Monday, April 19, 2021

In Response to Criticisms of "Just Another Fencer"

 Greetings,

I don't usually release a second article before the next month but the previous article Just Another Fencer seems to have caused some contention, at least among some circles. To wit, and in answer to those particular contentions, I present the following:

There is no editor who goes through and reads my posts before I post them. They are all my writings, there is no one else who writes them, just me. I also rarely edit them once they have been posted. I also tend to write about subjects that I feel passionate about, and so write straight from the heart, meaning that there will occasionally be some passionate language which will be present, but also means that they are subjects that I believe in. These are my fencer's ramblings.

Some of my statements in my articles have been accused of being provocative, indeed some of my entire articles have been provocative, I find this to be a good thing. I do not want some passive reader just mulling through my words, I want them to be engaged, I want them to think. Sometimes this requires a little provocation.

Where there is some sort of statement made, there will be an argument and conclusion to back it up. You only need to read further along. To find these arguments and conclusions, you need to read the entire thing, not just skim over the article or you will miss something.

In certain circles, the previous article was claimed, by some parties, to be "mansplaining" and "condescending." This was not my intent. I have the greatest appreciation for the female fencer, indeed of any fencer. It is not an easy skill to use, and that you have chosen to take this up and follow it through, this instantly gains my respect, regardless of your skill level. 

I teach my students as individuals. Yes, there is a certain core set of skills, but even those are modified to suit the individual should they be required. Short, tall, long armed, short armed, slim, not so slim, even with certain disabilities, each one of these will make a difference, and will require some sort of modification to their fencing style. This is how I teach. I have been teaching this way for at least two decades.

There was a claim made that what I meant when talking about the opponent was "just another MALE fencer." It was not what I wrote, so it was not what I meant. I do not take gender characteristics into account. I do not fence female fencers any different than I fight male fencers. Let me be clear. I do not fence female fencers any different than I fight male fencers. 

The only thing that makes any difference is their skill level, and how they fence. I will be cautious with all opponents at first until I have had time to read my opponent, and see what they do. Then I will make the decision how I will play my game, but it will have nothing to do with their gender. The game that I play against my opponent is directly in response to the actions the actions that they choose to give me. Again, nothing to do with their gender.

Cheers,

Henry.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Just Another Fencer

Greetings,

With the title of "just another fencer," it could be thought that I would be speaking about a person being left behind or forgotten. This is not the purpose of this article, but it is one of recognition. If you feel that you are "just another fencer" this is something that you need to look at, a problem that you need to solve and ask yourself why you are thinking this way. Some of this article will approach the fencer as an individual and will recognize the individual characteristics of the individual, but this article discusses the question of approach.

The following touches on gender issues in fencing, and somewhat of a personal approach to it, actually it is a different approach in two different circumstances. One of the things that a person will find is that they get treated differently depending on the situation. This will also be dependent on the attitude the pair of individuals take to the situation, as the situation is always two-way street because it is communication. For the moment, at least at the beginning, I will be assuming that both parties are taking a positive attitude to the situation, I may get to different attitudes, who knows, we will see how it goes.

The Female Student

Do I treat my female students differently to my male students? Yes, yes I do. They are different from male students, just as a short student is different from a tall student, from a purely physiological point of view and they also have a different psychological make-up, which means they think differently as well. So, of course, I treat my female students differently to my male students. I did a series of articles about how the female fencer is different. (This is the first one, the second one, and the third one), more to the point, how the female student is different, and how to approach training from that different point of view. If you are a female and a fencer, I humbly recommend you read these. I also recommend that you read these if you are teaching female fencers.

You should not, as a female, try and mold yourself around male patterns of movement. You will find difficulty doing so, it is not going to work for you. You will move differently, you should use these aspects to your advantage. To begin with, your hips are a different shape, so the standard position for the male's hips is likely not going to work, rather than being so angled, you are likely going to want to be more sqaure-on to your opponent. This is just the beginning. Read the articles, and if your trainer/coach/teacher is not modifying things to suit your body-shape, ask them why. The Art is for human beings and so the Art should be molded for the humans not the other way around.

Do I treat my female students differently? Yes, I do. I train them in a way so the skills that I teach them suit their bodies and their make-up, rather than getting them to suit the skills. Where a student is having difficulty with a skill, the cause of the issue needs to be examined. If the student cannot physically perform the action in the prescribed manner then the skill needs to be modified; you don't break something so it will fit in a container, don't do the same to your students. 

When it comes to opponents, this is where things change. 

The Female Opponent

Now I am going to tell you something that shocked an ex-girlfriend of mine. I do not treat female opponents any different to male opponents. If they step out on to the field and present themselves on guard against me then they should be ready to give me their all, and not expect any different treatment from me, just because they are female.

As soon as the opponent has their mask on and they are standing across from me on a tournament field I consider them "anonymous" just another fencer, completely gender-less. Their status as one of my students, or known as a beginner, may hold some sway; this may give me a reason to give them some time, use essential skills, tone down my usual approach, and give them a chance to fence for a while. But it is never because of their gender.

Likewise, I will fence against an opponent as they fence against me. If they decide that all they want to do is go straight to business and move to the rougher end of the stick, so to speak, then they will receive the same response. If they would rather play a longer game to learn more about one another through senso di ferro then I will happily engage with them in kind. We will certainly keep one another honest, but it will be a different engagement to the other. I will play such games with an opponent regardless of their gender.

"The male has superior strength to the female, and the contest can never be equal.

I fence primarily with a rapier and the individual who has to resolve every encounter through the use of strength does not know how to use a rapier properly. I would rather use the blade of my weapon to decide the encounter. I am here to fence, not wrestle. I give the same response to those who think there should be weight categories for rapier combat. Yes, the actions of closes and grips occur during rapier combat, but they should not be the combatant's focus. 

Much of the encounter, and whether or not the two enjoy the encounter, starts with the attitude that the pair take to the match or bout to begin with. If the attitude is positive from both, then it is likely that they will both have a good time and learn something from the encounter. If it is negative from both, then it is likely that there are going to be issues during the encounter, and likely that neither is going to walk away happy with what has occurred. The problem is that if even one of the combatants is negative it can draw the other into a negative space. 

Stay positive about your encounters, enjoy your fencing. Learn something from every encounter you have with every opponent. Treat every opponent with equal respect and courtesy. You will find that if you follow these simple things you will have a much better time. If everyone did, the community would be much improved.

Cheers,

Henry.

There have been some criticisms of this post so I have made a response.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Learn Your Lessons Well

 Greetings,

The idea for this post was sparked by a student of mine, Helen Gilbert. I am writing the post, but the idea and the foundation is all hers. It is something that we should all consider, especially in approaching those parts of lessons, and techniques which we may not enjoy or prefer. The well-rounded fencer always has the advantage.

There are fencers who fight with a quick pace, fast thrusts, moving quickly all of the time.
There are fencers who fight with a slow pace, slow thrusts, moving slowly all of the time.
There are fencers who fight with variable pace, who vary the speed of their thrusts and the speed of their movement.

There are fencers who prefer to fight at distance, preferring to use long thrusts and lunges.
There are fencers who prefer to fight up close, preferring to close with the opponent and cut.
There are fencers who can fight both at distance and up close depending on what the situation requires and what is to their advantage.

In both of the cases which have been described above, the fencer who can vary their speed has the advantage because they can out-pace the slower fencer, and use Time and slowness to defeat the faster fencer. This concerns using Time, and Timing, against the opponent to put them where they are uncomfortable, likewise it does not matter what speed the opponent fences at the same fencer is comfortable at the variable speeds demonstrated. The same can be said for the use of Distance. A fencer who can just as easily fight at distance and close has the advantage over the fencer who prefers one, as they can close on the one who prefers distance and remain at distance from the one who prefers to close.

The same situation can be found with blade engagement where there are those who do not like to use blade engagement, thus prefer Absence of Blade, likewise there are those who rely on the contact of blades in blade engagement. The true advantage lies with the fencer who can use both sets of techniques and can use them to their advantage in the situation that they find themselves in.

Everyone has favourite and favoured techniques and they will use them more often than other techniques. This does not mean they should not be conversant with the other techniques which they do not prefer. The fencer should always learn all of their lessons to the same degree so they can pick and choose, using the technique which is most suitable to the situation at hand, and where they can find an advantage.

There is a rather hefty quote that you can find in Thibault's Academy of the Sword at the beginning of "Chapter Eighteen: On Cuts to the Right Arm" that I will paraphrase, in which he discusses a garden and the diversity of herbs, flowers and other plants in it. He eventually comes to the point, how one must enjoy all the different techniques that fencing has to offer and not focus on particular techniques.

The true fencer is the one who has studied all parts of their art and practised them, so they are familiar with all of their techniques. This way they can use whatever technique is required at the time. A fencer who achieves this can deal with whatever problem the opponent presents to them, and especially whatever preference the opponent presents. This fencer is marked as the most difficult and challenging fencer to face.

Cheers,

Henry.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Read the Whole Thing

 Greetings,

I posted a document in October of last year, which I had been working on for a couple of months. It was a recreation of an Elizabethan political pamphlet, which I spoke about on my blog about Elizabethan English you can find that post here. Now, I did this because I wanted to try writing my own Elizabethan political pamphlet and it gave me the chance to have a play with the language, so it was a bit of fun. The reception was not what I expected.

It was thought that I was decrying the use of rubber-band guns (RBGs) on the rapier melee field in the SCA, complaining about their use. I merely used the subject of firearms and their impact upon  swordsmanship, a very Elizabethan political topic as my focus. I however focused the argument primarily on the unreliability of the weapons and their primary source of ignition, black powder. The issue was that most read the first part of the argument, where the initial complaint was made, and did not bother to read the rest where the argument unfolded. This, unfortunately happens with a lot of texts, and I have not been immune.

When I first was introduced to the rapier and all things about it, I went madly searching about for treatises about their use. Well, back in the late 1990s there was the choice of three manuals: Saviolo, di Grassi and Silver. For my initial starting I started with George Silver. I started to read his Paradoxes of Defence, only to find that the man was decrying the use of rapiers and telling the reader how useless they were and other such opinions. I did not finish reading the treatise in that sitting feeling that there was nothing of use that I could find in his treatise, indeed I almost avoided anything to do with the author. 

Some almost ten years later I circled back to his treatises. Had I read further than I did, in among his complaints about the Italians and their practices, there are actually some gems which are quite useful and I have been using in my training ever since. So for ten years I missed out on useful information because I did not bother reading the whole thing because I thought I knew what he was on about from the first part of his treatise.

Don't fall into the same trap that I did and others often do, don't assume that you know what the author is talking about just by what they have said in their introductory comments. This goes once for modern documents, double for any document which is either not originally written in our language, and triple for any which is not in our time. Arguments were formed differently in different periods. In the pursuit of arms of different periods, or indeed the pursuit of scholarship of anything from a different period this needs to be taken into account. Read the entire thing before you make your opinions about what the author is trying to say, and their evidence.

Scholarly articles in the modern world, have an abstract which give the reader a precis of what the writer will be writing about, describing in very general terms the ideas which will be presented and a very basic idea of the argument. This is not sufficient to know the argument presented. 

Scholarly articles are usually set out with an introduction, body and conclusion. Sometimes these are even given headings so that they are easy to find. When a person is skimming through lots of documents it may be sufficient to read just the introduction and the conclusion, but this only scrapes the surface of what the author is speaking about and what evidence they use to support it. Only the basic idea of the argument is then known.

Only through reading the entire document will the reader understand where the reader is coming from, what data they are using as evidence, and how they are forming their argument. This is the only way that the reader can understand whether the argument is strong enough to be supported or not. The paper may be well-written but the data may be rubbish, and you won't know unless you read the whole thing.

In terms of a novel, would you only read the beginning and the end? No, you want to see what trials the character went through and how they got to the end. This is the same with anything else that you read. If you want to make a decent argument about something you need to read the whole thing. If you don't you will make assumptions about what is in there and your argument will be poor, and it will become obvious that you haven't actually read it.

You never know, you might actually find something of real interest in something that you read that you thought at the beginning was not going to interest you.

Cheers,

Henry.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Rotella: Considerations of Form and Size

 Greetings, 

Considerations of the form and size of our companion items tends to be relegated to secondary discussions. In this discussion there will be a short investigation of the rotella, with these considerations in mind, it will be one of my more formal posts.

Cheers,

Henry.

Abstract

          A fencer needs to consider the size of their companion item as much as their primary weapon. The discussion that follows addresses the size and form of the rotella directing the investigation toward the proportion of the rotella in reference to the individual who uses it. This investigation is derived from extant images from different sources including martial art treatises, to found these ideas in the period in which the rotella was used, and to give the discussion some practical consideration.

Introduction

          When the rotella is considered by many, there is the consideration of a ubiquitous round shield which is used by the combatant to perform various actions. There is rarely any consideration of the form of the rotella or its size. When the form is considered, small things such as its strap configuration and how the combatant holds the rotella make a difference. When size is considered the size of the rotella can determine whether or not the rotella is effective in protecting the combatant who is using it or is too cumbersome for the combatant to use it as effectively as it could be. For the examination of the rotella there will be an examination of images from period eight period pieces, including five treatises from Renaissance martial art treatises. From this it is hoped that a greater understanding of the rotella in its form will be gained.

Historiography

          The first is an image by Bernat Martorell Sant Celoni, from 1452, an altarpiece of Saint Vincent, referred to as MNAC 15797.[1] This piece depicts several armoured individuals, but the one in the foreground is armed with a round shield, so is of great interest to this study. This is the earliest piece and gives a preview of the rotella, rather than its final product.

Chronologically, the next two images come from Marozzo’s treatise of 1536[2] and represent the rotella in its more usual situation, in a civilian context, or the context in which many know it from. What is most interesting is this form is actually more a military than a civilian form intended for use in pike formations, adopted for civilian use. This depicts the rotella as it is more commonly known.

Next are three images which come from Agrippa’s treatise of 1553[3] and present three situations with pairs of combatants in civilian attire combating with sword and rotella. The images are quite clear about the actions and the form of the rotella is quite established by this time. Again it is the civilian use of this form.

Following after this is the first of the images from Giacomo di Grassi’s treatise. First there is the image from his original treatise of 1570.[4] This is from the original treatise. This should not be confused with the later treatise by the same author as this is the translated treatise of 1594.[5] Both depict an individual with arm extended holding a sword in one hand and a rotella in the other, strapped to the arm.

Lovino published his treatise in 1580[6] however the images which were used for this discussion were sourced from a different location.[7] This was to get better images so the detail could be seen more clearly. The rotella which are present in these images are somewhat different to the others which are present in the others which make an interesting difference, even if it is only slight.

An image from the British Museum of an individual standing with a sword and a large round shield was used, the original image made by Jacques de Gheyn II in 1587.[8] This is clearly a military figure with the line of soldiers marching past behind him. It demonstrates that the shield, and sword, had not been completely outmoded on the battlefield, it also gives a good example of a shield of the period.

Next are two images from Capo Ferro’s treatise of 1610,[9] which depict two civilian combatants fighting with rapier and rotella. The rotella are very plain having only the essential details that are required of them for the image to make sense and for their effect to be known. It gives the reader enough of an impression to know what’s going on but not so much to be distracted.

Finally there is a portrait of Alessandro Farnese from 1611.[10] This depicts an interesting round shield with a very large spike on the front of it. The shield is one of the ones which will be made note of in the discussion as it has features which stick out as different from the more standard format, more discussion will be made of its distinct features. The portrait depicts the individual in a military situation, which places the rotella firmly at the cross-roads of civilian and military use as is known of it.

The Form of the Rotella

          The two prime elements of the rotella which have been presented through the examination of the images which have been presented are that the rotella has two straps on the back of it and that it is primarily convex in shape. The first strap is held by the hand and the second strap goes about the arm. The convex shape is important, it is not merely a round, flat shield, the convex shape is important as this shape serves to deflect the incoming blade of the opponent.

          While the face of the shield in MNAC 15797 cannot be seen, from the back of the shield and the shape present, it is likely that this shield is flat. This makes it more likely that it is in fact merely a round shield rather than an actual rotella. It can be seen as the precursor to the rotella as it possesses the other elements found in the later forms of the rotella.

          Later additions such as the shoulder strap seen in the Jacques de Gheyn II example and the portrait of Alessandro Farnese are examples of how the weight of the shield was taken up to relieve the individual who may be carrying the shield for an extended period of time or to move it out of the way, but again, do not appear to be a standard form of the rotella, likewise the spikes seen on both of these examples can likewise be seen as additions to the form rather than standards of the form.

          There is also noted in the di Grassi 1570 and Lovino 1580 examples where the straps seem to be mounted rather than in the middle of the rotella, but slightly lower on the rotella. This may enable the fencer who is using the rotella to more easily be able to protect their head, again this is not a standard form found in all examples. Further on the di Grassi 1594 example the straps seem to be mounted more toward the “back” of the rotella, giving more distance from the hand at the front, pushing the rotella forward. This could be to give the fencer an additional advantage, or it could merely be a mistake in this woodcut example in copying the 1570 during translation to the 1594 edition.

          Further on the location of the straps, some have the strap for the arm located on the forearm, while others have it located in the crook of the elbow. This may be from the artists’ impression or, it may be deliberate to change the effect of using the rotella. All seem to have a similar location for the strap, however which makes this location more likely dependent on the individual who is using the rotella rather than the make of the rotella itself, or by design. Such considerations are important when considering the size of the rotella, especially in proportion to the user.

Size and Proportion of the Rotella

          The size of the rotella, especially in proportion to the user is significant as this determines the best size of rotella for the individual, and will determine such things as how much room there is between the hand and the edge, and also where the second strap sits across the arm. Further the proportion of the rotella to the individual in regard to its size will also determine how effectively an individual will be able to use the rotella, especially considering specific rotella actions. Too large and the combatant will not move it effectively, too small and the rotella will not sufficiently cover the combatant.

          In regard to the size in proportion to the individuals depicted some interesting results have been gained. Five results where the rotella measures from shoulder to the middle of the thigh, six results where the rotella measures from a fist in front of the hand to the mid-bicep, two results where the rotella measures from shoulder to waist, or a little in front of the hand to mid-bicep, and a single result where the rotella measures from the shoulder to the top of the thigh.

          In the images supplied by Agrippa 1553, there is an equivalence gained where the rotella is determined as above the shoulder to mid-thigh, or one fist in front of the hand to about half the bicep, or one fist behind the elbow strap. This could mean that the two highest results could be combined together to form a single result due to the equivalent measurement presented.

          The proportion of the rotella to the fencer is important as it will determine how the fencer can use the rotella. A rotella which is smaller in proportion to the user will move more freely, while a larger one will cover more easily. The fencer has to make a decision about what approach they will be taking, indeed which treatise they are studying and whether the rotella is appropriate in size and proportion to themselves for the actions described.

Conclusion

          The rotella is a most interesting a useful device when used properly. To use it properly the rotella itself has to be of the correct form, strapped correctly, and of the correct proportion to the user. The consideration of what proportion to use will depend on the approach taken, thus the particular treatise which is chosen. Particular attention should be paid to the form and proportion of the rotella which is depicted in the treatise as this will make a difference.

          There have been examples presented of various round shields from the simple round shield in the earliest example to later military examples of shields with extra additions made to them to create different effects in their use. The attempt has been made to cover various different forms so that examples are present of the widest range and the greatest variety. This was to find the proper form and proportion of the rotella. The result was that there was a general idea of what the rotella form was, and a couple of ideas about the proportion, but these are dependent on the use of the rotella as determined by the particular treatise which is being followed.


 

Bibliography

Agrippa, Camillo (1553) Trattato di Scientia d'Arme, con vn Dialogo di Filosofia, https://wiktenauer.com/wiki/Trattato_di_Scientia_d%27Arme,_con_vn_Dialogo_di_Filosofia_(Camillo_Agrippa)

 

Capo Ferro (1610) Gran Simulacro dell'Arte e dell'Uso della Scherma, https://wiktenauer.com/wiki/Ridolfo_Capo_Ferro_da_Cagli

 

de Gheyn II, Jacques (1587) British Museum No: 1864,1114.465, https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_1864-1114-465

 

di Grassi, Giacomo (1570) Ragione di adoprar sicuramente l'Arme, https://wiktenauer.com/wiki/Ragione_di_adoprar_sicuramente_l%27Arme_(Giacomo_di_Grassi)

 

di Grassi, Giacomo (1594) His True Arte of Defense, http://www.umass.edu/renaissance/sites/default/files/assets/renaissance/lord/DiGrassi_1594.pdf

 

Kirby, Jared (ed.) (2004) Italian Rapier Combat: Ridolfo Capo Ferro's 'Gran Simulacro', Greenhill Books, London

 

Lovino, G. A. (1580) Traite d’Escrime http://www.umass.edu/renaissance/sites/default/files/assets/renaissance/lord/Lovino_1580.pdf and https://elegant-weapon.blogspot.com/2016/03/episode-57-rotella.html

 

Marozzo, Achille (1568) Opera Nova, https://www.wiktenauer.com/wiki/Opera_Nova_(Achille_Marozzo)

 

Martorell Sant Celoni, Bernat (1452) Altarpiece of Saint Vincent, Museo Nazionale di Arte della Catalogna - MNAC, Barcellona, MNAC 15797 (Photo by Andrea Carloni (Rimini)), https://www.museunacional.cat/en/colleccio/altarpiece-saint-vincent/bernat-martorell/015797-cjt

 

Mondschein, Ken (ed.) (2009) Fencing: A Renaissance Treatise, Italica Press, New York

 

van Sichem, Christoffel (1611) Portrait of Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma, https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/collection/RP-P-OB-15.608



[1] Bernat Martorell Sant Celoni, 1452 Altarpiece of Saint Vincent, Tempera and gold on wood with gold leaf. Museo Nazionale di Arte della Catalogna - MNAC, Barcellona, MNAC 15797 Photo by Andrea Carloni (Rimini), https://www.museunacional.cat/en/colleccio/altarpiece-saint-vincent/bernat-martorell/015797-cjt

[2] Opera Nova, images are from the coverplates of the 1568 edition, https://www.wiktenauer.com/wiki/Opera_Nova_(Achille_Marozzo)

[3] Trattato di Scientia d'Arme, con vn Dialogo di Filosofia, the modern version is available translated:  Agrippa, Camillo (2009) Fencing: A Renaissance Treatise, Italica Press, New York (Edited by Ken Mondschein)

[7] https://elegant-weapon.blogspot.com/2016/03/episode-57-rotella.html

[8] British Museum No: 1864,1114.465; Date: 1587; By: Jacques de Gheyn II, https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/P_1864-1114-465

[9] Gran Simulacro dell'Arte e dell'Uso della Scherma, a translated version is available Capo Ferro, Ridolfo (2004) Italian Rapier Combat: Ridolfo Capo Ferro's 'Gran Simulacro', Greenhill Books, London (Edited by Jared Kirby), or https://wiktenauer.com/wiki/Ridolfo_Capo_Ferro_da_Cagli

[10] Portrait of Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma, by Christoffel van Sichem, before 1611, https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/collection/RP-P-OB-15.608


Sunday, December 13, 2020

Against Strength

Greetings,

In a person's fencing career, they will always come up against an opponent who will want to use strength as their primary method to force their way through an engagement. Over the past months I have been dealing with this problem with some of my students, thus how to deal with an opponent who uses strength. This article deals with questions relating to the use of physical strength and where it originates.

Reasons

To understand where the idea of a person using strength, it is necessary to understand where this individual is coming from, where they get the idea that strength is the most advantageous method. This often comes from a couple of main sources: a) skill compensation, b) improper grip on the sword, and c) simple size advantage over their opponent. Each will be addressed in turn.

1. Compensation

The first is skill compensation. Often a fencer will compensate for a lack of skill with a weapon by using strength against an opponent. They will compensate for a lack of finesse in their actions by using strength, forcing the action through rather than using the correct blade engagement or Timing. This often happens when a person has not practiced the individual elements enough, or has not spent enough time honing their skill, as a result they use strength in their blade-work to force the weapon through. This results in actions which rely on strength for success.

2. Improper Grip

The next is an improper grip. If the weapon is gripped tightly or even simply incorrectly, a fencer will not be able to use an even grip on their sword. This will prevent the use of senso di ferro or sentiment du fer. This means that they will rely on a heavy pressure against their opponent's blade and will not  feel a lighter pressure against it. This will cause the fencer to force their way through an engagement rather than reading through feeling and applying the appropriate pressure for the action which they want to use. An improper grip on the weapon can cause a fencer many issues, and not just this one.

3. Size/Strength Advantage

Finally there is size advantage. A larger opponent will often use strength against an opponent who is smaller or weaker than they are believing that strength and speed are the best ways to deal with this opponent. This is often seen with larger male opponents against female opponents, but is not necessarily restricted to such. The same larger male combatant will also use strength against a weaker male opponent as well. This is simply using an aspect of physical strength against another. It is a very unsubtle approach and the weaker combatant will be surprised and defeated by the stronger opponent and will not see a way around them. But the stronger combatant can also be defeated by the weaker opponent as will be demonstrated below.

With all the discussions of the reasons that strength is used in an over-compensating way, it is now possible to discuss how to defeat a combatant who uses strength in this method. It should be noted, there is a place for strength in swordplay, but it needs to be applied with knowledge of the situation at the correct moment for the greatest effect. Much of this relies on a correct reading of the situation and thus good senso di ferro.

Against Strength

There are two prime methods of dealing with an opponent who uses strength: avoidance and using the strength against them. These two methods have a similar approach to them but are also different and thus must be explained separately. Each uses an aspect of the use of strength so that the fencer who is subject to the strength of the opponent to gain an advantage.

1. Avoidance

You can use avoidance to compensate for an opponent using strength. There are a couple of ways to do this. The first is through Absence of Blade. If the opponent is strong on their engagements and is using strength to control or move the weapon away so they can control or strike, simply do not give them the opportunity. Avoid contact with their weapon. This way the opponent will not be able to apply their strength to your weapon because they will not connect with it.

Another method is diversion. Rather than seeking solid contact with the opponent's weapon, which they can then use to gain strength against your weapon. Use your weapon to divert their attacks when they are made; divert their weapon when they want to make contact with yours. Such is achieved by angling your weapon so theirs always deflects off your weapon so it never maintains contact. Using disengages and slips with the weapon are prime methods in the arsenal for diversion.

2. Use the Strength

You can use their strength against them and also strength that they cannot resist. These are two different approaches which are based on a similar approach. The first is an approach using the Strength/Weak dichotomy. It is known that strength has the advantage over weak, because it can force the weak, but the weak can also have the advantage over the strength because the weak can slip from the weak and remain mobile and put the strength out of place. For example: The opponent engages hard with strength on the blade pushing forward, the combatant uses weakness and uses the strength to turn their weapon out of the way and back on-line so an attack can be made. This approach is similar in approach to the Avoidance approach above but uses the strength of the opponent's weapon use against them.

You can also use mechanical advantage to your advantage to create strength. Ensure that when the opponent applies strength to your weapon that you always ensure that you have mechanical advantage or can angle your weapon so theirs, through their strength, is always moved to your forte. Regardless of how strong they are, when their debole (or foible) is at your forte you have a clear mechanical advantage and their strength does not count for much. This uses some of the idea of diversion, which was discussed above.

There are aspects of strength which even the smallest and weakest can use against the largest which they cannot resist. The first of these is foot placement, if yours is better, with your feet lining up with one another, you are in a better and stronger position, especially if this lines up between theirs. This is enhanced if the forward foot lines up with your forward hand. The last part of this is what di Grassi calls the "Agreement of Foot and Hand", the previous element comes from Fiore and is noted in the foot positions of his plays. 

Added to this is skeletal alignment, any time that you can line up aspects of your skeleton, in a thrust, parry, or any other action you form a position which the strongest opponent cannot force through. They will be fighting with their muscles against your bones. So long as you keep your bones aligned you will have the strength. If you add this to the two previous elements, you will be in the position of strength.

Recommendations

In regard to recommendations of which skills to use against a stronger opponent, I would recommend those which do not try to match your strength against theirs. If they want to use strength, turn it against them. Show them how the use of strength is not an approach which will be effective against you. I teach these techniques to every student of mine who has issues with those who use strength against them. Like all skills they need to be practiced. Find the skills that suit how you fence, but be warned that applying these new skills may take a change in approach.

A fencer who only uses strength in their game is missing out on a lot. They are missing out on the finer aspects of swordplay and will not go as far as a fencer who spends the time to learn these finer aspects. Spend the time, learn proper blade engagement and all the other skills of fencing so that you have a complete skill-set to use against your opponent. A fencer with a diverse skill-set is a much greater opponent than one who relies on any one skill-set. 

Cheers,

Henry.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Fence Like Wile E. Coyote

 

Greetings,

The most important thing that a fencer can do is fill themselves with fortitude and strength, because the path that they have chosen is not going to be easy. From this perspective there are lessons that can be learned from the character of Wile E. Coyote and his struggle to catch the elusive Road Runner. It is necessary to look within ourselves to find the strength to carry on.

Anyone who has seen animations involving Wile E. Coyote chasing the Road Runner will have seen him use ever more extravagant devices to gain an edge to catch the Road Runner. These devices most often result in him getting blown up, or falling off a cliff, or some other end, clearly not catching the Road Runner. These chases are amusing and many of us have watched and been amused by his antics, but there is something to learn from him. He never quits. He is back in the next frame chasing his prey again. We should be the same in the pursuit of our Art, never quitting. (You can forget about the extravagant devices they won't help you either.)

Looking deeper into the subject, it can be seen that in his long career there is only a single instance where the coyote manages to catch the Roadrunner.[1] He manages to catch his prey once, in the many years of trying; once in so many attempts. This shows much grit and determination, and even then he does not get his prize. One could claim that this is a pointless struggle and he should give up, of course this would ruin the premise of the cartoon. Such would be the approach seen in the Wisdom of Silenus.

 

“There is an old saying to the effect that King Midas for a long time hunted the wise Silenus, the companion of Dionysus, in the forests, without catching him. When Silenus finally fell into the king's hands, the king asked what was the best thing of all for men, the very finest. The daemon remained silent, motionless and inflexible, until, compelled by the king, he finally broke out into shrill laughter and said, 'Suffering creature, born for a day, child of accident and toil, why are you forcing me to say what is the most unpleasant thing for you to hear? The very best thing for you is totally unreachable: not to have been born, not to exist, to be nothing. The second best thing for you, however, is this: to die soon.'”[2]  

 

According to Silenus the best thing for man is to never be born, because he will never reach his goal. So the next best thing is to die soon. Related to the current discussion of the fencer, the best thing would be to never start fencing because a fencer will never learn all there is to learn and never perfect all the techniques that are possible, the next best thing is to quit soon. Needless to say, this is not an approach which is presented here.

Conversely, the fencer should rejoice that they can never learn everything, because it means that there will always be something to learn. They should be happy that they can never perfect all of their skills, because it means that they can always learn and always keep practicing. Rather than a negative, the Wisdom of Silenus, for the fencer should be seen as a boon.

There will be times in your fencing career where things will not go your way. There will be times where you feel that you are going nowhere. There are explanations for this. Often you do not notice when you are improving because you are basing this on those around you, rather than your previous self. Likewise in learning and improvement, everyone reaches plateaus. The better a fencer gets, the longer they will be and more often they will occur.

The essential thing is to keep going with what you are doing. Do what Wile E. Coyote has been doing for the past 70-odd years, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and have another go. No need to call Acme and get the Rocket Skates, or other devices, they will not really help with your fencing.

Cheers,

Henry.



[2] Nietzche, F. (2003) The Birth of Tragedy, Blackmask Online (http://www.blackmask.com), Translated by Ian C. Johnston, para.3