Agrippa Part 3: The Controversial Lunge   13 comments

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.

Posted November 25, 2015 by Gawin in Italian Rapier

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