The Wolf Lord of Blades Goes Down Under

Runs Crocodile Dundee through, takes the girl, and wonders anyone would bring a knife to a sword fight. But now I’m stepping out of my brief attempt at a Game of Thrones setting. What can you expect? It is Monday morning, after all. I’ve had coffee, but no breakfast. And I’ve been putting off this next installment for as long as possible, because it’s a perfect example of one of those annoying things that crops up in martial arts manuals from time to time. It’s the “here’s five things you can do against the uppercut” sort of article. Except that all five things look sort of the same. I’m reduced to paying careful attention to the words, which is always a spooky proposition when working from a translation.

Obviously I’m going to fake it. I’m going to fake it from the best possible background I can. The Wolf Lord of Blades wrote a lovely prequel to his plates wherein he lays out all his principles of fencing (although not necessarily for fencing if you grok the difference) so I’ll work from those. I’m also not going to depend on my reading skills. I can read and fill in a pretty good mental image of what’s happening, but there is no substitute for actually getting up and holding a sword in your hand. Even then, misinterpretations can happen. Lords knows I’ve seen them.

We begin in the handshake, thumbs-up position this time, not in our so-far usual palm up position. We then lift our hand up into the palm up position with our sword point to our opponents non-sword side. Our hand and the hilt of our sword is still in line with his sword, so our blade will slightly cover our opponents body. If we can do this right, it’s a nice invitation. If we do it wrong we are sooo dead. Our opponent wants us to be dead so she does the right thing, trying to come over our blade and control it with the strong of her blade. The Wolf Lord of Blades tells us  we have to react before she completes this action. No kidding.

What he wants us to do is roll our palm down, and take a deep passing step to hit our opponent with a blow that lands at the same time that their successful cover would have landed on us. Now…think about that for a bit. This means that your guard position must allow you a very explosive passing step. This calls for far more mobility in guard that I see in most interpretations of Capo Ferro. It’s an absolutely athletic move that requires a finely trained fencer to pull off correctly. It also takes some thinking about what happens with the tip of our blade. We are probably dropping it under our opponents incoming cover, dodging below. It’s also entirely possible that the Wolf Lord of Blades may have been thinking of a cover that was weaker, where the opponent tried to come over our blade point first in order to strike us…in which case our tip should come over their blade as we roll to palm down, affording us a lovely circular engagement on their blade for a much more assured entry.

I am unable to summon forth the spirit of the Wolf Lord of Blades, so if I were to suggest one over the other, I would suggest train both. It won’t hurt to learn to deal with multiple approaches. Speaking of multiple approaches, let’s deal with a few. We started with the opponent out of measure, and she chose to come in over top. What if she had chosen other lines?

Starting again from the handshake position, this time our opponent has other intentions for us. She’s come in narrow, in line with our blade and tight on our outside. Again, we have to move quickly before our opponent completes a gain on our blade and kills us. The Wolf Lord of Blades tells us to pull a tight circle to the outside with our blade, rolling to palm up and feinting a thrust to the face. You want enough presence on the opponents inside that she feels compelled to begin to lift her blade to counter…at which point we roll to second, drop low and pass as we did in the first case. That’s above and to the right countered, what’s next?

She has us narrow to the inside. She’s on the left of our blade…recall that the Wolf Lord of blades has previously recommended that our response to this engagement be to roll palm up and lunge. This time we disengage…hold on. Maybe we don’t. The language could be clear here, but maybe it isn’t. We can disengage and feint a lunge to the face on the other side, and then complete as before. He could be saying that. But he could also be saying to disengage by throwing a short attack to the face, then pulling under to complete as is now normal. I prefer the jab then duck myself. It keeps the enemies point that much further from my face.

Now we start to suppose a more active opponent. We want the same finish, but things will progress a little differently. We start as in the previous case, being narrow…in line with our opponents blade and on the inside line. But this time our opponent disengages and tries to stab us in the face. Aint she a meanie?  The Wolf Lord of Blades tells us we can do two things. In both cases we still wind up with the same finish we’ve been exploring all along. In the first case we keep our hand in palm up position and we don’t pass…we just drop low and attack. I suppose you could try it with the pass as well. In the second case, we stay in the palm up position and use one of Marozzo’s standards, the false edge beat, or as the Wolf Lord of Blades calls it, the parry in third with the point high. Follow the parry with the usual attack.

Lastly, if we are outside our opponents blade and narrow, she might decide to disengage and close the line on us on the inside. It’s the clever thing to do, and so common. We approach our opponent, we both have our blade sticking out, we come in on the somewhat neutral feeling outside line, and our partner does a disengage and cover almost on autopilot. It’s the opening game of jockeying for position while we try to feel out our opponent, only this time our opponent has decided to come a little deeper. The assumption, the thing you must look for, is the inherent need we have to touch blades and get a sense of where our opponents steel is. We crave the contact sometimes. In this case that desire for contact and control implies a momentum inherent in the blade.

If we can move in the time of that momentum, there will be a brief quantum moment where the enemies blade must slow, stop, and change direction. In that minor heartbeat of time, we are given the opportunity to void our blade, drop low and strike. It’s a nice theory. The math adds up, the principles agree on it being correct. The big but in the room is the big butt. Have you got what it takes to strike that fast? To cover that much space? You tricked the opponent into giving you that beat of time, but can you take advantage of it? I doubt one out of a hundred fencers these days could pull this off. It requires a level of fitness and training that most have no desire to reach for.

If you want to fence the way the Wolf Lord of Blades wants you to, you need to be that athletic. You need to be working on technique and fitness every day, and fighting the best people you can find. Simple knowledge will get you nowhere, you still have to get on the horse and ride.

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