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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 22, 2012

Of the Use of the Off-Hand: Part III


This is the third and final part of my discussion and lesson on the use of the off-hand.



Advanced Actions

            There are many further actions which can be utilised in the use of the off-hand; two specific areas will be addressed along with some general ideas and discussions of these more advanced techniques. These are more the combination of simple techniques utilised together for a greater effect. These techniques will obviously be based upon the same principles as the simple techniques, merely expanded to include more techniques and possibilities.

Counters to Counters

            The first area of discussion is the concept of the counter to beat a counter. Actions have been discussed. Counters to these actions have been discussed. By applying the same principles and examining the situation counters can be made to these counters. This cycle can continue until one combatant has run out of ideas and breaks off, until a stalemate has been reached and both combatants break off, or until one of the combatants succeeds in his action.
The most important thing in this is as with all combats is to ensure your safety first. The first thought should be to counter the action of the opponent’s sword and then consider attacking. If both can be achieved simultaneously then you will have a great advantage. In the situation of breaking off remember to ensure your safety in the process of breaking off and also once completed.

Beat and Opposition Follow-Up

            The basic techniques have been described for both the beat and opposition parries in both their defensive and offensive forms. One example has been given of where to direct the force in the pushing to the off-hand side of the opponent. This is only one option of many that may be used. The direction of the parry and the control should be dependent on what the fencer has planned to follow the action.
            The parry may be followed by a simple control, contact with the weapon, or even a second parry with the hand depending on the chosen situation. This is where it is important to know how to control the direction in which the opponent’s weapon will travel and to have some idea of what to follow this action with. Some ideas about this particular concept will be discussed below in the combination and application of the sword and the hand.

Blade grasping 

“Moreover, having the use of your lefte hand, and wearing a gantlet or glove of maile, your enemy shall no sooner make a thrust, but you shal be readye to catch his swoorde fast, and to command him at your pleasure:” (Saviolo, 1595) 

            Saviolo explains the operation of the parrying gauntlet succinctly. The purpose of the gauntlet is to gain the opponent’s sword by grasping it and controlling it. However, there is a little more detail that should go into the consideration in the use of the gauntlet. Some of this has to do with the simple use of it, but a little also has to do with the safe use of it.
            First of all the gauntlet and blade grasping is designed to give the user solid control over the opponent’s weapon whether or not they are wearing the gauntlet. The same actions can be performed with a standard glove but the user needs to be aware of the threat to the hand. There is one great advantage and one major disadvantage to this controlling action. The greatest advantage is the solid control over the opponent’s weapon and thus being able to move it about, however this solid control also tells the opponent exactly what is going on and gives them a chance to react to the action of the grasp. Of course there is also the obvious potential for the hand being cut if the gauntlet is not being worn.
            In practicing blade grasping it is best to consider the advantages that you possess before you begin. The first question is whether a gauntlet is being worn and how this will change the operation of it. To begin, with it is best to practice without grasping the opponent’s blade. This prevents the embedding of the idea of the necessity of grasping and thus inability in other actions. Use the previous drills to get used to the idea of using the hand first. Once this has been achieved you can consider grasping and controlling.

Drill 13: Control of the Weapon

1.    Partners stand across from one another in their ward at combat distance.
2.    One makes an attack at the other which is parried with the off-hand.
3.    Once parried the opponent’s blade should be grasped, and then moved about to get an idea of how the opponent’s weapon is controlled in the grasp.
4.    Follow the same action with grasping about different parts of the blade. This is designed to enable the different levels of control and different positions that the opponent’s weapon can be moved to.

            The choice of grasping or not grasping is always present with the open hand regardless of whether a gauntlet is worn or not, but you need to make considerations with regard to this. First of all for recreationalists the question of permitted use within the rules structure must be answered. The other real question is as to what advantage there is in the grasping of the current opponent’s weapon. In some situations it is actually better to retain lighter control rather than grasping. Grasping is a solid control action and sometimes it is an advantage to have a more mobile ability to the control action. Choosing when is important.

Drill 14: Grasping and Release

1.    Partners stand across from one another in their ward at combat distance.
2.    One makes a thrusting attack at the other which is parried with the off-hand.
3.    Once parried the opponent’s blade should be grasped, and then moved about to get an idea of how the opponent’s weapon is controlled in the grasp.
4.    The same attack and defence should be made, except this time the blade is not grasped on the initial contact merely controlled with the hand. Slide the hand down the weapon and grasp lower on the blade.
5.    The same action can be performed up and down the blade. The important thing is to get the idea of the grasp and release of the opponent’s weapon and the advantages that both give. 

Blade grasping clearly gives some great advantages over the opponent and solid control over the opponent’s weapon, however just as with any other skill it should be combined with others and used when it is best suited to the situation. Just as with any other skill it is also one that needs practice to become effective. The use of blade grasping will often result in the actions of closes and gripes and you should consider the consequences of the use of blade grasping and apply this to the current situation.

Sword and Hand

            The following part of the lesson will discuss the use of the sword and the hand together. Most of the actions previously have used the sword and the hand together but in a passive sense. The following considerations are for actively using the sword and hand together.
            The first point of call for this discussion is what will be called a “1-2”. In this action the sword or the hand is placed on the opponent’s weapon in defence and then the contact is swapped to the other. This can be performed with initial hand contact or initial sword contact. This response is designed to enhance your response to the opponent’s attack. These actions can be extended to include three or more points of contact either using the hand or the sword twice depending on the desired result and time available.
For these actions to work you must consider the placement of your sword and also your hand to ensure that they do not get entangled in the process of the action. If your hand or your sword is placed incorrectly you will end up entangling yourself or even possibly damaging yourself. For this you need to consider the final result for the action to be placed correctly. Some of this was discussed in the discussion of entanglement early in the lesson. Because the sword is the offending object it is usually best placed in front of the hand to give access to the opponent, so the hand is placed behind the point of contact for the sword, or the sword is placed in front of the point of contact of the hand.

Drill 15: Hand and Sword: The “1-2”

1.    Partners stand across from one another at combat distance.
2.    One person makes a thrusting attack against the other to a high line.
3.    The defender parries with the sword and then places their off-hand on the opponent’s weapon to control it and then makes a riposte. The hand must be placed behind the position of the sword.
4.    The partners reset and the attacker makes another thrusting attack to the high line.
5.    The defender parries with the hand and then places their sword on the opponent’s weapon to control it and then makes a riposte. The hand must be placed behind the position of the sword.

This drill demonstrates two simple “1-2” combinations using an initial contact with the sword and an initial contact with the weapon. Further techniques can be added to these to make the action more complex and you should investigate these using the same drill. The sword and the hand are best used in combination and the options open up the more this option is used.
The actions so far described in the drills deal primarily with the use of the off-hand as the primary point of contact. This is in order that the off-hand is actively used, however it should be noted that complex sword actions can be used in combination with the off-hand in order to increase the effect of the off-hand. There are many different actions which can be used to achieve this however the bind is often the most useful. In this action the sword is used to parry to set up for a bind in which the sword is delivered to the off-hand for control.

Drill 16: Parry and Bind with Off-hand Contact

1.    Partners stand across from one another at combat distance.
2.    One person makes a thrusting attack against the other to a low outside line.
3.    The defender makes a simple parry to defend. From the parry position a bind is made against the opponent’s weapon designed to move the blade up and across to the defender’s waiting off-hand. This technique will also work against an attack made to the high outside line.

It is the action of the bind which places the sword into the fencer’s off-hand. Performed and positioned correctly, there is actually very little movement that the off-hand needs to make as the bind will deliver the opponent’s blade to the hand. This action frees the sword up for further actions while maintaining control over the opponent’s weapon. You should consider what other actions can be used in order to extend the control over the opponent’s weapon.
There is a technique which uses both the hand and the sword together in order to get an increased effect which is primarily considered to be a longsword technique, but can also be used with a rapier. This technique is half-swording. In this technique the hand is placed about the blade of the fencer’s sword up around the mezzo or debole in order to gain more leverage to this part of the weapon. The part of the blade between the hands can also be used for leverage against the opponent’s weapon. This technique is most effective where two combatants have come together at the close.
One time where the use of the half-sword is particularly effective is where the combatants have come close the fencer has his hand on the opponent’s hilt and is applying pressure with his weapon against the other’s in order to gain position. If the off-hand is removed from the opponent’s hilt and placed about the mezzo then extra leverage can be applied and a greater chance for an attack may be made. The important thing here is the increase in pressure while maintaining control. The above description can be used as a drill for demonstration and practice of the technique and to figure out other ways that it can be used.


            The off-hand is a useful device which is often overlooked in favour of using the sword for an action. What has been presented is a lesson about how the off-hand can be used effectively, especially when used in combination with other techniques. The documentation from period masters is clear that the use of the off-hand is a technique which needs attention paid to it for a fencer to reach their potential.
            Just as with any technique in fencing the use of the off-hand needs practice and this lesson has described several drills which can be used to familiarise you with the use of the off-hand and then used to continue the practice and thus increase the proficiency with the off-hand. In this practice it is important that the people involved understand what is happening and the goals for it to ensure that the goals are reached. Once proficient with the use of the off-hand the techniques will be performed as naturally as any other technique.
            While each person will find that they will have favourite techniques which will seem to work particularly well for them, you should attempt to use as many as possible to increase your ability. Only through the practice of each technique will a level of ability and familiarity be built. Practice varying techniques and discovering new ways to use the techniques; this is best done with a partner with a similar goal.
            The advantage of using the off-hand in fencing from the simplest point of view is that it gives other options and responses to actions which the opponent may perform. Further to this there are also times where the off-hand will actually have an advantage over the use of the sword; this is especially the case where the sword is freed for use due to the use of the off-hand.
            This lesson was designed to reveal different possibilities in the use of the off-hand in fencing and to re-establish its position as a valid technique. Too often the use of the off-hand is overlooked, ignored or pushed aside in favour of other techniques, or taught ad hoc to fill in a technique. The use of the off-hand is worth the attention paid to any other technique. Indeed those who develop the skills associated with the use of the off-hand will have a great advantage over those who give it a mere cursory glance.


Di Grassi, G. (1594) His True Arte of Defence: Showing how a man without other Teacher or Master may Safelie handle all Sortes of Weapons

Saviolo, V. (1595) His Practice in Two Bookes