Feints are a subject which come up in discussions with regard to the tactics of fencing quite often, and quite frankly I am surprised I have not written an entry in this blog about them yet. So, in order to fill this particular hole in my explanations of fencing I present the following entry on the subject of the True and False Arts. I can tell you that this is only examining on element of the feint, but it is one that needs to be considered as it is vital to how feints work, or don't work.
“I am constrayned to divide this Art into two Arts of Sciences, callinge the one the True, the other, the False art: But withall giving everie man to understand, that falsehood hath no advauntage against true Art, but rather is most hurtfull and deadlie to him that useth it.” (Di Grassi, 1594)
The first question is what is this all about, True and False arts? Discussion of Tempo? Put simply, tempo is something, which is integral and one of the founding elements of fencing, essentially to understand this discussion the reader must understand that all actions in fencing take time. As for the True and False Arts, this is a discussion which has raged since the Renaissance, and will continue to rage amongst those who use the rapier, indeed any sword. In essence the True Art is the use of the blade using direct attacks against the opponent, and the False Art is the use of the blade using feints and misdirection. If the two concepts are combined then it will be understood as to what this discussion is about.
The feint can be used to quite good effect to deceive the opponent into opening themselves up for an attack. This is using the False Art. There were Renaissance masters who thought that the False Art was something, which a person should stay away from, for various reasons including that it was dishonourable. On the other hand there were other masters that said that a combatant who masters both the True Art and the False Art was a much better swordsman than one who stuck to one or the other. The other argument against the False Art, and the focus of this discussion, was that using the False Art lost time in the attack and therefore reduced its effect.
“Through lack of practice, tempo is lost for the reason that the body is not yet well loose of limb, or when the scholars acquire some wretched habit, going back to the vanities of feints, and disengages, and counter-disengages, and similar things thus done.” (Capo Ferro, 1610)
Capo Ferro, Ridolfo (1610) Great Representation of the Art of the Use of Fencing, translated by Wm. Jherek Swanger and William E. Wilson
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