figure shown above. Agrippa’s description tells us a few things:

  1. A longer thrust is better
  2. Leaning the torso forward causes a single angle (at the armpit/shoulder) between one line formed by the sword and arm and another formed by the body and leg.
  3. Arm + sword length is constant, so moving the shoulder forward (and down) moves the point forward (and down) proportional to the angle formed at the shoulder.
  4. Bringnig the (right) foot forward allows you to increase this angle further, bringing your shoulder and point even further forward.

The mechanics described here certainly echo the mechanics of the lunge in later Italian rapier manuals. Furthermore, Agrippa notes that the placement of the feet here represent a transition from a narrow stance to a medium stance, a medium stance to a wide (ordinary) stance, and from a wide stance to an extra-wide (extra-ordinary) stance. He notes that these transitions are carried out by performing a half-step (0.5 palm), full ordinary step (1 palmo), or a forced step (1.5 palmo) respectively. This makes it clear that Agrippa is aware of extra-wide stances, indeed, this figure is a geometric proof of the Italian lunge that we see in later manuals

We can see some evidence of a “lunge” being used by Agrippa in chapter 4 where, in his description of position A, Agrippa writes “… extend your arm while rotating your hand, and step forward with your right foot to hit him.” This description suggests a firm-footed attack as we would expect from a lunge. It is, however unclear about whether such a step from a narrow stance (A) ends in a wide (I) or extra-wide stance. For what it’s worth, Agrippa does not note that this places the fencer in position I. Perhaps more convincingly, Agrippa makes a similar comment in chapter 6 where he is describing the use of terza (C). He writes “… by going on guard in wide third, you can at your pleasure step forwards a half palmo with the right foot while keeping your left foot firm, moving your body forwards so that your right shoulder is perpenducular over your knee and so thrust against the enemy with the advantage of more than 3 palmi of reach.” This passage very clearly suggests extending the stance from wide to extra-wide.

Indeed, I would suggest that performing this action would place the fencer along line G from figure 6, a position that is quite similar to the lunge seen in Capo Ferro, Fabris, and Giganti. These references are, however, the only place in the book where this type of strike gets mentioned. When Agrippa is not telling the reader to strike his opponent using a void (G,P, K), he tells them to strike the opponent using H or I.

Ultimately this leaves us with two possibilities. The first of these is that there is no lunge in Agrippa. However, as Agrippa provides a geometric proof of a lunge, describes an action that seems to match the lunge, and includes positions that are tactically used in a similar fashion, I would expect that this is incorrect. However, it may be reasonable to conclude that either the lunge as seen in later Italian rapier manuals is not central to Agrippa’s system.

Another possibility, however, is that we could consider the positions of H and I to describe the lunge. Despite being described as a wide stance, we may find that Agrippa intends for a more conservative “lunge” for any number of reasons. Furthermore, when we look at the context of how these positions are used throughout the manual, we will see that strikes in H and I exclusively follow from a narrow stance (primarily B or F). It may also be the case that the reader is intended to interpret positions H and I to use whatever stance is necessary in order to strike the opponent (either wide or extra-wide). Agrippa is, however rather explicit regarding stance throughout most of the manual, so such an interpretation may not be reasonable. Of course, the conception of a lunge as an entity in and of itself may be incorrect. Likewise, my third criterion, that a lunge result in an extra-wide stance could simply be incorrect as well. In any case, I think it would be reasonable to consider that positions H and I resemble lunges in both form and function and it wouldn’t be inappropriate to consider them as such when teaching and learning Agrippa’s fencing system.

13 comments to Agrippa Part 3: The Controversial Lunge

  • Aaron Miedema

    I’m beginning to see that Capoferro is essentially just picking and choosing the bits of Agrippa he likes, and that the systems of Rapier we see at the beginning of the 17th C are actually much older than we think. For example, look at the stances or paces laid out by Capoferro. Capoferro only bothers to describe two (if memory serves), but, the definitions of the rest of the six he mentions are found in Agrippa. Now to draw a line the other way. Look at the plate lettered H, and compare the sword length to the size of the figure. You will see it comes out at exactly the same length as that described by Capoferro. I think Capoferro’s novelty was in actually naming the lunge, in his case the passo strodinario. I think that also means that Capoferro wasn’t terribly creative and just nicking alot of liked out of Agrippa, although I this is just a pet theory and I haven’t sit down with the books side by side to see./ I think if you compared Capoferro’s figure of the lunge with Plate 6’s placement of L or M I think you will find they match. Building on this pet theory, this stands to reason, Angelo Viggiani also invented a lunge a year before Agrippa did (in 1552), which he named the Punta Sopramano. So this not only expands the breadth of the history of the lunge, but, it also suggests that 17th century Rapier finds even more solid origins in the middle of the 16th century. But, this is just thinking aloud. =)

    • Gawin

      I mean, I’m not sure that we can even expect that Capo Ferro (or Giganti or Fabris) had access to Agrippa’s manual at the time that they were writing their own. Honestly Capo Ferro seems to read as though it was dictated, which may suggest that CF wasn’t particularly literate. With regard to the various stances (narrow, medium, ordinary, extraordinary, etc) we see these same things described in Manciolino and to some extent in Fiore, so I’d probably expect that we’re looking at something gleaned from how sword fighting was being done vs. copying from one text or another.

      With regard to sword length, Mondschein presents a nice little table of sword lengths from Agrippa’s period at the end of the book that was somewhat surprising to me, tbh. The sword lengths seemed to cluster in the 40-42″ range with a few outliers that were around 38″ and a few that were in the 45″ range. The few that were shorter than this seem to have either been particularly decorative and/or balanced for cutting (according to Mondschein’s notes).

      That being said, I’m not sure it’s particularly fair to criticize Capo Ferro for a lack of “creativity.” In the case of most historic fencing manuals, we’re probably looking at people who are describing the art as it is being practiced in general (albeit each with their own preferences and biases) rather than people who are being particularly innovative. Indeed, looking at English and German manuals, it would seem that sword fighting was a particularly conservative art. Italy of course seems more innovative than other regions, but to what extent *any* of the authors of the extant manuals were responsible for those innovations is probably unknowable. Dardi and Agrippa seem to be the exceptions rather than the rule with regards to being academics. Even so, we don’t actually know whether even Agrippa was being particularly innovative or whether he was simply claiming to be in his own treatise. He certainly may have been an “early adopter” of thrusts (vs. a fencing orthodoxy resembling the Bolognese system), but we probably can’t just take him at his word about inventing such a thing. Thrusts have a much longer history in Italy, as Fiore seems to give them priority (particularly prioritizing the defense against the thrust by maintaining the cross in the front vs. the German system where winding the guard away from the center line is much more prevalent). Similarly, Manciolino’s advice for fighting with sharp swords suggests the importance of the thrust and certainly sets the fencer up for a “lunge” even if he doesn’t call it that. I’d need to re-read that section though to get more specific.

      • Dante di Pietro

        I firmly believe that Capoferro was dictating his manual, and likely either couldn’t read or didn’t read much. The organizational structure is extremely similar to how non-readers modernly organize their thoughts, and the disparate level of detail from one section to the next is also consistent with that, as is the tendency to slip into bullet points.

        There’s definitely much in common with Agrippa, but the extra decades also refined the art considerably: Giganti, Capoferro, and Fabris all explicate closely interrelated systems, though Fabris obviously does the best job at explaining theory. I would posit that a person using Capoferro looks awfully similar to someone using Giganti looks awfully similar to someone using Fabris (especially if not leaning, which Fabris states is OK), even to a knowledgeable observer, but Agrippa is sufficiently different to stand out at least as much as Agrippa would appear different from Manciolino.

      • David Twynham

        Capoferro does pretty much quote dall’aggochie and viggiani in his book, and his description of hand position /guards is straight from Agrippa though something that could have been passed down orally rather than through text

        • Gawin

          Which parts of those manuals are the same?

          I have been planning a post about the hand positions/guards. Long story short, Agrippa’s 4 guards seem to be identical to alicorno, coda lunga e stretta, porto di ferro e stretta, and faccia the four of which were recommended by both Manciolino and Dall’aggochie in their respective manuals (section on fencing with a sharp sword and how to prepare for a duel in 30 days sections respectively). Agrippa’s innovation would seem to be simply a naming scheme and the elimination of all the guards that you can’t thrust from, but we have no way of knowing whether this innovation was actually developed by someone who didn’t write about it/whose manual has been lost.

          • David Twynham

            the five tempi in which to attack is almost word for word from dall’Aggochie – I think he changed the order around slightly though.
            The admonition to parry with a gathering step is also from dall’Aggochie – and I think (need to look it up again) that the section where he describes the different types of cuts cuts from Viggiani

          • Gawin

            Could you reference those areas by section when you have a chance?

          • David Twynham

            Capoferro (Wilson and Swanger)
            The first is when the enemy is fixed in guard, and he lifts or moves his foot that he has forward, that is one tempo in which to accost him; another is when you have parried a blow, then there is a tempo; the third, as he moves himself without judgment from one guard to go into another, before he has fixed himself in it, it is a tempo to offend him; and moreover it is tempo when he raises his sword, as he raises his hand, that is a tempo to strike him; and the last is that, when a blow will have traveled past your body, that is a tempo to follow it with a response.

            Dall’Aggochie (Swanger – p32)
            Gio. Since you give me an occasion to speak of tempo, I’ll tell you. {The tempo for attacking is recognized in five ways.} There are five ways of recognizing this tempo of attacking. The first one is that once you’ve parried your enemy’s blow, then it’s a tempo to attack. The second, when his blow has passed outside your body, that’s a tempo to follow it with the most convenient response. The third, when he raises his sword to harm you: while he raises his hand, that’s the tempo to attack. The fourth, as he injudiciously moves from one guard to go into another, before he’s fixed in that one, then it’s a tempo to harm him. The fifth and last, when the enemy is fixed in guard, and he raises or moves his forward foot in order to change pace or approach you, while he raises his foot, that’s a tempo for attacking him, because he can’t harm you as a result of being unsettled.

            This one’s not really a quote like the last one, but the advice is the same. Also, my take on this might be different from a lot of people’s – I’d argue that the single/dui tempi parries he’s talking about here is not so much about whether you counterattack in one movement, or if you parry and then strike, but whether your riposte follows immediately or after a pause. If I remember correctly, some of Dall’Aggochie’s examples of parrying in “one tempo” (at least udging by the movement of the feet that he describes) are actually a parry followed by a cut which by definition requires two movements. Gigant’s second book also has a couple of examples where he says something along the lines of …parry, and in the same tempo, make a cut to the leg… I’d argue then that here, “same tempo” refers to continuous movement, not necessarily discrete actions. This is also similar to how Viggiani uses the phrase when he talks about making multiple cuts in a single tempo.

            Capoferro (Wilson and Swanger)
            …all the parries require an extended arm, and need to be accompanied with the right leg, followed by the left, and when it occurs to parry with dui tempi, during the tempo in which one parries, one will draw the left foot near to the right, and then while striking, will pass forward with the right.

            Dall’Aggochie( Swanger – p15)
            Now coming to the motion of the feet and body together, when you find yourself in guards with your right foot forward, and it happens that you take two tempi, that is, parrying and then striking, that you’ll draw your left foot near your right one in the tempo in which you parry, and then while striking you’ll step forward with your right. And so your left foot accompanies your parry, and your right one accompanies your attack. And on the contrary, when you parry and strike in a single tempo, while you move your sword you’ll also go forward with your right foot, making your left one follow it, and in this case the right foot will accompany both.

            Let me see if I can dig a bit further on Viggiani – I thought it was the section on cuts, but I can’t find it. I think the very last part at the end with his universal parry is pretty much a summary of Viggiani though. I’ll let you know if I can find it.

          • Gawin

            This article is about the “universal parry” that I think you’re talking about.

            Fiore seems to include it. Also, it is relatively similar to Giganti’s advice for taking on multiple opponents from his second book.

          • Gawin

            Also, it is fairly similar to one of the first (if not actually first) plays in Manciolino that essentially calls for a mandritto from alta to subre i. braccio and then a reverso. He notes that this strike will pass through your opponent’s arm if they attempt to strike you.

  • I am inclined to believe that the third criteria is unnecessary. Most attacks I see depicted are quite conservative in terms of the foot, preferring to extend the knee over the toe rather than throwing the foot far forward as in the modern lunge.

    • Gawin

      Here “Extra-wide” or “extra-ordinary” are used in the context of the historic Italian rapier systems. That is to say, it describes the step used in the Capo Ferro/Giganti/Fabris lunges and is also the step described by Agrippa in his description of figure 6 (the foot placement on the right) which depicts a step of 1.5 palmi of distance (approx 14-15″). This is not the same distance as the modern lunge at all, but rather, a half-step increase in the distance between the feet over the “wide” or “ordinary” stance.

  • […] previous 3 sections (1, 2, 3) of this series on Agrippa have focused on dissecting the framework of the stances and motions […]

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>