Giganti 11: Interesting techniques

No fencing journal this week, because it would basically be a C&P of last week’s.  But Giganti brings some interesting fun to the game.  I love the illustrations of these next three sections, and the actions depicted are beautiful little techniques that are actually useful lessons.

The Correct Way to Deliver a Thrust while the Opponent Attacks you with a Cut

Take this one for instance.  The “thrust is faster than the cut” instruction of DiGrassi is here illustrated, complete with gore coming out the eye socket and sword coming out the back of the head.  I have a guess that this is discussed in just about every manual.

As he raises his sword, you can push your thrust while his weapon is lifted and before it reaches you

This is one of those nifty little nuances of the lesson: attack while he’s raising his sword, not when it’s already up and coming back down on you.  Back to DiGrassi, he has a beautiful line to the effect of “Nothing stops an attack like receiving a thrust”.  Put your sword through your opponent’s eye while he’s prepping his attack, and he’ll forget about that cut.  But put it through when the cut’s already en route, and you may be screwed.

This raises a thought for me, though.  Dante has a plan that his next run through of the Art of Defence tourney (and, seriously, if you’re an Atlantian reading this, tell him you want him to put it on.  Apparently I’m the only one to express interest so far) would include a consideration for the necessity to defend oneself while attacking, i.e. your opponent gets a counter-attack even after you land yours.  But should an opponent who receives a face thrust while prepping a large motion still have the same chance that an opponent who receives a minor poke to the love handle while prepping a lunge does?  I guess that’s more an issue for him to think about, but back to a historical perspective, how much does targetting assist in defense while attacking?

Of course, Giganti also provides instruction on how to defend while launching this attack [the only cut discussed and the cut illustrated are a large dritto fendente from guardia alta], just in case your opponent manages it.

As you deliver your attack, turn your hand upward, with the true edge also upward and your arm high and extended, ensuring that your hilt covers your head

Hey, there you go.  In execution, though, this raised another point of discussion.  It’s illustrated as a rotation to prima, however such a position would not necessarily interpose your forte and guard between your head and the potential cut, and the power of the cut would strike against the back of your hand, which is mechanically weaker.  An over-rotated quarta (almost a “quinta”) would seem to solve all these problems: A right-hander’s mandritto would strike the forte of your blade, your guard would well cover your head, and all the force would be in line with your arm, driving straight down to your shoulder and spine.  But that’s not what’s illustrated.

Of course, against cuts other than a dritto fendente or dritto squalembrato other lines of defense are needed, but ultimately these are just the hybrid hand positions (prima-seconda, seconda-tierca, tierca-quarta).  I’m currently reading my way through Dall’Agocchie, and in another six months or so he may appear in this space, to better comprehend the use of cuts in C&T, and defense against “percussive parries” in rapier.

Another thought I had when studying this particular plate is the over-exaggerated motion of the cut.  A stop-thrust delivered in the tempo of assuming guardia alta is not hard, and these days Gawin can land one in the tempo of raising my sword tip to vertical.  I wonder, then, about cuts into “tramazzone”, in the loosest sense of the definition “cuts delivered from the wrist”.  Master Aeron Harper demonstrated tramazzone as full wheels of the sword performed from the wrist, but a quick  cut can also be performed with a flick of the wrist (“swish and flick, children, swish and flick”), not a lethal or even devastating cut at all, but a distracting cut or, in the right place, say the forehead, eyes, neck, or tendons of the hand, a disinclining wound, and that would seem the more realistic tempo to concern oneself with.  At which point you’re addressing two tempi of the hand to the combined tempi of your thrust (wrist, elbow, shoulder, and potentially body and foot).

Ultimately, this section is more about learning to attack into a tempo, as he says:

I have discussed this [parry of a cut] since it is the most useful and the easiest in which to learn to recognize and employ the tempo.

The Correct Way to Deliver a Sure Strike Using Both Hands

Giganti introduces the illustration, and prefaces it by mentioning that there are two ways to end up in this position (roughly, passed forward, left hand on your own forte which is against your opponent’s guard, driving both blades down, tip cocked up into your opponent’s chest)

First method, in paraphrase: be on the outside, in parity of blades, and point your sword at your opponent’s face.  If no parry, strike him.  Or…

if he executes a good, strong parry, pass with the left foot placing your left hand on your sword and pressing down smartly with both hands

Setup (be in parity), feint (point your sword at his face, because this is a feint if you’re already in measure), and two divergent paths.  Just like the feinting section, except here there’s no cavazione, instead this large pass forward and bracing your own sword instead of your opponent’s guard.

Be sure to perform all this in a single tempo

This is the trickiest bit we found.  There is a great temptation to perform each of the necessary movements in its own tempo, confirming you’ve completed it before executing the next.  I think Steven Pearlman described this problem as viewing it as a combination of techniques (“passing + half-swording* + pressing”) when, in fact, it is all one technique: “passbracepress”.  Passing, hand-to-blade, and pressing all as your opponent makes his strong parry is a lot to do, requiring a great deal of coordination and a smooth, quick motion.   But it’s doable.  Apparently Gawin pulled it on somebody at Assessment this weekend.  Go Gawin!

The second method, again paraphrase: Set to the inside, cavazione, brace the sword, and

using the strength of both hands, beat the opponent’s steel with yours.  As his weapon is beaten wide, quickly pass forward with your left foot

Again there’s an instruction to perform this all in a single tempo, but from the description it seems clear that the brace must precede the pass (and a damn awkward anatomical position that puts one in) because the pass coincides with the beat.  Still, we’re left with a description of a cavazionebracebeatpass attack.

I should take to practicing these techniques, but I’ve usually attempted them against Benjamin (who gives me my most regular Italianate fights), and that boy’s cavazione just lays me out dead before I even make my passing step.  Hey, Gawin, care to receive a braced thrust to the chest?

The Correct Way to Defend Against a Mandritto or a Riverso to the Leg

I wonder if every manual has this discussion in it.  I.33 does as, if I recall, the second play illustrated.  Fiore illustrated this as his first play.  I can’t recall Agrippa right now, but it seems right up his alley.  Walter Triplette’s “Drill of 5 Things” (I named it, he doesn’t bother naming them) has this as the third or fourth thing.  I know even the rattan greatsword fighters have this as a mantra: If someone goes for your leg, hit them in the head.

If the opponent attacks you [And here, he should be saying “attacks your leg”, per the illustration and section title]… he must extend his right foot and project his body and head forward.

Almost always true, though Benjamin has his insanely low lunge with a body and head void for foot attacks.  Still, that does not keep him safe if you know where he’s going.  A few others apply the same trick, but basically attacking the foot will get you killed.  I almost never even look at it, unless it’s an obvious target (and then it’s usually a trap).

Withdraw your right leg and deliver a thrust to his face in the same tempo; this will cause the opponent to stick himself on your point, without being able to defend or to hit you.

I.33, and all down through the ages ever since, use exactly this same defense.  I bet Roman gladiators practiced withdrawing that right foot while delivering a cut or thrust to the head.  All of which is to say very little, except that a) there really are only so many ways to use a sword, and b) certain claims made in certain classes made me just about laugh my ass off and then walk out.  That’s all.

A last observation: these three plates, which are 12-14, follow an interesting pattern.  The first, thrusts against cuts, illustrates the importance of tempo.  The second, the braced sword, illustrates the importance of gaining mechanical advantage.  This third illustrates the application of measure against your opponent.  Tempo, mechanical advantage, and measure.  Those three, and little else, applied with good judgment, are the foundation of success in combat.

*And, yes, I have learned that “half-sword” in an Italian context is not a technique, but a measure.

2 comments to Giganti 11: Interesting techniques

  • Giovan

    But because the foot is usually a trap, it makes a great target for feints or second intention…

    Today’s captcha: crabbier interpretation – appropriate to your blog, isn’t it?

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