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Fencing and History Nut Extraordinaire. While I am tending toward 16th century at the moment, I am and have been interested in history for a long time. Hence the fencing focuses more on the Renaissance period than the modern. This explains two out of three of my blogs. The third is a more personal one focusing on fibromyalgia. What I write in these blogs, I hope will be of use to people.
 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Of the Use of the Off-Hand: Part II

Greetings,

This entry is part 2 of using the off-hand in rapier combat.

Cheers,

Henry.

Technique

            With the elements of theory enumerated it is possible to start to examine the practical elements in the use of the off-hand. Essentially, the off-hand is used in two techniques which are related to one another. The first is the parry and the second is the action of control. The parry, and choice of parry, will often determine whether an action of control is possible. To begin with the parry will be dealt with.

Parry

            In parrying using the off-hand is much like using the sword. It has the same options available to it, and same principles apply. It is possible to perform a beat or a parry with opposition, and it is also possible to perform a purely defensive parry or one of a more active nature. Before the specifics of these different parries are examined the overall elements need to be examined.
            There have been some principles described above and these apply to the use of the off-hand in all instances, however more detail is required. Firstly the hand should be held with an open palm, the fingers may curl a little, but the open palm is the primary method that will be used. The open palm reduces the instinct to always grasp the opponent’s weapon. In the use of the off-hand it is the palm that should be placed against the opponent’s weapon; this should be done in a smooth, sweeping motion to allow the best contact.

Drill 1: Hand on the Blade

1.    Two fencers stand across from one another one with the weapon extended but not fully, the other in his normal ward. They should be close enough that they can reach each other with the point of their weapons.
2.    The fencer from his normal ward should extend his hand and place the palm against the opponent’s weapon, first the inside then the outside of the blade.
3.    The action should be performed gently, only contact is needed. This focussed on the action of placing the palm on the opponent’s blade.
 
This first drill is designed to familiarise the combatants with placing their hand against the opponent’s weapon with the palm and on different sides of the weapon. This only covers a single position but highlights the basic concept of the use of the hand against an opponent’s weapon. The next part of the process is the parry itself.

Beat or Control?

There are two options which have been described the beat and the control, or parry with opposition. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. The beat removes the opponent’s weapon with impact and force and diverts the opponent’s blade off-line; this is the faster parry however control is lost over the opponent’s weapon. The parry with opposition or control parry retains the opponent’s weapon and thus control however there is the potential that the hand can be cut and it is slower. In actual fact it is better to know both types of parry and when they are advantageous than to purely focus on one.

Parry Execution

The parry with the off-hand is designed as an action to remove an incoming threat against the fencer. This needs to cover all four lines to some degree however the fencer should be careful about over-reaching. This is especially important for the low line parries. As described defensively the fencer should wait for the incoming attack and then defend against it. The active beat and control will be discussed further along.
In the previous drill the hand was placed against the flat of the blade so that the combatant can see how the hand is placed against the opponent’s weapon. The execution of the parry is much like this. The execution of the parry, regardless of whether it is a beat or opposition parry is the same, the change being made toward the end of the parry.
From a normal terza ward, to protect the high inside line the hand should be turned so that the palm comes into contact with the opponent’s weapon and then is pushed over the shoulder of the off-hand. This is the easiest of the parries as it takes minimal movement of the hand and arm.
To protect the high outside line the hand should be pushed across the body to come in contact with the opponent’s weapon and then pushed past the sword side of the body. Care should be made that the combatant does not inadvertently parry their own weapon. To avoid this, the sword should be dropped a little or lifted a little depending on where the attack is aimed at.
With regard to the low line parries, no hand parry should be made lower than where the wrist sits on the fencer when his arm is placed down at his side. To attempt to parry lower will lower the head toward the opponent’s weapon. For the low inside line the arm is dropped toward the opponent’s weapon the palm is turned toward the weapon and pushes it to the off-hand side. This is often performed as a sweeping action. For the parry to the low outside line, the arm and hand with the palm is dropped and pushed across the body so that the palm pushes the opponent’s weapon past the sword side of the body.

Drill 2: Simple Parry Action

1.    Stand with a partner at a range where each can strike the other with a fully extended blow.
2.    One of the partners should make slow thrusts toward the partner and the partner should parry each one using his off-hand. The attacks should be slow but deliberate toward each line.
3.    The focus of the drill should be parrying the opponent’s weapon away from the fencer using the palm of the hand in each line. Placing the palm against the opponent’s weapon and pushing it, or guiding it, away is sufficient at this stage. Speed can be increased once the partners are comfortable with the parries.

Opposition Parry

            The opposition parry is the parry which has been described in both the description of the parry and also the drill above. The only real difference is that the off-hand will stay in contact with the opponent’s blade for an extended period of time rather than simply leaving it once the threat has passed.
            The purpose of the parry with opposition is to gain and maintain control over the opponent’s weapon. This relies on the off-hand maintaining contact with the opponent’s weapon in the process. It is this parry which is used to push and control the opponent’s weapon. The important thing, at this stage, is that this is performed with an open hand, using the palm of the hand to control the opponent’s weapon. Grasping is a skill which will be discussed further along as it is a little more complex.
            For the most part the parry with opposition is used passively and thus defensively against the opponent’s weapon. The control elements and moving the opponent’s weapon come as a result of the passive nature of this parry. It can be used more offensively, but you need to place yourself in the correct position to do this. For the most part this consists of taking control of an extended weapon and pushing and controlling it to where you want. This will be discussed more under actions of control.

Beat Parry

            The beat parry is one of the options available. This parry is designed to remove the opponent’s threat with velocity and impact of the parry against the weapon. This technique is often the first that will be used by fencers as it is relatively simple but still requires technique.
            The effect of the beat should be made at the very end of the parry rather than performing a full-blooded swipe at the opponent’s weapon. Just as with the beat with the sword the impact should come from the wrist, in this case sending the palm against the opponent’s weapon with velocity. Saviolo states, “then must the scholler with his left hand beat aside his masters rapier, not at the point, but in the strength and middest of the weapon,” (Saviolo, 1595). The beat is better performed against the opponent’s weapon on the debole or mezzo for greatest effect.
            In the performance of this parry you need to come into contact with the opponent’s blade on the flat. To come into contact with the edge will sting the palm and even worse if the fingers come into contact. You should always aim to parry with the palm rather than the fingers.

Drill 3: Beat Parry: Defensive

1.    Stand with a partner at a range where each can strike the other with a fully extended blow.
2.    One of the partners should make slow thrusts toward the partner and the partner should beat parry each one using his off-hand. The attacks should be slow but deliberate toward each line.
3.    The focus of the drill should be parrying the opponent’s weapon away from the fencer using the palm of the hand in each line. Speed can be increased once the partners are comfortable with the parries.
4.    Once comfortable with the basic defensive parries, the partners should experiment with the directions that the opponent’s weapon can be beaten.

Placing the hand into correct position for the defensive parry has already been described. However, just as with the sword there is also a pre-emptive or active beat. The active beat can most effectively be used against an opponent whose weapon is left out of good control, or in an overly extended ward. In this beat parry you should aim to remove the opponent’s weapon by striking it with the palm, preferably against the debole for the greatest effect, as described by Di Grassi, “men do much use at this weapon, to beate off the poynt of the sworde with their handes:” (Di Grassi, 1594). The direction that the beat is made is dependent on what you have planned for after the beat is made.

Drill 4: Beat Parry: Offensive

1.    Stand with a partner at a range where each can strike the other with a fully extended blow.
2.    One should be in an extended ward. One of the partners should beat the one whose blade is in the extended ward. The goal should be to beat the opponent’s weapon off-line.
3.    Once comfortable with simply beating the blade away, the partners should practice deliberately beating the opponent’s blade in different directions to see the effect.

Actions of Control

            The beat parry does not maintain control over the opponent’s weapon and this is its greatest failing. The parry with opposition maintains control over the opponent’s weapon and thus leaves you with more options as to what actions can be performed. However, the beat parry should not be disregarded as it also has its own advantages.
            The actions of control primarily begin with the use of the parry with opposition with the hand however this is not the only way that they can begin. This part of the lesson will focus on the use of the off-hand as the primary and continuing contact. The hand is placed upon the opponent’s weapon as is described in the parry with opposition above. The contact must be on the flat of the blade and with the palm of the hand for greatest control; this contact needs to be maintained so that you can push the opponent’s weapon to the location desired. This contact enables you to retain control and knowledge of where the opponent’s weapon is.

Drill 4: Weapon Movement

1.    Partners stand across from one another in their normal wards.
2.    One makes a slow thrust against the other who uses a parry with opposition against the attack.
3.    The partner who parried now moves the opponent’s weapon around using the control of the palm. The sword should not be grasped. Movements should be made in all directions.

The drill above introduces the idea of the movement and control of the opponent’s weapon to places where you wish it to go. The hand should be placed about the debole or mezzo at this stage for the simple movements of the opponent’s weapon, however this is not the place where the greatest control over the opponent’s blade is gained but it is the most likely first contact with the opponent’s weapon.
Control over the opponent’s weapon increases the further down the blade you go. With your hand at the point the opponent has a lot of movement, as your hand moves closer and closer to their hilt they lose more and more control over the weapon. This is due to an increase in leverage on your part and a decrease in leverage on theirs. The location of the maximum control over the opponent’s weapon is to place your hand on their hilt or pommel. As a result the hilt is where you should be aiming for control of the opponent’s weapon.

Drill 5: Leverage

1.    Partners stand across from one another, only one weapon is required. One holds the weapon the other places his hand on the point.
2.    One who is holding the weapon should move the weapon about. One with the hand on the weapon should notice the movement, and then move his hand down to the debole and repeat the process.
3.    The change in leverage should be noted by both of the combatants involved. The process should be repeated until the hand reaches the hilt of the weapon. The increase in control of the combatant with his hand on the blade should be noted.

What has been described and demonstrated is the increase in control over the opponent’s weapon the closer to the hilt that the off-hand comes. Logically this would mean that the greatest control would be to place your hand on the opponent, however this is not actually the case. For simple practical reasons if you place your hand on the opponent’s arm he may swap the weapon to the other hand thus renewing the threat. While fleeting contact is allowed within the rules of the SCA, it is best to aim for the forte of the weapon with the hope of gaining the hilt, thus contacting the weapon and not the individual. This will gain the greatest advantage. The clever fencer will actually practice swapping the weapon to the other hand in case his person is contacted by the opponent.
            With contact made upon the opponent’s weapon the question of location becomes apparent. The goal of moving the opponent’s weapon is to place you in the position of greatest advantage. Where this may be will be dependent on the particular situation that you find yourself in.
In general it is best not to tangle yourself in your opponent’s weapon. This would seem to say to move the weapon as far away from your weapon as possible, but this may not be always the case. The simplest movement in defence is to move the opponent’s weapon toward their sword side and attack down inside of the opponent. This is the simplest approach when both combatants are right-handed. This approach works for both inside and outside lines.

Drill 6: Parry and Riposte

1.    Partners stand across from one another in their ward at a combat distance.
2.    One person makes an attack against the other to the inside line. The defender parries to the off-hand side with his hand controlling the weapon and then makes a riposte to the inside line.
3.    The partners then re-set and the attacker makes an attack to the outside line.
4.    The defender parries with the off-hand, controlling the weapon and attacks to the inside below the arm of the opponent.
 
The drill above results in simple parry and riposte techniques, but can lead to more advanced movements thanks to the result of the opponent’s weapon being in the off-hand. Another approach is to gain the opponent’s weapon and then use the weapon against them by crossing it over and using to block the opponent’s off-hand side. This is most useful when the opponent is carrying a supplementary item.

Drill 7: Parry and Control to Block Off-hand

1.    Partners stand across from one another in their ward at a combat distance.
2.    One person makes an attack against their opponent. The defender parries with the off-hand and then carefully, maintaining control over the opponent’s weapon crosses it to the opponent’s off-hand side.
3.    The defender should step toward the opponent’s off-hand side to increase the leverage with a diagonal step. From this position an attack can be made either over or under the arm with either cut or thrust.

The drill above gives the primary control over the opponent’s weapon and demonstrates one approach to controlling the opponent’s weapon and then using the situation to your benefit. What may be noted is that there is an element of entanglement in this approach. The most important thing is to ensure that the situation is to your benefit in the end.
Just as with the beat parry, there is an offensive version of the parry with opposition. This action is designed to actively gain control over the opponent’s weapon, and just with the beat parry it is best performed when the opponent’s weapon is extended from them. This is not simply reaching out and grabbing the opponent’s weapon, instead it is placing the hand on the opponent’s weapon, gaining control and moving it to a position advantageous to you.

Drill 8: Parry with Opposition to Gain Control

1.    The partners should stand across from one another in their wards. They should be at a combat distance.
2.    One should have their sword more extended. The other should move forward and gain control with the off-hand. The sword should then be moved out of line and to a position more advantageous so that an attack can be made.

The direction and location which the opponent’s weapon is moved to is dependent on the attack or action that is to follow the action. In the simplest form this action will simply open the opponent up to an attack. More pressure can be gained upon the opponent’s weapon by forward movement. Care needs to be taken to ensure that the opponent’s weapon is controlled before any forward movement is made.

Defence

            What have been described thus far have been offensive ideas about how to use the hand, based on a simple defence against an attack by an opponent. What have been missed up to this point are the defences against the techniques which have been described. These techniques are just as important as, if not more so than the offensive actions. Defence in the close against techniques such as those which have been described work off some general defensive principles.

1.    Place your hand on the opponent’s weapon, as with offence try to aim as low on the weapon as possible. This helps prevent the opponent from continuing their action.
2.    Regain control of your own weapon. You need to get your own weapon back in order to gain more control of the situation.
3.    Move either toward or away from the opponent. Moving away is not always the best option as it may give the opponent the chance to attack. Moving toward the opponent can cramp them and will also increase your own leverage.
4.    Move circularly to increase the control of your own weapon and to decrease that of the opponent. Moving toward your sword side will increase the pressure of your own weapon upon your opponent, however releasing this pressure may regain the weapon.
5.    Gain control of as many elements present as possible. This refers back to the previous principles but encourages the use of multiple at once.

These are the general defensive principles in the use of the off-hand especially at the close. The same principles also apply at distance and should be used here also. Anytime that your opponent places their hand on your weapon, you should be considering what your hand is doing and where it is. You should be considering where the opponent’s attack will arrive to and defend that line.
The defence against the parry and riposte using the off-hand is relatively simple. Consider where you are open in your attack and be prepared to defend that area with your own off-hand, you may have to shift your position in order to achieve this. This is actually simpler against a beat parry than against the opposition parry as the opponent’s hand is cleared away.

Drill 9: Parry and Riposte Counter

1.    Partners stand across from one another in their ward at a combat distance.
2.    One person makes an attack against the other to the inside line. The defender parries to the off-hand side with his hand controlling the weapon and then makes a riposte to the inside line.
3.    The other partner defends against the riposte using his off-hand.
4.    The partners then re-set and the attacker makes an attack to the outside line.
5.    The defender parries with the off-hand, controlling the weapon and attacks to the inside below the arm of the opponent. As previous, the defence against the riposte is made with the off-hand.

The drill above should be practiced using both beat and opposition parries on the part of both partners and against different lines. This will enable both fencers to see the actions involved and to consider what could come from this position. In the discussion of position, blocking the off-hand was the next technique which followed. The counter against this technique is to simply follow the first principle and to place your off-hand on the opponent’s weapon and thus counter the pressure that he is applying. If this is not possible then placing the hand against an open line is the next best option.

Drill 10: Parry and Control to Block Off-hand Counter

1.    Partners stand across from one another in their ward at a combat distance.
2.    One person makes an attack against their opponent. The defender parries with the off-hand and then carefully, maintaining control over the opponent’s weapon crosses it to the opponent’s off-hand side.
3.    The defender should step toward the opponent’s off-hand side to increase the leverage with a diagonal step.
4.    To counter the increasing pressure the off-hand should be placed on the defender’s sword to counter an attack while stepping circularly away.

The defence against the offensive beat parry and offensive opposition parry all work on similar principles. For the most part they work on the action involved by the opponent and what he gains through his action. The offensive beat parry is used to displace the weapon by force. If the same force applied is not resisted by the fencer through the loosening of the wrist the point of the weapon will come back on-line again. In the meantime the off-hand should be used to defend against the following attack.

Drill 11: Offensive Beat Parry Counter

1.    Stand with a partner at a range where each can strike the other with a fully extended blow.
2.    One should be in an extended ward. One of the partners should beat the one whose blade is in the extended ward. The goal should be to beat the opponent’s weapon off-line.
3.    Against the force of the beat the wrist should be loosened so that the point can be controlled back on-line using the force of the beat. The off-hand should be prepared to intercept the opponent’s attack.

The counter to the offensive beat parry is relatively simple on the basis that the offensive action works on relatively simple principles which can be countered easily. Against the offensive opposition parry a little more consideration needs to be made as to the counter to the action, however once again this counter is derived from the principle of the action. The parry with opposition is designed to gain and maintain control. This can be countered by removing the weapon and thus the object of control or forcing the weapon to a place of better leverage against the action. In both instances the off-hand should be prepared to counter any attack.

Drill 12: Counter to Parry with Opposition to Gain Control

1.    The partners should stand across from one another in their wards. They should be at a combat distance.
2.    One should have their sword more extended. The other should move forward and gain control with the off-hand. The sword should then be moved out of line and to a position more advantageous so that an attack can be made.
3.    In response to this the weapon can be withdrawn from the opponent’s hand thus removing control, or it can be forced forward with hand and arm to a place of better leverage. Both techniques should be considered and attempted. The off-hand should be in position to counter any following attack of the opponent.

These actions are designed to counter those which have been taught previously. In the case of both sets of actions, they are based on simple and similar principles. These actions are designed to introduce the idea of the use of the off-hand as further, more complex actions are possible but they are based upon the simple ones and as such these must be established first.