Opening up a Whole Case of Whoopass   3 comments

I’m slated to teach a class on case with Alric the Mad at winter U.  We’ve got our outline in place and have discussed various aspects.  But I have yet to sit down and put together all of my thoughts on the topic.  Well, let’s remedy that.

First, why fight case?

I can speak for myself, only, as I don’t believe in a “one true form” (however single sword is the queen of all weapons; I wonder if I should have a Queen of Weapons Tourney format some day).  However, I fight case in tournaments based on simple math.  Objectively speaking, I believe my single sword form is best, my dagger next, and my case a close third.  So why pull my third-best form for a tourney?  Because everybody fights against single sword at every practice.  Almost everybody fights against dagger at almost every practice.  But how often do people face off against case?  How many fighters do you see bringing case into a tourney?  Not a whole lot.  Meaning that in the soup of all fencers, my case fight is more effective than my single sword fight.

In Mario Kart, I love driving Luigi in the Classic Dragster.  Probably my best form for Mario Kart.  However, there are some courses where Luigi & Classic Dragster is not optimal.  For those courses (goddamn 150cc Leaf Cup, I want my Royal Racer!), I have to figure out another form to take.  So, too, is single sword not optimal for the usual Atlantian tourney bracket.

This rests on a standard practice: I do not match forms; why should I let my opponent dictate an advantage to himself?  I tell my opponents to bring their best form, and I bring my contextually best form.  The vast majority oblige, and bring their objectively best form.  Very few, if any, opponents think “He’s picking up case, what’s my best form against case?”  Again, because we don’t practice against all potential weapons forms, very few fighters can even answer this question.

Is this strategy successful?  Pretty much.  My case game has won me tournaments, and where I’ve lost with case the issue was a matter of mindset or movement, that would have cost me the fight no matter my weapons form.

What is Case?

To state the ear-bleedingly obvious: Case is fighting with two swords.  This requires acknowledging a couple of fundamental actions: That you have two swords, and that you fight with both of them.

I’ve poo-poo’ed Dante’s opinions on Case before, but he is right in that most fighters who pick up case, and who do so half-assedly, hold a sword in their left hand like a dead fish, and only fight with the primary-hand sword (and throughout, “primary” will always refer to the weapon closest to the opponent).

My goal in fighting any form is that whatever’s in my off-hand should be just an extension of my off-hand: bucklers are bigger palms, daggers are longer fingers with thrusting tips, swords are even longer daggers.  I use them in the same way my off-hand would function, just more so, and, most importantly, shouldn’t change anything about where that hand is held in guard, or where any other part of my body is relative to the rest.  Shifting the position of the off-hand, just because it has something in it, throws off your form (usually by squaring your shoulders), and places your body in a position you don’t normally fight from, breaking your trained processes (Alert readers will, at this point, recall that last week’s fencing journal mentioned the problems I ran in to when trying to fight with buckler as though it were just an extension of my off-hand.  I’m still trying to brain my way through that contradictory data point, but feel it is a slight change in form necessitated for buckler only, and not applicable to dagger or case).

The difference between the other forms and case is that there is no refused stance.  Shifting from your right-handed guard to your left-handed guard does not deprive you of an offensive weapon in your primary hand (For the record, I never fight dagger refused.  What a great way to get killed quickly).

The Steel Door

All of the principles of combat, of course, still apply to case.  Having an extra thirty inches in your left hand does not mean tempo, measure, judgment, self-assessment, or any of the others go out the window.  It does change emphasis on them, slightly.  What it dictates the most, however, is a consideration of the principle of movement.  Controlled movement is, of course, part of all fighting.  But we could, with sufficiently obliging opponents, fight an entire tourney of single-sword without ever moving our back foot.  The odds of a case tournament happening this way are dwindling to non-existent.  And the reason is the steel door.

In single sword, our opponent has one blade.  It can be bound, the line closed, and a touch landed in a single tempo lunge.  Fighters tend to rely on their single sword for offense and protection of the outside line, and for their offhand for protection of the inside line.

In case, binding of the lead sword does not permit a safe single tempo lunge, because a second blade waits for the attack (a fault in many new case fighters is their tendency to hold both blades so that they can be bound in a single tempo lunge, which will be addressed shortly.  Philip Jaeger claims he can bind both blades with both of his blades in a successful single-tempo attack, but he’s never actually backed his words up).  These swords, then, provide a steel door, against which a direct single-tempo attack down the center has little chance of success.

Two options exist: One is to open the steel door, the other is to bypass it.

Off-line attacks, which move the line of attack to where only one sword can effectively defend against it, are the primary means of bypassing the steel door.  These require a substantially greater amount of motion, especially in the feet, to achieve.  This motion must be quick, smooth, and controlled, to be able to out-pace the opponent’s reaction and response.  And it is with the feet that the vast majority of new case fighters fail themselves (also, the vast majority of fighters facing case).  A fighter who wishes to be successful with and against case must add to their repertoire the full scope of period footwork laid out by Di Grassi and Marozzo, not just the strip fighter’s advance, retreat, and lunge.  Also, the majority of fighters’ stances hinder their easy foot motion, by being too erect and narrow-footed.  A lower center of gravity is absolutely necessary for fighting case.  The class will begin with footwork.

The other means of gaining access to your opponent, opening the steel door, is achieved through expanding a fighter’s repertoire of messo tempo and duo tempo attacks.  Essentially, we cause the door to close one direction (with a feint, or a triggered attack from your opponent), and attack the opened side.  Again, fighters used to the relatively simpler attack patterns of single sword, when confronted or fighting with case, must think through their attacks not to a simple one or two action (lunge or disengage-lunge), but up to and beyond four or five actions (How will they close the line of the first sword? How will they close the line of the second? How will they handle the potential responses of either sword?).

Baron Llwyd, in his Twelve Dimensional Fencing class, discusses the complex geometries of fencing: Our bodies have three axes in which they can move (front/back, left/right, up/down) and around which they can rotate; our swords have the same three axes around which they can move and rotate, independent of the motion of our bodies (so, three axes, two types of movement for two elements, twelve dimensions).  His illustrative example is the “low line attack to the face”: The body goes down and forward, the sword goes forward and rotates along the left-right axis to bring the tip up for the high attack, avoiding the standard thighs-up defense of almost all fighters in the process.

Motion along and around these axes, and the tempo in which it’s executed, becomes the key to breaking through the steel door, and it is this schema in which I tend to plan my attacks when thinking through them prior to launch.  For example: “Body goes forward and right, left hand goes out and rotates down to bring the sword vertical and pointed down, right hand goes out and rotates inward” results in an offline lunge with the left-hand sword closing the lines of attack to the now-displaced inside.  Having said above that single tempo actions aren’t nearly as common for fighting, this attack is a generally successful stesso tempo attack.  Such is the way of things.

So, those Principles of Combat

I’ve discussed above tempo, motion, and closing lines as they relate to fighting with case.  Of course, all other principles apply equally (else they wouldn’t be principles) in their own peculiar ways:

Measure for attacks with the primary weapon are no different from attacks with single sword.  The secondary weapon, though, adds its own complexity of measure: a simple lunge will not bring it any closer than the secondary weapon, but it provides a measure of close-in defense against opponents who displace the primary weapon (and, if they are carrying dagger, it provides range in which to strike before their dagger becomes a threat).  However, a passing-lunge with the secondary weapon (in which the rear foot ends up ahead of the forward foot) extends the range of combat beyond the range of the primary weapon.  My own passing lunge displaces my secondary hand 7 feet towards my opponent.  My deepest standard lunge achieves only about a three foot displacement, so the difference in range of the two attacks is doubled.  The passing lunge is a huge, slow, and often ugly attack, but executed with a combination of the right tempo, closing of line, and measure, it is an effective weapon to hold in your arsenal, and one of which any fighter facing an opponent carrying case must be aware.

I’ve spoken before about my consideration of Self Awareness and Opponent Awareness as fundamental principles.  To address the first of these: One of the absolute necessities of case is an ability to use your left hand.  If you know you have no skill with your left hand, fix that.  Practice lefty.  A lot.  I don’t do this nearly enough, and it does have a detrimental effect on my case game.  So, to, should you know of and improve on all of your abilities to meet the requirements of a successful case fight (mobility, multiple step attack planning, ability to close lines and attack with either hand, etc).

To address the second, opponents who are unfamiliar with case will betray themselves.  The foremost tell is an opponent who sets up squared up, with both swords extended directly at you at waist height.  Spike grant me such opponents.  Slightly more experienced opponents will still give themselves away through a variety of mistakes commonly made by unpracticed case fencers (discussed below).

Of Styles

There are, it can be said (by Dante), two styles of fighting case: “Two Swords and Squared Up” or “Sword and Really Long Dagger”.  I am more often a practitioner of the Sword-and-Really-Long-Dagger style than the Two-Swords-and-Squared-Up style.  Alric and I are co-teaching this class because he is of the opposite mindset.

The Sword-and-Long-Dagger style is just what it sounds like: Fighting case as though your off-hand held a dagger, that just happens to be big.  The secondary weapon is refused as a dagger would be, minimizing your target area.  A couple of considerations in this style are that, if fought with a particularly long secondary, the fighter runs the risk of entanglement.  Also, the longer the secondary, the slower it will be and the less leverage it will provide.  For my own uses, my secondary is a 30” with a brutishly heavy furniture set on it (the largest pommel Zen Warrior carries, and a bell guard).  This gives roughly double the range of a dagger, but maintains a mechanical advantage over any attacker’s blade.  The back-weighting of the sword provides for fast, snappy action which is only slightly slower than my dagger action, a sloth which is made up for by having twice the time in which to react (due to the doubled range).  However, an attack must almost always be launched with the lead weapon (the passing lunge, or an off-line lunge that converts the secondary to a primary, both being large and slow as mentioned previously).

The Two Swords and Squared Up style brings both weapons into play immediately, and provides for immediate attack with either (or both).  The cost is the increased target area, and the increased chance of having both weapons bound by your opponent with a single blade.  Alric fights case with two long blades (42-45”), which would in most hands be prey to the mechanical advantage of any shorter blade.  However Alric has a greater forearm strength than most fighters (easily top 10 of Atlantians, probably top 5) and is not as easily leveraged out of the way (Greylond Crow has the same advantage in sword length, and in wrist strength, and uses it to great effect).  Attackers who make it past his points still have to worry about his strong sweeps, but most of his defense at close range in his feet.  Again, mobility is an absolutely necessary part of case fighting.  He will, of course, correct all of my errors here.

(NB: The weakness of a footwork defense really only comes in to play in a killing cup or other absolutely static fight, when you have to stand your ground: The first War of the Wings gate battle, which was four years ago now, I targeted Alric due to his two big swords that were hammering our attacking column – I was able to lunge straight up the center between his swords and touch, though I died in the process, and got big, painful bruises to show for it.  Good times. )

Of Guards

The primary vulnerability, for either style, is not a question of target area, but of exposure to a single sword sweep.  If your opponent can bind both of your blades out of the fight with one blade, your two swords just became useless.  As mentioned, a guard that has this vulnerability is a good indicator of an inexperienced fighter.  So, whichever style you choose, the general rule is to have your blades on two different planes.

Di Grassi speaks of three wards: low, medium, and high.  For the beginning case fighter looking to improve his fight, the rule I apply is to have one blade in one of these wards, and the other blade in a different ward.  To use myself as an example, my usual case en garde is with my primary in low and my secondary in broad.  Flip-flopping the two is my second standard guard.  Rarely will I transition my primary to a high ward, but it has its uses.  Gaston du Valmont has a very interesting default guard, which I’ve never had much success using, in which his secondary weapon is held in a very high guard.

To bring up the 12 Dimensional Fencing concept again, the above guidance per Di Grassi would represent displacement of the blade along the vertical axis.  Displacement along the left/right axis (widening your guard) is not feasible, because the swords are long enough that displacing them a blade’s length apart would result in instant death.  Displacement along the front/back axis is also another means of denying the sweep, and is used to good effect at the cost of range.

Rotation along the axes should also be considered: rotation along the vertical axis will either drive a point offline (which is an acceptable solution when all of the potential consequences of greater exposure of the center line and delayed reaction are accounted for), or overlap the blades (which is not an acceptable solution).  Rotation along the front-back axis will not displace your blade from a sweepable position.  Rotation along the left-right axis will raise or lower one of your tips; offline yes, but not to a degree that the tempo of the hand will not bring it back online to counter any opponent’s action, and this rotation does provide a means by which hands can be kept in the same plane (and in close proximity to each other) while still depriving the opponent of an effective sweep.

The fundamental requirements of a good case guard are the same as for any other form: The ability to attack while defending and defend while attacking (aka close lines), the ability to move smoothly and easily, and the generation of no unintended weakness.

The Mistakes

I’ve already touched on most of them, but they bear repeating, and constant attention:

Swords on a Plane (say it with me now: I want these mother fucking swords off this mother fucking plane): Swords held in the same plane are easily swept aside in a stesso tempo attack.  Don’t do it.

Squared up Guard: And, having discussed that this is a part of one style of case fighting, it should be qualified as a squared-up guard that fails to meet the requirements mentioned above (e.g. fighters who come on guard, squared up, in range, with only one sword in a protective position).

Blade Entanglement: Fighters who, due to bad parry form or over-large motions, wind up trapping their own blades for their opponent.

Weak Left Hand: Fighters who can’t fight single with their off-hand can’t fight case effectively.  While my left hand is nowhere near as practiced as my right (it lacks speed and accuracy both), the majority of fighters who bring case onto the field (especially in a melee) spend almost no time practicing with their left, unless they’ve lost their right.  And even if you don’t ever fight case, to paraphrase Alejandro: “You’re going to look pretty silly losing a tourney just because you never practice with your left hand”.


It’s been a few years since I’ve stumbled across any such claim, but I’ve heard it said that “Case isn’t period”.  In the words of Giacomo di Grassi and Achille Marozzo, “That’s bullcrap”.  It’s imminently period, and ultimately should be studied as avidly as any other period form.

Wait, a Case Article and no Mention of Melee?

Oh, right, that melee thing: Once you’re good with two swords, take it into a melee.  Afterall, victory is gained through the achievement of superior point-density against our opponents, and having two points is better than one.

Here again I’ll concede a point to Dante: If you’re not good with two swords, you won’t achieve superior point-density because your left hand will not be able to deliver an attack.  The solution is not  to take something other than case.  The solution is to get good with two swords.

Posted January 14, 2010 by wistric in Musings

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