The Wolf Lord of Blades Shows a Little Leg

So the Wolf Lord taught us a nice basic technique, and smidge of principle. Gain the inside line, threaten with the point, roll to palm down to maintain control if the opponent tried to get to another line. We also learned that a smart fencer won’t truck with such basic things, and will instead use your control to bait a trap for you. The Wolf Lord teaches us to use line to control and win a fight, but shows us to use cuts to counter the perfect technique.

I’d invite you to try out the Wolf Lord’s first technique in sparring. In theory, the same technique should work just fine with longswords as well as rapiers. I’d be interested to hear how your experiments go. It would also be interesting to examine his first lesson from the perspective of other rapier styles. My understanding of Destreza leads to a slightly different take on the use of the original position. There is more of an emphasis on keeping and maintaining control, which would shut down the so-called clever response quite nicely.

Now the Wolf Lord of Blades teaches us to deal with a different response. We still aim for the inside line, from our palm up position. The implication here is that our opponent is working a little more aggressively, actively trying to gain a close line on us. Not exactly a winning proposition, we learned very clearly in the first lesson. But I suppose it makes sense, since the opponent immediately launches a backhand cut to our legs.

This is a standard attack and response, every fencing manual seems to trot it out for show once. The usual explanation is that it shows how much measure is lost, and how science shows us how a better line gives us a better measure. You respond simply, pulling the leg back and sticking the opponent in the head…or cutting their arm if you feel like it. It’s such a nice a simple response that most fencer just never bother training it. If only a fool would throw a leg shot, then you’d be a fool to throw a leg shot, so they don’t attack with them either. So…leg shots tend to work on people quiet well, even if basic principles tell you it’s a bad idea.

You can land a pretty good leg shot and not give up too much measure, if you are interested in trying it out. The secret is not to lean forward while aiming down, but rather to lower your body first and then attack. It’s still a risky attack, but if you have the strength and flexibility, it’s not as bad an option as it may seem to be. The geometry still points to a bad trade, but you don’t have to see just the one set of equations. In any system, you can make changes to find a more favourable result.

The clever response is an interesting one. The Wolf Lord tells us to move as the smart guy in the palm up position is coming to his position of control on us. Imagine if you will: You stand in your gaurd, wary. The opponent confidently approaches on your inside, his hand palm up and his sword in an excellent position to control yours. Every fraction of an inch closer reduces your odds of success, your odds of living. What does our master teach us to do?

Throw a backhand cut to the face. Bereft of explicit instruction, we are left to imagine the footwork that goes with this. It’s hard to imagine no presence of a slight side-step. The cut must obviously go over the enemy’s blade, crucially occupying the space behind it,  moving like the German Scheilhau technique with longsword. We are to follow this action up with a chop from above. That’s a pretty little wrist motion. It’s a good technique. We follow the initial cut with a rapid descending cut that threatens, attacks, and defends us all at once. Pure Marozzo, once again.

I’m starting to think that when the Wolf Lord of Blades talks about “clever” fencers, he means the old men…the grandfathers still hanging around and clinging to the lessons they picked up from the old masters, and still full of enough devilish tricks to impress the young whippersnappers. Given that his treatise reads to me like an eager grad students thesis on the underlying structure of fencing, with cherry picked examples to support the thesis, I wonder if the little tidbits of clever are suck-ups to the old guys. Perhaps concessions given to avoid conflict. Or perhaps something else altogether.

One Comment

  1. Meyer had some useful thoughts about the low line attacks. He says you should always have your shoulder at the same level as your target when you lunge (this is in the rapier section, I don’t know if it repeated elsewhere) and even gives you a drill to practice it. However, the only place where he suggests that you lead with an attack to the leg is after a countering a sequence of attacks from your opponent with suppression cuts and “his is tired”.

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