Apoligia

President Obama prepares to negotiate with Republicans…

 

APOLIGIA

Today, I was going through the blog administration and was appalled to find how many comments I had not approved. Please understand that this has nothing to do with the nature of the comments. It has to do with the fact that I let things fall behind.

Over the last little while, I’ve been somewhat distracted. There has been work, attempting to finish a new book (which has nothing to do with sword work) and, more personally, the consecutive deaths of my mother, nephew and step-father. Enough said about that.

So if your comment hasn’t made it up, or been replied to, please don’t take it personally and accept my apology. In the future I promise I will be more diligent in such matters. I have only run one blog before – a political humour blog – and then, only for a year. I need to make administration of this site a weekly routine.

There have also been some who have asked about the platform – WordPress – and other things such as making it more mobile-accessible, etc. To these I reply – I haven’t the slightest idea. My partner provides the tech savy. Myself, I have the computer skills of a gerbil. I provide content and that’s pretty much it.

So I hope you will forgive past lapses. I will endeavour not to make such an apology necessary in the future.

Braun

Posted in The "Street Defense" series | Leave a comment

The STRAIGHT GUARD or Flat Sword

By L’Abbat

L’Abbat was a French master connected with the Academy of Toulouse. His work, L’Art on Fait D’Armes, (1696) was considered by many to be the definitive work on the subject for many years.
Perusing his book, I found something that might be of interest – the Straight Guard or Flat Sword, which I now share with you.

In L’Abbat’s own words, “In order to be well in Guard it is absolutely necessary that the Feet , as the Foundation that conduces chiefly to communicate Freedom and Strengh to the other Pars, be placed at such a Distance from each other, and in such a lineal Manner as me be advantageous. The Distance must be about two Foot from on Heel to the other, for if it were greater, the Adversary, tho’ of the same Stature, and with the Sword of equal Length, would be within Measure when you would not, which would be a very considerable Fault, Measure being one of the principle Parts of Fencing, and if the Feet were nearer together, you would want Strength, which is also a great Fault, because the feeble Situation cannot produce a vigorous action.”

Well … no stranger to the run-on sentence, but all his points are quite valid. He continues:

“The Line must be taken from the hindmost Part of the Right Heel to the Left Heel near the Ankle. The Point of the Right Foot must be opposite to the Adversary’s turning out the Point of the Left Foot and bending the Left Knee over the point of the same Foot, keeping the Right Knee a little bent, that there is Freedom of Motion.”
“The Body must be Upright, which gives it better Air, greater Strength, and more Liberty to advance and retire, being supported almost equally by the two Feet. Some Masters teach to keep the body back in Favour of Measure, which cannot be broke by the Body when ‘tis already drawn back, tho’ it is often necessary, not only to avoid Surprize, but also to deceive a Man of Superior Swiftness who pushes a just Length: Therefore ‘tis much better to have the Liberty of retiring to avoid the Thrusts of the Adversary, or of extricating yourself by advancing twords him and pushing than to keep the body in one Situation at a Distance, which being fixed, cannot deceive a Person who knows any thing of Measure; moreover, such a Retention of the Body does not only hinder the breaking Measure with the Body, but also the Left Leg is so oppressed with its whole Weight, that it would find it difficult to retire upon Occasion.”
In other words, keep your weight evenly distributed so that movement forward and back can be accomplished instantly without shifting weight or by committing too much weight to the back leg and leaning backwards in a false notion that this makes you harder to hit. It actually makes you more susceptible to a rush since it restricts your ability to retreat quickly and with good balance.
“The Elbows must be almost on a Line, and of an equal Height, that one Shoulder may not be higher than the other and that they may be both turn’d alike; the Left Hand must be over against the Top of the Ear, the Hilt of the Sword a little above the Hip, turning towards Half Quart, the thumb extended, pressing the Middle of the Eye of the Hilt, keeping the Fingers pretty close to the Handle, especially the little one, in order to feel the Sword firmer and freer in the Hand.”
“Be feeling the Sword, is meant commanding the Fort and Feeble equally with the Hand, in order to communicate to the more distant Part of the Blade as well as to that which is nearer, the Motion and Action that is requisite.”
“The Hilt should be situated in the Center, that is to say, between the upper and lower Parts, and the Inside and Outside of the Body in order to be in a better Condition to defend whatever Part may be attacked. The Arm must not be strait nor too much bent, to preserve its Liberty and be cover’d. The Parts being thus placed, the Wrist and the Point of the Right Foot will be on a perpendicular line.”
“The Point of the Sword out to be about the Height of, and on a Line with the Adversary’s Shoulder, that is, it must be more or less raised, according as he is taller or shorter: Some Masters raise it to a fixed Height, which would be very well if all men were of the same Stature; but if we consider the difference in Height of Persons, we shall find it evidently bad. ‘Tis to be observed, that according to the Length or Shortness of the Blade, the Line from the Shell to the Point is higher or lower, when the Height of the Point is fixed.”

IE: such a presentation negates the concept of a “straight” or “flat guard.

“The Shoulder, the Bend of the Arm, the Hilt, the Point of the Sword, the Hip, the Right Knee and the Point of the Right Foot must be on a Line.”

This is a very interesting guard position not unlike those found in the Spanish Destreza. The advantages are plain. First, although it may appear that you are presenting your sword to be taken by a bind, croise or other form of prise-de-fer, in actuality, the blades’ horizontal profile makes it more difficult to achieve a viable purchase. Moreover, your blade can execute counter moves to a disengage, bind, etc, with greater efficiency owing to the fact that your blade has less distance to move, such actions being capable of being executed entirely by finger or wrist movement. Also, should your opponent execute any second-intention actions, or change of line, your response can be quicker owing to the fact that your sword has less distance to travel from response-to-deception to warding the intended attack.
This position has another advantage: should your opponent lunge or advance on his attack and you deflect it while holding your ground, you are now in a position of maximum strength against his blade, your forte directly opposing him – a position that he himself accomplished by his forward movement. At this stage, if you have maintained the straight guard, there should be very little distance between your point and his body which should be able to be covered by a single advance step, a pass step or a very short lunge.

Just one thing before we go. It should be noted that L’Abbat’s sword is not really what we would qualify as a Small Sword, even though its usage is exclusively point-only. As you can see from the picture, the blade length is considerably greater that what we would associate with a Small Sword. It is a transitional piece between the rapier and Small Sword.

If you peruse his book, you will also note that in many instances, the point of the sword is bent down. There is mention of this in the first section of the book:
“Some Men chuse strait Blades, others will have them bending a little upwards or downwards, some like them to bend a little in the Forts, and others in the Feeble, which is commonly called le Tour de Breteur, or the Bullie’s Blade.”
Personally, I would think that a bend in a fairly stiff blade would make drawing from the scabbard a bit difficult. That, coupled with the fact that the blades in his book are all depicted with balls or blunts on their tip, is it possible that this is a treatise on the art of fencing as much as for dueling or self-defense?

What do you think?

Braun McAsh

Posted in The "Street Defense" series | Leave a comment

LISTENING TO THE SWORD

What Can A Weapon Tell You If You Open Your Eyes And Mind?

Many years ago, when I was choreographing the Henry VI trilogy at the Stratford Shakespeare  Festival in Ontario, I needed to design some weapons that were both functional and matched the genre of the costume design which was highly stylized and somewhat science-fictiony. As I was playing around with various designs, a thought came to me: what if you were on the battlefield and someone came at you with a weapon completely outside your experience – a weapon you had never seen before, including in use? How could you extrapolate from its design information to get some inkling of its fighting methodology before first contact? (after which it might well be too late)

Let’s look at swords of various designs and see what their visual presentation – the shape and design of the blade, the configuration of the hilt – can tell us with regard to their method of usage.

First, the medieval European sword consisting of two edges, (generally – the falchion being an exception) a quillon and a pommel. The first obvious thing is that since it is double-edged, a back-cut with the false edge is possible without having to turn the wrist to present the true edge. The power of such a cut is somewhat diminished until you increase the length of the grip to accommodate two hands such as in the Long Sword, at which time the ability to push with the lower hand and pull with the upper imparts tremendous power into a back-edge cut. And although I have no physical evidence for this, I would imagine that if the true edge were to have gotten significantly nicked, a simple quick turn of the sword would essentially make the former false edge the new true edge, giving you back a more efficient cutting surface.

The quillon can not only protect the hand from slide-downs, but also be forcefully employed to redirect your opponent’s blade which presents the possibility of a swift back-slash or utilizing the pommel to … well – pommel the face or skull.  This is a particularly important attribute in Long Sword combat where half-swording – wielding the sword with only one hand on the grip while the other hand grasps the blade about two-thirds of the way up its length, was prominent. Half-swording in full armour was a good way to insinuate the point in between the joints of the armour with considerable precision. The face, exposed by a raised visor or the armpit between the breastplate and palderon were two particularly tempting targets.

Just a short excursus on the quillon: There are those who contend that it wasn’t there primarily for hand protection since you supposedly never parried with the edge, which would create nicks sufficient to compromise the edge. I would agree that it was a superior technique to attack edge into flat into your opponent’s cut but in the heat of combat if you had to take a parry with the edge, you most certainly would have done so and swords I have examined in museums show just such evidence. Ideally, you would take the blow on the bottom third of the blade which would provide the greatest amount of leverage in your favour. And in point of fact, several masters have admonished that it was unnecessary to even bother sharpening that portion of the blade (the forte or stark) since you never cut with it. One person even believed that the quillon was there to protect the sword hand from hitting your opponent’s shield. Since the Viking swords usually have very short, even perfunctory quillons and the shield was a main tool of defense, I would imagine the Vikings would have developed considerable knuckle callous were this to be true.

How about the point? Is it pronounced? Some medieval one-handed swords had a pronounced point combined with a very wide forte at the quillon.

Let’s skip ahead in history to the rapier. Originally, when used in coordination with the buckler, there was not much difference between its design and that of a military sword. However, over time, blades began to narrow and become longer and eventually, the bars of the hilt acquire a significant addition – shell guards. Why? The answer is that rapier play was evolving to favour the thrust. (although cuts and slicing or drawing cuts were still used) The problem with the previous bars is that they allowed a point through. Being hit on the sword hand inside your own hilt would be embarrassing to say the least.  Would this be a realistic possibility? I’ve accomplished it many times in bouting – albeit not a life-and-death situation, but it demonstrates that it’s quite accomplishable.  (Hint: I can manage it…)

Eventually, the cup-hilt appears, which protects the entire hand inside a bowl, and, at least in Spanish rapiers, a pronounced wide quillon. What does this design tell us about the fighting style? Well, it might indicate that thrusting is the predominate method of attack requiring maximum protection for the hand. The quillons might also be indicative of a highly evolved defensive action. Consider the presentation of the sword in the Spanish Destreza. The weapon is held in pronation, supination or the quillons vertical. In all these positions, long quillons can be used to turn away a thrust simply by a quarter or half-rotation of the wrist where your opponent’s sword also be lifted or taken down by a simple raising or lowering of the wrist or arm. But it also allows for an instantaneous counter-thrust done in safety since your opponent’s sword point is safely deflected and his blade may even be trapped between the wide quillon and the forte of your blade.

On to the Small Sword – a logical development from the rapier. Observe it’s blade – an equilateral triangle, hollow-ground, (which would lighten the blade and make the weapon capable of great speed) with no cutting edge and a needle-sharp point. A stiff sword with great penetrative power, but also one you could obviously grasp by the blade with the bare hand. However, there was a precursor to this sword – the Colichemarde, typified by a wide forte suddenly narrowing to a slim point starting from the forte. To use a modern colloquial, “Whuffo?” One theory is that the greatly widened forte strengthened the blade. However, since the metallurgy of the day was quite highly developed, I personally don’t find this particularly plausible. Could it be that the widened forte was designed to resist heavier weapons, particularly those that cut? After all, ruffians and foot-pads were often ex-military and may well have retained their former weapons to pursue their current illegal career. This feature gives plausible clues to its defensive capabilities.

Now let’s look at military sabres and their variants.

There is a certain lack of consistency to cavalry sabres from the 1700’s to World War One. European sabres most usually have a slightly curved blade with a point that is double-edged for several inches near the point to facilitate thrusting. However, there are certain Dragoon sabres where near the point the blade increases in width. This most definitely creates a weapon with a weight bias in the tip. Even in some cavalry sabres with the normal taper to the point, the blade is often longer than that of a foot sabre and noticeably point-heavy in varying degrees.

I believe the answer for this rather simple, having done sabre work off horseback. You are usually engaging at a gallop, only slowing or stopping altogether if the crush of opposing horse demands it. If you were going to metaphorically “pull up” opposite your opponent and duke it out on stationary mounts, you might as well be fighting on foot.

At this speed, you don’t have much time to inflict damage. You either cut or thrust first, parry the counter-cut and maybe have time for a back-cut in passing. This also holds true for engaging soldiers on the ground. Whatever blows you land need to count. The tip-heavy weight bias helps facilitate this.

Of course, one addition to a sabre – the sword knot which slips over your wrist and tightens – is another giveaway that the weapon is designed primarily for cavalry. Lose a sword while on horseback, and it’s gone. Not a particularly good situation in the middle of a fray.

Towards the end of their usage, British and American cavalry sabres became straight-bladed. This too, suggests certain strategies. A slash is relatively easy to recover. Not so much when it comes to a thrust where penetration into a passing target can wrench the weapon from your grasp. Since power and leverage demand that you present the weapon in pronation, you would be foolish to allow the blade to withdraw itself by the expedient of your opponent simply riding past you. This could conceivably pull your shoulder out of its socket. More logical if, once seating the point in your enemy, you twist the weapon into supination and elevate the hilt to the position of octave, which would not only create a larger wound, but protect your entire right side from a passing cut. This also would position your sword for a back-slash to the back or the back of the neck.

If engaging an enemy on your left with a thrust, it would be logical to elevate the sword to a position of a sloping quinte, thus protecting your left flank, although a passing cut would be problematic.

Let’s briefly look at a couple of non-European swords in order to apply our visual analysis. First, the Shamshir. This weapon comes with both straight and curved blades. However, some models’ blades have curvature in the extreme. What does this suggest about the fighting style?

An extremely curved blade would suggest combat at very close range – obvious, since such a design lacks reach. And extreme curvature discourages thrusting. However, at in-your-face proximity, the radical curvature of the blade, especially on upward and downward diagonal cuts, keeps the maximum amount of edge on target throughout the greatest length of draw. This, with a sufficiently sharp edge, creates long and deep wounds. Your best defense would be to not allow your opponent to close.

Then, there’s the Turkish Kilij. This is a relatively wide blade that makes an oft-radical curve roughly half-way up its length, widening out in the process, with a defined point and the spine sharpened almost to the base of where it began to curve.

This weapon has massive close-range striking power. But if you experiment – carefully – you will find that the seemingly arbitrary oblique curvature combined with a distinct weight bias in the point, allows you to throw back-cuts in supination that can not only wrap around parries (especially when combined with proper footwork) but even power through a ward and deliver either a back-edge cut or point attack. In a somewhat similar vein, the long sharpened back edge plus the curve creates a marvelous hooking action against the back of the knee from either inside or outside the leg or the triceps.

Take a look at the photos accompanying this article with the above observations in mind. Can you see any other design features that might influence the fighting style? What are the strengths and weaknesses inherent in each design?

Finally, what can a sword tell us if we pick it up, and by this I don’t simply mean the obvious attributes of weight and balance?

Create an ample 360 degree safety zone around yourself. Now, close your eyes. Very slowly, begin to move the sword through space. Execute broad and tight circles, downward and diagonal cuts, both ascending and descending, horizontal cuts and moulinetes. Thrust both supinated and pronated. Still moving at slow speed, change the direction of the sword at the termination of a cut. Using the entire body, go through sweeping parries. Stop the sword in the middle of a movement. Execute moves from the shoulder, elbow and wrist, etc.

Feel the swords’ weight, momentum and inertia. As you move the sword through space, if you are sensitized to its motion, it will tell you the way its design prefers to be moved. Later, as you absorb this information and are able to gradually speed up the swords’ movement, it will tell you more.

A sword can tell you much regarding its usage by observing the various elements of its design with a skillful and informed eye. It will tell you the rest when you move with it.

The sword will never lie to you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in The "Street Defense" series | Leave a comment

THE SPANISH “MAGIC CIRCLE”

The Verdadera Destreza

This, dear readers, is going to be a long one. Even so, it will still barely cover the subject comprehensively. I can only hope to explain the basic principles.
The Verdadera Destreza may be translated to mean “the true knowledge or art.” Prior to this form, the “esgrima vulgar” or “common fencing” was the predominant art. Early teachers included Pedro de la Torre, Jaume Pons (both writing in 1474) and Fransico Roman. (1532.
Then along came a gentlemen named Heronimo de Caranca who wrote two treaties, the first in 1569 and the second, more famous “De La Philosofia de las Armas” in 1600, and who basically redefined the Spanish art of the sword. His student, Don Luis Pacheco de Narvaez (Libro de las Gradezas del la Espada – 1625) claims Caranca was originally inspired by the works of Agrippa. While this may or may not be true, there are similarities with regard to utilizing geometry.
One of the most striking originalities of the Spanish system was training on diagrams drawn on the floor. Although Caranca used many simple diagrams, we will look at the more famous drawing of Thibault of Antwerp. Here, the dimensions of the circle relate to the blade-length of the rapier which was intended for this purpose to be equal to the height of a man from the feet to the quillons held level with the navel. (there are other definitions of what a proper blade length should be but we’ll stay with this one for now) The arm should then be extended until the point touches the ground and a circle inscribed around you from this length. A square is then drawn around the circle so it touches the circle in the centre the straight line. (it should be noted that in Narvaez, the square is inside the circle with its corners touching the interior) Lines, known as “chord” lines are now inscribed across the various diameters. In my translation of Thibault’s “Academy of the Sword” (1628) the first 37 pages of the first book are the mathematical instructions for drawing the circles, defining them variously as circumference, diameter, perpendicular diameter, oblique diameters, inner and outer collaterals, inner and outer traverses, circumscribed square, , etc, all which relate to the human figure depicted within.
The figure must be mentally visualized as standing since the chord lines all relate offensively and defensively to critical areas on both you and your opponent’s body.
The Stance
The body is held erect with the right foot on the circle line and the rear foot off it. The body is usually oriented so that the right shoulder is angled towards your opponent with the chest and hips presented sideways, thus reducing the target potential. The feet are usually depicted in a narrow stance, less than 12 inches apart.
Movement
Fencers travel around the edge of the circle while seeking to gain advantage or tempt their opponent into attacking. Movement can be made both forward and back. Classified as “Los Compases,” foot movement is defined as the Pasada, a short step, the Pasada Simple, a longer step, and the Pasada Doble, two steps using alternating feet. There is no lunge as an Italian practitioner would understand it.
The Guard
The sword is held with the arm straight from the shoulder, its point directed towards your opponent. The orientation of the hilt is with quillons parallel to the ground, either in pronation, (knuckles up) supination, (knuckles down) or in-between with the quillons vertical and the knuckles facing your right.
Narvaez considered that there were two methods for gaining advantage to attack. The first was Angle which is determined by the meeting of the blades. Angles formed in the middle of the blades, he considered being favourable for defense while obtuse and acute angles were regarded as better for defense combined with offense. Another one of his concepts was “ganado los grados al perfil,” or gaining the degrees of profile. This concept implies that you acquired your targets by successive steps around your opponent. Sound simple? It’s not.
Another movement was known as Closing the Straight Line, achieved by taking a position where your sword threatens your opponent so he cannot enter or attack without first dealing with your blade or simply being hit.
Measure
These were referred to as the Instances. Thibault qualifies them as follows:
The First Instance: In this, extended points reach to the hilt.
The Second Instance: Extended points reach to the combatant’s elbows.
The Third Instance: Combatants are position so that their points reach each other’s shoulders.
Cuts
Strokes are defined as Tajo (cut) or Medio Tajo, (half-cut) Reves (reverse cut) and Medio Reves (reverse half-cut. Tajos are performed in pronation while Reves and done in supination and accomplished by movement from the elbow. There was also a cut done from the shoulder, styled an Arrebater and tip-cuts accomplished by a turn of the wrist, known as Mandoble. There was also a cut known as an Estramason which was a fast cut to the face using the sword’s tip, possibly accomplished as a mandible.
Cuts were defined by where they originate, not their target.
Narvaez speaks of the “Rectitudines,” defining the nature of a cut or sword movement in general, they being : Violenta, Natural, Remisso, de Reduccion, Extrano and o Accidental. (Violent, natural, forgiving, decreasing, rare and accidental) Natural movement, for example, would be a down-cut, Violent, a upper-cut or rising cut, Remisso being the removal backwards of the sword, etc.
Thrusts
Known as Estocada, thrusts were delivered by stepping to your opponent’s right or left, or stepping forward along an imaginary chord line that corresponds with the line of attack. (remember that the chord lines show the direct lines of attack to critical areas of your opponent’s body from foot to top of the head. Narvaez calculated that there were 83 angles of attack formed between two opposing bodies)
Thrusts were made over the arm, travelling down, usually pronated and from the right, (which Italians would classify as imbrocatta) or under the arm from the lower right side. (stocatta)
Parries
Known collectively as Desvio, most sword work involved a combination of small movements with the weapon combined with movement of the body. The Spanish system develops the methodology of combination defensive-movement-becomes-reposte to a very high degree.
If, for instance, I assume a position where my sword is held at my shoulder level, this (intentionally) invites an attack to my mid or lower torso. If my opponent chooses to attack my lower torso, I could then bring my sword into the position of septime (7) while simultaneously stepping back with my left (rear) foot in the manner of an inquartata, and direct my point at a 45 degree angle downwards, allowing his forward motion to help impale him the stomach. Or, if I have tempted by opponent to hit while I am in motion, say, stepping to my left with my left foot, I might drop my sword so that his blade is deflected downwards using my outside quillon, angle my point upwards, and stepping forward on my right foot, impale him in the throat. Or if the attack is a stocatta to my right armpit, I could rotate my sword from pronation with a half-twist, re-directing his blade with my inside quillon and sending it to my right, while at the same time, stepping forward on my left foot and stabbing him in the shoulder or throat.
No end to the fun you can have…
Here’s a commentary from a period master, Alvaro Guerra de la Vega from his commentaries on important matters from 1681:

Every stance you master, must be good to ‘short cut’ your opponent’s.
Every stab inflicted without a ‘short cut’ is false (not the best).
Every stance can be ‘short cut’.
The right angle is good to avoid incoming attacks.
The obtuse angle is useful to stop our foe’s sword.
Three planes of reference are to be considered.
First plane: from head to shoulders.
Second plane: from shoulders to waist.
Third plane: from waist to feet.
Ther first plane is to be defended with the guard.
The second one with the force of the sword.
The third one with the frailty, including your enemy’s sword.
High guard, low point.
Low guard, high point.
If our foe is showing us his profile, we must look for the ‘medio proporcional’.
If he is squared, we must always attack him from the ‘medio proporcional’.
The ‘medio proporcional’ has to be considered by the positioning of the opponent’s sword.
No matter the side you choose for the ‘medio proporcional’, you must always be front towards your enemy.
When attacking, be very careful, never show your body to your enemy’s weapon.
Never attack if you are not sure it will be a perfect movement.
Never stand on both feet at the same time; one of them must be ready, touching just slightly the floor.
You sword will always be on movement.
Here is a short excerpt from Angelo (1787) on his observations of the Spanish style:
“The Spaniards have in fencing a different method to all other nations… their guard is almost straight, their lunge very small. Their ordinary guard is with their wrist in tierce and point in line with the face. When they come into distance they bend the right knee and straighten the left and carry the body forward. When they retire they bend the left knee and straighten the right – they throw the body back well in a straight line with that of the antagonist, and parry with the left hand or slip the right foot behind the left.
Their swords are near five foot long from the hilt to point and cut with both sides. The shell is very large and the quillons extend two inches on each side. They make use of this to wrench the sword out of the adversary’s hand by binding or crossing his blade with it.”
And this from George Silver (Paradoxes of Defense, 1599)
“…they stand as brave as they can with their bodies straight upright, narrow-spaced, with their feet continually moving as they were in a dance, holding forth their arms and rapiers very straight against the face or bodies of their enemies. … als long as any man shall lie in that manner with his arme … it shall be impossible to hurt him because in that straight holding forth of his arms, which way soever the blow shall be made against him, by reason that his rapier hilt lyeth so far before him, he hath but a very little way to move to make his ward perfect.”
One of the things the Destreza does is teach distance in absolute terms. Its elegant subtlety gives the appearance of simplicity yet it is anything but. One of its principles is to constantly move your sword and body in a way that closes off certain venues of attack while opening up others. In this way, you subconsciously guide your opponent into a series of predictable attacks which can be dealt with quickly with minimal movement, and combined with a counter-attack that your enemy often aids and abets by his commitment to your invitation. This is one of the reasons the rest of the world referred to this system as “the Magic Circle,” since it gave the uncomfortable appearance that your opponent was reading your mind.
As I said at the beginning, this is a rather simplistic and entirely incomplete picture of this system. This is an essay, not a book. I hope, however, that I have given you a good basis for understanding the physical, dynamic principles behind this elegant and deadly art.
Never stop learning.

Braun McAsh

Posted in The "Street Defense" series | 5 Comments

The SmallSword

The SmallSword

The smallsword was the last bladed weapon carried by a civilian for personal self-defence and for dueling, succeeding the transition rapier in the beginning of the 18th century.

The smallsword has all the main parts of the former rapier, except that they are shrunk down to their most perfunctory size. They are also named differently. Aylwards “The Small Sword in England,” documents them thusly:

Amande – the centre of the knuckle-bow.
Branche a bouton – a single quillon with an end-knob.
Branc a croissant – the rings on either side of the ricasso.
Brance a demi-ellipse – the lower portion of the knuckle- bow.
Crochet – the part of the knuckle-bow that enters the pommel.

The “bell” of the hilt is often referred to as the coquille, as it often resembles an open shell. Later, practice weapons for the smallsword evolved a “lunette” or figure-eight shaped open guard. This weapon was dubbed the “foil,” being a corruption of the French word “refouler,” meaning to turn back, thus describing the defensive nature of the weapon.

The feature that really differentiated the small sword from the rapier was its relatively short blade. Some blades were only 24 inches, the average being between 30 to 33, with 35 inches being considered a “long” blade.
The blade itself was solely for thrusting, having only a small amount of edge near the tip sharpened. This was to facilitate penetration although some scholars believe it might also have been to discourage hand parrying. The blade itself was triangular in cross-section, usually hollowed out in a manner you can see today in epee blades. This removed unnecessary weight from the blade, with the result that this sword was capable of lightening speed. However, on earlier blades, rhombic and “spindle” cross-sections are evident, probably as a carry-over from the previous period.

During this time of transition, another form of smallsword also existed briefly – the Colichimarde. This sword’s primary difference was that its blade was considerably wider in the lower forte near the hilt than in the upper two-thirds. (both sections were still hollow-ground to reduce weight) It is thought that since, during a transitional period, everyone didn’t suddenly chuck their rapiers into the back of the closet and go out and buy a smallsword. The reinforced forte would have been very functional in parrying a heavier blade. We believe this design to be attributed to Count Johann Charles von Konigsmark, and the name of the sword a corruption of his own.

The nature of the weapon’s defense, as we have previously alluded, was to deflect or turn back the incoming point. The parries would be utterly familiar to the modern foil practitioner, being, for the most part, identical to the positions of tierce, quarte, septime and octave. Smallsword practitioners also used the parries of prime, seconde and a modified quinte. (the presence of these parry positions in texts should be a reminder that wearing the smallsword for self-defense didn’t guarantee that you would be facing another smallsword. Indeed, the Angelo school gave instruction on how to face a Spaniard with his rapier) Blade technique included the disengage, double, pris-de-fer and the inquartata.

Additional defense was accomplished by the use of the off-hand, also the cloak and sometimes a small poignard-style dagger with short quillons.

Naturally, many schools flourished, some notable masters being L’Abbat, Liancour, Oliver and Angelo.

Dominico Angelo Malevolti Tremamondo founded his school in Carlisle Street, London, in 1763. He eventually handed over the salle to his son Harry and continued to teach as the resident master at Eton. Harry eventually transferred the salle to Opera House in the Haymarket until it burned down in 1789, whereupon he moved to Bond Street. He also developed a system for the curved cavalry sword originally associated with the Hungarian Hussa, which was officially adopted by the British Army. Harry handed over the salle to his son Henry who subsequently bequeathed the salle (now in St. Jame’s Street) to his son, Henry Charles. On his death, the salle was run by Willaim McTurk until at the very end of Victoria’s reign, the salle ended its long and famous history over, of all things, disagreement over the lease.

Smallswords were used by military officers primarily as a symbol of rank since the short, thin blade would not have been very conducive for use against the heavier-bladed military swords of the day. They are still used today as part of formal military and diplomatic uniforms, being styled “court swords.”

Braun McAsh

Posted in The "Street Defense" series | Leave a comment

THEATRICAL COMBAT – The Beginnings

The Ring of Steel is not only a school of historical European combat but also teaches theatrical fighting skills. Therefore, I suppose it’s time to actually give this venue some ink.
What is a “fight” in a dramatic sense?
Theatre, film and stage are entertainment mediums. They, like the actor, affect a selective reality which occurs within the narrative of a script. Therefore, a fight scene is a dramatic device intended to further or alter the overall storyline of the script. This would imply that the first question a fight choreographer must ask is “what is the story of the fight” and its purpose in the overall narrative?
One good way to determine this is to remove the fight from the script and see what, if any, effect this has on the final outcome of the storyline. Imagine, for instance, if the fight between Romeo and Tybalt didn’t exist. Romeo would never be banished, and since his banishment led Juliet to feign her death which led to Romeo returning, killing Paris, poisoning himself on the false impression that Juliet was dead, which results in Juliet actually committing suicide, that fight in particular is crucial to the outcome of the play.
Not understanding the reason or purpose of the fight will make it look like an afterthought, tacked on by a disinterested third party, having no bearing on the overall narrative. If, however, there is no change in the storyline by removing the fight, you might question its necessity since it appears to serve no dramatic purpose, and hence, is essentially a waste of rehearsal time.
Now you need to analyze the characters in the fight. To do this, you must approach the script as an actor. Who is the character? By that, I mean, what is his or her background? What does the character want and how far are they willing to go to achieve that need or desire? Why do they want it – ie: what’s their motivation? Are they the aggressor or defender? What do other characters say about them. Look at Mercutio’s speech describing Tybalt – he clearly defines for us the quality of Tybalt’s training, his motivations for fighting, even specific moves he uses.
You must also understand that as the choreographer, you aren’t the one playing the role. You must discuss with the actor what their take on motivation is. You must also ascertain, as early as possible, the actor’s physical capabilities – right or left-handed, injuries or disabilities that impinge on movement, etc.
Next, you must understand the physical environment in which the fight takes place. On stage, this is obviously the set, as it often is in TV and film. Being a designed and constructed environment, it’s often possible to build certain features into it specifically to facilitate the fight scene/s. Sometimes this means reinforcing certain areas to take weight such as if a person is to be hurled into a wall. Other times it might mean load-bearing items such as the proverbial chandelier, areas of the set that must be climbed, railings on stair cases, etc. This also includes furniture which is intended to be practical – the archetypal feast table upon which the hero invariably leaps. This can also mean breakaway furniture used as weapons or breakaway props that weapons might impinge upon. During one fight on film, I cut through a bookshelf, a TV, (which then had to spark) and an indoor potted tree.
The set also includes set decoration that might not be used in the fight, but must be secured in order not to create a hazard – fixing a lamp to a table to prevent an accidental bump from sending it to the floor, taping down the centre and leading edges of rugs to prevent their moving underfoot, etc.
When the environment is a rented location, there are often elements of it that cannot be touched, that is, unless your production budget includes money for repainting or papering walls. If you don’t own it, don’t touch it. And, of course, outdoor locations must be thoroughly walked to identify useable ground. The actors shouldn’t have to fight for stability. Uneven ground can often result in a twisted ankle, or cause a loss of balance that affects a move to the point where control, and hence safety, is lost. The quality of the surface – sand, for instance, or inclines – will very often dictate the footwork and movement patterns of a fight. Even tall grass can restrict foot movement, especially when it’s wet.
Naturally, the costume will impinge on movement. In the days when a man habitually wore a sword, clothing was designed to allow maximal movement. Many costume designers, or coordinators who rent rather than construct, often don’t appreciate the practical features of men’s clothing design – the tied-on slashed sleeves, long cuffs, etc. And if any costume bits such as a cape are to be worn or used in the fight, it is essential that the performers have them or a simulation with which to rehearse, most especially footwear which is crucial for balance. Armour should be worn as soon as possible and it too, must be properly designed and constructed. Any restriction of movement caused by costumes and armour must be known as soon as possible and if necessary, the choreography must be created to compensate. Ideally, a fight director should also have an in-depth knowledge of costume and armour design so he or she can act as a consultant to the appropriate departments.
Lighting also impinges on the performer. Going from areas of high light to low light and back to high light makes the pupils of the eye dilate in response and affects depth perception. The choreography must take this into account. Even certain colours of light affect the eye’s ability to gauge distance.
You must also understand your medium. In film and television, the camera lens is the audience and shots can be constructed that allow the audience to see only what we wish them to. This often allows a blow a much wider safety margin than on stage where “catching air” can be fudged by the camera angle, but clearly seen by a large portion of the audience in theatre. On stage, the sight lines are fixed and immutable. The fight director must walk the entire stage to understand what certain areas of the audience are seeing – the extreme stage right and left, the balcony – so that these angles can be compensated for by the placement of the action.
The period in which the script is set (or sometimes the country) will dictate the choice of weapons. Bear in mind that due to specific hilt designs, not all weapons are ambidextrous. And a right-hander against a left hander poses specific choreography challenges. If designing fantasy and sci-fi weapons, please bear in mind that the human race has been designing weapons for many thousands of years, so if you think you’ve come up with an incredibly creative design that appears never to have previously existed, there’s probably a reason for that.
To make a long story short, virtually everything that affects physical action must be recognized, understood and dealt with in the choreography. Theatrical combat is the visual simulation of violence. No one must ever be put in danger.
Then there’s the director whose job it is to pull all the disparate disciplines together to realize the overall production. Whether for stage or film, he will dictate the “blocking” of the fight – ie: where does it begin, where does it move and where does it end. He may have very specific ideas as to what sort of action he wants to see. Your job is to facilitate him. However, you have been hired as an expert, providing skills that no other member of the production team has. The director might want something that can’t be done for any number of reasons: inadequate rehearsal time, inadequate budget, no reasonable way of making it safe, etc. It is then your job to tell him no. That being said, you must then give him alternatives. “No” may be an honest answer but it doesn’t give him much to work with.
Finally, understand the timeframe available to you. The length of a fight might be dictated by what is necessary to tell the story of the fight adequately – to further explore or define characterization, change the direction of the story-line, etc, but very often, it is dictated by how much rehearsal time is available. You can’t have a six phrase fight up to performance speed in two one-hour rehearsals. Better a short, well-performed fight than a dramatically meaningless and inherently dangerous long fight that looks under-rehearsed and lame. Your job is to keep the actors safe while making them look as good as possible. So remember the PRODUCTION TRIANGLE. It has three points, each bearing a word: Faster, Cheaper, Better – pick any one at the expense of the other two.
Only after all the above things have been considered and planned for can you even begin choreography.
Aha! Not as simple as it looks, is it?
In a future article, we’ll consider the function, value and limitations of historical authenticity in sword-play. Until then, play nice…
Braun McAsh

Posted in The "Street Defense" series | 6 Comments

TEMPO

In a previous piece, I alluded to the concept of tempo. Since it’s one of the most important concepts in the use of the sword, let’s examine this concept in terms of practical usage. First, let’s define the term.
TEMPO is a measure of action in time and space as it relates to your opponent. This can also mean non-action on your part since it can also imply stillness in the face of your opponent’s movement. (this last statement further implies that your opponent’s movement be forward movement since tempo is only germane, in a practical sense, to offensive and defensive actions) This also means that tempo is directly linked to foot movement as well as movement of the sword. Tempo has also been defined as a measure of motion between two periods of stillness.
Capo Ferro, who defines tempo as “not other than the measure of the stillness and of the motion,” classifies temp as Primo Tempo, Dui Tempi, Mezzo Tempo and Contratempo. Tempo is described as the length of the motion, due tempi is the result of two actions such as a parry followed by a riposte. Mezzo tempo is a half-action such as the simple extension of the arm. Contratempo he describes as when your opponent attacks, you hit him with a shorter action. This definition is not unlike the modern concept of a stop-hit.
Naturally, there are variances in definitions between masters. Viggiani, for example, considers a full tempo to be a full cut, ie: one that completely traverses the target.
“Thus a full tempo is a full perfect blow, because that would be a perfect motion and tempo…”
He considers a mezzo tempo to be a blow that arrests half-way through its “natural” motion, such as a downward cut that stops with the point facing forward.
Salvator Fabris, on the subject of tempo, states:
“A tempo is a movement that the opponent makes within the measure … tempo also implies an occasion to wound or at least to take some advantage over the opponent.”
He also makes note of the fact that an opponent can use the concept against you in order to invite an attack.
Capo Ferro defines in considerable detail the five occasions where your opponent might present the opportunity for you to apply tempo.
“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 in order to go into another, before he has fixed himself in it, it is the tempo to offend him; another 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 travelled past your body, that is a tempo to follow it with a response.”
Stesso tempo is another term used to define a single action. This can be voiding a blow or thrust by body movement, which has considerable inherent risk or by making a single action that incorporates both defensive and offensive movement. Example: If my opponent makes a thrust at my abdomen, I can make a defensive parry angled down and to my right, intercepting the upper portion of his blade (the “weak” or debole) with the lower third (forte) of my own. Angling my hilt to the right sufficiently to allow his point to pass my body, and while maintaining contact with his blade, I may now extend my arm, controlling his blade in the process, to make a thrust into his lower body.
Naturally, the concept of tempo also implies that you be in “measure,” that is, within a distance from your opponent that he can be reached either by extension of the weapon or movement of his or your body. It also implies speed, since any action done tardily or at your opponent’s speed, is easier to defend against. It also implies rhythm, whether this is detecting a rhythm in your opponent’s actions or to impose or re-define that rhythm in your opponent by an action of your own, either to induce this change obviously or surreptitiously.
Finally, Tempo is about the understanding of distance and inducing your opponent to work within a timeframe that is advantageous to you, either by deceiving him or forcing him. It is directly linked to the concept of stringering and is also an integral part of the understanding of distance.
Everything is connected.

Braun McAsh

Posted in The "Street Defense" series | 5 Comments

UPCOMING STUFF

Look, in the near future, for an article on TEMPO and also an introduction to SMALL SWORD, which we also teach. German Longsword workshops are coming up, plus more articles on the art of historical bladed weapons.

Posted in The "Street Defense" series | Leave a comment

RAPIER PLAY:

THE STRINGER

Here’s a term that’s bruited about in descriptions of rapier play that is often misunderstood or improperly explained. Let’s explore the concept using the works of the old masters.

First, the word “stringere” implies the constraint of your opponent’s blade by your own. Its purpose is to allow you to enter, slowly and carefully, into measure, so before we explore the principle further, let’s define “measure.”
According to Capo Ferro, the measure is “a just distance from the point of my sword to the body of my adversary in which I can strike him, according to which all the actions of my sword and defence are given direction.”

This term also implies “tempo” which Capo Ferro elucidates as the length of your own actions, and also the ability to strike your opponent as he moves. He qualifies the second part of the definition by saying that “tempo is not other then the measure of the stillness and of the motion.” This tempo, he breaks into four distinct actions: primo tempo, due tempi, mezzo tempo and contratempo, which we will not further elaborate on at this time. Viggiani also refers to tempo as a measure of motion. Fabris describes it as “a movement that the opponent makes within the measures,” further elaborating that this movement invites occasions to strike.

So – back to our original concept of stringering. The recommended method is to oppose your opponent’s blade in its “weak” or “debole” with the forte of your blade, thus giving yourself advantage in both strength and leverage. More to the point, a proper stringer will force your opponent to move his blade in any attempt to attack you. This could be done in a variety of ways: by disengagement, (known as a cavazione) an attempt at forcing your blade aside, either by direct pressure or a a strong beat against your blade or an attempt at angulation. All of these ploys have disadvantages. First, a disengage is a small move, but requires an equally small move to defeat it, either by a counter-disengage. (ricavazione) or a simple turning of the sword hand from pronation to supination (knuckles up to knuckles down)

Any attempt at a push or beat (which requires visible preparation) would initially oppose his weak against your forte, or force him to withdraw his blade in an attempt to create opposition higher up on your blade, thus pulling back his point in the process. He could also choose to step back, in which case, an equal step forward on your part reestablishes the measure in your favour. And to angulate his point around your blade would require footwork for it to ever hope to succeed, in the form of a pass step with his rear foot, to move his body to your outside line. This is defeated by simply maintaining the position of your blade and duplicating the pass step, thus regaining your original positions.

But whatever your opponent does, a successful stringering of his blade forces him into an action that require either two tempi or one longer, extended tempo. In any case, it makes his action both slower, more visible and hence, predictable.

Of course, various masters had specific instructions regarding the method of stringering. Capo Ferro, for instance, advocated that your point be directed towards your opponent’s shoulder, more specifically, when stringering on the inside of his blade, using the quarta position of your sword, (the sword positioned to your left, with the hilt on the level of your lower rib cage, hand in supination) with the point directed at his right shoulder. When stringering on the outside, using the positions of seconda or terza, ( both being on the right side of your body, the first position pronated with the hilt level with and to the outside of the lower rib cage, the second position with the sword held half-way between pronation and supination with the quillons pointing up and down and the hilt brought inside the body-line) you were to direct the point to his left shoulder. All the aforementioned positions creates both superior opposition.

Capo Ferro admonishes that you do NOT make contact with your opponent’s blade while stringering. Fabris concurs with this notion, although his personal term for stringering, “il trovare di spada,” IE: finding the sword, could be misinterpreted. He clearly states “It is important to remember that, as you find the opponent’s sword, you should never touch his blade with yours.” On the other hand, Giganti makes the differentiation that you must remain in absence of blade when stringering on the inside but that light contact is allowable when executing the move to the outside of your opponent’s blade. Perhaps this is to allow for the feeling of pressure that would indicate or precede your opponent’s next move, but it would naturally work in the same manner for him, unless you were creating subtle pressure as a deception.

There is also a method described by Capo Ferro to stringer not the sword but the body. This would occur if your opponent is using poor form by holding his blade straight out without any form of angulation that would serve to cover the body. In this case, you should advance into measure, coming to the inside line by disengagement with your own sword in quarta, the point towards his right shoulder. In this position, there is no need for your sword to cross his body obliquely.

So, to recap, the stringer is a method of coming into measure, and hence striking distance to your opponent by positioning your sword in a manner that gives you the advantage in strength and leverage, and that also forces him to reposition his weapon to attack, thus constraining him to attack in one and a half or two motions as opposed to your one, thus giving you the advantage in tempo.

F. Braun McAsh

Sources: Rudolfo Capo Ferro: Gran Simulacro dell’ Arte e della Scherma, 1610

Salvator Fabris: Sienza e Pratctica d’Arme, 1606

Angelo Viggiani: Lo Schermo, 1575

Nicoletto Giganti: Teatro, 1606

Posted in The "Street Defense" series | 1 Comment

Posted in The "Street Defense" series | Leave a comment