Sunday, April 13, 2014

di Grassi - Of Sword and Buckler, Square Target and Round Target - from the second part


This is a transcription from the second part of di Grassi's (1595) His True Art of Defense. No spelling, punctuation, or grammar has been altered in any way. The only difference is the formatting which has changed due to the difference in width in the original text as compared to the transcription. This has been posted as a public service, anyone who would be interested in a more convenient version is free to contact me with regard to this.



Of Sword and buckler, ſquare Target and round Target.

            Being of opinion that as touching deceite, there is but one conſideration to be had of all theſe weapons, and for becauſe all the difference which may be between them is laide downe and declared in the true arte, in the conſideration of the forme of each of them: Therefore I am willing rather to reſtraine my ſelfe, then to indeuoure to fill the leafe with the idle repetition of one thing twice.
            All theis three weapons ought to be borne in the fiſt, the arme ſtretched out forwardes, and this is euidently ſeene in the ſquare Target and buckler: the round Target alſo, becauſe by reaſon of his greatnes and waight, it may not be holden in the onelie fiſt, & forwarde, in which kind of holding, it would warde much more is borne on the arme, being ſtretched foorth with the fiſt forwardes, which is in manner all one, or the ſelfeſame. Therefore one may falſe as much with the one as with the other, conſidering there is no other falſe vſed with them then to diſcouer and frame diuers wards, bering no reſpect to any aduantage. And yet there is this difference betweene them, that with the round Target, one may eaſely warde both edgeblowes and thruſtes, and with the ſquare Target, better than with any other, he may warde edgeblowes, becauſe it is of ſquare forme: and the edge of the ſword may eaſely be retained with the ſtreight ſide thereof, which is not ſo eaſely done with the buckler: for ouer and beſides the warding of thruſtes, the buckler is not ſo ſure of itſelf, but requireth aide of the ſworde. Edge-blowes alſo when they come a thwart (for in that caſe, they incounter the circumference thereof: the which if it chaunce, the ſword not to encounter on the diameter, or halfe, in which place the ſword is onelie ſtaied, but doth encounter it, either beneath, either aboue the ſaide diameter (maie eaſelie ſlippe and ſtrike either the heade or thighs: therefore let euerie man take heede and remember, that in ſtriking at the buckler, either with the poynte or edge of the ſword, he deliuer it croſſing or a thwarte.
            As concerning the falſes and deceites, which may be vſed in the handling of theis weapons, as at the ſingle ſworde, they are infinite, ſo at theis weapons they are much more, if the number of infinite may be exceded. For beſides, that with the ſword one may falſe a thruſt, an edgeblowe, on high, a lowe, within, without, and frame diuers other vnorderlie wardes, There remaineth one deceite or falſe properlie belõging vnto theis, which is, to beare the bukler, ſquar Target, or round Target, wide from the bodie, and therewithall to diſcouer himſelfe, to the end the enimie may be hindred, and loſe time in ſtriking, being therewithal ſure & nimble to defend himſelfe & offẽd the enimie. And this he may practiſe in euerie ward, but more eaſelie with the ſquare Target than with the other two, becauſe it is bigge and large inough, & may eaſelie encounter and find the enimies when in commeth ſtriking: but this happeneth not in the rounde Target, becauſe his forme is circuler, neither in the buckler, becauſe, beſides his roundnes, it is alſo ſmall: by meanes of which two things, blowes are very hardly encountred except a man be very much exerciſed in the handling thereof. And becauſe there are two weapons, the one of offence, and the other of defence: it is to be conſidered, that when by meanes of a falſe thruſt or edgeblowe, the enimies round Target, ſquare Target or buckler, is onely bound to his warde, and his ſword remaines free and at libertie, one reſolue not himſelfe to ſtrike immediatly after the falced thruſt, for then he may verie eaſelie be hurt by the enimies ſword. Therefore let him remember for the moſt parte, to falſe ſuch thruſtes, againſt the which, beſides the weapon of defence, the ſword be alſo bound to his warde, or elſe to falſe edgeblowes from the knee downewards: for ſeeing the round target, or any of the other two, may not be vſed in that place, of force the ſword muſt be there placed at his defence, which as ſoone as it is found, and thereby enſured that it may do no hurte, a man may then ſtep forwardes, and deliuer ſuch a blowe as he beſt may without daunger.

An Aduertiſment concerning the defences of the falſe of the round Target.

            Everie time that one vſeth to falſe with round Target, ſquare Target, and buckler, or as I may better ſaie, with the ſword accompanied with them, he falſeth either an edge-blowe, either a thruſt, either leaueth ſome parte of the bodie before diſcouered. Againſt all the falces of the edge, which come from the knee vpwards, the round Target or any of the reſt, muſt be oppreſſed, and then ſuddenly vnder them a thruſt be deliuered, againſt that parte which is moſt diſarmed. But if blowed come from the knee downwardes, they of force muſt be encountred with the ſword, and alwaies with the falſe, or backe edge thereof, whether that the blowe be right or reuerſed: & therewithall the enimies legge muſt be cutt with the edge prepared without mouing either the feete or bodie. And this manner of ſtriking is ſo ſhorte that it ſafely ſpedeth. Moreouer, all thruſts and other edgeblowes, aſwell high as lowe may, naie rather ought to be warded, by accompaning the target or other weapon of defence with the ſword, whoſe poynt would be bent towards the enimie, & as ſoone as the enimies ſword is encountred, if it be done with the falſe edge of the ſword, there is no other to be done, then to cut his face or legges.
            But if the ſword be encountred with the right edge then if he would ſtrik with the edge, he muſt of force firſt turne his hand and ſo cute. And this manner of ſtriking and defending, doth properlie belong vnto the round Target, ſquare Target and buckler, and all other waies are but vaine and to ſmall purpoſe: for to encounter firſt and then to ſtrike, cauſeth a man to finde himſelfe either within the enimies Target or ſword, by which meanes he may eaſelie ſtrike, before either the ſword or Target may warde againe.
            But if any man aske why this kind of blowe carrieth ſmall force, and is but weake? I aunſwer, true it is, the blowe is but weake, if it were deliuered with an axe or a hatchet, which as they ſaie, haue but ſhort edges, and maketh but one kind of blowe, but if it be deliuered with a good ſword in the foreſaide manner, becauſe it beareth a long edge, it doth commodiouſly cut, as ſoone as the edge hath founde the enimies ſword, and eſpecially in thoſe partes of the bodie which are fleſhy and full of ſinnowes. Therefore ſpeaking of deceite or falſing, a man muſt alwaies with the ſword and round Target and ſuch like, goe and encounter the enimies blowes, being accompanied to gether. And as ſoone as he hath found the enimies ſword, he ſhall within it, cute either the face or the legges, without any farthar recouerie of his ſword, to the intent to deliuer either thruſtes, or greater edgeblowes: for if one would both defende and ſtrike togeither, this the moſt ſhorte waie that is.

            But when the enimie diſcouereth ſome parte of his bodie, thereby prouoking his aduerſary to ſtrike, and then would beate off the blowe and ſtrike withall: in this caſe, either a man muſt not ſtrike if he perceue not that his ſword is more neare the enimy, then his owne Target is to the enimies ſword, or elſe if he ſtrik and be further off, he muſtrecouer his ſword & void the enimies blowe, ſtriking comodiouſly ether aboue ether ſome wher els. And it is a very eaſie matter to loſe much time, for the Target and ſuch like are heauie, and if theſe motions meete with no obiect or ſteye, they paſſe beyond their ſtrength. But if it ſo happen or chaunce, as I haue before ſaide, that a man findes himſelfe more neare to hurte the enimie, then the enimie is readie to defend himſelfe, then he muſt not falſe a blow firſt, & then recouer his ſword, but ſtrik & driue it home at the firſt, as reſolutlie & as nimblie as he may poſsiblie: & this maner of ſtriking pertaineth rather to true art then to deceit or falſing.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

What is a Ward?


I suspect that this is going to be rather short, but I think it will supply some useful information of interest. The question would seem to have a relatively simple answer, however there is some contention with regard to the use of terms here, and it is this which will be discussed in the following. I am going to be horribly biased with regard to this and focus on the use of the single sword in this discussion.

A ward is a position from which an attack or defense is launched. I think this is the best definition of what a ward is that I can find. A more in-depth definition of this would also include that this is a position which the combatant moves through from one action to another. What this means is that a set of actions might look like this: Ward - attack - ward - defense - ward - attack, and so forth. What is important is this is not a "guard".

A guard is a position in which one line is closed, thus the fencer is defended along that line due to being in that position, not requiring movement. The guard "Invitation to Sixte" protects the high outside line due to its position. If an attack is launched at the fencer along the high outside line the fencer does not have to move in order to defend himself. This is a guard, a ward does not do this in most instances.

The Low Ward, or Terza, is the favourite ward of many of the fencing masters and theorists due to its simple application in offense and defense. From this position it is convenient to parry to defend any line and also make attacks along any line that the combatant may want to. However an attack must be defended, and it must be defended by some action made by the combatant. This is not a guard, it is a ward. The defense must be made it is not already set by the position adopted.

While many may use the terms "ward" and "guard" together in order to describe the same thing, or even the same position, they are not the same. There is a clear difference as to what a true ward is and what a true guard is, and they are not the same. The swordsman should realise which he has adopted when he is facing his opponent, this can make a large difference. In a true guard he is defended along a single line due to his position. In a true ward it is a position from which an attack or defense is launched.



Thursday, February 13, 2014

Martial Art Versus Martial Sport


Regardless of the organisation, regardless of the weapon we use, at some point in time we need to sit back and have a look at what we are doing. We need to do this with a critical eye. Unfortunately as we become attached to a certain way of doing things in a certain group, we tend to become blind to alternatives which are just as valid, or in some instances even more valid than our own. This does not mean that we should change groups every time we find this, but we should at least look at what we are doing and with a critical eye. The purpose of this article is to ask question of whether that form of combat we are involved in is a "martial art" or a "martial sport". Both have their valid forms, but as stated we need to look at what we are doing with a critical eye in order to find the truth.

The first question to look at and one which will come up again and again is the question of consequences. In their original form the weapons and techniques used have and inherent lethality to them and the consequences for failure were for the most part dire. The presence of this level of threat, whether inferred or real is an important part of the form of combat. In the comparison between the martial art and the martial sport, this is a good place to start. In the martial sport, there are really little consequence for being struck, a combatant is struck, a point is awarded and the combatants re-start until a time limit is reached or one combatant scores a certain amount of points. This form is found in its extreme form in sport fencing. In the martial art, there are consequences present for the combatant who is struck, these are mostly simulated due to the nature of the real weapons, but are still present. A combatant who is struck with a lethal blow is considered killed, a strike to a limb results in the limb being useless for at least the rest of the bout.

In the further discussion of the idea of consequences in the combat, there is the question of the double-kill. Two combatants strike one another with equally lethal blows, what happens as a result of this determines the difference between the martial art and the martial sport. In the sport version both combatants are awarded on point each or zero points, the combatants then re-set and then continue the bout. In the martial art, both combatants are considered "dead" and the bout is ended with a loss recorded for both combatants. There is no reward and definite consequences for both combatants striking and failing to consider their defense.

Another place where the martial art and the martial sport differ is in the purpose of the pursuit. This is the reason behind what is going on in the activity. In the martial sport the reason is the results of competition, the hits, kills or wins in these competitions, besting opponents. In the martial art there is a more holistic approach to the pursuit, the lethal intent of the art is appreciated, and it is the skills which are taught which are the source of achievement. Most swordsmen like to cross blades with one another to test their skill against another person. It is the manner and purpose of this encounter which is the important factor, is it simple competition against an opponent, or a chance to test your skill and learn from the encounter? This is the important difference.

In the approach to the combat there is also a difference between the martial art and the martial sport. This is most often seen in how the form of combat is taught and what the focus is in the result. In the martial art the best thing is to strike without being struck, defensive skills are the focus of the art with the offense only coming out of a sure offense. In the martial sport as long as you strike the opponent first, it does not matter if the opponent strikes you as well. This has more of the offensive nature placed first where striking the opponent is more important than avoiding being struck.

A real encounter with swords, where there is lethal intent behind their use in the modern world, is unlikely. Bouting is our most common avenue for using our skills. The most important thing to remember here is the purpose behind what we are doing and an appreciation of the martial art and original intent of the art which is what makes the difference between the martial art and the martial sport. The important thing to realise in this situation is that if a person is getting what they want out of a martial sport, then there is nothing wrong with them continuing this pursuit, but they should remember what is behind it, and realise what they are doing. The critical eye is important in all considerations of what we are doing as swordsmen.



Monday, January 13, 2014

Reasons Why I Do Not Do Sport Fencing


I have a fencing history which begins officially back in my late teens. Of course I played with swords when I was a child, however it was only in my late teens and my first adventure to university that anything official happened with regard to this. This first adventure into the world of swordplay was to join my university fencing club, which, of course was teaching sport fencing. Due to leaving the university, I had to stop attending the club, however after sometime, and finding other areas of swordplay I decided I did not want to go back. This entry discusses the reasons for this.

Now, admittedly my adventure into this form of fencing was not long, relatively. So, there will be those that this was not a real investment or investigation into the art of fencing. However, from what I have seen as it is presented both in the media, but also as it is presented by those who promote this particular art, I believe that my reasons for not coming back or taking it up were well-founded.

The first area I would like to highlight in this particular explanation of my choice is, aims. It would seem that to strike the opponent is the primary aim of what happens in sport fencing. In no place is this more emphasised that in epee where the difference between a "hit" and a "non-hit" is something in the vicinity of 0.25 of a second. The idea of avoiding being struck in the process of striking the opponent seems to have been lost as long as your hit scores first. This seems to go against everything I know and feel about fencing. My belief is that you should be seeking to strike while not being struck yourself, or maybe my focus is a little off.

What has been discussed above focuses on the essential principle of fencing being that it is to defend yourself first and then to strike the opponent. This is the primary principle of fencing and it seems to have been pushed aside for "as long as you strike your opponent first". I will be examining this concept a little further later on with regard to another concept and reason. The principles of fencing seem to be something which are taught to beginners and then pushed aside. The other principle which is most evidently lost is the principle of distance and knowing it. In many pictures of fencers, they are standing on one another's toes, much too close. It would seem then rather than re-adjusting distance the idea is to contort arms etc in order to strike the opponent. If this foundation principle seems to be missing, what else could be?

My next point that I would raise can be described in one word, "ugly". This comprises two areas. The first I have dealt with a little and that is the "anything for a hit" concept. This bothers me a lot as it allows a lot into the "game" which would seem not to fit into an art which was once practiced by gentlemen and ladies. The idea allows a fencer to perform whatever action he can in order to lay his point or edge on to the opponent, rather than sticking with the forms and functions of the weapon which he is using, which leads to the second area "form".

In manuals we see pictures of fencers upright and standing with arms extended. In lessons we see the same things being taught to beginners. It would seem, however, that once you become more advanced this all goes out the window. A person investigates fencing and is confronted with pictures of bodies twisted in horrible angles in order to strike their opponent. We see fencers airborne and twisting in order to avoid being struck while at the same time attempting to strike the opponent. The form and function of the actions seems to have been lost by those who practice this art, and most often it is these pictures which newer sport fencers emulate as they are usually pictures of those at the top of their game. This ugliness is not what the art is about for me.

Sport fencing has truly gone into the realms of sport and has left combat behind. The original purpose of the weapons which are being used has been lost along with the realisation of the weapons and the effects of them which were found in the originals. When swords were sharp and men fought with them in the infancy of fencing, a double-hit meant that both combatants were dead, regardless of what time passed between on hit and the other. This is something which I have alluded to in one of my previous statements. The issue of the double-hit has been indicated, but the effect of the single or double hit seems to be absent in the minds of sport fencers. The lethality of the weapon has faded from significance.

The foil is seen as a premiere weapon of the sport fencing world. It is seen as the expression of form and function in fencing, and taught right it is. However, as a weapon, it is a mere practice item. The history of the weapons and their practice has been lost. The rules for the use of the foil, and indeed the weapon itself, came about for safety reasons. The idea of priority was to stop students stabbing one another simultaneously and also to emphasise defense. The idea of taking the head "off-target" was in order that students would not die from being struck in the head. The weapon was made light so that it could be used for an extended period of time so that students could have the time to learn with it without their arms getting too sore. Hence, the height of the art of fencing has come from a practice item.

The reasons which I have given are those which have prompted me to stay doing what I am doing. Should the opportunity come for me to investigate "classical fencing" there is a good chance that I will have a look at it as it would seem that these principles are still present. We must all examine exactly what we are doing and find out the reasons why we continue with what we are doing. For myself, I prefer historical weapons which, in some form represent their historical predecessors and are used in a form which at least closely recreates them as they were used in the past. For me, the principles of the art must be present and some idea about the weapon which is being used and its potential for damage. These are principles which should underlie any good swordsmanship.



Friday, December 13, 2013

What is a Master?


There have been questions with regard to the idea of the "master" and "mastery" floating around the internet in various forms for months. Being that I post quite a bit here about fencing and I am known by some, I thought it was time that I set the record straight as to what I think of the concept. Hopefully I will also be able to address some of the mysteries of this word and some of the ideas surrounding it, at least from my point of view. Please remember as you read that this is my own point of view.

Myself as a "Master"

In some circles I am referred to as a "master" of what I do. I thought that it would be most useful to address my own position before discussing a more general pattern and thought process. In my particular case there are two times where I might be referred to by the title master. It will be noted that in each circumstance these are with regard to a specific field of expertise and are specific to the setting in which they are found. Neither has any claims of anything more grand or over-reaching.

The first title of "master" is within the Lochac Royal Guild of Defense, and this is as a Guildmaster, or Guild Master as the case may be. This is a teaching organisation formed within Australia as part of the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) in which each rank is tested. This rank is an accepted level of competence in western martial arts, and more so as an established teacher and researcher of western martial arts. The important part here is that it points these individuals out as teachers, not necessarily as great fencers, even though each is in their own particular way in their own particular right. This title is for the most part only recognised within the SCA, and in many ways only in Australia.

In the second instance of the use of the title of "master" it is Master of the School of Historical Defense Arts (SHDA). This is a title adopted for the school to denote the highest rank in the school, and as an administrative title which could be easily replaced with President or Chairman or similar things. For the most part, however this is to indicate the head trainer of the school and in many ways I get tempted to replace it with a more Elizabethan title in "Schole Maister" in order to be specific as to what the title means. It means that I am the highest rank teacher in the school. Once again no claims of anything but being a teacher and researcher.

You will notice that in both instances the words "teacher" and "researcher" are present with regard to the title of "master" in both instances. I think that this is vital. I know I have much to learn, and I am extremely happy about this. Every practitioner should and must keep learning for many reasons, the main answer for all of them is that it is better for the practitioner and also better for others who the practitioner comes into contact with. I make no claims with regards to my titles other than those which have been presented here, and I am quite happy to discuss this if anyone is interested.

"The Master"

Hopefully in this part of the discussion I may be able to shed some light on what it means to be a "master" of western martial arts. As far as I am concerned the following statement is accurate: A Master is a researcher and teacher. A Master  is not necessarily the most excellent fencer in the world. Therefore the creation of a master in the community of western martial artists is an excellent thing. But this gives little explanation.

In the thoughts of the "general public" a master is an unbeatable, mysterious teacher, a possessor of mystic arts only passed on to dedicated and appropriate students. This is more related to martial arts movies than real expectations. This is one which has been crossed over due to many Eastern Martial Arts movies and even the Star Wars franchise. In these instances people who are referred to as "master" possess mystical martial and other skills and abilities not possessed by normal people.

The title of mastery states an expectation of a certain level of skill at teaching and also period of learning and teaching, nothing more. This is an expectation of time spent engaging with weapons, learning from manuals, researching forms and many hours of practice. It does not state any mystical ability, aside from the ability to pass on the skills of the weapons to others, which is a powerful ability indeed.

There are some western martial arts organisations which shy away from the idea of the title master in order to avoid the entire process. I think that this is foolish. These organisations have accepted levels, as above for mastery and every other level. If you are the head teacher and/or administrator of a martial arts group with a school-ish approach to learning and skill levels, why should you not claim the title? The attainment of this level does not imply any ability to sit back and finish your learning, but encourages you to continue in order that you can pass on more to your students.

How is it a bad thing to create a "master" if the level is pointed toward the teaching aspect? This merely recognises more teachers within the community, and more opportunity for students to learn and learn more. The possession of the title of "master" should encourage someone to do more rather than less, to learn more in order to keep ahead of students, and in order to teach the students more in order that they can be come better at their art. So some organisation creates a "master", how does it affect us anyway? If not over-reaching organisation? If not applicable organisation? If no expectations present? The only time a person should be concerned is where this organisation has the ability to affect what you do or what your school does.

The USFCA has created an historical martial arts mastery qualification. Firstly I live in Australia, so it does not affect me other than demonstrate a forward-looking approach and an attempt to create some pedagogy for western martial arts. Secondly I am not a member which is in any way affiliated with the USFCA, so it does not affect me. As far as I can see, so long as it is bestowed for continued and continuing teaching and researching it cannot be a bad thing.

Take a step back. Do some research. Have a look at what mastery means to you. Have a look at what becoming a master means to you. These are important questions that every western martial artist should look at. We as western martial artists need to stand up for teaching and research and things which encourage them. We should stand up for aspects which encourage pedagogical approaches to learning western martial arts. If this means making masters, based on demonstrated progression in a pedagogical sense, in organisations, then that is what we need to do. In my particular case as long as "masters" are created within the western martial arts community in order to promote the art, and they are given to people with demonstrated teaching and research I can not see it being a bad thing.



Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Saviolo's Weapons


I took it upon myself to examine the depictions given by Vincentio Saviolo, or at least his artist, of the two combatants and their weapons in order that I might discern the length of the weapons though proper by Saviolo for the practice of his art. While Saviolo gives no indication of the length of his weapons in his text, nor gives any particular preference to the length of the weapon desired by him, the depiction of the weapons gives some idea of what these weapons should be like. The following details the short bit of research that I embarked upon in the search for the weapons of Saviolo.

The first question is why? Or more to the point, why bother? To this I answer that having some idea of the length of the weapons is useful due to the effect which the length of a weapon has upon the combat in which it is involved. Clearly a weapon's make-up will have an effect on the combat. Weapons designed for cutting thrust less well, and vice versa. Thus gaining some idea of the length of the weapons in Saviolo will assist in the understanding of his combat, along with the proportion of the weapon to the user, which also has an effect.

What needs to be noted and accepted is that there are some inaccuracies that need to be taken into account. These inaccuracies will become apparent because of the method used and also some of the data collected from external sources. However, even with these factors the results of this examination are useful as it will give at least an approximate answer to the question.

First of all the "average" height of a male of the Renaissance period was researched in order to give some way to transfer the data from the page and into a "real world" setting. By the research performed on this particular subject the average height was established at approximately 5'5" or approximately 165-cm. The second part was to decide on what images to use to gain the data. So four images were selected, the first four given in the manual. Thus there is the depiction of the three single rapier and one from rapier and dagger. With this information gained it was then possible to start examining the images.

All of the images were scaled so that they were all from a common source. These images were then placed upon the screen and measurements taken of the height of the individual, the length of their sword arm, and the length of the weapons. Clearly using a ruler and measuring them off the screen would result in some inaccuracies, and some differences in the measurements given. As a result averages were made across the data. Not to mention any inaccuracies of the artist who produced the images.

The result of the averaging gave some single numbers to generally reflect the height of the individuals depicted, the lengths of their sword arms, and the lengths of their weapons. In order to bring these measurements into the real world, the average height was measured to the "real world" average height. The result of this calculation resulted in an average height in the real world and a multiplication factor to be applied to the average lengths of arms and weapons.

Assuming that the images depict and individual of average height, the swords depicted in the images have a total length of 118-cm or 46", with a blade length of 104-cm or 41". The total dagger length was 43-cm or 17", with a blade length of 30-cm or 12". Further, due to the calculations given, proportions of weapon to height and weapon to arm length are also possible. The sword was approximately twice the length of the arm, measured from shoulder to wrist, and approximately 70% of the height of the person.

I will in no way claim that these are the definitive answers to either weapon length or proportion to the individual as preferred by Saviolo, nor will I claim that these are the lengths of weapons used in his art. However, they are useful as an experiment as they do give us some idea of the length of weapons used in the period. This alone is useful as it allows us to tailor our weapons to a length which is more appropriate to the art which is being performed. Of course averages could have been taken from sword data, however, swords are very personal things and each person will have their preference, thus the variations would have been much wilder. Further investigation is required in this particular matter, however, the information presented is useful in giving a "ball park" and encouraging the use of weapons of an appropriate length for the art being performed.



Sunday, October 13, 2013

Rapier and Cloak - A Bluffer's Guide


            While there will be reference to three manuals of the Renaissance period, this investigation is more of an introduction to the use of the cloak, based on the general principles found in these manuals. This is designed to give you and understanding of how the cloak operates so that you are able to use it in a competent fashion. More specific lessons on particular masters are of benefit to study however having a foundation in the use of the cloak will make these more in-depth lessons more useful.
            The rapier and cloak combination is one of the more difficult to use, but it can also be one of the most satisfying if performed correctly. There is an inherent amount of flair in the use of the cloak due to the nature of the combination, and much care needs to be applied in its use. There are those who do not like this particular combination and those who like it very much. This is up to personal preference. As with other combinations, there is much, which can be said about it, from the holding of the cloak, to its use.

Source Material

            The source material which is presented in this discussion uses as close to primary materials as possible. Issues with regard to this particular element of the discussion will be noted below in the bibliographic discussion. Further to this these primary materials will be in a distilled form, extracting the most important parts from each and using this as the framework upon which the investigation is based.
            This examination focusses on three masters works with regard to their use of the sword and rotella. Chronologically they are Agrippa’s Trattato di Scientia d’Arme of 1553, Di Grassi’s His True Art of Defence of 1594, and finally Capo Ferro’s Gran Simulacro dell’arte e dell’uso della Scherma of 1610. Most of the information found in these manuals is from the point of view of matched weapons i.e. sword and cloak versus sword and cloak, but the information found within can also be applied to other situations with a little modification. The best and most in-depth discussion comes from di Grassi. The other two give basic instruction and ideas about how to use the cloak.

Bibliographical Issues

            In the study of the sword and cloak there are some bibliographical issues that need to be taken into account before any real study can be achieved. One of the first things is with regard to the weapon, the second with the device in the other hand, and lastly there is a language issue that needs to be taken into account. These need to be addressed in some fashion before a real study can take place.
            First of all is the language. Of the four manuals which have been used for this investigation only one of these is written in English, that of Di Grassi’s 1594 manual. Even that is actually a translation of the 1570 Italian manual of the same name. All of the others have been translated from Italian to English in the modern period, by some very knowledgeable people admittedly, but there is still the interference of the translation of the language to take into account.
            Further to this language issue, and directly related is the names of the devices being used, the sword and the rotella. Often “spada” in Renaissance manuals is translated as “rapier” where in actual fact it simply means “sword”. This investigation is more focused on the use of the rapier and cloak and as such the words "sword" or “rapier” will be used in reference to the weapon used.
            As for the cloak itself, there is some discussion and confusion as to whether it is more appropriately called a cape or cloak. The Italian manuals use the word “cappa” while di Grassi uses “cloak”, in various spellings. In some ways this is a question of the object itself rather than a bibliographic issue, as is presented below. For the purposes of this investigation the generic “cloak” will be used.

Cloak or Cape?

            There are many different types of cloak and cape, depending on size, weight and construction, and the choices between these will be of a personal nature. The main difference between a cloak and a cape is the size, the cloak being larger. A larger cloak will protect more, but it will be heavier and easier to entangle. A smaller cloak will protect less, but will be lighter and move faster. In general the item will be called a cloak for convenience.
The cloak should be constructed of a material which will resist tearing but should also be light enough that it can still be used. The use of the cloak should be considered in its construction. It is advised that cloaks of various constructions and sizes be used before one is constructed in order to figure out which will suit you the best. The masters do not actually describe the size or construction of the cloak and thus it must be inferred from images or what they write. There is an equal chance that they could be talking about a cape or a cloak. Simple advice dictates that the best cloak to use for the techniques of the master is one which is appropriate to them and also appropriate to you.

Holding the Cloak

            The cloak may typically be held in one of three different ways, wrapped around the arm, draped over the arm, or held in the hand. Each one of these has advantages and disadvantages, which need to be considered. Wrapping the cloak around the arm will allow for the greatest control, but will limit the range and agility of the cloak. Draping the cloak over the arm will allow for a similar amount of control as wrapping, but will give the cloak more range and agility. Holding the cloak in the hand, gives the cloak the best range and agility, but the least amount of control, it is also the easiest to move the cloak from one position to another by this method, and also to throw the cloak.
            The choice of how the cloak is held will determine what is possible. Rather than focusing on a single method of use a more broad approach will be used. The cloak, as instructed by di Grassi may be wrapped about the arm, held in the hand or even simply placed folded over the arm. This allows more utility in the use of the cloak rather than restricting it. The best thing to do is to hold the cloak however is most suitable for what you want to do with it at the time.


            Just as the method of holding the cloak will determine what is possible with it, so too will the ward play a part. The position of both the cloak and rapier will determine what you are able to do with both of them and what sort of access you have to both offensive and defensive actions. In order to gain an appreciation for the options available it is useful to examine what the Renaissance masters had to say about the ward.
            Agrippa has his cloak wrapped around the hand, and also used in combination with the dagger. The cloak is kept low and the rapier adopts a high or low position. He also depicts taking the cloak off the shoulder and shows it to be about thigh length. This depiction of the cloak is useful for sizing as to usage. Both the sword and cloak are placed in a terza position and centralised.
            Giacomo di Grassi depicts only one ward but describes three wards in his text. Each one of the wards moves the position of the weapon rather than the position of the cloak, depending on the ward. The cloak however is positioned extended from the body, but also with the arm bent in order to cover the body with the position of the cloak for all of the wards. This extended position is similar to that shown by Agrippa, Capo Ferro’s ward is in a similar position.
Capo Ferro places the cloak at the same level, with the cloak draped over the arm, with it extended or retracted. Either the cloak or the rapier may be retracted depending on which item would be used to catch the opponent’s blade. The change in position will allow the combatant to change easily between the two items. Having both extended could lead to entrapment of both rapier and cloak, but gives the opportunity to use both easily. Draping the cloak makes the cloak freer to move than being wrapped, but still will limit its movement. This will also still retain some of the control of the wrapped method.
The common element in all the wards is the position of the cloak. For the most part it is extended. However there are also wards where the cloak is more withdrawn. This is determined by what the ward is most suitable for and how the cloak is likely to be utilised. The position of the weapon is commonly placed in terza, a good central position with access to variations in attack and defense. It is an advantage to change the ward to suit the situation, and thus it is advised that the wards demonstrated as well as others are examined and utilised.


            With regard to defense there are all of the usual options, plus a couple which are unique to this combination. Obviously there is the void, footwork and the sword parry, as with any other use of the rapier. For the cloak and rapier you add the parry with the cloak and also the parry with the combination of cloak and rapier.
            For the most part the masters advise that the parry with the cloak is most suitable for any attack which is below the shoulder as lifting the cloak to defend the head will obscure vision. There are a couple of instances where the cloak is used higher than the shoulder but these are usually exception rather than the rule. In these instances the sword is used to parry, and as is described by Capo Ferro the use of the guardia di testa, or head guard, may also be used to defend the head.
            Clearly where the cloak is used as a defense, the position of the sword should be considered in order not to entrap it along with the opponent’s weapon. Those times where the cloak and rapier are used together it is the cloak which is the primary parry while the rapier supports the defense. In this way the sword can then be withdrawn and used for the counter-attack.
            In using the cloak defensively, wait for the opponent to attack and then use the cloak to block or deflect the opponent’s attack. The weight of the cloak should be focused on the debole of their weapon. The motion should be a sweeping one, away from the body. The cloak can also be used to deflect the opponent’s blade. This should be done with either the loose part of the cloak or the part, which is over the hand. The cloak will take time to move and it needs to be done correctly so that the blade of the opponent is collected with the maximum amount of weight behind it. Once again the aim should be contact with the debole as primary. The cloak will require a lot of practice to use.
            Practice with the cloak alone in parrying first to understand and feel how the cloak will move and how much time it will take to move. Practice with the cloak in all of the different methods, wrapped, draped and held in the hand. Once it is easy to move the cloak, then the rapier should be added, ensure that the rapier is not entangled when parrying otherwise this will cause a lot of problems.


            Clearly the best offensive actions with this combination are made with the rapier. These attacks are all the same as found with any other combination. However it should also be noted that there are offensive actions which can be made with the cloak. The actions of the cloak are most often used to enhance the attack with the rapier which follows immediately behind it.
            In the use of the sword when used in combination with the cloak, you should make sure that the cloak is clear of the line of attack in order that it does not become entangled. For the most part the best attacks made in combination with the cloak are also made with a forward motion of the feet in order to clear the cloak. An attack can easily be fouled by the bad positioning of the cloak when the attack is made.
The most dramatic use of the cloak is when it is thrown. This is mostly made against the opponent, either directly against them or against their weapon. This action is designed to entangle either the opponent or their weapon in order to allow an attack with the weapon to be more effective. The throwing of the cloak is something which requires practice in order to gain the target and in order not to foul the weapon. The other offensive actions of the cloak are designed directly against the weapon and thus will be discussed in the next section.


            With little surprise all the actions of the sword alone may also be used when the cloak is also being used. Being that these are discussed with regard to the single weapon these will not be detailed here. However what will be discussed are those actions of the cloak which may be used which involve the use of engagement of the opponent’s blade.
            While the throwing of the cloak, as indicated above is the most dramatic action of the cloak, there are others which can also be performed. The cloak can be used to beat the opponent’s weapon off-line to allow for an attack. The ideal for this is the same as the beat performed with the sword. The weight of the cloak makes this particularly effective however the action can be quite slow and can leave you vulnerable, thus must be performed at the correct time.
            Simple forms of blade engagement may also be performed with the cloak. Stringere is possible with the cloak allowing for an attack with the rapier to follow it. Likewise it is important that the cloak be directed against the debole of the opponent’s weapon in order to be most effective. In this way the cloak can be used like a gauntlet as it has the advantage that the hand is safe from being cut through it.


            The rapier and cloak form is a complex combination, and is one, which will require a great deal of time and practice to perfect. This combination can be used to great effect, and against any other weapon form. The combatant should learn to use each method of using the cloak, and then learn how to counter them so that both sides of the rapier and cloak are understood. The cloak is a great entangling combination, but must be used properly otherwise this effect can quite easily backfire on the combatant, and leave them with no defense. Practice and learn with the cloak and it can become one of the most thrilling and satisfying weapon forms.
            The lesson which has been presented will give the basic attributes of how the rapier and cloak are used in combination. This has merely scratched the surface of the many possibilities in the use of the rapier and cloak. While the description above has described direct actions against an opponent while using the cloak, the cloak may also be used as a form of deception and thus its contact with the opponent’s weapon will be incidental, this is another way in which the cloak may be used. More research and experimentation than has been described here is required in order to truly understand the operation of the rapier and cloak.


Agrippa, C. (2009) Fencing: A Renaissance Treatise, Translated by Ken Mondschein, Italica Press, New York, USA

Di Grassi, G. (1594) His True Art of Defence, Temple Barre at the Signe of the Hand and Starre, translated from the 1570 manual by I. G., London, UK

Kirby, J. (2012) Italian Rapier Combat: Ridolfo Capo Ferro, Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK