Giganti Part 2: The Guards and Counter-Guards   Leave a comment

The Guards and Counter-Guards

Giganti launches straight in with the properties of a good guard.  He does not, in the entirety of the work, bother to define a set of guards which are to be used (he gives some examples of guards that offer various openings to opponents, but never the “Prima, Seconda, Tierca, Quarta” of his Italian contemporaries).  So Gavvin and I set to a review of these properties.  A few examples:

Stand solidly on your feet… preferably narrow rather than wide so that you have the capability to extend it.

When I began rapier, I had been a foil fencer for four years.  I fought from my toes.  And good, happy, bouncy foilist that I was, my lunge was huge, and nearly impossible to recover from in decent time.  With a foil, this was fine, I could hit my opponent with my full lunge and no damage would occur, and my opponent would be as active on his feet as I, backing out as quickly as I bounced in.  On the rapier field that lunge caused two problems: 1) I hit my opponents really hard, and 2) I ended up locked out in a lunge while my opponents voided my shot and beat the tar out of me.  To this day the latter situation is my automatic response to strip fencers who cross over.  So we sacrifice a bit of spring and length in our lunge for the ability to

The narrow stance, also, is something I’ve had to work on over the years.  Even a year ago my stance was half a step wider than it is now.  The more we have our feet under us,  where we can move from them, the more we can move.  Wide stances are stable and easy on the legs, and acceptable in some (but not all) non-fencing situations, but they are detrimental on the field.  Apparently, Giganti knew that 400 years ago.  I didn’t know that 1 year ago.

Keep the dagger sometimes high, sometimes low, and sometimes extended… point the dagger at the opponent’s shoulder

So, the dagger should be changeable in position, but always point at the opponent’s shoulder.  This was one of the great insights for both Gavvin and I.  Previously, I held the dagger perpendicular to my line of attack so I could windshield wiper with it.  Changing to a point-at-the-shoulder attitude, I can close my eyes and the dagger still catches the incoming shots.  With most guards it exposes the hand more, but that’s why we keep the hand mobile.

Keep the body well placed and at the ready, because lacking these two points, it will be easy for the opponent to unsettle you

When I was just crossed over to rapier, I kept myself wired and ready to spring and throw my big foil fencer’s lunge.  Baron Alejandro would take his guard against me, and yell “BOO!” causing me to spring backwards in panic.  I was not well-placed and at the ready, despite thinking I was ready.  It took a long time for me to develop the ability to be ready but relaxed, in guard and ready to lunge but not so locked up inside that I can’t respond correctly to anything else (eventually when Alejandro yelled “Boo!” I’d lunge).  Being tensed up and ready for one thing prevents us from being ready for anything.

I see this excessive tension in many newer fencers, including Gavvin.  We continue to work on his relaxation and posture.  I’m not sure how to work on it, other than yelling “Boo!” at him, or making him meditate (which might do him some good anyway).

Always point your sword at the opponent’s opening

So ends the list that constitutes the first half of the first page of the translation (all that in the first half a page).

Doesn’t this seem dead obvious?  “Pointy end goes in the other guy” is what passes for fencer humor (along with “COMMON drunkards”).  But it’s the hardest thing to get somebody to do.  Gavvin suffers (less now) from the classic newbie windshield wiper parry that takes his point out of presence just as much as it does his opponent’s.  Taking a broad guard against many, many fencers will cause them to turn their entire body towards your sword, moving their point away from your opening.  The correct counter does not seem to have been taught to them: close the line and kill the bastard.

If only there was somewhere they could learn how to do that… oh wait, there’s the second half of the first page.

Note that every motion of the sword is a guard to the knowledgeable fencer, and all guards are useful to the experienced man… this discipline calls for knowledge and practice; when practiced, it becomes knowledge.

As mentioned, he doesn’t have 1st-4th, or A-P (-L).  He just thinks everything is a guard, and should have the qualities he lists.  One of the many aspects of Giganti that I think is awesome is his “no technique” approach.  If you are exercising the principles of sound technique, your technique is sound, whatever it is.  Part of my mental shift from studying Giganti has been to ask myself what I’m doing when in a guard, and if it’s in keeping with the various principles of combat.

If you have any notion of this discipline you will never set yourself in guard, but will always attempt to be in a counter-guard… stand out of measure… examine the opponent’s guard and slowly proceed to gain his sword by just about resting your blade over his, as if covering it.

Hey look, closing the line.

He won’t be able to perform an attack without first performing a cavazione… while he performs the cavazione, you may attack him in many ways before he even has time to strike.

And that’s Giganti’s whole tactical plan: force the opponent to make a tempo through closing his line, changing your line, or feinting, and kill them.  It’s so fricking Zen and awesome I can’t believe I didn’t think it through to this level of understanding on my own.  I’d previously described my fighting style as “Assume guard, kill opponent”, but that was mostly a reference to a terrier-like attempt to run down my opponent and gut them like a fish.  This is “Assume counter-guard, kill opponent”, and the day it clicked on the rapier field was the day I decided that rebuilding my form based on Giganti would not be a bad idea.

Posted May 25, 2010 by wistric in Giganti, Italian Rapier

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