With only a simple lunge to deal with, measure control with a rapier can still be a complex issue. You need to build skill in absolute measure…knowing your reach and timing to touch a static object. You need to have that skill at all the quantum stages of your lunge, as well. From arm extension to maximum reach, you need to know your ability. That takes work…and all of that for only a beginner level of skill. Real ability is understanding actual measure, the distance and time between you and an intelligent, moving opponent.
With simple thrust attacks, that’s a complex business. To develop the same skillset with the arcing actions of cuts is far more complex…and also a touch easier, too. The math of understanding what goes on is more complex, but the continuous action gives more overall feedback to the brain. That ease is removed, though, when we add in complex footwork. It’s no wonder most swordplay tends to straight lines. It’s so much easier to understand. The eternal argument of cut vs thrust is solidly in favour of the linear for ease. But for actual combat use, compromise beats taking a side. You’re better served looking for grey than black or white.
The next challenge we are working through in class is Marozzo’s single sword. The challenge for the students is the use the techniques in sparring almost immediately. I present the techniques as a challenge, and the students must find a way to overcome the challenge. The onus is on me as a teacher to find a way to present the techniques as straightforward drills that require only one obstacle at a time to be overcome.
Last class we worked on attacking from, pardon the Bolognese, the Coda Lunga e Stretta guard. It’s a palatable guard, very martial and pleasurable to work from. Right leg forward, sword angled out front to threaten the opponent while leaving an inviting opening to the left side. It feels like an agile knife-fighting guard, with a really, really big knife in hand. Our drill was simple, combining two separate actions of Marozzo’s that primarily differ in measure. For those of you who want to follow along at home, the first part of Cap. 94 and Cap. 95. The sword action in the first is a false edge cut to the face followed by a vertical cut. The action in the second is a false edge blow to the sword followed by a back hand cut to the face.
The handwork follows the same principle in both cases…lead with the false edge to create an opening…and follows up with an appropriate variation. Not technically complex. The chief difference between each technique is in the footwork. The first action uses just a simple advance with the right foot, the second starts with a passing step from the left foot. The implied difference is measure.
The challenge to the students, after a few basic reps to get the mechanics down, was to try and find the right place to apply each technique. Given the real opponent in front of you, can you expect them to close measure, or retreat? What are your actions going to be? What effective measure will that result in, and given that understanding, which of the two techniques is the appropriate one to use? And once that understanding is in place, how exactly do you want to use the sword? It’s possible to execute the actions correctly with a very in-line, Capoferro-ish attack as well as it is with full shoulder sweeping cuts. Depends on you, your sword, your opponent. You need to know yourself first, and then learn how you must adapt that to the particular opponent. So first we did an easy static drill, then a harder drill with an opponent who moves and reacts. And the night always ends with sparring, and I want to see students try the drill out for real.
Things get more complex when we try to work in Marozzo’s suggested follow up for the passing attack. We can all see how a strike to the head from the defender seems like the most obvious shot…but we are supposed to counter that with a retreat of the right leg and a cut to the enemies leg? In my usual teaching method, I explained to the goal to the students and let them come up with their own solutions. Genius ensued, if not historical accuracy. Those of us with a little room to manoeuver learned to start using more angled footwork, using agility and subtlety to pivot around. Those who could not, due to the constraints of the room, found another solution by rapidly withdrawing the right leg and successfully dodging under the attack, countering with lovely cuts from a very low lunge position.
We’ll go back to this drill Thursday, and see what further work we can do. We’ll also work with some of the more challenging things Marozzo talks about. He says when we have the left leg forward, we can defend against a thrust with a strong step to the right and reply with a thrust of our own to the side of the attacker. I can imagine it easily…but when I’m facing an aggressive competitor? I tried it a little in sparring time last class, and it seemed pretty damned freaky. I couldn’t pull it off.
Maybe the students will find a working solution next class…